With a Little Help
I won’t leave him. The way you left Margaret.
I want to give him everything. Not just the week you had with Margaret.
I will give up my life Above if that is what it takes. I’m not afraid like Margaret.
“Damn, damn, damn,” Catherine muttered into her mirror. Nothing worked. No matter how carefully she phrased it, she could not picture herself saying the words to Father. And, if she couldn’t convince him she would never be able to convince Vincent. Too many years of dire warnings clouded his perceptions of what might be.
She glared into the mirror and then turned away with a heavy sigh. There was even less chance now, since Vincent’s illness. He hadn’t even remembered her name. She had told him it didn’t matter, but the truth was it did. It hurt like hell. And the loss of the bond was almost more than she could bear. With the bond there had been a chance but now he would never believe the truth and depth of her feelings. With the bond she might have convinced him, might have broken through all his barriers. Now he would deny any vows of desire. Oh God, what was she to do? She wanted him so much, craved his touch, ached for the fulfillment that only he could provide.
She rose and opened her terrace doors and stepped to the railing although no sound had drawn her there and none would. Vincent was physically well enough to make the journey to her. But, somehow, she knew he wouldn’t. She would always have to go to him. Another of his few freedoms gone.
“Damn, damn, damn.” She pounded her fist on the railing as tears rolled down her cheeks.
Just a few days ago…
“Hey Radcliffe, what’s up with you?” Joe grinned. “Isn’t it much too early for such a big smile?”
“He’s better, Joe. He’s going to be okay,” she sang as she danced around him to her desk.
“Your friend, the one who was so sick?”
“Yeah. He’s going to be just fine,” she repeated happily. “Now, what about these mountains on my desk? Just how far behind am I?”
“You’re in so deep, you’ll never dig your way out,” Joe informed her with a scowl. She groaned and sagged in her chair in exaggerated defeat but the broad smile was still there.
“Seriously,” she demanded.
“Seriously, Rick, Alicia and Kyle covered the urgent cases and the rookies wrapped up most of the minor ones.”
“And this?” she asked waving at the piles on her desk.
“Just a few new cases,” Joe stated. “You called yesterday and said you were ready to get back at it, so…”
But she wasn’t listening, already sorting through files. It felt so good to be back, to settle into a routine again.
After work each night she had gone below. Her visits with Vincent were quiet and mostly in his chamber, just the two of them. William insisted she eat and provided a tray even though it was often long past the dinner hour. Vincent spoke little, and sometimes would hardly look at her. He was reluctant to talk and she was wise enough not to force him. She read instead, or they listened to music on the player she had brought down. She chose pieces that were light, soothing.
Last night the fragile ease that had been growing between them shattered when Vincent confessed he hadn’t remembered her name, had known her only as the woman he loved. Dismay overwhelmed her. How could he know he loved her? How, when he didn’t even know who she was? She clamped down on the tears that threatened, took a deep breath and spoke as calmly as she could, telling him that one gift lost would be replaced with another found. He wouldn’t listen, turned away from her and she left in a cloud of fear. What would become of them?
She had tossed and turned all night, slogged through work today and come home early originally intending to go below. She stared at the park. What was Vincent doing right now? Was he thinking of her? Practicing her name? Trying to find the right intonations? Who was she kidding? He wouldn’t know what the right intonations were. She would never again experience the thrill of his voice caressing her just in the way he said her name.
“Damn, damn, damn.” Somehow she had to… Go ahead, she told herself. Say it out loud. She had to get him into bed, ravish him. He didn’t remember the cave, so they’d just have to have an encore. One that he would remember. She chuckled inwardly as she pictured all the things she would do. The second time wouldn’t be a repeat of the frantic coupling that had occurred in her desperation to save him. No, this would be quite different… She just had to figure out when and where. For tonight she would stay above, let him miss her a little.
“She’s not coming,” the younger man interrupted.
“Can you feel her? Is your bond…?”
“Then how do you know? She’s been here every night. She’s just a bit late, probably caught up in her work,” the older man soothed.
“She’s not coming,” Vincent repeated.
At a loss for a reply, Father studied the morose man opposite him.
“Why don’t you go to her?” he suggested. There was no response. Vincent sat at his desk fingering the white knight, rolling it in the palm of his hand.
Father sighed and rose slowly. He placed a hand on Vincent’s shoulder and gave a gently squeeze but said no more.
Vincent didn’t raise his head until Father left the chamber. Then he stood and heaved the white knight at the far wall. He swung back to his desk and toppled it over sending the remaining chess pieces, his journal and pens across the room. They bounced and clattered and finally rolled to a stop.
“Damn, damn, damn,” he roared.
How could he tell Father what he wanted? He couldn’t even admit it to himself, let alone tell Catherine. Besides, he looked around his chamber helplessly, where? Not above. Her threshold was one he still couldn’t bring himself to cross. Not to mention that Father would have a heart attack if he stayed above all night. The chamber of the falls? Not possible to make that private and comfortable enough. Here? He snorted. His chamber was busier than Grand Central Station.
Oh hell, who was he trying to kid? He would never have the courage anyway. No matter what Catherine said, and especially without the bond, he would never be able to trust that he wasn’t hurting her. He longed for her, wanted her with a fierceness that overwhelmed. He could feel the quickening just thinking about it…
“I tell you Peter, we have to do something,” Father insisted.
“But what?” Peter asked. “I’m as concerned as you are, Jacob. Vincent’s physical health is reasserting itself, but his mental state…”
“We have to get them together?” Father said.
“Vincent and Catherine of course,” Father replied. “A romantic setting, a big bed, down here of course, not safe enough Above.”
Peter’s jaw dropped and he stared at his friend at a loss for words. “Are you suggesting…?” he finally sputtered.
“Yes,” Father stated. “I’m suggesting a romantic tryst.”
“But, all this time, you’ve…” Peter started to protest.
“Well, all this time I’ve been a fool,” Father replied calmly. “She’s not Margaret, you know. She’s not afraid.”
“And if they don’t…” Peter paused.
“We risk losing them both.”
“So what’s the plan?”
“We’ll need help of course.”
“Honestly, they’re hopeless,” Olivia stated.
“Worse than a couple of teenagers,” Canin agreed.
“Huh, teenagers would have done something about it a long time ago,” Olivia retorted.
“So what do you propose?” Canin asked.
“Well, remember the night you…”
“Candles everywhere and lilacs all over the bed. That was damn good, wasn’t it?” Canin leered suggestively and made a lunge for his wife.
“Back off,” Olivia commanded as she swatted him with a pillow. “We have some serious work to do here. We have to create a romantic setting.”
“Roses,” Canin insisted. “We can get those easily enough. And fluffy pillows and a big soft comforter. I bet Catherine has plenty of sexy night gowns.”
“You’d better not be picturing her in one of them,” Olivia admonished and took another swing at him with her pillow.
“Actually, I was picturing you in one of them,” her husband informed her.
“Oooh, smooth,” she laughed. “But where do we set this all up? It can’t be above, not safe enough.”
“And Vincent’s chamber is way to public,” Canin said. “Everyone pretty much waltzes in there anytime they please.”
“Unless…” Olivia’s brow furrowed in thought.
“Is so,” Eric insisted.
“Is not,” Geoffrey countered.
“What on earth are you boys arguing about?” Mary asked mildly.
“Vincent is better, isn’t he?” Eric asked, all assurances of moments ago gone as he looked up at the woman he knew as mother.
“He’s better,” Geoffrey agreed reluctantly. “I mean, he comes to meals with us and he’s even doing some work with the others making a new chamber, but…”
“But what?” Mary asked gently.
“Well, he’s not happy. Anyone with half a brain can see that,” Geoffrey stated. “And neither is Catherine.”
“She didn’t come Below tonight,” Eric added. “Is she mad at Vincent?” he asked.
Oh dear, Mary sighed to herself. Really this stalemate between the two was affecting everyone, even the children. But what could one do? After all they were adults with minds of their own. Of course that was the problem, they, or at least Vincent, was doing entirely too much thinking and not enough acting. They needed… She shook herself out of her reverie when she felt a tug at her skirt. Eric was looking up at her pleadingly. “Vincent is better,” she assured him. “Don’t worry, we’ll find a way to make him happy, and Catherine too. Now run along and wash up. It’s almost time for bed.”
The boys scampered off and Mary went in search of Olivia.
“Father said we’re having a special dinner for Catherine,” Samantha informed the others.
“We could do a concert for them after,” Kipper suggested.
“All love poems and songs,” Samantha advised. Kipper made a face and started to protest.
“We can ask Vincent to help pick her favorite ones,” Eric offered.
“And finish by reading the ending of Great Expectations,” Kipper suggested, joining in the spirit of things. “Catherine told us Vincent read the book to her when her first brought her Below.”
“She said she couldn’t see him, she could just hear his voice and she loved it,” Samantha said. “Maybe, at the end of the concert, we could ask Vincent to read it?”
“Nothing a little loving wouldn’t fix,” Jamie declared. Michael tightened his arm around Brooke’s shoulder and looked down to see her gazing at him shyly from under her lashes. She was so pretty. He gave her a quick kiss on her temple and raised an eyebrow in question. She nodded and blushed.
“You’re right,” Rebecca agreed thinking of the man Peter had introduced her to. She was meeting him in the park tomorrow afternoon. A little shiver of anticipation ran up her spine.
“So, what do we do?” Jamie asked, looking around the group expectantly. Mouse, engrossed in some contraption or other didn’t seem to be listening but the others frowned in concentration.
“We need to fix them a love nest,” Michael suggested. “Then get them to it, lock them in and make sure they have complete privacy.”
“We could get William to fix a tray of fruit and cheese and maybe Peter could get a bottle of wine,” Rebecca offered.
“Jamie, you could go visit Catherine,” Brooke suggested. “Snitch one of her night gowns. She must have some that are…”
“Sexy and alluring,” Michael finished for her.
“That still doesn’t solve the problem of where,” Rebecca complained.
“Chamber of the Falls?”
“The guest chamber?”
“Not private enough and not special enough,” Brooke complained.
“Nice big bed in Vincent’s chamber,” Mouse piped up. “Make a door. Lock too. Have the gizmos.”
“Okay good, okay fine,” Jamie said after a few moments of stunned silence and the others whooped with good cheer.
Michael caught Peter just as he was leaving Father’s chamber and asked him to buy a bottle of red wine or champagne even. “Need it for Friday night,” he added.
“Wooing your girl?” Peter asked with a wide grin. Michael just nodded.
It was late, too late to change her mind and go Below, when she heard the knock on her door. A quick check through the peephole revealed Jamie, bobbing on the balls of her feet.
“Is it Vincent?” Catherine asked worriedly as Jamie entered the apartment.
“Oh, he’s fine,” Jamie answered nonchalantly. “I just came to say hi. You coming Below Friday night?”
“Of course, but why do you ask?”
“Nothing, just wondered.”
“Would you like a cup of tea?” Catherine offered. She watched Jamie pace the room, pick up an item, put it back, then another.
“Can I use your bathroom?” the girl blurted.
Catherine waited impatiently in the living room and finally heard the toilet flushing and then the tap running. Jamie came out holding her jacket tightly around her, said a quick goodbye and bolted, leaving Catherine staring after her.
She had no sooner locked her door when there was another tap. This time Catherine was startled to see Rebecca at her door.
“Olivia is planning a surprise for Canin,” she explained. “Mary thought maybe she could have a little of that perfume you always use.”
“Ah, a romantic surprise,” Catherine sighed wistfully. “Just give me a second.” She returned from her bedroom with an almost full bottle. “Tell her to keep it,” Catherine said. “At least someone will benefit.”
Rebecca nodded, refused an offer of tea and scurried out almost as fast as Jamie had.
“Where is Mouse?” Vincent muttered impatiently the next day. “We could use his help here.”
“Said he’d come when he could,” Canin replied. “Something about gizmos. Has Cullen helping him. You know Mouse.”
“Too well,” Vincent replied, slightly mollified. “Let’s see if we can do this ourselves.”
Catherine looked up to see her favorite sandwich man grinning at her. Joe, passing by, reached for one and was rewarded with a slap. “That’s for Catherine.”
“Since when do you rate such special service?” Joe demanded.
“Well, since she’s way prettier,” Bennie drawled. “On the house,” he said as he passed her a roasted chicken sandwich. Joe left muttering about favoritism. Bennie followed behind grinning at Catherine over his shoulder.
The note was from Father announcing a special dinner Friday night to celebrate Vincent’s recovery. The children were planning a little concert after too. Could she please come early and wear one of those fancy dresses of hers and oh, could she bring some of Vincent’s favorite ice cream?
One tub of chocolate chunk coming up. Catherine smiled as she folded the note and tucked it in her pocket. They were going all out and she wondered just what exactly they were planning for Vincent.
“Wear something special Friday,” Mary advised Vincent. “This dinner is to thank Catherine for… well, for everything.”
“And just what would be special enough?” Vincent asked with a twinkle in his eye. Mary was obviously excited – even a little nervous – although he didn’t understand why. She was normally the epitome of calm.
“Well, your black pants for sure.” He had complained they were a bit tight and had asked her to let out the seams. They would show off his backside quite nicely. “And that shirt with the ruffles that Catherine likes so much,” she added. “And, for heaven’s sake, forget your cloak for once.”
Vincent stared at her in astonishment. He had never heard her so demanding or abrupt before. Just what exactly were they planning for Catherine?
Moments later, William accosted Vincent.
“What does Catherine like?” he asked. “I mean would she prefer beef or chicken? Or maybe I could do a ham?”
He looked at Vincent expectantly.
“I know she likes everything you cook,” Vincent assured him.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake Vincent, be more specific. I need to make a decision here.” William glared.
“She does favor roast chicken,” Vincent replied.
“Roast chicken it is.” William stormed off, muttering about vegetables and salads and rice.
Dinner was delicious. Catherine looked radiant in a green silk gown that accented her eyes. Vincent was, well the pants were awfully tight but he did look dapper, Father had to admit, and he’d seen Catherine eye Vincent speculatively more than once. They looked cozy, if not a bit cramped, on the tiny loveseat the children had insisted they share for the concert. Vincent shifted and moved his arm to the back of the love seat. Oh, for heaven’s sake why didn’t he just put his arm around her shoulder? What was the matter with the boy anyway? Father’s attention was drawn away from the couple as Kipper announced the opening song. It turned out to be a hopelessly sentimental love ballad. Father stole a quick glance at Peter who grinned and nodded approval.
The concert was over. Vincent had obligingly read from Great Expectations and now Jamie and Mouse and the children were escorting Vincent and Catherine to his chamber, chattering excitedly about the dinner, the ice cream, the concert and plans for the weekend.
Suddenly they were inside and the children melted away magically. Catherine stared. The chamber was filled with what seemed like thousands of tiny sparks of light for every surface held a small candle. A vase of tall red roses graced Vincent’s desk and more vases of roses stood on the floor. But it was the bed that captured her intense interest and sent Vincent flying back towards the tunnel entry.
Someone had lowered the tapestry. He shoved it aside impatiently, needing to escape. His way was blocked by a crude barrier of two by fours. He pushed on it. It didn’t budge. He spotted a large lock and gave it a mighty tug but it held. He could break through of course, run.
But, did he want to?
Slowly he lowered the tapestry and turned back. Catherine was still staring at the bed. One of her flimsiest night gowns was draped over the end of the bed with rose petals scattered over it. Her bottle of perfume was there too. And beside that, a nightshirt for Vincent. The covers were turned down to reveal more rose petals on the sheets and on the fluffy white pillows but it was the sprigs of lilacs that made her cry.
“They did this for us,” she whispered.
“Olivia and Canin,” Vincent said.
“All of them,” Catherine corrected. So many things fell into place. “Even Father.”
“And Peter,” Vincent added as he toyed with the bottle of champagne in a silver bucket by the bed.
Catherine picked up her nightgown and held it close to her heart. “I’ll be right back,” she said. She eyed Vincent from under her lashes and a small speculative smile tugged at the corners of her lips. She snatched up the perfume and disappeared through the passage way that let to the bathing chamber.
Vincent dashed to the chamber entrance and lifted the tapestry once more. The makeshift door had not magically disappeared as he had hoped. He pushed on it, yanked on the lock again and muttered impolite words under his breath, most of them directed at Mouse.
He let the tapestry drop and contemplated an escape through the bathing chamber. He could sneak past Catherine and leave by the tunnel to Father’s chamber but that would be cowardly in the extreme.
Catherine. The tiny smile, the nightgown, the perfume… He pictured her in the bathing chamber, removing her dress, the silk sliding down her body, then her under things falling to the floor, they would be little lacy bits he imagined. Then she would slide the nightgown over her head. The glimpse he had allowed himself when he had glanced at the bed – there didn’t seem to be much to it.
He could feel his mounting reaction straining against the confinement of his pants. Hadn’t he asked Mary to let them out?
He lifted the lilac sprigs, twirled them gently, savored the unique scent, remembered the chamber he and Catherine had prepared for their friends.
He put the lilacs back on the pillows and ran his hands over the night shirt, a new one he hadn’t seen before with a cursive V, embroidered in blue that matched his eyes, on the right breast. Mary had been busy.
They had all been busy.
And Catherine wanted him, had for a long time. There was no doubt in her mind. Suddenly a wave of emotion washed over him. Excitement. Anticipation.
He could feel her!
Throwing caution to the wind, he undressed quickly, donned the night shirt and slipped between the sheets.
Catherine returned moments later to the sight of Vincent, in bed, the bottle of champagne in one hand and the two glasses in the other. She walked to the bed slowly, relishing the look on his face. This particular nightgown was so diaphanous she might as well have been naked. Way to go, Jamie.
“These can wait till later,” she said softly, taking the bottle and glasses from Vincent and setting them on the floor before slipping into bed beside him. He didn’t argue.
And so it was that Catherine never saw Joe in the hospital that night and the little black book went to the FBI.