When Love Calls
                                                


 Vincent grabbed his cloak and bolted from the chamber.  He was stunned...stunned and ashamed.  But more than that, he was frightened.  He couldn’t believe he had allowed this to happen.  He had been careless.  He had left the chamber curtain open.  It was late, and at this time of night, rarely was anyone up and about.  It certainly never entered his mind that Catherine would come below.

 It was in the darkness of the night, when the others were sound asleep, that Vincent felt most comfortable, less on guard.  Then, and only then, would he seek out the cool waters at the edge of the falls for a swim.  Shedding his clothes, he dove deep beneath the water’s surface.  The weight of his body pulled him down to the icy depths, down into darkness, to the pool’s rocky floor.  Vincent learned to hold his breath at a young age, and with his exceptional lung capacity, he could stay under water for much longer than the average person.  He was reminded of how, as a youth, he used to hide from the other children by staying under the water long after they had all but turned blue trying to match his skills.  Resurfacing, he shook his head, letting go of that memory, and slinging the moisture from his mane. The water soothed him, eased his tension, and took away all of his inhibitions.  At least until tonight.  And tonight he needed the water’s soothing effects more than ever.

                          **********
 
 Catherine awoke from her dream with a jolt.  VINCENT!  He had been running, running from god-knows-what, to god-knows-where, but his journey led him to danger.  She heard loud sounds, Vincent’s roar, and then silence.  In her dream her visions of the tunnel world were all too clear.  The rock walls, the chambers and the water, all were clearly depicted to her, as if she were really there.

 Recently she had noticed her connection to Vincent strengthening.  Not only could he sense her emotions, moods, and fears through the bond, but at times she could now sense his as well.  However, she could not always distinguish between her dreams of Vincent, which came almost nightly now, and messages sent to her through the bond.  This was one such occasion.  Weighing her options carefully, and realizing that if she did not go below she would not sleep at all tonight, she chose her path, and in a sense her own destiny.

 Catherine tossed on her jeans and a T-shirt, then glanced at her watch. 1:30 a.m.  She was unsure if Vincent slept at 1:30 a.m. on Saturday mornings. She knew that on some occasions, when visiting her, of course he didn’t.  But, she had not seen him tonight.  In fact, she hadn’t seen him for several days.  They were coming to a point in their relationship where the inevitable was to be faced. She could no longer hide her feelings for him, her physical attraction to him was plain.  It became even more plain, when, during a meeting on her balcony almost eight days ago, she kissed him.

                           **********

 “I love you, Vincent.  I can’t help it and I didn’t ask for it.  But, I do.  And I love all of you.  Why can’t you accept that?”   She was more confrontational now than she had ever dared to be with him.

 “Because, Catherine,” he struggled to explain, “there are so many things that I cannot give you, and that you deserve.”  Vincent sighed and threw back his head.  He leaned on the railing for both security and to steady him on his feet. He felt the need rising in him.  The need for a union with Catherine, which met the magnitude of her own urgent need.  “When I am with you. . . I’m not sure what is happening to me, nor can I be sure that I can control myself.  My feelings, my emotions are so strong, even now.”

 “Then listen to those emotions.  Learn from them.   Don’t run from them.” She was clearly frustrated.  This was at least the twenty-fifth time they had had this conversation, and Catherine was determined NOT to give in to him this time. They had progressed further than they ever had.   Usually by this point in the discussion, Vincent had fled, in an obvious urgency to put some space between them.  But they had known each other for almost two years now, and she had fallen in love with him almost that long ago.  His eyes, his voice, his hands, his uniquely wonderful face.   Without any of this, without him, she knew she would die.  And now, as he stood before her, afraid of moving their relationship any further forward, she could feel him slipping away.  She tightened down on the bond in an effort to hold him near. He, however, was closing himself off from her yet again.  Still she proceeded.  She had to.  For, while it was true that she could not live without him, neither was she certain that she could continue as they were.  “Vincent, please.  Try to accept it.  I feel the desire in you, just as I know you feel it in me.  Trust me.”

 She was pleading with him now, and Vincent felt himself weakening.  In a breathy voice he attempted to answer, “I do trust you, Catherine, but . . .”   But he could say no more.  Her lips covered his, gently, and he felt himself kissed.  One moment was all it lasted, but in that one moment, every fear he had ever imagined flashed in his mind, as a dying man’s life might flash before his eyes. He was strong and she so delicate.  The beast was stronger yet.  That part of him could hurt her.  He knew it.  This could not be.  It couldn’t.  No matter how much she, or he, wanted it, he could not allow this to happen.  It was just one innocent kiss, as a parent to a child. . .as a sister to a brother, but it would lead to more. And that more could never be.  No!  “I’m sorry, Catherine,” was all he said, and then, just as he always did, he leapt over the railing, leaving his Catherine, the woman he loved, behind.

 Tears drenched her cheeks as she watched him go.  As always, when he left her like this, she wondered if and when she would see him again.  Deep down she knew he would come to her, eventually, when he could stand the separation no more, and when he had settled himself and once again come to terms with his being.  But the pain was just as strong, as though he were gone for good.

                          **********
 
 Catherine descended the ladder from her sub-basement, and entered his world, a world that was becoming more and more hers with each passing day. She listened to the sounds around her.  The pipes were silent.  No one stirred. Even the sentry at this post had apparently fallen asleep.  She jostled the loose brick of the security wall, and peeking behind saw Zach sleeping as a boy his age should be.  “Psst.  Zach?”  The boy stirred.  “It’s me, Catherine.”

 “Catherine...” The boy muttered, stretching himself fully awake. “Oh, Catherine?” came the question at last.  “What are you doing here this time of night?”

 “I need to see Vincent.  Is everything okay?”  Her voice was shaky, though she tried to hide her concern.

 “Yeah, as far as I know.  It’s been a quiet night.  Why?”

 “No reason.  Do you know where Vincent is?”

 “In bed I imagine.”  Zach said sleepily.

 “Thank you, Zach.  Good night.”  Catherine forced a smile, in an effort to convince the boy that all was well, before heading quietly down the passage that lead her to Vincent’s chamber.

 Zach just shrugged and returned to his lazy state with little difficulty. Seldom were questions asked about Vincent’s and Catherine’s more personal affairs.

 Catherine was careful not to wake anyone, and just as careful to look for any obvious signs of danger or trouble, just in case her dream had been a vision of sorts.  She knew her way well.  She also knew that Vincent, if he were sleeping, would sense her arrival and be startled.  She closed the bond, a trick she had learned when Paracelsus had taken her into the depths of hell in an attempt to lure Vincent.  By doing so, she often could prevent him from coming to her and endangering himself.  It was a trick he disapproved of, and one he had made her promise not to use, nevertheless she used it now.  She did not want to needlessly wake him.  She didn’t want to frighten him, nor have him think she came to him in the night for anything more than to check on his safety and the safety of her tunnel family.
 
 A light was coming from Vincent’s chamber.  If he was home, he was not asleep.  Curiously she peered around the doorway.  She didn’t see him so she crept inside.  One solitary candle was burning on his table beside his journal.  His bed was made, but surprisingly his boots were on the floor next to it.  Catherine found that odd.  The idea of Vincent trampling barefoot on the hard rock tunnel floor made her own feet ache.  Had there been trouble in the night, leaving him no time to put on shoes?
 
 Catherine decided to investigate further.  She walked to the table and looked around, but no Vincent.  His journal, however, lay open on the table.  A detail she could not see from the doorway.  Surely he would not leave it open like this.  Unless he left in a hurry, surely he would have closed the cover, securing his words from the eyes of visitors, from her own eyes.  She couldn’t help but glance down, though she knew it was wrong.  It was a violation of trust, she knew that as well.  It was a violation of every rule of privacy she had learned since birth,
but her eyes wandered to the page and she read the words he had written there.
 
 “So I am once again driven to the cool waters of the falls.  Once again, thoughts of my Catherine, have led me there.”
 
 Driven to the falls?  The falls.  The falls!  Struck with the realization that Vincent sought out the falls to soothe the rising tension within him, the tension that finds him only upon thinking of her, Catherine bolted from the room and headed in that very direction.  He should not go through this alone.  She wouldn’t let him.  This had to be dealt with, and they needed to deal with it together.  They needed to talk, and she was determined that they would do so now.  She was secure in the fact that he was safe, at least physically safe, but she was tormented by the fact that he was not yet secure in his feelings toward her.  Her heart cried out for him through the bond, and she swiftly closed it once more, hoping he had not felt her presence, knowing that if he did, he would only run farther away from her, deeper within the earth, to places she had not yet traveled and where she could not follow.

                          *********
 
 A sensation swept over him.  It was almost as if she were here, below. Thoughts of Catherine flooded his mind again, and Vincent swam fiercely under water as if attempting to wash them away.  He could feel her presence so deeply. But, he knew that at this hour she was sleeping safely above in her bed, and that image almost drowned him.  He needed the cold water now.  Needed to feel it on his face, on his body.  Needed it to cool him within.  But try as he might, he could not get the vision of Catherine out of his head.  Then, suddenly he felt warm and
flush.  He could no longer hold his breath, and he surfaced.  His breathing hastened, and his breaths came short and pained.  He swam to the shallow end of the pool, where the cool tunnel winds could reach him.  He wanted the air to cool him now.  He needed to feel the swift winds of below on his face and in his hair.
 
 When he reached the point where he could touch bottom, he stood so the water, now up to his chest, flowed in waves around him.  He rejoiced in the feel of the cool crisp air drying the water from his face and shoulders, and rustling through each auburn tress.  He threw his head back, breathing in the cool air more easily, and before long he was once again relaxed.  Only when his mind and his body were calm, did he wade into the more shallow waters.  He could now leave the pool and attempt once more to retire for the night.

 Then he heard it.  He heard the voice of his dreams.  He heard the calling of his love from a distant shore.
 
 “Vincent.”  Catherine had whispered his name to herself.  Her voice was soft and still, barely audible against the sound of the wind.

 Vincent’s fine-tuned ears picked it up with little difficulty.  Catherine? Here?  He turned, glancing over his shoulder, his hair still blowing about, highlighting his feline features.  And he saw her, standing on the edge of the pool, on the opposite side of this massive chamber.

 She didn’t move.  She didn’t dare.  One move could send him back into the water, and away from her.  Besides, she was frozen.  She could only stare at him, a look of longing in her eyes that she couldn’t hide.  He was magnificent.  Nude from the waist up, her hungry eyes contemplated what she knew was beneath the water's surface.  The water danced around his waist and splashed against his sides.  He was barely covered.  Despite her distance from him, she could see each muscle clearly as he strode towards land.  He looked at her, then turned
away.

 Automatically, as without contemplation, but with the grace of a tiger he rose from the water, his back to her.

 Catherine had full view of his strong back, his buttocks, and his legs.  She opened the bond slowly, without hesitation, wanting him to feel what she was feeling and to know that she was not sickened by what she saw, but rather rejoiced in it.  Just as she did, Vincent tossed his cloak around his shoulders, and before she could mutter a word he was gone.  A lone tear trickled down her cheek.  Had she once again gone too far?  Was she wrong to come below?  Had she infiltrated his home and his privacy, without invitation, when she should have again waited for him to come back to her?  NO!  She needed him and he needed her, and she was determined not to give in this time.  Time and again she let him flee, allowed him to run and to hide.  No more!  She would follow, and come what may, they would endure or lose it all.  It could be no other way.

                           **********
 
 Catherine approached the chamber with determination, the bond open to him now.  She hesitated only slightly before entering, though it soon became clear to her that he was not there.  Had he once again vanished?  No, she could feel the nearness of him.  In fact, she could feel his hand on her shoulder.

 A fully dressed, though somewhat disheveled, Vincent entered the chamber directly behind her.  He had hurriedly dried off and dressed, knowing the inevitable conversation was growing nearer.  Not wanting to face it, but knowing he must, he fought hard to shake the feelings of fear and the shame he felt for so carelessly allowing himself to be seen, as he was, nude in the water, by Catherine, by the very woman whose being caused him to crave the lulling effects
of the pool.  And now he wondered what she thought of what she had seen. Bravely he reached out and placed a shaking hand on her shoulder.  He could feel the trepidation circling through the bond, from her to him and back again. . .over and over, emotions mingling, soaring like a hungry hawk circles its prey.

 “Catherine.”  His voice was a mere whisper.  But she could feel his breath beating down on her.  The prevalence of the bond made it seem as though his heart was beating inside of hers.  She could feel it that close to her, both within her and around her.

 He walked around her and into the room, but he did not look at her.  Rather, his focus was downward, at his own hands.  Quietly and with courage, he spoke. “Perhaps you are right, Catherine.  Perhaps it is time for us to talk.  I’ve not looked forward to this moment, and indeed I have tried to avoid it.  But. . .now I know . . . these feelings within me will not subside, and the only other alternative I know is to face them.”  Finally, he looked up and in her direction, still avoiding eye contact.  “I can’t face losing you.  A life without you would be unbearable to me.  So no matter where I am, you are always with me, beside me and inside me. I can’t run from you, and I can no longer hide from this.  I don’t have the strength to keep running.”  He lifted his hands, showing them to her, turning them so she saw the furred backs, the claws, and then his palms.

 Catherine stood quietly.  He was talking, and as long as he was talking, she would stay silent.  She had waited a long time for him to gain his courage, so she would do nothing to stop him or discourage him now.

 He continued.  “These,” he said gesturing with his hands, “these frighten me.  And they should frighten you.  You know as well as I what these hands are capable of.  I long to touch you, Catherine.  How could I not?  Each time I hold you it grows more difficult for me to let you go . . . or to let go.”  His eyes welled up with tears, and memories of how he had scarred Lisa encompassed him.  The what-ifs of his mind were running rampant.  He needed Catherine so fiercely now, needed her close, but did not yet feel secure enough to reach out to her.

 She saw his frustration.  She felt it.  And, at that point she had to speak. “Yes, Vincent, I have seen these hands fight.  I have seen them kill to protect the ones you love.”  She approached him slowly.  “Vincent, you . . . they protect and they serve.  And they also love.  They carry children, and nurse wounds.  They build homes and they carve stone.  They hold me close, so close that I don’t want them to let go.  Vincent, I’m not afraid.  These hands could never cause me harm. Don’t you see?  It’s not what’s on the outside.  It’s what’s on the inside.   It’s what’s in here,” she clasped her own hands to her heart, “that matters.  That’s
how I know nothing bad will happen.  I know what’s in your heart.   And so do you.”

 Vincent exhaled the breath he’d been holding since she had begun to speak.  Still, the idea that she’d seen him as he was in the water unnerved him. He had to know.  And so quietly he asked, “And now that you’ve seen?”  The words were all but flooded by tears.  He turned his face from her so she would not know that he was crying.

 She knew.  And her own eyes welled up with tears.  They were tears of sorrow that he was genuinely concerned about how she would view his physical appearance, and tears of joy that he had finally asked and confronted his own worst fear.  “Oh, Vincent.”  She narrowed the gap between them but left him a secure space in between.  “Do you have no idea how beautiful you are?”

 No response.

 “You are beautiful.”  She took another step forward.  “Your face, your hands, every feature, every muscle. . .perfect.  I’m not repulsed by your appearance.  I wouldn’t change a thing about you, Vincent.  I want you just as you are.”

 No response.  His back was now to her, and his head was lowered.  Tears fell to the floor and she could see them landing at his still bare feet.  How could she make him believe that what she said was true?  What more could she say? What should she do?  Catherine closed the remaining space between them, by gently placing one hand on his back.

 It seemed like hours passed before he spoke.  Finally he broke the silence. “You were afraid, Catherine.  When you first saw me, I frightened you.   I know that since then that fear has dissipated, but I don’t know that it won’t resurface.  I fear that you WILL be frightened . . . if . . .”  He paused, unable to continue.

 “If I see more of you?”  She finished for him.  A slight smile shone through her own tears at the very thought.  Difficult though it was, this conversation was heading in the right direction.  And her tension eased.  Vincent’s, however, did not.

 “Yes,” he whispered.

 Catherine closed her eyes and centered herself.  She must chose both her words and her actions carefully.  “But I HAVE seen, and I AM here.  Tonight at the falls didn’t scare me away.”  Gradually, she began rubbing his back with her hand.  She eased her other hand around to touch his face, turning him toward her, forcing him to meet her gaze.  “I love you, Vincent.  I can only tell you that over and over.  I can’t make you believe it.  But if I didn’t, and if I were in any way frightened or sickened by what I saw, do you think I’d be here right now?”

 He shook his head.  “I know what you say is true, Catherine.  I know how you feel.  I know what you want.  And I, too, want it.  But all that I am, all else that I know tells me that I’m not entitled to that part of you.  Don’t you understand? The very differences you fail to see, keep me from giving you what you deserve, what you want, what you need.”

 “No, Vincent.  I don’t understand.  I see your differences.  I just don’t agree that because of them you must keep yourself under lock and key all the time. You place way too much weight on these differences when you should focus on your similarities.  What I want is you.  What I need is you.  What I deserve is for you to try.  If you love me, and if you want what you say you do, you’ve got to at least try.”

 Vincent’s eyes at long last met hers.  “I do love you, Catherine.  Please know that is true.”  The very thought of her thinking, for one instant, that he didn’t love her with all of his being tore at his heart.  And so he said the words that she had waited for so long to hear.  He said them again,  “I love you.”

 He turned his body to her, and at long last took her in his arms.  Slowly at first, he eased her close to him, until she rested her head upon his shoulder and gave herself wholly to his embrace.  The feel of her so near aroused him.  Yet, he did not pull away.  He knew she felt it too.  As near as their bodies were pressed, there was no way she couldn’t have.  He held her close, one hand on her back and the other cupping the back of her head.  Gently he began to caress her back, and the fingers of his other hand stroked her head.  Her hair, so soft, fell through his fingers.

 Catherine pulled back from him, but not to end his touch.  She wanted to see him, to see his face, to see his eyes and read the unspoken words that she knew would be depicted there so vividly.  All that she saw was love.  Nothing more, nothing less.  She felt his body responding to hers.  Her tongue flicked out and moistened her lips, longingly.  And she rose slightly on tiptoe, so that she could reach him more easily.  Her arms tightened around him, pulling him down to meet her mouth with his own.  Her mouth opened to him, and what was meant
to be a short, sweet kiss became intense and filled with passion.

 Vincent tensed up momentarily, before giving in to her demands.  As he relaxed, his mouth opened to her demands, and automatically his tongue entwined with hers.  This was all entirely new to him and so he followed her lead.

 Catherine led him carefully, gently and slowly.  She had waited so long for this moment.  And while she never wanted it to end, longing for more of him, she knew that if this kiss were all they shared this evening, the rest would follow in time.  For once, he was not pulling away from her.  He was letting himself be led, and the knowledge that he trusted her to guide him elated her.
 
 Careful not to go to far too fast, she ended the kiss.  Blue eyes shone down on her, full of curiosity, devoid of fear.  A shy smile garnished her face, and she stared up at Vincent, studying his expression for any sign that he may run. Finding none, she took both his hands in her own and kissed them one finger at a time, delicately nipping at his nails and drawing his finger tips into her mouth. Knowing that his hands were a part of him that brought him much fear, contributing to his worry of harming her in such intimate moments, Catherine was
determined to show him that these hands could love.

 Vincent stood still, allowing her to examine the sharp edge of each finger. He was truly amazed, though still unsure that his hands would do no harm. “Catherine,” he whispered lowly, but she did not respond.  His emotions were raging, and he was unsure if it was fear or desire.  What he was feeling, he had never felt before.  Fear was familiar.  This had to be desire, and it was a desire stronger than any he had ever known.  Timidly he took one hand away from her and he tilted her chin up so that their eyes met.  He was fighting to maintain his control, not from the beast, but from the passion stirring inside him.  “Catherine,” he said again lowly.

 “What is it, Vincent?” she asked, fearing the worst, fearing that he would ask her to leave, or that he would once again place the barrier of distance between them.  Seeing his hesitation, as well as feeling through the bond, she addressed it immediately by questioning him.  “You’re worried, Vincent.  Tell me why.”  She took his hand, the one supporting her chin, between hers in a gesture of understanding and comfort.

 He was becoming comfortable with her.  He loved her.  He trusted her completely.  But, he was unsure of where he was being led.  So, bravely he answered her query.  “Catherine, the things I’m feeling now I have never felt before.  Desires and cravings are growing within me that I have never before faced.”  He noticed her expression changing from one of hope to one of loss, and he reassured her he was not backing away.  “I will not run from you, Catherine.
And I will not run from this.  Just please, please tell me what this is.”  He realized how naive he must sound.  He was not naive.  He knew the facts of life.  He had just never participated in them aside from explaining the ‘birds and the bees’ to the children and occasionally assisting Father in delivering a baby below.  He knew what his body and emotions were telling him, and he knew how to follow his heart.  Yet, he needed to hear it from her.  His own fears were set aside and his concern was now focused only on her.  Then and only then could he proceed.
“Consider the risks and fears yet to be overcome, Catherine, and tell me what you want to happen here tonight.”

 Catherine sighed a sigh of relief.  He seemed willing to move forward at last.  She knew that he was still concerned for her safety, but she knew as well that no harm would come to either of them.  She didn’t have experience or research proving it so.  She didn’t need any.  Somehow, deep inside she just knew.  Whether it was the bond speaking to her, or an inner voice made up of empathy and love, she knew that Vincent was just as capable as any man of
making love to her.  And that is what she wanted.  “I’m not afraid, Vincent.  I love you, and when you are ready, I want you to make love to me.”  She brushed his hair back out of his face and continued patiently.  “If you are not ready we can wait.  But promise you won’t shut me out.  I only ask that we take this journey together.”

 Vincent looked down on the woman he loved with a newfound realization of their destiny.  They were emotionally bound and the physical bond between them was growing stronger with each passing minute.  He knew of only one way to calm the rising tensions.  The journey had in fact begun with the kiss on her balcony some days ago, and there was no turning back now.  Suddenly and without hesitation, Vincent took Catherine into his arms, wrapping her close to
his body, knowing that she would feel the physical affirmation of his building desire.  He wanted her to feel it, and he needed to feel her body close to his.  He kissed her fully and deeply.  He could feel her desire growing as well.

 Catherine clung to him, her arms securely wound around his neck.  She needed him to support her.  This new side of him took her by surprise and left her leaning weightlessly against him as she kissed him back.

 Both were strong and vulnerable at the same time.  Neither spoke.  Neither needed to.  They had said all that they could say.  It was clear now which path they had chosen.  They had chosen it together, and now their journey would continue.  Any remaining fears would be more easily overcome, now that this initial bridge had been crossed.

 “Walk with me Catherine,” he said, ending the kiss and taking her by the hand.
 
 Willingly, she complied.

                           **********
          He found great pleasure in the feel of her slim fingers intertwining with his. He led her through the tunnels, his destination planned, leaving her mercilessly in his command.  They walked in silence until Vincent had reached his destination.

                           **********
 The tiny chamber was one Catherine had never seen before.  And she looked around, astonished!  There were candles everywhere, calling out to be garnished with a flame.  She let go of Vincent’s hand and entered the darkness before her.    Suddenly, she felt a little faint.  This was really happening.  He was ready, she was ready, and he had sought out the privacy he desired.

 Vincent removed the one lit candle from its place in the wall outside the doorway, and used it to light the others, illuminating the room, casting shadows on the carved rock walls.  One such shadow was the form of his Catherine, and in her beauty he rejoiced.

 Catherine watched his every move.  She did not take her eyes off of him. She couldn’t.  He moved so calmly, no sign of fear, though she knew uncertainties remained.  When, for a moment, she did turn from him to glance around the room, he walked up behind her and placed his hand on her shoulder. Her heart beat so fast she could hardly stand, and while she wanted to turn to him, she didn’t.

 Gently he kissed her on the back of the neck.

 Catherine closed her eyes and took a deep breath.  This was it, the moment she had waited so patiently for.  There was no turning back now. . . not that she wanted to.

 Vincent stroked down her shoulders, across her back and down the length of her arms.  He wondered what she was thinking, and he knew what she was feeling.  Her emotions surged through him, a mixture of joy and nervousness.  He too was nervous, but was hiding it well.

 Catherine turned to face him, her eyes glassing over.  Vincent held his breath, hoping he had not overwhelmed her.  A lone tear escaped to her face as she threw herself into his arms.  “Oh, Vincent!” she exclaimed, pulling him close to her.

 Releasing the breath he’d been holding, Vincent pulled back only far enough to look into her eyes.  “Will you stay with me tonight, Catherine?”
 
 His question was answered clearly enough by the expression on her face, but graciously she answered, “Yes, Vincent.  I will.”  Her lips found his, and her arms wrapped tightly around him.  The next thing she knew, she was being scooped up into his arms as he lifted her from the floor.

 Gently he placed her on the room’s small bed and sat down beside her to face her.  “Are you all right, Catherine?” he whispered softly, stroking the hair out of her face.
 
 “Yes.  You?”  She knew he would remain restive and in need of her reassurance, but Vincent nodded to signify that all was well.  “I trust you, Vincent,” she went on, “completely.”

 Her words sent shivers down his spine.

 She kissed his brow and moved her mouth slowly down his face to touch his cheek before engulfing his lips again.  She knew that Vincent had placed himself in her hands.  She would sooth his remaining uncertainties.  They would move at his pace, and she would slowly lead the way.

 Vincent left her lips and directed his attention to her left leg.  Her jeans had bunched up to expose her ankle and calf.  He touched her there.  Gently, he ran his hand down her leg to her ankle and began unlacing her shoes.  He removed them one at a time, touching her feet softly with the tips of his nails.  Her toes curled with the tickling sensation, and Vincent noticed that her toenails were pink.  Curiously he looked at her, then taking her hand in his, he rubbed his finger across the pink polish on her thumbnail.  He wondered if this woman had done these things in order to look good for him, and he smiled.
 
 Catherine found his amusement with her fingernails oddly erotic.  He did not release her hand until he had stroked each one, allowing his own nails to scratch her ever so lightly.  Bravely she decided it was her turn.  She took Vincent’s hand and caressed his palm, then ran her index finger carefully across the tips of his claws.  Vincent flinched momentarily, but relinquished himself to her investigation, which was now much more thorough than before in his chamber.
 
 Suddenly, Vincent’s mouth was on hers again.  She felt his tongue part her teeth incessantly searching for hers.  He located his target and tenderly mingled her tongue with his own.  He drew her in close, allowing his hands to rest upon her back just beneath her shirt.  Then, parting from her, he steadily swept the shirt up over her head and off onto the floor.  Catherine gasped making her arousal well known to him.  He placed warm kisses on her throat and at the base of her collar bone.  He toyed with the lace adorning her breasts, but made no move to uncover them just yet.
 
 Catherine reached for the buttons of his shirt.  She fondled them for a moment, then proceeded to undo them, kissing her way down as she went. Without reserve she slid the shirt past his arms, and it joined hers in a heap beside the bed.  Slowly, she studied his chest.  With both hands, she massaged and studied the finely toned muscles there.  “Beautiful,” she muttered softly “You’re beautiful.”
 
 Vincent took Catherine’s hands from his chest and assisted her to her feet. She was not sure why he stood her up, but she willingly complied with his wishes.  Lovingly, he stroked her cheek with the back of his hand.  “Are you still all right, Catherine?”  he asked, looking deep into her eyes for any signs of fear or doubt.

 “Oh, Vincent,” she whispered, sensing his concern for her, “you know how much I want you.”  She pressed her body close to his, making her intentions clear.  The feel of her bare skin against the slight fur of his chest delighted her.  Her hands were rubbing his back now, and slowly they descended downward, just beneath the top of his trousers.  She fondled his waist band, and slid her hands to the front, but was careful not to enter that territory completely without his initiation in that direction.

 Vincent’s breathing increased.  He could feel his heart racing, and he could feel the beat of her heart as she leaned against him.  With only the slightest hesitation, he unfastened the button at the front of her jeans, encouraging her to finish the job and remove them.  She removed her undergarments as well, and Vincent sighed, pleased in response to what he saw.
 
 Catherine stood nude before him and was calm under his touch and inspection, but couldn’t help but wonder when it would be her turn.  She noticed Vincent’s hand was trembling as it stroked her back and then lightly brushed her stomach and breasts.  She kissed him to remind him subtly that there was nothing to fear.
 
 Finally, she made her move, invoking a touch of humor, hoping to comfort him.  “This isn’t fair, you know?  I’m wearing far less than you are!”  Vincent smiled a nervous smile, revealing to her the sharp points of his teeth, which he so often tried to hide.  More seriously she added, “I want to see all of you, Vincent.” His hands reached down to grab hers at her side, and he squeezed them almost too tightly, constricting her movement for several seconds, before loosening his grip.  Catherine could sense his insecurities and knew that Vincent had placed
himself in an unusual and extraordinarily vulnerable situation.  She persisted carefully.  She looked up into the sea blue of his eyes.  “I think I am the one who should be asking if you are all right, Vincent.”  He closed his eyes to regain his focus.  When he reopened them she questioned, “Are you?”  She got no response.  “Do you just want to talk?”
 
 The beauty before him calmed the raging beast within.  Tonight he would not need the security of the falls.  Tonight he would finally accept what he had needed for so long.  Tonight he would accept all that she offered him. “Catherine,” his voice was low and there was a hint of a growl in his throat.  “I want you.”

 “Then take me,” was all she needed to say.  It was as if Vincent needed to hear the words.  Her actions alone were not enough to convince him.  He needed that small verbal reassurance, before making the final move.

Before she knew it, the score had been evened, and both of them lay fully exposed to the other.  How magnificent he looked!  She couldn’t keep her eyes or hands off him.  Every bone, every muscle, every curve was perfectly placed, and she reached out to touch them all.  His hands, the hands he had long feared would hurt her, gave her nothing but pleasure.  He gently touched her hair, her back, her breasts and her thighs, reaching deep to the core of her being.

 Only once, when she touched him, did he jump, unprepared for such acceptance.  And finally, when neither could wait any longer, their mouths joined in a never-ending kiss, and Vincent leaned her back on the pillows to rest beneath him.  Their bodies molded together in one rhythmic motion, and both became completely surrounded by love.
 
                           **********
 
 Acceptance, long given, was the key that opened the door to new possibilities and to new dreams.  And love, love was the glue that held them together.  In love, they could endure the toughest challenges, for love would always lead them home.  Home is the closeness you feel when love calls. Catherine had finally gotten through to him.  And now he knew as well as she,
that when love calls, the best response is to listen.