The cascading water from the falls masked the entrance to a special chamber, a chamber well guarded from discovery by anyone except those who already knew its secret. Thinking of the few who shared this secret, Catherine smiled. It certainly was a secret worth keeping. The chamber itself was spacious and warm. The water, falling from who knew where in mysterious triple torrents, painted pictures of light against the rough rock walls of the room that were beautiful and clear. She couldn't help but feel a sense of possessiveness toward this place, for this hide-a-way was as old as her marriage to Vincent. It had seen them through as much in the way of happiness as it had of pain.
With amazing strength - or stubbornness, Father had said - Vincent had carved this place for her, intending it as a gift to rival that of Kanin to Olivia. Father had told her - away from Vincent's hearing - that Cullen, Walter and Burt had expressed their displeasure at his refusal of their help. She had explained this to her husband, for she knew how it upset him to know he had hurt anyone's feelings; but even knowing, Vincent had done as he chose, spending countless hours hard at work, determined to have it completed in time for their wedding day. When she'd first seen it, she'd understood why he had not come to her above: he'd been trying to ensure himself that all would be perfect for their long-overdue and well-deserved honeymoon, and, if memory served her, it had succeeded more than amply. Recalling those nights with a little grin, Catherine sighed. It had been a time of discovery for them. They had been through so much pain. Then, through what she would always consider to be a miracle, she had been returned to the people and place that she loved, returned from a fate that was more than just questionable, returned to a man whose love she could never have lived without.
Looking around her once again, Catherine smiled. Since that time, she and Vincent, had come here to this hideaway whenever their responsibilities had become too much to bear, escaping together into a world all their own. They learned about love here, taught each other its wonders and mysteries. Their daughters Maggie and Leah had been created here, and it was here that they had prayed for them to be healthy and whole. They had taught each other about passion, about reckless abandon, and sought its freedoms every time they entered this special place. And - she couldn't help but shiver, remembering with a contented sigh – when they had arrived in this room a few short hours before, that recklessness had been sought with ferocity, rediscovered with joy. Each of them surrendered happily to the magic surrounding them here and reveled in its enchantment.
How long they had been asleep, Catherine wasn't sure, but when she opened her eyes in the semi-darkness, all she could do was smile. With the responsibilities each of them bore, there was hardly ever enough time left just for them. She was always busy, prosecuting one case or another; when she wasn't doing that, she was running errands for the tunnels, chasing after her children, or assisting Mary in the nursery; never before had she realized how rich her life could be-or how tiring!
Vincent, too, found life full and busy, for his duties to his world and to the council had increased with the passage of time. If he wasn't overseeing council meetings, he was on work details. When he wasn't doing these things, he was chasing after the children or teaching classes or trying to rest; she knew that on most days he probably got by on less sleep than she did. Now, more than ever, they had needed this well-deserved time alone, for they had been ravenous, hungry for the intimacy they'd become accustomed to, and frantic for each other's touch. And their appetites were voracious, starving for the freedom they had fought so hard to obtain for so many years.
And, looking around her with an impish grin, Catherine knew they had been successful. They had found that freedom within the boundaries of this chamber - yes, she nodded - they had found that and so much more.
Stretching lazily, Catherine ran her hands down the sides of her body. She was completely healed at last. Her skin was once more sleek and soft, her muscles once again lithe and supple. All evidence of this last - and hopefully final - pregnancy had finally disappeared; it had taken three full months of hard work to achieve this goal, but she felt wonderful, more than ready to resume the pleasures she'd come to expect in her ten years of marriage.
Shifting her position on the soft pallet, she pulled the fluffy patchwork comforter over her shoulder and looked down at her husband. Vincent defied any and all logic; he hadn't aged a day in the years that had passed. He lay quietly beside her-dozing still-on the pallet, and his masculine beauty could still stop her heart and make her want to catch her breath. That he wanted her with the obvious enthusiasm he showed was always a miracle to her, for he'd given himself to her body and soul. He'd made her feel so completely and utterly woman, so completely and utterly beautiful. It was almost too good to be true. Sometimes and only for a second when she'd awaken in the darkness - she'd be afraid that she'd imagined everything that had occurred during the past ten years. Then, almost miraculously, she'd feel him move beside her on the great bed they shared, or hear the early morning stirring of the tunnels just down the corridor from their chamber. Only then did she believe, - only then could she forget the terrible things they had been forced to endure to be together...
Ten years, she thought with a shake of her head. So much had changed in their lives, yet so much had stayed the same. Vincent now sat at the head of the community's ruling council; he'd accepted the position after Father had become seriously ill a few years before and could no longer manage. And, though he sought his parent's advice on every major decision, he led the council with the same kind of wisdom and vigor that Jacob Wells had demonstrated in all of his years in charge. The tunnels were safe for all who lived in them and for the first time in a very long time, they were self-sufficient.
With a satisfied grin, Catherine closed her eyes and snuggled closer to her husband's enticing warmth. She was fulfilled here, loved her life and children so much; she would never have been happier in a life above. Everything here was so important to her, but as she thought of her children, she couldn't help but frown with more than a hint of concern.
This last pregnancy had been harder on her than the first two. She knew her age probably had a lot to do with it, for she'd recently celebrated her forty-third birthday, but her elevated serum glucose level certainly hadn't made Peter or Father very happy - and neither had the endless bouts of spotting she had suffered through. They had taken turns lecturing her and had gone on endlessly about how she would have to take extra care during her pregnancy, stop any and all of her exercising should the symptoms continue; she had to watch what she ate and cut back on her work-load above - maybe give it up altogether. She had done all they had said, but the symptoms did persist, frightening both Vincent and Father terribly, and causing Peter many more sleepless nights than an aging man in his fading health could afford.
Then - she frowned again, pursing her lips - if all this weren't bad enough for all of them these past few months, it had gotten worse. One evening, shortly after retiring for the night and after a perfectly dreadful day, her labor had begun in full force and vigor. The bad part about it was that she'd just entered her seventh month of pregnancy. She tried to relax her over-protective husband, reminding him that their eldest, Jacob, had been born after seven months-and in less than desirable surroundings - but Vincent retorted that their second child, Maggie, had not. She had been born after exactly nine months, perfectly healthy, and if this labor could be stopped, he wanted it to be stopped. And, she recalled, she had decided that he was probably right and had finally agreed to cooperate with him.
Once Peter had arrived in the hospital chamber, he and Father set to work, trying desperately to stop the labor; no matter what they tried, they failed, and ultimately, after about two hours, they gave up altogether. A daughter - a child Catherine had wanted to call Leah - was born less than half an hour later. She came into the world with a lusty cry that had immediately set everyone's fears to rest...and now, thinking of Leah as she was, Catherine smiled. She was such a beautiful baby, possessing deep blue eyes and wavy golden hair just like her father's. And, much to both her and Vincent's relief, had scored near perfect Apgars immediately after birth.
Reflecting back, Catherine decided that she and Vincent were very lucky. Their children were intelligent, thoughtful souls, wonderful in every way a child could be. However, if she could change anything at all, she would have tempted fate just one more time; it had always been one of her most passionate wishes to give Vincent a child like himself. To her way of thinking, there could never be a greater gift she could give him, no matter how much he might protest against it…
"Catherine..." Vincent's soft voice beside her broke the stillness of the chamber like a lightning bolt, rousing her from her reverie instantly. Lifting her head from the crook of his arm, she smiled, meeting azure blue eyes filled with eagerness and desire. Pushing her pillow beneath her back, she moved closer to him until she laid fully against him, then threw her leg intimately over his.
"I'm sorry," she murmured as she felt him shiver. "I didn't mean to wake you. I was thinking about Leah," she added as he rolled over to face her.
"I know," he replied softly, his long hair covering her shoulders as he pushed her gently back onto the pillows. "Don't worry, Catherine. Mary will take good care of her; Jacob and Maggie will help. Today and tomorrow are ours to spend together, with no interruptions...and no regrets."
Quivering with renewed passion, she kissed him. He was right, of course, but that didn't make leaving her infant daughter any easier. "It's just that she's so little, I suppose," she explained. "I guess I just feel like I've deserted her."
"There's no reason to think that," he whispered, before kissing her ear. "You deserve this time away, Catherine," he insisted gently. "You do."
Catching her breath, Catherine closed her eyes as someplace deep down inside of her soul, a fire started. She'd become, in the span of a heartbeat, acutely aware of the magic his body had begun to make against hers, of the need in messages being sent along the bond they shared. She gasped out loud as he caressed her cheek, and lost herself in the anticipation she saw burning in his eyes. She was captured by his intensity, his passion; captivated into an almost breathless silence, she awaited his next move.
"Don't worry anymore," Vincent murmured softly as he felt her begin to relax and allow what he was doing to overpower her. "I love you and have missed being with you so much these past months." He whispered her name softly and began to plant feather-soft kisses against her neck that left a blazing trail of fire along her throat.
"Vincent," she whispered, but stopped as his hungry mouth moved to cover hers, insistent upon her full attention. Abandoning all thought of anything but the need rising in her like a tide, she succumbed, allowing the passion between them to carry her away.
Closing her eyes, Catherine encouraged the fever of Vincent's desire to circulate through her entire body; the sensation of skin against skin was as powerful as a hurricane, as exquisite as a sunset. She surrendered to the demands of his roving fingers, his greedy mouth and tongue probing her lips, her throat, her breasts. His every movement was intoxicating and heady; she felt submerged in him, drowning in his passion and losing herself eagerly to the agonizing torture of foreplay. Lying beneath him and straining for completion, she knew instantly that their loving had never been like this before; it had never been this potent or overwhelming between them.
Nothing he did was enough for her, and she pushed herself against him wantonly, her hands tangling in his hair. She wanted to laugh and cry at the same time, but as he continued his vigorous exploration of her body, all she could do was moan in frustration, repeating his name over and over helplessly. Wave after wave of heat assaulted her and she pulled on his arms, trying to direct his attentions to that part of her that called so forcefully to him, but her husband ignored her, taking her hands tightly in his and holding them firmly at her sides so that he could continue what he was doing undisturbed.
His agonizing attack on her senses never altered, never varied, and soon she felt herself spiraling down into a deep abyss of intense pleasure, a well of delirium from which she never wanted to escape.
"Vincent, please," she whispered roughly against his mouth.
"Soon," he promised, moving his lips from her mouth to her breasts again. "Be patient, Catherine," he advised, "be patient."
It was like suffocating in intense heat; Catherine shuddered violently as only seconds later, the first intense frenzy of orgasm began pulsating through her. She wanted to scream out with joy, but Vincent covered her mouth with his own to stifle her cries. And then, just as the fierce trembling started to dwindle, he altered his position by pulling her directly beneath him, then entered her, joining their bodies securely. With his first, tentative thrust, she felt the dying flames ignite again as though they had never been satisfied at all.
Releasing her hands, Vincent held himself above her for a moment, meeting her eyes.
"You're mine," he asserted ferociously, leaning down to kiss her. "And I'll never let you go..."
An inferno of need mounted between them as he began to move, slowly first, then faster. They reveled in the sensation, holding on to one another tightly, straining together to find their release. Catherine knew she was lost and sinking down into the well again; her last conscious thought before she joined Vincent in his struggle for completion was how right she'd been, for this giving and taking was unique. She'd always respected their bond, for it had brought them close and kept them in constant touch with one another. And yet, it had never done what it was doing now. They were more than just connected in .this encounter, more than just linked. It was as though they had entered each other's souls; it was intensely beautiful. Their dance became frantic and their movements strengthened; she screamed his name loudly as he cried hers, and together, they fell over the cliff of sexual fulfillment. Together they collapsed against the soft pallet, laboring for breath. Then both smiled in drowsy satisfaction, ready to drift off into a deep and peaceful sleep, uninterrupted by even the soft noise of the cascading water from the triple falls outside the chamber.
As she drifted off, a thought flitted through Catherine's mind. It had been magic, the kind of magic that grants wishes. She had always wanted a child like Vincent, and now, with a smile, she believed it might happen.
It was at least an hour later when they finally stirred; all during their nap, their bodies had remained locked together, joined as intimately as their hearts had always been. Tossing her long, honey-colored hair from her face, Catherine met Vincent's sleepy eyes and kissed him deeply, trailing her lips down his throat to his chest.
"It's never been like that for us, Catherine," he whispered softly after a moment, the surprise in his voice evident. "I can't understand, can't explain..."
"Then don't," she insisted huskily, pulling him close. "Don't try to understand, and don't try to explain how it happened or why. Just remember how it happened...and do it again..."
He happily complied.