AFTER LISA

OOWhiz

(Note of the editor: this story takes place after the ending of the episode "Arabesque")

~

They stayed that way for a long time, Catherine holding his hands, foreheads touching as Vincent sobbed out all the pain and anguish Lisaís return had unleashed. Finally she pulled him down to the cushions on the floor of the balcony where they always read to each other.

Positioning his head on her breast, she wrapped her arms around him and guarded the sleep he eventually cried himself into. So much torment from such a simple, adolescent incident, but for Vincent it had clouded the rest of his life. And it had undoubtedly been made worse because they had been separated right afterward. So, in addition to blaming himself for the wounds he had inflicted on her, he also blamed himself for her being sent Above, away from the tunnels where she had been happy.

Catherine cradled him close, thinking about the reaction Father must have had. She could just picture him telling Vincent that a physical love for him was impossible, unthinkable. No wonder Vincent never took their relationship any further. He had been brainwashed by this one incident to think that he was incapable of giving intimate, physical love without injuring the person he loved. He only permitted himself the handholding, the occasional embraces and the stolen kisses she felt him give her on the top of her head. My poor Vincent, she thought, looking down at his face, so peaceful in slumber. His entire being cried out instinctually for love, but he suppressed it with an iron will. No wonder he was in such turmoil. She felt it through the bond more and more.

She had never been as sensitive to the bond as he, but lately, as their relationship continued, and the struggle for him deepened, she had felt his need and the effort it took to quell it. Well it was going to stop! She could stand his suffering no longer! When he awoke she would prove to him that he would not, could not hurt her, and that he was every bit as entitled to a physical love as anyone else on the planet. Father and his ideas about Vincent could take a long walk off a very short pier. Resolve solidified into action. She loosened the hold she had on him and tugged the heavy quilt she kept by the cushions over them with one hand. The weather had been unseasonably warm for this time of year, but the air still held a chill.

He slept until the sun rose. The beams of bright light shone in his mane, making it look like a halo. The poor thing must have been utterly exhausted; normally his internal clock would have wakened him and had him scurrying back to the tunnels long before now. But between Lisaís return, the headlong dash to save her from Lisaís bodyguard, and the emotional confession, his time sense had let him down. All for the better, Catherine thought smugly. As she had watched over him, she had come up with a plan. It was just a hazy one and depended very much on how Vincent would react, but nonetheless it was a plan that would either move them leaps forward or end the relationship altogether. She grimly set her jaw, determined that it would be the former.

Slowly he opened his eyes and drank in the sight of her bathed in sunlight. It took a moment for that to sink in and when it did his eyes opened wide, blinking in the bright light. Sitting bolt upright he looked wildly about, his mane flying around his face. He was Above, still on the balconyÖ in broad daylight! Finally he settled a look on her, "You let me sleep. Why?" He asked accusingly.

She smiled at him, serenely, "You were exhausted. You needed it." She stood stiffly, her muscles protesting the position she had kept them in, and held out a hand to him. "Come inside. Iím afraid youíre stuck with me until sunset."

He looked at her hand, then reached out to grasp it, pulling himself up. She moved to the door and slid it open, giving him a moment to collect himself. He stood hesitating - what choice did he have? He couldnít very well stay out on the balcony all day. She gave his hand a gentle tug and he reluctantly followed her into her world, a world he had only crossed into when she had been hurt and in need. He didnít know why he never wanted to enter her apartment. She was never afraid to enter his world, his chamber. Why should he not do the same? He answered himself - because here there would be no interruptions, here his control might slip and he would take her in his arms like he longed to do so many times. His chamber was like Grand Central Station, which was his own fault; he had always made himself available to everyone at any time. No one Below thought he had a need for privacy; after all he had never needed it before.

She motioned for him to give her his cloak, and after draping it over the back of a chair she pulled him into the kitchen. "Here." She pushed him down into a kitchen chair. "Sit down. You must be famished." She went to the refrigerator and took out some orange juice. God, he was so quiet, she thought, as she felt his eyes tracking her every move. She poured out two glasses and set one in front of him. He stared at it, still absorbing the fact that he had been caught Above and would not be able to leave for hours. He felt a familiar fear creep through his mindÖ caught Above. He shook it off; he was safe here with Catherine in her apartment. In her apartment? Alone with Catherine - in her apartment! His breathing became rapid and Catherine could see the panic starting.

Lightly she asked, "Do you like waffles? I have some frozen ones in the freezer. Itíll just take a minute in the toaster."

He focused on her and forced his breathing to return to normal, pushing down the panic. "Yes, waffles would be fine," he managed to assure her.

"Good! Syrupís in that cabinet over there," she indicated with a motion of her head as she popped the waffles into the toaster. Getting up to get the syrup seemed to loosen him up somewhat, and he came back to the table smiling.

"What is it? What are you thinking of?" she asked him.

He looked at her, smiling broadly enough so that the tips of his canines showed. "Father. He should be having a fit of apoplexy by now over where I could be."

She smiled, enjoying the vision of the old manís face red and blustery, shouting for Vincent. Then she frowned a little - it wasnít right to worry him like that, no matter what harm his parental care had caused. "Iíll go down to the threshold and send a message saying that youíre safe and with me."

Vincent laughed, "Oh, that should set his mind at ease." She smiled with him, enjoying the easy moment.

They ate breakfast discussing Lisaís role in the upcoming inquiries of her husbandís illegal business transactions. They spoke comfortably, enjoying each otherís company. After they had finished eating, she slipped on a jogging suit and went down to the threshold to bang out a message declaring Vincent safe and sound, and with her. She giggled to herself as she finished the last part of the message. "Make of that what you will, Father. Iíve got him now," she thought smugly. She went back upstairs, her plan solidifying as she went.

When she got back, she found Vincent at the sink just finishing up the dishes. She stood for a moment watching him. It was such a routine, ordinary thing to do, washing dishes, but to have Vincent doing them in her kitchen thrilled her. She came up behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist, hugging him to her. She felt him tense and then relax. "Good," she thought. "Itís a step in the right direction."

"Ok youíre safe," she told him. "The message was sent and received. You donít have to worry about Father."

"You donít think so?" He cocked his head at her. "Wait till I get back - Iím sure Iíll have quite a lecture coming to me."

"Iím sure youíll survive it. Youíve lived this long, havenít you?"

"Not unscathed, I assure you." He answered gravely with a merry twinkle in his eyes.

They laughed easily together. Now she thought, putting the next phase of her plan into action. "Why donít you go in and take a shower?" she suggested innocently, keeping a tight hold of her emotions as he followed her into the bathroom. "Here are some fresh towels." She pulled a couple of towels out of the linen closet and plunked them down on the vanity. "And hereís how you work the shower." She showed him how the diverter worked. "Soap and shampoo are there, and Iíll be right back with clean clothes. Iím sure Iíve got one of Dadís sweat suits around."

When she left the bathroom, he stood, uncertain. The mirror drew his attention and he looked into it, seeing himself, and the panic began to rise again. He didnít belong here in Catherineís bathroom. He was about to bolt and take his chances trying to get Below when she came back in.

"Here you go. They may be a bit snug, but it will give me a chance to wash your things."

"Catherine, that really isnít necessary," he said in a strangled voice, trying to bring his panic under control. "I can wear the same clothes."

"Nonsense. You crashed through a skylight in those clothes. Theyíre filthy. I canít send you back to Father like that! What would he think of me?" She grinned as she saw him shrug and take the offered clothing. ĎThatís one for me.í She mentally tallied up her small victory. "Thereís an extra toothbrush in the medicine cabinet," she pointed out, opening the cabinet. "And if thereís anything else you need, just let me know."

Vincent assured her there would be nothing else. She left, closing the door behind her and soon she heard the toilet flush as he made use of the facility and the water start up in the shower.

Quickly she shed her clothing and stepped back into the bathroom, softly closing the door behind her. The steam from the hot water had fogged the glass of the shower doors, showing her tantalizing glimpses of his body. Hurriedly, before her desire telegraphed itself to him, she quietly slid aside the shower door and stepped in.

He had his back to the door, and when he heard it open he whirled around, shocked. "Catherine! What are you doing?" He covered himself with his hands, appalled at her audacity. How could she?

Catherine looked at him admiringly. Even soaking wet, he was breathtakingly handsome. "Shush," she said, laying a finger against his lips. "In order for our relationship to thrive and move forward you need to know once and for all that what happened with Lisa was an accident. It wonít happen with me. Iíll never pull away from you. Never."

Stooping for the soap he had dropped on the floor, she turned him around to face the wall, hoping it would give him a chance to calm and collect himself. Lathering up her hands she began to soap his back with small circular motions. He tensed under her hands, fighting for control, fighting not to bolt out of the room. What if she was wrong? What if he did hurt her? Then all of this would end. He would never see her again. Was it worth it? Was it worth the risk? A small voice inside him hissed, "YesÖ yes." He had been tortured for months wanting her, his control slipping more frequently. How long could he maintain that delicate balance that threatened to crash as his desire for her grew? This way they would know, once and for all, they would know. He stayed. He let her rub the soap into his back. He relaxed, just a little.

She felt it; she felt the tension crank down just a notch, and her joy was boundless. He felt that through the bond and wondered at it - that he could be the source of such joy for her was unbelievable. Encouraged by his release of tension she left his back and brought her hands around to his front and began soaping up his chest. Leaning her body into his, she felt the brush of his fur along her breasts and wanted more. She pressed harder bringing the skin of her stomach in contact with his firm buttocks. She moaned as she rubbed circles of soap into his chest, finally finding his nipples and rubbing them with the palms of her hands till they peaked.

Vincent fought for control; laying his hands flat against the shower wall he bowed his head, fighting. But his body betrayed him, and his manhood rose thick and hard in response to her touch. Opening his eyes, he saw Catherineís hands massaging his chest, her slender fingers entwined in the thick fur. Her desire welled up, combining with his, overcoming any shred of control he had been clinging to. He felt her hands move down to his throbbing erection, felt them grasp him and begin to stroke. His control shattered and he thrust himself in her hands feeling her gently tighten her grip. The world narrowed to Catherineís touch on him, to her desire for him. It didnít take long before a blessed release overwhelmed him and his seed pumped out over her hands and the shower floor. She let him go and hugged him tightly, grinding herself into his back. The love he felt pouring through the bond from her was making him giddy. She had seen him, all of him, and still she loved him. Slowly she made him turn to face her. He hung his head, unwilling to meet her eyes.

Cupping his chin with her hand, she lifted his head, smiling into his face. "That wasnít so bad, was it?" Shame flitted through his eyes, then wonder. She wasnít repulsed at all.

She handed him the soap. "Your turn." She turned her back to him expectantly, trustingly. Slowly he lathered up his hands and very carefully, keeping his claws well retracted, began to rub her back. She pushed into his touch craving the feel of his rough palms on her skin.

Her skin, it was so smooth, so silky he lost himself in the feel of her. The sight of his furred hands on her beautiful body disconcerted him, but when he lifted them away, she whimpered and he returned to gently continue washing her.

She let him take his time and soon was rewarded by the feel of his hands on her buttocks. A moan escaped her parted lips and she pushed into him, wanting more. He moved to her breasts and rubbed them as she had rubbed him, feeling the weight of them in his hands. He rubbed his thumbs over the nipples, and they grew hard and taut in response. Catherineís desire flared. This was the sweetest torture she had ever known, and she abruptly turned in his arms and flung her arms around his neck to pull him down for their first loversí kiss. She was deep in the heat of her arousal, and without preamble thrust her tongue deep into his mouth. He pulled back surprised, but she moved with him. He moaned, wrapping his arms around her. He learned quickly from her, and as she explored his mouth with her tongue, he did the same. His erection grew again and thrummed against her stomach, demanding attention.

His chest heaving, he stepped back as far as the shower stall and Catherineís arms permitted. Catherineís eyes flew open, startled. "What?" she gasped huskily, still in a state of deep arousal. "Whatís the matter?"

He reached up and pulled her arms down from around his neck. "This is wrong, Catherine. We mustnít do this."

Fear rose in her as she felt him pull away, but she ruthlessly thrust it aside, replacing it with her supreme confidence in his inability to hurt her either emotionally or physically. He was confused. She was sure she had read his emotions correctly through the bond; he wanted this as much as she did. She reached behind him and flipped the lever, shutting off the stream of water.

"Whatís so wrong about it? Iím a woman, grown, and know my mind. I know what I want, and I want you as a woman wants her lover."

Vincent shook his head, looking down at the floor. Her heart sank. Had she lost? Had she been too bold? Had she pushed him too far, too fast? Quickly her mind raced for an argument that would keep him with her.

"Vincent, what is your body telling you to do right now? What are your instincts telling you to do?"

He looked at her for a moment before his eyes slid away from her again. "Itís telling me to take you in my arms and to make us one."

"Whatís wrong with that?" She demanded. "Thatís what any manís instincts would tell him to do right now."

His head shot up. "But Iím not any man," he countered. "Iím not a man at all." He looked away again. "I donít know what I am," he said quietly.

Catherine planted her balled fists on her hips. "I know what you are. You are the person I love, and that part of you that is a man says to take me and make love to me. What about that part of you that you call a beast? What is the beastís instinct telling you to do?"

Vincent threw his head back and sighed deeply. "It wants the same. To take you, to make you mine."

"So whatís the difference? The man and the beast want the same thing, and I say to you that you are not made up of two parts. You are one being, a being I love more than anything, more than my own life. You have every right to love and be loved." Her voice softened. "Let me show you, Vincent, let me guide you through this. I have enough courage for both of us."

She poured her love for him through the bond, showing him that she had no doubts, no fear. Gently she entwined her fingers into his wet mane and pulled him down to her again. He felt her love and marveled at it. The wall he had built to protect himself crumbled as her love tore through it, bringing it down. Their lips met and the bond blazed. He could fight it no longer. Between Catherineís need and willingness and her love surging through the bond, he finally let go. He returned her kiss fiercely, his erection growing again, demanding release. Catherine rubbed her stomach against it, groaning in pleasure. She once again wrapped her arms around his neck and jumped up. Startled, he instinctively put his hands under her buttocks to support her. He felt one of her arms release his neck and slide down his chest and stomach till she reached his hard, surging shaft. She gripped it and guided it to her aching womanhood. Centering herself on it she flexed her hips and felt him slide into her. Finally. The feeling of completeness was indescribable. She tightened her legs around his waist and began rocking her hips forward and back.

When Vincent felt his penetration into Catherine, his heart stopped. Her hot wetness engulfed him, her muscles pulling him further into herself. It felt good. It felt right. It felt likeÖ home. He roared and joined her motion, timing his thrusts to hers to maximize his penetration of her. He roared again when they reached climax, exalting in their final completion. Catherine felt the spurt of his hot seed inside her and smiled. She had been right: she knew he would be the kind of lover every woman dreamed of. But he was no dream. He was flesh and blood, very real, and every inch a manÖ her man.

They finished their shower, touching and exploring every inch of their bodies. When they left the shower, she toweled him dry, enjoying the feel of hard muscle under soft fur. Such contradictions - hard and soft, fierce yet gentle, a voice that could melt butter or roar loud enough to split your eardrums. And all of this hersÖ hers! She was surprised to look down at her feet and still see them on the floor. She felt like she was walking on air. Her gamble had paid off. Nothing could come between them now. She knew that. The bond was humming between them - she could feel him as much as he could feel her. CompleteÖ she felt a completeness now that she had never known before.

He looked at her with such love in his eyes as he toweled her dry, a feeling of complete contentment filling him. She had done this for him. Her courage had carried them to the final step. He had never felt so content, so relaxed. Her back was to him as he carefully dried her soft, white skin, and he felt his desire grow again. He muffled a groan and tried to control his urges. What would she think of him? But he could not hide from the bond.

She felt his shame and whirled on him, eyes flashing. "Donít you ever, ever be ashamed of wanting me." She declared savagely. Her tempered cooled quickly when she saw the look of guilt on his face; he looked so much like a little boy just then. "Donít you know wanting me is flattering? Besides, I want you just as much, and believe me, I donít feel ashamed one little bit."

He stared at her, so much fire and determination in such a small package. Her lips were parted and she ran the tip of her tongue over them, enticingly. He kissed her then, deepening it to explore her mouth again as she did his. He groaned and scooped her up in his arms carrying her to the bedroom. Laying her gently on the bed, he stood a moment looking at her. She was lovely and she was his. He slid in beside her and hugged her to him. They parted slightly, facing each other on their sides, heads propped up on elbows.

"Donít you have to be at work?" He asked, a merry twinkle in his eyes.

"I called in sick before I joined you in the shower," she grinned back at him.

"I see," he said solemnly. "We are starting this new phase of our relationship with a lie." He looked away trying to keep a straight face.

"Not at all, my love. I truly am sickÖ lovesick, and thereís only one thing that will cure me."

She threw her arms around his neck and pulled him to her. As they kissed, his hand ran down her face, her neck and shoulder, slowly savoring the feel of her. His hand moved to her breast and hesitated until Catherine pressed against him. Gently he cupped the soft globe, rubbing his thumb over the nipple that rose to his touch. She moaned, flexing her hips against him. He moved his hand from her breast to the flat of her stomach then the curve of her hip. Their kiss had continued throughout his exploration, but as he neared the mound of curly hair she broke the kiss, breathing heavily.

"Please Vincent now, I need you now," she begged. The scent of her need filled his nostrils, and he moved over her positioning himself between her legs. She tilted her hips upward and took his manhood in her hand guiding him to her. He thrust into her moist core feeling her muscles contract around him, drawing him inward. Grunting, he drove down deeper, sinking his entire length into her, feeling the wetness of her on his scrotum. She grasped his waist with her legs, pulling him to her. They found their rhythm and increased their tempo, climaxing together, sweaty bodies collapsing in a heap, chests heaving with exertion.

He rolled off of her onto his back, gasping for air. "I never knew it would be like this. Nothing prepares you for it, nothing."

She propped her head up on her elbow, twirling a piece of his chest fur around her finger. "Arenít you sorry you didnít get around to doing this sooner?" she asked impishly.

He looked at her very seriously. "There were some issues I needed to work out, but it was well worth the wait. Iím just sorry I made you wait."

Issues was an understatement, and theyíd still have issues now if she hadnít taken the initiative, but he was right. It was well worth the wait.

"Speaking of issues, when I called in sick, they told me Lisa opted not to go into the witness protection program. She wants to dance, so sheís hired her own bodyguard just in case her soon to be ex-husband gets any ideas." She became thoughtful. "You know Vincent, I donít think Lisa was the issue really. I think it was the way Father reacted to what happened that made you so leery of a sexual relationship."

Vincent nodded his head in agreement, "Yes, his fear has clouded my whole life. I see that now, but his fears and the decisions he made concerning me were all done to protect me."

Catherine smiled at him. "You donít need that protection now."

"No." He returned her smile, "But it's kept me safe so that I could meet you." He reached for her, drawing her close.

***

It was a much-changed Vincent that entered the tunnels that evening. He and Catherine had spent the day exploring each other, making love many times in the hours they were together. He grinned, and laughed out loud. He couldnít remember a time when he had grinned so much the muscles around his mouth were sore with it, or was that all the kissing he had done this day? He felt he was walking on air - he had never felt so relaxed.

When the pipes announced his return, Father stumped his way to his sonís chamber and waited for him. He could see the change in him immediately; there was a confidence and self-assurance about him that absolutely radiated from him in waves. Vincent felt his presence before he entered and girded himself for the lecture he knew he was in for.

"Father." He acknowledged quietly as he entered his chamber.

"Vincent, Iím glad you could finally join us," Father barbed sarcastically, getting up to pace, his cane thumping on the floor. "What in the world has gotten into you? How did you manage to get caught Above?"

"I fell asleep, Father, and woke after the sun had risen," Vincent stated simply.

Father became alarmed, "Thatís never happened before." He stepped closer, peering at his sonís face. "Are you ill?" He put a hand to Vincentís forehead to see if he had a fever. Vincent grinned, thinking of Catherineís call into work that morning.

Vincent shook it off. "No Father, Iíve never been better."

Exasperated, Father plunked down in a chair. "Well where have you been? What have you been doing?"

Vincent thought a moment and decided the truth was the best. "Iíve been in Catherineís apartment all day."

"Humph, watching television I suppose, or perhaps she had something worthwhile to read."

"No Father, I was learning what it is to be a man, a man in love, making love to a woman who is in love with me."

Father began to sputter and lurched up out of the chair. "Are you insane? Vincent, Iíve told you time and time again, a relationship like that is not for you. Is Catherine all right? You didnít hurt her, did you?"

Vincent whirled on his parent, rage crossing his leonine features. "Why do you make these groundless assumptions? Because of what happened between Lisa and me? Well youíre wrong! You were wrong then and youíre wrong now." He growled, coming nose to nose with the old man. "Catherine and I loved each other and it was glorious, the most moving experience of my life. To think I almost denied her and myself the pleasure of consummating our relationship because of the doubts and fears you planted in me."

"Vincent," Father backed away, alarmed at Vincentís vehemence. "I only wanted to protect you, to protect Catherine. If you had hurt her, you would never have forgiven yourself."

"You knew the joys of bringing a relationship to its natural completion. Why would you deny me that? Why, Father?"

"Because of what you are, Vincent."

"What I am has never been. You couldnít know what would happen between me and a woman, and yet you filled my head with unknown fears, your fears."

"Iím sorry, Vincent I didnít know. I was afraid that in the throes of passion you would unintentionally injure your partner. I just wanted to keep you safe." Father looked at Vincent with tears in his eyes. "I did what I thought was best. Thatís all any of us can do, after all, do what we think is best."

Vincentís visage softened. "Father, I am a man, grown. I have to make my own choices, my own decisions, and live with the consequences. Catherine is part of me now. She is my life. Please be happy for us."

Father looked away and whispered, "I just donít want to see you get hurt."

"Like Margaret hurt you? Catherine is not Margaret, Father. Our love is true and strong; it will overcome any obstacle. I know that beyond a shadow of a doubt."

"Margaret," Father whispered, his eyes losing focus as he remembered the wife he had once had, the happy life that he had once lived, and the ruination of that love and life. The pain of that severed relationship haunted him still. That was another reason he had put the fear of a relationship into Vincent. He wanted to spare him the pain of a broken heart.

Vincent went to him then, his heart overflowing with love for the man who had raised him, and hugged him fiercely. "Father, Catherine and I are one now and Iím very happy. Please be happy for us, for me."

Father took Vincentís head between his hands, looked deeply into the sapphire blue eyes of his son, and drew him down to kiss his forehead. "Then I am happy for you, son."

***

Catherine slept deeply that night, completely sated and exhausted. She felt Vincent do the same, the bond as clear to her as it had always been for him. She sent a loving good night through it and drifted off into a blissful slumber. The next morning she bounced into work, smiling from ear to ear.

"That illness you had yesterday must have been pretty good," Joe quipped when he saw her. "If thatís the way you recover from it, I wish youíd spread it around."

Catherine merely grinned at him and dug into the enormous pile of work on her desk. By the end of the day she was exhausted, but eagerly looked forward to a night with Vincent. She knew he would come to her by the way he felt through the bond. He was as anxious as she to be together again. She took a quick shower and slid into her sexiest negligee, a sheer, silky, pale blue sheath with spaghetti straps that cupped each breast sensually. The crystal he had given her for their first anniversary lay nestled between her breasts, shown off by the plunging V-neck of the gown. She dabbed a bit of perfume behind each ear and stood back to admire herself in the full-length mirror. Looking through the French doors, she scowled at the setting sun, wishing it would stop its slow crawl and plummet beyond the horizon to hasten the darkness that would bring Vincent. His restlessness telegraphed itself through the bond to her; she could feel him at the threshold, pacing, waiting eagerly to be with her again. She came close to slipping on a coat and going down to meet him, but then where would they spend the night? No. Better to stay put and wait for the coming darkness.

Flitting around the room, she straightened a picture here, turned a knickknack there, trying to fill in the time. This is ridiculous, she thought and went to her desk and pulled a file out of her tote bag. But trying to focus her mind on breaking down the deposition was hopeless. Giving up, she stuffed the file back where she had gotten it and prowled the apartment again, waiting.

Before full darkness fell, she felt him nearing. She opened the French doors just as he leaped onto the balcony and was in his arms an instant after. He pulled her close, wrapping his cloak around her to ward off the chill of the night, and kissed her hungrily. When he pulled back to catch his breath he saw her shiver. How could she be so foolish as to wear such a flimsy garment in this cold, he thought. Then he realizedÖ it was for him. He caught the scent of perfume, and he grinned, also for him. Scooping her up, he carried her into the warmth of her apartment and laid her on the bed. He stood back to admire the result of all the trouble she had gone through to please him.

She smiled up at him and held her arms out. He went to her, intending to take his time and savor their lovemaking, but that was not to be. His need to be inside her was too great, and her desire to feel him within her burned through the bond, spurring him on. He pulled the zipper down from his pants, releasing the strain his erection had caused against the material. Hiking her gown up above her hips he entered her quickly, urgently. Their hips moved rhythmically together creating the friction that brought about the blessed relief.

After they climaxed, he collapsed on her and rolled to one side to stand beside the bed, his eyes never leaving hers. He stripped off his clothing as she gazed admiringly at the golden fur that covered the rock hard muscles underneath. When he was naked, he returned to the bed to mold his body to hers, feeling the silkiness of the gown on his own flesh, rubbing his callused palms along the fabric, enjoying the feel of it.

She moaned under his touch, wanting his hands on her skin, and pulled the gown up over her head and discarded it. He rose up on his knees and situated himself between her legs. Reaching back, he ran his hands slowly up her body starting with her feet, her legs, torso, her breasts. Here he stopped to cup each one in his hands, feeling the weight of them, touching the nipples so that they stood erect.

Catherine writhed beneath him, watching his face avidly as a look of wonder came over it.

He stared, mesmerized, then slowly bent forward to suckle first at one, then the other. Catherine was driven to near distraction by his raspy tongue licking her highly sensitized flesh. Her legs came up on either side of him in response, but he pushed them down. He wasnít finished yet. This was something he had longed to do ever since he had seen one of the infants feeding on its mother's breast when he was a young child. She felt his need and cradled his head, stroking his mane and cooing to him as if he were a child. He stayed there a long time, indulging his fantasy suckling at first one and then the other, feeling safe and secure in her loving embrace. When he was finished, he moved his tongue up her throat, nipping and licking in turn.

She moaned under his ministrations, swinging her head back and forth on the pillow. When he reached her face, she held still, allowing him to bestow kisses on her brow and eyelids, to nibble her earlobes and when she could stand it no longer she captured his head between her hands and kissed him full on the mouth, driving her tongue into it. He responded, lowering himself so that more of his weight pressed down on her. She brought her legs up to lock around his waist and tilted her hips as his hard shaft sought her hot, moist entrance. She groaned in ecstasy as he entered her, pulling him closer with her legs so that his penetration was deep. Her muscles clenched around him urging him to a tempo that brought them to the height of climax.

***

While Vincent was Above, occupied with loving Catherine, Cullen and Kanin started the project their friend had requested of them. They were making a great deal of noise, and William finally went into Father.

"Whatís going on with Vincentís chamber?" he demanded. "I thought he was top-side?"

"He is," Father responded, taking off his glasses and looking disgusted.

"Those two are making enough noise to wake the dead!" William complained of the hammering Cullen and Kanin were doing.

"Yes, wellÖ it seems Vincent has asked them to install a door to his chamber entrance."

"A door? What the hell does he need that for?" he questioned gruffly.

Father shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "AhmÖ it seems my son requires privacy," he answered, not looking at William.

"Privacy?" he echoed perplexed. "Privacy for what?" He noticed Fatherís face turning red and finally made the connection. "Well itís about time," he chuckled, his belly shaking with mirth.

Fatherís eyes locked on him accusingly. "What do you mean, itís about time?"

"Come on Father. He and Catherine have been seeing each other for what, over two years? Theyíre not kids, you know. Any other couple would have reached this stage in their relationship ages ago. What are you so upset about?"

"They are not just any other couple!" Father stormed. "Vincent is not an ordinary person! HeísÖ heísÖ " Father stammered, searching for the right words.

"Whatever else he is, heís a man just like you and me, and like a man he wants and needs to be loved. Iím sure you still remember the urges a woman could produce in you. I certainly do. Instead of being upset about it, why donít you be happy for them?"

Father got up, leaning on the desk for support. "Because Catherine is a woman of the world, used to having fine things, used to being wined and dined. What can Vincent possibly offer her?"

"How about himself." William said quietly. "He can offer himself and all the love he can give her."

Father sank slowly back into his chair, holding his head in his hands. "What if thatís not enough? What if she grows tired of his confined life and leaves him? What then?"

"If that happens, and believe me I donít think it will, then he will have to deal with it. Itís his choice to make. Itís his life that he has to live."

William left the chamber leaving Father deep in thought.

***

"I have a gift for you." Vincent smiled, reaching for his cloak as he sat on the end of the bed. He was dressed and getting ready to leave so that Catherine would get at least a few hours of sleep before going to work. He pulled a candle out of one of the pockets and handed it to her.

She took it carefully and ran a hand down its length, admiring Rebeccaís handiwork. "Winterfest!" She declared happily. "When?"

"This Saturday evening," he told her, smiling at the lovely vision she created sitting up in the bed, her lower body covered by a sheet, her breasts tantalizingly naked above it.

A pout appeared on her face. A spike of disappointment came through the bond.

"What is it, Catherine? Whatís the matter?"

She smiled ruefully. "I was hoping to have you here all to myself all weekend."

Vincent grinned showing his canines. "Nothing would please me more, but we do have other people we have to consider." He leaned down to kiss her and run the back of a furred hand over a nipple. "Besides, thereís always next weekend," he purred, as she leaned into his touch.

They kissed again, deeply, not wanting the night to end. Finally he tore himself away, and with a swish of his cloak and a loving glance, he was through the doors and over the balcony railing.

Catherine sighed wistfully, missing him already. She snuggled down in the bed, inhaling his scent that lingered on the bedclothes.

***

Preparations for Winterfest kept him away for the rest of the week, and by Saturday she was aching for his touch. She spent the morning on Fifth Ave, prowling the shops for the perfect dress that would be warm enough to keep her comfortable, yet provocative enough to keep Vincent uncomfortable. She had every intention of luring him back to her apartment after the celebration was over, so that they could enjoy their own intimate celebration. As evening approached, she dressed carefully, fussing over every detail, wanting to look perfect for him.

Finally the time came to meet him at the threshold, and she felt her heart pounding as she descended the stairs. His arms came around her before she reached the bottom rung, and he lifted her easily, turning her to face him. Before her feet touched the ground, he was kissing her. Molding herself to him, she kissed him back, wishing that they could rip off their clothing and make wild passionate love.

He must have felt the thought, and he pulled back, his eyes twinkling merrily. "Come, theyíll be waiting for us." He held her hand tightly as they made their way right to the stone steps that led to the Great Hall.

There was a line of people already waiting, the wind whipping their hair and clothing about. They moved aside so that the couple could get to the doors. Vincent handed his candle to her and, as customary, lifted the great plank of wood that kept the doors closed against the howling wind. Setting the plank against the wall he pushed the doors open and turned back to take her hand, leading her to the table where the opening ceremony would begin.

This Winterfest was a great success, unmarred by the unpleasant events of the previous year. Residents and helpers mingled and danced together, conversations flowed and ebbed as people partook of Williamís good and bountiful food. Vincent and Catherine circulated through the throng, greeting this one and that, never far from each other.

Everyone noticed a change in their golden couple. They could see the light touches, the shy glances and loving looks. The dance floor was seldom without them and often people would stop in mid-word just to watch them float in time to the music. It was a magical night, and everyone knew it and basked in the overflow of love the couple exuded.

At one point Peter found himself in conversation with Father when he saw a look pass over his friend's face. "And just what are you scowling at?" he asked, as he scanned the room for the source of his displeasure. Spotting Catherine and Vincent dancing, he surmised them to be the cause. "I donít know why you are so against their relationship, they make the perfect pair. Just look at them. They positively glow."

"Yes, and when the glow wears off, what then? She leaves him with a broken heart?" Father replied bitterly.

"Jacob, you old curmudgeon, just because you suffered a broken heart doesnít mean Vincent will. Cathy will not break his heart. She loves him. Thatís pretty evident from where I stand."

"You know Iím getting pretty sick and tired of being lectured about my attitude where my son is concerned." Father turned his scowl on Peter. "And who are you calling old! Weíre the same age!"

"Iím calling you old, and wasnít it the great bard who said Ďtis better to have loved and lost then to never have loved at all? You know I wouldnít be at all surprised if that boy were still a virgin." He rounded on Father and thumped his chest with a finger. "How many thirty-three year old virgins do you know?"

Fatherís faced softened, perhaps everyone was right. He should leave Vincent alone to make his own choices and decisions, and if it was his decision to love Catherine and she to love him, then so be it. They were, after all, old enough to make their own decisions. Who was he to deny Vincent the pleasures of a womanís love?

He clapped Peter on the shoulder and gave him a wolfish grin. "I have it on good authority that he is no longer."

Peterís eyebrows shot up and he looked at the couple again. "Good," he pronounced with a nod of his head, thinking heíd better give Catherine a prescription for birth control pills. He and Father had never been sure about Vincentís ability to father a child, but there was no sense taking any chances until the couple was ready to face that possibility.

After his conversation with Peter, Father kept an eye on them and had to admit, even if only to himself, that they made a beautiful pair. He had never seen Vincent so happy, and Catherine positively glowed. His heart swelled with happiness for both of them.

After the words of the closing ceremony had been spoken, Vincent ushered Jamie out with a wink and then, as usual, was the last one left to close and bar the great doors. He looked at Catherine standing beside him and smiled. "Itís been a magical evening, hasnít it?" he asked her lovingly. She beamed back at him.

"Itís been wonderful, but I canít wait to go home."

He nodded his agreement. "I know. Itís been very hard controlling myself around you."

She smiled. She had felt the hardness of his desire pressing into her every time they had danced together. She held out her arms to him. "One last dance?" He swept her into his arms and began to waltz just as they had done a year ago, only this time he held her very close, and she felt his hardness grow. She ground her groin into him seductively eliciting a moan that came from deep in his throat. Lowering his mouth to her neck he began to lick and nibble. They stopped dancing and stood still, their blood running hot through their veins.

"Vincent, I swear if we donít leave soon Iím going to tear your clothes off and rape you right here on the floor."

He looked into her hungry eyes and led her through the doors, closing them behind him. Taking the plank from where he had set it earlier, he placed it back in its retainers. She handed him back the torch she had held for him, and he took her hand, guiding her up the steps and through the tunnels.

She pulled him up short when she realized they werenít going back to her threshold. "Vincent, arenít we going to my apartment?"

Looking down at her worried face, he cupped her chin and kissed her. "I need to stop by my chamber first."

She hadnít thought about his need for a change of clothes, and she mentally kicked herself. "How impatient can I get?" she thought contritely. Meekly, she followed him into his chamber and stood awed at the sight that met her eyes. It was filled with flowers, their combined scent heady in the small, warm room. Candles flickered everywhere, reminding her of Olivia and Kaninís anniversary.

As her gaze traveled around she noted that the covers on his bed were turned down invitingly. She turned to Vincent wide eyed, "Weíre staying here tonight?"

He nodded, moving behind her to shut and lock the door. Her eyes went wide when she saw it. "We wonít be disturbed?"

He shook his head as he walked back to her. "Cullen and Kanin were kind enough to install it for me, and Iíve been getting everyone used to it ever since. They know when itís closed Iím not to be disturbed for any reason."

She laughed out loud as he picked her up and swung her onto the bed, kissing her hungrily. Panting heavily, she pushed him so that he rolled toward the inside of the bed. She got up off the bed and stood before him, her eyes locking on to his, and slowly, very slowly, began to undress.

When she stood before him naked it was all he could do to keep his hands off her, but he slid off the bed and undressed for her. She watched him avidly, sucking in her breath when his torso was bared and his fur shone golden in the candlelight. His erection bobbed at her when it was finally released from the confines of his pants, and she reveled in his obvious desire for her.

She melted into his arms when he reached for her, and he again lifted her into his bed. Bestowing light, loving kisses around her face, he worked his way down her neck, while she moaned her pleasure. He paid homage to each breast before working his way down her flat, taut stomach, circling his tongue in her navel. Her hands were on his head now, pushing him down to the soft mound of curly hair between her legs, where she felt a fire growing that was driving her mad. He slowly let his raspy tongue trail down to where her womanly scent was leading him. Her legs came up on either side of his head as he nuzzled into the curls, breathing deeply. Finally she felt his tongue begin its exploration of her nether lips, and she thought she would go insane. The feel of him there was indescribable.

Her head thrashed on the pillow as he plied his tongue around and finally into her. Her emotions coming through the bond nearly undid him, and he stopped a moment to regain some measure of control. The loss of his tongue made her whimper and he rubbed her breasts with his hands, mollifying her somewhat, until he calmed himself enough to continue. He wanted to go slow this time, to worship every inch of her. He turned her over and ran his hands up the backs of her legs, feeling the soft sensitive flesh behind her knees. He bent down to apply his tongue to that area and was rewarded with another surge through the bond. He had found another spot that drove his Catherine crazy. He ran his tongue up both thighs while his hands kneaded her soft bottom. Her breathing was coming in short gasps and her musky scent was becoming stronger as her core readied itself for him.

"Please Vincent," she managed to gasp out. "Please."

He felt the blood pounding in his rock-hard shaft, and when she elevated her bottom to him, he grabbed her hips and drove himself into her, penetrating deeply. She yelped in pleasure and stuffed some of the pillow into her mouth, grabbing handfuls of it as he thrust slowly in and out, driving her into a frenzy. He leaned over her back and cupped a breast in each hand, rubbing his thumbs over the nipples. He felt her meeting his thrust with her own and increased the tempo.

Afterward he collapsed next to her, his chest heaving. Each time was better than the last. He didnít think that could be possible, but it was. He brushed the hair off her face as she turned to him.

"Vincent, you are magnificent," she whispered hoarsely.

His lips curved up into a smile, "You inspire me, my love."

She leaned in and kissed him, tasting herself on him. She wiggled closer to him so that she was molded along his length, deepening the kiss and exploring his mouth. She would never get enough of that unique mouth, the raspy tongue, the sharp teeth, the ridged roof, his cleft upper lip and full bottom one. She sucked on it now, pulling it into her mouth. Then she pushed him with her body, rolling him onto his back. It was her turn for some exploration.

She straddled him, trapping his flaccid penis between her curly mound and his stomach. Bending over, she began a trail of kisses down one side of his face, nibbled on an earlobe, sending puffs of hot breath into his ear, then across his chin to the other side to end where she began. She felt him growing hard again beneath her and she rubbed herself on him feeling the slickness of her fluid coat him. She rose up a little to swing her breasts tantalizing near his mouth, and he reached up to capture and suck on a nipple. He flexed his hips, and his erection found her opening and drove in. She pulled the breast he had taken out of his mouth and presented him with the other one. He happily ministered to that one as well as he rocked himself in and out. She sat up, causing him to lose his hold on her breast, but the change of position drove him deeper within her, and he felt her moisture drip onto his scrotum. She bent again and kissed his neck, his chest. She found a nipple under the soft fur and ran her tongue around it, teasing it till it was hard and taut while she used her fingers to tweak the other one.

Leaving his chest, she wove a trail of kisses down his abdomen, working her way down till she sat between his legs. Her route caused her to become disengaged from him and he moaned his disappointment, but soon forgot his loss when he felt her feather light kisses on his penis. Kissing wasnít enough, and soon she was licking, paying particular attention to the rim around the head. He moaned in response to the exquisite torture she was subjecting him to. She drew him into her mouth and sucked. He growled, flexing his hips, and reached down with his hands to hold her head down, wanting more. She obliged by taking more of him into her mouth, flicking her tongue up and down till he was writhing on the pillow and his breath came in hoarse gasps. She moved one hand down to cup and fondle the soft, furred sacs while the other held him in her mouth. She could feel his climax coming through the bond and held him tightly with her lips as he spurted and roared.

Those residents and guests who had not imbibed too deeply of Williamís potent punch were awakened several times in the wee hours of the morning by a sound they couldnít identify. Perhaps it was the roar of a particularly loud subway train. But Peter, who was staying in a guest chamber, heard and understood.

"That a boy, Vincent," he thought as he went back to sleep, grinning from ear to ear.

Catherineís last thought as she drifted off to sleep, exhausted and happily tucked protectively in Vincentís embrace, was that with all the Winterfests to come, this second one would always be their most memorable.

Vincent looked down at Catherineís face as he held her close in his arms. She smiled in her sleep, and he wondered at the courage this woman had displayed in chasing the specter that was Lisa out of their lives. She had set him free to live a life he hadnít even had the courage to dream about. He tightened his hold on her, kissing her head. She turned in his arms, still sleeping and burrowed her face into his chest, contentment radiating from her. He fell asleep and dreamt the dreams he had never dared to dream.

~

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