FROM ORPHANS TO LOVERS

The repetitive beeping of the heart monitor annoyed Catherine, yet at the same time comforted her. That mechanical sound and the steady clunk and swoosh of the respirator affirmed life still existed in the body of Charles Chandler.

Life. What kind of life was this for the vibrant, intelligent man who was her father? A sharp pain ripped through her soul. Why? Why did it have to be like this? She stared at his motionless body. He couldn't see, he couldn't move, she wasn't even sure he could hear her but she had to believe he knew she was with him.

The length of time between the beeps seemed to last an eternity and Catherine caught herself pacing her own breathing to the rhythm of the respirator. Those sounds became her world. Hours passed by unnoticed. The daylight turned to darkness as time slipped by. She couldn't remember how long she had been there.

"Miss Chandler?"

A nurse appeared to monitor the machines and give an injection. "Why don't you go home and get some rest, dear? There's nothing you can do here."

"I don't want him to be alone."

"He won't be."

"I know but..."

"Look, what would he want you to do?"

A very tired smile crept across Catherine's face. "He'd tell me to go home."

"There you go." The nurse walked over and gently laid her hand on Catherine's shoulder. "We have your number. If there's any change at all, we'll call you. You get some rest, take a shower, eat, and come back in the morning."

Catherine stretched painfully. Her back was sore, her head was hurting, and her eyes were burning. "I guess you're right. Call me if there's any change."

"We will," the nurse assured her.

Looking down at her father, a mixture of fear and anguish rose in her throat threatening to choke her. She felt guilty about leaving him in this place and helpless because there wasn't anything she could do for him.

After pulling herself away from his bedside, she walked down the hall feeling as if the world were crashing in on her. The emptiness she felt was unbearable and the tears began to fall.

* * * * * *

Catherine wasn't sure how she got home; she was numb and moved mechanically through some kind of fog. Without thinking, she showered and slipped into a robe then dried her hair. Afterward, she sat on the edge of the bed as if she was waiting for something - or someone, to make the pain go away. A wave of helplessness overcame her and the tears began anew.

"Catherine," Vincent called softly.

She sprang to her feet and literally threw herself into the shelter of his arms.

"Tell me, Catherine," he asked simply.

It was so easy to pour her heart out to him and as soon as her tears stopped, she did just that. He listened patiently and held her, offering all the comfort he could.

"I'm here - always," he assured her.

Those simple, heartfelt words triggered one of her most treasured childhood memories. She shared that memory with Vincent and the ensuing feeling of loss.

"There's still time," he then added thus giving his permission to reveal their secret. Should she dare? Her relationship with him had separated her from her friends and particularly her father. The sacrifice she had made willingly out of her love for Vincent had widened the gap between father and daughter until secrets became habit. They didn't talk anymore and she regretted that beyond words.

Vincent stayed with her, held her, and comforted her until she fell asleep as they sat on the balcony floor. The next morning, she awoke in her bed not remembering how she got there but realizing Vincent had crossed the imaginary boundary between their worlds for her. How she wished she had been awake.

At the hospital, her father's condition had not changed. The machines still bleeped and swooshed as they had the day before. Timidly, she assumed her post by the bedside and began thinking about Vincent's words of last night. "There's still time." Was there? She wondered.

"Miss Chandler, the doctor would like a word with you."

"Yes," she stammered in response to the nurse whose smile masked the daily tragedies that life in the Intensive Care Unit must consist of.

"Miss Chandler, your father's condition is deteriorating. He's completely dependent on the respirator and his brain activity is diminishing."

The words hit her like a fist in the stomach. "You mean he's..."

"Do you know if your father has a living will?"

"You mean one of those Desire for a Natural Death forms?"

"Yes."

"You can't give up on him!"

"We don't give up on anyone, Miss Chandler, but we must consider his feelings on this. That's what living wills are for. We need to be clear on his wishes."

Deep in the pit of her stomach, she knew the doctor was right but this was her father, damn it! The decisions were not that black and white. "I'll check into it," was all she could say.

The rest of the day was spent once again listening to the steady bleeping of the heart monitor. The doctor's words echoed relentlessly through her tortured mind forcing her to face a reality she wasn't ready to accept. "There's still time."

A decision was made and a plan formulated. As her father's condition worsened, Catherine faced reality and realized what she must do. She sent a message to Vincent telling him of her plans and asking for his love and support. When he climbed in through her father's window, her shock was quickly replaced with love. Once again, he had risked his very life to be there for her - always.

His presence gave her the courage to reveal her most treasured secret to her father. The telling of it freed her and closed the gap that secrets place between people. Vincent's words, however, were both surprising and deeply moving. He actually said he loved her! Of course she knew it, but he had never said the words before. If only the circumstances were different.

As dawn approached, Vincent reluctantly left her side. "I'll be close by, Catherine. Come to me when you can." She nodded then returned his hug.

The hours ticked away. The bleeping lulled Catherine into a false sense of security and she closed her eyes - just for a moment. Suddenly, a horrible screeching alarm woke her up and nurses ran quickly into the room. Orders were given and she was escorted outside to watch an army of white and green-clad strangers invade the small room. Her heart was beating furiously and seconds dragged into eternity. Finally, the doctor walked out to her.

"I'm sorry, Ms. Chandler. He's gone."

"NO!" she said in her most determined voice.

"It was a massive brain hemorrhage stemming from the stroke. Be comforted by the fact he didn't suffer. In his unconscious state, he wasn't aware of what was happening." He gave her a moment to digest the news then continued. "There are a few legalities we must attend to right now. Was your father an organ donor?"

Catherine shook her head no.

"Would you want an autopsy to be done?"

"Uh - no. There's no need."

"When everyone comes out, you may go in and see him. Feel free to stay as long as you like. We'll see to it you have complete privacy."

As she waited, Catherine still had not accepted what had happened. She expected to walk back into that room and hear the steady bleep and swoosh of the machinery. When she did re-enter the room, the silence was heartbreaking.

Moving over to the bed, she had to force herself to really look at her father. The tubes were gone, the machinery was silent, and the steady rise and fall of his chest had ceased. In that moment, Catherine faced her biggest fear and she had never felt so alone in her life.

* * * * * *

Vincent waited anxiously at the Central Park threshold for Catherine. He had felt her pain and her need to see him through their bond. Without hesitation, yet cursing the daylight and the fears of those that kept him from running to her side, he rushed to where he sensed she would come to him. Soon he felt the overwhelming bombardment of her sadness and knew she was near.

Catherine turned the corner and ran full tilt into Vincent's waiting arms sobbing. "He's gone, Vincent."

He held her tightly. "I suspected as much. I'm so sorry, Catherine."

Her heart was pounding and her mind was a whirlwind of errant thoughts and feelings. She pulled away from him to try to sort them out. "I can't believe it. No, this isn't real."

"You're in shock, Catherine. It will pass and you will be able to deal with it."

"Deal with it! How do you deal with it, Vincent? Tell me."

"I wish I could help you. I can feel your pain. What can I do?"

The tears began to fall. "Just - hold me." Vincent complied willingly with great compassion.

* * * * * *

The next few days were a blur to Catherine. There were arrangements to be made, meetings with her father's law partners, and a constant blur of faces stopping by to offer condolences. How she got through those days, she couldn't remember. It felt unreal, as if she was in a walking dream.

With every intention of jumping back into her work and drowning in it, she walked down the corridor toward the office of the District Attorney. When she opened the door however, her resolve melted into confused despair. She couldn't face those people. She couldn't face a life without the presence of her father. All the strength and independence she had convinced herself she possessed, vanished in the face of the overwhelming aloneness she felt. Terror filled her and she fled the building, and that life, as quickly as she could.

Desperately, she searched. Just what she was searching for, she didn't know. She just felt empty, alone and scared. Her life Above held no purpose, no direction, and no meaning. She needed... She needed Vincent! Quickly she changed directions and headed for the only comfort she could rely on - the comfort of Vincent's arms.

He was there, just as she knew he would be, waiting patiently for her to come to him. She fell into his arms feeling his strength flow into her yet still feeling confused and frightened. "I need you," she pleaded. It was the first time she had ever pleaded with a man for anything. Later, she would realize that Vincent didn't totally grasp her meaning. What she "needed" from him was more than consolation. She needed the unquestioning love of the man in her life. She needed to lose herself in him both emotionally and physically.

Unable to turn from her suffering, Vincent pulled her into a tender embrace. He might regret allowing her to stay so close, but how could he refuse her plea? She asked for so little from him yet gave so much. She needed him and that's all that mattered.

In comforting silence, he guided her to one of the guest chambers. After settling her in, he tried to comfort her with words.

"So sudden the loss. You had no time to prepare," he commented.

"The pain - goes through me then subsides."

"I can feel it in you," he said simply.

"I know you can." Although her answer was given in a matter of fact way, the miracle of that knowledge never failed to astound her.

"It's late. You should sleep."

"I am tired," she acknowledged.

He stepped toward her then and her eyes followed his advance. With him standing above her so close as she sat on the bed, her heart skipped a beat. The full impact of his sensuality and the depth of her need overpowered her reason. God, how she wanted him to hold her!

"Are you sure you'll be all right?"

She could see the concern in his eyes and could feet the love behind his words. Was he offering her more than a shoulder to cry on?

"I'm sure," she answered in an effort to reassure him and regain control of her own pounding heart and conflicting emotions. He looked at her as if waiting for an invitation then turned to leave.

Suddenly, she couldn't stand the thought of being alone. Her need finally won the battle and she called out to him in a voice that betrayed her emotions. "Vincent?"

He turned back toward her and waited for her to speak. Anything she asked, he was prepared to give if it would ease her pain.

"Don't go. I need to be with you."

Without thought, Vincent moved to sit beside her on the bed. He quickly enfolded her in his arms. "I'll sit with you, Catherine," he promised as he stroked her back lovingly. How he was going to manage being so close to her like this, he had no idea. He would suffer what he must to comfort her.

Realizing Vincent had not understood what she was asking, she pulled away from the comfort of his solid chest. Reason was telling her she should not push the intimacy she so desperately needed because it might push Vincent away out of fear. Someone had to take the first step however, and she could not bear any more separation. "That's not what I meant."

Vincent was really confused now. Just what was she asking of him?

Impulsively, Catherine leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on his mouth before he could argue.

The shock of feeling her mouth on his jolted him to his toes and her meaning became clear. He knew he should pull away and leave the chamber before things got out of hand, but - he couldn't move.

Catherine pulled back and looked into Vincent's surprised eyes. His lack of response affirmed her suspicion that he had no idea what to do. After taking a moment to caress his cheek with her right hand, she leaned toward him and pressed another firm kiss to his lips. She had to maneuver around to find just the right angle and give Vincent some clue as to how to respond and, surprisingly, he did.

They continued for a few minutes before Vincent grabbed Catherine's arms and pushed her away gently. "We must stop."

"Why?"

"This is not right. We cannot... I cannot..."

"Yes, you can. We just proved it. Vincent, don't pull away from me. I need you." Determined that she wasn't going to let him retreat from her, she kissed him passionately.

Again, he was so stunned he couldn't move. Truthfully, he didn't want to budge from the spot.

Carefully, Catherine placed her hand against his cheek and firmly pressed. The action forced his mouth open a little and she pushed her tongue inside. His startled reaction touched her deeply and she began to feel alive for the first time in days. She needed him so desperately.

No longer able to resist the pull of Catherine's emotions and his own desires, Vincent no longer fought. He gave himself up to the onslaught of her demands.

Ever so slowly, they moved back onto the bed. She guided him down carefully so that he lay halfway across her body. His weight, his nearness, and her own need to lose herself in him turned need into desperation.

The soft velvet of her mouth was his downfall. He began kissing her with all the passion he had held in check for so long. His left hand began to move as if it had a will of its own. Working her blouse free of her skirt, it slowly moved upward toward the fullness he had so longed to caress.

"Catherine, dear, may I come in?"

Catherine, who had been anxiously awaiting Vincent's hand to reach its goal, recognized the voice immediately. It was Mary. "Damn!" she cursed.

Vincent reacted as if a bucket of cold water had been thrown on him. He pulled away from her so fast it was painful. But even worse, he was so embarrassed he stumbled away from the bed and could not look at her. His face was crimson and he could say nothing as he turned and bolted from the room.

"Vincent?"

As he ran out, Mary walked in. "What in the world..."

"Hello, Mary."

"That child... What in the world got into him? Did I interrupt something?"

"Uh-no, not really."

"Catherine, I brought you a change of clothes. Vincent signaled us you would be staying." She walked over, sat down beside her and gently began stroking her back. "I'm so sorry to hear about your father."

"Thank you, Mary," Catherine responded as she stared down at her hands, thinking about what might have been.

* * * * * *

Catherine lay awake that night trying to cope with her raw emotions. Under normal circumstances, the change in her relationship with Vincent would be cause for celebration. But with the pain of losing her father still fresh in her heart, it made her question her own motives.

After Geoffrey awakened her the next morning, Catherine became painfully aware of Vincent's avoidance of her. Did she push him too far, too soon? Maybe he was simply having difficulty dealing with the sudden release of their passions. Whatever the reason for his absence, she needed to see him.

She spent the day observing the day-to-day existence of her adopted family as she never had before. Their lives were difficult but they had each other and a strong sense of belonging. That was something she very much needed right now. She needed to belong - to Vincent.

They met at the evening meal and Catherine noticed how difficult it was for him to make eye contact with her. She realized that what he was feeling was not fear but shame. That was going to change, she vowed.

After the meal, she finally managed to get him to go to the falls with her. They sat in awkward silence, both searching for a way to express their feelings. Catherine finally told him of the peace she had found Below and of her wish to stay. She believed it was time for them to live their dream.

Her decision took Vincent by surprise but he could feel her resolve. Something inside of him joyfully embraced the hope that their dream of a life together might actually be coming true. He surprised himself by admitting it out loud. "I don't want you to go back."

The words stunned her. She was prepared for more of an argument and found herself momentarily speechless. She reached over then took his hand in hers and felt him tremble.

That night, Catherine lay in her bed in the guest chamber trying to put some perspective on the events of the last few days. All she could think of, however, was how her father would react to her decision. When she left the firm years ago, he didn't understand but patiently accepted her decision and eventually came to respect it. But this was a total life change. How would he have dealt with her disappearance from her life Above? How would he have reacted to her love for Vincent? And what about a possible marriage and children with him? Would her father have accepted her choice of a husband and possible father of her children?

 

All those questions, fears, and doubts combined with the extreme aloneness and confusion she felt, suddenly overwhelmed her. The enormity of her loss turned her inside out and she began to sob uncontrollably.

In his chamber, Vincent could feel her confusion turn to anguish. He wanted to go to her then but the memory of last night's lapse of control held him back. When she began to sob, he could no longer stay away. As if rushing to rescue her from some evil Above, he raced to her side.

Suddenly, Vincent was beside her pulling her into his' arms. "Just cry," he murmured softly as he held her.

Catherine did just that but when the tears finally ceased, he began to pull away.

"No," she begged. "Don't leave me tonight. I need you to hold me. Please."

He could feel the pain in her and it broke his will. "I'll stay with you," he responded.

A weak smile expressed itself on her tear-stained face. "Thank you," she answered softly.

"Maybe you should try to sleep."

"No. I' want you to hold me."

"But Catherine..."

"I'll lie down if you lie down beside me and hold me."

"I don't think..."

"Please!"

"All right, Catherine. If it will reassure you, I'll..." She was already scooting across the bed to make room for him before he could finish the sentence.

How was he going to handle sharing the same bed with her? Last night had already pushed his endurance to the limit. Doubts filled his mind as he stretched out beside her. Terror followed as she rolled over, rested her head on his chest and draped her leg over his thigh.

She needed this, oh, how she needed this. The solidity of his chest, the gentle beat of his heart, the warmth of his arms, the firm muscles of his thighs, and the steady rhythm of his breathing all comforted her beyond words. He was her safe haven, and she wanted to cling to him desperately. She wanted to lose herself in him totally because only he could fill the horrible aching void in her.

For hours, Vincent sat holding her. Every moment was agonizingly sweet. Heaven lay next to him and all he wanted to do was gently roll her over and discover all that meant. No, he told himself repeatedly. He would not take advantage of her in such a way. He would just have to bear this as best he could. As he told Father, he would do anything to be there for her.

The steadiness of her breathing and the serenity of their connection signaled her slumber. Perhaps now he could relax a little and let the tension ease from his body. That thought vanished quickly when she stirred slightly then rolled over. The movement unexpectedly aroused him.

He stared at her while he battled his suddenly overwhelming desire. Each breath was agony as his eyes roamed the curves of her body. How badly he wanted to touch those curves and feel her touch as well. No, he once again admonished himself harshly.

A slow, deep breath helped cleanse his thoughts and emotions. Ever so gently, he reached over her to remove his arm from underneath her head. After freeing his arm, he found himself totally captivated by the beauty just inches away. He forgot how to breathe or how to think. Time stopped and nothing and no one existed except the two of them, alone together in this bed.

He could feel the heat from her body as he reached over her and gently pushed aside the hair from her eyes. Part of him wanted her to awaken and reach for him, the other part was terrified she would. That part won out and he began to move away from her.

Catherine stirred, opened her eyes, and found a pair of deep blue eyes staring down at her. She blinked once to make sure the vision was real. She couldn't believe Vincent was still in bed with her, pressing his body so close to hers. Their gaze held each other and the seconds became an eternity. It was if they were both waiting for the other to make the first move. Vincent did. He began to move away.

Reacting instinctively, Catherine turned her body toward him and clasped her free hand around the base of his neck. "No. Don't turn away."

He hesitated. "Catherine - please..."

Taking advantage of his moment of hesitation, she rolled completely onto her back thus putting herself almost directly under him. Forcefully, she pulled his face down to her and kissed him deeply and passionately.

Catherine's movements caught him so completely off guard, he had no time to resist. Rolling toward him caused his body to lurch forward onto hers and that, along with her passionate kiss, effectively destroyed his will to fight her advances or his own desires. Without thinking, he lost himself to his more visceral, passionate self. Desire devoured him. He could fight no more.

The fact that he did not pull away quickly aroused Catherine. She could feel every angle of his body pressing against her despite the clothes that separated them. She wanted so desperately to feel his skin beneath her hands. Instead, she felt his hand moving up to tentatively squeeze her breast. She responded by moaning deep in her throat.

Things were happening so quickly, Vincent felt as if he were being swept away by a tidal wave. He pulled his mouth away from Catherine's and gasped for breath. He knew he should stop but couldn't. It was almost the same loss of control he had felt during his rages but different in that he had no urge to hurt or kill. He wanted only the physical release this woman could give him. On a more primal level, he wanted only to mate with his woman.

Catherine was unbearably drawn by Vincent's primal actions. No man had ever aroused her so quickly and so completely. With her own hands, she fumbled with the laces of her gown in an attempt to expose herself to his touch.

When she finally managed to open the top of her gown, Vincent pulled back and looked down at her exposed breasts. He knew she was inviting his touch but he hesitated. He had never hoped to ever see a woman's breast like this and certainly he had never expected to be allowed to touch. That's what they both wanted, however, and he, ever so gently, allowed himself that pleasure.

For the first time since she had become sexually active, Catherine almost climaxed when he touched her. "Yes," she encouraged in a deep throaty voice.

The small mounds of flesh thoroughly fascinated Vincent. He touched, caressed, squeezed, and held each one while Catherine moaned her encouragement. Dare he give in to his impulse? How would she react? He wanted to take each one into his mouth and suckle like a baby. Would that repulse her?

"Your mouth, Vincent," Catherine pleaded.

Was she reading his mind or was this a normal part of lovemaking? It didn't matter. He simply gave into his impulse, took one nipple into his mouth and began to kiss and suck deeply.

"Oh God, Vincent!" Catherine exclaimed as she felt the warmth of his mouth capture her breast and begin an insistent pulling. While he was busy with her breasts, her hands were not idle. She slid them down her sides and began to tug at her gown. She finally managed to work it up around her waist then gave into the desire to rub the bulge in the front of Vincent's pants.

Vincent almost choked when he felt her hand rubbing back and forth across him in such a way. In the darkness and solitude of his chamber, he had often relieved his pent-up tensions by his own hand, never dreaming that he would ever feel a woman's touch there. He couldn't control the erection that so quickly followed.

Catherine realized how uncomfortable he must be and began to maneuver her hands up to open his pants. When her attempts took longer than Vincent could stand, he turned sideways and growled as he fought with the reluctant zipper. It took both of them to push his pants down far enough to free him and Vincent rolled back over onto her so quickly, she had no time to see him or stimulate him any further. It didn't matter though. They were both so aroused they were well past the foreplay stage.

Vincent managed to maneuver himself into position but he was having difficulty penetrating. Understanding the difficulty was coming from his inexperience and eagerness, Catherine literally took things into her own hands. She reached down and gently grasped him then guided him into her. He groaned and his hips began moving almost immediately.

His thrusts were tentative at first and Catherine suspected he would climax quickly. She was prepared for that but was surprised when he managed to hold off ejaculation as long as he did. In fact, he managed to hold off until she was ready then kept thrusting until she experienced an orgasm.

The moments that followed were confused, emotional, and awkward. Catherine tenderly held Vincent as they fought to come to terms with what had just happened between them. When he neither moved nor spoke, she began to worry. "Vincent? Vincent, are you all right?" She felt him begin to tremble. "I love you," she assured him. Again, silence.

"I -- love you, Catherine. Please know that," he finally managed to say as he began to roll away from her.

"I do," she answered. She didn't want him to pull away but decided it was best to let him call the shots.

With great embarrassment, he quickly adjusted his clothing then turned to Catherine. His eyes focused on her still exposed breasts. "You'd better cover up. There's a chill in the air down here."

Although that wasn't the response she was hoping for, she could tell by his crimson red face just how awkward he felt. With a smile, she gingerly closed the ties of her gown and pushed down her skirt. Her shy lover stood then pulled the covers up around her. "Don't go," she pleaded.

"I won't. I'll stay while you sleep. You need to rest."

He could hardly make eye contact with her as he again lay down next to her on the bed. She wanted to talk about what had happened, to assure him of her love and discuss just how their lives had been changed that night. She felt she needed to reassure him that she had felt only gentleness in his lovemaking but he seemed not to want to address the issue at all. Perhaps it would be best to let him think and sort through his turbulent emotions and she was beginning to feel very tired.

She awoke sometime later to find herself in an empty bed. "Vincent?" Her heart fell into despair. She had wanted to awaken in his arms and share with him her thoughts and feelings about their first time together. Sadly, she realized that Vincent must be having a very difficult time dealing with his feelings. A sigh escaped her and she ran her fingers through her hair.

"Don't laugh. Don't laugh. Don't laugh." A familiar deep voice jolted Catherine to the core.

"Dad?"

She didn't know if she was dreaming or if the vision she saw before her was truly her father's spirit. They talked about her and Vincent and her father's belief in her. But he said something just before leaving that caught her totally off guard. "My life has ended, but a new one has begun," he said as he looked at her mid-section and smiled. At first it didn't dawn on her just what he meant but then - could he be telling her...

The mere possibility sent waves of intense emotion crashing through her. It was a possibility she would keep to herself for now. "One miracle at a time," she whispered.

She did a lot of soul-searching before going in search of Vincent. She wanted to give him time to sort things out and she had some decisions to make herself. When she did finally track him down, she found him on the ledge by the falls.

"Vincent?"

His body visibly stiffened at the sound of her voice. That, and his silence, validated her theory about his turmoil concerning their encounter. She walked over and sat down beside him. In silence, they stared out at the falls.

"How can you bear to be alone with me after - what I did?"

"What you did required my permission and cooperation if I remember correctly," she responded.

"Catherine - we both know if you had resisted, you would have been no match for my strength."

"I'm not sure I agree with that but I didn't submit out of fear of your overpowering me. You would never do that," she insisted,

"I'm not so sure. I - lost myself last night. I'm not certain I could have stopped had you resisted me."

"And you think that's not normal? Vincent, everybody has a point of no return. And getting lost in the passion is what it's all about. It's what makes sex between two people such an incredible experience."

"It's not just that. Catherine, I'm shamed by the fact I took advantage of your grief, I used you in a most despicable manner,"

"Used me? Vincent, if anyone was used, it was you."

"How can you say that?" he asked in an incredulous tone.

"I needed comfort. I needed to be held. I needed to feel- connected to someone I love. I felt so empty and alone. What did you think I meant when I said I needed to be with you?"

"I thought you needed the solace of this place and the family you found here."

"Yes, that has helped, but what I needed the most was your love and comfort and you gave that to me. Vincent, last night was exactly what I needed to begin to heal. Not only did you fill the emptiness in my heart, but we overcame a major obstacle to our dream. We now know that our dream is possible. More importantly, you proved to yourself that those hands and that body can give love. In a most satisfying way, I might add."

Vincent turned then and looked searchingly into her green eyes. "You are -- happy about last night?"

Catherine knelt down and leaned against the rock she had been sitting on. She liked looking at him from this angle. "You tell me. What do you sense through the bond?"

He leaned over and propped himself up on his elbow then closed his eyes for a moment. "I feel contentment in you."

"Exactly. Between what we shared last night and the talk with my Dad..."

"Your Father?"

"Yes, I saw him."

"It must have been a dream."

"But it wasn't like a dream. He was there, talking to me."

They talked for awhile about her decision to return Above and how she had yet to find peace with herself. She purposely avoided any mention of what her father had hinted at during his "visit". One step at a time, she told herself.

After walking her back to her chamber. Vincent hesitated at the entrance. "What do we do about - last night?"

"Who says we have to do anything about it?"

"We cannot deny that it happened," he cautioned.

"I don't want to. It happened and I don't regret it."

"But can we go back to what we were before as if it didn't happen?"

"No. We can only go forward. There's no reason why we can't explore this new aspect of our relationship like all lovers do."

Vincent's eyes widened with shock at what she was suggesting. "Are you saying you want us to - continue?"

"Absolutely. Just because I'm returning Above doesn't mean we have to hold off on all our dreams. Besides, my apartment can afford us the privacy your chamber cannot. Although I do have to admit I've fantasized about making love to you by candlelight beneath that stained glass window."

He stumbled backward. "Catherine!"

"What? You don't think I have fantasies? Well, I do and I imagine you do too. There's nothing wrong with that or our enjoying a more intimate relationship either. But - I agree that we should go with care and go slowly."

"I don't want you to feel - obligated in any way."

"Obligation has nothing to do with it and don't you ever think that. I love you, Vincent and I'm ready to explore all that means."

"Will you be leaving soon?"

"I thought I'd change and go back tonight unless..."

"Slowly, Catherine."

"Okay. I'll change."

"I'll return for you and walk you up."

"Thank you."

On impulse, Catherine hugged him tightly. As she watched him walk away, her thoughts turned to her father's words and she lightly touched her stomach. "Go with courage," she murmured softly.

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