A MOTHER'S TOUCH
Elliot Burch sat in his plush, penthouse office. He could almost swear he had been there for days. Maybe he had. Since Catherine Chandler's disappearance, he had practically been living in his office.
He leaned back in his chair to ease the stiffness in his lower back. After a good stretch, he pushed himself to his feet and walked over to the window. The sunlight hurt his tired, bloodshot eyes as he looked out over the city. God! he was tired. The sleeves of his rumpled white shirt were rolled up and his tie hung limply around his neck. He needed a quick shower and a change of clothes but that would have to wait.
A yawn escaped him as he rubbed his eyes and thought about the task ahead. Now that he knew Cathy was safe, he was faced with the monumental job of finding her child. Cathy's child. It should have been his.
He thought of the child's real father and remembered the night they finally met.
* * * * * *
Cathy had been missing for six months. There was no word, no clues, nothing to explain her disappearance. Elliot knew, however, it had something to do with that damned black book she showed him. Cleon had turned up nothing, but things were beginning to happen that could not be explained. Cathy's disappearance was directly related to her investigation, he knew that. Proving it was fast becoming an obsession.
That night, he sat in his office, alone, thinking about Cathy. He was agonizing over what he feared had happened to her. There was a noise - or was it? Perhaps his own fear was making him hear things in the dark. "Who's there?" he asked.
"Do not be afraid. I mean you no harm."
The words were spoken in hauntingly compelling voice that frightened Elliot. "Who is it? I've got a gun!"
"There is no need for violence. I'm here about - Catherine."
Elliot froze at the mention of her name. "What do you know about Cathy?" he managed to ask as his eyes searched the darkness.
"Catherine - is with me."
"What have you done to her?"
"She is alive but very ill."
"Where is she?" Elliot demanded.
"She is safe with people who love her."
"How do I know that?"
"You must trust me. When Catherine led you through the drainage pipes that night, she told you of someone. I am that someone."
"You're the man she's in love with?" Elliot asked with a mixture of disbelief and jealousy.
"My name is Vincent. Catherine and I met during the time of her attack several years ago. We have been - involved ever since."
"But - she became involved with me during that time."
"There was a time we denied our feelings. We were both confused and frightened. Soon after she broke off with you, we committed to our relationship. We love each other deeply."
"Why are you here?" Elliot asked bitterly.
"First to let you know that she is safe and with people who love her - and to ask your help."
"Thank you for letting me know she is safe but I don't know how I can help you."
"The man who kidnapped her must be found. Elliot, this man kept her captive to get her child. He has her son."
"Son! Cathy was pregnant?"
Elliot thought about the last time he saw her. He remembered thinking that there was something different about her but he couldn't put his finger on it. "A child," he repeated to himself as he moved closer to the voice. "The child is yours, isn't it?"
"It is Catherine's and mine."
"Let me get this straight. You want me to help you find the child Cathy bore you? She dumped me for you. Why would I help you?"
"Because you still love her," came the simple reply.
It was simple and it was true. Elliot moved toward the window as the battle of heart and mind began anew. "I could have given her the world."
"Catherine never wanted the world. She wanted complete love and trust. You couldn't give her that. I could. I gave her my heart. I gave her my trust and support. She gave me the world. The world that exists in her eyes and in her heart."
"Not to mention her body," Elliot sarcastically remarked.
The comment hurt Vincent as he was sure it was intended but he knew the source. Elliot was hurting. He had lost Catherine and he, of all people, understood the kind of pain he was in. "Elliot, if you ever truly loved Catherine, you would understand what finding her child means to her."
How well he knew. How many times had he visualized Cathy as the mother of his children? Until tonight, he still harbored some bit of hope in the depths of his heart. Now - it shattered. "Before I agree to anything, I have to see you. I have to face you man to man."
Vincent cringed. He wanted to avoid a confrontation but Elliot needed to know. Reluctantly, he lowered his hood and silently prayed for Elliot's acceptance. "Before I do, please know that I will not harm you. Please understand that I am different and that is why Catherine kept our secret. It is why she could not tell you about me."
Those words really made Elliot wonder. How different could he be?
Silently, the dark, imposing figure stepped from the shadows. The moonlight reflected in the golden halo of mane as the face became clearer. The face!
Vincent lowered his eyes as the expected expression appeared on Elliot's face. All too often he had seen that look of fear and it had never gotten any easier.
"What the hell..." Elliot gasped. "What - are you?"
"I don't know exactly. I was abandoned as a child. I only know that Catherine loves me as a man and she bore my child. Now - we have to find him. Elliot, please help us. Not for my sake, but for Catherine's."
Elliot was still reeling from the shock of what he had seen. Cathy loved this - man. She had his child. She actually preferred going to bed with this - Vincent, than him. That was something she denied him throughout their relationship. Do it for Cathy, his heart told him. For once, he gave into it. "All right - all right. I'll do what I can."
Vincent let out the breath he had been holding. "Thank you."
"Don't thank me. I owe Cathy." An awkward moment of mutual understanding passed between them. "What can you tell me about this man?"
* * * * * *
Elliot remembered the many hours they had talked since then. The mysterious Vincent would appear from time to time to exchange information and to keep him informed of Cathy's condition. Now, with the involvement of Diana Bennett and Joe Maxwell, he was forced to walk a tightrope between the three.
A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts. "Come in," he responded.
"Mr. Burch, this note just arrived for you."
"Thank you," he replied as his secretary brought it to him. He waited for her to leave, then opened it.
At midnight, get in your elevator alone. Press the lobby button. I will come for you.
It sounded a little strange, but considering the mess they were in, he didn't question it. Wearily, he walked back over to his desk and carefully burned the note in his ashtray.
* * * * * *
Catherine pulled her legs out from under the covers and shivered as her bare feet touched the old worn rug. She was determined to get up and start caring for herself. The sooner she could do that, the sooner she could go after her baby. Her weak legs trembled as she tested their strength. "Damn!" she muttered.
"Catherine!" Vincent exclaimed as he hurried to her side. "What are you doing?"
"I need to go to the bathroom," she explained shyly but with an edge to her voice.
"I'll bring you the bedpan."
"No you won't! I refuse to use that thing any more."
"Don't use that tone with me. Vincent - I need a bath, I need to wash my hair. I need to change my gown and use the bathroom. Most of all, I need to do it myself."
"I understand that. I'm also glad to hear it because it means you're getting better, but you must go slowly. If you were to fall and hurt yourself, your recovery would take even longer. Let's compromise. I'll help you."
Although she was disappointed in her body's frailties, at least she was moving and that was progress. "All right, you win."
Vincent kissed her forehead gently then began searching his dresser for a suitable gown. Upon finding something soft and loose, he placed it and some towels in her arms. After obtaining the soap and a few other necessities, he studied her for a moment then lifted her into his arms.
"I assumed you would like a nice, comfortable soak in the hot springs."
"Now - that sounds lovely," she responded.
* * * * * *
At the springs, Vincent lowered Catherine to her feet and watched with amazement as she immodestly stripped her gown off and waited for him to help her into the water. Before she regained consciousness, her baths were strictly a necessary procedure in her care. Now - he found it difficult to be so detached.
"Vincent, why don't you join me? I don't think I can manage it alone."
"I - don't know," he answered. He was suddenly feeling very shy.
"You will have to get out of those clothes," she observed.
He could feel his face turning a heated crimson color and his eyes immediately lowered in embarrassment.
"Vincent, think about it. I've seen you naked before. We made love, remember?"
"Frankly, Catherine, I don't."
"Touché," she laughed for the first time in days.
Her easy manner and laughter dispelled his misgivings. To bathe in the glow of that smile again was worth any price he had to pay, even his modesty.
"I'll turn around if you like?" she offered.
"Perhaps that would help."
A gentle smile teased the corners of her mouth as she turned away from him. With trembling hands, Vincent hurriedly began shedding his many layers of clothing.
"Did you contact Elliot?" she asked as she tried to distract him.
"Yes. I will bring him to you tonight."
"Great! I want to get moving on this right away. Everyday our child is away is agony for me."
"Yes, I know. He will help us, I'm sure."
The task done, Vincent stepped up behind Catherine then hesitated. Why was this so difficult? She had accepted his body without revulsion. Why was he having such a hard time?
"I'm getting a little weak. We'd better get into the water," Catherine suggested.
"Uh - yes, of course." Carefully, he again picked her up then eased both of them into the soothing warmth of the springs.
"Oh, yes. That feels so good," she moaned as he positioned her comfortably in front of him. They talked at length as he helped her wash her pitifully weak body. He held her as she washed her hair then he massaged her stiff muscles.
"You have great hands," she commented. "I remember how wonderful they felt the night we..."
"I wish I could remember," he answered sadly.
"We'll have other memories, I promise. A lifetime filled with them."
"A lifetime," he repeated then nuzzled the softness of her shoulder.
"Vincent, I think I need you to - nurse again. I don't want to allow it to stop," Catherine said in a very matter of fact tone of voice.
He really didn't know if he could restrain his desires under these circumstances. They were both nude and very relaxed in an erotic setting and that, in itself, was testing his control.
She turned to him then. "Please, it's very uncomfortable and we can't give up."
An instinct, rooted deep within him, agreed. They could not give up hope.
"Where?" he asked simply.
"How about right here? The spring is warm."
"Are you sure? I wouldn't want you to catch a cold. You're still very weak."
"I won't break."
His look was one of a child who had just been told there was no Santa Claus and refused to believe it. "Yes, you can, Catherine."
That look took her breath away. "I'll take care, Vincent. I've got too much to fight for now. I have you and I have to be well for our son's homecoming. Speaking of which, let's get started."
It had become a routine of sorts, this unusual intimacy of theirs. They both tried desperately to remain detached but yet enjoy the only carnal pleasure they could share right now. Vincent would support, massage, and suckle each breast and Catherine would stroke his head and hold him close. It always ended with Catherine lifting his chin and kissing him deeply.
They indulged themselves for a while just talking and cuddling in the solitude they had found until Catherine's stomach growled. They exited the warm water of the spring and dressed. After reluctantly leaving their haven, they sought breakfast and a quiet day of rest and recuperation.
* * * * * *
Later, as their meeting with Elliot approached, Catherine's feelings of anticipation grew. He was their best hope of getting their child back. Every moment he was away from her was tearing her apart. There was an incredible emptiness in her that only holding him in her arms could fill.
With painstaking care, Vincent carried his precious bundle to the appointed meeting place then gently lowered her to her feet. She clutched a blanket and a large pillow in her arms. "Wait here in the shadows. I'll bring Elliot to you."
"Vincent," she responded as she dropped the pillow and grabbed his sleeve. "You must be extremely careful. This man called Gabriel is a genius and there is nothing he won't do to get what he wants. You and Elliot are in danger."
"I will be careful. I love you," he said just before kissing her.
"I love you, Vincent. Come back to me safe and strong."
He couldn't resist one more kiss before beginning his journey. Catherine watched him go, wishing desperately she could be making the trip with him. She cursed her weak body for failing her. Silently, she prayed for his and their baby's safety. Vincent had to see his son. That was all there was to it, she swore adamantly. Hadn't her dream already been altered by her survival? She sat there firmly believing that all things were indeed possible.
* * * * * *
Elliot glanced at his watch one more time. It was eleven fifty-five, only two minutes later than his last check. As exhausted as he was, he was excited about his midnight rendezvous. The thought that he might see Cathy had lifted his spirits immensely.
Cautiously, he pressed the button at exactly midnight and stepped into the empty elevator. How was Vincent going to pull this off? he wondered as he pressed the lobby button. He didn't have to wait long for his answer. As soon as the doors slid shut, he heard the door on the top of the elevator creak open. Elliot looked up into the darkness of the elevator shaft.
"Elliot," a deep voice whispered from the shadows.
He knew the voice immediately. "Vincent."
A deadly, fur-covered hand reached down into the car. "Come with me," Vincent instructed.
For just a moment, Elliot hesitated. Climbing on top of a moving elevator car wasn't his idea of safe transport but for some reason, he trusted the owner of that hand. With great trepidation, he reached up and tightly grasped the offered hand. He found himself being lifted into the air and pulled through the small door.
Once on top of the moving car, Vincent steadied his companion. "Hold onto this cable," he ordered as he closed the door. When he straightened up again, he looked into Elliot's fear-filled eyes. "We've got some climbing to do."
Elliot looked up the dark shaft again. "Are you crazy?" he asked incredulously.
"Perhaps," Vincent admitted then smiled slightly. "I've been traveling like this for years. It's really very simple."
"Yeah - right."
"I'll help you," Vincent offered as he pushed the cable toward him. "You go first."
Elliot studied the cable for a second then took a deep breath. For Cathy, he convinced himself then began pulling himself upward.
It was a long, excruciating climb and Elliot was glad that he was in fairly good condition. Vincent, however, amazed him. He didn't seem the least bit winded by their ascent. When they finally reached the rooftop, Elliot looked around, nervously. "Now what?"
"Follow me," Vincent replied as he turned and began walking.
Elliot just stared after him in disbelief.
* * * * * *
Down in the lobby, a very discreet, average looking man watched the car descend with interest. It was the private elevator from the penthouse office of Elliot Burch and his orders were to follow him. When the doors opened and' no one stepped out, he was more than a bit suspicious. Quickly, he walked over and examined the car. Had Burch outwitted him or was this a simple malfunction of the car? All he knew was that he had better be sure before reporting this to his boss.
* * * * * *
Catherine's patience was growing thin. Vincent had been gone for what seemed like hours. Where was he? Had Gabriel caught him? Those questions were paramount in her mind when the familiar sound of an iron gate being swung open distracted her. She waited until the sound of footsteps was heard, and then shadows approached.
"Catherine?" called Vincent.
"I'm here, Vincent," she responded.
At the sound of her voice, Elliot's heart leapt in excitement. She could always do that to him no matter what the circumstances. When he turned the corner and saw her sitting on a pillow on the tunnel floor, he burst into tears. Without shame or embarrassment, he ran to her and fell to his knees. "Cathy!" he exclaimed.
Elliot's emotional response both surprised and touched her. Never in their relationship had he displayed such strong feelings for anything other than one of his buildings. "Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated," she responded with a tearful smile.
"How are you? Are you all right? What can I do to help?" Elliot blurted out in one continuous breath.
"One question at a time, please?"
Elliot really looked at her then and noticed how thin and frail she looked. There were dark circles under her eyes and she seemed to have lost that healthy vibrancy he had always loved about her. "Cathy - talk to me."
She took his hand and cradled it in hers. "I'm sure Vincent's told you about the kidnapping and the baby." When he nodded, she continued. "I want my baby back, Elliot and we can't do it without your help."
"I don't know what I can do, but everything I have is at your disposal."
"Thank you, Elliot. I knew I could count on you."
Elliot settled down on the hard tunnel floor in front of her. He watched as Vincent assumed a position close by her side.
"Elliot," Catherine began. "This man, Gabriel, took my baby. He kept me alive to give birth then tried to kill me. Vincent found me and brought me to his home. That - monster - has our child."
Grief and pain shone in the depths of her green eyes. How could anyone do such a thing to her? "Cathy, I'm sorry about your baby. What can I do?"
"First of all, I want you to warn Joe about Moreno, but you have to be careful. You can trust no one! Tell Joe only that."
"Should I tell him about you?"
"Just tell him Radcliffe is safe. Tell him nothing more or we'll be putting him in danger too. Right now, Moreno and Gabriel think I'm dead and that's what I want them to think."
"He won't be satisfied with that and neither will Bennett."
"Bennett?" Catherine asked.
"Diana Bennett. She's some sort of special detective they've put on your case." A strange look of stunned recognition clouded Catherine's face.
"Are you sure about the name?"
"Yeah - why?"
"It's just that...Never mind. Be careful what you tell her. She's good and she can help us."
Vincent could sense through their bond that Catherine's stunned reaction had something to do with her dream and the role this Diana Bennett played in it.
"Vincent, could I speak with Elliot alone for a minute?"
Her sudden need of privacy surprised him. "Of course, Catherine. Anything you wish."
Elliot watched as Vincent rose immediately and disappeared down the tunnel without question. "Does he always obey you without question?"
"He doesn't obey me, Elliot. He simply trusts me. He is the most considerate, understanding man I've ever known."
When he turned to her once again, the feelings reflected in those expressive eyes told him of her deep, abiding love for the unique creature known only as Vincent. He had won her heart, her soul, and her body. Whatever hope he harbored about a future with her died in the brilliance of the love shinning in her eyes.
"Elliot, I know you don't understand about Vincent, but..."
"I do understand, Cathy. More than you know."
"You do?" she asked with astonishment.
"You love him. That's easy to see. He loves you, too. Why else would he risk being seen by me? Why else would you have his kid?"
"I can see you two have talked a great deal."
"Elliot, I do love him. More than my own life. More than - almost anything."
Tears filled her eyes. "You haven't seen my little boy."
Elliot saw the adoration mix with pain in her eyes. "I'm sorry, Cathy. I'll help you any way I can," he offered as he moved over and gathered her into his arms.
"Promise me, you'll keep our secret. Swear to me you'll tell no one about Vincent. If anyone found out..."
"I can imagine. You have my word."
"Thank you," Catherine replied.
He gave them both a few minutes to regain control of their emotions then decided on a plan of action. "I'll get together people I know I can trust. We'll work on finding where he's keeping the baby. I'll keep you and Vincent informed on what I turn up. I'll get with Joe as soon as I can. Can you tell me anything more about where he kept you?"
Catherine winced with pain at the memory. "He kept me here in the city. He's keeping my son on an estate close by."
"How do you know that?"
"I can't explain it. Concentrate on the biggest estate you can find. He is called Gabriel but I doubt the house is in that name. And - there's something unique about the floor tile."
"The floor tile?"
"It's a one of a kind design - very expensive."
"Don't ask, just trust me."
Trust. It had always been the main issue between them. "All right, Cathy. I'll get on it right away." He rose to his feet.
"Elliot, please hurry. I don't know what that monster might do to my baby," she pleaded.
Once again, Elliot knelt down and took her hand. "Cathy, I promise you I won't let you down again. If this guy can be found, I'll find him." With great reverence, he kissed her hand. "You take care of yourself."
"I will. You be careful."
"I'll show you out," Vincent stated from the entranceway.
Elliot turned to the imposing figure walking toward him. "Yes." Turning back to Catherine, he smiled reassuringly. "I'll be in touch soon. Don't worry, Cathy. All this will be over soon. I look forward to meeting that boy of yours."
"Thank you, Elliot. Thank you for everything."
"Catherine, I will return soon. Please wait here for me," Vincent instructed in a loving voice.
Elliot watched shyly as the man/beast leaned over and kissed Catherine affectionately on the top of her head. Even with that most innocent physical expression, he could feel the full force of what they shared. It was genuine and overpowering in its intensity.
A little later, Elliot found himself standing at the Central Park threshold awaiting Vincent's all clear signal. Their trip back had been one of silent contemplation and shared fear. The time had come for their parting.
"Elliot, I hope you understand what this means to Catherine - to us."
Elliot saw clearly the pain this was causing Catherine's extraordinary lover. In that moment, a very gut-level bonding took place. Jealousy was gone, replaced by a genuine respect and empathy for their difficult situation.
"I do," Elliot said as he battled the image of Cathy's fragile appearance. "She looked so frail, so weak."
"She's endured much. Her will to live is strong."
"I think her determination to get the baby back is what's driving her. Along with her love for you, that is."
Elliot watched as Vincent lowered his head in an effort to hide his anguish. "At least with you, I know she'll be protected and cared for. If I couldn't have her, I'm glad she found someone who loves her like you do - like I should have."
"You do love her. You wouldn't be here now if you didn't," Vincent added.
"You're right. I guess I do. Hell - I guess I always will."
"That is not a fault, Elliot. It is perhaps your greatest strength."
Elliot considered it for a moment then took a deep breath of determination. "How will I contact you?"
"There is a street musician near Catherine's office building."
"The black sax player? I remember him."
"Just drop your message in with the money. I will contact you at your office as before."
"Elliot - we must not fail her. Go with great care. Know your enemies and their weaknesses. This demon's weakness is his obsession with the child - use it! Make it the weapon by which he meets his destruction!"
The passion burning in those blue eyes bordered on rage and Elliot stood transfixed. He had no desire to be the recipient of his unleashed fury. "Those are rules I've played by all my life. I know the game."
"This is no game. This is my child's life!" Vincent countered.
"I know. I'll be in touch as soon as I talk with Maxwell."
Vincent sighed. "Thank you, Elliot."
"I owe you and Cathy. She's been the only conscience I've ever had and taking down this - bastard has suddenly become very important to me."
With a handshake, they parted.
* * * * * *
When Vincent returned to Catherine, she was leaning against the wall and looking very weary. "Catherine, are you ill?"
Her eyes opened slowly. "No, just tired..." she began as she straightened up awkwardly... "and in need of relief." She was looking down at her breasts as she spoke.
Vincent dropped to his knees. "Catherine, if this has become a chore for you, we could stop or you could take the medication."
Catherine stared up at him with concern. "Are you telling me you don't want to do this anymore?"
"No, that is not what I'm saying." He blushed furiously at the thought of sharing such deep feelings with her. "Although some would not understand, what we share means a great deal to me. It is an expression of hope that our child will return soon and it has - granted me fulfillment in a way I never imagined.
"Catherine, when you hold me and - accept me in such a nurturing way, I feel an unconditional, almost maternal love."
"Vincent - I don't want to be your mother," Catherine laughed.
"I don't want you to be," he replied as he returned her smile. "Knowing that we loved physically and I did not harm you, having you trust me enough to allow someone such as I to - nurse at your breast to ensure that you can feed our child, and feeling no fear or disgust in you, has helped me overcome my fears. Catherine, I no longer fear the path our love was meant to take. I find myself - needing it, wanting it for myself -for us."
"I'm glad. I tried so many times to tell you that my place was with you, that I wanted to share all of what life offers with you. If it took the simple act of allowing you to nurse, I only regret we had to endure the rest of this horror."
"I love you, Catherine. The words are easy to say now because I have, at last, accepted them in my heart. Finally, I have accepted that I am part of you as you are part of me."
Tenderly, she lifted her hand to his face and pressed her palm against his cheek. "When we have our child back and I have healed, I want us to be a real family. I want us to share as much of our dream as we possibly can."
He pressed her hand more firmly against his cheek and reveled in its warmth. "Are you saying you want to live Below?"
"I don't want to make any promises right now. What may or may not be two or three months from now is not something I want to give a lot of thought to at the moment. All I can think of now is getting our son back and enjoying some time getting to know him."
"I understand. Shall I carry you back now?"
"I think so."
Again that night, Catherine held Vincent in her arms as he suckled her heavy breasts. As he did, tears fell down her cheeks unchecked and she prayed their son would be home soon.
Hours later, Vincent fondly stared at Catherine's sleeping form in his bed. He pulled the covers up over her shoulders then pulled his cloak tighter around him. Lying beside her is where he wanted to be but he felt a need to do something to find their child.
That need led him to Catherine's balcony, then inside her bedroom. Once there, he stared transfixed at her bed. They had made love there in the darkness almost eight months ago. Try as he might, he simply could not call that memory to mind so he imagined what it must have been like to touch her smooth, warm skin. The feel of her moist lips and gentle hands exploring his body was an imagined sensation so strong, he swayed unsteadily.
Those thoughts so overwhelmed him, he was totally unaware of the presence of a tall, thin, red-haired woman watching him from the dark recesses of the living room. When his senses finally signaled a warning, he turned sharply toward her as panic overtook him.
"Wait - don't go! Don't be afraid. I'm trying to find Catherine Chandler. Maybe you can help."
Normally, he would have fled into the night before she had a chance to really look at him, but inexplicably, he couldn't. He seemed frozen to the spot. Still hidden by his hood for the moment, he asked, "Who are you?"
"I am Diana Bennett. I'm a police officer investigating the disappearance of Ms. Chandler. Anything you can tell me might help. Are you a - friend of hers?" she asked cautiously.
"I am - her - lover," he answered with a surprising amount of pride.
"Really? No one knew she was involved with anyone."
"My existence had to be kept a secret to protect me from..."
"Society?" she finished.
"Yes. Her world - your world - would not understand."
"I am - different. I must go," he said nervously.
"No! Please, I won't jeopardize you. I am not here to judge. My job is to find Catherine Chandler."
"Do you work with Joe Maxwell?"
"Yes, I do."
Vincent leaned back into the shadows and questioned his own sanity at staying and trusting this woman. "Be warned. Moreno is not to be trusted. He betrayed Catherine."
"I don't understand."
"She discovered his corruption and he arranged her kidnapping. He knew where she was all along."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. Catherine told me."
"She told you! How?"
"I found Catherine. She had just given birth to our son. Her captors injected her with morphine and left her to die as they took our child. Thankfully, the dosage wasn't enough to kill her. She is safe with me and my family."
"I cannot tell you."
"I need to know more."
"No. That is all I can tell you except to warn you of the danger. This man is powerful. You can trust only those who love Catherine."
"And Elliot Burch. Seek him out and help him but don't ask too many questions. There are things he cannot reveal."
"What about you?"
"Forget you ever saw me. It is best for you and Catherine."
"I don't think I can."
"You must," he answered as he turned and departed from the balcony. Diana Bennett stood there trying desperately to understand what had just happened. Who was Cathy's mysterious lover? What secret was he hiding? What did Burch have to do with all this? And why the hell did she feel so compelled by a man who hid in the darkness and left by an eighteenth story balcony?
* * * * * *
Catherine stirred slightly as Vincent slipped under the covers beside her. Moaning softly, she turned to him and snuggled closer. "Vincent, where have you been?" she asked in a sleepy voice/
"I went back to your apartment." Catherine opened her eyes and turned to look into Vincent's.
"I thought perhaps there would be some clue and I needed to confront a memory."
"Of the night we made love?"
He nodded slightly, "I hoped I would remember."
"No," he answered simply.
"Don't worry about it," she assured him as she rubbed her open hand over his chest. "If you never remember that night, I do and it was beautiful. Vincent, just remember that we have a future together now. Whatever happens, whatever comes, we have made the sacrifices and overcome the fears. Our happy life is within reach."
He took her soft, feminine hand and pressed it firmly over his heart. "I love you. Catherine. I just wish..."
"I know," she whispered. "I do too."
The fathomless longing she saw on his face nearly broke her heart and again she cursed her body's slow recovery. There must be something they could share, she silently wondered. It occurred to her that there were other forms of intimacy that did not involve actual intercourse. They needed to be close. Vincent needed some sort of affirmation.
With a determined sigh, she gently pulled her hand from his and sought the bottom of his nightshirt. Once she found it, she slipped her hand beneath it until she made contact with his very hairy stomach.
"Catherine?" Vincent responded in a surprised voice.
"Ssh. If I cannot make love to you completely, at least I can give you pleasure."
That ever-present voice, born from years of fear and self-denial, screamed in his brain. This time, however, his need for her touch fought back strongly. This time, he finally shut that door and allowed himself what had been denied him all his life.
Catherine quietly watched his expression of longing melt into one of sheer pleasure. She continued her caresses and began to whisper words of encouragement and reassurance. By carefully gauging his responses, she felt it was time to take the next step. Slowly, she maneuvered her hand under the waistband of his pants.
"Vincent," she softly whispered. "Close your eyes and clear your mind. Let that night come back to you. Don't fight it. Concentrate on my touch. Let the memory of my hands on your skin surface through the darkness."
"Ssh," she silenced him. "Reach out for the memory. Remember what it felt like to hold me. Remember the feel of my skin. Remember the warmth - the need."
Her words and soothing touch sent Vincent reeling into a world of pure sensation. From the darkness of his hidden memories came an image. He and Catherine were in her bed. She was touching him and allowing him to touch her in ways they had always denied themselves. From the depths of his soul, he felt desire and passion rising with every breath.
Carefully, Catherine slipped her hand down further and tentatively began stoking his already stirring penis. His response was a sharp intake of air followed by a gradual, agonizing release.
"Catherine," he moaned.
"Do you want me to stop?" she asked. For a long moment, she watched him struggle with his desires.
The battle ended as Vincent relaxed and answered, "No. I need...I want..."
"I know;" she answered. "It's all right. We all need to be touched, to fell loved. I love you, Vincent. It's time you accepted your right to want it, to need it. Just let it happen."
Vincent found himself floating back to the image he had seen earlier. This time, he allowed himself to stay and to become part of the scene. He allowed passion to soar as the memory and reality merged.
Catherine brought him to climax, then watched as he fought to regain control. "Vincent, are you all right?"
Slowly, he opened his eyes and looked at her with wonder and great joy. With tears filling his eyes, he managed to say in an emotion-filled voice, "I remember, Catherine - I remember!"
Tears quickly filled her own eyes and a smile came spontaneously to her face. "Really? You really remember?""
He nodded, then reached out to pull her into a warm, joyous embrace. "It was beautiful Catherine."
She settled into his arms feeling both joy and excitement at his revelation. Although they both reveled in the joy of the moment, sadness lingered just, beyond their happiness. Their son was still missing and their lives would not be complete until he was safely returned. A silent, mutual prayer filled their hearts.
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