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Misplaced Summer

by Janet Rivenbark

 

Catherine had been running for what seemed like forever. She wasn’t sure how much distance she had covered, several city blocks at least. With everything she’d been through over the last…days?…months?…she wasn’t even sure…she was astonished that she was able to run at all. She was sure the only thing that had made it possible was the adrenaline pumping through her body.

She skidded to a stop as the alley came to another cross street. There had been several, but she hadn’t felt that it was safe to stop. She couldn’t seem to get enough air into her lungs, and her feet were hurting from her run through the alley; she didn’t even want to look at them. Bare feet were not the best way to travel on New York City streets. She looked up at a deli across the street and realized she was only a block from Joe’s apartment. She’d begun with a sketchy plan to make her way back to the park and use the tunnel threshold there, but if she was this close to Joe’s it only made sense to go to his place; so, she could make sure she wasn’t being followed before she potentially exposed the threshold in the park. It wouldn’t hurt to tell Joe everything that had happened face to face, either.

She turned right and jogged down the block, breathing heavily. Her muscles were screaming, and her feet felt like they were on fire. She tried to ignore them and stayed in the shadows close to the buildings.

Joe’s building didn’t have security, but it did have buzzers. She had no idea what time it was, but the streets were deserted, so she knew it was very late, or very early. She hoped that Joe wasn’t a sound sleeper; she also hoped he was home from the hospital.

She found his name next to a button and pushed it. She waited a few seconds, looking around nervously then she pushed it again. She pushed it three more times before Joe answered.

“What the hell is going on?” She heard him shout. “It’s 4AM! This better be good! Adler, you didn’t forget your key again, did you?”

“Joe,” she gasped. She thought she heard footsteps on the sidewalk behind her. “It’s me, Cathy. Please let me in!”

“Cathy?”

“The door buzzed. Catherine pushed it open, rushed in, and shoved it closed behind her. She started up the stairs and Joe met her on the landing.

“Cathy, is it really you?” he asked as she rushed up the stairs toward him.

“I don’t know if I was followed,” she said urgently.

She didn’t have to repeat herself; he put his arm around her and all but carried her up the second flight and into his apartment.

She didn’t relax until they were inside and the door was locked and bolted.

Joe turned and pulled her into his arms and held her tightly as she caught her breath and tried to stop shaking. The sudden cessation of movement made her knees weak. She’d spent every waking minute on guard for so long that she didn’t know if she could ever relax completely again.

He helped her to the sofa and made her sit down. He went to the kitchen and returned with a glass with a couple inches of amber liquid in it. He sat down next to her and held the glass out to her.

She looked at it questioningly as she took it.

“It’s the good stuff,” he supplied. “Hennessy. Drink up.”

She took a sip. It burned going down, but it warmed her and helped her relax. She took another sip.

“You look like hell, Radcliffe,” he told her in an attempt at levity.

“Thanks, Joe.” She managed a smile. She looked at his attire. “You look better than you did the last time I saw you, but I’ve never seen you dressed quite like that before.”

It was then that Joe realized he was wearing nothing but his boxers and a couple bandages left over from his injuries.

“Be right back.”

He stood and went into the bedroom. When he returned, he had on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt.

“Sorry about that,” he said with a grin.  “Now, tell me where you’ve been.”

“I wish I knew,” she said as she leaned back and sipped the cognac. “I don’t know where I was before, but I was being moved when I woke up in the back seat of a car.  We parked in an alley behind a building not far from here when I made a run for it, but I don’t think I could find it again if I had to. The alley came  out right across from the deli up the street, but I don’t know how far I ran before I reached it. I’d managed to get away and run for several blocks before I saw the deli and knew where I was… They’re probably looking for me.”

She looked at him with tears in her eyes.

“What day is it Joe?” she asked suddenly.

“Sunday…Sunday morning, why?”

“A week?”

“You disappeared on Monday, two weeks ago tomorrow.”

Two weeks,” she was stunned. “I knew I’d lost track of the time, but I didn’t think it was that long.” She reached over and put the glass on the table. “I don’t think I should drink any more of that. I haven’t really had anything to eat, at least not much that stayed down, since lunch the day I disappeared.”

Her thoughts flew. The times she’d been unconscious she must have been out a lot longer than she’d thought.

“Maybe some food would be a better idea?” Joe suggested.

“Yes!” she agreed.

“Do you think your stomach can handle some scrambled eggs and toast?” he suggested rising and heading for the kitchen.

“That sounds wonderful, and maybe some tea,” she said as she got up to follow him. “I need to get home after I eat.”

“You should probably stay here for a while. At least until you’ve told me the whole story. Then we will decide if it is safe for you to go home.”

“Then how about a shower after I eat?”

Joe didn’t ask any questions while she ate. Then he showed her where everything was in the bathroom and gave her a T-shirt, some socks and pair of cotton pajama bottoms.

While she was showering, he changed the sheets on his bed. She was dead on her feet, and he was pretty sure that she wouldn’t be going right home. He didn’t think it would be safe.

*******

When she closed the bathroom door, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She wondered how Joe had even recognized her. He’d said she looked like hell, and that was complimentary. She started peeling off clothing. She stuffed it all into the wastebasket. She smelled like a barnyard!

The hot water felt like heaven. She started at the top, shampooing and scrubbing as she worked her way down to her feet. Her feet were in pretty bad shape, cuts and scrapes all over them from her run through the alley. There was a tile bench in the shower, and she sat down and gave her feet a thorough going over.  

She didn’t know how long she stayed in the shower, but when she got out she felt much better. She brushed her teeth with the toothbrush Joe had given her and used mouthwash before she was satisfied.

She pulled the white cotton socks on over her battered feet and put on the clean clothes.

When she stepped out of the bathroom, Joe was standing in the room with his shoes in his hand.

“Going somewhere, Joe?” she asked.

“No, just getting everything I’ll need. You need to get some sleep before I start asking questions.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to talk first?”

“No, you need rest more than I need answers right now. You’ll be safe here. I’m not going to tell anyone anything until I know the whole story. You just sleep as long as you need. I’m still on sick leave and won’t be going back to work for another week.”

“Thanks, Joe, I’m so addled from exhaustion I can’t think straight. You’re right, after some sleep things might make more sense.”

Joe tucked her in and stood for a moment looking down at her. He’d been afraid that he’d lost her this time. The reality that she was safe was finally setting in.

The shower had helped, she looked more like the Cathy he knew, but she was still pale, had dark circles under her eyes, and looked like she’d lost weight that she didn’t need to lose. It was still early, the sun wasn’t up yet, so he headed to the couch.

Joe woke a little after nine. When he tiptoed through the bedroom to the bathroom, Cathy was still sound asleep. She looked peaceful, and he left her to sleep.

After he washed up and dressed, he called the deli down the street and had breakfast delivered. He didn’t want to leave her alone in the apartment, just in case she had been followed.

It was almost three in the afternoon; Joe was watching a baseball game on TV when he heard sounds from the bedroom. He muted the sound on the TV and listened.

It was Cathy’s voice. She was repeating “No!” over and over. He decided that it was time to wake her and intervene. She was thrashing back and forth in the bed when he sat on the edge and grabbed her arms.

“Cathy, wake up. You’re safe. This is Joe, you’re at my place.”

Catherine’s eyes flew open, and she scrambled up toward the headboard, away from Joe. The look of fear on her face was shocking.

“It’s OK, Cath. You’re safe now.” He tried to keep his voice calm and soothing.

She finally woke completely, and realization dawned. He watched as her whole body relaxed and slumped. He reached out and pulled her into his arms.

“I’m sorry Joe.” Her voice was muffled against his shoulder.

“Sorry? You’ve got nothing to be sorry for,” he told her. “I’m the one who’s sorry. You were snatched right out from under our noses. You should have been safe where you were.”

She was calm now and looked up at him, and he was surprised to see concern in her eyes.

“What?” he asked.

“There’s just so much to tell you, and I don’t know where to start,” she said sorrowfully. “You haven’t even fully recovered from your injuries.”

“I’ll do,” he told her. “Why don’t you go and splash some water on your face and then join me in the living room for some breakfast, or brunch, or whatever it is. I’ve got several kinds of bagels, butter, cream cheese, lox, and I’ll put on a pot of coffee.”

He turned her loose and stood. “See you in five,” he called over his shoulder as he left the room.

In the bathroom, Catherine checked herself out in the mirror again. The dark circles weren’t quite as bad as they had been, she wasn’t as pale, and she felt a lot better. A few days of regular meals and decent rest and she’d be almost normal again. All she wanted to do was tell her story to Joe then get to Vincent as soon as it was dark enough for her to leave safely. She might be able to get Joe’s help in reaching a threshold. Maybe she could get him to take her to Peter’s.

When Catherine entered the living room, she found that Joe had quite a spread on the coffee table. Catherine satisfied her hunger.  

Satiated for the time being, she sat back on the sofa, tucked her feet up and sipped her coffee. That was when Joe noticed that some of the cuts on her feet had bled through the cotton socks.

“What the hell happened to your feet?” he asked, grabbing one, pulling off the sock, and inspecting the cuts and scrapes.

“I didn’t have any shoes when I made my run for it. The alley I was running in was none too clean. I cleaned them up as well as I could when I showered earlier.”

Joe dropped her foot and left the room. He returned with the first aid kit and a clean pair of socks.

“Why didn’t you tell me about this before?” he asked as he started treating the worst of the cuts. “Have you had a tetanus shot lately? A couple of these are looking a little infected.”

“I had one after my impromptu dip in the river with Elliot a few months ago,” she told him. She’d filled him in on what had happened on the riverfront that night.

When he was finally satisfied that he’d done the best he could, he allowed her to start her story.

“Did Elliot, by any chance, happen to come to you with the book?”she asked.

“No. Is that where it is? I had Greg and Nick go through your desk, your car, your apartment but they found nothing. I thought it had disappeared with you. I never dreamed of checking with him; but you made the logical choice. I imagine he has all kinds of resources and people on his payroll. Are you sure you can trust him?” he asked.

“Implicitly,” she assured him. “You’re going to have to let him in on the news that I’m back. That will probably be the only way that he’ll agree to give you what he has.”

Joe gestured at the phone. “If you have his number, call him,” he told her.

Catherine picked up the phone and dialed Elliot’s private number; the one that didn’t go through a secretary.

It was picked up on the second ring. Trust him to be in his office, even on Sunday.

“Burch,” was all he said. He sounded distracted.

“Elliot…” she said hesitantly. “It’s Cathy.”

He was instantly alert. “Cathy, where are you? What do you need? Are you OK?”

She smiled at the sound of his voice and his obvious relief.

“I’m at Joe Maxwell’s, we need to talk to you, and yes, I’m OK,” she answered.

“I can be there in a matter of minutes,” he told her.

“Do you know where he lives?” she asked.

“I make it my business to know a lot of things,” he told her.

“OK, we will see you then, and Elliot…bring the book.”

She hung up and looked at Joe. “He’s on his way. While we are waiting for him, I have to tell you something that you aren’t going to like hearing.”

“What’s that?”

“Let me start at the beginning,” she told him. “First of all, did John tell you that I gave him a copy of the book?”

“No, he never mentioned it. He said you’d told him about it, but he never mentioned having a copy of it.”

“He asked me for the original, but I couldn’t bring myself to give it to him. I ran a couple copies of it before I took the original to Elliot.”

“I wonder why John never mentioned having a copy. We could have been working on breaking the code,” Joe speculated.

“Maybe he didn’t want you to break it,” she said before she began to tell her story. “I was in the parking garage when two guys came after me. In hindsight I probably should have just driven out of the garage when I had the chance. In traffic I might have been able to shake them. I probably would have been OK, but I thought that if I left the car and went back into the building, back upstairs, I’d be safe. We could call the police and everything would be fine. I made it to the elevator, punched the button and pulled my gun out of my purse; when the doors opened it was John. I thought I was safe so I put my gun away. That was when he turned me over to two men and just turned and walked away.”

Joe looked stunned. “John? John Moreno?” he gasped. “What are you saying?”

“Our dearly beloved DA, boss, and mentor, Joe…he sold me out; he just handed me over to them. He’s on Gabriel’s payroll too.”

It took Joe a few minutes to recover from that revelation. “I trusted him,” he muttered.

“So did I, Joe. After I got the book from your jacket, I spent some time going through it. I couldn’t make much of it. I kept a copy when I took the original to Elliot.”

“You had a copy? Where?”

“I had it with me when I was kidnapped. I should have left it in your desk but didn’t think of it at the time.”

“What did they kidnap you for?” he asked.

“They wanted to know if I’d broken the code. They obviously had the copy I’d given Moreno, and my copy with my notes, but I don’t think they broke the code either. They wanted to know what I knew; if I had the key. At first they tried to beat it out of me.” She indicated the fading bruises on her face and arms, but when that didn’t work, they tried drugs. Obviously I have a high tolerance for whatever they used, because I don’t think I told them anything.”

“What makes you think that?” he asked.

“I’m alive. If all they wanted was information, and if I’d given them that information, I doubt that I would have lived very long after,” she told him.

“You’re probably right.”

The buzzer from downstairs buzzed at that moment and Joe when to the intercom to answer.

“It’s Burch,” came the answer to his query. Joe pushed the button to let him in, and a minute later there was a knock on the door. Joe checked the peephole and let Elliot in.

If Catherine had passed Elliot on the street she probably wouldn’t have recognized him as the high powered business man that he was. He was dressed almost as he had been that night down on the docks after their dip in the river. It was a warm summer day, so he wasn’t wearing the Navy pea coat, but he had on athletic shoes, worn jeans, a New York Yankees T-shirt, baseball cap and sunglasses. He still wore the beard, and his hair was longer than the last time she’d seen him.

He briefly greeted Joe then rushed across the room to the couch where Catherine sat. He sat beside her, took both her hands in his and inspected her face closely.

“If you tell me I look like hell, I’m going to belt you,” she told him with a wry smile.

“Actually, she looks better than she did when she arrived here at four this morning,” Joe put in.

Elliot looked at Catherine, at Joe and then back at Catherine. “You sure you’re OK?” he asked.

“Nothing that won’t heal, and I’m much better now. I’ll be even better once I’m able to go home…but thank you for asking. Did you bring the book?”

Elliot reached under his shirt and pulled out a Manila envelope which he handed to Catherine. 

“That is the book and my experts’ decryption. It was a good code. It took over a week of round the clock work to crack.” 

Catherine opened the envelope and pulled out the papers. After a quick glance through them, her stomach sunk to her feet and she handed them to Joe.

Joe took more than the cursory glance she’d given them and the more he read the angrier he got.

“Is there anyone in the city who isn’t in this Gabriel’s pocket?” he asked rhetorically, as he slapped the papers down on the table. He looked from Elliot to Catherine. “Moreno, numerous other city officials, corporation CEO’s; problem is, I don’t think we can get warrants using this alone. We can arrest Moreno on Cathy’s statement, but I don’t think we should just yet. It will give away the fact that we know where she is and put everyone else on guard, and then the rats will start jumping ship. I’ve got this to build on,” he indicated the papers, “but I’m going to have to find out who I can trust and build a rock solid case, especially when it comes to Moreno. We will need to move on everyone simultaneously so that no one slips through the net.” He looked at Catherine apologetically. “I’m afraid that you are going to have to stay out of sight until it’s all over.”

She had anticipated this and she had her plea ready.

“I can go to Peter Alcott’s. He’s my doctor and an old friend of my family. He’s got a big, old brownstone, and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. No one would think that he has anyone else there with him.”

“I don’t think that would be a good idea, Cathy,” said Elliot. “If anyone would get wind that you were there, not only would you be in danger, but so would Dr. Alcott. I think I know who this Gabriel is; I’ve dealt with him before, and he’s ruthless. He won’t let anything or anyone stop him.”

“You took the words right out of my mouth,” said Joe, “but we also can’t really put you into witness protection because that is an official program, and no one can know you’re back.”

“I can’t stay here until it all clears up,” she observed.

“How about my place?” Elliot asked, hopefully.

“Not a good idea, Elliot,” she said with a shake of her head.

Elliot was thoughtful for a moment. “OK, plan B,” he told them. “I have a place up in Connecticut. It’s on Greenwich Cove. Mom inherited it when her Mother died, but years back, after Mom died, Dad needed money. He put it on the market. I couldn’t bear to see it go, so I bought it. It was kind of a symbol of my family’s happier times. It’s near Greenwich, Connecticut. It doesn’t take long to get there. I haven’t been there in years. It’s been renovated, and I make sure it is kept in good shape.” He turned to Catherine. “You can go up there. It’s secluded. When I bought the place, I also bought several acres surrounding it. I can send some of my men up for discrete security. You’ll be safe; there’s a phone, and Joe or I can go up periodically and check on you. I’ll make sure it’s stocked and everything is working and you can go up around the middle of the week.”

Joe looked at Cathy. “What do you think?” he asked.

“As much as I want to go home,” she told him. “It does make sense for me to stay out of sight until you’ve arrested everyone. And Elliot’s right, I can’t go stay with friends on the off chance that I was followed here. I don’t want to drag any more people into this.” As she was saying this, she was wondering how she might be able to get a message to Vincent.

“The place has everything. I modernized it; no AC but you won’t need it. It’s small, but very comfortable. It was originally intended to be a summer place only, but I had new windows and insulation put in, so it’s good year round. I’ve rented it a few times and let colleagues and clients use it.”

Over the next hour they fleshed out the plan. Their background story, if anyone should ask, was that Cathy and Joe were a married couple, relatives of Elliot’s, using the cottage while they look for their own place. Cathy was recovering from an undisclosed illness, and Joe, her husband, would be up to the cottage as often as possible.

Elliot left with the promise to call as soon as everything was ready at the cottage.

“In the meantime, I want you to rest as much as possible, eat anything you want, and try not to worry,” Joe ordered.

“I think I can manage most of that,” she told him with a smile, “but there is one problem.”

“What’s that?” Joe asked as he looked around the apartment for an appropriate place to stash the book and the translation.

“Clothes,” she said. “I think I’m going to need a little more than a pair of your pajamas and a T-shirt.”

He turned to look at her. “I never thought of that,” he admitted. “I can’t go to your place to get anything for you; I guess I could go out and buy you some stuff, but I think it might be conspicuous if I was buying women’s clothes, especially the unmentionables.”

“You might be able to pick some stuff up at thrift shops or K-Mart. It would be less obvious. Just enough stuff to get me by until we get to Greenwich. Then you can get me some catalogs and I can have things delivered,” she suggested.

“That might work. Just make me a list of what you need, with the sizes, and I’ll see what I can do tomorrow.”

That particular problem disappeared late Monday morning when three large suitcases and several shopping bags were delivered to Joe’s apartment by Elliot’s head of security, Cleon Manning.

“First time I’ve had to play delivery boy,” he grumbled as he and one of his men carried the suitcases and shopping bags into the apartment.

“He probably sent you because I know you and trust you, Mr. Manning,” Catherine pointed out.

“That is what he said,” he said with a warm smile. “It’s good to see that you’re safe, Miss Chandler,” he told her sincerely. “Mr. Burch sent these over too.” He handed her a set of keys. “For the house.”

Manning left after a nod to Joe.

“What’s all this?” asked Joe as he helped her carry the suitcases and bags into the bedroom.

“I think Elliot anticipated the clothing problem,” she pointed out.

She opened the shopping bags first and found that they contained some basics: jeans underwear, shirts, blouses, socks and shoes. The overnight bag contained toiletries and  cosmetics. The other two bags were full of designer resort wear, lingerie, night wear and a couple bathing robes.

“How does he know all your sizes?” Joe asked suspiciously.

“Probably the same way my dad used to do it when he bought stuff for mom and later for me. He sent his secretary. Elliot’s secretary knows me; she’s probably used to doing this for him and has learned to judge size.”

“You mean he told his secretary about you?” Joe looked worried.

“He trusts the woman completely. She’s been with him for years.”

Later that afternoon Elliot called. The cottage was ready. He’d had his caretaker stock the basics, and he’d set up an account at the local grocery. All Catherine would have to do is call and place an order, and it would be delivered. The bill would be sent to Elliot to cover their tracks.

Joe and Elliot talked for quite a while on the phone.

“What was all the hush-hush conversation about?” Catherine asked when he hung up.

“He was just telling me about the security measures he’s put in place at the cottage,” said Joe stiffly.

“Do you think it’s enough?” she asked, puzzled about his attitude.

“More than enough; he’s going to have a virtual army on that one six acre plot of land,” he told her.

“But you sound like you’re still worried.”

“I was hoping to stay inconspicuous, but with his security men swarming all over the place we’re going to look more like visiting royalty than some anonymous couple vacationing,” he said wryly.

“From what I know of Elliot’s security team, no one will see them unless they want to be seen,” Catherine assured him, “and for every man we see, there will probably be two or three we won’t. Mr. Manning is very good at what he does…So, when do we leave?”

“As soon as it’s dark. Burch said that he told the caretaker that we flew in from Detroit this afternoon. We made a few minor changes to the cover story,” he told her.  “We’ve been married a couple years, you’re still recovering from an illness and my company transferred me to New York. I’m the one related to Burch…he’s some kind of cousin. You’ll be staying at the cottage until I find us a place in New York. I’ll be with you for the rest of this week and then after that I’ll be joining you on weekends.”

“Do we have names?” she asked.

“Cathy and Joe Burch; we decided that keeping our own first names would make it easier and using Burch’s last name would make the story more believable. Being related to him will also explain the need for security if anyone should notice.”

“But Elliot’s real name is Kazmarek.” she pointed out.

“Yeah, but how many people know that?” asked Joe. “I doubt that anyone in that town connects him with the family who used to own the place, and he says that most of the surrounding properties are either empty most of the time or rented to people from out of town. As long as we keep a low profile we should be relatively invisible.”

“Sounds like you two have it covered. I guess I should just sit back and enjoy the vacation,” she said in resignation.

They arrived at the cottage before ten PM and carried the luggage into the house. Catherine insisted on doing most of the heavy lifting since Joe was still healing. It took her two trips to carry the heavier bags in. She took her things upstairs to the master bedroom while Joe took his small bag to another room on the other side of the house.

Catherine joined Joe in the kitchen after she unpacked.

“I thought Elliot said this place was small,” Joe said as he offered her a beer. “You want a glass?”

She shook her head. “Compared to Elliot’s penthouse this is a shack,” she said with a laugh.

“Some shack,” said Joe. “Two floors, four bedrooms, three and a half baths, huge eat in kitchen that my mom would kill for, living room and a den, wrap around porch on all four sides, hot tub on the second floor deck outside the master bedroom. The view from that deck is gorgeous. You should have plenty to keep you busy. There is a big TV in the den with a VCR. There is also a stereo system with lots of records, some of those new CD’s and a whole wall of books.”

“I hope they’re not all murder mysteries,” she said as Joe followed her out to the porch.

*******

Halfway through the week Joe surprised her by asking how she’d managed to get away from her captors.

“I can’t believe that I didn’t ask before,” he said as they headed out to the porch.

“I didn’t realize that I didn’t tell you,” she said as they made themselves comfortable, “but then I don’t remember a lot of what we talked about before I went to sleep.” She couldn’t tell the whole story, but she found a starting point. “They decided to move me from one building to another. I didn’t really know what was going on. They drugged me, but that happened so often that I didn’t realize that this was any different. I don’t know if we were in the car for a while, or if they used less of the drug; but I woke up in the car on the way to where they were taking me. I pretended to be asleep and listened while they talked, trying to figure out if there might be an opportunity for me to escape. I was in the back seat between two men, so I didn’t have access to a door.

“Something must have happened, because one of the men in the front seat was dead and they were discussing how to go about disposing of the body. They decided that, since I was still unconscious, they wouldn’t need more than one of them to take me into the building, and the other two would take the body and get rid of it. I thought that just might be my chance. When he got out of the car, he threw me over his shoulder like a sack of flour. I went as limp as I possibly could, and slid down a little, then I hauled off and kicked him in the crotch as hard as I could. He went down like a rock. He dropped me, and I was up and took off as quickly as I could. To tell the truth I’m surprised that I could run after that long. Maybe it’s good that I thought I’d only been gone for a few days. If I’d known it was two weeks, I might have let it influence me and not even tried.”

“You never let anything keep you from trying,” Joe told her with a grin. “I’m proud of you kiddo!”

“Thanks Joe.” She smiled back. “It almost seems like a bad dream already, and I’m so glad that it is over.”

*******

They spent a quiet week. They ate a lot of soup and sandwiches, and Joe picked up take out from a local restaurant a few times. They had just finished dinner on Sunday evening and Joe was giving her instructions.

“Joe, I know how to be careful,” she protested. “In spite of being taken by surprise and  kidnapped.”

“I know, Kiddo,” he said with resignation, “but I worry.”

“I’m worried about you going back to work and having to deal with John every day,” she told him. “You could be in danger if he has any idea what you know. How are you going to handle it?”

“I’ll be able to tell you more next weekend, but I have a pretty good idea who I can trust; and after I talk to some people, we will build on that. I wish I could just go back and have Moreno arrested, but we have to allow him to go on normally until we’ve identified all the players and tracked down this Gabriel you told me about.” He looked at her and smiled. “Don’t worry, this shouldn’t take long, and you’ll be back at your desk before you know it.”

“I don’t know how anxious I am to be back at my desk, but I do want to go home and get back to some kind of a normal life.”

*******

The following week passed without incident. Catherine managed to identify at least half a dozen of the security team. Cleon Manning dropped in once to supervise the installation of a security system. When she ordered groceries in the middle of the week she asked the woman she talked to if they sold any blank journals. They didn’t, but the woman told Cathy that they had the black and white composition books that the kids used in school. Cathy had her put a few of them into the grocery order.

Cathy settled into a routine fairly quickly. She’d never been much of a TV watcher, so the lack of good reception didn’t bother her. She only turned the TV on if she wanted to watch the news. One of the security men picked up the morning newspaper for her every morning, and it was always on the rocker on the porch when she got up around eight AM. She read it while she had her morning coffee. She was usually dressed by ten AM and had the little bit of housework done by noon.

That left the afternoons and evenings to fill with something. It prompted a search of the bookshelves; and when she found a whole shelf of cookbooks, she knew how she would fill at least part of her day. She started to cook. She’d learned how from a housekeeper her father had hired after her mother died. She’d been considered a pretty good cook in her circle of friends, but the long hours she’d put in at the DA’s office had effectively kept her out of the kitchen.

She would spend her evenings reading or watching a movie on the VCR and was usually in bed around midnight. She got into the the habit of sitting on the second floor deck every evening just before she went to bed. She would relax and try to project feelings of security and safety to Vincent in hopes that the Bond had returned and he would realize that she was safe.

*******

Joe arrived in time for dinner on Friday.

“Hi, Honey, I’m home,” he called out. He was grinning when he walked into the kitchen.

Catherine looked up from the pot she was stirring and smiled. “How did everything go this week?”

“You cooked?” he asked, ignoring her question.

“You thought I couldn’t?” she shot back.

“Well, um, did you ever have to?”

“Mom cooked, and after she died, Daddy had a housekeeper who taught me a lot of things. One of my favorite things is baking bread,” she pointed at two fresh loaves cooling on a rack. “It’s just that for the last couple years I’ve had this job that didn’t leave much time for more creative pursuits.” She grinned and winked at him.

“So is this what you’ve done with your time this week?” he asked.

“I found some cookbooks, and I’ve been practicing to see what I remember,” she told him. “Dinner should be ready in about ten or fifteen minutes. You have time to change if you want to.”

Catherine was still smiling when Joe came back from changing.

“Shorts, Joe?” she asked when she saw Joe’s clothes. The shorts were Madras and she was sure he hadn’t worn them in years.

“Trying to look the part,” he said as he took the salad bowl she handed him and they went to the table. “Besides, I got here early enough, it’s still light. I thought I might go for a walk by the water. You been down there yet?”

“No, Cleon was here earlier in the week and he advised me to stay close to the house. It will reinforce the story that I’ve been sick, and he doesn’t want me to take any chances. I haven’t been any farther than the porch or the deck, and then not very often. He advised me that the great view from the upstairs deck also means that anyone on the ground or out on the water would have a great view, or shot, at me.”

“Seems a shame to be here and not even be able to get out of the house,” he observed.

“Actually, I’ve kind of enjoyed the peace and quiet,” she told him. “The weather has been so nice I’ve had all the windows and doors open. It’s very relaxing. I’ve gone to bed whenever I wanted to, got up when I woke up, read, played in the kitchen, watched movies; it’s been very restful, but…”

“I knew there would be one of those,” interrupted Joe with a chuckle.

Catherine smiled. “If it goes on much longer I will probably get very bored. So how is the investigation going?”

“I talked it all over with Greg, and we took it to the Police Commissioner, and he took it to the Mayor. They’ve put Greg and me in charge of the investigation, and we’ve put together a small team of people we know we can trust; but that is about as far as it’s gone. I’ve had to keep it quiet to keep John from catching on that I’m working on something other than my assigned cases. I’ve been doing most of the work after hours at home.”

“Can I help with anything?” she asked.

“I brought a whole briefcase full of files with me this weekend. An extra pair of eyes and another brain working on them might be helpful.”

“I’d be glad to help.”

The weekend passed. They discussed cases; some of them were the ones Catherine had been working on when she was kidnapped.

The following weeks went pretty much the same. Joe called several times a week. He would always show up on Friday evening, then would head back to the city after dinner on Sunday. The neighbors were all summer people too, and no one showed any interest in the reclusive woman who was staying in the Burch cottage.

Catherine did her best to fill her time. She wrote in her journals daily. She wrote them to Vincent, planning to give them to him when she was finally allowed to go home.

*******

It was the day before the Labor Day weekend, and Joe was talking to a detective who’d been assigned to the Chandler case.

“So you’re telling me that Catherine Chandler is alive and well and has been in hiding since the end of June.”

Joe looked at the woman who sat on the other side of his desk. Several cops who had been assigned to the Chandler case hadn’t been cleared to be let in on what was really going on. This detective had been recommended by his friend Nick, and before he knew it, she’d been assigned to the case. He still wasn’t sure who was responsible for that. He’d spoken to her several times, really liked her, and he’d been in a quandary all week about whether or not to tell her the real story. The Police Commissioner had assured him that she was a good cop, came from a family of cops, so Joe had decided he had to tell her what was really going on.

“She really was kidnapped,” he told her. “She was held for nearly two weeks; when she escaped, she found herself close to my place so she came to me.”

“So all the investigating I’ve done so far has meant nothing? You already know who snatched her?”

He nodded at the file in her hands. “It’s all in there,” he told her. “My notes on what she told me and everything else we know. The decryption of the book is in there too.”

“So, do you want me to switch my focus to this or do you want me to continue to pretend to investigate her disappearance?”

“Both actually, if you can,” Joe told her. “From everything I’ve heard, you are the best at what you do; and if anyone can get inside this Gabriel’s head and help us figure out what he’s doing, and possibly where he is, it is you. But we also need you to keep up the pretense of the investigating the case you were assigned.”

“And you have the Commissioner’s go-ahead?”

“Absolutely,” said Joe. “I’ve got a small team working on this, and I want you to join us.”

“I want to talk to Catherine Chandler; face to face,” she stated flatly. “How soon can that be arranged?”

“I’ve been going to where she’s staying every weekend; it’s part of the cover story we’re using. Can you go with me this weekend? I won’t be coming back until Monday evening.”

She smiled for the first time since he’d met her. “Sure, I could use a weekend off for a change.”

Joe stayed busy all day, and when he picked the woman up at her place on his way out of town a few hours later, he hadn’t been able to call Cathy to let her know he was bringing someone. There wasn’t much talk on the drive; the woman spent most of the time going through the file Joe had given her. She only spoke to ask an occasional question.  

Catherine was in the kitchen again when Joe unlocked the front door and led his guest in.

“Cath,” he called as he took the woman to the third bedroom. “I’ve brought someone with me.”

Catherine looked up as Joe and a woman came into the kitchen. Her first thought was that Joe had brought a girlfriend with him for the weekend. She was certainly attractive: tall--at  least taller than her--slender, with long, gorgeous red hair: she reminded Catherine of a Botticelli painting. She was graceful in a coltish sort of way.

“Cathy,” said Joe, “this is Diana Bennett; she’s working on your case. Detective Bennett, this is Cathy Chandler.”

Detective Bennett walked across the few feet that separated her and Catherine and held out her hand. Cathy hurriedly dried hers on a dishtowel and shook hands.

“It’s good to meet you Miss Chandler; I was afraid that when I did finally see you it would be on an autopsy table. I was relieved when Mr. Maxwell filled me in on what was really happening.”

Catherine was a little confused. She looked over at Joe. He answered her question before she could voice it.  

“She’s the best, Cath,” he told her. “She was working your disappearance, and I decided that it might help if she knew the real story so I could get her to work on the real case. You’ve been here two months, and we are no closer to finding this Gabriel character than we were the day you showed up on my front stoop.”

Catherine turned to Diana. “Do you think you can help?” she asked.

“Never know until I try,” said Diana with a shrug. “I have a special arrangement with my captain, he lets me work one case at a time so I’m able to put all my energy into it, and I usually get results.”

“It smells wonderful in here,” said Joe, changing the subject, “what did you cook?”

“Beef Stroganoff,” said Catherine turning back to the stove. “Help me get this on the table and we can eat.”

The talk over dinner was inconsequential small talk, but after everyone was done with their dessert, Diana suggested Joe take care of the dishes and let them talk. She stopped in her room to pick up her briefcase and met Catherine in the den.

“Would you like a cup of tea?” Catherine asked as Diana sat on the sofa opposite her and opened the briefcase.

“Thanks,” Diana said, accepting the mug Catherine was holding out to her.

“Milk or sugar?”

“No thanks.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes as Diana gathered her thoughts.

“So I take it you have questions for me,” Catherine prompted.

“Only a million and one,” said Diana. “You should know that, due to the circumstances of your disappearance, I’ve been over your apartment with a fine tooth comb. I had to go through your personal things…by the way what’s the doll’s name?”

Catherine was puzzled a moment then smiled. “Mandy. She was the last thing my mother gave me before she died. I just couldn’t stand to get rid of her. Thought I’d save her for my own daughter if I ever have one.”

The question, as personal as it was, put Catherine at ease which was exactly what Diana had been aiming at.

“While you were being held, how many people did you see?”

“Only four to begin with; two guards, the man who was administering the drugs, and the man who was doing the questioning.”

“Did you ever hear any of them referred to by name?”

“One of the guards called the man who was giving me the drugs, ‘Doc’, and ‘Doc’ called the other man Mr. Harper, but the name didn’t fit.”

“Why didn’t it fit?” asked Diana.

“He has an accent. Sounded German; he cursed in German several times. Did Joe tell you anything?”

“He relayed your story of how you escaped, and I saw the reports from the investigation of the parking garage you were taken from.”

“Well, the man with the accent, the one they called Harper…I think he’s dead. I don’t know how, but something happened in the car when they were moving me. When I woke they were discussing how to dispose of his body. I think I remember that they mentioned his name.”

“I’ll have to check with the Medical Examiner and see if they’ve had any unusual bodies lately.” She wrote some notes in the file she had. “Were the guards in uniform? Any insignia or logos?”

“Nothing out of the ordinary. They looked like rent-a-cops. No name tags, no rank insignia or badges. They carried Uzi’s.”

“Would you be able to describe any or all of them?”

“Probably,” said Catherine with a nod.

“How about this Gabriel? Joe mentioned he was the ring leader.”

“I only saw him once, but his image is engraved into my brain. He wasn’t very tall. He was dressed impeccably, wore a ring on one hand that he tended to fidget with. He was very thin, to the point of gauntness. He looked like one of those guys who get addicted to running. I don’t know if he is a runner, but he didn’t look like he had an ounce of fat on his body.”

“Did you see the ring; was it a signet or something distinctive?”

“I didn’t see it well; it had a black stone.”

“What about his voice? Did he have an accent?”

“No, no accent, sounded very non-descript American. When he spoke, there wasn’t a lot of inflection or emotion in his voice. He spoke very precisely; it was very cold and kind of creepy.”

“You said he was dressed well, anything distinctive about that?”

“Only that it looked like everything was silk.” She giggled suddenly. “I had just been given an injection and the drug was just starting to work. I think I asked him if his underwear was silk too.”

Diana looked up from the pad that she was taking notes on. “What did he say to that?” she asked.

“He didn’t answer; he just left, but I heard one of the guards snicker before I passed out.”

“Was there anything else about Gabriel that stood out?”

“Just the way he spoke. He sounded well educated, and everyone paid very close attention, but it didn’t seem like it was out of respect; more like it was out of fear.”

Diana was quiet as she looked over her notes. Then she looked up and asked a question that Catherine didn’t expect.

“Who’s Vincent?” Diana asked suddenly

Catherine was startled, but didn’t over react.

“Where did you hear that name?” she asked. 

“When I went through your place I found that name in several places; and there were several notes, in the same handwriting that were signed only with the letter V. Is he your boyfriend?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Catherine hedged.

“Then why hasn’t he shown up asking questions about you?” Diana asked, puzzled.

“He’d been sick and only back on his feet a short time before I was kidnapped,” explained Catherine.

“And that kept him from asking about you?”

“That is probably one reason,” said Catherine.

“Does he live in New York City?”

“Yes, he does.” Catherine was getting a little worried about where the questions were going. She had a feeling that Diana Bennett would be hard to lie to.

“Was he involved in your kidnapping in any way?” Diana asked point blank.

Catherine almost sighed in relief. “Absolutely not!”

“Does he know you are safe?” was Diana’s next question.

“I’m not sure.”

“What do you mean?”

Catherine decided to share something with Diana; for some reason she thought Diana would understand.

“Vincent has an empathic gift. He can tell what some people are feeling if he’s close to them or touching them. With me, that gift goes deeper; he can tell what I feel all the time. I don’t have to be physically close to him. He calls it a Bond. When he was sick the Bond disappeared. His doctor seemed to feel that it would return when he got his strength back, and I did too. So if the Bond has returned he will know that I’m OK, but if it hasn’t, then he doesn’t and is probably beside himself with worry.”

“I’m sure I’ll probably come up with some more questions before I leave on Monday, but I think that’s all I have for now.

They did talk several more times.

On Monday afternoon both the women were on the deck and Joe had gone for a run.

“If you want me to, I can try to let Vincent know you are OK,” Diana volunteered.

“Do you think you could have a note delivered for me?” Catherine asked anxiously.

“Sure, you want me to deliver it to Vincent’s home?”

“Actually you can leave it with someone and he will see that Vincent gets it.”

“Who?” Diana asked. 

“You know that musician who is usually just around the corner from the front entrance of the building I work in.”

Diana nodded. “The black guy with the sax?”

“That’s him. I can give you a note and all you’ll have to do is drop it in his hat, and he will see to it that it is delivered.”

“I can do that as long as you don’t tell Vincent where you are.”

“You have a deal. That is what has been bothering me the most about all this. I’ve been worried sick that Vincent might be worried and could wind up relapsing because of the stress.

When Diana and Joe were ready to leave, Catherine slipped Diana a note wrapped in a ten dollar bill and secured with a paper clip.

*******

The first thing the next morning, when Diana was leaving the building after meeting with Joe and Moreno, she found the musician and dropped the note in his hat. He nodded and kept on playing.

The note was in Vincent’s hands less than an hour later.

He was in Father’s chamber when it was delivered.

He opened it and immediately recognized Catherine’s handwriting.

Vincent—

I’m so sorry I haven’t been free to contact you sooner, and I’m not really supposed to be doing this now, but I had to let you know that I’m OK.

I was kidnapped by someone involved in a case I was investigating, and until all the people involved have been arrested and jailed, Joe insists I’m not safe and need to stay out of sight.

I will be home as soon as everything is cleared up. I’m sorry if this has caused you any pain. Please remember I love you and I hope to be home soon.

Love always,

Catherine

Vincent’s relief was palpable. Father saw the change in his son as soon as he opened the note.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Catherine,” said Vincent with a smile. “She’s safe.”

“Thank God!” said Father fervently, “but didn’t the Bond tell you that already?”

“The Bond is returning, but it’s still weak and I wasn’t sure.”

“Where is she?” Father asked.

“The Bond tells me somewhere north of here, but other than that, I know nothing. She said she couldn’t tell me right now but promises to be home as soon as she is able. It has to do with a case she is working on. I wonder if I can get a message back to her.”

“Who brought the message?” Father asked.

“Benny. He said that he got it from Albert. I can ask Albert if he can get a message back to her through whomever gave this to him.”

Vincent got to ask Albert himself that evening at dinner.

“You get that message earlier, Vincent?” Albert asked as they were both standing in line waiting to get their dinner.

“Yes, Albert. Thank you. It was from Catherine. Who gave it to you?”

“A lady detective from the NYPD. She’s been in and out of Catherine’s office building a lot lately.”

“Do you think she would take a message back to Catherine?”

“Won’t know until we try. We could give it to Benny and have him deliver it to Joe Maxwell. He’s the guy the detective goes to see.”

“Do you know the detective’s name?”

“Diana Bennett.”

“Thank you, Albert.”

That night Vincent penned a reply to Catherine. Catherine’s note had been a little vague, so he took his cues from that, just in case someone else read it, even though he wanted to convey everything in his heart to her.

Catherine,

Thank you for your note. We were very concerned and very happy to hear that everything is all right. I am thankful that you weren’t hurt.

We are looking forward to your return. Please let us know as soon as you get home.

Always,

Vincent

He put the note into an envelope, sealed it and wrote Catherine’s name across it. Then he put that into a larger Manila envelope, sealed it and wrote Diana Bennett on the front of it. The next morning he gave it to Kipper and asked him to see to it that Benny got it before he started work.

Benny dropped it at Joe’s office before lunch.

“If this is urgent, it should probably go to her precinct or home,” Joe said when Benny handed it to him.

“Nah, it’s OK. The next time you see her will be soon enough.”

Joe stuck the envelope in his desk drawer and when Diana showed up to discuss the case the next morning; he gave it to her.

She recognized the handwriting immediately and opened it. When she saw Catherine’s name on the inside envelope she tucked it into her purse. Before she left Joe’s office she pulled the inside envelope out of her purse and handed it to Joe.

“Would you see that Cathy gets this?” she asked nonchalantly.

“Sure, what is it?”

“Just some stuff she asked me to do for her.”

Diana would have loved to know what was in the note, for that matter she would have given a bottle of Jamison to see what Cathy had written to Vincent to begin with, but she wouldn’t invade the woman’s privacy now that she knew she was alive.

*******

Joe was running late on Friday, but managed to get a call in to Cathy to let her know. He didn’t arrive until well after midnight, and the house was quiet when he drove up. Or at least it was until he saw a figure separate itself from the shadows of the shrubs close to the house. It ran for the water and Joe gave chase. A couple guys from the security detail must have seen him at the same time and all three of them chased him down to the cove where they all watched in amazement as their quarry dove into the water and started to swim.

Joe stopped next to the other two men who were standing in the sand cursing.

“I always knew I should have taken swimming lessons as a kid,” one of them said. He looked at Joe. “You swim?” he asked.

“Not well enough to have a prayer of catching him,” Joe told him.

“He has to come out somewhere,” the first guy said. “We should split up and head in opposite directions on the beach.”

“Won’t do any good,” the second guy said. He’d been scanning the water with what looked like night vision goggles. “There’s a boat out there; a small cabin cruiser.” Just then they heard the sound of an engine and the guy with the goggles took another look. “He’s heading north.”

They all turned and walked back toward the house.

“Do you think they’ve found her?” Joe asked.

“Don’t know,” said one of the men. I’ll give Mr. Manning a call and he can check it out. Until then I’ll order extra patrols.

Joe let himself into the house, thankful that there hadn’t been any noise to alarm Cathy. He left the envelope on the kitchen counter.

 

Catherine was up early the next morning and was happy to see Joe’s car in the drive when she looked. She was ecstatic to see the envelope on the counter; she recognized Vincent’s handwriting.

She tore it open and read it while the coffee brewed. She was a little disappointed at the polite language of the note, but soon realized that Vincent was only being careful in case someone else read it. She tucked it into the pocket of her robe before carrying her coffee out to the porch. It was almost mid-September, and this beautiful weather wouldn’t last much longer; she planned to enjoy it while she could.

About an hour later she heard someone coming around the side of the house and was ready to run inside and call Joe when Cleon Manning rounded the corner followed by a very large Rottweiler.

“Good morning, Cleon. Is this a social visit?” she asked nodding at the dog.

He gave the dog a command to sit then walked to where Cathy was sitting.

“Not exactly. Didn’t Mr. Maxwell tell you what happened last night?”

She shook her head. “I haven’t seen him yet. He’s still asleep.”

Cleon took the chair across from her.

“He surprised a prowler when he came in last night. He and two of my men chased the guy to the water where he jumped in and started swimming. I think I need to add Olympic swimming to my job requirements. He swam to a boat and headed north.”

Cathy’s hand went to her throat. “He’s found me?” she gasped.

“I don’t think so,” Cleon assured her. “There have been a series of break-in’s around here. All summer houses that had been closed up for the winter. Not much was taken, only cash, jewelry, and small items. Now I think I know why, they came by water and couldn’t carry a lot back to their boat.” He pointed back at the dog. “That’s Fergus. He’s going to be your personal bodyguard until you go home.”

He snapped his fingers and the dog walked over and sat next to his chair.

“Hold your hand out to him, palm down with your fingers curled under and let him get acquainted with your scent.”

Cathy followed instructions. Fergus walked over and smelled her hand then sat and looked up at her.

“Shake the lady’s hand, Fergus,” Cleon instructed.

Fergus lifted his right paw and extended it to Cathy who took it and solemnly shook. When she let go Fergus laid down and closed his eyes.

“He likes you,” Cleon pronounced.

“Now can you tell?” she asked skeptically.

“He laid down at your feet instead of coming back to me.”

“So he’s staying?” she asked. “I’m warning you, I’ve never had a dog, and don’t know anything about them. He’s awfully big; I don’t know if I can control him.”

“Don’t worry, he isn’t attack trained. He’s more of a burglar alarm. If he hears or sees anything that shouldn’t be there, he will bark. My men will hear him and come to investigate. It will also give you a warning. You won’t have to do much more than feed him, pat him on the head and talk to him. He likes to be talked to. The yard here is fenced, and you can leave him out on the deck at night, all day too, if you want. He will naturally patrol the fence and will let you know if anything is going on. I’ll stay until I’m sure he’s OK with you, then I’ll go. If there are any problems, you can call me.”

Just then the door from the kitchen opened and Joe stepped out. Fergus jumped to his feet and went to stand between Cathy and Joe. His head was down and the hair along the back of his neck was standing up. Cathy could hear a low growl.

“Stop right there, Maxwell,” Cleon ordered before Joe even noticed the dog.

Joe stopped as Cleon walked over to the dog.

“He’s OK, Fergus; he’s a friend.” He motioned Joe to go over and sit next to Cathy.

“Go say hello to the gentleman, Fergus,” he told the dog once Joe was seated. “Just let him smell you,” he told Joe.

Fergus smelled Joe’s feet and legs then sat in front of him and offered his paw. Joe shook hands and grinned at Cleon.

“Well trained dog,” he observed.

“He’s my new bodyguard,” Cathy told him.

Once Cleon was sure that Fergus was going to be OK, he went back to his car and returned with food, a dog bed, a few toys, a box of treats and some written instructions.

“You can put the bed on the floor next to your bed,” Cleon told her, “and go easy on the treats. Make him work for them. He does a bunch of tricks.” He handed her the typewritten sheet. “That’s his schedule and a list of all his commands.”

For the rest of the day, Fergus was not only Cathy’s bodyguard, but he became more like her shadow. He even followed her to the bathroom and laid on the floor between her and the door. He didn’t seem too happy when Joe got close to her, but he tolerated it.

The first few nights Fergus’ sleeping habits were a little hard to get used to. He accompanied Cathy to the bedroom but then wanted out once she was settled in bed. She compromised by leaving the sliding glass door from the bedroom to the deck open far enough for him to get out. She watched as he made a complete circuit of the deck, then went down the stairs and did the same thing in the yard. He lifted his leg on a few bushes, then came bounding back up the stairs, into the room and settled himself on the dog bed at the foot of her bed. He did that at fairly regular intervals all night long. After the first couple nights, she didn’t notice anymore .

Fergus also turned out to be a pretty good companion. He listened attentively when she talked, and she could even tell him about Vincent.

She was getting more restless with each passing day. Cleon called a couple times a week to check on Fergus, who, she found out was his family pet; and during one of his calls, she asked if he thought it was safe for her to go down to the water. She wanted to start running again and thought that, since she had the dog, she might be able to.

Cleon OK’d it and assigned one of his men to run with her. For the first week or so, it was more like run a little then walk a lot, but it only took a few weeks for her to get to the point where she could run longer distances. She started taking a ball to throw for Fergus, and he enjoyed playing in the water, bouncing around like a puppy and barking at the crabs and birds.   

October first was a Sunday, and Catherine asked Joe if he had any idea when all of this would be over.

“Diana has some good leads we’re following up. We’ve had tails on Moreno and some of the others on the list from the book, but so far there hasn’t been anything solid. We’re hoping for a break in the next couple of weeks.”

When Catherine asked what he based that time frame on, he had to admit that it was just hunches on Diana’s part. “But Diana Bennett hunches are as good as solid clues for other detectives,” he added.

October passed, and it was well into November, and Catherine was starting to get both depressed and restless. The weather had turned cold and blustery; she tried to keep up her running on the beach, but it rained so much she was lucky to get in one or two runs a week.

It was the weekend before Thanksgiving, and Joe had just broken the news to Catherine that he had been ordered by his family to spend at least part of the holiday with them. They hadn’t seen much of him since June; and although his mother was holding out hopes that it was because of a girlfriend, his sisters were just ticked that he hadn’t been to see them or his nieces or nephews for months.

“So will you be here at all?” she asked glumly.

“Late Friday night through Sunday. We can pitch in and cook Thanksgiving dinner together on Saturday,” he suggested.

“Better than no Thanksgiving dinner,” she told him. “At least I’ll be able to sit on my butt and watch the parades instead of rushing in and out checking the turkey.”

Since the weather turned cold, Catherine had started letting Fergus out before she went to bed . She was waiting on Fergus when she noticed the moon on the water. She was on the deck admiring the view as Fergus did his last patrol of the yard for the night when Joe joined her at the rail.

“Pretty, isn’t it?” he commented.

“The water is like glass tonight,” she observed.

“Aren’t you cold?” he asked, moving closer.

“It’s chilly, but there’s no wind. It isn’t bad. Besides, the view is worth a little chill.”

Joe moved behind and put his arms around her; she relaxed against him.

He must have taken that as encouragement because she felt him nuzzling the side of her head near her ear. It was her first real contact with another human being in months, and she almost went with it; but then it dawned on her that this was Joe…her friend and her boss. She turned to protest, but he anticipating her move. His lips descended to hers. It was a brief kiss, but it was more than just a friendly peck. She stiffened and pushed away from him gently.

“Joe,” she protested.

“Not the right time?” he asked quietly.

She looked at him sadly. “Not the right man,” she told him.

“That guy you told me about last spring?” he asked.

“Yes. I’m sorry Joe.” She really meant it.

“Just tell me that if you hadn’t met him, I might have had a chance,” he said with a lopsided grin.

“Well, I don’t know, Joe. You are my boss, and that is frowned on in the DA’s office,” she told him.

“But?” he prompted.

“But, you are sweet and a lot of fun, and we do have a few things in common,” she added.

“That saved my ego, somewhat,” he told her. He leaned toward her and gave her a peck on the cheek. “I think I’ll turn in. Good night. Sleep well.”

Catherine stood at the rail staring out at the water. Sleep well, my foot, she scoffed silently.

Fergus bounded onto the porch and followed her back into the house.

*******

Vincent was sitting at his table grading papers when he got a strange sensation from Catherine through the bond. She’d just kissed someone, or maybe, someone had kissed her. It was very much like the time Elliot had kissed her. She had initially started to respond, but then he’d felt her pull back and the feeling had become wistful. Was she wishing it was him that had kissed her?

*******

When the case finally broke, it happened quickly.

It was the Thursday after Thanksgiving; Diana had been following a new lead and found out that Gabriel’s private plane was scheduled to land at LaGuardia that afternoon. A contact at the FAA had seen the flight plan. She called Joe, and they had everyone in place to move just as soon as they had Gabriel in custody. They spent the morning getting all the proper warrants and orders. By six PM they had arrested over thirty people, including Gabriel and John Moreno. Joe called Catherine with the news before she could see it on the late news and promised to be up to get her sometime before noon on Friday.

Cleon called the next morning to let her know to just leave Fergus at the house; he’d pick him up later.

“I’m going to miss him,” Catherine told Cleon.

“You can visit anytime,” he assured her. “I’m sure he will be happy to see you.”

*******

The DA’s office was in an uproar the next morning when Diana walked in and made her way to Joe’s office. He waved her to the sofa and continued with his phone call.

“Of course I’ll be there, Mr. Mayor,” he said as Diana sat down. “And I hope I live up to your confidence in me.” He hung up and sat back with a stunned look on his face.

“What’s up?” Diana asked.

“The mayor is going to appoint me DA to fill the rest of Moreno’s term.”

“Congratulations!” she said with a grin.

“But I have to be at the press conference at ten, and then there will be an official luncheon after that. I was supposed to go up and get Cathy.”

“I’ll go get her,” Diana offered.

“Thank you!” he said in relief. “She’s anxious to get home, and she’d have my head if I didn’t show.” He tossed his keys to her. “Take my car; it’s already gassed up and ready. It’s in the garage under the building…but wait shouldn’t you be at the press conference too? You are the one who cracked the case.”

“It was the team, Joe,” she told him. “Besides, I don’t like seeing my name in the papers or hearing it on TV. I’d just as soon keep a low profile.”

“You deserve some recognition,” he protested.

“Write me a commendation. Maybe they’ll give me a raise,” she suggested with a wink.

“If you say so,” he said as she was turning to leave.

“I guess I should park it in the DA’s spot when I come back, huh?” she suggested.

“Yeah, I guess so,” he said with a sad smile. “I always wondered what it would be like, but I’m not too crazy about how I got the job.”

“You gonna run when the term ends?” she asked as she rose and gathered her things.

“I don’t know,” he told her honestly. “Depends on how it goes over the next few months, I guess.”

As she reached the door she turned. “You are going to give Cathy some time off aren’t you?” she asked.

“Time off?” he looked confused.

“Yeah, some time to settle back in at home, reconnect with her friends; maybe a week or two?”

“There are some things that need to be signed,” he told her.

“Send them over by messenger or take them over yourself, but let me tell her that you don’t want to see her in the office for at least two weeks.”

“OK, two weeks. Tell her I’ll send everything over by messenger.”

*******

Ever since Joe’s call the night before, Catherine had been wound up. Her energy level skyrocketed. The first thing she did was call Peter. She knew that since her note to Vincent, Peter probably knew she was OK, so calling him wouldn’t shock him too much. After assuring him that she was fine and would be home the next day, she asked him if he would please let Vincent know. He said he’d happily pass the word on.

Her next call was to Jenny. She went through the routine of assuring Jenn that she was fine and that she would see her sometime the next week and would tell her the whole story then.

“You sure you don’t want me to go over to your place and dust or something?” Jenny asked, anxious to be of some help.

“Peter has already told me that he had the place cleaned right after I disappeared and that he will send his housekeeper over first thing in the morning to air it out and do everything that needs to be done,” Cathy told her.

“How about some groceries?”

“I’m sure all my canned goods are still there and I’ll box up the perishables I have here and take them home with me. I’m sure I’ll be OK for a day or two.”

“Well I guess…” Jenny’s voice trailed off. “It’s that guy, isn’t it?” she said suddenly. “The one who was coming over after you were almost drowned that night. You expect him to be there.”

“I hope,” Cathy told her. “If I don’t go to him first.”

“In that case,” Jenny told her, and she could almost hear her smile in her voice, “I’ll take the back seat…this time. Take care and I’ll see you next week.”

When she hung up from talking to Jenny she went and threw a load of clothes into the washer and went to her room to start packing.

She was almost done packing when she finally went to bed, and she was up early the next morning. Joe had said he’d be up first thing, and she didn’t want to cause any delays. She was packed, and all her stuff was by the door; she packed up the perishables from the kitchen in the cooler and a couple bags and added them to the stack. Then she went and made sure all of Fergus’ things were in one place and easy to find. She was surprised when Diana showed up instead of Joe, but Diana’s explanation as to why, made her smile.

“He deserves it,” she said as they carried things to the car.

When the car was packed, Catherine made one last trip inside to say goodbye to a decidedly mournful looking Fergus.

“Where did the dog come from?” asked Diana, as she backed the car out of the drive a few minutes later.

Catherine told her about the break ins and the prowler Joe had surprised. “Fergus belongs to Cleon Manning, Elliot Burch’s head of security. He has been my bodyguard and therapist for the last couple months.

Diana laughed. “My sister swears that her cat is the best therapist on the planet. She can tell him anything and he still loves her and never tells a soul.”

“It’s funny,” agreed Catherine, “I’ve never had a pet, not so much as a goldfish, but I got used to having Fergus around. I surprised myself at how I talked to him as if he was a person.”

As they neared the city, Diana told her that Joe was giving her two weeks off. Cathy couldn’t stop smiling.

“You going to spend the time with Vincent?” Diana asked as they pulled up in front of her building.

“I sure hope so,” Cathy told her.

The doorman helped her with the luggage and the cooler. She apologized for not having money to tip him, but promised to make sure he got it as soon as she was able to get to the bank.

“No sweat, Miss Chandler,” he told her. “It’s just great to have you back safely.”

When she stepped into the apartment the first thing she noticed was the envelope on the floor just inside the door. As soon as the doorman left, she opened the envelope and read the note.

Catherine,

Welcome home.

I know you told Peter that you would come Below as soon as you could, but please don’t. I will come to you as soon as it is dark enough. I missed you so much, and I don’t want to share you with everyone Below on your first night back. I will see you soon.

Love,

Vincent

Catherine hugged the note. Vincent would arrive soon and she would finally have what she’d been dreaming about for the last five months…maybe.

It had only been completely dark for about thirty minutes; Catherine knew that Vincent couldn’t possibly be there for at least another hour, there was still just too much traffic on the street Below, but that didn’t stop her from wearing a path in the carpet between the sofa and the French door.

She’d unpacked then spent an inordinate amount of time trying to decide what to wear. She knew she could put on sweatpants and a sweatshirt and Vincent wouldn’t care, but she still wanted to look her best. In her time spent on the deck of the cottage she had acquired a healthy glow that hadn’t completely faded. The sun had given her hair natural highlights that no hairdresser could imitate, and it was longer than she normally wore it. She finally settled on a rust colored cowlneck sweater, a long wrap skirt in a brown and rust paisley and brown ballet flats. She brushed her hair out and left it loose around her shoulders. As she paced the room, strands of it blew back from her face.

*******

“Vincent, will you please sit down?” demanded Father.

Vincent had been pacing and stopping to look at the clock in the study every few minutes for the last hour.

“I’m sorry, Father,” he said as he settled into the chair across the table from him.

“What are you so anxious about?” Father asked.

“I don’t know, Father,” Vincent admitted. “I know she is fine, the Bond has told me that, but I’m just not sure how to greet her.”

Father pondered the question for a moment. “Well, you could take her in your arms,” he suggested.

“Yes, Father,” said Vincent as if he was speaking to one of the children. “I doubt that I would be able to refrain from that.”

“Then you could try kissing the girl.”

Vincent’s head snapped up and he met Father’s twinkling eyes.  

“Kiss her?” he asked incredulously.

“As a start,” Father agreed.

Vincent didn’t know what to say. Father was, to all intents and purposes, giving his blessing to his relationship with Catherine.

“And can’t you get to her balcony some other way rather than through the park and up the fire escape?”

“I can use the threshold below her building and ride the top of the elevator to the roof and drop down from there.”

“Then why don’t you go on. You won’t have to wait until traffic is lighter if you go that way.”

Vincent stood and leaned across the table and kissed his father’s cheek. “Thank you,” he whispered before he was gone.

*******

Catherine was on the balcony when Vincent arrived. She didn’t even take time to look at him she just rushed into his arms and burrowed into his chest.

They held each other like that for a long time before she finally leaned back and looked up at him.

“I missed you!” she whispered.

“And I missed you,” he said just before he kissed her.

She was so surprised that she didn’t even respond at first. He leaned back and looked at her in concern.

“Didn’t I do it right?” he asked tentatively.

“No! I mean yes! Absolutely! You just took me by surprise.” Then she took his face between her hands and pulled his head down and kissed him back.

Vincent noticed that the cold was beginning to penetrate Catherine’s sweater, so he broke the kiss, picked her up and carried her into the apartment. He pushed the door closed behind him and shrugged his cloak off before he carried her to the sofa and sat down, where they picked up where they had left off. They snuggled contentedly for several minutes. Vincent even stole a few more chaste kisses.

Catherine didn’t know where it had come from, but she wasn’t going to question it; his kisses were too wonderful.

Vincent found it hard to believe that Catherine was enjoying his tentative kisses as much as she was. He’d always regarded his mouth as too different to even be worth kissing. His upper lip wasn’t very mobile and from everything he’d read, kissing required that both lips be mobile. He’d never considered that he might make up his own style, and that the uniqueness in itself would add to the pleasure.

He’d been concentrating on Catherine’s pleasure and had neglected to pay much attention to his own, but when Catherine’s tongue swept across his lips he couldn’t help notice what he was feeling.

She felt so good, so right in his arms. She fit perfectly on his lap; he could hold her like this forever. She smelled good; he’d missed that scent that was only Catherine’s. Other women might wear the same perfume, but Catherine’s body chemistry made it distinctive to her. And now he was tasting her; her mouth, her skin. He didn’t want to live without this ever again. It set him to wondering what other delights they could give each other.

Catherine finally trailed kisses away from his mouth, across his jaw, and down to his neck, where she nestled contentedly with her lips just resting against the skin there.

“What a wonderful greeting,” she whispered.

“What a wonderful surprise,” he said against her hair.

“Why would you be surprised,” she asked. “I’m sure you’ve known that I’ve wanted you to kiss me for a long time.”

“I did, but I’m surprised that I actually can, and that you enjoy it,” he said, tightening his arms a little.

“I more than enjoyed it!” She sighed with contentment and relaxed in his arms.

They sat like that for several minutes while Catherine searched for a way to tell him what had happened.

“I’m sorry,” she finally said.

“Sorry?” he asked looking down at her. “Sorry for what?”

“So many things, but right now I want to say I’m sorry I didn’t think better on my feet and allowed myself to be kidnapped.”

“You didn’t allow anything,” he told her. “Someone did this to you; you were in no way responsible.”

“I had the chance to get away. I still think that if I’d driven out of the parking garage I would have gotten away, but I didn’t. At the time I thought I’d be safer in the building.”

“Hindsight is always twenty-twenty,” he quoted to her. “You couldn’t have known and you did what you thought was best at the time. I just wish that I’d been successful when I tried to rescue you. You would have been out of danger in June instead of September.”

She realized that she hadn’t given him any explanation in her letter. “I was safe in June and it was due to you. Your rescue attempt prompted them to move me to another place and in the process of that move I was able to escape.”

She went on to tell him the whole story of her escape, and the arrangements that she’d agreed to that were designed to keep her and everyone else safe. At first she didn’t notice Vincent going very still and tense as she talked. About halfway through her narrative, he gently moved her to the sofa and stood up. He paced back and forth a few times then went to stand in front of the balcony door while she finished.

He didn’t speak when she was done, so she got up and went over to him.

“What’s wrong?” she asked as she reached out and touched his back.

He flinched away from her, but didn’t turn to face her.

“You’ve been free since June, but you didn’t let me know about it until September and then didn’t come home for another three months?” He sounded angry, but she couldn’t figure out why he would be.

“I didn’t have any choice, Vincent. I was in danger and anyone who would have helped me could have been in danger too. I had to stay out of sight so that everyone would be safe.”

Vincent wondered who she had kissed that night. Was it Elliot…again?

“So you went and stayed with Elliot Burch?” His voice was soft, but she could hear the tension.

That question clued her in to what was going on. It all came back to Elliot. If Vincent was jealous of, or threatened by any of the men she knew, it was Elliot.

“I didn’t stay with Elliot. I haven’t even seen or spoken to him since June. He offered his place because it was close and easy to keep secure. I was by myself most of the time. Joe came up on weekends.”

“But it still took you over two months to let me know you were safe,” he said.

“I had no way to contact you until that time,” she told him. “I made a promise. I couldn’t call Peter, because it could have put him in danger. One of the detectives who was working on the case gave the note to Albert. She’d come across your name on a few of my things while she was in my apartment. She assumed that I was in a relationship with someone named Vincent. She asked me who you were. I didn’t tell her much, but she volunteered to deliver a message. I couldn’t put much into it just in case she or someone else read it.”

It suddenly dawned on Catherine that she didn’t need to explain anything. Vincent was the one being unreasonable and she didn’t really have to make excuses to him. She wanted him to understand, but she was pretty sure that he was in no mood to be understanding right now.

“I did the best I could, Vincent,” she told him, her voice taking on more of an edge. “I was the victim, and I was just trying to keep everyone else who is important to me from becoming one too.”

He hadn’t turned to look at her once during the whole exchange. His arms were folded and his back very straight and stiff. His whole demeanor spoke of anger.

“I can’t discuss this right now,” he said as he reached for his cloak. “Maybe tomorrow.” He stepped out onto the balcony and swung the cloak around his shoulders. “Good night, Catherine.”

She followed him onto the balcony.

“Vincent!” she called after him as he made the easy climb from the corner of her balcony to the roof. “Don’t go…we need to talk about this.”

He acted as if he didn’t hear her and was up and over the wall in seconds.

She didn’t know whether to be angry or to cry. She wanted to slam doors and stomp her feet in a childish tantrum, but she managed to close the door quietly.

She went into the bathroom where she washed her face and brushed her teeth. In the bedroom she started undressing to get ready for bed. She was about to pull the nightgown over her head when she sat on the bed with a groan. She’d had such high hopes for tonight.

All she’d had for the past few months was fantasy, and it looked like it was going to have to do for a little while longer.

She groaned and dropped backward on the bed. She didn’t know how long she could take this.

*******

Vincent didn’t remember crossing the roof or descending to the ground on the fire escape. He didn’t really take in any of his surroundings until he was almost hit by a car as he dashed across Central Park West. He decided he’d best get Below as quickly as possible before his inattention got him hurt or into trouble.

As he ran across the park, he let his mind slip back to the Bond. He could feel Catherine’s anger, but it was quickly being replaced by another feeling; one he didn’t recognize. Maybe she was taking a bath to relax.

Once he reached the tunnels he slowed his pace somewhat but his running was aimless. He knew these tunnels so well that he could move through them in the pitch dark and not so much as graze a wall. But that was when he was paying attention. Tonight his mind was elsewhere and he literally bounced off walls several times when he missed turns or took one too sharp.

He didn’t know how long he ran, but eventually he found himself at the bridge over the Abyss in the Whispering Gallery. He didn’t slow down as he crossed the bridge. There was a fork just on the other side. If he went right he’d end up back in the main part of the community, left would take him deeper into the tunnels where Narcissa lived.

As he was crossing the bridge, one of the boards gave way under his foot and he almost pitched over into the Abyss. He managed to grab the rope to break his fall. He pulled himself back up onto the planks and lay back breathing hard for several minutes.

He tested the rest of the planks before he got to his feet, but the others were sound. He made his way back to the end of the bridge and pulled the barrier rope across it, then moved the warning sign in front of it. He did the same thing at the other end, and when he reached the pipe in the tunnel on the other side he took the time to send a message to Pascal asking him to let the repair crew know that there was a problem at the bridge.

That done he proceeded to his chamber at a slightly more reasonable speed. That had been a close call; closer than any since his brush with death when he was sick.

But he was still angry, and as he walked, it started to build again. By the time he got back to his chamber he was seething. He entered, snatched his cloak off and threw it in the general direction of the hook where it usually hung; it hit the wall and slid to the floor.

When he turned he ran into a chair that was standing away from the table, he muttered something under his breath and kicked it out of the way.

He decided he needed a bath. The running had worked up a sweat and maybe, just maybe he’d be able to relax; the water usually soothed him. He stood on one foot and pulled off a boot he tossed it behind him and repeated the procedure with the other foot. He started to pull off clothing and toss it toward the armoire.

His hand touched the leather bag that held Catherine’s rose, and his anger flared again. He grabbed the bag, and snatched it off, snapping the leather cord. He turned and threw it as hard as he could toward the stained glass window. He didn’t bother to watch as is hit the top of the bookcase, bounced several times and then fell. He turned, pulled off the rest of his clothing and headed for his private bathing chamber.

The warm water did soothe him. After a while, the angry haze began to fade, and he started to feel bad about what he’d done. Catherine didn’t deserve it. She’d only done what she thought best; and for that matter, Elliot had only done what any good friend in his position would have done. Elliot had the means to protect Catherine, and he should be grateful for it instead of angry that it was Elliot who had been able to be of assistance when he couldn’t.

Suddenly he had a very vivid picture in his mind of the bag with the rose flying across the room and hitting the wall. No! What if it had broken? It was the only thing that had gotten him through the long days and longer nights before he’d known that Catherine was safe. How could he?

He jumped out of the water and rubbed himself down with a towel. He was still damp when he pulled on a pair of dark flannel pajama bottoms and headed back into his chamber to find the rose.

He searched the bed, and when he didn’t find it there, he pulled all the books off the shelves behind the bed. He finally found the bag wedged between the mattress and wall. He held his breath as he removed the rose from the bag. It was still in one piece, unchipped and uncracked. He let out the breath he’d been holding, as he held the rose in his hand and brought it to his lips. How could he have done that? He slipped it back in the bag, tied a knot in the leather cord where he’d broken it and put it back around his neck. On his way to the armoire for a dry towel, he turned on the tape player that Catherine had given him.   

*******

Catherine jumped up from the bed and she did stamp her foot this time.

“Damn it, Vincent,” she said as she tossed the nightgown on the bed and picked up the wrap skirt she’d just taken off. She wrapped it around her, tied it then pulled the sweater on over her head. She just wanted to make sure he was OK and give him her journals. She was sure that the journals would explain it all. A quick trip Below to his chamber would do it. She didn’t bother putting her bra back on. No one would be able to tell with the bulky knit of the sweater and her jacket. She grabbed her journals and keys and left the apartment.

She stopped at the sentry post to let the sentry know she was going to Vincent’s chamber. She heard the announcement on the pipes as she walked.  She reached his chamber and stopped just outside the door. The sentry had told her that he’d heard a message from Vincent, but he wasn’t sure if he was in his chamber.  She hoped that he’d go back to his chamber and not somewhere else.

She called out before she entered. There was no response to her call. She could hear Vivaldi playing, so he was there but maybe he couldn't hear her over the music. She stepped inside, only getting a step inside the entrance before the sight of him stopped her in her tracks.

Vincent had been angry when he left her balcony, but he looked calmer now. He looked like he’d bathed and was still drying his back. All he had on was a pair of pajama bottoms. His jaw was still set, his muscles still tense, but he didn’t have the rock hard look he’d had earlier. The light coming through the stained glass window reflected off the golden hair across his shoulders.

Her first thought was ‘At least he’s not running away.’  Then her breath caught in her throat at her first sight of those broad shoulders with the muscles moving beneath the skin. His pants were loose, but the material was old and thin and it clung; she could see the action of the muscles there too.

He hadn’t said much about it earlier, but she was pretty sure that the Bond had returned. She wondered if he’d sensed her flight of fantasy earlier and her arousal now; she was surprised he didn’t feel her proximity. Maybe he was too deep inside his own head.

She ached with the need to slip up behind him and run her hand down his back, feeling the steel of his muscles under the light dusting of hair.

She stood just inside the entrance of his chamber, her mind wandering to the fantasies that had kept her going for months. His voice startled her back to reality.

"Catherine?" Vincent's voice, still a little rough, cut through her haze of thoughts. "Catherine, what are you doing here?"

He stood in front of her, legs spread, shoulders stiff, but he didn’t reach for a shirt.

"I-" she paused, her mouth open as she fought to find the words. "I'm sorry. I was worried, and I came to see if you were OK, and to give you these." She held out the stack of composition books as he turned to face her.

"I'm well," he said, ignoring the books.

She opened her mouth to say something: to say she understood,  and she was sorry. She could see he was in pain, pain that she was partially responsible for, but then he narrowed his blue eyes at her and breathed in. She knew he could probably smell her arousal.

She swallowed hard, her mouth suddenly dry. She wasn’t often this aroused, especially when she was around Vincent. She was as constantly controlling her emotions and actions as he was. She knew he could feel it, yet he stayed as unreachable as the Beast he always insisted was inside him.

She licked her lips and looked down, suddenly feeling selfish and ashamed.

"I'm sorry. I'll go."

She placed her journals on the table near the door, turned and left. He stood a moment, watching her leave, before he turned and leaned on the table for support. He couldn’t read her thoughts, but he knew what she’d been thinking. He’d seen her dilated pupils, her flushed skin; both her respiration and heart rate had increased. Even without the Bond he would have known.

He could feel her now as she walked toward her threshold; she was confused and upset. As he stood there he felt her mood change; first to uncertainty then he felt her make a decision. She disappeared from the Bond, just as she had that time when Paracelsus had her. He could still feel her heart beat, but nothing more.

Before he could wonder much about it, she had returned.

“Vincent,” she said quietly and calmly. “We can’t let this go on. We have to talk.”

“Catherine, please!” he didn’t turn.

“No Vincent! No more excuses! We have to talk; I need to know what is going on. I need…”

Vincent came to a decision and interrupted her.

“Shut up, Catherine,” he said with uncharacteristic rudeness. “You must listen before I lose my nerve.” He stayed where he was, leaning on the table, his head lowered and his hair hiding his face. “You said you were sorry, but you shouldn’t apologize. I am the one who was wrong. I know you didn’t have any choice in the matter. You did what you did to protect me and all of your friends. I understand that, but I was jealous and angry, and you became my lightning rod. I’m sorry…”

“Vincent…” she started.

“No! Please listen to me. I love you. I love you more than I ever dreamed it was possible to love another person. You are my life, my love…my light! Before you disappeared, I told you that I was at peace, more peaceful than I’d been in years. I thought at the time it was because the Bond was gone…that I’d somehow traded the Bond for that peace. But later as the Bond returned, I realized that I was still at peace. I could feel you, I knew you were alive, and that you were well, and that you weren’t very far away. Even before your note I knew that you would return to me. I was at peace because I’d somehow come to terms with that other part of me. It was…is no longer a threat.”

She watched as his head lowered even more and his shoulders tensed again.

“I love you, Catherine. I want to make love to you…with you.” He straightened and turned to face her. “Will you let me?”

The look of distress on his face brought tears to her eyes. She didn’t even answer; she just walked into his arms.

His embrace made it hard to breathe. Her emotions made it nearly impossible. She gasped as his hands went down to her waist and he lifted her off her feet. She wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his hips as he turned and walked to the bed where he sat down.

Catherine willed herself to slow down and take a breath. She didn’t want to rush this. She wanted their first time to be memorable; she at least wanted them to go slow enough that they could remember it.

“Was that a ‘yes,’ Catherine?” he asked as his arms tightened and he pressed her closer.

She rotated her pelvis ever so slightly, causing him to groan.

“Oh yes,” she whispered in his ear. “Are you sure we won’t be disturbed here?”

“It’s late, everyone is asleep.”

“Good, then make love to me, Vincent.”

Each time he’d kissed her earlier, it had been better than the time before. He was learning fast.

 She pulled him closer, rubbing herself against his hardness.

"Vincent," she said in a husky voice, "kiss me, please."

He turned his head, avoiding her lips.

She slid one hand down his chest, splaying it against his flat stomach.

"Have you ever kissed anyone before earlier tonight?"

“No one,” he admitted.

“Why not?”

He looked surprised at the question.

"No one wanted to."

"But I do. I have for a long time. I need your kiss. Your lips, your mouth, your taste." Her eyes fluttered closed as she spoke.

A growl caught in his throat as her nails scratched lightly through the hair on his stomach, finding skin. Her other hand left his shoulder and insinuated itself between his skin and the waistband of his pants.

"Catherine," he groaned.

He bent down and caught her behind the knees, lifting her further up onto the bed. 

He dropped to his knees next to the bed and she lay back on the quilts, grabbing his arms to pull him up to her. He leaned over her, her hips cradled his perfectly. He supported his weight on his forearms, bracing himself above her.

He brushed strands of her hair off her face.

“You’ll kiss me, really kiss me?” he asked.

She nodded and her hips rolled beneath him.

“I’ll do more than kiss you, if you give me the chance.”

"I never kissed anyone before you," he said as he lowered his face toward hers.

He moved closer to her lips as they parted slightly; her breathing was shallow and quick. He brushed his mouth lightly against her top lip. It was full and warm. His previous kisses had all been with closed lips, except when he moved away from her mouth, now he opened his mouth slightly and tentatively touched her tongue with his. Her whole body started to hum. She opened her mouth a little more and traced her tongue against his bottom lip, then caught it delicately between her teeth. Her tongue found its way into the cleft in his upper lip, and he gasped and thrust involuntarily against her.

With a groan, he caught her face between his hands and opened his mouth fully against hers. He plunged into her mouth, stroking her tongue with his. His lips caressed hers, molding, tasting and pressing. He was concerned when he heard her whimpers, but the Bond assured him he wasn’t hurting her. Her hands were on his back trying to pull him closer. He willingly put more of his weight on her. Her tongue was in his mouth, dancing around his sharp canines, exploring the roof of his mouth. He continued to devour her lips, rubbing his chest against hers.

He couldn't believe the joy he felt in kissing her. Her joy and his. He experienced near physical pain from the realization that he could have been kissing her all along.

Her hands had left him and were working her sweater up. He helped her and broke contact with her mouth only long enough to get rid of it. Once her head was free of it, he moved back to her, refusing to abandon the pleasure of her mouth. His hands slid under her head, urging her mouth even closer.

She was trying to speak against his mouth. "Your kisses…" her voice faded into a moan.

"Want you," he breathed between kisses, "I want you."

He pulled one hand from her head to trace down her neck and across her collarbone. He massaged his palm against the side of her breast before continuing down her side to her hip, then her thigh. His hand caressed her slender leg before pushing up her skirt, leaving her lower half nearly naked against his stomach.

Catherine reached for the tie of his pajama bottoms, she pulled it loose but couldn’t manage to push them down.

She pushed against his chest, forcing him away from her so she could get to the tie of her wrap skirt. She pulled it free and lay completely bare except for a pair of panties; she pulled him back into her arms.

Her feet ran up the back of his legs and buttocks to lock around his waist. She arched into him every time he plunged his tongue into her mouth.

Suddenly she felt his whole body go rigid as he pulled away and rolled off her.

“Vincent?” she gasped as she rolled to her side to look at him.

He drew his forearm over his eyes as he lay panting on the mattress beside her.

“I’m sorry Catherine… I can’t.”

She glanced at the bulge in pants and knew that he wasn’t referring to that.

“Can’t Vincent?” she asked.

He rolled so that his back was to her.

“My control was slipping,” he told her.

“That’s all right, Vincent,” she tried to reassure him. She placed her hand on his shoulder and he flinched almost as he had earlier.

“No, it’s not. I can’t lose control. I don’t know what will happen if I do.”

She took a deep breath and tried to regain her calm.

“You said that part of you was gone,” she whispered against his back.

“But I don’t know that it is completely gone, that it can’t come back,” he said in a muffled voice.  “I just can’t be sure.”

“Then we will slow down,” she told him. “We will do this at your speed.”

They lay quietly for a time before she slid off the bed and reached for her skirt.

“Do you want me to go home tonight, or can I stay Below in the guest chamber?” she asked.

Vincent’s breathing had returned to normal. He sat up and looked at her.

“Stay Below, Catherine?” He smiled somewhat sheepishly at her. “I would like you to stay here with me. I need to keep moving forward, even if we don’t reach our ultimate destination tonight.”

She reached out and caressed his cheek.

“Of course I’ll stay here; that is, as long as you will grant me one wish.”

“What?” He looked wary.

“That you let me sleep just like this,” she indicated her nearly naked body. “And that you wear only your pajama pants and sleep under the covers with me.”

He smiled inwardly; she knew him too well.

“Yes,” he agreed.

He rose and gathered a few things before he headed for his bathing chamber.

Catherine puttered around the chamber for a few minutes. She picked up her discarded clothing and folded it neatly over the back of a chair. She found the clothing he’d pulled off earlier and did the same thing with it, then she climbed into the bed and snuggled into Vincent’s pillow.  

When Vincent returned, he was still wearing only his pajama pants. He went to the armoire and took out two garments: his robe and a denim work shirt. He put them both on the end of the bed.

“The shirt should work as a robe for you if you should have to get up during the night,” he said as he circled the room and put out the few candles that were lit. He climbed into the bed and surprised her by moving close, then pulling her into his arms.

“Are you going to be able to sleep like this?” she asked as she settled into his shoulder and draped her left arm across his chest.

The feel of her bare skin against him was both distracting and comforting. He turned his head and smiled at her.

“Probably not, but I will at least rest; I think you are tired enough to sleep.”

“I am that,” she agreed. “I was so excited yesterday after Joe called that I was up most of the night packing, and once I did go to bed I didn’t sleep.”

He placed a careful kiss on her forehead and put his hand over hers where it rested on his chest.

“Then rest,” he told her. “We will talk in the morning.”

Catherine drifted off quickly, but Vincent took a little longer. He did sleep though.

*******

He woke several hours later to find that Catherine had turned over to her left side with her back to him and he was spooned tightly behind her with his arm around her waist and her breast nestled snugly in his hand.

He lay still for several minutes, savoring the situation. He’d dreamed of this for so long, and now it was real, but the reality was so much better. He breathed in her scent; he delighted in the feel of her body pressed against his. He was aroused and his erection was pressed firmly against her bottom. He flexed the fingers holding her breast and she wiggled her bottom deliciously and pressed even closer to him. He moaned slightly and kissed her ear.

“Catherine,” he whispered.

“Mmm?” she was swimming up through layers of sleep.

“I want to love you, Catherine.” His breath heated her ear and she turned her head toward it.

“Yes,” she said as the rest of her body followed her head around and she looked into his eyes before pressing her lips to his.

"I want to keep kissing you while I love you,” he said breathlessly as they pulled apart. “Does it work that way?"

"Mm-hm…" she murmured as she scored her nails up his sides. “It can, but it might take a little work for us. I’m a lot smaller than you, and when your mouth is on mine the rest of you is almost down around my knees.

He shuddered in response to her caress and managed to hold his head on the pillow while matching his pelvis to hers.

“OK, then again…maybe not,” she commented as he kissed her again.

She broke the kiss only long enough to remove her panties then she moved back into his arms.

He kissed her softly. His tongue insistent. He rolled her to her back and used the weight of his body to keep her still, one hand beneath her head. With the other hand under her bottom he tilted her against him and began the slow process of sheathing himself inside her. The feeling was devastating.

There had been no real foreplay, just a few kisses and she didn’t think that she was aroused enough; was afraid that it might be painful after so long. She didn’t want Vincent to sense it if it was, but obviously she was ready. The first touch of him caused a rush of moisture and she cried out in ecstasy, trying to rock against him, but he held her steady with his weight and his kisses.

He pushed forward slowly, taking pleasure in every sensation, both his and hers, and when he was inside her completely, his body begin to tremble uncontrollably against her. Then he went completely still. He was so still that for a moment she wondered if he’d lost consciousness with the intensity of the moment.

Then he started to move.

He moved slowly at first, trying to match the rhythm of his kisses, but Catherine was having none of it. Her hips pushed against his, wanting him deeper, faster. She breathed his name into his mouth over and over as she moved under him trying to set a faster pace.

He couldn't stand it any longer; couldn't hold back. He increased his speed, moving fiercely into her. He grit his teeth and groaned against her mouth. The sound of his name on her lips and the stroke of her flesh around him became his whole world.

He felt the creep of electricity slowly travel from every part of his body to his groin. It built, but he must wait for her, for Catherine.

Her hips started to buck as she tightened around him. Her cry of completion boiled his blood and he exploded into her as she convulsed beneath him, around him.

He nearly collapsed on top of her, but he caught himself on his forearms. His lips were still against hers as they both gasped for breath.

"My love," he breathed as he wrapped his arms around her.

He rolled to his side and held her, kissing her lips as he tried to catch his breath. Her face was radiant. She rested in his embrace and smiled at him.

"You survived; we both did," she said with a satisfied smile.

*******

Vincent woke some time later, but instead of being immediately aware of his surroundings, he had a sense of lethargy and well-being that he’d never had before.  He smiled at the memory and opened his eyes. He was on his back and Catherine had turned on her side facing him with one hand under the pillow and the other possessively curled over his bicep. Her forehead rested against his shoulder.

He wanted to gather her into his arms and hold her but didn’t want to wake her, so he settled for turning onto his side slightly so he could see her better. He’d often watched her sleep, starting with the time she’d spent Below after the assault. Her dreams were pleasant, and she smiled  as she slept.

How had he ever denied her, denied both of them, for so long? Now he wasn’t even sure why he’d done it. He smiled wryly and shook his head. He had been so blind!

Catherine stirred and stretched and he could feel her dreams dissipate as she woke.

She smiled at him as soon as she opened her eyes.

“Was I snoring?” she asked.

He almost laughed at that. “No, I was just marveling at the beautiful woman I found in my bed when I woke.”

She pushed her hair off her face, and gave him a self deprecating smile. “I’m not beautiful, especially when I first wake up,” she told him. “I’ve seen me in the mirror.”

He captured her hand and carried it to his mouth and kissed her fingertips. “Tousled, but always beautiful,” he insisted.

“What time is it?” she asked as she scooted closer and snuggled against him.

“Early,” he answered with a glance at the clock on the bookshelf behind the bed, “not five yet.”

She backed off a bit and propped her head on her hand.

“Couldn’t you sleep?” she asked.

“I don’t need a lot of sleep,” he told her. “Unless I’ve been sick or injured, I usually sleep only four or five hours a night, sometimes six.”

“I wish I could get by with that little. I might actually find the time to get everything done…put in the twelve hour days that Joe would like and still have a life.”

“Then you should go back to sleep for a little longer,” he suggested.

“But I’ve got time before I have to go back to work; days,” she reminded him. “I don’t have to get up early, and I can think of better things to do.”

He knew how she hated getting up early, and wasn’t really following her. “What?” he asked.

Her hand drifted  up his arm and across his chest before starting to move down.

“Guess,” she said with a twinkle.

He didn’t have to guess, the Bond reacted almost as quickly as his body did when she moved across him and pressed her breasts to his chest.

“That is one thing I’m not really clear on,” he said with a gasp as she trailed her toes up his leg, “I mean, how often can one do this? I know how it is in books, some of the more modern romance novels, but what about real life?”

“In that case it is art imitating life,” she whispered as her lips connected with his jaw. “It depends mostly on your recovery time and limitations of my body.”

“What kind of…limitations?” he asked, suddenly concerned.

“Sore muscles, um not enough natural lubrication, but that can be remedied.”

“How?”

“A trip to the drug store,” she told him between the kisses she was trailing along his jaw toward his mouth, “but I don’t think we are going to have to worry too much about that right now. I’ve waited a very long time for you and…”

The rest of the sentence was lost when he rolled her to her back and took control of the kiss.

“Can we proceed more slowly this time?” he asked when they broke the kiss to breathe.

“Oh, yes…please,” she answered. She guided his hand to her breast. “You can start here.”

She was surprised when his hand was almost immediately replaced with his mouth.

“Oh God!” she groaned as her body arched involuntarily, trying to get closer to him. “I’ve dreamed of you doing that.”

“As have I,” he said lifting his head momentarily to look at her. He moved to her other breast.

“You actually like that?” he asked after a few minutes of listening to her moans and small gasps.

“You don’t know how much,” she said with a lazy smile. “Oh, wait, you probably do, what is the Bond telling you?”

“I’m having a hard time separating your reactions from mine,” he told her, “but I felt something like little explosions, especially here.” He placed his hand low on her abdomen.

“That was me. Kind of like mini-orgasms.”

She could see that something had come into his mind and he was momentarily distracted from what he’d been doing.

“Vincent?” she asked.

He didn’t answer, only lowered his head and took her breast into his mouth again. Her groan of satisfaction told him everything he needed to know. She felt his teeth, but just barely. It was just enough to make it different. His upper lip was no hindrance at all.

Their loving this time did proceed slower, almost methodically, as if he was trying to do everything he’d ever dreamed of doing. He touched her and kissed her in places that she’d never dreamed would be sensitive to a sexual touch. Maybe it was just because it was him. She’d always known that his hands were made for loving; his whole body was, and now he was proving it to himself.

He kissed her everywhere; her face, her neck, her hands; he even kissed her elbows and knees. He was making up for all the lost opportunities.

When he finally settled over her and entered her again she was nearly frantic for him.

Even then, he moved slowly. At first she thought she would burst if he didn’t quicken his pace, but after a few moments she settled down and went with it; enjoying the slow build of pleasure. She concentrated on the sensations hoping to convey what she was feeling to him more intensely. She wanted him to know the pleasure he was giving her. She wished the Bond was as strong for her as it was for him, so she could share in his enjoyment.

Her climax came suddenly. One moment she was riding the wave, enjoying the trip and the next thing she knew she was exploding; her body being consumed in cold flames. Her cry surprised her more than it did Vincent. She’d never been this loud before, but then it had never been this good before and it had never been Vincent before. Her internal spasms took Vincent over the edge right behind her although he was a bit more quiet about it. He thrust deep and lost himself in the miracle in his arms.

It took Catherine more than a few minutes to recover and even then when she spoke she was still a bit breathless.

“I hope we didn’t disturb anyone…” she stopped a moment and regrouped her thoughts. “I should probably say that I hope I didn’t disturb anyone.”

“I don’t think that sounds from this chamber can be heard more than a few feet up the tunnel,” he told her as he rolled to his side next to her and pulled her closer. “It twists and turns too much. Father chose it for Devin and me for that very reason.”

“Boys are noisy,” Catherine agreed, “and I’m grateful that Father had that foresight.”

~~~