Catastrophe strikes when Devin organises an adventure for Vincent. Yet still, all of his dreams come true.
Driving along in Catherine’s car, a little over a week later, Father could not deny that the place Devin had chosen for Vincent’s weekend away, was very impressive. During the long drive down through the shrubbery that bordered the driveway, he had grown more and more at ease with the thought of Vincent going there. For one, there was a high security wall, with which, he was pleased to note, had spikes pointing outwards at the top thus making it virtually impossible for anyone to climb over without being impaled.*** *** ***
The gates themselves, through which Catherine had manoeuvred the car deftly to miss the giant pillars on either side, were made of strengthened steel, richly ornamented, with filigree patterns of vines overlaid with grapes in gold plate.
“Who lives here?” Father remarked, as Catherine got out to unlock and open the gates, before getting back into the car and driving through the gateway into the extensive gardens beyond.
“I don’t exactly know. Devin found the place as I told you, he should be here somewhere, perhaps he can tell us both.”
Stopping again to close the gates behind her, Catherine jumped as the car door opened from the outside, and Devin’s cheery face appeared, “Hi”, he greeted them both, “I’ve closed the gates Cath, no need to get out again. Glad you could come dad, is Peter minding the old place?” he asked panting for breath.
His father nodded, his eyes lighting up, “Where did you spring from?” He asked, leaning back as best he could from the front seat to look upon his eldest son, who was climbing into the rear.
“I came earlier. I’ve been walking around. When I saw Cathy’s car approaching, I ran from where I was to get to the gates to meet you. Who’d believe it, huh? I climb up and down mountains every day, and yet I get out of breath just doing a quick sprint!” He laughed, catching his breath at last, before adding, “Well, I’m sure you have questions dad, so fire away.” As Catherine saw him wink at her through the rear-view mirror and smiled.
“It looks a wonderful place.” Father began, “I am particularly impressed with the high security walls, but until I have seen every thing, I can’t really pass an opinion. This place needs to be like Fort Knocks before I will ever consider allowing Vincent to come here.”
“Then its a foregone conclusion, dad. Believe me, there is absolutely no way in to this place once those gates are locked.” Devin told him, with fingers crossed.
“Is there no other way in?” Father asked, “No back gate, nothing?”
“Not unless there’s a foolish pilot with a helicopter dad, no, there is no other way in.” Devin replied.
Father grew thoughtful, and Devin knew that look. Seeing the way his father frowned, with aid of the rear-view mirror, Devin added, “Dad, don’t worry, who would want to land a chopper here. Besides, it would take some navigation, I believe the owners have already considered the possibility of this, come look, I’ll show you.”
As the car rounded the final bend before the house came into view, Father looked up, as Devin pointed above to the only part of the extensive gardens which were void of trees and shrubbery, and Father asked, “What are they, power lines?”
“No, I guess, the best way to describe them would be trip wires. See how they have been positioned? Look across there, alongside those tall trees, there are some metal poles. I’ve been across to them and they seem to be embedded deep in the ground, and the criss-cross wires run from the tops of them, right across the grounds, extremely taut, and are held in place with pins to the roof of the house. Any foolish pilot navigating his propellers through those wires, would stand the risk of crashing his machine and killing himself.”
“Certainly not a place for flying kites then?” Catherine mused, much to Father and Devin’s delight as they both laughed loudly at the thought.
Rounding the final corner between immense shrubs, the house came into view and on sight of it both Catherine and Father gasped.
Painted walls in a soft lemon, with black guttering, the house was truly impressive, and a delight to look upon, and so high that the three travellers had no option but to alight from the car, before they could successfully see the rooftop.
With the crunch of the gravel drive beneath their feet, they walked towards the house, “There’s one thing I have to tell you.” Devin began, and Father groaned, “I should have known, what is it Devin, don’t tell me. There is a risk after all, eh?”
Devin shook his head, “No, its not that, the place is secure as you can see, its just that being so popular, the place is fully booked throughout the year, and there is someone here this week. We have to seek their permission before we can look around the house that’s all.”
Father nodded, “Then I apologise. I’m sorry Devin, it seems that I misjudged you yet again.”
“That’s all right dad, old habits die hard, eh?” Devin grinned, and taking hold of his father’s arm, he helped to lead him up towards the great oak doors, where he lifted the brass knocker and let it fall home with a loud bang.
After a few moments, the door was opened, and a cheery face appeared framed by a mop of red hair, a face that Devin recognised, and a huge grin spread over his face, “Tom, Hi. This is my father, Jacob Wells, and the woman I told you about, Catherine Chandler. Is it convenient to come inside?”
The fellow on the other side of the door returned Devin’s smile, “Devin, of course. Its great to see you, we were expecting you. You’ll all stay for dinner I take it?” He stood aside, bidding them entry with the sweep of his arm.
Stepping into the dim interior after the bright sunlight outside, the three took a few moments to accustom their eyes to see the long corridor before them fully, as Tom closed off the daylight from behind, with the closure of the great door, telling them. “You’ve got to be fit to come here, this door alone takes all my strength just to open and close it.”
Father laughed, “I would be no good here then.”
Tom inclined his head, “You won’t be staying here then?” He queried, “I thought you were planning a family holiday here?”
Looking from Devin to Catherine and then back at Tom, Father wasn’t sure how to answer, as Devin came to his rescue, “We’re planning it for a surprise for another member of our family. Dad just wanted to see the place.”
Tom grinned, “Oh I see, well as long as your relative has the strength of an ox, there should be no problem. The security here is that tight, not even the occupants can move about successfully, without being fit.” he laughed, “No seriously, its as safe as houses here, no one can get in, take it from me. Its even difficult to get out of.” he laughed, before continuing, “I’ve been coming here for years, and what few fans have discovered my location, none have been able to find a way in yet.”
“Tom’s a Country and Western singer,” Devin felt compelled to tell Catherine and his father, “We met at a gig he did near my home town.” He fell silent though his lips twitched with mirth at some amusing thought.
Tom noticed, “Did you know your son could sing?” He asked Father, who gasped with pleasure at the revelation, answering, “Well no, it is something Devin always shied away from whenever we had singing lessons Below.”
“Below?” Tom queried.
“I mean at home.” Father’s cheeks reddened, and he chided himself on being so careless.
Tom laughed loudly, “Of course Below, that’s a new one, I must remember it.” He laughed loudly and Father shot Devin a ‘you haven’t told him have you?’ look.
Shaking his head, Devin tried to follow his friend’s reasoning, unsuccessfully, until Tom seeing their perplexed faces, explained, “You know, Down Under, Below, Australia.”
Devin sighed, “Australia, of course,” and nudged his father with an elbow to his side, telling him, “I’d forgotten that you used to refer to our home in Australia, as Below, dad, you had me wondering then as well.”
Quickly Father picked up on the way out of a tricky situation, and went along with his son’s deceit, allowing Tom to believe that he too had lived in Australia for a time, as had Devin. But decided to get away from the subject as quickly as possible, and asked Tom, “So tell me about my son’s singing career?”
Devin groaned, “Not such a career dad.” Hearing Tom’s outburst of laughter, before saying, “Come, let’s go to the dining room, and eat, I will tell you everything there. About how Devin and I met, and about myself, if you are interested.”
All the while Tom had been speaking, Catherine had been trying to establish where she had seen him before. As he opened the dining room door, and a burst of sunlight from the long low windows lit up his features, Catherine knew at once. “Why!” she exclaimed, “I know you. You’ve held a concert in Central Park, not long ago either.”
Tom smiled, “You see before you a chap who came up from the ashes, out of nowhere if you like, and hit stardom overnight. I don’t know how long it will last, but while it does I am enjoying every moment of it, believe me. I’ve just released my third album, and its selling like hot cakes.”
Gesturing for them each to sit around the long polished table, he unfolded a huge white linen tablecloth, and tossed it unceremoniously over the table, smoothing out the creases when it lay flat. “My wife will be down soon, with our twin boys, they’ve been out riding this morning, and smell of horses, but they will join us, when they have showered and changed.”
“Are you here alone, just the four of you, no staff?” Devin asked.
“Yes. We wanted to be totally isolated for a change. I must admit though to finding the isolation a trifle wearisome. Your appearance is a wonderful distraction. I’ve been working on some new songs, but I seem to have lost my inspiration. Maybe while you are here Devin, you could give me a few ideas, as you did before. How long can you stay?”
“Well, dad and Cathy have to return by tonight, but I could stay a couple of days if you like.”
Tom’s face lit up, “That would be great Devin. I could use your help with some lyrics.” He laughed, sending Devin a knowing look, and leaving Catherine and Father with an expression of utter disbelief, “Devin help you?” Father asked, thinking out loud, “With lyrics?” As turning to his son he told him, “My boy, what secrets have you been hiding from us?”
Devin smiled, “Oh you know me dad, I’m a man of many talents.” He mumbled, and heard Tom laugh out loud, obviously remembering some delightful incident that the two of them shared.
“Can I offer you a drink, anyone?” Tom asked, changing the subject, “Tea, coffee, something stronger?”
“Tea would be lovely.” Father replied, whose stomach had begun to think his throat had been cut. It had been several hours since he had partaken of any refreshment.
“I’ll just go and put the kettle on. Please feel free to look around while I am gone. After dinner, I’ll give you a guided tour of the entire house.”
No sooner had the door closed behind him, did Catherine laugh and ask, “So Devin, do tell us about your singing career.”
Devin smiled broadly, “I was drunk.” He told her, as if that answered everything.
“Drunk?” Father prompted.
Devin smiled impishly, “Yes dad, drunk, as in intoxicated, over the top, sloshed, call it what you like, and...” His voice trailed away as he remembered, and he spluttered on his own laughter, leaving Catherine and Father to look from one to the other, knowing it would be impossible to get anything out of him in that state. Finally he went on between fits of giggles, “You’ll...have...to...ask...Tom.” As he wiped away tears of mirth.
“Yes.” Said Father dryly, “I think perhaps we should.”
At that moment, the door creaked, and looking up, the three witnessed two young children peeping around the door and a woman’s voice behind telling them to go on in, as no one would bite them.
Catherine smiled, as two young boys, with the blondest of hair and bluest of eyes, and aged about nine or ten, shuffled into the room nervously, looking at the three strange grown ups, eventually followed by their mother with the same beautiful hair and eyes.
“Hello,” she greeted them warmly, then glancing across at Devin reached out her hands to shake his while telling him, “You must be Devin. Tom described you so well, even if those scars did give you away.” She laughed merrily, and Devin warmed to her instantly, rising from his seat to return her handshake, and to reply, “And you must be Laura. It’s wonderful to meet you at last. Tom has told me all about you, except he failed to say how beautiful you were.” Laura laughed, “Flattery will get you everywhere.” She told him, then turning to Father asked, “And this is?”
“My father.” Devin responded, “and a friend of the family, Catherine Chandler.”
“Pleased to meet you Mr. Wells, and Catherine.” Laura told them both offering her hand.
“Jacob, please.” Father told her, looking at the two boys, who had now taken up their usual places at the dining table, “and these two are...?” He asked her indicating the twins.
Laura laughed, her eyes bright with joy, and Catherine felt her heart somersault in her breast, ‘what would it be like to have two such adorable children, with intense blue eyes’ she wondered dreamily?
“Bill and Ben.” Laura laughed, adding quickly, “Actually its William and Benjamin, but these two adore gardening and the nick-names stuck.”
With impish grins the two boys delighted the three guests, and Laura asked, “Where’s Tom?”
“Gone to fetch some tea.” Devin told her.
“Then if you don’t mind baby sitting a while, I will follow with some lunch. I take it you are all hungry after your drive up here?”
Devin nodded vigorously, making Father laugh, “I’m afraid my son is always hungry. And yes, lunch would be very much appreciated, thank you.”
When Laura had left the room, the twins eyed the three strangers openly, and it didn’t take them many minutes to start a barrage of questions.
“What are you here for?” Asked one, for it was difficult to tell them apart.
Father smiled, “We have come to look at the place.”
“Why?” Asked the other.
Devin told him, “We are thinking of coming here for a weekend, and wanted to check it out first.”
“What do you do?” Asked the first boy. His hair was slightly longer and thicker than that of his brother, and as the three guests looked on at the boys, they did begin to notice subtle differences to tell who was who.
“What do you mean?” Devin asked in response.
“I mean are you a singer too?” The boy replied with interest.
Just at that moment the door opened, and Tom pushed his way in, with an elbow to the door, and his foot to hold it open as he manoeuvred himself with the tea tray in his hands.
“Here let me help you.” Devin left his chair to hold the door open for his friend, as Tom replied, “Thanks Devin.” Then directing his attention to his sons, told them, “Devin is a friend of mine boys. And to answer your question, yes, Devin does sing...badly.”
Devin burst into laughter at the fond memory of their first meeting, as Tom continued, “But his lyrics are pretty good.”
Putting the tray down upon the table, Tom took up seven white cups patterned in blue willow, and carefully poured hot tea into each of them from a very large matching tea-pot. “Do you all take milk and sugar.” He asked, “Tell you what, don’t answer that, I’ll leave the milk jug and sugar bowl here, and you can help yourselves. There’s more tea in the pot if you’d like another too.”
“So tell us about my son’s singing career.” Father asked, not about to let this go, while leaning forwards to put a dash of sugar into his tea, but refraining from adding milk, he preferred herb tea really, but the delicate flavour of earl grey soon had him reaching for a refill.
Tom smiled warmly, as he remembered with fondness the night he and Devin had met.
“I’m afraid your son can’t sing for toffees, and believe me being drunk didn’t help any, but being drunk must have given him the Dutch courage he needed to help me out during a tricky spot.
I hadn’t been singing long in clubs, and so I was still relatively nervous. I’d been signed up for a larger gig, and I started off badly, it was awful, people booed and chucked things at me, and then I seemed to come into my own, and started one of my best performances ever. The crowds loved me, I was thoroughly enjoying myself, and then out of the blue, I saw a fellow that I knew to be an agent. He was there searching for new talent, and at the sight of him I grew nervous again and suddenly I forgot my lines.
I remember trying to grapple with the words in my head, humming through a tune, hoping he wouldn’t notice, until I could remember again, when suddenly this son of yours got up, and started singing words of his own to the tune. They were a bit crude but tastefully so, and everyone started to laugh. Funny thing was the agent thought it was all a part of the act and he loved it, and signed us both up after the show. Would you believe it?
Then I found out that prior to this that the agent had been about to leave when he thought I had forgotten the words, so you could say Devin saved the day, and my career.
However, there was more. Thanks to Devin altering the words to the song, I found the audience really enjoyed the alternative, and often after that I was asked if there were a new version to various songs that I sang. I knew that Devin wasn’t interested in a singing career, but he has the most wonderful sense of humour, and I contacted him, and between us we altered the lyrics to several songs. So much so that the audience are in stitches when I sing them and I have become quite a legend due to it. So I owe such a lot to Devin and I hope that he will continue to come up with some good lines.”
“And Tom in turn pays me a percentage, so it works out well for the both of us.” Devin added, “Especially when I’m out of work.”
“Can you give us an example?” Catherine asked, her eyes lighting up with delight.
“Do you remember the song by Johnny Mathis called a ‘Child Is Born’?” Tom asked her and saw her nod, her eyes bright in expectation. “Then you should hear Devin’s version.”
On cue, Devin started to sing with laughter bubbling in his voice, “ A bar of soap, whizzes round the bath, it goes so fast, it makes my children laugh. All around the bath flies the soap today, this comes to pass when the dirt’s away.”
A roar of laughter followed, even Father couldn’t contain himself, laughter which was quickly joined by Laura who had just stepped backwards through the doorway, dragging behind her a trolley filled with steaming food.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in pleasant exchange of conversation and looking around the large house, until Father looking at his watch, deemed it time to leave.
“It’s been great meeting you.” Tom told him, shaking Father’s hand warmly. “I can see where your son gets his wonderful wicked sense of humour from. Please come again when next we are here. I’d love to spend more time with you.”
Father agreed, as he took one long, wistful look at the beautiful house and grounds and settled himself into the front seat of the car alongside Catherine sat behind the wheel.
Devin was the last to get in, having promised to see them as far as the gates and then to walk back to the house to spend a few days with Tom and his family, but the twins were holding on to him, reluctant to let him go.
“I won’t be gone long, I promise.” Devin told them.
“You’ll be back?”
“Yes. I just want to speak to my father in private, and then yes, I promise, I’ll be right back.”
“Will you come riding with us tomorrow?”
“I’d like that, yes, I could do with the practice.” He winked at Catherine, and extracting himself from the boys hands, he managed to slide onto the rear seat and close the door.
“They really love you Devin.” Catherine told him as she pulled away from the house, and the sound of the car tyres crunching on the drive sounded below them.
“They probably feel an affinity towards my son, Catherine, he’s just a big kid himself.” Father laughed, and then harder as he felt Devin nudge him in the back with his foot pressed hard against the seat back.
The drive up to the gates was a pleasant one, each being in a happy frame of mind. And when at last they arrived, Devin got out to unlock the gates, waiting while Catherine drove through, before walking round to stand at his father’s side to ask, “Well, come on, don’t keep me waiting any longer. What do you think?”
For a few minutes Father stroked his beard thoughtfully, before asking, “You will be here?”
“Patrolling the fences?”
“And the grounds, you can count on it. I would let nothing happen to Vincent. No one will know he is here dad. I promise you.”
Father remained thoughtful. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Devin or that he didn’t accept that the place appeared sound enough to offer Vincent’s protection. It was finding the courage to agree that was the hardest of all.
Devin smiled knowingly, “Vincent’s not a child anymore dad. I know what you are thinking. It’s hard to let go. Hard to agree to something that has always been denied before. But Vincent is a big boy now, he can look after himself you know.” Devin smiled warmly, “Oh come on dad, what could possibly go wrong?”
“Anything could go wrong Devin and you know it. If he were discovered...”
“And how could that be? We told you. Cathy will hire a van with tinted windows. She and Vincent will travel at night. You’ve seen it, it’s a straightforward journey. Much of it country, and then once here, well you’ve seen the security dad, who would attempt to break in here, eh? Be realistic dad.”
“Have you nothing to say in this?” Father turned to Catherine who had remained silent throughout.
“Plenty.” Catherine replied. “But it is not my position to say so. You have to make up your own mind Father. If I wanted to do, I could pursued you to let Vincent come here, but that would make you uneasy when you had time to dwell on it. I feel as does Devin, the place is sound, the journey an easy one, and above all Vincent would love it here. That’s all I have to say on the matter.”
Thoughtfully, Father continued to stroke his beard. Both of them were right. And would it really be so difficult to say yes? Hadn’t Vincent been denied so much already? For once, he saw that every avenue had been explored, and as much for his own satisfaction as for Vincent’s safety.
These two people had examined every eventuality, and purely from their love to let another enjoy the life that he so deserved.
Slowly, Father found himself nodding, and words soon followed, “All right...” He was not allowed to say more. Catherine twisted in her seat and hugged him tightly, her eyes bright with tears of joy. Devin reached through the car window to take up his father’s hands within his own, and thanked him sincerely, “That’s great dad. You won’t regret this, I promise you.”
And Father, unable to stop his own tears from falling at their expression of love and delight, could only mutter a trifle anxiously, “Well, I had better not.”
A warmth rippled through Vincent as he idly sorted books inside his chamber. Books he had sorted several times that day, aimlessly trying to re-direct his thoughts on to more mundane things.*** *** ***
He knew that Father had gone with Catherine to meet Devin at some secret location, a place, to which he was not to be party to, unless Father agreed to let it be so. And the mixed emotions he had felt coming from Catherine all day had concerned him greatly. At times anxious, or mildly excited, and at others an overwhelming curiosity emitted through the Bond from her to him and Vincent could only surmise at all that was taking place.
When at last he felt the ripple of warm delight and excitement flow through the Bond, he at once composed himself to listen, and found that Catherine’s emotions were quickly chased away by his own doubts and fears.
Whatever had been planned for him would be enjoyable, but deep down inside he knew there were underlying reasons for this trip away. Reasons, which he did not want to think about, let alone embark upon just yet, if ever.
He’d been left in no doubt after the talk he’d had with Devin. And if that wasn’t enough, then the Bond transmitted all of Catherine’s desires to him in no uncertain terms, leaving him knowing what would be expected of him during this weekend away.
Shuffling the books into some sort of correct order without actually watching what he was doing, Vincent next picked up his cloak and headed for the mirror pool, a place of tranquillity where he went to unravel his turbulent thoughts. A much frequented place of late, since Catherine’s desire to deepen their relationship had become so apparent.
Reaching his favourite spot, he bent down to sit with legs wound beneath him, and stared at the shimmering pool before him.
If only life was as perfect as the crystal water, he thought to himself, as the water reflected the sun’s brilliance from some hidden source, and at night reflected the twinkling stars so clearly that to be there, beside the pool, was better than seeing the real thing at first hand, since there were no lights to obscure the beauty of the heavens, there Below.
Yet life was not perfect, and as if to prove that even mirrors had defects, some stones caught beneath his boot, and fell into the water causing ripples to spread outwards, and obscure his vision of the sky above.
Why was life never simple?
Once he had roamed this underground world alone and had surmised that this would be his lot in life.
When other tunnel dwellers grew up and met someone to spend their lives with, Vincent had known with a conviction as solid as the rock around him, that such a love would never come his way. No-one would look at him with desire. If nothing else, his experience with Lisa had taught him that.
And then suddenly, Catherine had entered his life and turned everything upside down.
Vincent smiled, exhaling a short burst of laughter as thoughts of Catherine filled his mind.
Since knowing her, the aloneness he had once come to accept as his future had become a thing of the past. Oh, he’d had people around him all his life, but only with Catherine did he have a connection. And never had he experienced anything like it before with anyone else. It was hard to know why he had this connection with Catherine, and though he cherished the Bond that they shared, sometimes it would seem to him that everything would have been simpler if he had continued to live his life the way he had, in the days before he had met her.
Once, he had only his outward differences to cope with. Now, with each passing day, it became more and more painful in denying his inner differences, an inner need to love Catherine, a need which frightened him by its intensity.
As his hands lay in his lap, Vincent looked at them. Raising them until they were level with his eyes, and he wondered for the umpteenth time, how Catherine could bear to let him touch her with such hands, why she did not cringe when he did so, and then instantly remembering her own words to him, “these hands are beautiful, these hands are my hands,” he’d been awed by her declaration, silenced by her total acceptance of him.
The mirror pool was still once more, as clear as crystal, and leaning forwards, Vincent stared at his own image reflected in the depths. How often had he looked there, and before closing his eyes had wished to be a man, only to open them again, and see not the face of the man he had wished for, but the beast looking back at him as before?
Inside, Vincent felt like a man. His outward appearance lied to him as to who he really was. Was it possible then that through their connection, that Catherine too, could see the man inside?
A shiver passed through Vincent at this thought.
If that were possible, then could he continue to deny her?
As a man he could love her, the way she craved to be loved. The way he needed to love her.
He’d lost count of the many nights he had lain awake, fighting the urge to go to her. His body aroused and feverish as her passion transmitted itself along their connection enfolding him in her desire.
Remembering these things, Vincent closed his eyes. For how much longer could he fight against the pull of her desire for him?
Remembering his conversation with Devin, Vincent could not stop the chuckle that rose and escaped from him, as his brother’s words came clearly to mind.
They had been swimming in the lower levels, a pass-time which brought back memories of their boyhood, days pretending to be Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer off on another adventure, when as if by some internal clock, both had left the pool at the same moment to sit at the water’s edge.
“Wow Vincent!” Devin had exclaimed, casting his eyes downwards into the region of Vincent’s groin, “Isn’t that painful?” he pointed.
Vincent stood up, turning to face his brother, “Is what painful?” he asked innocently though a blush stained his neck and worked its way upwards to infuse his cheeks, becoming deeper when Devin remarked casually, “Sit down Vincent” and then quite wickedly, added, “Stop pointing that thing at me, it might go off.”
Vincent sat back down at once, placing both hands over his groin, while his eyes took on a distant look.
“What is it Vincent?” Devin queried, after a long silence between them had lapsed, and Devin noticing that his brother’s erection had not diminished any, had mumbled, “I’m sure it must be painful.”
Directing his attention back to his brother, Vincent could only nod. “Nothing I seem to do lessens the pain.” he spoke frankly, “And when Catherine is near...” his words trailed away, and Devin understood at once, ... “it makes matters worse huh?” he asked gently.
“Yes.” was all Vincent could say, looking down at his hands, as if their covering of him would make the problem go away.
“How long has it been like that?” Devin asked, his concern evident.
Vincent sighed, hanging his head so that his great mane of hair fell forward concealing the misery in his eyes, “It never seems to go down.” he muttered, embarrassed.
“Does Father know?”
Vincent looked up startled, “No. Why should he?”
“I mean, have you told him about it, I mean the, er, problem?”
“No...How could I?”
“He might have something, know a way... Hell Vincent, he’s a doctor, he might be able to suggest something...” Devin’s concern gave way to humour, “mind you, I too could suggest something, but I doubt you’d want to hear it.” He added mischievously.
Smiling, Vincent looked at his brother, caught his humour, and told him, “I’m not sure that I want to hear it...but tell me anyway.”
Devin chuckled, “Well you can’t deny that the answer is obvious.”
“Obvious?” Vincent was playing for time, he knew it and Devin knew it. Vincent did not want to hear the answer that was staring him in the face. For now he could hide from the answer, and words would only bring everything out into the open, but Devin was not to be put off.
“You have to make love to her Vincent.” Devin told him quietly, his words tinged with concern. “You can no longer deny your own need... Not if that is anything to go by” he added, nodding in the direction of his brother’s groin.
Vincent sighed deeply, and admitted, “It is what I want more than anything...” his voice trailing away, as he realised he had spoken his thoughts out loud, and blushed, before accepting the inevitable, already he had said enough, and besides since his own body had betrayed him, there was nothing left to hide anymore.
“It doesn’t have to be so difficult Vincent. Look, lets face it, you know it is time. The relationship you two have shared has deepened beyond mere friendship Vincent, you know that deep down don’t you?”
“Yes...” Vincent admitted reluctantly, adding, “and if I was not...”
Devin cut him short, “Now quit saying that! If I was not as I am, really Vincent, just look at yourself! You are reacting the same way as any red blooded male would around the woman he loves, this is no animal instinct Vincent, this is human. Just look at the evidence for goodness sake!”
Reluctantly Vincent looked. Devin was right, the evidence did speak for itself.
Exasperated, Devin sighed, “you just don’t believe how easy it is do you?”
“No.” Vincent whispered, unable to meet his brother’s eyes, “I have no experience in that area.”
“You don’t need it Vincent. Okay, so, the first time is a little...er...how can I put it...trial-some perhaps, embarrassing maybe, but hell, once you get into the passion bit everything just sort of flows naturally, it takes no conscious thought, it just happens, and you’d be amazed at how quickly too.” He laughed remembering his own first time, “ and then, wow, there’s no stopping you. Believe me.” He laughed heartily now.
Vincent was not convinced, and kept his gaze fixed firmly on his hands.
Devin sighed, “Look, take it from me Vincent, you are no different from the next man, not when it comes to love. Okay, so outwardly you look different, but how do you feel inside?”
“How do you mean?”
“You want me to be blunt? What am I talking to here, a lion or a human being?”
Vincent looked up sharply, a growl issuing from his throat, and Devin shuffled away a little, remembering all too clearly that other time when he had ruffled Vincent’s temper. Raising his hands to ward off any attempt to strike him again, Devin apologised, “I’m sorry Vincent that was out of line.”
“No.” Vincent looked away again, “You weren’t, its just...”
“That you hate references made towards your other self, as I said I’m sorry, I should never have put it like that Vincent.”
“It is I, who should apologise, you were only trying to help me see the distinction. And yes, you succeeded, I do indeed, feel as a man, inside, deep, deep down inside. It is only when I see a reflection of myself, or when I look at these hands that I know differently. How can one, such as I, dare to love any woman, but especially a woman as beautiful as Catherine.”
“If you believed it were possible, then it would be.” Devin ventured. “You only have to believe in it. Look repeat after me, ‘I Vincent Wells...’ he paused.
“Well go on.”
Vincent hesitated before speaking, “I Vincent Wells.” he repeated wondering what was coming next, as Devin went on, “will make love to Catherine Chandler.”
Vincent bulked, the words ‘will’ and ‘make’ came out, but then he stopped dead unable to go on.
“Come on Vincent, you can do it. Just four little words to finish. Just let your own ears hear your own mouth say it.”
“Yes you can.”
“Then you are gonna be in for a lot more pain little brother, because unless you are going to tell Father about this embarrassing problem of yours, its not gonna go away, not unless you take endless cold showers to ease it yourself, though let’s face it, why do you need to take such drastic measures, when Catherine is more than willing to help you, is she not?”
Vincent’s face reddened, this conversation was becoming more and more uncomfortable by the minute, and he wished it were over so that he could crawl away and hide. Yet in some delicious way he craved it, for never had he been able to speak of this problem with anyone, and it did him good to be able to do so, even if he did not approve of his brother’s remedy for the relief of it.
“Perhaps things will develop easier for you when we take you away for the weekend.” Devin mused.
Vincent raised his head sharply, “You seem sure of yourself, Father might not approve it.”
“Oh he will, don’t worry about that Vincent, its a fantastic place, and what we have planned for you, well believe me, you are going to love it.” Devin smiled wondering what his brother would make of the activity planned for that weekend.
“Yet you will be there too?” Vincent was clearly puzzled.
Devin chuckled, “Oh yes, this wonderful surprise was actually my idea, but believe me, Vincent, I too am looking forward to it immensely.”
Vincent drew his brows together, “Can you not give me the slightest hint, just so I could be prepared?”
“Nope, I promised Catherine.” He drew his lips into a thin line with humour before adding, “Well maybe just an incy wincy one. Let’s just say that the experience will roll nightmares and dreams into one, and both will become reality, and both will be enjoyed immensely, though I rather think that making the dreams come true will depend largely on you.”
Vincent drew his brows together, totally confused, “What kind of clue is that?”
“The only one you are going to get little brother.” Devin’s smile lit his eyes, “Don’t worry Vincent, we have planned something wonderful for you, the estate is a wonderful place, there’s a huge house and the grounds for you and Catherine to have fun in, so just look forward to it Vincent. We wouldn’t let anything happen to you, you know that, and I’ve waited a long time to show you the sunshine”.
Vincent gasped, stunned with pleasure, he whispered, “I will see the sunshine?” he had never even considered the possibility of this.
“But of course. Vincent there is no-one there, we have the entire estate to ourselves, and the deer, and Catherine can’t wait to show you those. Why shouldn’t you be able to go outside in the daylight?”
As his blue eyes filled with excitement, Vincent could only reply, “I never dreamt, I had assumed everything would be done at night.”
“Well, I have to confess that the bulk of your surprise will be at night, but the daytime is yours too. However, perhaps the night time activities will leave you too tired to do anything but sleep during the day.” Devin laughed, and Vincent knew that they were back to that other problem, and he fell silent once again, making Devin wish he could retract those last words, and sought for something to say in the hope of smothering them, “Well, I’m hungry,” he said at last, making to stand, and gathered up his clothing to dress, “ Are you ready to go back now?”
Vincent nodded, his mind a whirl, there was so much to think about, and for the first time since he had heard of this proposed trip away, a tiny flutter of excitement swept through him about the possibility of seeing the sunshine! As to the other surprises, well, his heart hammered painfully in his chest when he thought of those...for among them was that other problem, the one he was not yet prepared to face, if ever, and Catherine’s burgeoning emotions as she tried to suppress her excitement for their time away could not be ignored.
No, whatever surprises were in store for that weekend, Vincent was left in little doubt that there was an over-riding reason for his being taken along there, and he could no longer deny how his own body betrayed him even now, as it shuddered at the prospect of what lay ahead, a long shudder that trembled through his body, but settled in that region, that these days, all too often, led him as a slave.
As Vincent’s thoughts came back to the present, he smiled ruefully, for since that day he and Devin had spoken, nothing had changed.
These past few weeks, as the planned weekend came ever closer, Vincent found himself almost hoping that when Father viewed the place he would find some fault with the whole idea, and would refuse to let Vincent go. But, later that day, as Catherine’s excitement transmitted itself through their connection to him, Vincent had known for a certainty that Father’s fears had been smoothed away, and he would be coming home that night with the good news that Vincent could, in fact, go.
Shaking his head, so that his long mane framed his eyes, Vincent was suddenly filled with trepidation, and knew only one thought...escape...he had to get away, go deep into the subterranean world, and stay there for as long as it took to make Catherine realise that he simply was not ready for this forward move in their relationship, and he never would be!
The New York city lights, spread out across the park, a haze of neon, and flashing brilliance, from red to gold and ivory, as one by one the inhabitants of the city reached their apartments at the end of a long and busy day, and flicked on switches.
*** *** ***
Catherine was no exception, unlocking her apartment door, she felt with one arm around the wall to reach the light switch, before the rest of her body followed, then pushing the door closed with one foot, Catherine flung her bag onto one of her dinky sofa’s and hugged herself tightly with happiness.
She couldn’t believe it! Father approved! What’s more, he would sway the council, of that she was certain, and then in just a few short weeks, she and Vincent, along with Devin would share the most wonderful weekend away. It was almost too good to be true.
Crossing the room, towards the balcony, Catherine wondered if Vincent might come to her. He would, of course, feel her excitement, and even as she thought it, Father would have no doubt arrived Below to announce the good news. And how would Vincent react to that?
Catherine knew he had his misgivings, in many respects he had been bulldozed into the situation without any real regard for his feelings on the matter, yet how could he deny her this, especially after the last time, when she had wanted to take him away for a few days to see the glade in the mountains, a place of her childhood? He had decided at that time against going, for the benefit of the tunnel dwellers, surely this time he would not disappoint her?
Catherine tried to shake off her misgivings, but as she made her way from the balcony towards the bathroom to shower and change out of the day’s grime from the long journey, she could not prevent a niggling feeling eat at her, telling her that something was not as it should be, and she returned to the balcony concentrating hard, searching deeply inside herself, trying to establish what the problem was.
Oftentimes, just lately, the Bond that she shared with Vincent had grown stronger, and she was able to feel him, as he could her, being able to tell when he was anxious or apprehensive about a situation, and this was just one of those times.
Catherine waited by the balcony for some time, looking out over the city, the various colours beckoning to her through other apartment windows. How Vincent loved their window to the world. So many diffused colours to look at, as lights from within shone through the curtains covering the very many windows.
She did not know how long she stood there, but Catherine soon knew that Vincent would not be coming, and with a sigh of regret Catherine made her way slowly to the bathroom, to take a much needed shower.
Allowing the hot water to cascade over her weary body some moments later, Catherine shut her eyes, drawn by the pleasure of her own hands soaping and caressing her body, she imagined that it were Vincent’s hands travelling across her luscious curves, his kisses that touched her skin, rather than the hot droplets of water, and Catherine moaned with pleasure, and for the umpteenth time she wondered, how would it feel to be loved by him? Would she ever know?
Devin had told her that Vincent did want to love her, and even if she had not heard those words spoken by his brother, Catherine would have known the truth of that. For so many times lately, Vincent had left her hurriedly after holding her closer than was usual, harder than was usual, his voice husky with an emotion that was new to him, as he bid her a regretful farewell, all those little signs showed her the truth that Vincent was finding it equally as hard to fight the growing temptation between them, the intense need to satisfy and be satisfied.
Since she began setting her sights firmly on that weekend in the country, now less than a month away, Catherine had thought of little else each time she saw Vincent, shamelessly imagining him without his layers of clothing, wondering what hidden treasures would eventually lay bare before her hungry eyes. As such imaginings, found their way to Vincent’s mind, he had grown uncomfortable, and had excused himself not long after arriving at the balcony, much to Catherine’s disappointment and at times amusement. That she was getting to him was perfectly obvious, and that too was worthy of hugging herself with glee.
Showered and changed, Catherine checked the clock with some dismay. He definitely wasn’t coming. Catherine felt so sad.
Perhaps her blatant need for his physical presence had frightened him away.
Catherine chuckled with some amusement as she thought about how, in the face of all the terrible dangers that Vincent had overcome throughout his life, all it took was a woman with a view to lustful passion to frighten him away!
Yet Catherine had really wanted to see him this night. There had been so much that she had wanted to tell him.
‘Oh well’, she sighed ruefully, as she slipped between the cool silk covers of her bed, ‘there is always tomorrow’, adding just to reassure herself, ‘and you can’t run for ever Vincent Wells...not if I have anything to do with it.’
Catherine smiled into the darkness, her heart complete, ‘soon all our dreams will come true. I promise my love, I promise.’
Deep beneath the catacombs, Vincent trod silently. He had finally reached his destination. The crystal cavern. That beautiful place, that only those beneath the city ever had the pleasure of seeing. Bright, flashing facets of colour, that let one dream dreams, and be absorbed into their wondrous fire. Vincent always felt at peace there. And of course it had been the place where he had found the perfect gift for Catherine, a crystal, shaped into a pendant by Mouse. A piece of his world for her to own.
Throughout his journey, he had been filled with grave misgivings. At the time of leaving, he had been so certain that he was doing the right thing, but on reflection he realised the stupidity of his actions.
For one thing, Father would have expected to have been met at the park entrance to be helped back to the home chambers, and for another, Catherine would have been expecting him to go to her that night.
What either of them would think of him, he did not like to presume.
Pretending he had some urgent business Below, would not suffice. Both would see through the ploy. No, in effect by running away, he had not lessened the problem at all, in fact had heightened it, for now both would want to know why he had felt compelled to get away and that would mean disclosing some very embarrassing reasons.
Also in running away he had in effect denied himself something for which he had always yearned.
All of his life Vincent had dreamed of being free.
To come and go, to walk in the sunshine. Surely then, going away would not be all that bad, surely, whether he was alone with Catherine, there, Below or at her apartment, the dangers would persist, the attraction to her would not go away, wherever he was, it was just that her expectations of the weekend away, were coming through to him loud and clear, yet he could not run for ever. What had begun as a spark of desire, had continued to be fanned into flame every time they spent time together, and it was much as Devin had insisted - he was running away from the inevitable.
Slowly, Vincent allowed his brother’s words to rekindle in his mind and began remembering the past few weeks that he and Catherine had been together. How their relationship, had suddenly become tense, like a coiled spring, forced down, ready for release.
Vincent sighed, and shook his great head slowly, the beautiful golden fleece of mane cascading over his shoulders, just the way Catherine liked it. (How she had yearned to tangle her fingers into its depths). And Vincent found himself having to admit that really there was only one way out.
For sanity’s sake they had to go forward, he had to bypass his fears somehow, and enter into a new phase of their relationship. That Catherine had accepted him, he was left in little doubt. With eyes of love, Vincent exhaled a short sharp breath of humour, yes, Catherine really did hunger for him, just as Devin had said.
Shaking his head in disbelief, Vincent could hardly contain the wonder of that.
The thought of Catherine. Dear, beautiful, desirable, Catherine, who wanted him, just as any woman wanted the man that she loved. And she did love him. Vincent knew that with startling clarity. The love that Catherine felt for him pounded his name with every heartbeat, and that same heart cried out to him to love her.
A soft wave of pure sensation rippled through Vincent and settled as per usual in his groin, and without hesitation his arousal hardened, even as on the day he had bathed with Devin in the subterranean pool, and yet for once Vincent felt no shame.
For this was what his Catherine desired.
All of him.
A shudder broke loose and chased itself through Vincent’s veins, causing his heart to hammer painfully against his ribs, quickly followed by a sensuous moan which Vincent found intensely erotic as it erupted from his throat and echoed around the cavern, quickly followed by shivers running up and down his flesh, and Vincent was forced to acknowledge the truth, the wonderful, startling, fantastic truth, that he did want to love Catherine.
To love her in the way that she wanted him to love her, and yes, he did want to share the kind of life that every man wants to share with the woman that he loves.
For the first time Vincent became aware of how deeply love over-rides fear, hate and anger, in fact, intense love by itself, he admitted, was the greatest force on earth, and with it guiding him, he knew for a certainty, that it was just as Catherine had maintained, man or beast, he could never hurt her, for they both loved her with one accord, that too was their connection.
Even when he had fought for her, and had saved her life, it was love that had driven him to kill. The beast’s strength had unfailingly come to her rescue, but love had been the driving force that had saved her life without thought for his own safety.
This realisation brought such contentment to Vincent, because for so long he had denied himself the right to love.
Now everything was clear in his mind, it was hard to imagine how he had ever wanted to put an end to his life to be spared the pain of a life without love.
Life without Catherine would be no life at all, but life with her, as things were developing, had also caused him much grief.
Now the weight had been lifted, and Vincent felt weak with relief.
Tomorrow, he would start the long trek back to the home chambers, but for now he needed to rest, and there was something else. Something that he needed to do more than anything.
Infusing his new-found conviction through their connection, Vincent sent Catherine all his love and tenderness. For once he held nothing of himself back, and in her sleep Catherine floated with pleasure on the waves of Vincent’s desire, enhancing a dream that became the most exquisite of all her dreams, and held the promise of a life shared with the man that she loved beyond all else.
The final candle had burned to a mere flicker, as Vincent opened his eyes some hours later, and with startling remembrance, knew that this day would be the first of his new-found life. A life which he had not dared enter before, a life which he knew for certain that he could now undertake.
Stretching his long limbs against the hardness of the crystal beneath him, Vincent rose yawning, exposing long incisors and fangs, a part of him few saw, but he acknowledged with wry humour, that Catherine had seen and had not been afraid. In fact, he didn’t know why it had taken him so long to realise, but Catherine feared nothing from him at all. She had seen past all of his differences to the man within. And at that moment Vincent did feel every inch a man.
He had the same desires, ambitions, dreams, he...Vincent was stunned...stopping dead in his train of thought, then smiling to himself, shaking his head with disbelief...yes...he could even imagine that...not just the possibility of making love to Catherine but giving in to her wish of living Below as well.
Vincent chuckled softly to himself.
Narcissa had warned him about the magic of the crystal cavern.
For a certainty, his being there had changed his thinking to such a degree, that he was amazed that he had ever had such doubts, and for so long. Here in the crystal cavern with the sparkling crystals, everything became so...Vincent smiled...how apt, he thought... for everything had become so crystal clear!
Gathering his few belongings, Vincent swept one last long look around the glittering cavern, he owed his life to the magic he’d found there. One day he would bring Catherine to see it, perhaps for their honeymoon... Again Vincent stopped dead and gasped. His thoughts were racing ahead of him now, he had no control over them anymore...Catherine...his wife... What next? The mother of his child!
Suddenly a longing that Vincent was unaccustomed to swept through his soul, quickening his footsteps, as a yearning began building in his heat drenched body that was fire to his veins, and as Vincent’s footsteps quickened towards home, he knew with a burning conviction that only with Catherine could he ever begin to quench the flames.
*** *** ***
There was always something mystical about the mountains, Devin mused as he returned to his home after several days back in the city. No matter how hard he thought about it, he couldn’t establish just what it was that drew him back to the wondrous, snow, topped peaks, glistening white and gold in the sunlight.
Lifting a hand to his brow, Devin scanned the horizon, just visible between the jagged ranges, and let out a long, deep sigh of pure bliss. Of all the places he had visited on this earth, none felt more like home to him, than his beloved mountains.
In themselves, they had healed Charles, giving him a sense of freedom he may never have known anywhere else. The peace, the quiet, the solitude, the wildlife, even the rich feast laid before him of fresh fruits, nuts and berries, not to mention the mineral water, pure and fresh and available without price. All these things had filled Charles mind and heart, and he had expressed his gratitude over and over for being taken to live there.
Even the air was something else. Just being able to stand there and fill one’s lungs, was almost...almost, well, as Devin stood beside his truck, drinking in great lung fulls of pure mountain air, he felt as though he was forcing out all the city’s toxins from his system, and making him healthy, alive, vibrant, and young again, in a way nothing else could.
Oh yes, the mountains certainly had it all, Devin smiled wryly, even as far as finding himself a partner, was concerned. For it was upon these very mountain ranges, that he had met Kitty. Dear, sweet, Kitty, with her love of life and for the outrageous. Devin chuckled to himself, how was it now that she had persuaded him to dance naked in the rain? He shook his head, he didn’t know how she had managed it, but one moment, he was protesting and the next there he was, totally starkers, allowing the droplets of ice cold rain beat down upon his body, although he never felt the cold, for seeing Kitty dancing naked beside him made the blood pound through his veins, and as they had fallen together laughing, their two bodies slick with rain water, Devin had felt nothing but the heat of their passion, as their lips had locked together, and he had lifted her up and carried her back to his cabin, closing the door on the wet world, to lay cosy and warm beside a roaring log fire.
As the memory enfolded Devin in its loving embrace, he shivered, eager to get home, Kitty had promised to walk over as soon as he let her know he was home, and would spend a few days with him, before her husband’s expected return from an overseas trip, and Devin couldn’t wait to see her. He loved her, and he hoped to marry her, yet it was an ever present thorn in his side, that he could not introduce her to his family, to Vincent, his brother, and that was one of the things that grieved Devin the most, that his two most favourite people in the world would never meet one another.
Brushing a tear aside, Devin climbed back into his truck, to continue the last lap of his journey.
He had to pass Kitty and James’s cabin to get to his own, and as he rounded the last crag before the cabin came into sight, he was filled with excitement. Perhaps Kitty would be there watching for him, perhaps she had already seen his approach with the aid of the binoculars, and had gone up to his own cabin ahead of him. Devin’s heart raced in anticipation.
Yet as he cornered the final bend and the cabin came into sight, Devin’s heart sank. The unmistakable blue and yellow truck that James had driven down to the airport was parked squarely outside. He was back!
Devin felt a tightening of his throat, a jolt of fear rush through him, not that he was afraid of James, far from it, but Kitty he knew, was terrified of him.
Driving towards the cabin, Devin was of two minds whether to drive on by, or to stop. He’d never met James, but had seen his truck from time to time at the way station, when James had been collecting supplies, as were Devin. Slowing down, Devin’s mind was made up, he’d stop by, introduce himself, and try to judge for himself if everything was all right. He couldn’t just go on by, he would worry too much, and he mightn’t get another chance to see Kitty, if James was back to stay a while.
Turning off the ignition, Devin alighted from his truck, making his way carefully over the loose gravel path up towards the cabin.
Everywhere was quiet, unusually so, but Devin paid no heed to the silence of the birds. His mind was focused on what to say, how to act, what to do.
No sooner had he reached the door, than it was opened from the inside, a burly fellow standing to one side, his unshaven face bearing no hint of a smile, his cold grey eyes hard and unfriendly, “Yeah, can I help you?” he demanded, before Devin had time to speak.
Devin stammered, “I, I, ...er...I’m sorry to bother you.” He found his voice at last, a calmness stealing over him not to be intimidated by this fellow, ‘he doesn’t know anything about you after all,’ he told himself bravely, before continuing, “I live further up the mountain, I’ve been away for a few days, and have just returned. When I saw your truck, I thought I’d stop by and introduce myself.”
“Why?” the curt reply made Devin jump.
“Be...because we are neighbours.” Devin felt embarrassed to find himself stammering again.
James took a step closer, his mouth creasing into a sneer, “Well we like to keep to ourselves, now clear off.” Devin’s mouth dropped open, stunned to the core. Kitty had told him many things about her uncaring husband but pigheadedness wasn’t one of them.
“I’m sorry... to have troubled you.” Devin stammered again, but found his feet rooted to the spot, even though James scrowled at him, those steely grey eyes threatening, “You got a hearing problem?” James stepped from the doorway, and advanced towards Devin, “I said, clear off. We don’t need neighbours. We came out here to escape from people, now git.”
With eyes a blur of unshed tears, Devin turned, his throat aching, there was so much that he wanted to say, yet he knew he could say nothing. Anything he added now, would anger James further and only be taken out on Kitty later.
To think, he had almost laughed at her, when she had told him what a bully her husband was, he couldn’t ever imagine any man treating his wife so badly, especially someone warm and caring like Kitty.
Devin felt his blood boil, what could he do? Not what he wanted to do that was for certain, which was to go in there, and beat the guy senseless, take Kitty away from that evil man and keep her safe forever, or to set Vincent upon him. Devin grinned, ever so slightly, yes, just imagine, if he were only able to do that?
Stepping away from the cabin, Devin could not look back. He felt those steely grey eyes boring into his back even as he walked away, but he couldn’t dare a glance until he slipped into the drivers seat. Only then did he look back towards the cabin. Only then did he see James still glaring at him from the doorstep, and only then did he notice the curtains moving ever so slightly, indicating Kitty’s trembling presence behind them.
Devin felt sick.
Whatever was he going to do?
He had to get Kitty out of there, away from that man, but how?
*** *** ***
The sound of gravel crunching beneath the car’s tyres, started Vincent from his slumber, and he sat up, looking with interest through the van’s back windows, to see the shadowy shapes of trees, silvered by moonlight, trailing away into the darkness along the overgrown track, when several weeks later he travelled with Catherine to meet Devin at their secret location.
An owl hooted from somewhere overhead, and in the distance Vincent could hear something he had only heard a few times before, the strangled sound of foxes barking. “Where are we?” His sleep encrusted voice enquired to Catherine who sat behind the wheel, where she had her attention drawn to the road for the past few hours.
“You’re awake, did you enjoy your nap?” she asked, conscious that the activities of repairing a tunnel that had caved in, had taken its toll on Vincent’s strength the week leading up to their weekend away.
“Yes.” he whispered, as his eyes met hers in the rear-view mirror.
“I’m glad.” she told him, adding, “I hoped that with the lull of the van and all those cushions, you would be well rested before we arrived here.”
“Yes, just. The crunch of the gravel drive must have woken you. In a few moments we will reach the security gates. Devin should be there to open them for us.”
For several moments Vincent remained silent, as the enormity of the trip slowly bore down on him.
Since his return from the crystal cavern, he had thought of little else, but being here, with Catherine, of sharing with her the intimacies that both of them craved, suddenly, now that they were actually here, his courage was failing him, fast.
Almost as if she could read his thoughts, Catherine, slowed the car to a halt, turning in her seat to view him. “Don’t worry Vincent. You are here to enjoy yourself, to see the sunshine, to feed the deer, there are no pressures upon you to do anything which you find uncomfortable, although before we meet up with Devin, there is one thing I should explain which we do have planned, something that you do know nothing about.” a smile quirked the corners of her mouth, and even by the light of the moon, Vincent could see that her eyes were dancing with delight.
Caught up in her mood, his earlier misgivings disintegrated to mere dust, and Vincent could feel her joy vibrating through the Bond to him.
Turning off the engine, Catherine bent to pick up her bag, extracting from within, a carefully folded piece of paper, which she opened, smoothed, and handed to Vincent, “This was given to me by Devin several weeks ago. It is because of this, in fact, that we are here tonight. Why don’t you read it.” Turning on the interior light for him, Catherine watched the many expressions chase across Vincent’s face as he read the newspaper cutting, much as she had done a few weeks earlier, delighted when he gasped, “Star Spangled Nightmares, whatever is that?” before his penetrating blue eyes searched her own, “It sounds ominous.” he added.
“That’s what I thought at first, but its not what it seems. Fortunately for me, Devin had provided the remainder of the advertisement and I was able to find out just what the words Night Mare referred to, alas, for you, this is to be the element of surprise.”
“How could you?” Vincent teased, caught up in her humour, as a flutter of excitement built within him. Whatever the word implied, it was nothing bad, that much he could tell, and he knew Catherine would not expect him to participate in anything that might bring the dark one to the fore.
Nonetheless, he was intrigued. What could possibly warrant the word nightmare, if not a bad dream?
Switching off the interior light, and turning on the ignition again, Catherine put the van into gear, and began the final leg of the journey, her face wreathed in smiles.
They were safe now, even on this side of the gates no-one would be there at this time of night, yet Vincent preferred to stay in the rear of the van, until he could, at last, see the large ornamental gates before them, then and only then, did he wiggle his large frame into the front passenger seat alongside Catherine.
For a few moments, the purr of the engine was the only sound to be heard, as they each waited anxiously for Devin to arrive, and for that same amount of time, Catherine held her breath.
Devin had promised to be there, and they were on time, where was he?
“Don’t worry Catherine.” Vincent told her, taking up her tiny hand that rested on her lap, in his own large one, “Devin has never been punctual in his life, and he’s not about to start now.”
Catherine laughed, “Am I so transparent?” she laughed.
“Only to me.” Those softly spoken words, had Catherine turning in her seat, and she grew weak in the love she found in his beautiful lagoon eyes. For long moments, Catherine allowed herself to drown in their depths, shivering uncontrollably as she felt his long fingers caressing her hand and arm. Words stuck in her throat, her heartbeat accelerated and breathing slowed as her emerald eyes scanned every inch of his beautiful face, and the desire to reach forward and kiss him almost overwhelmed her.
Suddenly, a loud clanging sound brought her back to earth with a jolt, and Catherine wrenched her gaze away to see what had disturbed her, to see Devin’s face wreathed in smiles, and full of apology as he pulled open the huge iron gates.
“Sorry I’m late. Have you been here long? Hi Vincent, glad you could make it, what did you think of the ride up here?” he asked as he approached the side of the van.br>
Vincent laughed, somewhat shakily, but did not relinquish his hold upon Catherine’s hand.
“Sorry did I disturb something?” Devin’s face lit up, “Can’t wait till you reach the house, eh?”
At those words, Vincent let Catherine’s hand slip from his, his embarrassment evident, and Catherine could gladly have kicked Devin to Kingdom Come at that moment. Nonetheless, Catherine was soon driving through the gateway, and waiting while Devin fastened them from behind, then waited while he climbed in beside Vincent, an action which held its own delights, as Vincent felt compelled to slide closer to Catherine, to allow Devin in. His sudden gasp of pleasure did not escape Catherine, as their bodies touched, and an invisible fire that had not quite extinguished from moments earlier, sparked back into life.
Oblivious to what was taken place between them, Devin started chatting excitedly, “Did Cathy show you the advert?” at Vincent’s nod, he went on, “What do you think? Have you worked out what it could be yet?”
With great effort, Vincent turned his gaze away from the beauty of Catherine’s face, to that of his brother’s, which even though the three scars had rendered it marred, was still handsome in a rugged kind of way. Many’s the time that Vincent had wished for his own face to be as his brother’s, that is, truly human, though it suddenly came to him with some surprise that if it had of been so, then Catherine might not have been attracted to him.
Exhaling a sharp breath of humour through his nose, Vincent was incredulous for not the first time, as to why Catherine did actually find him attractive, and he began to analyse the reasons for this, until Devin’s words cut through his thoughts.
As mistaking his brother’s silence for seeking to find an answer, Devin prompted him with a clue, “Well its something you have never done before, and its definitely not the sort of nightmare you are used to having, believe me brother, in fact its not the sort any of us are used to. Anyway, guess no more, for just around the next corner, the answer will lie before you.”
“Shall I stop the van here?” Catherine asked.
“Well, I wanted to ask you about that actually. What do you think? Would you both like to go up to the house first, and change, have a drink or something, or should we start the proceedings now?”
“What do you want to do Vincent?” Catherine turned in her seat to watch his expression.
“I am anxious to know what’s around that corner.” he replied, in such a way that made Catherine and Devin laugh out loud, “but I am thirsty, and could do with a drink.”
“Right then, if you will turn the van thataway then Catherine, and go straight up to the house, I’ll get out here, and bring the nightmares round to you.”
“Can you manage them all by yourself?” Catherine asked, concerned, delightfully aware of Vincent’s questioning expression passing from one to the other of them.
“Yes, and hey thank you for hiring one for me too, I never expected that, and it was a great surprise.” Devin slipped from the van, “See you in about half an hour then, outside the house. Don’t be late. Bye.”
The darkness sucked him away, and within moments, Catherine and Vincent were alone again, the remembrance of the last moment they had been so together very much on both their minds. “Well, we had best be off, or he’ll get there ahead of us,” Catherine told Vincent breathlessly, wrenching her gaze away from those compelling blue eyes, and shuddering with desire, when Vincent began again the delicious exploration of her hand and arm beneath the glorious touch of his fingers.
Rounding a corner a few moments later, Catherine was only vaguely aware of the huge house in front of them, her attention otherwise taken up with the feel of Vincent’s claws trailing delicious goose-bumps up and down her flesh. She had never known him ever to be so attentive, and on reflection realised that he had changed towards her over the past few weeks, in ways which had left her confused yet interested.
There was nothing she could actually pinpoint, in fact to anyone else it would not have appeared obvious, but Catherine knew, that somehow, Vincent had changed, reached some conclusion that allowed her the glorious knowledge that during their weekend away, he was not going to be as unwilling to further their relationship, as she had first imagined.
Since the day that Father had agreed to let him accompany her on this trip, Catherine had noticed subtle changes in Vincent’s behaviour, though he had said nothing. When he pulled her into his arms just before leaving her balcony at dawn, he would hold her that bit tighter, for that bit longer, and run his whiskered cheek against hers, nibbling the lobe of her ear as he did so, sending huge shudders of longing through her entire body. There were times when she just clung to him, unwilling to let him go, and her body had been infused with a fire, a longing that had melted her flesh and weakened her legs to jelly. His very nearness, the overpowering musky scent of him had her soul aflame, and as they reluctantly parted, his eyes were dark with passion, his breathing laboured, and Catherine had noticed, that he no longer drew his cloak around that part of himself that would once have caused him shame. Allowing instead, her hungry eyes to feast there, and know that he did indeed desire her, the way that she desired him.
Throughout the days leading up to their time away, Catherine had also been aware, of how eager he was to get to the estate, he had spoken of little else, and though she knew how excited he was about walking in the sunlight, there was an underlying desire of another sort in his eagerness to be there.
Catherine could feel it in every fibre of her being, this heady, wonderful, shuddering expectation of something that would definitely happen while they were there.
Now as they drew up at the great doors, Catherine turned off the engine once again, and turned in her seat to face him. By the light of the security lamps overhead, his face was clearly visible, and Catherine’s breath caught and held for long moments with the way he was looking at her.
Wriggling in her seat, Catherine was suddenly appalled when she realised how ready her body had become for him, and hoped that the feeling of it had not registered within him. Too late, that thought was dashed, as a slow smile lit his face, and touched the depth of blue in his eyes, but it was his words that intrigued her the most, as in a voice rich with desire he told her, “Soon my love, I promise.”
The uncontrollable shivers burst forth at his words, and Catherine was dismayed to find her teeth chattering, unable to stop them, and could not speak.
Vincent’s smile lit his eyes, crinkling the corners, as he realised the overwhelming effect his presence was having upon her, and also aware of how uncomfortable she was feeling while unable to control her body functions before him.
Her breathing accelerated in short sharp breaths as Vincent brought his face within inches of her own, until she could feel his breath fan her cheeks.
Catherine held her breath, his intention was obvious, he was going to kiss her, she was certain of it, but suddenly as if a veil came down, Vincent’s lips changed direction, and he drew her into his arms to plant a chaste kiss upon her forehead instead.
The disappointment almost made Catherine cry, she had been so sure, the expectation taking her to the brink of closing her eyes even, when he had changed his mind so suddenly that it was almost as if someone had thrown ice over her, and a mixture of emotions too raw, too overwhelming, had shuddered through her as she continued to feel her body react in readiness for him.
Turning away, lest he saw the sudden tears that formed in her eyes, a spark of hope seared through her, when Vincent caught her chin, and turned her face back towards his.
With her teeth still chattering, Catherine composed herself, his whispered name escaping her lips, “Vincent,” a wealth of desire erupting from the one word, shuddering through her entire being, until his long arms enfolded her against the hard length of him, thrilling her as he whispered words which she had never thought to hear from him, ever, “This night my Catherine, all our dreams will be dreams no more.” his voice trembled, enriched by a passion that Catherine had never associated with him before and Catherine found her throat tighten so that she could only whimper with joy, and cling to him, holding him tight against her with love and gratitude, her body weak with longing, as the trembling in her limbs bathed her further in warm waves of luscious desire. Until from far away, Vincent’s voice brought her back to earth, “Devin will be here soon, we had best get ourselves into the house for that drink.”
Catherine smiled half heartedly, amazed at how Vincent could so quickly compose himself after that first step, their biggest step forward, no, the most gigantic leap forward, that they had ever taken.
Still trembling, Catherine unbuckled her seat-belt with shaky fingers, her breathing rapid when Vincent leaned over and said, “Here, let me,” unbuckling the belt with ease, the touch of his hair upon her face as he leaned over sending a fresh wave of desire coursing through her veins, and yet in seconds it seemed, he was appearing at the outside of the door to help her out. She had not even noticed him leave the car!
Vincent chuckled, pleased of his effect open her, telling her so, “If mere words can reduce you to this, my Catherine, then what will my physical presence do?”
Catherine attempted a half smile, as she took his hand to alight from the car, finding that no sooner had her feet touched the floor, than they were airborne again as she found herself lifted up into his arms. “I love you Catherine,” Vincent whispered, his face pressed close against her hair. Catherine gasped, so long, so long she had waited to hear those words, in such a way, full of depth, and love and desire, “Oh Vincent, I want you so.” she whispered back, the words almost Vincent’s undoing, as he buried his face into the hollow of her neck, where the pulse beat erratically, and began trailing hot kisses upon the quivering flesh there.
“Okay you two break it up!” a shout broke through the moment, as Devin came striding towards them, and asked, “Were you just going in or coming out?”
Catherine managed a weak smile as Vincent settled her back to earth, where after a few moments her limbs once again felt as though they belonged to her, and slowly she was able to put one foot in front of the other.
“Were just going in.” she muttered, and Devin raised his eyebrows, “What on earth kept you?” he asked, adding, “As if I can’t guess. Look I know you can’t wait to ravage one another, but really there’s three creatures back there, not to mention myself, that are eager to get this show on the road, so when you are ready...”
“Three creatures?” Vincent asked looking perplexed, “This I must see”.
“Well thank goodness for that, because the night is getting on, and, hey I don’t want to alarm you, but as clear and moonlit as the sky is right now, the forecast for tonight is thunderstorms. And as the sky could cloud over at any moment, and the effect lost, I think we should get on with this as soon as possible, like yesterday in fact.” Devin told them laughing softly, “besides the sooner we get on with this, the sooner you can each massage one another’s aching limbs, and get down to the hot stuff.” he added, ducking as Vincent’s arm made to cuff him.
“Well if you are ready?” Devin asked as the three stood for long moments without a word, and started to walk forwards. Vincent soon took up step alongside his brother, with Catherine, trailing behind, having to return to the car for something, “You two go on, I won’t be a moment, there is something I need.” In truth Catherine needed to calm her racing heart, to gain mastery over her body members, which threatened to collapse every time she looked at Vincent, as she imagined later, the thought of his body covering hers, the thrust of him against her, “Stop it Chandler,” she scolded, as her breathing accelerated and her footsteps became heavy, “You are supposed to be composing yourself, girl, not running amock with your fantasies.” Even so, for a few delicious moments Catherine found it impossible to stand up, her legs felt like jelly, and closing her eyes, she leaned against the car, slowly giving in to the temptation to give wings to her imagination and let all her dreams fly!
*** *** ***
“So you took my advice then?” Devin asked Vincent, out of earshot from Catherine.*** *** ***
“You can’t have forgotten, not with something as important as this, besides...”
“Oh come on Vincent, what’s with the one word thing, lost your ability to elaborate now have we?”
Vincent smiled, “All right, I’m all ears. So tell me.”
Devin shot his brother one of his most mischievous looks, the sort of look, which being Devin he could usually get away with, when it came to teasing Vincent, “You might have a lot of differences Vincent,” he began, “but being all ears isn’t one of them, however...” he ducked as Vincent aimed a swipe at his brother’s head, “You know what I am referring to, the way the two of you were back there, well obviously something has developed since last we spoke.”
“Ing.” said Vincent, “as in develop...ing. Catherine and I, haven’t made that final commitment yet, but by the end of this weekend...well maybe...at least I hope so.”
Devin patted his brother on the back, “That’s great Vin, simply great, so if I should hear you roaring, I needn’t come running, I’ll know its just a spontaneous reaction to intense pleasure.”
Vincent smiled, lost for words, really he could find none to reply with, even if he were able to speak at that precise moment, Devin’s words rendering him speechless as it were, however his mind was full of glorious words and thoughts, questions, answers, and unfulfilled dreams.
Yet he hadn’t thought that he might make a vocal expression during love making, and that somewhat embarrassed him. Whatever would Catherine think to that?
Just at that moment, Catherine caught up with the two of them, slipping her hand into Vincent’s, sending a jolt of pleasure through him, and his doubts were forgotten for the moment, as Devin started explaining to them both what they would see next.
“I’ve tethered them just around the corner. They’re beautiful Catherine, and the chap from Star Spangles explained how everything works, and its really something. Come on, look, there they are.”
In the bright moonlight, Catherine and Vincent could clearly make out the shapes of three horses tethered to a fence, already harnessed and ready for riding.
Vincent’s jaw dropped, “Horses!” he could say no more, his mind confused, until at last finding the words, he asked, “Why are they here? What are they to do with us?”
“These are your surprise Vincent.” Catherine hugged his arm, looking up into his face to capture his expression.
“My surprise, but how, I thought you said something about nightmares?”
“And so I did my love, night as in night, and mares as in horses.”
Enlightenment dawned slowly, and a smile lit Vincent’s face, “I’d like to say I’m relieved, but I don’t think I am. Do you mean I am expected to ride one of them?”
“Piece of cake, Vin.” Devin told him, “None of us are expert riders, but these horses are used to novices like us, and besides...”
Vincent looked searchingly at his brother, why was it he always expected the worst from Devin, whenever he heard him utter that word ‘besides’?
Devin laughed a little shakily, “Don’t worry Vin, look, this will be no ordinary ride. See, the mares are equipped with a harness that is battery charged, and at the flick of a switch...” Devin touched the saddle to demonstrate, “da da, see the harness lights the way ahead. Clever isn’t it, the light’s are star shaped too, hence star spangled, but that’s not all...”
Vincent gave his brother an irritated look, reserved only for Devin, “You really like to drag it out don’t you.” he laughed, folding his arms in front of him, “tell me then, what’s not all?”
Devin hurried around to the rear of one of the horses, “Here’s the clever bit, Vincent. Each mare’s rump is covered with a fine coating of glitter, again star shaped, and when the moon shines upon it, the mare is covered in star spangles. Its great isn’t it? See, get it... Star... Spangled... Night... Mares.”
“Its going to be so wonderful Vincent.” Catherine told him, hugging his arm tightly, her eyes bright with happiness, “Devin has ensured that the only clearing available is clean from debris or pot holes, so we could gallop if we want to do, but other than that, with all this woodland, just riding together beneath the moon, will be an experience we thought you would cherish forever.”
Vincent nodded, it did sound delightful, and it wasn’t as if he were really nervous of anything, it all just seemed so unbelievable.
“You did all this just for me?” he asked incredulous.
“Never.” Devin exclaimed, “Why are you so important, we did this for all of us.” he laughed, “Besides...” There he goes again, Vincent grinned as Devin continued, “I’ve wanted to try this for ages.”
“Give it up Devin” Catherine exclaimed, punching Devin playfully, before turning her face up to Vincent’s, “Don’t you believe it Vincent. The whole thing was planned with you in mind, and believe it or not, Devin is the brainchild of this little gimmick too. He may never had admitted it, but when a joke of his went down like a lead balloon, someone listening was given a great idea, and so Star Spangles was born. Incidentally Devin, the owners of Star Spangles, would not hear of your horse being paid for, they told me they had wanted you to have a trial for ages, and your horse is complimentary.” Catherine reached out to stroke the forehead of one of the mares, “Hello,” she told the horse, “you’re nice.”
The mare rewarded Catherine, by blowing softly into her hair, as Devin told her, “They’re real tame Cathy, all afternoon they have followed me around, I never had them tethered until you arrived.”
“Have they been harnessed all that time?” Catherine frowned, she was concerned about saddle sores.
“Nope, not entirely, I just left the technical stuff in place, and made sure none of them rolled, to erase the glitter, the chap that brought them, showed me how everything went, but I didn’t want to mess around with it. He brought the saddles with him, and I put them on a few minutes ago.” Devin looked across to Vincent, “Well, are we going riding or not. I don’t want the night spoiled by a sudden thunderstorm clouding the moon, there’s no telling if it will come near us, but you never know. The forecast said it might fizzle out before it reaches this area, let’s hope so huh, I wouldn’t like to ascertain how horses react to thunder and lightening.”
“Not well, I can vouch for that.” Catherine replied, speaking from experience, an experience she wanted no further reminders of, “so yes, let’s hurry and have a wonderful time shall we? Vincent, would you like either of us to give you a leg up?”
Vincent shook his head, “Just show me how its done, and I’ll copy you.”
So one by one, Devin un-tethered the three mares, handing the reins, to Catherine and Vincent in turn, before taking up his own, “Its simple, watch me”, he told Vincent, “You just gather up the reins, place your left hand on the horses’ withers, your left foot into the stirrup, put your right hand onto the back of the saddle, and hoist yourself up. There, that’s all there is to it.”
“Then put your other foot into the other stirrup.” Catherine added, “Go on Vincent, you next, and I will adjust the length of your stirrups afterwards.”
“It looks easy.” Vincent mused, unconvinced.
“It is.” Devin and Catherine chorused, “Even for a left handed person.” Devin added, “You just do everything the opposite way on. So come on Vincent, quit stalling.”
Vincent did everything that Devin had told him, yet when it came to hoisting himself up, everything seemed awkward, and he just could not get the hang of it. Feeling somewhat foolish, Vincent settled himself back to terra-firma, exasperated with the whole thing, as Devin dismounted, and prepared to take hold of Vincent’s legs.
“What are you doing!” Vincent exclaimed.
“No funny business that’s for sure, just giving you a bunk up, what’s it look like?” Devin chuckled, “Now hold on to the mare’s withers, and I’ll soon have you mounted.”
Sliding his hands up Vincent’s legs to find the best location for hoisting, Vincent’s jeans slid upwards, and Devin chuckled, “Why grandma, what hairy legs you have.” sending Catherine into peals of laughter, and Vincent flummoxed, for just a few moments.
“Don’t tell me you have never read Red Riding Hood?” Devin chortled, pushing Vincent up higher and higher, as his strength would allow for one so heavy. Finally with one almighty shove, Devin pushed Vincent up, until his brother was astride the horse.
“Of course.” Vincent murmured, “I’ve read it, though somehow, I never believed anyone would apply it to me.” and just as Devin imagined that, maybe, he had gone too far, Vincent started to laugh, “If only you could see your face. Don’t look so worried, I’m not really insulted... well maybe just a little. Just don’t you dare mention grandma’s big teeth.”
Catherine squealed with laughter, until catching Vincent staring down at her, she felt a trifle disconcerted, and smiled weakly, unsure of what to expect next. When he began to laugh at her too, she blushed, grateful that with all the shadows he would be unable to see it, though she could not prevent their connection telling him how embarrassed she felt.
Vincent held a hand down to Catherine, who was adjusting his stirrups, and whispered, “Forgive me Catherine, I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable, feel free to laugh any time, I am not offended. Once, I may have been annoyed at reference to my differences, but you have shown me past all that.”
“I love you just as you are Vincent, but I should have known how sensitive you are towards yourself, it was unkind of me to laugh.”
“Oh, do quit the slushy stuff, you two,” Devin exclaimed, “Come on we are wasting valuable riding time, you can make it all up to one another later.”
Simultaneously, Vincent and Catherine blushed. Later, yes, later, when the ride was over, when Devin had retired to his log cabin, when the two of them were alone in the house. Catherine shivered, and unable to help herself, her legs grew jelly-like again, and suddenly, riding horses, as pleasant as the experience deemed to be, took second place, to later, a time when all their dreams would come true, and Catherine felt a warmth ripple through her, infused by Vincent, leaving her knowing, in no uncertain terms, the promise, that, later, held for the two of them together.
Kitty Martyn looked around the cabin anxiously, hoping she had left nothing out of place. James was not to know that she had left him. Not until she was far away. If he should return and discover that she had gone before she had got off the mountainside, then there would be no hope for her.
Everything had to be made to look as if she had just gone out to collect some more berries.
The fire was banked, the mixing bowl set up with flour and margarine blended together, the rolling pin at the ready, her apron nestled upon the work surface as if awaiting her return, everything made to look as if she had just popped out for fresh fruit, nothing out of the ordinary, nothing to make him suspect she was anywhere but on the mountainside.
Things had gone from bad to worse, ever since James had returned from his trip abroad. Kitty couldn’t put her finger on it, but it was almost as if he knew that she had been seeing someone else. That was impossible of course, because up here in the mountains, there was no one that would have seen the two of them together. Yet something was not right, and Kitty had become afraid of her own shadow when James was around. And then something he had said had been the final straw.
Just three days ago, she had watched as Devin’s truck had disappeared down the mountain pass, only the second time she had seen him since his return from Manhattan, the other occasion when he had called by to introduce himself to James as their neighbour. Since that time, she had made one hasty CB call to him, other than that neither she nor Devin, had been able to find a way to see one another, although under the circumstances she had realised it was probably better that they hadn’t tried.
James’ frame of mind was suspicious, she was certain of it, and his suspicions had made her jumpy, her conversation stunted. His eyes followed her everywhere, his questions bordered on mistrust. And then there came the outright threat to her life. Kitty would never had believed he would say such a thing, for all his nastiness, she would never have believed he was capable of murder, if she had not heard it with her own ears.
It had come out of the blue. He’d been watching her, as usual, with a sneer, as usual, but this time something, something had altered. His eyes, though usually hard and cold were suddenly chilling, sending icy shudders through her, as he stared at her.
“There’s someone else?” his voice low and threatening stabbed her as a knife. Kitty had looked up sharply, a slight tremor she tried hard to hide coming through as she spoke, “Someone else...” suddenly her mind raced, ‘someone else? For him?’ and her heart pounded with hope...’he’d found someone else! He was leaving her? Oh yes, yes, please let it be so.’
Was she so transparent? Did her eyes tell him things he did not want to hear? Suddenly he was on his feet, his rough fingers pulling her upwards so that her face was inches from his own, “You!” He rasped through gritted teeth, “You bitch!” before he threw her away from him, watching with glee as her head hit the sideboard and started to bleed.
“You deserved that you bitch...Who is he?” He fumed through gritted teeth, coming across to where her body lay, and yanking her onto her feet again. Kitty’s head swam from the pain of the blow and from confusion. “He?” she queried, “Who?”
Another blow sent her reeling, “You take me for stupid, woman, I see it in your eyes, I see it in your face, I know you’ve got someone else.” he seethed, glowering over her, tempted to kick her hard, but Kitty rolled away, staggering with the aid of a cupboard to stand upright.
“I...I thought...you meant yourself?” She stammered, the hot tears rushing down her cheeks.
“ME!” her husband shouted. “Me! You thought I was the unfaithful one, how dare you!” another blow sent her reeling again, crashing to the floor, her head, her shoulder, her ribs throbbing with pain.
“There’s no one else”, Kitty murmured weakly, but even to her own ears the denial sounded false.
“LIAR!” James strode across the floor, yanking Kitty by her hair to stand in front of him, “Let me tell you this!” he spat, “You’ll get nothing from me, no divorce, no settlement, nothing. You hear me? I’ll see you dead first.”
Kitty had struggled, but he held her tighter, “And you can tell your lover, whoever he is, that I’ll make him pay, you hear me? No one takes anything that’s mine and gets away with it. You hear me! He’ll pay. And don’t you think I won’t find out who he is, I will, and no mere beating will be good enough for him, no...” he sneered, “oh no, you were my life, he stole that from me, and what does the good book say, a life for a life, huh, you hearing me...” Kitty nodded, wide eyed, “a life for a life Kat, nothing less. You tell that son of a bitch I’ll find him, and when I do... he’ll die... slowly.” he laughed wickedly, then, shoved Kitty to the floor, before leaving the cabin, slamming the door behind him.
Kitty pulled herself up from where he had let her fall, and stood at the window watching him get into his truck and drive away. Her whole body was numb. A coldness creeping into every limb as the shaking started. Her teeth chattered, her head throbbed, and Kitty longed for Devin’s loving arms at that moment, more than she had ever longed for anything in her life. But she couldn’t go to him, James wouldn’t have gone far, he’d have anticipated her first move would be to go to her lover, and he’d be watching, and waiting. No, whatever she did, she couldn’t involve Devin, not this time, it would be far too dangerous.
Remembering that terrible episode, Kitty couldn’t believe that it was just four short days ago, it seemed more like four years. The time spent with her husband an ever present strain, as his eyes had followed her every move, and she had never believed her husband to be capable of murder, but, she reflected, checking the bruises in her mirror, if he could beat a woman senseless, then what would he do to the man that she had turned to when she had first begun to suspect what her husband was capable of?
Gathering her few possessions together beneath the covering of the basket she used for gathering fruit, Kitty left the cabin behind, feeling certain that James would be watching her even now, but she had seen Devin go by three days ago and knew his cabin would be empty and she hoped that her plan would work, it was possibly her only chance, she could think of nothing else, and she simply could not spend another night under the same roof with the monster that she had married.
For it wasn’t the first time he had hit her, but, Kitty vowed this now with all of her heart, it would be the last, of that she was certain. It was a big world out there, so surely there was someplace she could go where he would never find her?
Kitty really hoped so with all of her heart, because without that safe place, she knew for sure, that James would search until he found her and then for the fact, alone, that she had left him, he would kill her, of that she was certain.*** *** ***
A cloak of darkness folded itself over Manhattan as its inhabitants finished work for the day, and hurried homewards through a city filled with congestion as the traffic made its noisy, polluted way through the streets from tower block to tower block.*** *** ***
Beneath the city streets, the grime and the noise filtered its way for as far as it could, giving way eventually to a cleaner environment, where the scent changed from one of petrol and oil to one of candle wax, leather and old books.
Inside his warm, amber shadowed chamber, Father folded his glasses, and put them away inside their case, rubbing one hand wearily across his forehead, before tracing down to his tired eyes, and leaning back against the wing of his favourite chair, with a deep and ragged sigh. All day he had tried to shut out thoughts of Vincent’s proposed trip to the foot of the Appalachian mountains, where the estate lay that Catherine had taken him to just a few weeks earlier to meet Devin, and as the happy pair had joined him for an early lunch, Father had found it almost impossible to withhold his true feelings about Vincent’s going there.
A few weeks ago, he’d had no such qualms. At the time, both Catherine and Devin had convinced him that nothing could go wrong, but as the weeks had passed, he had found himself growing more and more anxious about it, but having given his consent, he could not withdraw it, especially when Vincent so obviously looked forward to going.
It was a parent’s prerogative, he knew, to worry, but with Vincent it was different. Vincent was different, and for that Father felt that his worries were grounded.
Yet there was more to it than that.
Ever since Vincent had returned from his trip to the catacombs, a trip Father had not been aware his son was making, Vincent had changed. Even his footsteps appeared lighter, if that were possible, his demeanour brighter, and Father could only speculate as to what change of heart Vincent had reached down there alone, in the subterranean world.
Why he had gone there in the first place, alone, flummoxed Father. Knowing that he would be bringing good news, Father had expected that his son would have met him at the park entrance, eager to know the outcome of his trip with Catherine. But no, Vincent had gone below, without telling anyone, and without explaining why upon his return, leaving Father only to surmise at the reason.
And with Catherine, there was something new there too. At first, she appeared a little apprehensive when Vincent started acting more attentive around her, and then with mild curiosity, as he smiled at her often, laughed with her often, and what was more than a little apparent to Father, that Vincent had steered Catherine off to his chamber whenever it had been polite to do so, but more often just lately, as soon as conversation had paused, or a meal was over. In fact Vincent’s almost indecent haste to whisk Catherine away, and spend time with her, alone, inside his chamber, had become the height of amusement to those onlookers below.
Oh, Father would need to be a fool not to have noticed the way things were developing between these two. For three years he had watched and worried, and speculated, seeing things before even the two of them had realised that their relationship was altering. That each paid more attention to their appearance, alluringly so, Father was quick to notice, on Catherine’s part especially, and Vincent, being Vincent, well, he was slow to notice, but once he did, Father was amused to see Vincent’s cheeks would infuse with heat, when he accidentally touched Catherine’s naked back, revealed by the low cut of the gowns she had started to wear to the concerts beneath the park.
More than once, Father had noticed Catherine’s blatant attempt to seduce his son, but Vincent was either too thick skinned or too blind to notice, until that was, after his trip to the catacombs.
From then on things had altered.
From then on a sensual cat and mouse game appeared between these two almost overnight. A pitter pattering around one another, almost like....., yes, Father nodded, almost like that, a cat going around and around its bed until it had found a cosy spot to lay. He chuckled, not so sure that Vincent would appreciate the cat likeness, given his make up, but Father found the likeness appealing, under the circumstances. Another metaphor of course would be a cat running rings around its prey, before it pounced. Father chuckled at his merry thoughts, arh yes, but which of the two was that cat?
He stroked his chin thoughtfully, his mind winging its way to the foot of the Appalachian mountains where he knew that by now, Vincent and Catherine would have arrived at their destination, and met up with Devin.
Father yawned and stretched, the best thing for him was bed. He could not worry in his sleep could he? And while he slept the hours would pass, and it would soon be another day, and then he had only another twenty four hours of worrying to do, before Vincent and Catherine were due home again. Who was he fooling?
Just another twenty four hours of worrying?
If occurred, what he expected to occur between those two on their trip away, then his worrying would not end upon their return. No, something was definitely going to transpire between them, he was certain of it, and Father could only hope and pray that if the move forward in their relationship did happen, then it would only have a natural progression as between any other couple, but would Catherine be happy with that?
Would she gladly give up her life above for one below with his son?
And if she couldn’t then what would become of Vincent’s dreams?
Father shook his head, no matter which way their relationship headed, the outcome would always be the same. Disaster. Just as he had always predicted.
An immense sadness washed over Father. Vincent didn’t deserve this, better he had remained as he was in the days before Catherine, than be faced with such heartache.
And Father knew all about heartache, at least there he would be able to advise and comfort, though he didn’t doubt for one moment that Vincent would ever get over losing Catherine.
Reaching his bed, Father sat upon its side with head in hands. It was a long time since he had offered up a heartfelt prayer, but this he did now, with sincerity. Praying that Catherine would prove him wrong, and whatever transpired between the two of them this weekend, that she would never leave Vincent, that she would gladly give up her life above and move below to be with his son. Father could pray for no more, realising his happiness, the community’s happiness, and more importantly that of his precious son now lay in Catherine’s hands. And on that final thought, Father lifted his weary body into his bed, and whispered aloud his Amen, hoping with all his heart that his heartfelt prayer would be answered.
Far from the underground world where its inhabitants slept soundly, other people in the city and surrounding areas above, started the night shift at their respective places of employment, and with a cup of foaming coffee, made with milk, just as he liked it, and a packet of biscuits, ready for dunking, George Mansfield studied the weather charts before him with some disinterest.
For the moment, the coffee and biscuits became more appealing, as George’s stomach moaned a protest, from being without any intake for the best part of eight hours.
George eyed the packet of biscuits hungrily, they were nothing in comparison to what his appetite craved, but they would have to do. There simply wasn’t time to go to the canteen, and as he was alone on this shift, it would have been a great folly for him to leave his station and go there anyway, with the impending approach of the storm.
Idly flicking crumbs away from his desk, George took note that a bleeper a few yards behind him had started to sound softly. He’d turned the volume down earlier when he’d needed to concentrate, and broken out of his reverie now, he inclined his head slowly to read the monitor, somewhat concerned when the graphics showed him a chart of flashing lights, which indicated to his trained eye that the bout of freak weather was approaching, fast.
Getting up from his seat, George crossed the few yards to the computer illustrating the weather forecast and began pressing the required buttons of the keyboard, to bring up fresh data. For some minutes, George turned up page after page, pressing the printout key as he did so, and also needing to fax copies to various people who needed to know.
He’d been aware of course, that the storm was in the area, but it was just another run of the mill storms which generally fizzled out by nightfall, and he gave no consideration to this one, even when it showed up larger than most a few hours earlier. He’d seen it all before, after thirty years in the business, he was not a novice in such matters.
Frowning, George studied the charts. The storm was heading at a rate of knots unusual for storms at this time of year. He wondered if it would be followed by a twister, but the readings, he was pleased to note, gave no indication of such, though George was not so blind as to realise that a storm this size, could well lead to a twister forming, perhaps more than one.
Whatever, there really was no time for loitering. Highlighting the charts needed for transfer, George eyed his coffee across on the other desk with relish, and leaned forward to pick up the mug, not realising as he did so, that his elbow caught the delete button, and the system altered rapidly, bringing up fresh data that revealed the shape of the storm brewing hours earlier.
Gulping down his coffee, George glanced back over the rim of the mug and frowned, ‘what on earth?’ he settled the mug back to its place, and checked the system, not understanding how the storm could alter just like that. One moment it was raging out of control, and the next it was calm again.
George nodded, perhaps that was it, with such freak weather systems of late, anything was possible, even storms, that died out within the blink of an eye.
Relieved, George sat back down at his desk, and picking up the biscuits began munching on them again. Reaching for his coffee, he looked at the dregs with distaste. The biscuits were too dry without dunking, perhaps he should make himself another mug of coffee.
Eyeing the apparatus doubtfully, George made his decision, everything appeared normal again, and the storm had died a death, thank goodness. Undecided, he hesitated for several moments, but then a loud rumble from his stomach indicated action, and George’s mind was made up. The canteen it was then. He’d only be gone long enough to wolf down a meal, nothing would develop in that time, even if the storm did start up again, he’d still be back before he needed to send warnings. Nodding, George left the room, biscuits forgotten, his mind firmly fixed on roast beef and all the trimmings. Urged on by his rumbling stomach, George’s feet could not carry him to the canteen fast enough.
Outside the weather centre, an ill wind was brewing. No computer, at this weather station, however graded, could detect the ferocity of its movements. Buffeting debris around the car park, and whipping at the leaves of trees, the wind trailed its mean breath wherever it could gain access, until its relentless, continued buffeting gave it access, where before there was none.
On the tail of the wind, came the almighty, a name George himself had aptly named the storm, in lower case, because he did not want to anger God, by naming something after the true Almighty using a capital letter. Somehow, George felt the name was apt, without dishonouring the God of all creation. Earlier when the storm had first began to swirl on his computer screen, he had given it this name, hoping that it would, like so many other storms die out, before it lived up to its name.
Racing in now behind the wind, the almighty struck the weather centre’s radar with full force, sending it spiralling upwards, and down again to crash somewhere in the centre of the car park, in a mangled wreck. The rain which followed lashed in torrents, lit only by the great snakes of fiery lightening, that split the sky for moments, before the almighty gave voice, and cried out in its torment, its steely breath smashing everything in its path to non-existence.
Oblivious to the turmoil outside, George finished his long awaited meal, and made his way silently back to his station.
He was tired now, after his long shift and the recent meal, and his eyes were heavy.
Reaching his room, he blinked rapidly, disbelieving all he saw. All the monitors flickered swiftly, and the beeper was sounding wildly.
George hurried across to the system, pressing appropriate buttons, to connect with the radar, and received nothing. It was quiet.
Frowning, George made his way to the window, everything inside the room indicated mayhem, yet the radar hadn’t picked up anything to show for that.
Pulling the drawstring to the blinds, George peered through the tinted glass, shocked to see a great streak of fire pass yards from his face, blinding him momentarily, and he heard, rather than saw an ear-splitting crash, followed by a mighty roar as the storm rocketed through part of the weather centre.
Struck dumb and motionless, George froze. Armageddon was his first and foremost thought. It had come. How aptly he had named the storm, perhaps he should have used the capital A, after all.
God had promised to arrive as a thief in the night, unsuspecting, except to those who were awake to the signs, and George should have been awake. He chided himself for being caught out, and prayed fervently that God might spare him, before some inward thought told him the folly of his thinking. This was not Armageddon. Had it of been, it would have come without warning. There would have been no irrational storm perpetually changing its course and its mind. Armageddon it was not, not yet anyway, and George was somewhat relieved. At least it still gave him time to put things right with God, and for that he was grateful, he had sadly neglected spiritual matters of late.
Vowing all that would change, George silently thanked God for bringing the neglect of spiritual matters to his mind, and quickly set about making amends for the time lost in reporting the oncoming storm. Oncoming? George laughed softly to himself, not knowing why he did, his head was going to roll for this one. Thirty years in the business, and he’d let the biggest storm get away without notice, oh well, he sighed, perhaps early retirement might be a blessing in disguise, and he might just ensure himself a nice little reward if he could at least warn the next town that the storm was fast approaching.
Frowning, George looked at the monitors, and shook his head, they were bringing up trails of destruction for miles, someone would be contacting him shortly, if there were any phone lines still in place and screaming down his ear. George nodded slowly, pressing the required buttons, to send the faxes to the appropriate destinations, he would do all he could to rectify the matter, knowing full well the futility of that, already the storm was well ahead of him, out of control, with innocent people in its path, and even as George closed his eyes and groaned with great sorrow at that thought, the telephones began to shrill.
*** *** ***
Unable to sleep, Father sat up to read a little, hoping to take his mind off of things and as the blankets slid from around his shoulders, Father noted the trailing winds, coming through his chamber entrance, with some displeasure. Always amazed at how the heat from summer and the cold winds from winter found their way so deep into the earth, Father caught and held the buffeting pages of his book, so that he could continue to read with ease.
Concentration was not as it should be anyway, with his thoughts fixed entirely on Vincent, and whatever his son might be doing at that precise moment.
Father’s heart hammered erratically, try as he might to calm it, and as his worst nightmares unfolded before his eyes, it took every effort to push them away, and try to be happy for his son, who this weekend, was having so many of his dreams brought to reality.
After thinking about little else all day, and even up until bedtime an hour earlier Father had grave misgivings about Vincent’s first trip away from home, especially knowing how the way things were between Vincent and Catherine, but while he had closed his eyes and tried to sleep, he had come to see things clearer, and had finally come to terms with the new development of their relationship, even though he still held mixed feelings about such a union, and he continued to pray deeply for them, hoping that everything would go well, that Vincent’s fears would be ungrounded and that Catherine’s expectations would be realised.
Father chuckled to himself as he thought about the pair of them, because those two, with their fairy tale romance, had touched the lives of so many Below, so surely a deeper intimacy would lead to marriage? Father hoped so, he really did, it was what his son deserved, and Father felt somewhat relieved to know there would be someone for Vincent after he had gone. Always, one of his main concerns had been what would become of Vincent when he was left without his parent, and how he would face the future alone, so to speak?
Now with Catherine’s appearance, all that had changed, and though at times Father had been reluctant to accept her in his son’s life, after three years of unfailing loyalty, Father could not deny that Catherine’s presence was the very essence of Vincent’s existence, and with her at his side he would be complete, never alone again, and for that at least, Father was grateful.
His mind settled at last, Father pulled the blankets around him more securely, his elderly eyes unable to compete with the flickering candle light any longer, and as the wind made itself more apparent, Father closed the book, admitting defeat. He really was very tired. And tomorrow was another day, Father told himself, snuggling beneath the blankets willingly, and closing his eyes to one more silent prayer, wishing Vincent well on the wings of a breath, before settling into his favoured position for some well earned sleep, at last.
*** *** ***
Helena Brooks, locked her office door, pulling the collar of her coat tighter about her neck as she made her way towards her car. Star Spangles, was closed for the night. The mares were tucked up safe and warm in their stables, and those out for hire would be out until the morning. Helena liked the job, she really did, it was fun, but at times after seeing that everything was as it should be for effective day to day running, she wanted never to hear the word, horse, again.
Her car and home beckoned, her family would be awaiting their supper, and Helena checked her watch, wondering if they would appreciate pizza at this hour. “Who are you kidding?” She laughed to herself, “that lot would appreciate pizza even for breakfast.”
Just at that moment, a car rounded the corner, its headlights momentarily blinding her, and before they died, she heard the car door open and close and footsteps sound towards her. Helena fingered her bag, lifting the catch, ready to search out the alarm she carried in case of attack, when a voice she recognised, sounded just ahead of her, “Its okay love, its me, Glen.”
As her husband’s voice filled her with joy, Helena relaxed, and then a sudden agitation brought forth by fear, made her cry out, “Glen, why are you here, is something wrong?”
“Something and nothing really. The kids are fine, its just this damn storm. I was worried about some of the horses that are out for hire. A lot of those people won’t have access to the television while out riding, and they might be in serious trouble. I thought it might be best to check out some of those locations, and see about taking a ride over there, to check everything is hunky dorey. We don’t want anyone breaking their necks, if the mare should bolt at the sound of thunder, do we, and have a law suit on our hands? That could just about break the owners of this place, not to mention the grief it would cause to the victim’s family.”
Helena agreed at once, her concern plainly evident, as they reached the office again, and unlocking the door, switched on the lights.
“Switch the computer back on will you Glen, I’ll fetch the files. We have to locate everyone, and try to contact them all. The horses must be stabled, while this lot is going on overhead. We can compensate with a free night some other time, if the need arises.”
“Sure.” Glen flicked on the computer switch, waited while it whirled into action, and took the files from his wife as she handed each in turn. The secret locations were not made available on the computer system, only in the files securely locked away in the cabinets, but the computer’s, could, when programmed such, bring up the exact route, when the location was entered, and the best way of getting there, if the need arose, which was now, under the approaching weather conditions.
This Glen did, putting in each in turn, assessing if the storm had fringed that part of the location at all, or if indeed it would, and telephoning the customers accordingly.
Most, he was relieved to note, had long ridden, and were enjoying supper with their families, and the mares tucked up safely for the night in sturdy brick stables, which was another condition of hiring.
There was one or two, however, with which, when he received no answer, he asked his wife to keep calling while he made his way over there, adding, “If by any chance they answer the phone, just call me on the mobile will you honey, and I’ll detour and go on to the next place. Don’t want to be out driving all night in those conditions.”
“You should contact the boss, Glen, its not our business to risk our necks. I’ve already done a full day here, we’ll not get thought of any better for it you know, wouldn’t mind if we did, and we’ve our own family to think of too.”
“The kid’s are fine, I’ve left them next door, they’re probably having a ball right now even as we speak, Jack has his relatives over, you know the ones that have just returned from Tokyo, there’ll be all those photos to sort through, and you know how much our kids love to play with Jack’s kids.”
“As long as they keep out of the tree house then.”
“Don’t worry I left strict instructions against that,” Glen pulled on his jacket, which he had draped over a chair as he had entered the building earlier, and checked the pocket for his car keys and mobile, extracting the latter to ensure the battery wasn’t low, “Everything will be okay honey, you’ll see. Just make sure you keep trying those numbers, and let me know if anything materialises. I’ll see you soon, huh?”
Helena nodded, somewhat uneasy, she’d heard that before, “No heroics remember, you’re worth more to me than a dozen horses, no, a million horses, you come back safe, you hear me?”
Glen walked across to his wife, and hugged her hard, “Know something Mrs. Brooks?”
“I love you.”
“Now quit that, it won’t alter the way I feel, softening me up, get away with you. You do as I say, you hear, no heroics okay?”
“If you insist.” Glen rubbed his stubbly chin over his wife’s cheek, kissing her ear, triumphant when she shivered with longing.
“You hurry home, I’ve got plans for you.” she whispered huskily, and Glen laughed softly, “You’ve got plans for me! Huh, just you wait until I get you home, we have a house void of kids tonight remember, and the world’s your oyster baby.”
Helena laughed, smacking her husband’s rear playfully, “Oh you. Just make sure you remember that and hurry back, huh?” and Glen noticed with pleasure that his wife’s eyes were bright with mischief, holding a promise that was hard to ignore, “I’ll hurry home, I promise, and I do love you, without any of the conditions.”
“And I love you. Now be off with you, or the only storm that will be left raging tonight will be in me.”
Glen’s eyes crinkled at the corners, “Promises, promises. I’ll hold you to that.” kissing his wife long and hard, Glen reluctantly withdrew from her arms, “I’ll be as quick as I can.” then opening the door and stepping through, his final, “See ya” was almost lost to her as the howling wind tugged it away.
*** *** ***
To be continued in Chapter Six - click on 'Next' below:
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