By Ginny Shearin

Chapter 3


Catherine had the basket from the kitchen stacked atop the laundry she had folded for Vincent; her dirty clothes were under one arm, and the pitcher of water was in the other hand. She left the pitcher just inside Vincent’s chamber door, and she was now approaching Father’s library to find a few more books to keep Vincent occupied. He was beginning to sleep a little less each day, and she knew it wouldn’t be long before he would be restless being confined to his chamber. She found a book of art prints and a book on the British Isles with color photographs of places she had seen; and deciding that something romantic at this close range might not be the best of ideas, she took a Dickens novel and a couple of mysteries. She should be able to find reasonable distraction there. Balancing everything carefully, she went back to Vincent’s chamber.

She triumphantly announced the arrival of the muffins and the added bonus of the fruit and enlisted Vincent’s help in unstacking her treasures. She placed the books she had chosen on the bedside table for his approval and left the basket on the bed. Seeing the robe on the chair, she immediately understood his response to her touch that morning. He was now well enough to remember to be uncomfortable without the armor of his normal several layers between them. She tried not to let him feel her disappointment.

“Father found your robe for you. Were you cold? I can help you put it on if you’d like.”

Knowing that she was trying to make the situation easier for him; Vincent appreciatively accepted her help. He felt much better knowing that her hand would encounter a little more shielding when offering its loving comfort.

“Mary was finishing some laundry when I found her,” she told him, picking up his night clothes, “so I folded these for you. If you’ll tell me where you keep them, I’ll put them away.”

“Catherine,” he sort of stammered, “There was no need for you to do that. Mary would have brought those things to me later.”

Again, she realized she had stepped beyond his barriers. To her these were socks, knit shirts, and something akin to sweatpants. To Vincent they were pajamas. She had been folding the things he wore in bed, things that touched parts of him that . . . well, a thought too intimate to be acceptable to him, especially when they were in such close quarters.

“Do you intend to allow me in your life as long as I intend to stay there?” she asked him softly.

“Could you really doubt that I do?” he asked, a hint of reprimand in his voice. “Then we have to be comfortable together,” she answered firmly. “You have to accept that I intend to take care of you. That includes folding your clothes and a host of other little things you aren’t used to having me do. If I spend my life with you, I don’t expect to be relegated to a guest chamber forever, either. Sooner or later you may need to get used to the idea that you could find some of my things in your chamber, maybe even things like these.” She dropped her other clothes on the quilt at the foot of his bed, seeing that the wispy, silky underthings were clearly visible.

Vincent tried not to look at them.

“The fact that they touched me doesn’t change the fact that they’re just clothes. Your night clothes are just clothes. I’ll wash them and fold them when I can, and take pleasure in the fact that I’ve done something for you; and you will have to learn to allow it. And . . . .” she took a deep breath and smiled charmingly. “I will put them away for you if you will simply tell me where to put them.”

“The bottom drawer of the chest behind me,” he murmured, taken a little aback by her determination. He heard the drawer open and close, and she was back. 

“There. That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

“Catherine, could you” he pointed vaguely at the clothes at the foot of his bed.

“Certainly,” she answered, and picked them up, putting them out of sight in her large gym bag. She imagined that Vincent finally exhaled, and felt simultaneously guilty and amused.

“Why don’t we look at this book about the British Isles?” she suggested. “I can tell you about the places I’ve visited - things that aren’t in the book.” The poor man definitely needed some distraction of a different sort.

“I would enjoy that,” he answered with no small degree of relief at the new turn in the conversation.

“I’d like to sit with you if you don’t mind. I’ll sit in the chair if you’d rather.”

He wondered what was wrong with him. She had only been trying to take care of him - for weeks, he had been told. She had given up everything of importance in her world to be with him; and here he sat making her feel uncomfortable about it. How could he refuse her anything so simple? Feeling a little less unclothed now, he held out his arm, inviting her to sit with him.

She smiled and climbed up on the quilt beside him. Leaning against his shoulder, she opened the book to the picture of Buckingham Palace and began to tell him about two trips to the British Isles - one she had taken with her father during a Christmas break not long after her mother died, and another during a summer when she was in college.

He felt her contentment when his arm went around her shoulders and was again amazed that such a small response from him could provide her such serenity. He relaxed then and drifted into the pleasure of her stories and bits of trivia that accompanied the pictures of the familiar landmarks.

She had a wealth of stories - side trips into the countryside, visits to local pubs for meals, people they met, sheep stopping traffic, miles of green, castles . . . and he had as many questions. He related some of the scenery to books and poetry, rousing more information from her memory. They nibbled at the muffins and fruit, and Catherine retrieved the pitcher of water and made them more tea. Before they realized it, the afternoon had disappeared and Father was back for his late afternoon rounds. They invited him in when he called.

After the morning’s conversation with Vincent, Father was surprised to find Catherine curled up next to him with a book. They both looked quite comfortable. Smiling, he decided not to try to figure it out. He supposed the robe must have helped Vincent’s sense of security.

“What has the two of you so entranced?” he asked.

“Catherine has been sharing stories that make the pictures in this book infinitely more entertaining,” Vincent answered and handed Father the book.

“Well,” said Father, looking at the book with renewed interest, “Perhaps you would be willing to share some of your stories with me sometime, and maybe with a class one day. The children would be fascinated to hear from someone who has actually visited these places. Of course they are all fascinated with you anyway.”

“I’ll be glad to talk to them any time you’d like,” she smiled. It felt good to be asked to take a role in some of the everyday activities of the tunnels.

Father sat and talked with them a while, leafing through the pages of the book, and relating a few stories of his own. He watched the way Catherine looked at Vincent, alert to any need she might sense in him that might add to his discomfort, and he wondered again how he could have been so blind. The atmosphere was so relaxed right then that he couldn’t resist a little teasing.

“But, Catherine, I’m afraid I’m a little disappointed in your caregiving.”

She and Vincent answered him nearly in unison.



Vincent was immediately coming to her defense when they both realized that Father was smiling.

“William tells me no one came to bring Vincent lunch - and one of the stipulations of your caregiving status, young lady, was that you would take care of yourself as well as your . . . .” He hesitated there, not certain what term to use. “Patient.” He decided that term was safe. The hesitation wasn’t lost on any of them, though, bringing back another wave of discomfort.

Catherine thought it might be a good idea to relieve the tension by removing herself from the room. It was nearly dinner time after all, and neither of them had realized they missed lunch. She dreaded the expected reprimand about the missed meal; but catching a whiff of the aroma coming from the kitchen, she thought it would be worth any tirade William could muster up. She stopped to speak to a few people who were asking about Vincent, then resignedly made her way to the kitchen and the inevitable lecture.

Sure enough, there was a strong reminder that meals were necessary, especially for those who have been dangerously ill. Apparently William felt he was a large factor in Vincent’s recovery and took the job very seriously. She would have to remember that. She could barely carry the large tray he had loaded with a small tureen of hearty stew, homemade bread, fresh fruit, and apple pie. Seeing Geoffrey, she enlisted a little help. She was sure the added bonus of seeing Vincent for a few minutes wasn’t far from the boy’s mind. He grabbed a smaller tray and dishes and silverware and took the smaller items from Catherine’s tray. Now that things were more manageable, they started toward Vincent’s chamber, Geoffrey filling her in on what the children were working on in class. They missed having Vincent to do the teaching.


Father pronounced Vincent’s improvement and sat down to spend a little time with him while Catherine was out.

“I take it that the dressing gown helped. The atmosphere when I came in seemed nothing like what you described this morning,” Father observed.

“It was a pleasant afternoon,” Vincent answered.

“I’m sorry if I made things uncomfortable again,” Father responded.

“It isn’t your fault, Father. It’s mine,” Vincent sighed. “Catherine is so determined to make our life together work, and I . . . .”

“Can’t justify confining her to it?”

“Yes,” Vincent admitted.

“Maybe it’s time to let Catherine decide,” Father suggested. “Give her the truth and let her make her decisions. You have to come to terms with your own.”   

“Catherine, in a manner of speaking, suggested something similar this morning after you left,” Vincent answered.

“So the whole day wasn’t as comfortable as the picture I walked into?” Father chuckled.

“The book was a welcome diversion,” Vincent smiled. Father suspected that was something of an understatement.

When Catherine and Geoffrey returned with dinner, Vincent greeted the young man warmly, making sure he was thanked properly for coming to Catherine’s aid. He asked questions about his class and asked Geoffrey to give his regards to the other students.

Catherine and Father smiled, thinking Geoffrey would certainly be the envy of the other children tomorrow. None of the children had been allowed to see Vincent yet, and they could see Geoffrey’s pride in the look on his face. Catherine reminded him that Vincent wasn’t nearly as strong as he looked, and should eat his dinner and rest. Geoffrey took the hint quickly, turning back briefly at the door.

“I’m really glad you’re getting better, Vincent. We all miss you,” he said sincerely. Turning to Catherine, he added, “If you want to leave the trays outside the door, I’ll come back and pick them up after dinner. They won’t be so heavy when they’re empty.”

“Thank you, Geoffrey,” Vincent answered with a smile. “I’m sure Catherine would appreciate that.”

“Yes, Catherine would,” she agreed, flashing Geoffrey a smile that set his youthful hormones in a spin. He then bounded out of the room - undoubtedly, Catherine thought, to tell his news to anyone he met in the passageway.

Father was offered some of the feast Catherine had placed on Vincent’s desk, but opted for going to the dining hall. As she was filling the dishes, Vincent mentioned that Father had helped him stand for a few minutes that morning.

“Why didn’t you wait for me?” she scolded, “It would have been easier with two of us.” Seeing the slightly self-conscious look Vincent tried to hide and remembering the appearance of the robe, she understood, but offered anyway. “Would you like to try to sit at the desk to eat dinner?” I could help you stand.

“Not yet,” he answered, “but if you move that small table closer, I can probably sit on the side of the bed.” Catherine offered to help, but he insisted on trying to sit up alone while she moved the table.”

Vincent laboriously moved his legs over the side of the bed and carefully pulled his robe around him.

Catherine filled a bowl with a big helping of the stew and a plate with the homemade bread and sliced pears and served it to Vincent. She filled dishes for herself and sat in the chair near the bed in case he needed anything else. After watching Vincent down the second big bowl of stew and accept the large serving of apple pie, she began to think William may not have been exaggerating about the appetite - and that it was a good thing Father decided not to stay.

It was quite a relief to see him recovering. The last few weeks had been frightening. It was debilitating to both of them. He had lost weight, his hair had lost some of its luster, and his eyes didn’t have quite the depth of expression she was used to seeing; but he was improving steadily. Gathering the dishes for Geoffrey to pick up, she thought it wouldn’t take long to gain the weight back if he kept eating like this.

Vincent pulled himself back into the bed. In spite of his obvious enjoyment of the meal, it had taken a lot out of him to sit up unsupported for that long. The pillows behind him were a pleasant relief.

“Please give William my compliments tomorrow,” Vincent smiled after he was settled on the pillows.

“I will,” Catherine responded, “but I suspect the empty dishes will speak volumes. Did I tell you I had to endure a lecture on the necessity of regular meals, especially for those recovering from an illness?”

Vincent chuckled sympathetically, having been on the receiving end of a few of William’s lectures himself.

“But the stew made it all worthwhile,” she said over her shoulder as she took the trays to the door for pick-up.

When the dishes were cleared and the table was back in place, she asked,

“What would you like to do? If you’re tired, I could read for a while and leave you alone.”

“I’m tired, but not ready for sleep yet,” he answered, sinking slightly lower into his pillows. “Just sit and talk to me for a while.” She sat down in the chair beside the bed and tucked her feet under her.

“I realized today how long you’ve ignored your job to be here with me. How have you managed this much time away?” Vincent asked.

“I told Joe I needed an indefinite leave of absence or I’d resign,” she answered with a small chortle.

“Would you have done that? Resigned from a job you love just to be here to care for me?” he asked, an edge of concern in his voice. “Others here could have done that.”     

“Vincent, that part of my life is only a job. You’re a necessity.” she assured him. “One day I’ll figure out how to convince you of that truth. Don’t worry, though. My job will be waiting when I go back. I don’t think Joe wanted to lose someone who works the hours I do for as little as they pay me,” she laughed.” A little more seriously she added, “I told him there was someone in my life and that he was very ill. I was even tired and worried enough at that point that I told him your name. Joe won’t say anything. I told him I couldn’t talk about it, and he tried to understand. I trust him completely.”

“I know you do,” Vincent answered, taking her hand in his, “and I’m grateful that he’s there. I’m sorry that I make your life so complicated. You shouldn’t have to hide our love from people who care about you. You deserve . . . .”

“Stop right there!” she answered harshly, retrieving her hand and lowering both her voice and her brows. “Don’t even start down that path again! I’m a big girl now. I can decide what’s good for me, and I’ve decided that you are. You didn’t ask me to be here. I chose to be.” She then turned her anger on herself. “And I’m not the only one whose life has been complicated. You work all day here and still find time for me. You put yourself in danger every time you come to my balcony. And look what loving me and protecting me has done to you. I’m the reason you’re in this condition. The least I can do is take care of you.”

“Catherine . . . .” he began.

“Don’t try to make me feel less responsible,” she answered. “If I hadn’t put myself in danger so often, you wouldn’t have so much blood on your conscience. Sometimes I was probably too reckless because, in the back of my mind, I knew you’d come to save me.”

“Catherine, don’t.” He hesitated to go on; but remembering Father’s advice that morning, he decided it might be time for truth. Taking a deep breath, he said, “Maybe we’re both to blame. Sometimes you might have put yourself in danger that others could have handled. Other times you couldn’t have planned for it. My response is the problem. The rage I feel when someone tries to hurt you is something I haven’t experienced before, and it frightens even me. If you hadn’t stopped me, there might have been nothing left of some of those men but small pieces of flesh and bone. When it was happening I felt so triumphant, so exultant . . . just for a moment - right before I recognized the carnage I’d created . . . and that I had made you a part of it.”

“I’ve had to protect my family, my community, before; but it was a soldier’s duty that had to be done, and not often. I have the strength and skill to accomplish the same thing without such gore. There was always a feeling of the thrill of the hunt, but it was always tempered with absolute control and efficiency . . . and a sadness that it was necessary. The rages are something new and foreign. When it involves your safety, I’m lost. I have no control at all.” He looked away from her, looking down and speaking quietly. “The worst part is that I know I’ve drawn you into the killing. I have no right to pull you into that kind of darkness.” He said this with a profound sense of shame.

Catherine knew how he suffered in telling her that. Now she looked away, unable to bear the look she would undoubtedly see on his face.

“You know about that,” she said, looking down with the admission. “I had hoped you would have missed it in your loss of control. You were always worried that I wouldn’t understand about the darkness. You realized that I felt it with you the last couple of times you lost control so completely, didn't you? I could feel the rage in you, and the victory and the exuberance, then the agonizing remorse, and then it was gone; but I knew it was only gone from me. I could see how it tortured you. I could feel it. I began to understand Father’s resentment of me. He could see it, too.”

She stopped briefly to be sure she phrased things correctly. This wasn’t a subject she could afford to approach without great care, and probably best approached with this small distance between them. He often avoided being too close to her when his loss of control was the subject.

“I’ve had a lot of time in the past couple of months to think about this, Vincent; and I think I understand why you lose control.” He finally looked up as if hoping for an answer he didn’t have. She looked directly at him now. “You love me. You’re protecting your mate, showing her that you have that kind of strength . . . and, in spite of my better instincts, I respond to it with pride that you can protect me so well. That probably adds to your feeling of victory. It’s something between the two of us - something in both of us that isn’t an unusual feeling. You just have strength and natural weapons that other men don’t. I think I feel pride in that, too. It isn’t that I love you in spite of that part of you. I love you including that part of you.” She looked down and finished a little more softly. “Maybe just a tiny little bit because of that part of you.”

He shook his head in disbelief. “No . . . .”

“We both have to deal with our shame,” she told him quietly. “When I saw you lose control and attack the first time, it was appalling; but when it ended and I pulled myself out of the shock, I didn’t stop to consider what you had done. My first concern was your safety and what cover story to tell. You didn’t make me do that. I remember thinking later that something must be wrong with me, but I did it again and again.” She stopped momentarily to pull the rest of her argument together.

“Some of those so-called normal men killed for money. Others killed just as easily for the convenience of avoiding responsibility or just for the sheer pleasure of the brutality . . . and they felt no remorse. That isn’t who you are. You’ve only killed to protect the ones you love, never anyone who wasn’t a real threat to someone else, and never without regret. You didn’t even try to hurt that slimy reporter who threatened to expose you Above.

“Soldiers who never wanted to kill can lose control protecting their homes or friends . . . and the ones they protect can feel the glory of it with them in the heat of the moment. Given your strength and built-in weapons, they would probably do the same things you did. I would, to protect you.”

“Catherine,” Vincent said, a slight reprimand in his voice.

“You know it’s true,” she insisted. “I would use a gun to protect myself and shoot only enough to stop the danger, no more. But if it meant your safety, I would empty the gun to be sure nothing could hurt you. I would be vicious, too, with whatever weapons I could find . . . gun, baseball bat, whatever I could find.”

“I hate that I could bring you to such a place,” Vincent answered, his anguish unmistakable.

“No more than I despise what I’ve brought you to,” she replied, equally remorseful.

“You shouldn’t accept so much blame for this illness. There were other factors,” Vincent said softly. There was a bitterness in his voice as he looked toward Catherine. “I lived my life knowing nothing of Paracelsus until he invaded your world with his drugs, then he couldn’t be ignored. He needed revenge.

“He played mind games with all of us, but he seemed to especially enjoy what he could do to me. He seemed to see me as a property that should have been his to train for his own warped purposes - a lost opportunity. He knew the best way to destroy Father would be to destroy me, and I think he wanted to see me corrupted simply to know that he could accomplish it.” Vincent pulled his knees up close to him and rested his arms on them.

“He seemed determined to push me into fulfilling his twisted expectations, and I played right into his hands. He even engineered his own death in my father’s form to see that I could have no peace, and I allowed myself to be manipulated. When I realized Father would never have had the thoughts I was hearing and that he might have harmed Father to get to me . . . that he had insinuated himself into living with us, interacting with the children, posing as someone they trust completely . . . .  Right then I was as crazed as he intended me to be . . . just as he had planned.”

He took in a shuddering breath and his forehead fell to his arms briefly. He raised his head and looked at Catherine as if nothing could heal his wounded spirit.

“In the end I killed him to stop his words, Catherine. How could I have let him control me that way?”

“He was deranged…and brilliant, and manipulative,” Catherine insisted, reaching to touch Vincent’s arm for comfort. “Most minds would have given up long before yours did. You did what had to be done in the interest of your home, Vincent. The threats to the people you love were real and coming more often. He invaded Winterfest with his threats - not just your family, but all the helpers were in danger.

“If he had lived longer, the terror would have continued longer. What would you have done then? Banishment is the strongest punishment the council allows. Eventually he would have become dangerous enough for them to ‘allow’ you to do the dirty work again,” she said resentfully. “Then you would have had to track him down and put yourself back in danger. You know his death after one of his schemes was inevitable. It was a necessity to your world. Don’t give him the power to persecute you even from the grave.”

She couldn’t keep the distance between them any longer. Catherine left the chair and put her arms around him almost fiercely, knowing how difficult it had been for him to put all those thoughts into words. Resting her head on Vincent’s shoulder and holding him tight, Catherine couldn’t have despised Paracelsus more if he were standing there leering in front of her. What he had done to Vincent She just sat and held him for a few minutes, relieved when she felt him return the embrace; and she felt his head rest on hers. She leaned back to look at him, tenderly brushed several wisps of hair from his face and spoke to him quietly.

“Thank you for being honest with me, Vincent. It makes me feel more that you trust me to understand your thoughts.”

“You have thought that I didn’t trust you?” he answered, surprise evident in his voice.

“Not that you didn’t trust me,” she said, moving back to give him a reassuring look, “just that you didn’t want to burden me with the things that torment you or set you apart. I need to be able to talk to you, to understand what hurts you. Sometimes I feel like a child who everyone assumes is too young to understand something that affects her life, so she’s sent from the room before it’s discussed.”

“Was that what Father was trying to tell me this morning?” Vincent thought. He asked himself if he knew she felt that way. Of course he did, he realized. He had simply chosen to ignore it, making the decision for her that she would be better off not knowing. He pulled her to him and she fell gladly into his arms, leaning across him, again resting her head on his shoulder. He nuzzled his cheek against the top of her head, his breath ruffling her hair slightly.

“I’m sorry. I’ve always kept my personal concerns to myself. It may take me a while to break that habit. It was never my intention to . . . .”

“I know, Vincent. I never meant to cause you concern, either,” she murmured against his soft robe.

They held each other, each of them drawing comfort from the closeness; then Catherine leaned back to face him. 

“You and Father seem to have you divided firmly into Vincent and the dark side.”  Catherine said quietly. “Which of you do you think comes to protect me? The Vincent who leaves a rose and a book of poetry on my balcony? Probably not. Most of us aren’t proud of our dark sides; but the dark side is there, and it’s always a part of us. Trying to be two separate people leaves you with only half a life, Vincent - one half for each of them - and a constant struggle for who has control of life that day.

“All of what you are is just Vincent to me. No matter what you do or what you are, it doesn’t change the fact that I love you completely and unconditionally. I know that you - all the parts of you - offer me nothing less in spite of my imperfections.” She leaned back against his chest and told him firmly, “You need to learn to accept yourself the same way you accept others.”

He held her closer, unable to put anything else into words, hoping his love would find it’s way to her heart through his arms. Half a life . . . .  This was a perspective he hadn’t encountered.

That had been a draining conversation for both of them. It was getting late, and Vincent hadn’t really rested at all that day. She stood, thinking she should insist he sleep now, before Father could find any real faults with her caregiving.

“You need sleep. I’m going to say ‘good-night’ to Father and get a fresh pitcher of water. Is there anything you’d like me to bring while I’m out?” she asked, picking up the pitcher. 

He shook his head and smiled, enjoying the domestic picture she presented.

She stopped before she left and smiled back at him. “I love you, Vincent, exactly the way you are.”


“Hello,” she called before entering the chamber next door.

“Come in. Is anything wrong?” Father asked, sounding a little anxious.

“No, Father. I’m going to run a couple of quick errands and thought you might like to check in with Vincent. I’ve told him to have me call you if there’s anything he needs and doesn’t feel comfortable asking me for, but he never asks. He had a big dinner and we drank a lot of tea this afternoon. I don’t know how he manages. I have to run to the little girl’s room now and then, but he either has a bladder of iron or has just decided to suffer until your next visit. I don’t think he remembers too much of his illness in my apartment, so that hasn’t been much help.”

Father chortled in response to her observation. “I think for now Vincent would rather explode than admit in your presence that his bodily functions exist at all. We’ve all accepted now that you aren’t going to disappear from his life, so logic would point to that changing gradually as time passes. Until then, I’ll see that he’s comfortable before we tuck him in for the night. Thank you, Catherine. I know I don’t always let you know, but I’m truly grateful for your devotion to my son.”

“I’ll be back in about twenty minutes,” she smiled, and blew him a kiss.

When Catherine returned Father was sitting in the chair near Vincent suggesting a chess game during his visit the next morning.

“A glutton for punishment,” she thought with some amusement.

“I think it’s time Vincent had some sleep, Father. Today is the first day he hasn’t had a nap.”

“You sound as if I should be in the nursery,” Vincent grumbled good-naturedly.

Father laughed, kissed them both, and said his goodnights. Catherine insisted on helping Vincent out of his robe.

“You can’t sleep in this,” she told him. “It’s bound to get all tangled and uncomfortable. I’ll put it at the foot of the bed so you can reach it if you want it tomorrow.”

Vincent slid down under the covers thinking that sleep would be welcome. Catherine smoothed the covers around his shoulders as she had been doing for most of the week. Then, also as she had been doing for most of the week, she pulled the cot up next to Vincent’s bed. Vincent rose slightly on one elbow, suddenly feeling wide-awake.

“Do you think this is a good idea? I’m stronger now. You don’t need to be as concerned about me.”

“Have I been taking good care of you?” she asked.

“Of course you have,” he responded, wondering where this line of questioning was going.

“Do you love me?” she asked.

“You can’t doubt that, can you?” he questioned.     

“No, but it would be nice to hear it a little more often,” she answered, following the statement with the flirtatious little smile that always melted his heart. “This is for me,” she said more seriously. “It hasn’t been that long since we thought we were losing you. It helps me to be this close.”

He didn’t argue, just began to wonder how he would manage to sleep. She took off only her shoes and crawled under the covers. She turned to face his bed, slid her left arm under the pillow, and reached out for his arm with her right hand.

“Catherine . . . .” he said. A slight sound of pleading tinged his voice. He knew she understood this time. “Can you settle for just being close?”

“No,” she answered, softly but firmly, and without moving her hand. She usually cooperated when she understood his hesitance, and “No” was not the answer he had expected. She propped herself up on her other elbow, her hand still on his arm.

“This is a very innocent touch,” she said.

He wondered if she was aware of the very un-innocent thoughts her slightest touch could trigger. “Of course not,” he reminded himself. Had he ever allowed himself to let her know?

“I’m being a good girl,” she said lightly but insistently. “I’m fully clothed and sleeping in my own bed. This one touch lets me fall asleep knowing you’re all right. Everything else is for you. This takes care of me. You’ll have to get used to it.”

How could he argue?

“Then perhaps I should help,” he replied, quietly relenting, and slipped his hand under her arm and around her elbow. She slid back down to the pillow and closed her eyes. He felt her quiet pleasure when he took her arm. He stared at the ceiling for a few minutes, wondering how long it would take to fall asleep with her so close, actually touching him; then, in a few minutes she heard, “Catherine?”

“Hmmm?” she answered drowsily from somewhere close to her pillow.

“I love you,” he said.

He suddenly realized that, as much as he loved her, it was only the second time he had spoken it. Knowing how she felt about him, it had always seemed so final, so much like the last nail in the coffin of her freedom. He knew his admission of love would cement her determination to stay with him. That now seemed a foregone conclusion.

Her eyes remained closed and she said nothing, but her smile and the warm joy he felt in her was all the reward he needed. Perhaps Father was becoming wiser in his old age.

For a while he thought about the pleasant, unthreatening afternoon they had spent together, and finally drifted into sleep.


Chapter 4