Joan Stephens

Nervously, Catherine scrutinized her image in the vanity table mirror. She was expecting Vincent to arrive at any minute. It had been six years since she had unexpectedly and silently disappeared from his life, unable to get word to him that she was still alive and loving him. Six years ago tonight she had given him the leather-bound journal.

Fingering the crowís feet and the silver at her temples, she thought that the years apart had not been kind to her. She looked older than her forty years, and she wondered if there was a possibility that he mightĖjust mightĖstill love her. She couldnít blame him if he didnít. The unfeeling cruelty of their sudden separation could dampen the love of the staunchest of lovers. Even if it had, she had to let him know why six years had passed before she could get in touch with him. She had to know if it would make any difference to him that she had awakened a virtual prisoner of her own government with no memory of him, the tunnels, or her own life.

She had given Peter a note to deliver to him, asking him to come to her tonight. Her heart had died a little when Peter told her of the cool manner with which Vincent had read her request and his reserved reply. She knew then that he blamed her for her silence. Realizing that, she had decided to treat him as the dear friend he had always been. She would tell him why and how she had disappeared. And then leave it to him to decide if they were to remain friends. She couldnít hope for more.

The sound of well-remembered tapping by hard, pointed nails on the glass of her French doors startled her. He was here. With one last hasty look in the mirror, she hurried to the living room to let him in, only to find him standing in the small dining area calmly removing his cloak as if he had done it a thousand times before. Her eyes widened in surprise. After laying his cloak over the back of one of the chairs, he raised his eyes to hers. Catherine smothered a small gasp of surprise. Here was a Vincent she had never seen, a man who was supremely confident and sure of himself.

"Catherine," he greeted her solemnly. When he had received the note from Peter, he had wanted to come to her at once but had held back. Without their bond, he was unsure of her feelings after these many years.

"Vincent," she answered in kind. "Wonít you come in?" she added, slightly perturbed.

"It would appear that Iím already in," he said, holding his arms out to the side.

"So it would seem." She couldnít keep the chuckle out of her voice. What she really wanted to do was to throw her arms around him. Instead, she motioned him to take a seat on her couch as she said, "Itís so good to see you. Itís been so long."

Vincentís back was to her or she would have seen the flicker of pain that crossed his face. "Yes, too long."

"I know . . . Iíve asked you here to explain," she said as she sat beside him, nervously twisting a hankie in her hands.

"You need explain nothing to me, Catherine," he assured her. "Iím sure you had your reasons."

He leaned comfortably back into the corner, spread-eagling his arms on the back and arm of her couch. He was at peace with himself, and Catherine was forced to ascribe it to the woman that Peter had told her about. He had told her that everyone had expected them to fall in love, but that their relationship had settled into a deep, committed friendship. Catherine wanted to meet her.

"Reasons? There are reasons but not my reasons. I never wanted to leave you."

Raising an elegant eyebrow, Vincent looked unconvinced. "Oh?"

"It was not my choice. I was forcibly taken, kept against my will, then I was killed . . ." Vincent visibly started at that. ". . . woke up with no memory of who I was or what had happened to me, and lived quietly for six years."

From his calm acceptance of her words, she couldnít tell if he believed her or not. Glancing down at her tightly clasped hands, she continued, "A month ago I went to sleep as Shelli Wagoner and woke up as Catherine Chandler. My doctor had told me that it could happen that way. I - I know to you weíve been apart for six years, but to me itís only been a month."

"A long six years," he commented softly.

She glanced at him sharply, hope springing to life, only to find him staring calmly into the heart of the fireplace. Her hope died.

"Tell me what happened to you that took you away from us."

She noticed that he didnít say me. "I remembered that I had been grabbed in the garage of my office building and taken to a run-down warehouse where I was interrogated using a variety of drugs. When they thought that I had died, I was dumped on a county road, miles from the city. Some Good SamaritanĖI never found out who it wasĖfound me and took me to a nearby hospital. Everyone thought I was dead, but one intern wouldnít give up and brought me back. When I woke up, I was calling for someone named Vincent but couldnít remember who he was or who I was. I was in terrible shape, and it took a long time for me to get my health back. When I was well enough, I was allowed to leave the hospital. I found a job and an apartment. It was only last year that I was allowed to go where I wanted. I wasnít needed anymore; they had broken the crime ring. I didnít know why, but I knew there was someone waiting for me, and I followed that feeling back to the city. The authorities arranged for Peter to meet me when I arrived in the city me, and heís been a great help to me." Then she said the hardest words she had ever spoken, "Peter told me of a woman youíre close to." Before he could reply, she rushed on, "I wouldnít blame you if you had found a new love."

Vincent took her cold hands in his. "Yes, there is a woman. Diana Bennett. She is very dear to me."

With every word, Catherineís heart shriveled like a prune.

"She worked on your disappearance." At her look of surprise, he explained, "She is a detective, and Joe asked for her help. Probing into your life, she discovered the tunnels and me. She helped me accept your loss and talked me out of killing myself. "

"Oh no!" Catherine shivered violently at the thought of returning home to find him dead. She would have joined him.

"She helped me to live during those long, empty years. As she counseled me, she convinced me that you might, just possibly, be alive since your body had never been recovered. But if you were alive, the question was: Why hadnít you tried to contact me?"

"I didnít remember you," Catherine mumbled in shame.

"Donít trouble yourself over this. You had no control over what happened."

His calm assurance was in sharp contrast to the man she had been taken from. "Youíre so different, Vincent. Not at all as I remember you. Youíre so self-assured."

"Diana helped me to see that I am a man, fully human."

Catherine bowed her head as jealousy flashed through her. How had the other woman accomplished what she had been unable to do? She supposed that she should be grateful to her but . . . god, it hurt to have him respond to another woman the way she wanted him to respond to her. But she loved him so much that she could rejoice, knowing that he had finally become confident in his manhood.

"Why could she do it? Why not me? I always saw you as a man." Catherine burst out in frustration.

Holding her by the shoulders, he gazed earnestly into her eyes. "Iím not in love with her," he emphasized. "Sometimes love can get in the way. I always thought you saw me through the eyes of love . . . that you were blind to my faults."

Catherine sighed deeply as she recalled all the times she tried to convince him that he was not only a man but the man she loved. "You never seemed to be able to believe me, no matter how hard I tried." She couldnít help but feel slightly betrayed.

"I know and I am sorry. Iím sure you feel as if I have betrayed you."

Pulling back from him, she asked excitedly, "Did you feel that in me? Has the bond returned?"

When he shook his head, her excitement dissolved like the morning mist on a sunny day. "No, I know you, Catherine. I know how you think."

She nodded. "Yes, you would, wouldnít you? Oh Vincent," she cried as she threw herself into his arms. She couldnít stay out of his arms another minute.

Hesitantly his arms closed around her but, oh god, the feel of her was heavenly. He reveled in her closeness. Suddenly his confident facade slipped. "Is there someone else? You seem so nervous. Have you found someone who can give you all you deserve and are afraid to tell me?"

Sitting back, she stared in shock into his frightened eyes. "No! I love only you. Even when I didnít remember you, my heart remembered."

Vincent crushed her to his chest and with desperate haste, he raised her face and captured her lips in a possessive and claiming kiss. She returned his kiss with the same possessive passion. They were pressed as tightly together as two people could be without breaking a rib. Her cheeks were wet with tears, his or hers she didnít know and she didnít care. They were together; thatís all that mattered.

They pulled back, not moving an inch away from the other beloved body. With tender fingers, they wiped away the tears of joy that dampened each cheek. He smiled with remembered pain and loneliness. "Itís been so long, so hard without you. I was ready to give up until one night, at the lowest point of my life, I felt with a certainty that brooked no denial that you were alive but unable to return to me. I love you, Catherine. You are my heart, my soul, my life."

Catherine relaxed and wound her arms tightly around his neck, burying her face in his neck. She had found her way home.