A New Beginning Story by Joan Stephens
Nursing a half empty glass of wine, Catherine Chandler Burch paced nervously.  She paused in front of a panel of windows and stared out at the lights of New York.  Like diamonds nestled on a background of black velvet, the lights sparkled against the dark night sky, outrivaling the glittering crystal stars.  Sighing deeply, she bowed her head.  Elliot would be late--again.  It had become an unpleasant habit lately.  Ordinarily, she would have been in bed hours ago but not tonight.  They needed to talk.  So, here she was impatiently waiting for him to come home.

She had decided to leave him.  Having come to the conclusion that she had wasted the last three years, she would waste no more.  They had entered this union for all the wrong reasons: she because she was persuaded to and Elliot because he wanted the use of her name and money.

Staring blindly at the bright stars and even brighter city lights, she was lost in the past.  She could picture so clearly compassionate azure blue eyes, a mighty but graceful body, deadly clawed hands as gentle as falling snow.  His unique and beautiful face floated before her eyes.  Three years, six months, and twenty days ago she had met him; she had met Vincent.

It had been the most magical time of her life.  She could trace her growth as a person of worth from the ten days she spent Below, healing, with him.  From a vicious and brutal attack, he had rescued a frightened, unsure girl and set her on the path to becoming a strong, assured woman. Then he had sent her back to her world to marry her fiancé, Elliot Burch.  Vincent had finally persuaded her that there was no possible way for her to live in his world or for him to live in hers. She had fought his every argument, but, at the time, she hadn’t developed enough of the strength and sense of self needed to resist his logical persuasion.  But she could see now how wrong it had been, how wrong Vincent had been.  During those days she had spent Below, she had fallen in love with him although she didn’t know it then, and she loved him still.  She knew that he loved her, too.  He should never have let her go; she should never have let him.

She hadn’t realized how much she had changed until she and her new husband returned from their honeymoon, and she took up her life as Mrs. Elliot Burch.  What had once been so important to her--clothes, jewels, parties, knowing the right people--held no further interest for her.  But being the wife of a socially prominent architect, as well as the daughter of a wealthy attorney, these things were a necessary evil.  She found herself drifting farther away from Elliot’s idea of the ideal wife.  Even the charity work she threw herself into was not enough.

She had tried to make it work but six months ago Elliot began to come home late and be gone, on business trips, days at a time.  Then, she learned that he was involved in an illicit affair with the new architect, Janice Holcomb, that he had added to his firm.  He and Janice had much in common, more that she and Elliot had.  But he had broken his wedding vows, and that told Catherine that it was time to dissolve the marriage.  Maybe Elliot had sensed that she wasn’t totally committed to him and their union, and therefore, he had never really tried.  No matter, it was over.


She turned from her musing when she heard the penthouse elevator doors whoosh open.  There was the thud of Elliot’s briefcase hitting the foyer floor and his sigh of satisfaction.  Topping the stairs, his coat slung over his shoulder, he hesitated, surprised to find her waiting for him.  “What are you doing awake?” he slurred, obviously a little tipsy.

Her answer made him instantly sober.  “We need to talk,” she said softly.  She poured the drink she had made for him down the sink in the wet bar.  He didn’t need anything more to drink.

Oh no, the dreaded we need to talk.  “Not tonight, I’m tired,” he replied petulantly.  He started toward his bedroom.  They had not slept in the same bed after the first year of their marriage.

Catherine grabbed his arm.  “Tonight, Elliot.  Now.”

A spasm of irritation crossed over his face, he stopped, shrugged his shoulders,  and waited for her to continue.  God, the woman had been getting on his nerves, lately.  With an aggrieved smile, he asked, “Well?”

Setting her wine glass on a nearby table, she locked eyes with him.  “I’m leaving you.”  Crossing her arms, she waited calmly for the storm to break.  And break it did: with arm waving; stomping back and forth; shouted protestations of love, undying devotion, fidelity; and then confession, begging for forgiveness, and the clincher--‘I need you’.

After a fruitless hour of such begging and rationalization on his part and her calm replies that made him even more angry, he stormed out of the room.  At the doorway to his bedroom he turned and snarled, “If you’re going to be unreasonable about this, I see no point in continuing this conversation.  We’ll finish this in the morning!”  He added the exclamation point by slamming the door.

“It won’t do any good,” she murmured dully into the silence that instantly surrounded her as she moved to turn off the lights.  She returned to the windows and for several minutes stared at the city lights then shrugging her shoulders walked into her bedroom.


Vincent’s tender good morning kiss brought her slowly awake.  “Mmm,” she purred, licking her lips.  Her eyes fluttered open then widened when she saw Elliot’s smiling face hovering over her. Her heart sank; it was only a dream.  Roughly, she pushed him away.

“What’s this?” he demanded, his smile fading.  Being guilty himself, he assumed the worse.  “Just who was it you were kissing?”

“I have never been unfaithful to you, Elliot.”  She ducked her head to keep him from seeing her eyes.  She had never been unfaithful awake but in her dreams . . .

“You’ve been a good wife, Cathy, I’ll grant you that, but I’ve never had your heart, have I?”

Sadly, she shook her head.  “I’m sorry, Elliot.  I tried; I really did.”

“I do love you, Cathy.”

“I know.”  She wasn’t about to argue with him about this.  He truly believed what he said.

“But it’s not enough, is it?  It’s never been enough?”

She raised her eyes to his.  The pain and uncertainty there in those blue eyes . . . had it always been there?  She suddenly realized how unfair it had been to Elliot; she had used his love for her. He had never had a chance.  Somewhere, deep inside him, he had always known.

With an apologetic shrug of her shoulders she answered,  “No, I’m sorry, Elliot.”

“Who is he, Cathy?   I know there was someone you met when you were missing.”

“No one you know,” she answered evasively.

He grasped her by the shoulders and bent to kiss her.  Turning her head so that he kissed her on the cheek, she gently touched his.  “I don’t blame you, Elliot.  I’m more at fault than you are.  I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before this.”  Curious, she asked, “It didn’t, did it?”

“No, it didn’t.”  He answered with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.  “Did Janice have anything to do with your decision?”

“No, not entirely.  She was just a symptom.  It just wasn’t working, you know that.”

He nodded slowly in acquiescence.  “Yes.  But think of the publicity and notoriety.”

“We’ll survive, Elliot.  It doesn’t bother me at all.”

His shoulders slumped in defeat, “All right . . . if this is what you want.  I will always love you, whatever you may believe.  I wish it had worked out.”

“I know.  I’m so sorry, I never meant to hurt you.”

“I’ll move out today then,” he offered.

“No, Elliot, I will move.”  When he began to protest, she silenced him.  “No, you keep the penthouse.  It was always what you wanted.  You’ll need it to entertain your business contacts.”

“All right, if you’re sure.”  An emotion she couldn’t decipher flickered through his eyes.  Sadness? Relief?  He smiled, faintly,  “You won’t be here when I come home?”

“No, I’ll be gone.  If you need to get in touch with me, I’ll be at my old apartment.”

He rose and walked to the door that joined their bedrooms.  As he grasped the gold-tone doorknob, he paused, “Have a happy life, Cathy.”  And he slipped through the opened door.

“I hope to,” she whispered.


Vincent had throughout the years successfully muted all but her most intense emotions.  This was one of those times when her emotions had reached out and unexpectedly slammed through him. He was unprepared.  A deep sense of sadness emanated from her with an equal sense of the steely determination she was capable of when she thought she was in the right.  Not for the first time did
he wonder what she was doing, but he would not invade her privacy by digging deeper into her emotions.

He had sent her back to her world and to Elliot for her own good.  It was necessary that she live the life she was born to and not sacrifice it for him.  Her trust in him was implicit, and even though she didn’t want to, she returned Above and took up the life of Elliot Burch’s wife.  There had been no children and it saddened him.  She loved children and longed to be a mother.  He had no way of knowing that Elliot had looked upon children as an unwanted hindrance to his career at this time in his life.

One strange fact did register though, she was living in her old apartment.  He wondered why.  It wasn’t until a few days later that he found out the reason.  Sitting in Father’s chamber, he was reading yesterday’s newspaper when a headline from the society section leaped out at him: ‘Burch’s to Divorce’.  “No,” he gasped.

Father glanced at him quizzically.  “What is it?” he asked, laying his section of the paper on the desk in front of him.

Silently, Vincent handed him the offending article.  After reading it and closely examining the photograph, he asked, “Isn’t this the woman we saved?  The one whose face was horribly slashed?”

“Yes,” Vincent nodded.  “I sent her back to her world so she could live the life she was destined to.”

“Hmph!  Looks as if she has decided that life is not for her.  Are you afraid she will seek you out?”

“No, she would not do that.  I convinced her that our two worlds were incompatible,” Vincent replied quietly.

“And you were right to do so.”  Father noisily turned to another page.  “Even though she spent only a few days here, I could see a growing attraction between you.  To encourage her would have been cruel.  There is no place for her in your life or you in hers.”

If you only knew the force of the attraction between us, Father, what would you say then?  “Still, I cannot help but wish there was.”

“Well, keep that thought out of you mind.  It will only cause you pain,” Father firmly stated.

Vincent slumped in his chair.  “I suppose you are right,” he muttered.


The next few months were a blur of activity for Catherine.  She thought long and hard about what she was going to do with the rest of her life.  She wanted to find Vincent, but he had made it abundantly clear that there was no chance for them.  Why, she could never really understand but she would abide by his decision.  He would have to come to her

That disposed of, she thought about remarriage.  That was out of the question  for her.  No man could compare with Vincent.  The attempt at marriage with Elliot had proven that.

That left her career.  What did she want?  Corporate law?  No, it hadn’t interested her before and held no interest for her now.  With her father gone, there was no incentive to return to his law firm.

Criminal law?  Did she want to join the D.A.’s office?  Maybe, but too many times the guilty went free; would she feel she was accomplishing anything?  Defense attorney?  Defending criminals was not for her.

There was one facet of law that interested her--family law.  She had two choices: join an existing firm or start her own.  By starting her own firm, she would have complete control over the direction the firm would take.  She gathered a few young, idealistic attorneys and opened a free clinic on the lower east side.  It took several months but eventually she won the trust of the people and was inundated with cases.  At last, she was doing something worthwhile, something Vincent would approve of.  If she was never to be happy, at least, she could be content.


On the day her divorce became final she took Jenny out to lunch at the Iridium to celebrate.  The jazz music playing in the background suited her upbeat spirits and she hummed along as she waited for the ever tardy Jenny.  At last Jenny swirled in and spotting Cathy hurried over. With a deep sigh of relief, she plopped down into the chair opposite her patiently waiting friend.  “Jenny, you’ll be late for your own wedding,” Cathy laughingly chided her.

“Oh, no I won’t.  Not for something as important as that.  When and if that happens, I’ll grab the groom and drag him before a Justice of the Peace before he could change his mind.”  Jenny grinned at her and opened the menu the waiter had given her.

After ordering, the two friends spent a refreshing hour laughing and gossiping about their friends. The topic finally came around to the divorce and Elliot.

“I don’t know why you married him in the first place,” Jenny complained.  “I could have told you it wouldn’t last.”

“What?  One of your famous dreams?”  Catherine laughed, spearing a small tomato and a piece of lettuce.

“No, just a gut feeling I had,” Jenny replied indignantly, eyeing her friend over the rim of her wine glass.  “But have I had some weird dreams about you, lately.”  Jenny wriggled both eyebrows, flicking the ashes from an imaginary stogie, Groucho Marx style.

Laughing helplessly, Catherine gasped, “Like . . . what?”

“Really weird stuff.  You’re in this cave and there’s this big lion laying beside you but you’re not afraid.  In fact, you’re reading to him and there are two children sitting in your lap.”

Catherine almost choked and erupted into a frenzied coughing spell when she heard Jenny’s dream.  Jenny jumped up and pounded her vigorously on the back.  Catherine gulped down a full glass of water.  That was too close.  But children?  Must be tunnel children.  Finally able to breathe, she wheezed, “Jenny, your dreams get crazier and crazier.”

Reseating herself, Jenny retorted, “Don’t I know it.”

After making arrangements to meet next week for dinner and a show, Catherine  took a cab back to her office.  If Jenny only knew how accurate her dreams were, she would never doubt them again.  The dream only made Catherine long more deeply to see him, to hear his voice, to feel his comforting presence.  She threw herself into her work, trying to forget the longing.

Vincent felt her intense emotions and opening the bond received the full force of her longing to see him.  Still, he felt she was better off living Above with him out of her life.  But he was proud of what she had accomplished, of the many she had benefited.


Stepping from a cab, Catherine found a young woman with two children nervously waiting in the lobby of her office building.

The young woman hurriedly approached her, pulling the two children along with her.  “Mrs. Burch?”  She stopped in front of Catherine.

“Yes?  But I’m Ms. Chandler, now.”  She smiled at the agitated woman.

“Oh, I’m sorry.  Could I talk with you?”  The troubled young woman fearfully scanned the people coming and going through the building door.

“Of course, come with me to my office.  We can talk privately there.”  Catherine could see that this was a woman in desperate need of help.  She had developed a sixth sense about abused women and this woman definitely fit the profile.  During the elevator ride to her office, the woman, Linda Colby, told her story.  With her children, Mark and Abigail, she had run away from an abusive marriage.  Her husband beat her and sexually molested the children.  She had nowhere to go.  The husband, Lance Colby, was wealthy with excellent connections and had used the legal system to gain custody of the children.  She had fled before the authorities could take the children away from her.

Seated in Catherine’s office, drinking the morning’s first cup of coffee, Linda was the epitome of the abused wife.  She perched on the edge of her chair like a frightened rabbit ready to bolt at the slightest provocation.  The children were being entertained by the firm’s receptionist, Carol.  She was a grandmother of four and was well versed in the latest techniques for keeping a child entertained and busy.

Catherine used her most soothing voice, trying to calm the distraught young woman.  “You’re safe here.  No one will hurt you.”  Laying a gentle hand on the frightened woman’s arm, she encouraged her to tell her the full story.

“I don’t know what to do, Miss Chandler,” she said, twisting her handkerchief with nervous fingers as she told her story.  “ . . . The children are afraid of him.  I have no money, nowhere to hide, and what family I do have think he is perfect. Can you help me?”

“Let me check some things out.  While I do that I’ll put you up in a nearby hotel. Don’t worry everything will be all right.”  Catherine reached for the phone.

“Oh no, I can’t do that.  I’m sure he has private detectives looking for us right now.  We won’t be safe in any hotel.”  Tears of anger and fright coursed down her cheeks.

Replacing the handset, Catherine thought fast.  “All right, then you can stay with me until we figure out what to do.”

She grabbed her purse and coat and escorted Linda and the children to her apartment.  “It’ll be a little cramped but we’ll manage,” she said as she showed Linda around the apartment.  “You and the children can sleep in the bedroom.  I’ll take the hide-a-bed in the living room.”  Catherine silenced Linda’s protestations saying that the three of them would sleep better if they all slept together.  Linda reluctantly agreed.

As Catherine opened the door to return to her office, Linda said, “Thank you, Miss Chandler.”

“Cathy, please.”

“Ok, thanks for all you’re doing for us.  I didn’t know where to turn to.  I’m glad I found you.”

“So am I, Linda.  Now, make yourselves at home and don’t let anyone into the apartment until I return.”

Betty, her secretary, had checked with the Clerk of Courts and had uncovered several suits involving the Colbys.  The look on Betty’s face told Catherine that it was bad news.  It was as Linda had stated; his money had bought a dismissal of the charges and full custody of the children. Sometimes, justice was blind.  To be safe, they would have to disappear completely.   And there was only one place she knew of where that could be accomplished--the Tunnels.  But did she have the right to involve the Tunnel World?  She could only ask.


As soon as it was dark and most of the resident’s were safely ensconced in their apartments, Catherine hurried to the basement and entered the tunnels for the first time in over three years. With a piece of chalk, she marked her progress.  Suddenly, the silence was broken by a flurry of sharp taps on the pipes.  She had passed a sentry.  Hoping it was a message to Vincent, she leaned against the wall, waiting.

So quiet was Vincent’s approach and so deep was she in thought that she jumped in fright and surprise when he touched her shoulder.  “Oh!  Vincent, you startled me.”  God, it was so good to see him, to look into those strikingly beautiful azure blue eyes.  She wanted to hug him within an inch of his life but she didn’t dare.  She just gazed at him, happy to be anywhere near him.

“Catherine, what are you doing here?” he asked, surprised to see her.  Wonderful.  He sounded as if he didn’t want to see her; when in fact, he wanted only to feast his eyes upon her lovely face.  It was suddenly brought home to him just how much he had missed her.

Immediately contrite, she apologized.  “I’m sorry, I would never have intruded in your home . . .”

He waved away the intrusion.  “You never intrude,” he murmured.

“ . . . but I need help and I didn’t know where else to go,” she continued.

“How can I help?”  He tilted his head in that endearing way of his.  “Tell me.”

She explained about Linda and the children, adding, “I know they’re not safe.  Do you think Father and the council will allow them to come Below?”

Vincent’s innate sympathy and compassion led him to say, “Let’s ask them now.”  His large hand engulfed her small one and he led her deeper into his world.


“Linda, wake up.  Get the children ready.  I’m taking you to a safe place where your husband will never find you.”  Catherine shook her awake.

Sleepily, Linda looked at her.  “Now?  In the middle of the night?”

“Yes, hurry.  I have a horrible feeling that they’re closing in.”

Before long, all were dressed and into the elevator which took them to the basement.  After going through a small door they found themselves in the tunnels below the city.  An excitable young man with unruly, blond hair led them through the silent tunnels to a large book lined chamber lit with many flickering candles.  An older gentleman was seated behind a large antique desk; a steaming cup sat before him on the desktop.  He rose as they entered.

“Ah, Catherine.  Here you are with our guests.  Welcome.”

“Father, this is Linda Colby and Mark and Abigail.”

“Linda, Mark, Abigail, this is Father, the leader of this community.”

With a courtly manner, he took Linda’s hand and guided her to the nearest chair.  “Children.” They giggled as he solemnly shook hands with them.  “Thank you, Mouse.  You’ve been of great help.”

“Ok good, ok fine.  See you later,” and he was gone in a flash.

“Sit down, children.  Mary will be here soon.  She will help to get you settled.”  Seating himself behind his desk, he leaned his arms on the desktop.  “Yes.  Well . . . Catherine has told me of your problems, and we can give you sanctuary for as long as you need it.  We only ask one thing of you: a promise not to tell anyone of our existence if you decide to return Above.”

“Thank you, sir, for taking us in.  We would never tell anyone about this place, but where are we?”  She looked around in amazement.

Father explained that they were a separate community living in the tunnels under the city.  It was composed of people just like her and others that had fallen through the cracks in the system.  He described how they lived, how they relied on and cared for each other.

“Sounds like heaven to me,” Linda sighed.

“Do you wish to remain?” Father asked, carefully noting her reaction.

Excitedly, she answered, “Oh yes, please.”

“Then welcome, my child.”  He smiled benevolently.  Mary entered at this time.  “Ah, Mary, this is Linda and her children, Mark and Abigail.”

Mary smiled and nodded to Linda then turned to the children; they were her main concern.  She bent and whispered something to the timid children who nodded gravely then grinned.

“Is the guest chamber ready, Mary?  Good.  Then, Linda, if you’ll follow Mary she will get you settled for the night until we find a chamber of your own.”

Catherine said goodbye to the children then embraced a greatly relieved woman.  “Have a good life, Linda.  I know you will here.”

“Thank you again, Cathy.  You saved our lives; I can never repay you.  Will I see you again?” Linda asked as they left.

“Maybe, I don’t come Below often.”

“You are always welcome here, Catherine,” Father stated.

“Thank you, Father, I appreciate that, but you know it is better if I stay away,” she replied.

“Perhaps,” was the noncommittal response.

As was his custom with newcomers, Vincent had stayed in his chamber, but now he appeared at the top of the small stairs.  “I will guide you back, Catherine.”

She turned to him as if he was a magnet.  Father saw something flicker in her eyes and transmit to Vincent who averted his eyes.  Unknowingly, she sighed.  “Thank you, Father, for accepting Linda and the children.  Living here, I know they’ll be happy.”

Father nodded, “Take care, my dear.”

“Good bye.”  She followed Vincent into the tunnels and back to her world.  This time he did not take her hand; in fact, he made sure he did not touch her at all.  Finally, she broke the silence. “I’m sorry if I have distressed you in any way,” she said stiffly.

“No, Catherine, (he loved to say her name) it is all right.  It was necessary.”  His soft voice soothed her.

“I know, but it caused you pain and I never want to hurt you.”

“I know that, but some pain is precious.”

The uncomfortable silence descended between them again until Catherine could not contain her thoughts and blurted out, “You were wrong, you know.  Elliot was not the best for me.”  She looked at him out of the corner of her eye.  He visibly flinched then continued on.

“Yes, but still there are your friends and your career.”

“And that is supposed to fulfill me?” she heatedly asked.  “Make my life worth living?  Only you in my life make it worth living.”

“Catherine, please,” he protested.

“I know, I know,” she said in despair, throwing her hands up, “you think otherwise.  You don’t want to hear it but I won’t change my mind.  I love you, I’ll go to my grave loving you.”  Her eyes flashed as she made her declaration.

“No, Catherine, don’t say that.  I couldn’t bear to lose you.”  The thought of living without her heart beating next to his was more than he could bear.  She had to live to keep him sane and alive even if they lived in separate worlds.  She could  feel his arms coil around her as he pulled her into a tight embrace.  Had he been wrong to send her away?

She sighed happily and leaned into his chest.  “I’m not going to die soon,” she laughed.  “I plan on living a long time.”

“I certainly hope so,” he fervently voiced.  He took her hand then and they continued back to the apartment threshold.


Lance Colby had contacts within the court system who informed him that Catherine Chandler, a woman’s rights attorney, had requested information about the child and spousal abuse charges filed against him.  When his wife and children disappeared, he had sent two of his men to find his family at all costs, starting with Ms. Chandler.  They gained entrance to Cathy’s apartment building, posing as telephone repairmen.  Their credentials were impeccably forged and the poor doorman could not be blamed for being completely fooled.  They hid in a vacant apartment being renovated for the incoming tenant, and Roger, the doorman, forgot to tell his relief about them. They waited until late that night to be sure no one could hear them break into her apartment.

Saying goodbye to Vincent was harder than anything Catherine had ever done.  She would probably never see him again.  The hug he had given her was confusing, but she knew how stubborn he was when he thought he was right and he thought there was no chance of a life for them.  When she got back to her apartment, she headed for the shower.  Thinking she might get a few hours of sleep--it was only one o’clock in the morning--before going to the office, she changed into peach tinted, silk pajamas and robe.  Then, she double-checked the locks on her apartment door.  As she turned to go back to her bedroom,  she was violently hurled backwards, when two men  burst through the door.  She stumbled back against the desk bruising her hip, and with a cry of pain, fell to the floor.  Sam, the tall, blond scar-faced man instantly grabbed her hair, jerking her to her feet.  Paco, the smaller man quickly closed and locked the door.

“Where are they?” the tall man snarled and punched her in the stomach.  Air whooshed through her gaping mouth and she fell to her knees, gagging.  A clump of her hair dangled from his fist and he tossed it away, carelessly.  Frantically, she crawled back and forth trying to get away but wherever she turned she saw shoes and dirty jeans.  They took turns kicking her and she realized with a lost, sinking feeling that they were toying with her, laughing and giggling.  The short, dark man reached down and grabbing her by the shoulders, hauled her to her feet then threw her onto the nearest couch.  Repeatedly they slapped her, asking, “Where are they?”

At last they paused and she was able to gasp, “Who . . . ?”

“The woman and her kids, you stupid bitch,” Sam growled.  “We saw you with them.”

“I don’t . . . know . . . where they are.”  She shook her head trying to clear it, trying to force down the fear that was consuming her.  They would continue until she gave them what they wanted or kill her in the attempt.  She couldn’t; would never tell them.  The welfare of all those that lived in the tunnels depended on her silence, not only Vincent and the Colbys.

Paco viciously backhanded her.  Her head rocked back then her body sagged bonelessly as a rivulet of blood seeped down her chin.  Mercifully, she was unconscious.

“Sam, get some cold water,” the dark one ordered as he strolled around the apartment, touching and fondling Catherine’s possessions.

“Here ya go, Paco,” Sam handed a full glass of water to him.  Paco dashed the water into her face.  Struggling to sit up, she moaned and shook her head.  As Paco drew his hand back to strike her again, the French doors exploded inward.  Roaring, Vincent hurtled through the flying glass --an avenging angel.  The two thugs stared openmouthed at the apparition that rushed at them; the last thing they were ever to see.  With a single swipe at each man, his deadly claws disposed of those that had dared to inflict pain upon Catherine.

Quickly, he bent over her, checking for broken bones or internal injuries.  “Vincent?” she asked dazedly.

“Yes, Catherine, I am here.”  Tenderly, he picked her up as if she was a fragile piece of porcelain, then strode into her bedroom and gently laid her on the bed.  In her bathroom, he cleaned his hands of the blood and gore of the true monsters he had killed. Then, searching through the bathroom cabinets, he found wash cloths, wet them, and tenderly washed her face, neck and arms.  Carefully, he placed one on her forehead.  “Are you all right?”  He hoped for a lucid answer; her answer was not what he expected.

“I love you,” she whispered and closed her eyes, drifting into a world where there was no pain,
only love, Vincent’s love.  She so trusted him that she was unafraid to sleep, knowing he would
be there when she awoke, knowing she was safe.

“And I love you.”  His heart felt as if it would break from all the love and confusion he felt.  He stared down at her small body lying trustingly beneath the covers of her bed.  She looked so small and fragile lying there but that fragility was misleading.  It masked a surprising strength.  How he loved her and he had to admit that the more he denied it, the stronger his love became.  And through their bond, he knew she loved him still with a fierceness and devotion that astounded him. He had misjudged the power of her love.  Father’s constant warnings of a life that could never be came to mind.  Perhaps he had listened too much to Father’s fears.  Perhaps it was time to listen to Catherine instead.  Clearly, she could envision a future for them that he was barely able to discern.

An hour later that seemed like a lifetime to Vincent, she moaned his name then licked her lips. Quickly, he wiped her lips with a wet cloth.  Easing down, he sat beside her holding her hand, sending her all his love and strength.

Her eyes flickered then slowly opened.  Groaning, she tried to move.  “You shouldn’t be here,” she murmured.  “It will be dawn soon.”

“You are hurt.  I will stay with you as long as is needed.”  Tenderly, he touched her cheek with his large, clawed finger.  His eyes darkened in pain as he traced the bruises and cuts inflicted by the two dead men in the living room.  “I have missed you, Catherine,” he whispered.

“I’ve missed you so much.  I need you.”  The unabashed love in her eyes tore at his heart.

“Oh, Catherine,” he cried as he slid to his knees beside the bed.  He raised her hand to his lips then kissed her palm, finally acknowledging that he loved her beyond reason, beyond question.

Carefully, gingerly she reached over and ran her fingers through his hair.  “I love you, Vincent. Don’t send me away, again. . . .”

“I won’t, Catherine.  Never again.”

“. . . ‘Cause I won’t go this time,” she continued as if she hadn’t heard him.

“I know.  Forgive me?”  How he regretted the pain and misery he had caused them.  “I love you, Catherine.”

“That’s . . . good,” she mumbled, slipping into a deep, healing sleep.

Now began a period of growing apprehension for Vincent.  How could Catherine explain the two bodies in the living room?  How and where to dispose of them?  He couldn’t do anything until she awoke.  He leaned against the side of the bed and, surprisingly, fell asleep.

“Vincent.”  His eyes snapped open and he was instantly on his feet.

“What is it, Catherine?” he asked, his large form hovering over her.

“I need to go to the bathroom.”  That part of her face that wasn’t bruised turned a soft shade of pink; she was embarrassed.

“Come, I’ll help you.”  Painfully, she crawled out of bed and leaning on him paced, carefully, one foot after another into the bathroom.  He left her standing by the sink next to the commode.

“I’ll be all right, Vincent.  I can do it.”

“I will be right here.  Call when you are finished.”

In a few minutes, she called for him and he opened the door to find her leaning against the counter where he had left her.

“Vincent, I need a shower.  Could you help me take one?  I know it’s asking a lot but . . . please?”

Hearing her plead with him broke down all resistance, and when he looked into her eyes, he knew he couldn’t deny her this one request.  What she asked was such a simple thing.  He helped her undress, wrapped her in a towel then turned on the water.  He winced when he saw the bruises on her body and he was so very glad that those men could never do to anyone else what they had done to her.  After her shower he picked her up and carried her to her bed then, rummaging through the chest of drawers, found a nightgown for her.  After struggling into the gown, she laid back with a sigh.

“Thank you, Vincent.  I’m sorry for the trouble,” she said quietly.

“Don’t be sorry.  You would do it for me with half the apprehension,” he chuckled.

She laughed lightly then clutched her side as a bolt of pain went through her.  “Yes, I would,” she gasped through clenched teeth.

Instantly, he was cradling her in his comforting arms, “What is it?”

Bravely, she smiled up at him, “Just a little pain in my side.”

Her attempt to shield him from her pain caused him to grunt with humor.  She had no true understanding yet of the connection that bound them together.  A very serious expression crossed over his face.  “We must talk, Catherine.  We have a problem.”

His seriousness scared her.  “A problem?”

“Yes, how will you explain what happened here?  The two dead men in your living room?”

“Oh!  I had forgotten about them.  Oh god, Vincent, what a mess.  I’ve put you and your world in danger.”  He shook his head slightly.  She continued, “Can we throw them over the balcony wall?”

She began to sift all the possibilities through her mind.  “No, that wouldn’t work.  The police would check out all the apartments.  Can we get them Below somehow?  No, that’s too risky.” She tried to keep the panic out of her voice but wasn’t succeeding too well.  “I don’t know what to do.”

Smiling, he pulled her into a tighter embrace.  He sought her lips, and just before he kissed her, said, “I have a solution, Catherine, if you agree.”


The next day headlines screamed ‘Heiress Missing’.  The newspaper article told of the two dead men, the broken glass doors, the blood, and the disappearance of Catherine Chandler.  For weeks the city was abuzz with speculations about what had happened.  All clues led nowhere. Eventually, the case was relegated to the unsolved files.  After that there were occasional news items but even that stopped after awhile and the case was forgotten by all but her closest friends.

Two years later on the anniversary of Catherine’s disappearance, Jenny received a cryptic message from Peter Alcott, Catherine’s old friend and family physician, asking her to meet him at his office.  At the appointed time she sat in his office listening to a most astonishing story.  When he finished, she was bouncing with excitement and readily agreed to the proposition he put forward.

That night she met him at a Central Park gate and he led her deep into the Park.  “Isn’t it dangerous for us to be here at this time of night?” she nervously asked.

Calmly, he answered, “No, we’re quite safe.”

He led her into a large drainage tube, then tripped a lever that opened a heavy metal door.  They stepped into the soft yellow glow that spilled through the open doorway.

And within that golden radiance stood Catherine, holding a baby in her arms.  “Welcome to my world, Jenny.”