The Chicago Surprise


By Kathy De

Chapter 1

 

 

Catherine spent a grueling day walking the streets of China Town trying to obtain any information she could regarding a recent homicide. It was an unseasonably warm April day, and she was exhausted and bedraggled by the time she came home from work. She felt marginally better after she took a shower and made herself a large salad for dinner. Sipping the last of the wine in her glass, she sighed when the phone rang.

“Hello?”

 

“Hi, Cath.”

 

“Elliot?!”

 

“Yeah... Surprised?”

 

Umm...yeah...you could say that!”

 

“It's been a long time...” Elliot sighed.

 

Catherine frowned as she nodded her head. “Yeah ... about six or seven months.”

 

“Yeah …”

 

At his continued silence, she rolled her eyes as she took a deep breath and tried to muster some patience. “Elliot, what can I do for you?”

 

“Help, Cath. I need your help.”

 

Umm … okay. With what?”

 

“I need you to promise to hear me out before you say no.”

 

He had been there for her too many times for her to turn her back on him. If he really needed her, she’d be there for him. She owed him for saving both Vincent’s and Father's lives twice, as well as the entire world Below.

 

“Okay, but you should know ahead of time that,whatever it is, I’ll help you.” she answered automatically.

 

“What did you say?” Elliot asked with disbelief.

 

Catherine chuckled. “I said I’d help you, Elliot.”

 

“You don't even know what I need!”

 

“I know,” Catherine sighed. “But you've been there for me with no questions asked. I owe you that much.”

 

“Oh, thank God!” 

 

She heard the relief in his voice and smiled. “So, are you going to tell me what you need from me?”

 

“You're not going to like it.”

 

“Quit stalling, Elliot.”

 

“I need you to spend a weekend with me … in Chicago.”

 

“Chicago?!” Catherine immediately thought of the time spent away from Vincent and wavered uncertainly. 

 

“Cath, I’m desperate! I’m working with some developers who are on the fence about including me in their latest project. I’m having a tough time getting into their group, and I really need to be on this team.”

 

“You’re branching out to Chicago?”

 

“I told you before ­–Max Avery has the power to cripple me and he’s tightening the screws. I need to recoup some of my losses, and this deal in Chicago will help me do that.”

 

Catherine felt guilty because part of the reason Max Avery was doing this was because Elliot had given her some incriminating evidence against the man, but the case was still tied up in the courts. “Okay, so what can I do?”

 

“These guys have all been friends since high school, and they pride themselves on being family men – and I mean real family men…Father of the Year type of guys. Four of them coach their kid’s baseball teams and the other one spends his weekends in the horse stable with his daughters.”

 

“And you want me to help muck out horse stalls … or do you need me to coach first base?”

 

Elliot chuckled.“No, none of that, I promise. I need you to pretend you’re my fiancé for the weekend.”

 

“Your fiancé?”

 

“If I can make these guys think that I’m deeply committed to someone, maybe they’ll let me in!”

 

“So you want to lie to them?”

 

“I want them to give me the time of day!” He sighed. “I really just need them to give me a chance.”

 

Catherine frowned as she thought about what she would have to do. “Okay, but I’ll go along as your longtime girlfriend,not your fiancé.”

 

“Fair enough,” Elliot agreed.

 

“When is it?”

 

“Next weekend. I’d like to leave Friday morning. There is an afternoon event planned that I guess we can skip, but there’s a dinner party on Friday night and I’d really like us to be there for that.”

 

Catherine sighed.She’d planned to attend a concert with Vincent that night.“Okay, I’ll take the day off of work on Friday. If you change your mind and decide you want to go to the afternoon event, we can always leave late on Thursday…”

 

“You’d do that for me?”

 

“Sure, Elliot…really…I can do that much for you.”

 

“Great! Um…hey…will a suite be all right? I think separate rooms entirely would look suspicious, but no one will think twice if we’re in a suite.”

 

“Sounds good. Can you send me an itinerary of the weekend so I know what to pack?”

 

“Yes, I’ll have my secretary send it right over. And Cath…thanks!”

 

“You’rewelcome. I’ll talk to you early next week?”

 

“Yeah, I’ll call.”

 

“Goodnight.”

 

“Night, Cathy.”

 

 

Chapter 2

 

Catherine glanced at her watch and frowned. It was late, but she knew Vincent was working sentry duty. She decided to go to see him at his post.About three blocks away from his station, she saw him coming towards her.

 

“Tell me,” he asked as he took her hands.

 

Catherine smiled at him, thankful that through the bond he knew her so well. “Elliot Burch called me today,” she began tentatively.

 

In the past, Vincent would have been filled with worry about the news, but since their relationship had become physical, he had grown more secure with his feelings. Their bond had strengthened, and he knew she loved him unconditionally. He stayed silent, waiting for her to continue.

 

Catherine patted his arm, then began to pace. “He wants me to go away with him next weekend and pretend I’m his girlfriend. He needs to impress a group of men. I guess they’re all are extremely family oriented and he wants–”

 

“To begin the relationship by lying to them?”

 

She shrugged. “I think he’s having financial difficulties here in New York and he needs to break into a new market. This group is supposed to help him do that.”

 

“So when do you leave?”

 

“Next Thursday or Friday,” she said sheepishly.“I’ll miss our concert.”

 

“There will be others.”

 

“Are you sure you don’t mind?”

 

Vincent smiled and shrugged. “For Elliot to reach out and ask for your help he must be desperate. With everything he has inadvertently done for me and my world, how can I be upset that you want to help him?”

 

“That’s how I felt.”Catherine walked up and kissed him. “I can’t believe how lucky I am that you’re so understanding!”

 

Vincent leaned down and kissed her. “I trust that you know what you’re doing. Where are you going?”

 

“Chicago.”

 

“Chicago? A city rich with history. I’ve read books about it.”

 

“Yeah, they have several good museums there.”

 

Vincent nodded. “Yes, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Field Museum, the Planetarium, the Shedd Aquarium and the Art Institute…You could spend weeks there.”

 

“Well, Elliot’s sending me an itinerary, so I’m not sure I’ll even see any of them.”

 

“Perhaps we can look into them when you come Below this weekend.”

 

“Sure.” Catherine shrugged, then smiled. “Only one more day. I love Fridays because it means I get to leave my life behind and spend my time with you!”

 

Vincent kissed her forehead. “It’s late. I’ll walk you home so you can get some sleep.”

 

They walked slowly arm and arm through the tunnels until they came to her threshold.“I’ll see you tomorrow night,” Catherine said as she turned to give him a kiss.

 

“Until then, be well, Catherine.”

 

They kissed again briefly, then Catherine headed up the ladder.

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

The next day, a courier came and dropped off an envelope which Catherine promptly opened. It was the itinerary for the trip. Her eyes rose in surprise at how much they were cramming into one weekend. Thankfully, one of the wives had thoughtfully included footnotes with dress attire suggestions.


Friday afternoon around 2:00 p.m. they were headed to a behind the scenes tour of the Shedd Aquarium. At 6:00 p.m. they would go over to the Field Museum for a cocktail and dinner party then over to the Adler Planetarium around 10:00 p.m. for a late-night viewing of the stars.Thankfully this whole excursion was business casual, so Catherine knew she would be able to wear anything from her closet … other than comfortable shoes.

 

Saturday morning they would meet at 11:00 a.m.and have brunch before being whisked away at 1:00 p.m. to Wrigley Field for the Crosstown Classic, a game between Chicago’s two professional baseball teams, the Cubs and the White Sox. The brunch was casual to coincide with the baseball game. Sitting in bleachers in the Windy City could prove interesting, and she frowned, wondering how cold it would be in Chicago that weekend. Reading on, she sawthere would beanother cocktail/dinner party starting 6:30 p.m. taking place at the historic Berghoff Restaurant, but thisnight was formal.

 

Her phone rang and she absentmindedly picked it up.“Catherine Chandler speaking. Can I help you?”

 

“Hey, did you get the itinerary?” Elliot asked.

 

“Yeah.” Catherine chuckled at his excited tone. “One question … When do we sleep?”


Elliot laughed. “I told you – the guys in this group are high energy.”

 

“I can see that.”

 

“It sounds like a fun weekend though.”

 

“It does! I’ll need to check the weather there before we go.”

 

“It’s mild there right now.”

 

“Good. I hope it stays that way so we don’t freeze at the baseball game.”

 

Elliot hesitated, then realized what she meant. “Oh, Honey, we’re in a skybox, so we won’t be out in the elements.”

 

“Great! I was worried I would need another suitcase just for warm clothes! Do you know what time the flight is yet?”

 

“Any time you want! We’re taking my private jet. Less hassle and it’s easier to get in and out of Midway Airport.”

 

“I remember my Dad saying O’Hare can be really congested.”

 

“That’s true; it can, so if you give me a two-hour notice when you’re ready to leave we can be off.”

 

“Okay, I’ll talk to Joe after lunch and get back to you.”

 

“Thanks again, Cath!”

 

“You’re welcome again, Elliot. I’ll talk to you say next Tuesday?”

 

“Sounds good. Bye, Cath.”

 

“Bye, Elliot.”They hung up, and Catherine put away the itinerary, then got back to work.

 

It was close to 3:00 p.m. before she finished going over all the depositions she was working on. She grabbed the files and headed into Joe’s office.

 

“Hey.”

 

Joe looked up. “Yeah?” He glanced at the files in her hands. “You finished those?” he asked with a note of surprise in his voice.

 

“All done.” She smirked as she handed then back to him.

 

“If I had given these to anybody else, I would’ve been lucky to get them back by next week. Radcliffe, you’re amazing!”

 

“Am I amazing enough to get off next Friday? I’m going out of town for the weekend and we want to leave early.”

 

Joe frowned, then looked at her suspiciously. “Didn’t you just go on vacation to California?”

 

Catherine frowned as she thought about what he said. She realized he was teasing her. “Yeah for work. I was interviewing your girlfriend!”

 

“Hey! She was only my girlfriend for a little while!”

 

“She stayed three weeks!”

 

“Jealous?!”

 

Catherine rolled her eyes as she grinned. “Can I have the day off or not?”

 

Joe smirked. “Yeah, you deserve it.”

 

“Thanks Joe,” she smiled as she turned to leave.

 

“Hey…”


She turned back to see him looking at his watch. “You finished these in record time,” he said as he tapped the files she had just given him. “You’re done for today. You can head out now if you want.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Bye, Radcliffe!”

 

Catherine’s eyes lit up with excitement as she thought about heading Below earlier than anticipated. “Bye, Joe! Have a great weekend!”


She walked back to her desk and grabbed her purse and excitedly walked out the door.

 

 

Chapter 4

 

 

Catherine let herself into the apartment and glanced at her watch. It was only 3:35. She stood for a minute and debated about packing clothes now or coming back early on Sunday night and packing. Realizing Vincent wouldn’t be expecting her for another few hours and might still be working in the lower tunnels, she decided to do as much packing as she could before heading Below.

 

She grabbed her garment bag and hung it up on the door leading to the bathroom, then grabbed her suitcase and set it on the bed. Having already thought about which clothes she was going to wear on the ride home in the cab, she quickly grabbed the formal gown she wanted,as well as the shoes and purse that matched it. She hung the gown in the garment bag, then placed the shoes near the suitcase, then went to her drawer and grabbed the slip and pantyhose that would complete the outfit. Going back to the closet, she grabbed a pair of slacks and a long sleeved blouse, then grabbed her favorite blazer and hung all of them in the garment bag as well. She reached in and grabbed her most comfortable pair of shoes and put them next to the other pair by the suitcase.

 

“Okay: formal, check, business casual, check. Now, a baseball game…”She scanned through her clothes and brought out a New York Mets jersey her father had bought her from a game they attended years ago.“Why not?” She grinned as she placed it on her bed along with a dark long-sleeved shirt to wear under it and a pair of dark jeans. She grabbed a black leather jacket as well and hung that behind the garment bag. She also set out her favorite pair of running shoes next to the other two pair.

 

She set the suitcase on the bed then opened it up. Quickly wrapping up the shoes in protective sleeves, she had those packed in no time. She thought about what she would sleep in, then laughed. Anything other than the lingerie outfits she reserved for Vincent would do, so she grabbed for a pair of sweatpants and nightshirt and put them in the case. She grabbed a few pairs of underwear and socks as well as some camisole tops and a few bras.

 

She glanced over at her vanity and quickly grabbed for jewelry pieces she would need to complement each of the outfits and then set them out to be packaged neatly. She ran to the linen closet and grabbed a towel, then quickly wrapped up all of the jewelry and packed that as well.


She glanced around the room, then frowned. I’m done? There’s no way… She quickly though about everything she had packed, then shrugged. “I’m done!”

 

Realizing it had taken her less than a half an hour, Catherine smirked as she headed to the bathroom to take a shower. I just packed for a three-day trip in less than thirty minutes. If that doesn’t prove I changed, nothing will!

 

Within forty-five minutes she was on her way Below.

 

 

Chapter 5

 

 

Vincent was in chamber buttoning his shirt when she walked in.

 

“Hi.”

 

“Good evening, Catherine.”

 

Catherine walked over and kissed the middle of his chest, then closed up the last few of his buttons.

 

“I’m sorry I didn’t come meet you. I only just got out of the bath.”

 

“Late day?”

 

“One of the walls crumbled while we were chiseling it.”

 

Catherine looked up at him with alarm. “Did anyone get hurt?”

 

Vincent kissed her as he smiled. “No, it actually collapsed away from us.”

 

“Oh, no! Is the project ruined?”

 

“No, not at all. In fact there was a space behind the wall and the chamber will be much bigger now.”

 

“Well, that was lucky.”

 

“Yes, but now I’m starved. Are you hungry, or did you already eat?”

 

“Nope. I thought we’d have dinner together.”

 

Vincent smiled as he reached for her hand. “Good. Let’s go see what William kept warm for us.”

 

When they walked into the dining chamber, Luke, Olivia and Kanin were sitting with Cullen and Lana. Matthew and Rebecca walked in behind Catherine and Vincent. The two couples quickly filled their plates, then sat down at the long table occupied by the others. Conversation was light and fun as the couples joked around and shared stories. Catherine quickly ate, then took Luke from Olivia and held him tightly while she rocked him gently and crooned to him.

 

Vincent watched her and silently began to dream of her rocking their baby. Shocked he had let his thoughts lead him that way, he quickly looked away.

 

“Yours will be here soon enough!” Kanin said as he stood up and squeezed Vincent’s shoulder.

 

Catherine looked up and smiled. “Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

 

Olivia hugged her briefly. “Just don’t rush it; it will happen when it does.”

 

Catherine grudgingly handed Luke back to his Mom. Luke snuggled into Olivia and promptly fell asleep.

 

“Goodnight, everyone,” Kanin announced, as he put his arm around Olivia and led her out.Each of the couples took their cue and cleaned up their areas, then headed out.

 

Catherine and Vincent headed to his chamber, then slowly went about getting ready for bed. They were snuggled under the covers and Vincent was reading when Catherine felt herself drifting to sleep.

 

“If you keep reading, I’m going to go to sleep…” Catherine whispered.

 

“You should sleep; I can feel your exhaustion.” Vincent said softly as he kissed the top of her head.

 

Mmmm,” Catherine moaned as she leaned her head back so he could give her a real kiss.”

 

Vincent leaned down and gently kissed her, but Catherine pulled him closer and deepened the kiss. “Blow out the last candle?” she asked.

 

Vincent shyly grinned and blew out the last candle he had been reading with, then quickly drew her into his arms.After their passion was spent, Catherine turned towards the stained glass, and Vincent spooned up against her, then held her tightly while they fell asleep.

 

The next morning, Catherine woke up and reached for Vincent only to find he wasn’t there. She sighed and sat up, then rubbed her eyes and stretched her arms up in the air.

 

Vincent came in carrying a tray piled with pastries and a pot with tea.

 

“Good morning, Catherine.” Vincent grinned as he handed her a cup.

 

“Coffee??!!” Catherine asked excitedly.

 

“William had some left from the supply you sent down.”

 

“I love him,” Catherine exclaimed as she sipped at her drink.


Vincent chuckled as he went back behind the curtain and brought in a stack of books. “I thought we could look through these.”

 

Catherine glanced down curiously at his hands, then slid from their bed and slipped into a warm robe and slippers. “Sure.”Vincent spread the books out on the table and watched for her reaction. “They’re on Chicago?!” she groaned. “I really wish I hadn’t promised Elliot I would go with him.” She held her hand up to stop his protest.“But I know he’s saved all of this, so I’ll be the friend he needs me to be. I just wish I was going with you,” she pouted.

 

Vincent took her hand and they settled down to seats at the table. He opened the first book and pointed at the first page. “We can go there together right now; we can have our own little vacation and explore all the sights together.”

 

Catherine smiled at him, then kissed his cheek. “Just when I thought I couldn’t love you anymore, you surprise me with something like this!”

 

Vincent refilled their drinks, then turned the page of the first book and began to read.  His and Catherine’s first stop was the Museum of Science and Industry. They went on a coal mine tour and on a a tour of the U-505 submarine. They watched in awe as chicks came to life in the hatchery.

 

Their next stop was the Field Museum of Natural History where they explored the Hall of the Prehistoric Man and the Hall of the Stone Age. Vincent was thoroughly fascinated with the Neanderthal Family Diorama. Next they wandered through the halls of the Shedd Aquarium and marveled at the colors of the variety of fish and ocean life in the displays.The last book was on The Adler Planetarium,and Vincent provided more insight about the star configurations than the book was able to provide.

 

Even though their privacy curtain was closed, Father called to them from the tunnelway.


“Come in, Father,” Vincent invited.


Father walked in and blinked in surprise. “You two are still in your pajamas!”

 

Catherine blushed as she stood and grabbed his arm to walk with him. “Vincent and I were in Chicago visiting the sites,” she said, as she pointed at the books on the table.


Father grinned as he kissed her temple. “Well, dear, I’m glad you had a safe trip.”

 

“Father…” Vincent sighed as he hinted for him to reveal why he had come.

 

Father cleared his throat as he reached into his pocket and handed Catherine an envelope. “This came for you just now.”

 

Catherine blinked in surprise. “What?” she gasped as she opened the letter. “It’s from Mrs. Wilson… She heard I was heading to Chicago and wants me to pick up cookies at a certain bakery in downtown.” She grinned.

 

Father smiled indulgently. “She’s originally from Chicago. I’m sure it’s something nostalgic from her childhood, but I have no idea how she thinks you’re going to carry those home on a plane.”

 

Catherine shrugged. “Elliot is taking us in his private jet ,so as long as I get them wrapped carefully, they should be all right.”

 

Father nodded. “Still, it’s very nice of you to take that on. Well, it’s almost time for lunch, so perhaps I’ll see you two in the dining chamber.”

 

Catherine nodded. “Yes, Vincent brought a few pastries earlier,but I’m ready for some real food.”

 

Father left and Catherine grabbed Vincent’s hand. “Let’s hop in the bathing chamber and clean up, then head out.”

 

Vincent frowned. “Promise me you’ll stay on your side of the pool or we’ll never make it there.”

 

Catherine grinned. “You started it last time!” she said, referring to the time they ended up making love in the pool and missing dinner.

 

They quickly bathed, then dressed and headed to the dining chamber. They filled their trays with William’s tasty fare, then walked over to Father’s table to eat.

 

After they were done, community members started to ask Catherine to bring back various items from Chicago. The kids gathered around their table to ask questions about the city.

 

Father finally held up his hand to still their questions. “Vincent and Catherine have some wonderful books back in their chamber. I suggest that we take the history class this afternoon and spend it discussing the sites of Chicago.”

 

“Yeah!” the kids chorused.

 

After they left, Father smiled sheepishly at Vincent.“I’m sorry you’ll have to visit Chicago again, but I saw no other way to get all of their questions answered.”

 

Vincent chuckled. “It’s all right, Father. Revisiting it again will make Catherine’s trip become more real. Besides, it’s good to expose the children to more cultures.”

 

Catherine was overwhelmed by the requests from people and had to write a list to keep track of everyone’s wishes.Father glanced at it and grew angry.

 

“For Pete’s sake, Catherine. Besides the fact that no one has the right to ask you for things, you can’t possibly get all of this in the short period of time you will be gone. My dear, you are too generous for your own good. I will let everyone know that you won’t be getting these things!”

 

“No, Father, please!” Catherine begged. “Everyone asked for such small things that I would be more than happy to buy them.If it will give each person some happiness …”

 

Father sighed.“It’s up to you, of course, but you shouldn’t feel bad if you are unable to do it.”

 

Catherine stood and hugged him, then leaned back and kissed his cheek. “Do you know how sweet it is that you worry about me?”

 

Father blushed, “Well, you’ve become like a daughter to me and unlike my sons…” he said as he glanced at Vincent. “You’re appreciative of me.”

 

Vincent rolled his eyes.“Yes, I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to be constantly reminded to be careful when I go Above!”


Catherine giggled and took his hand and started to walk towards the door. “That’s because he loves us.”

 

They spent the afternoon in the classroom going through the books on Chicago with the children. They asked endless questions, and Catherine was surprised their exuberance was so high. She realized sadly that many of them had never traveled and some of them never would, and she was reminded how lucky she was that she was able to visit these places.

 

The children were so excited learning about Chicago, they decided to create a play and perform it in the afternoon the next day, so they ate dinner quickly and disappeared from the dining chamber. The adults spent a leisurely time over dessert and coffee enjoying each other’s company and in general just talking about a variety of things.

 

As people finally started filter out of the chamber, Vincent and Catherine retired to their chamber and again closed the privacy curtain. They got ready for bed and Catherine tried to read aloud to Vincent, but he was snuggled up against her and she finally gave up and turned to him.

 

Vincent kissed her, then stopped. “Catherine, I don’t want you to feel that we have to–” He stopped and blushed, then shrugged. “Every time you stay here…”

 

“Are you kidding me? I wait all week for this!” Catherine giggled, then pulled him on top of her.

 

Vincent chuckled and happily complied with her demands.

 

 

Chapter 6

 

 

Sunday was packed with activity. The children commandeered Catherine’s help in costumes for their play about Chicago. She helped as much as she could and laughed that, with as little as they had, the kids had done a wonderful job coming up with a play.

 

Mid-afternoon, the children asked everyone to meet in the library. The room was filled with people as the children performed a comical play filled with bumbling police trying to bust into a mafia run speakeasy. In the end, the children made the police the good guys, and eventually they took away the bad guys in a paddy wagon. The crowd applauded, and everyone congratulated the children on their creativity.

 

Everyone filtered into the dining chamber for an early dinner. Once again, the community visited for a few hours, then Catherine looked at Vincent.

 

“I have to go back.” She groaned.


“I know,” Vincent said as he looked at her curiously.

 

“I don’t want to,” she pouted.

 

“I know,” he chuckled. “But you have that deposition first thing in the morning.”

 

“Ugh…don’t remind me!”

 

Vincent reached over and lightly squeezed her hand. “Okay, but you do a remarkable job, and no one is as dedicated as you.”

 

Catherine looked up at him and rolled her eyes. “I just want a chance to stay here with you for a week or two and be lazy with no responsibilities.”

 

Vincent smiled as he stood and started to lead her towards his chamber. “Perhaps when you come back you can ask Joe for some additional time off.”

 

Catherine sighed. “I think that may be a good idea. I could use a week or two away, and I’d really like to spend that time with you.”

 

Vincent hugged her to his chest. “I could wish for nothing else.”

 

Knowing she needed to head Above, Catherine leaned back to look into his eyes. “Spend the night Above with me?”

 

Vincent kissed her nose and smiled as he touched his forehead to hers. “If you want, of course. Let me tell Father that I’ll be gone.”

 

Catherine packed up her things while Vincent went and told Father he’d be back in the early morning. They met outside his chamber door, then headed to her threshold.

 

“Meet you upstairs,” Catherine said as she released his hand.

 

“I’ll be there,” Vincent said as he headed to the elevator shaft.

 

Catherine sighed when she got on the elevator and saw several neighbors in the car. Everyone made small talk as they stopped at three separate floors. Catherine was finally alone as the car headed to her floor.


Because of the delay, Vincent was already inside her apartment when she arrived. His cloak and shoes were on the chair by the balcony door and he was in the kitchen starting the water for tea.

 

Catherine put her overnight bag on the bed, then headed towards her kitchen.

Vincent was already walking out with a tray filled with the tea pot, two cups, and a plate of cookies.

 

“Found the cookies I hid?” Catherine smiled jokingly as she caressed his back.

 

Vincent blushed. “They were hidden in the cookie jar.”

 

Catherine laughed. “I know. I figured that’s the last place you would look,since they usually don’t ever make it inside of it!”

 

“Do you want me to put them back?”

 

“Ugh! No! I certainly don’t need them!”

 

Vincent sighed as he put one in his mouth. “I’m relieved, Catherine! I’m not sure I would have had the strength to put away homemade peanut butter cookies!”

 

“Homemade by Mrs. Davis!” Catherine confessed.

 

“Bought with love!” Vincent said as he chuckled and kissed her cheek.

 

Catherine grabbed the television remote and held it up. “Do you want to watch the rest of that documentary on the ancient ruins?”

 

“Do you mind?”

 

“No, of course not. It was pretty interesting…”

 

Catherine turned it to the correct channel and started it, then leaned against Vincent’s shoulder. Within a half an hour, she was sound asleep. Vincent watched the rest of the show, then moved her to rest against the arm rest. He quickly rose and put the dishes in the sink. She was still sleeping when he came out, so he went and turned down the bed, then leaned over her and lifted her and started to carry her to the bedroom.


As he was setting her on the bed, Catherine lifted her arms and kissed him soundly. “There is no way I’m sleeping on our last night together.”

 

Vincent kissed her back. “You’re only going away for a few days.”

 

“Yeah! On a weekend! That’s our time to be together! I’ll never make it two weeks without being with you!”

 

Vincent laughed aloud. “I’m glad I please you so. How about if I come over Thursday night, then promise to come back Sunday night?”

 

Catherine thought a minute, then smiled. “Deal!” she exclaimed as she pulled him down on top of her.

 

After their love was spent, they fell into a deep sleep. When early dawn came around, Vincent kissed her lightly.

 

“Safe travels, Catherine. I’ll miss you!”

 

Hmmm…I’ll miss you,” Catherine whispered as she slipped back to sleep.

 

 

Chapter 7

 

By Wednesday, Catherine had received eight more requests for things from Chicago. On her lunch hour, she dragged out all of the papers and started a list. She blinked in surprise. There were over twenty things she had promised to buy.

“How am I ever going to find the time to get all of this?!” she mumbled.

 

Remembering she had several duplicate requests, she scanned the list and started a third list with items that could be grouped together. She was able to combine her shopping places to eight different stores. That’s a little more do able…

 

Her phone rang, and she automatically picked it up. “Catherine Chandler.”

 

“Hey, Cathy.”

 

“Hi, Elliot!”

 

“Are we still on for this weekend?” he asked hopefully.

 

“Of course.I wouldn’t let you down, Elliot.;I know how important this weekend is to you.”

 

“Great! How is your week shaping up? Are you going to be able to get off on Friday?”

 

“Yep, I was actually going to call you. I know you want to go to the function on Friday night, and I was hoping we could leave Thursday night. I have some shopping I need to do and I thought I could get it done Friday morning.”

 

“Uh, oh! Do I need to get a bigger plane?”

 

Catherine chuckled.“It’s not for me! I have to pick up some things for some friends, but, no, your jet should have more than enough room.”

 

“Okay, we’ll leave Thursday night. I’ll send a limo to your apartment about seven.Then we’ll be aboard by eight. I’ll arrange to have dinner served on the plane.”

 

“That sounds perfect Elliot. Thank you!”

 

“Okay, see you tomorrow night!”

 

The rest of the day flew by, and Catherine stayed after hours to tie up all of her assignments. Everything was completed and in order so she could present it to Joe in the morning. She glanced down at her watch and sighed. It was too late to head Below. She would need to send Vincent a note tomorrow about the change in plans.

 

She went home and fell into bed and was asleep within minutes. The next morning, she groaned when she felt the sunlight on her face.


“Damn!” she said as she realized she had overslept. She swept her hair up in a quick style and changed into comfortable clothes, then flew out the door.

 

Joe grinned at her disheveled look when she walked into his office. “Rough night, Radcliffe?”

 

Catherine rolled her eyes at him. “Yeah, I was here until 10:45 finishing up my work,” she said as she placed the files on his desk.

 

“Damn, Cathy! I work you too hard!”

 

Catherine chuckled as she sat down. “No, I just wanted to finish up my part of the work before I took off for the weekend.”

 

Joe started to flip through the files and ask questions. After the last file, he leaned back and grinned at her. “You bucking for my job?”

 

“Nope! No way.”

 

“Well, look, you’ve more than earned it…Get out of here.”

 

“Now?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Yeah, you’ve done more than most of these slobs do in two weeks. Go. Have fun!”

 

Catherine’s first thought was that she would be able to see Vincent before she left, so she gave Joe a mock salute. “Thanks, Captain. I’ll report for duty on Monday!”

 

Joe grinned as he watched her grab her things and head out the door.

 

Catherine dumped her things on her couch, then stripped on the way to the shower. She was out in record time, then carefully dried her hair and applied her make-up. Within fifteen minutes of getting home, she was headed Below.

 

Knowing Vincent had worked the midnight shift of sentry duty, Catherine slipped quietly into his chamber. She could hear his light snores as she closed the privacy curtain, then walked over and slipped out of her shoes. She stripped down to her bra and panties, then slowly slipped under the covers. Vincent rolled onto his back, then began to lightly snore again. Catherine knew he was tired, but her hands slowly slid down his chest and onto his lower regions where she caressed him.

 

Vincent groaned, then rolled over and grabbed her roughly. Within seconds, he was kissing her and had her underclothes removed. When it was over, he lay back and looked at her lovingly. “Not that I’m complaining but why are you here?”

 

Catherine played with the hair on his chest and smiled. “I stayed late last night to finish all of my work, and when I presented it to Joe today, he said I could leave. So I’m off for the rest of today!”

 

Vincent caressed her back. “We have all day and all night?”

 

Catherine went up on her elbow and looked at him. “No, just today. Elliot and I are leaving early.” At his nod, she went on to explain further. “I have so many requests from helpers and people Below, I’ll never have time to shop and do the things I’m expected to do with Elliot.”

 

“Catherine…you shouldn’t let my world make so many demands on your time!”

 

“It’s okay. I’m happy to do it if it brings back fond memories for those who asked. It’s really not a big deal; I just need time to get it all.”

 

“Well, it’s still kind of you to do.”

 

Catherine stretched out next to him and grinned as she ran her hand caressingly down his chest. “I have a few hours before I have to go back. What should we do with that time?”

 

Vincent shrugged as Catherine moved to lie on top of him and straddle his hips.“You can’t think of anything?” Catherine asked with mock surprise.She could feel his growing desire and laughed as he groaned and moved inside her.

 

Their love spent, while Catherine caressed his back, Vincent fell asleep again.Wanting to give him some time to rest, she slipped from the bed and headed into the bathing chamber, then took a long soak in the warm pool.It was over an hour before she got out and dried off, then got dressed again. Vincent woke when she came back into her chamber.

 

“I’m sorry,” he groaned.

 

Catherine came over and kissed him. “Don’t be silly. You need to sleep too!”

 

“Yes, but I can sleep tonight.  My time with you is limited.”

 

“Yeah, I only have an hour or so more…” She shrugged as she looked at him. “We can have lunch together. Are you hungry?”

 

Vincent grinned. “Always.”

 

“Let’s go eat!”

 

Vincent looked chagrined. “I think I should dress first.”

 

Catherine grinned. “Or…I can slip back under the covers.”

 

Vincent held up his hand and pointed out the door. “We’ll never eat. Go. I’ll meet you in a few minutes.”

 

“Party pooper,” Catherine saucily called out as she left his chamber.

 

Catherine was seated at Father’s table and had already filled two trays with food for her and Vincent. When Vincent walked in, Father nodded at him, then towards the tray to indicate that his food was ready for him.Vincent walked over then sat down next to Catherine. He eyed his food, then looked at her curiously.

 

She smiled coyly. “I assumed you had worked up quite an appetite after this morning.”Vincent’s jaw dropped in shock as he blushed furiously and looked down. Catherine had a look of total innocence about her. “I mean, you worked so hard at sentry duty, and I assumed you went to sleep right away instead of stopping for breakfast.”

 

Father caught the devilish look in her eyes, then grinned as he looked away.

 

Vincent cleared his throat. “Um…yes … I did skip breakfast.”

 

Wanting to change the subject for Vincent’s sake, Father smiled at Catherine. “So you’re leaving for Chicago tomorrow.”

 

Vincent frowned. “She’s actually leaving today. It would seem that so many people from our community had requests, Catherine is finding it necessary to leave early to accommodate everyone.”

 

Father looked affronted.“I would never have asked you for something if I had known it would start an avalanche of requests! I am so sorry, Cathy!”

 

Catherine rushed to reassure him. “Father, I am more than happy to pick up a few things and bring them back. Vincent is exaggerating about the list being so long!”As she smiled sweetly at Father, she discreetly kicked Vincent under the table,but Vincent jumped with surprise.

 

Father guessed what happened and leaned over and squeezed Catherine’s hand. “You, my dear, are the sweetest person I know. Your kindness and generosity never cease to amaze me!”

 

Catherine shrugged. “I’ve said this too many times to count, but to be able to give…is what all of you have given me!”

 

“And on that note, I should probably walk you out,” Vincent suggested.

 

Catherine stood up, then gasped in surprise when Father stood as well and pulled her into a tight hug. When he released her, he gently held her head between his hands and kissed her forehead. “Have a safe trip, dear Catherine!”

 

“I’ll be fine, Father. There is no danger whatsoever in what I’m doing.”

 

Vincent reached for her hand. “Elliot loves her; he’ll take care of her.”

 

Catherine sighed as she nodded. “He’ll take care of me.”

 

Vincent squeezed her hand as he led her out of the chamber. “And as hard as it is for me to admit it, I do find some comfort in that.”

 

Catherine stopped and pulled him towards her, then kissed him. “You should also find comfort in the fact that it’s you I love. It’s you I’ll be thinking about while I’m gone.”

 

Vincent kissed her back, then started walking again. “It’ll be a long weekend!”

 

“I’m going to leave my information with Peter and Lin. If you need to contact me for any reason, you call one of one of them.”

 

“Catherine…” Vincent started to object.

 

“Promise me!” Catherine said with a hint of anger in her voice. “Or I’m just going to stay!”

 

Vincent rolled his eyes. “I promise, if anything goes wrong and we need you, I will contact you through Peter.”

 

Catherine sighed when they reached her threshold. “I’m going to miss you,” she said with tears in her eyes.

 

“I’ll miss you too, Catherine.” Thinking about the last time she went away, he sighed as he lifted her chin so he could look into her eyes “Same request as last time…Bring me yourself, safely home.”

 

“I will. I love you, Vincent.”

 

He pulled her into his arms, then held her tightly. “I love you, Catherine.”

 

It seemed like forever before they finally pulled away and Catherine turned to walk up her ladder.

 

 

Chapter 8

 

Catherine was sad as she went upstairs. She let herself in the walked over and called Elliot.

 

“Burch.”

 

She heard his abrupt tone and frowned. “Hi, Elliot.”

 

“Cathy. Sorry about the greeting. I’m tied up…”

 

“It’s okay,” she interrupted. “I’ll be ready to leave in an hour.”

 

“Wow…That’s great. Umm…can I send my car for you, then have him swing back and pick me up? It will give me some time to finish this last project.”

 

“Of course. That’s fine. I’ll tell the doorman to expect him.”

 

She hung up and went about packing her last-minute toiletries. Everything was by the front door and she glanced at her watch. She still had twenty minutes to spare, so she walked over and wrote a quick letter to Vincent. She would ask Elliot’s driver to stop at the corner deli by his office where she could leave it with a helper.

 

There was a light knock at her door.“Hello?” she asked through the door.

 

“Miss Chandler? Its Kyle.”

 

Catherine opened the door and smiled at the familiar face. “Hi, Kyle!”

 

Kyle nodded, then looked at her luggage. “I’ll get that.”

 

Catherine stepped aside while Kyle quickly grabbed the heavier suitcases. “I can get the small one…”

 

“Thanks, Miss…umm…Cathy,” Kyle said sheepishly.


“You remembered!” she beamed.

 

“After you told me forty times.”


Catherine chuckled as she locked the door behind her. She quickly pushed the elevator button, then the first-floor button when they were inside.At the car, Kyle quickly loaded her bags, then made sure she was seated before he got in and drove to Elliot’s office.

 

Kyle looked in the rear-view mirror to speak to her. “I just have to run up and get Mr. Burch’s bags. I’ll only be a few minutes.”

 

Catherine nodded. “Take your time. I need to run into the deli on the corner.”

 

Kyle walked inside as Catherine hurried to the deli.“Catherine!” Anton greeted her enthusiastically as she walked in.

 

“Hi, Anton!” She smiled as she walked to the counter and handed him a letter. “Can I ask you to get this to Vincent?”

 

“Of course. Anything for you, pretty lady!” he exclaimed as he put the letter on the back wall. “I have a delivery going down tonight. I think the boys are coming to get it. I’ll give it to Zach. He’ll make sure Vincent gets it.”

 

“Thank you!” Catherine replied as she started to look into the displays. “Anton, when was the last time William had any bacon to cook?”

 

Anton frowned. “Bacon has gone up in cost so…”

 

Catherine waved her hand dismissively. “Send him twenty pounds.”

 

Anton smiled. “Fifteen should be enough.”

 

“Okay, fifteen. And what about some roasts?” She glanced at Anton who was taking a deep breath. “Never mind…What are you sending to him?”

 

“Only some ground hamburger. Maybe next week if…”


Catherine took out her credit card and handed it to him. “Charge three hundred dollars on it please.”

 

Anton took the card and did as requested. “Now what?”

 

“Now it’s up to you. Send down an appropriate amount of meats. Beef or pork roasts, turkey…chicken…bacon…Whatever you think…”The door chimed and Catherine turned around to face Elliot.

 

“Cath, I have dinner being served on the plane.”

 

“Good!” Catherine smiled as she turned back. “Thanks for your help!”

 

“I will take care of it,” Anton promised as they walked out the door.

 

Elliot guided Catherine to his limo. They were on their way to the airport when she noticed he was especially quiet. She was puzzled but kept silent. Within a short time, they were walking onto the tarmac and climbing onto his jet.After take-off Catherine slowly watched as Elliot seemed to relax.

 

“Okay, now?” she asked lightly.

 

Elliot look stunned that she had noticed his mood, and he was immediately contrite. “Cathy, I’m so sorry, I’m normally not…”

 

“I know that!” she said as she squeezed his arm reassuringly, “And it’s fine. No need to apologize. But I can see that you’re starting to feel better. Do you want to talk about it?”

 

“No, it’s…”  Elliot sighed.“Business.” He smiled weakly. “But hey, it’s the weekend, and I promised I would show you a good time so…are you hungry? We can eat what the chef prepared, or we can go out when we get to Chicago.”


“What do you want to do?”

 

“I could eat now.”

 

“Then let’s eat.” Catherine smiled.

 

Elliot smiled and called back to the kitchen. “Carlos? Can you serve our dinner?”Within a few minutes, Carlos pushed out a cart and set things out on the table. Catherine and Elliot slipped into the seats at the table and kept conversation light as they enjoyed the scrumptious food.

 

The flight was fast and the car ride to the hotel went well with normal traffic delays. Elliot checked them in, and the bellhop brought their bags to their suite.

 

Catherine chose the smaller room and quickly unpacked her clothes, carefully assessing the items for wrinkles. Luckily, she wouldn’t have to send anything out to be pressed, and she made her way back into the main area.

 

Elliot had already unpacked and was sitting in a chair with his feet propped up on a table. His head was back and he had a drink in his hand as he lightly snored.

 

Catherine smiled at the stress-free look on his sleep-relaxed face. “Elliot?”

she whispered lightly as she touched his arm.

 

Elliot blinked awake and groaned. “God, I’m so sorry!”

 

“For sleeping?!”

 

He rubbed his hand over his face. “No…for inviting you away for a weekend and being preoccupied and crabby and tired!”

 

Catherine patted his arm. “First, you haven’t been crabby and second, you are entitled to be tired, Elliot. You’re human.”

 

“Still…where can I take you? What do you want to do tonight?”

 

Catherine really didn’t want to go anywhere, so she shrugged. “Look…we have a busy weekend and I’m tired too. Let’s just stay in tonight. I need to get out early and do some shopping because I made promises to some friends. Let’s just say goodnight, then get some well-deserved rest.”

 

Elliot nodded. “Okay, if you’re sure.”


“I’m sure. Goodnight Elliot.”

 

“Goodnight, Cath.”

 

 

 

Chapter 9

 

Catherine and took a shower, then walked into the main room.


“Good morning,” Elliot greeted.

 

She came over and took the cup of coffee he held out for her. “Good morning.tThanks,” she said as she took it from him and sipped it.

 

“I ordered breakfast. It’s just bagels, croissants, some fruit. If you want something else…”

 

“Nope, this looks good,” she said as she grabbed a blueberry muffin.

 

Elliot pointed down as some papers. “I actually have some work to do this morning. It’s last-minute stuff that got faxed to me overnight.”

 

“That’s okay. I was going to head out shopping anyway. I’ll be back in plenty of time to start the weekend plans.”

 

Catherine left. Her first stop was at Garrett’s Popcorn. Six separate helpers had asked for some of the famous Garrett mix, so she placed that order first. While she waited, she sampled the mix and groaned aloud.

“This is delicious!” she exclaimed to the clerk.

 

“Yes, it is! I’m glad you like it!”

 

Catherine had a few more handfuls, then thought about the world Below. “I’m having a party and have around a hundred guests attending. Can you box up enough for me to serve a really large party?”

 

“It would take some time…”

 

“I’m staying at the Palmer House. Do you deliver there?”

 

“For this size order, yeah. We’ll get it over to you.”

 

Catherine jotted down her name and Elliot’s name for the delivery man.


She walked further and found a candy store that carried all of the other items that were requested. She picked up various bags of Brach’s candy as well as several bags of Tootsie Rolls and a few other kinds of candies. Then she headed to Marshall Fields to purchaseFango Mints. She also picked up a nice blouse and a beautiful sweater she found for herself. Her last stop was Fannie May where she picked up several boxes of their Mint Meltaways, as well as some boxes of pixies.

 

She got back to the hotel and dropped her bags in the corner.Elliot watched her and started to laugh. “I guess I’ll need a bigger plane after all.”

 

Catherine frowned at her pile. “It’s not that much.”


Elliot got up and pointed towards the corner behind the television cabinet. Catherine gasped at the amount of popcorn sitting there. 

 

“Oh!” she said and blushed.

 

Elliot came up behind her and gave her a quick hug. “I’ll get someone to take it and load it all in the plane.”

 

“I’m sorry, Elliot.”

 

“Don’t be. I find it adorable!”

 

Catherine shied away, but smiled. “I better get ready for the afternoon.”

 

“Yeah, me too.”

 

In a few hours, they went to the Shedd Aquarium where they were welcomed by the other couples. The rest of the afternoon and night flew by and Catherine felt that Elliot was winning the men over. She was in her element as well and felt like she was showing her constant support. They were at the Adler Planetarium later that night and were viewing the stars when the day finally caught up to her and Catherine stifled a yawn.

 

Elliot whispered in her ear. “I’m ready to go whenever you are.”

 

Catherine blushed. “I’m sorry. We can stay longer if you want to.”


Elliot put his arm around her and walked over to the other couples. “We are going to head back to our hotel.”

 

“We are too,” Stephanie said as she placed her hand on Brad’s arm. “I’m exhausted and we have a big day tomorrow.”

 

The ball started rolling, and most of the other women announced that they were leaving as well. The party disbanded with promises to meet in the morning.

 

On the ride back to the hotel, Elliot took her hand. “I think tonight went well. You were amazing. I can’t thank you enough for doing this.”

 

“It’s not a hardship pretending to like you, Elliot. You are a great man!”

 

Elliot snorted derisively. “When you’re around…”

 

They walked into their room, and Catherine smiled tiredly. “Night, Elliot.”

 

“Goodnight, Cath.”

 

The next morning they headed to brunch where once again they slipped into their couple mode. They had a nice meal, then headed to Wrigley Field. To their surprise, when they got to the park all of the partners’ families were attending as well. Brad and Stephanie had three kids: two boys who were ten and eight and a girl who was six. Peter and Holly had two kids: their boys ages were eleven and nine. Dan and Emily had four kids: twin girls who were twelve and two boys who were eight and seven. Ron and Kelly had four kids as well two girls aged six and three and a boy who was two, as well as one that was eleven months. Kelly’s mom Martha came as well to help out with the little ones.

 

Catherine endearedherself to everyone with her ability to interact with the kids. Each of the kids hung on her every word. She told them stories, and then,when the game started, she watched and listened patiently as the boys explained plays to her as they came up.

 

Elliot fell in love with her even more. He knew she loved someone else, but also knew this is the life she was born to live. If anyone deserved to be a mother it was she, and he wondered why this other guy wasn’t giving her kids.

 

After the game, they went back to their hotel to get ready for the formal night ahead of them.

 

 

Chapter 10

 

As usual, Catherine looked stunning, and, as she walked out of her room, Elliot grinned. “I can’t believe how lucky I am to have you walk in on my arm tonight.”


Catherine smiled shyly. “Thank you. You look quite handsome yourself.”

 

“Ha, no one is paying any attention to me; you’re the one selling this weekend. Everyone loves you.”

 

A look of sadness crossed her face. “They’re wonderful people. I’m having such a good time; I really hate deceiving them.”

 

Elliot shrugged. “I introduced you as my girlfriend. You’re a girl … and a friend.”

 

Catherine rolled her eyes. “You know that’s not what they think.”

 

Elliot blew out a deep breath. “Well, there’s nothing I can do about that. We should go.”

 

Catherine took his arm as they walked out. They arrived at Berghoff’s and,a  stunningly beautiful couple, they made quite the entrance.Once again, they slipped into their roles. One of Ron and Kelly’s kids had a fever, so Kelly chose to stay home and Ron’s mom Martha came as his date.

 

To her surprise, Catherine spent the next few hours under Martha’s relentless gaze. She had caught her staring several times and grew steadily uncomfortable as the night wore on.After dinner, the couples danced and visited, and it was after one such dancethat Martha called Catherine over.

 

“I’d like to visit with you. Come…spend some time with me?” Martha asked as she pointed at a chair.


Catherine smiled warmly as she hid her nervousness. “I’d like that.”

 

Martha leaned forward in her seat and spoke quietly. “I’m too old to beat around the bush, so I’m just going to get to the point. I’d like to know why you and Mr. Burch are playing games with my son and his friends?”

 

“Games?” Catherine blinked in surprise.

 

“Come now, you’re no more in love with that man than I am.”Martha gestured towards Elliot and Catherine looked down. Martha frowned at her downcast eyes. “I had you investigated after the ball game today.”

 

Catherine hid her anger as she looked up. “Why?”

 

“Because billion-dollar deals are going to be made if this “partnership” goes through, and, unlike my son and his friends, I don’t trust easily.”

 

“What did you discover?” Catherine asked quietly

 

“Nothing. There is absolutely no information about you and Elliot Burch…nothing recent…no gossip, no headlines, no pictures. Absolutely nothing in the news about New York City’s power couple. Still…I recognized your name and couldn’t remember from where, then I finally  remembered. Did you know that Margaret Chase was one of my best friends?”


It was the last thing Catherine had expected her to say,and she couldn’t hide her shock as she looked up. “No! I didn’t!”

 

“She and I grew up together. We were closer than most sisters and spoke at least three times a week. Funny, I never once heard mention of your name until you received the bulk of her inheritance.”

 

Catherine swallowed heavily. “There was a man who was trying to take Margaret’s inheritance.”

 

“Yes, Henry Dutton,. I warned Margaret about him. When that fell on deaf ears, I talked to Allen, her attorney, about him.”

 

“I investigated Dutton and was able to incriminate him in several fraud cases.”

 

“So … you got her money instead of Dutton. Why?”

 

“Margaret knew I would make sure the funds were sent to one of her favorite charities.”

 

“Really? Which one?” At Catherine’s silence, Martha continued. “I know which charities we supported, and I know that none of those charities have received any money from Margaret’s estate, from you or from any new charity organization.” Catherine’s face paled as she scrambled for something to say. Martha leaned forward again. “I will expose you for the fraud that you are and see that you sit your pretty little ass in jail!”

 

Elliot had witnessed the exchange and walked over immediately. “Honey, are you all right?” he asked as he bent over to look into Catherine’s eyes.

 

“We’re just enjoying a pleasant conversation, Mr. Burch. Please leave us!”

 

“Cath?”

 

“It’s all right, Elliot,” Catherine assured him as she gave his hand a squeeze.

 

Elliot reluctantly left, and Martha sat back in her chair“Margaret told me a wild story about how she had found her husband and about this wonderful world he had built. She told me her money was to be used to help him. What I want to know is how you found out about Jacob and what kind of a person could you possibly be to use that information to scam a dying woman?!” Catherine started to explain but faltered with the secret. Martha went in for the kill. “With the decisions she made the last months of her life, I can have her declared incompetent and yank her money out of your over-inflated accounts!”

 

Catherine had to make a decision, and she hoped it was the right one. “Her story is true…” she said quietly. Martha leaned back expectantly. “Margaret had reached out to Jacob, and I helped him get back in touch with her.”

 

“So … you’re telling me you’re in contact with Jacob Wells?”

 

“I am.”

 

“Do you have proof of this?”

 

“We didn’t know until about a year and a half ago, but one of Jacob’s best friends is my godfather. Peter would vouch for me.”

 

“Peter…Alcott?”

 

“Yes!” Catherine said as she looked up hopefully.

 

Martha seemed to measurably relax.  “I know Peter quite well. We actually dated a few times before he got married,” she giggled.

 

Catherine smiled weakly. “If it would set your mind at ease, we can call him right now if you’d like.”

 

“No…I’ll fly back with you and Elliot, and you will arrange the meeting yourself. I want to meet both Peter and Jacob.”

 

“I can arrange that.”

 

“Good.”

 

Catherine looked worriedly towards Elliot. “Martha, Elliot knows very little about any of this, and, out of respect for Jacob and Peter, I’d like to keep it that way.”

 

“Fair enough, but tell me one thing…”

 

Catherine shrugged knowingly. “Why did I agree to accompany Elliot this weekend?” At Martha’s nod, Catherine continued. “Inadvertently, Elliot helped save Jacob’s and his son’s life. For that I owe him everything!”

 

Martha frowned at the news. “Jacob has a son? He remarried then?”

 

Catherine faltered with telling her more, then finally sighed. “No, he didn’t. A child was abandoned at birth and brought to Jacob. He raised him along with his biological son. Devin was born out of wedlock to a woman Jacob cared about but never married. She died during Devin’s birth.”

 

Martha had tears in her eyes. “But he wasn’t alone…he had two sons to raise. I’m glad. I always loved Jacob. Margaret’s father destroyed his life. He didn’t deserve what happened to him!”

 

“No, he didn’t, but he had a good life, and both his sons love him.”

 

Martha narrowed her eyes thoughtfully. “And one of those sons is the reason you’re involved in Jacob’s life?”

 

“Yes.”

 

Elliot had kept a constant eye on the two women. He was about ready to call the whole thing off to get Catherine out of her current situation when Martha suddenly called out. “Ron! Elliot!”

 

Ron and Elliot came over to them.

 

“What’s up, Mom?” Ron asked.

 

“Mr. Burch, if it’s all right with you, I’ll be flying to New York with you and Miss Chandler tomorrow morning. She and I have some business to attend to. And Ronald…Cathyhas convinced me of Elliot’s integrity. You can proceed as planned.”

 

“Welcome aboard!”Ron smiled and shook Elliot’s hand. “She was the one you needed to impress.” He looked over at the others. “He’s in!”

 

The rest of the night went by without a hitch, and Catherine and Martha continued to talk.

 

At the hotel that night, Elliot took Catherine’s hand. “I owe you so much. I can never repay you for what you did for me.”

 

“Elliot, you owe me nothing! You did this yourself. Buried inside of you is someone who is good and kind. You just have to find a way to let that person out more often.”

 

“I wish I had your faith in me.”

 

“What are you going to now?”

 

Elliot grinned. “I’m going to see that you get home safely, then turn right around and come back here for a few months.”

 

“You’re kidding?!”

 

“No. The guys have me signing documents later tonight, and late tomorrow night we’re having a meeting. Monday morning we can hit the ground running.”

 

Catherine grinned. “Your eyes have a sparkle in them again.”

 

Elliot laughed. “I haven’t felt this excited since I wanted to build the Tower.”

 

“Then the weight has been lifted off your shoulders.”

 

“Yes, thanks to you!”

 

“Elliot, if the only reason you’re coming back to New York is to get me home, please stay here. I’ll be fine.” He wavered uncertainly, and she patted his arm. “Martha will be with me to keep me company, and your driver will see that we get home safely.”

 

“No, Cathy. I asked you to accompany me. It wouldn’t be right.”

 

“Elliot, really, it’s okay,” she interrupted. “Take the time to get yourself settled in.”

 

“Cath, are you sure?”

 

“Positive!”

 

“Okay… Thanks.”

 

“Goodnight, Elliot.”

 

“Night, Cathy.”

 

Catherine went to her bedroom and promptly called Peter. She grimaced at the time difference as the phone rang.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Hi, Peter. Sorry to call so late.”

 

“That’s okay, Sweetie. Are you still in Chicago? Is everything all right?”

 

“Yes, I’m still here and everything’s fine. I…umm…met someone you know. At least I’m hoping you know her and that her story is true.”

 

“Who is it?”

 

“Martha Kavanaugh.”

 

“Oh, my God! I haven’t heard that name in over thirty years! How is she?”

 

Catherine was relieved to hear the story was true. “She’s the mother of one of the partners Elliot was trying to impress. She found out who I was and started grilling me about Margaret’s inheritance.”

 

“Oh, no. She was Margaret’s best friend from childhood. You’re not pulling the wool over her eyes. What did you tell her?”

 

“That I knew Jacob. She insisted that she be able to verify the story, so I told her she could talk to you.”

 

“And she knew instantly who I was! She and I dated for awhile until I met Sharon.”

 

“Peter, she wants to come and see both you and Father in person. Can we meet at your house tomorrow afternoon?”

 

“Sure, Honey. I’ll get Jacob to come here, and we’ll wait to hear from you.”

 

“Thanks, Peter. How are things going there?”

 

“Quietly. Everyone is fine. Vincent is a little crabby, but I think he’s just missing you!”

 

“Ask him come to your place. While Martha is visiting I’ll slip downstairs.”

 

Peter laughed. “Okay, I’ll tell him. See you tomorrow!”

 

“Goodnight, Peter.”

 

 

Chapter 11

 

The next morning Elliot and Catherine were eating a light breakfast when the phone rang. The front desk was calling to tell them Martha had a car waiting to take her and Catherine to the airport.The bellman came up and took Catherine’s purchases as well as her luggage to the car. Martha grinned when they had to put some of it inside the limo.

 

“Did some shopping, I see?”

 

Catherine blushed. “Actually, these are all souvenirs for people who asked me to pick them up some favorite foods.”Martha laughed, and they visited all the way to the airport and throughout the entire flight to New York.

 

As planned, Kyle, Elliot’s driver, was waiting at the airport and helped load all of the things into the car. Catherine asked Kyle to drop them off at Peter’s, then asked if he could take of all her packages to her apartment. She knew he and the doorman could get them upstairs to her apartment.

 

Martha seemed nervous when they pulled in front of Peter’s house. “I’m an old fool. I should never have asked you to prove your story. Why would two established doctors want to visit with me!”

 

Catherine blinked in surprise as she reached out and touched Martha’s arm. “Don’t be silly. They’re old friends. Jacob will welcome a chance to revisit memories of Margaret!”Catherine led her up the front stairs.

 

Peter opened the doorwhen he saw them walk up. “Martha!”

 

“Hi, Peter!” They hugged warmly, then kissed each other’s cheeks.

 

Jacob was standing off to the side and smiled when she looked his way.Martha flew into his arms and held him tightly. “Jacob!”Both had tears in their eyes as they pulled apart.

 

“You look as beautiful as ever!” Father gushed.

 

“And you as handsome as ever!” Martha said as she began to cry and leaned against him. “I can’t believe she’s gone!”

 

“I know. Me either,” Father said as he put his arm around her and led her to the couch.

 

“I loved her so much and miss her dearly!”

 

Father nodded. “I know. Me too!”

 

Catherine looked down at them sitting on the couch together. “So … I guess everyone’s story is true?” She grinned.

 

Martha laughed aloud. “I had my doubts, Cathy. Please forgive me?”

 

“There’s nothing to forgive. Umm…can I make you some tea?” she asked as she pointed to the kitchen.

 

“Sure, that would be wonderful,” Father answered.“Take your time.” He knew Catherine was going to see Vincent who was waiting in the basement.

 

“I’ll help, Cathy,” Peter offered.Safely ensconced in the kitchen, Peter opened the door to the basement. “Go! I’ll get this together. You have ten minutes before you have to make an appearance.”


Catherine raced down the steps and leapt into Vincent’s arms. They held each other tightly, then kissed passionately.“I missed you so much!” Catherine cried out.


“I missed you too, Catherine!” They hugged again before Vincent leaned against the wall and pulled her to lean into him. “Did the weekend go as planned?”

 

“Well, not exactly as planned, but Elliot was accepted into the group, and he’s moving to Chicago!”

 

Vincent grinned. “I’m glad he was able to convince them to let him into their partnership? Now, tell me the rest.”

 

Catherine repeated the story. After twenty minutes she looked at him ruefully. “I have to go back upstairs before–”

 

The door opened and Peter called down the steps. “Can you two come up here please? Vincent,there’s someone who would like to meet you!”

 

“– someone starts asking questions,” Catherine finished with a giggle.

 

Vincent sighed as he pulled the hood over his head. Catherine took it down and shook her head. “No, Martha is almost exactly like Margaret. It’s going to be fine.”

Catherine led the way and entered the living room holding Vincent’s hand.

 

Jacob held Martha’s hand and squeezed it. “Martha, I’d like you to meet my youngest son, Vincent.”

 

Martha came up and stood in front of Vincent. She said nothing as she looked at Catherine and smiled. “Now,he’s the one you love!”

 

“Yes, he is.” Catherine grinned.

 

Martha fixed Vincent with a level stare. “She’s a good woman this one. Do you love her?”

 

“With all that I am,” Vincent said softly.

 

Martha grinned at Catherine.“He’s a keeper!” She turned back to Vincent and held out her hand. “Nice to meet you, Vincent!”

 

Vincent took her hand and was surprised Martha only marginally blinked at its differences. “And it’s my honor to meet you too.”

 

Martha glanced back at Jacob. “Now I understand why this world you speak about is a secret, and I can say I’m completely intrigued.” She pulled on Vincent’s hand. “Come on. All of you can sit down and tell me more!”

 

“Perhaps you’d like to see it for yourself?” Vincent invited.

 

Martha looked at Jacob. “He has better manners than you…Yes, Vincent I would love a chance to see this world Jacob helped create. Show me?” she asked as she grabbed onto his arm.

 

Vincent happily led her Below while Catherine held onto Father’s arm and Peter followed behind all of them.

 

Martha was amazed at the community Below and spent hours seeing everything and meeting the members. They finally made it into the Library and took seats around the table. William sent down a quick meal of cheese and sausage and crackers, fruits and veggies along with dip. There was also a tray with tea and coffee options.

 

As they ate, Martha looked at Catherine. “So, Margaret willed you her money so you could use it to help this community?”

 

“Yes.” Catherine smiled.

 

“Exactly how much money is used monthly?” she asked.

 

Catherine frowned as she looked at Vincent for help. Vincent shrugged as he looked at Father.


Jacob cleared his throat. “Catherine manages to slip in extras here and there, but we have always relied on the generosity of others. I don’t believe we should get used to a certain amount of help every month.”

 

“Jacob Wells, you’re an ass!”

 

“Martha!” Father gasped as Catherine and Vincent’s eyes grew large. Peter hid a grin.

 

“You’re not using Margaret’s money because it’s her inheritance from her father! You hated that man – with reason, mind you – but you’re letting a whole community suffer because of it! If this sweet girl has the ability to offer these people comfort, who are you to deny them that!”

 

Father sputtered with embarrassment. As he started to speak, Martha held up her hand to stop him. “Some new warm blankets, flannel sheets, thick socks, and long underwear will not spoil anyone!”

 

Peter laughed aloud. “She’s right, Jacob, and you know it!”

 

Father frowned. “Well…I suppose it wouldn’t hurt if you picked up those things, Catherine.”

 

“If that’s what you want, Father. I’ll take Lana and Rebecca and we’ll go shopping this weekend.”

 

“Get some new clothes for these babies down here! Young girls with patchwork clothes and boys in oversize pants… Maybe some warm boots as well. Can that Mary woman get a list of everyone’s sizes?” she asked Father.

 

Father growled. “Of course she can!”

 

“Don’t get gruff with me. You should have allowed it years ago!”

 

Peter was laughing as he patted her hand. “Martha, no one has spoken to Jacob like this since Margaret. He’s not used to it!”

 

Harumph. Maybe someone should!”

 

Father spoke quietly. “We have a council that oversees the rules of the community. I’ll speak with them about future expenditures.”

 

Vincent hid his amusement as he squeezed Catherine’s hand under the table. “I’m sure Catherine will be able to watch for sales and get everything at a discount.”

 

“That would be nice.” Martha smiled sweetly. “Now you, Vincent…let’s talk about you.”

 

“Me?”

 

“My grandchildren are in love with Catherine. I wish you could have seen how good she was at entertaining all the children.”

 

“Catherine spends a lot of time with the children Below. She is wonderful with them.”

 

“She’d make a wonderful mother!”

 

Vincent’s face fell as he looked down. “She would…” he said quietly.

 

“When are you going to marry her and let her have babies?”

 

“I…” Vincent’s shock at the bluntness of the question had him stammering.

 

It was Father’s turn to laugh.“Yes, Vincent. When are you going to ask Catherine to join with you?”

 

Catherine patted Vincent’s arm. “We haven’t really had a chance to discuss it, but as soon as we do I’ll let everyone know.”

 

“So he’s already asked you?”

 

Um…no…not yet.”

 

Vincent looked towards Catherine. “For you to even consider such a thing brings me immeasurable joy.”

 

Martha rolled her eyes. “For God’s sake boy, you’re in the wrong century. Just ask her!”

 

Vincent took a deep breath.“Catherine, would you marry me?”

 

Catherine had tears in her eyes as she nodded. “Of course I would!”

 

They kissed briefly and Martha grinned. “My work is done here. Peter, can you guide me up so I can check into a hotel?”

 

Peter laughed. “Yes, but you can stay in one of my spare rooms if you’d like.”

 

Jacob grinned as well. “And even with as much trouble as you caused today, you’re welcome to stay here as well!”

 

Martha smiled. “It’s just too damn cold down here, Jacob, but I would like to come down in the morning and spend some more time.”

 

“You’re always welcome here, Martha!”

 

And so it was … and within two weeks, the council had welcomed Martha as their newest helper.

 

 

 

 

 

THE END