"No, Joe, you can't do that to me!"
"It has to be you, Radcliffe, you're the only one she'll trust. It's only for two weeks."
Maybe, but not any two weeks, Catherine thought, already knowing she'd have to do it. She'd spent a lot of time under cover approaching Mindy Lewis, unwilling and terrorized mistress of a known drug emperor. And 'mistress' was not the accurate term, as Mindy's status was more that of a domestic animal, frequently abused, with no right but to obey. Working as a waitress in the bar that was the man's headquarters, Catherine had finally earned the fragile, wary young woman's trust, and had patiently coaxed her into testifying against her tormentor.
The day before the police had invested the man's apartment, put him under custody and whisked the girl away. After the trial she would be put on a witness protection program, but she had to be kept safe until then. And Joe wanted her to spend those two weeks with Mindy.
Catherine sighed. This case had already cost her a lot. Weeks without seeing Vincent, knowing how anguished he was by the dangers of her mission. Also aware that she was putting him in jeopardy, too, for she knew if she was discovered he would come for her, whatever the cost.
Catherine had come to the decision that this would be the last undercover mission she'd accept. She'd told Vincent so when they'd briefly met at her threshold , the night before, and smiled on remembering those precious, stolen minutes that would stay forever in her memory.
She flew into his waiting arms and hugged him tight. " I've missed you so much!"
"And I, you, Catherine!"
They remained still, absorbing each other's loving presence. Then something incredible happened, something Catherine still had trouble believing. She felt Vincent nuzzle in her hair as he often did, but this time his touch became more and more precise, until she couldn't doubt any more. Vincent was unmistakably kissing the top of her head. Emboldened by his move, she dared venture her own lips to the smoothness of his bare throat, inhaling the musky scent of his flesh as she lay soft kisses there.
Vincent's head jerked up and they found themselves gazing into each other's eyes, into each other soul.
What happened then was both unexpected and ineluctable. Vincent's face leaned slowly closer, until they were only one warm, shared breath away. His whispered words "I love you, Catherine." touched her lips only a split second before his mouth did.
Catherine couldn't help biting her lip at the memory. It had been no timid, hesitant kiss, not the kind of first kiss she might have expected from her shy, reluctant lover. Vincent, too must have come to a decision during those hard weeks of separation, for he had kissed her with all the assurance of the mature man he was, taking possession of her mouth with an innate mastery that had left her breathless, his hand sliding down her back to pull her closer to his hard body.
His words, when he'd finally released her, were just as imperious as his actions. "Don't leave me any more, Catherine! I can't stand it!"
"I won't!" she promised, panting as much from surprise at what was happening as from the kiss itself. "I can't stand it either! And it's too dangerous, for both of us. I've decided to stick to desk work from now on, and Joe will have to accept it. I don't want to be separated from you any more. But right now I can't stay, I just came back to my apartment to take a shower and change clothes, I've got to go back to the office. I'm sorry!"
"I know." He answered with an appeasing pat on her shoulder. "We will talk later."
"I love you, Vincent!"
She was rewarded with another, lighter kiss, then Vincent pulled slightly away to look deep into her eyes. "Catherine, in ten days, it will be April 12th."
She beamed up to him. "Our third anniversary!"
"It's a Saturday. Do you think you could arrange to spend the week-end Below?"
"Below?" She was a bit puzzled, as the two precedent celebrations had taken place on her balcony. Well, she reflected, seeing how the last one had nearly turned out, Vincent was probably right to want to be Below, out of sight, out of reach! Especially if he'd planned it to be very different from the two previous ones. She could hardly believe it yet, but she'd had more than enough proof that Vincent had finally decided to move forward. Toward love.
"There's a place I'd like to take you to, if you agree." he proposed.
His lips curved in a little smile. "Please allow me to make it a surprise. Just make sure you take warm comfortable clothes and good walking shoes."
"All right, keep your secrets!" she grinned. "I love surprises, anyway." She glanced at her watch and frowned. "Ouch, I should already be back at the DA's office, Joe's going to scream! I must go. Shall I see you tomorrow night?"
"Yes!" he eagerly agreed. "I will be waiting."
"So will I!" This time she took the initiative of the kiss, locking her arms around his neck to explore his mouth with a daring abandon, loving his startled response as her tongue slid into the cleft of his upper lip. So you like that, Vincent? I'll remember.
She reluctantly disengaged herself from him, her hand gliding on his cheek in a last, lingering caress.
"Tomorrow night, my love!"
"Tomorrow night." he promised, and she climbed back the ladder to the world that once more claimed her.
" Earth to Radcliffe ! Hey, where are you, kiddo?"
Catherine came brutally back to the present. "Sorry, Joe!"
"So, it's settled, you'll do it?"
She sighed again. She hated the idea of giving up a very special trip below to spend April 12th apart from Vincent, locked in a safe house with Mindy Lewis and a security guard. Not now!
Yet she knew Joe was right, she was the only one Mindy trusted, the only one who'd be able to keep her determined and confident until the trial. There was no way to escape it…but Joe wouldn't get away with it so easily!
"All right, Joe, I'll do it…as a special favor for you." she answered with an exaggeratedly charming smile. As she expected he understood right away and winced .
"Ouch! I know that smile, Radcliffe! Now what are you going to ask for? A day off? You know it's difficult, but all right, if it can make you happy…"
Her smile only widened. "How generous of you! Come on, Joe, you know it's worth more than that! I'll take a whole week off, right after the trial!"
He made a tragic face, holding his chest as if she had stabbed him. "A week!! What do you want, Cathy, kill me? You know how overworked we are for the moment!"
"Not 'for the moment', Joe! We are always overworked, and it's never the right moment. I have three weeks of vacation overdue, and I'm going to take one of them. I've been away for nearly a month, I think I'm entitled to some time to take care of personal things and see my friends!"
He calmed down as the truth of her words hit home.. "All right, Radcliffe, go ahead and take your week, you've earned it."
She grinned. "Thanks Joe. And there's something else I wanted to talk to you about.”
He winced again. “You scare me! Go on, tell me, you want my office?”
She looked straight at him, her face now very serious. “I want to be taken off street investigation.”
Joe almost choked." What? Cathy, you can't! You're our best investigator!”
"And your oldest one!" she pointed out. "I've done it for nearly three years, more than most people here, and I've had some very close calls. I accepted the job because I needed to prove myself, now I don't have anything left to prove, have I? Time for me to move on."
"I know that!" he answered, visibly embarrassed, "And I promise you I'll think about it. But right now I need you on the job!"
"I'm afraid you haven't understood what I was saying, Joe. Let me put it otherwise: either that was my last investigation job, or it will be my last job in this office." she said quietly.
Joe was abashed. "You would resign?"
"Only if I have to. I like it here! But I'm not going on dangerous missions any more."
"OK, OK, Radcliffe. I understand. I'll work something out. And if you really want to know, it will do a lot for my peace of mind to have you safe behind a desk or in court, instead of rushing head first into trouble!" he admitted with a crooked grin. "Any particular field you'd like to specialize in?"
"Thank you, Joe!" she answered with a warm smile. "I'll take whatever you want to give me, but you know I've always been particularly concerned by child and woman abuse.”
He nodded. “Tough work, and doesn't look as if there'll ever be a shortage of it! But I know you'll do great! Now you go back to your place and pack, a car will pick you up in two hours."
"Where's the safe house, this time? "
"Not far from your apartment. One of the big shots of the police department is letting us use it until he finds a buyer. A nice, comfortable brownstone, I'm sure you'll love it!"
Yes, the house was nice, Catherine thought, sipping at her tea in the vast, comfortable living-room. But it nevertheless felt like a prison. Tonight was April 12th! Tonight she should have been in Vincent's arms, celebrating three years of love, and taking a step forward together, a step Vincent seemed finally ready to risk. And here she was, playing baby-sitter!
She calmed herself. It was not fair to blame it on Mindy. She was a sweet girl, and it had been a pleasure to see her blossom and gain assurance as she gradually realized she was safe, among friends. She could be fun to be around, and had a few hilarious stories to tell. Some less funny ones, too, that she finally dared let out, and Catherine was appalled that a young girl like her could already have such a long, pain-filled past.
The security guards, all women, changed every twelve hours. The one who was currently upstairs, sitting outside Mindy's bedroom, was called Diana Bennett, and Catherine knew her a little better than she did the others. When introducing them, Joe had pointed out that the quiet, taciturn redhead was in fact a full-fledged police investigator. Diana had insisted on taking the job, because she'd run two cases involving Mindy's 'protector', and twice he'd managed to slip out. This time, Diana'd told Catherine, she'd do all she could to help the man get what he deserved. Joe had agreed, because Bennett was her unit's best shooter.
Catherine finished her tea. It was time to go to bed, but she didn't feel sleepy. There was an emptiness, a restlessness in her heart, and she knew all too well what caused it. She missed Vincent! She needed him desperately, she wanted to feel the solid strength of him against her body, hear the silky-rough sound of his voice, lose herself in his intense blue gaze! I miss you, Vincent! She sent all her love through their connection, knowing Vincent would feel it, and was surprised to sense…an answer? She remained still, searching the depths of her soul for a first weak and elusive, but unmistakable current, that was Vincent's presence, Vincent's love, echoing hers, growing stronger by the second. Vincent was coming! He couldn't! It was much too dangerous!
A soothing, reassuring wave came through their connection, and she found herself looking toward the stairs. Yes, that way! Walking to the stairs she saw a door underneath the staircase, a door she'd never paid any attention to, thinking it opened on a closet. Yet now something in her heart made her open that door, and go down the stairs she found behind it. She walked through an ordinary basement containing a big heater, a washing-machine and a dryer. Following her heart, Catherine crossed a few other smaller, rather cluttered rooms until she came to what looked like a dead-end, a little room full of wooden boxes. Almost instinctively she moved a dozen of them until she uncovered a door, behind which she found a new smaller, winding flight of stairs, leading to a metal door.
The rusty door creaked in protest as she pushed it open. She could see only darkness, but had a strange impression of space. Automatically her hand searched beside the door for an electric switch. She was mildly surprised to find one, even more when it worked, and gasped in amazement as a dim grey light illuminated a fantastic, almost ghastly place
It was a big, low-ceilinged room, its wooden floor scattered with dust-covered tables and chairs. There was a bar along one of the sides, surmounted by a tarnished mirror, and a small stage occupied another wall, the sad grey remains of what had been curtains still hanging over it. A piano in a corner completed the perfect 'ghost-town-saloon' picture.
A speakeasy, Catherine guessed, one of those prohibition-times clandestine cabarets, abandoned for sixty years, probably forgotten… A surge through the bond stopped her musings. Vincent was close, very close! Just at that moment the wall in front of her opened, giving passage to a tall, blissfully familiar silhouette.
Instantly they were locked in a tight embrace, clinging almost desperately to each other. For long seconds they just stood there as one, enjoying their much longed-for togetherness. Then Vincent's hand cupped Catherine's head to pull it backwards, and his mouth descended on hers for a long, hungry kiss.
Catherine was almost overwhelmed by the strength of what came through their fully open connection. Love and unrestricted desire washed over her, underlined with Vincent's deep certainty, and a touch of fierce, impatient possessiveness that thrilled her.
She leaned gladly into Vincent's demanding embrace, her body soft and pliant against his. Everything you want, Vincent, everything!
A soft growl came from his throat as he deepened the kiss, and his hand slid down to the small of her back to pull her even tighter to him. Catherine distinctly felt the hardness pressing imperiously into her belly as Vincent's hips moved against her, and she softly moaned, raising herself on tiptoes and flexing her pelvis to feel the hard contact where she needed it most.
Catherine gasped in dismay when he suddenly disengaged himself from her, and they found themselves standing a foot apart, panting. She anxiously searched their connection for any trace of shame or regret, and was reassured to only find a reassessing control, a reasoned need not to let things get too out of hands. She forced herself to breathe deeply, until her body calmed down, and was rewarded by a somewhat sheepish smile.
"Thank you, Catherine. This is neither the time nor the place, but I find it difficult to wait even a little more. I want you so much!"
The quiet, candid admittance shook Catherine as it told her even more than all his previous behavior. Not only was Vincent sure of himself, he was also sure of her, to dare voice his desire in such certain terms. He must have gone through a lot of hard thinking during their separation, and she was looking forward to hearing about every step of it, but he was right, it was neither the moment nor the place for that.
She threw a circular look to their improbable, eerie surroundings. "Do you know where we are, Vincent?"
He smiled, and she felt a grateful wave through the bond.
"A forgotten speakeasy, not the first one I see. There must still be a few of them under the city. I suppose the house belonged to a bootlegger during the prohibition. They had even devised an escape through a tunnel. I don't know where it led to, it's now blocked by a new building's basement."
"But how did you manage to get here, then?"
"There's an existing tunnel only a few feet away from this one. I dug a passage."
"You…dug? Through hard rock?"
"It took me a few days." he admitted "Feeling you so close helped a lot. I wanted us to be together, tonight."
"So did I!" she agreed. "I've missed you so much! I know there are only a few days left, but it was becoming unbearable." She grinned. "I should scold you for taking all that trouble, but I can't. I'm so glad you're here!"
He pulled her again into his embrace for another kiss, this time sweet and soft. In unspoken agreement they both kept desire at bay, letting only love and tenderness fill their connection.
They finally pulled apart when the kiss, despite their best efforts, threatened to degenerate.
"Catherine, I have something to give you." Vincent said when his labored breathing allowed him speech again. "I…wanted you to have it tonight, on our third anniversary but I'll understand if you want to wait…"
Catherine easily caught the unspoken end of the sentence "wait until you have your own gift to give me" and smiled. As a matter of fact, she did. Just before leaving her apartment, her eyes had fallen on a small box waiting on a shelf. On an impulse she had added it to her package, unwilling to leave Vincent's anniversary gift stand there alone while April 12th came and went. And this morning the same, strange impulse had led her to slip the box into her pocket, where her hand had sought and caressed it many times throughout the day, a small but solid link to the man she loved.
"I don't need to wait, Vincent. Our anniversary is now, and we are together!"
A deep, thrilling solemnity filled their connection as they both took small boxes out of their pockets, and handed them to each other.
"Open it!" Vincent encouraged.
Catherine's box was made of wood, delicately carved with roses, and she looked at it for a while, admiring its exquisite craft before slowly lifting the lid. She gasped on discovering the contents. There, nestled in a soft cushion of scarlet velvet, lay a slender gold ring, adorned with a small crystal.
Her eyes rose from it to find Vincent's intense gaze.
"Vincent! Is it…?"
"Three years ago, Catherine," he answered, his voice deep and soft, "I found you, and my life began. Ever since that night my whole life has been yours, and for long I dared not wish for more than we already had. It took me a long time to finally understand that we both need more, that we both have a right to more." He took her hand, gazing into her very soul. "Catherine, will you be mine? Will you join with me and make my life complete? I know it's a lot to ask for," he added, and for the first time she felt a thread of uncertainty make it's way through their love-filled bond "I don't have much to offer you, compared to all that you will have to give up, but I promise to devote my whole life to your happiness."
Catherine gave him a radiant smile, too choked with happiness to speak, letting their connection carry her elated acceptance.
"Open your gift, Vincent." she finally managed.
She felt his surprise through the bond as he saw what the box contained. She had hesitated for a while before choosing this present, afraid that its symbolic meaning would scare Vincent, that he would feel pushed into something he was not ready for. Yet, from the moment she'd set her eyes on it in a jewellery shop, something in her heart had told her this was the perfect gift, and she had finally bought it, not without some trepidation. She smiled as he stared down at the wide, heavy gold ring, its oval top engraved with a rose, and when his intense, questioning gaze came on hers, she begun by returning his words.
"Three years ago, Vincent, you found me, and my life began. Ever since that night my life has belonged to you, even if I wasn't aware of it right then. What we shared during those three years was wonderful, yet I came to believe that there could be more for us, and I meant this gift as a way of reminding you of it. Now I know why I chose it." She took his hand in hers. "I'm yours, forever, Vincent, and I will be happy and honored to join with you. And please stop believing that I have to give up anything!" she added, enforcing her words through their connection. "You're all I'll ever need, all I'll ever want, and I'll happily spend my whole life convincing you of it!"
They gazed deep in each other's eyes for a long time as the echoes of their mutual promises sounded in the desert, out worldly room. Then Vincent gently took the ring from Catherine's box, and, taking her cue, she extended her hand. Not a word was exchanged as he slowly pushed the ring down her finger, and she did the same for him, even more gently so as not to pull at his fur. No word would have been strong enough to match the strength of the feelings they shared as they looked down on their hands, two almost impossibly different hands now bearing the tokens of their eternal commitment. Then they looked up at each other, and slowly leaned together to seal the moment with a kiss.
It took them by surprise. What was meant as a short, rather solemn kiss instantly changed into something completely different as their connection flared with desire and shared, ravenous hunger. Vincent's mouth devoured Catherine's and she greedily sucked at his questing tongue, their bodies eagerly seeking each other in a blind, lusty dance. He flexed his hips toward hers, grinding his instantly aroused flesh against her, and when she moaned in frustration at their difference of height, his hand came to cup her buttocks, lifting her from the ground to press her sensitive mound to his aching flesh, while his other hand found her breast. With a whimper, she locked her legs around his waist, seeking closer contact, and their hips began to flex rhythmically, bringing a tantalizing pleasure that very soon was not enough. With a growl, Vincent sat Catherine on one of the dusty tables, which creaked in protest, but held fast. His hands roamed possessively up her thighs, pulling her skirt up, while her own fingers caressed his still clad erection before starting to work on his belt buckle. Soon!
And, as suddenly as it had started, it stopped. Vincent pulled away, ignoring her frustrated whimper, and lifted a hand "Sshh!" Head up, all his body poised, he listened.
"Something is happening in the house!" he finally said. "I hear men's voices, and steps. And…." With a puzzled look he crossed the room and stopped in front of a wooden panel, bearing a life-size portrait of a naked woman. "I hear something there, coming down…" In a few steps he went back to Catherine and picked her up to carry her to the tunnel entrance. They remained there, leaving a tiny opening they could look through. Soon Catherine too was able to hear hesitant, stumbling steps behind the painted wood. Then, to their surprise, the portrait pivoted to uncover a door, and a small silhouette stepped out. Catherine waited a few second to be sure Mindy was alone before stepping out of cover herself, leaving Vincent in the tunnel.
"Mindy! What happened?"
"Cathy! Oh, God, Cathy, I thought they'd killed you, I'm so glad you're here!" As she spoke she threw a puzzled glance around. "Where are we?"
"A secret room in the cellar." Catherine answered, somewhat impatiently. "Please tell me, Mindy, what happened?"
The girl shook her head, projecting cobwebs around. "I don't know, really. Diana woke me, she said people were trying to break into the house. She shoved me into the closet and said she'd already called for help and I just had to hide. She said she would keep the bad guys away long enough for the cavalry to arrive, and not to move until she called me. I was terrified, I crawled to the bottom of the closet, as far as I could, and sat with my back to the wall. I felt it open suddenly, and I nearly fell backwards in those stairs. It seemed a good idea to see where they were going, maybe Diana and I could escape that way, so I closed the wall behind me, and I started down the stairs. It was awfully dark, and it went down forever, until I came to that door, and I found you." She told it all very quickly, the words tumbling from her quivering lips as she almost cried, looking terribly young and tiny in her dust-covered pink pajamas. Catherine put a reassuring arm around her shoulders.
"Don't worry, Mindy, it's over. They'll never find us here, and even if they did, I know a way to escape. Nobody will hurt you!" Walking to the door she had arrived from, she looked for a way to secure it. The metal was a bit rusty, but almost one inch thick, and to her surprise, the three locks still worked. It would take at least a grenade to pierce that door.
"Now I must go and get Diana, and we can hide here until the 'cavalry' arrives." At that moment, the distinctive noise of several shots came from the secret staircase.
"Diana!" Mindy cried.
"Shhh!" Catherine ordered. "I'll go and get her."
"No!" a voice answered, startling them both. "I'll go. Stay with Mindy, Catherine. It's best that you hide in the tunnels until I come back."
Mindy yelped and clung to Catherine's arm, warily eyeing the tall cloaked figure in the darkest part of the room. "Don't be afraid, Mindy, he's a friend. V…"she started, but stopped before pronouncing his name "you can't go, it's too dangerous!"
"I'll be careful. Please go to the tunnels and wait for me there." Before she could protest, he had disappeared up the hidden stairs.
With a heavy heart, Catherine pulled Mindy through the tunnel entrance and closed the door on them, silencing her fear and anguish not to disturb Vincent, who would need all his concentration as he headed toward unknown dangers. Instead, she focused on reassuring Mindy, who was quietly sobbing against her shoulder. "Don't worry, it will be all right. If we need to we can escape that way." she said, pointing to the tunnels behind them.
"Is it where your…friend came from?" Mindy enquired, her receding fear giving place to curiosity. "Who is he, Cathy, and why is he hiding his face?"
Catherine couldn't help a smile. "I told you, he's a friend. The kind of friend you like to have around when things get tough. And I can't explain, but it's best that you don't see his face. The less you'll know about him, the better." She looked straight into the girl's eyes. “And the less you tell about him…" Her head perked up. "He's coming back!"
"Are you sure? You must have very good ears, I can't hear a thing through that door. And how can you know it's him?" A look at Catherine's relieved, radiant face ended Mindy's questions. "Oh!" she said in wonder.
Soon steps could be heard behind the door, and Vincent's voice called "Catherine!"
They opened the door to see Diana lying unconscious on one of the tables, and rushed to her. "She's alive, but seriously wounded." Vincent said, from the shadows. "I did what I could but she needs medical help, as soon as possible."
Catherine could see that he had used bath towels to make a compressive bandage on the top of Diana's chest, just beneath her right shoulder. The material was already soaking with blood, and she added pressure on it, bearing down with all her weight to stop the hemorrhage. "It would take too long to take her to F…" she hastily swallowed back the name and went on "She told Mindy that she had called for help, they'll be here any moment, now, it's best to wait."
"There was no one on the bedroom level. At least no one alive. I found the bodies of two men, probably Diana's doing before she was shot in her turn." Vincent said. "From what I heard the others were downstairs, opening all the doors, they might be heading here very soon."
"Better avoid moving her again! The door is thick, solid metal, I think it will hold them back long enough! Mindy, please, put the lights off!"
When the room was dark Vincent stepped closer to take over the compression on Diana's wound while Catherine held and comforted Mindy. Soon they heard heavy footsteps coming down the stairs behind the metal door, and someone tried to open it.
"It's blocked, looks like it hasn't been opened for ages!" a voice said.
“Or they're behind and they've locked it! They gotta be here, we've looked everywhere else!' another man argued. "Step back everyone! I'm gonna open it!"
They remained poised, ready to run to the tunnels. A deafening shot, the shrill noise of metal hitting metal, and angry voices. "You crazy? The bullet bounced, it nearly got me!" "Got a better idea?" "Hey, shut up, and listen, what's that?" "The cops!" Let's get the hell outta here!"
Relief gained the occupants of the room when they heard someone shouting "Police! Don't move!" A moment of noisy confusion ensued before there was more banging on the door, this time accompanied by a familiar voice. "Anyone in there? Cathy? You OK?"
"We're here, Joe! Don't shoot at the door, we're coming!" Catherine shouted, taking Vincent's place at Diana's side. "Go, now!" she breathed, quickly squeezing his hand.
"Hey, wait!" Mindy said "I don't even know your name!"
"Vincent." he whispered.
She groped for him in the dark and hugged him hard. "I'll never forget you Vincent…and don't worry, I won't ever tell anyone."
"Thank you, Mindy. Be well, be happy. Take care, Catherine." He was gone.
stumbled in the dark to the door and turned the lights on. On a signal from
Catherine she took a few more seconds to check that both secret passages
were closed and undetectable before unlocking the metal door to let the
cavalry rush in, Joe leading the troops. The nightmare was over.
Catherine locked her apartment door and shouldered her backpack. At last! The previous days had seemed to drag along for ever, even busy as they had been.
The trial was over, with a life sentence for Mindy's so-called 'protector', plus a new charge for attempted murder. The men arrested in the house had sung like canaries to save their necks, and the whole organization was falling apart.
After testifying in a clear, self-assured way that had done a lot to win the jury's decision, Mindy was now off to a distant place to start a new life under a new identity. Catherine hoped she would be as happy as she deserved. During their brief, teary goodbye, she had slipped her a card with a helper's phone number. "If you ever need help…" and Mindy had pocketed it with a nod, whispering "Kiss Vincent for me!"
Catherine grinned as she waited for the elevator. Kiss Vincent she would, for sure, but, sorry, Mindy, just once for you, the rest is for me!
Diana Bennett had been several days between life and death, but she was slowly recovering, thanks, the doctors had said, to the swift and skilled first aid she'd received, something Catherine was credited for. Catherine frowned lightly as she pushed the subbasement button. There might be a problem there…
She'd gone to see the wounded police officer as soon as visits had been allowed. They had talked for a little while, and just as she was leaving, Diana's voice had startled her back. "Please thank your friend for me, Cathy."
She had managed to keep her face straight, and her voice even to answer. "Who, Mindy? I will. She wanted to come but…"
"Oh, come on, Cathy!" Diana had retorted with a little smile. "I was unable to see or talk, but I could hear everything. And that Vincent's voice is the kind you don't forget." Seeing Catherine blanch, she reassured her. "Don't worry. He saved my life and I won't tell a thing. But I'm curious…and I'd like to thank him myself, one day."
Catherine had nodded noncommittally "Maybe one day…" but she knew Diana wouldn't let go so easily. She would have to tell Vincent about it, and maybe even the Council…Father was not going to like that, she thought, stepping out of the elevator . She shrugged. Oh, well, she could think of a few other things the tunnel patriarch wasn't going to like…
That she and Vincent were going on a week's trip together, for one. A trip they thought of as their honeymoon, as they considered they had truly Joined in that forgotten speakeasy, though they'd probably plan a ceremony later for their family and friends. One more thing that wasn't going to rejoice Father. And what would he say when he'd know she'd made an offer for the house? Catherine wondered. She hadn't done it on a whim. The idea of a house with a tunnel entrance had been trotting in her head for a few months already and those hidden stairs were just too big an asset to let this one pass.
Pushing the boxes out of the way, she opened the hidden door. Yes, there were many things to be talked about, many things yet to be settled.
This week was for Vincent and her, every single, glorious second of it would be devoted to their love, leaving room for nothing else. At the cost of tremendous efforts, they had even managed to remain reasonably chaste when they met, to wait for the blissful moment when they would be free of their respective worlds' exigencies, with nothing to care about but each other.
And that moment had finally come. As she descended the ladder, Catherine didn't have to look down. She knew Vincent was there, waiting, their connection humming with joyful impatience.
At last she stepped down into his waiting arms, to start their life together.