Gwen Lord and Chuckie Burge

"Yes!" Joe Maxwell pumped the air with both fists after he’d put the phone back on his desk. "Yes, yes, yes," he repeated, just as Catherine Chandler knocked and entered his office.

"You look pretty pleased with yourself, Joe," she said with a smile.

"That was Steve on the phone," he said, referring to one of the new assistant DA’s. "We’ve won the Miller case."

"That’s wonderful … congratulations, I …

Joe interrupted her, "It’s thanks to you, pal, and your time-consuming, detailed research. Our teamwork paid off and we put together a dynamite case. Steve said he had no problem proving the case." He picked up his rubber band, absentmindedly stretching, then counter stretching it as he was plotting his next remark. "I think we’ve earned a treat so I’m taking you to dinner to celebrate," he said decisively. Joe took every available opportunity to socialize with Cathy because she was fun to be with, he enjoyed her company … and damn it, he had to admit – he was in love with her. The fact that this Vincent character held center stage just now, didn’t mean he would always have that coveted spot, so Joe held on to his dream of … maybe, some day.

"When, Joe?" she asked.

"Doing anything tonight, Radcliffe?"

"Sorry, yes, Jenny’s coming over. Would you like to join us?"

"Join in all that girl talk? No way! How about tomorrow then … any good?" he asked hopefully.

"Sure, I can make it then," she replied.

"Great!" Joe couldn’t believe she had said yes. "I’ll make a reservation and give you the details later."

"Okay, Joe, now will you please sign these papers so I can get on with the work you pay me to do?"

"Nag, nag, nag," he joked as Catherine smiled and left his office.

* * * *

Catherine left work a little early in a vain attempt to beat the homeward rush for cabs.

Since she was entertaining Jenny tonight, a visit to the Deli in her apartment block was vital. She not only needed food for this evening but had to stock up the refrigerator a bit. If Jenny saw the present contents of a couple of yogurts and some bottled water, a lecture on proper and healthful eating habits would surely follow. Nag, nag, nag, she said to herself, grinning as she repeated Joe’s words from earlier today.

Leaving the Deli, Catherine felt she’d selected well; salads and pasta for their meal tonight, and odds and ends to restock her small fridge. Jenny should be totally impressed by Cathy’s attempt at domesticity.

She juggled four overflowing grocery bags, her purse and a briefcase full of files from work and wondered if she’d make it home without dropping something. The doorman opened the lobby door for her and punched the elevator button. Thankfully, the elevator arrived in a moment, and she saw a familiar face when the doors opened.

"Hi, Catherine, let me help you," Brian said, eagerly reaching for the bags. Her teenage neighbor had a major crush on her and looked for any excuse to be with her.

"Thanks, Brian, I appreciate the help," Catherine said as she stepped into the elevator car. "I hope I’m not going to make you late, going back upstairs with me."

"Nah, I’m just meeting some of the guys," he said offhandedly. "We thought we’d hang out a while ... but I’m in no hurry." He hoped he sounded casual enough and that Catherine couldn’t hear his heart, which was nearly pounding out of his chest.

Catherine nodded and gave him a friendly smile, thinking that in spite of all the problems adulthood could bring; she wouldn’t want to be a hormone-driven teenager again for all the tea in China. Actually, she was hoping he would find a girlfriend, soon, and switch his devotion to her.

The doors opened when they reached her floor and he stood back to let her out of the elevator first. Walking down the hall, she still had a juggling act trying to get the keys out of her purse. Catherine opened the door and stepped in to hold the door open for Brian, who rushed in and put the grocery bags in the kitchen. Knowing he would try to find an excuse to stay for a while, she took a $10 bill out of her purse and folded it. As anticipated, he rushed back to her side.

"I’m lucky you were in that elevator, Brian," she said warmly. "Without you, I’m sure I would have dropped at least one of the bags."

"I’m happy I could help," he replied.

She reached out and tucked the bill in his shirt pocket then she gently ushered Brian back into the corridor. "You and your friends have a cold drink on me," she suggested. "See you later."

Brian started down the hall, but turned before she shut the door. "Just call me anytime. I’d be glad to go to the store with you and carry your stuff." He blushed, a little embarrassed at his new-found boldness.

Catherine smiled and waved as she shut the door, then leaned against it for a moment. I’ve got to talk to Vincent about this, she thought. I don’t know how to handle this situation without either hurting Brian’s feelings or encouraging him.

Well, no time to worry about it now. She straightened up and headed for the kitchen to put away the perishables, kicked off her shoes and dropped her purse and briefcase on the coffee table as she crossed the living room.

* * * *

Jenny arrived at her usual breakneck speed soon after eight o’clock. "That blasted cab driver wouldn’t listen to me for directions," she complained, "and got us stuck in an endless traffic jam. Am I late?"

"A little … don’t let it happen again," Catherine teased. "Come on in. Let me have your coat."

"A hug first," Jenny demanded. After the two long-time friends embraced, she handed her coat to Catherine.

During their meal, they chatted casually about work, mutual friends and what was going on in each of their busy lives. It seemed they never had time to get together as often as they would like and, of course, Catherine had all kinds of complications in her life that Jenny was not yet aware of.

Later they settled in front of the fire. As Catherine poured wine into their glasses, Jenny took some photos out of her purse. "Look what I found yesterday as I moved heaven and earth to find a missing scarf."

Catherine took one of the photos and gazed at it fondly. "I’d forgotten this, it must have been taken the second year we were cheerleaders."

"Yeah. God, look at my skinny legs," Jenny giggled.

"Your legs are fine … it’s my hair that’s a mess! Didn’t I own a mirror?"

"That was the problem – you owned too many mirrors," Jenny teased. "We thought we were so cool." She handed over another photo. "Here’s one of you and David Lang, he was so hung up on you and wouldn’t go away, so we cooked up some convoluted, ridiculous scheme to get rid of him."

"Yes … I cringe now at what heartless little wretches we were." Catherine shook her head in remorse, then went to the bookshelf and brought over some photo albums. The hours drifted by as the two friends looked at old photos and reminisced about their past.

Jenny refilled her wineglass. "I really disliked Tom Gunther. He was good looking but such a slimy snake in the grass."

"I know. Unfortunately, Daddy was convinced he was the man for me and kept pushing us together."

"I had one of my premonitions about Tom, do you remember?"

"Yeah, sort of. Didn’t you think some kind of harm would come to me if I continued to see him?" Catherine grinned wryly. "Does pangs of regret count as harm?"

Jenny refused to be diverted. "I saw you lying in a heap in a park – I call that harm, and I still think it wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t been with him that night."

Catherine shrugged. "Well, anyway, you were right about me in the park."

"I wish you’d take me more seriously." Jenny hesitated, took a sip of wine, then put her glass down and looked directly at her friend. "I’ve had another dream, Cathy, and you were in it … with Tom Gunther. That’s the main reason I insisted we get together tonight …I wanted to warn you," Jenny confessed.

"No, not Tom after all this time," Catherine said in disbelief. "I haven’t seen him in ages, at least two years."

"I know, but your paths will cross again … and soon. He’s still carrying a grudge and he … I don’t know exactly, but I know he’s up to no good. You’ve got to be careful."

"You’re scaring me, Jenny."

"Good, maybe a little fear will keep you out of trouble. You have a tendency to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and not everyone deserves it."

Catherine shuddered. "Let’s change the subject, please." Her expression brightened as she remembered, "Hey, I’m having dinner with Joe tomorrow night."

"Go for it, girl."

"It’s a celebration meal," Catherine explained, "for a lot of foot work and unpaid hours of research – no big deal."

"Sure it is," Jenny retorted. "That man is in love with you – you lucky devil. I wish he’d look at me just once, the way he looks at you all the time."

"You know I could fix you up on a date with Joe anytime," Catherine assured her.

"If he wants a date, I want him to ask me without you pressuring him," Jenny insisted and tilted her glass for the last drop of wine. "Well, I must be going or I’ll never get to work on time in the morning. That would give old Mr. Sullivan a perfect excuse to complain the young people in the office have no sense of responsibility."

"Well, he’s absolutely right," Catherine said in mock seriousness, "the ‘perfect Joe Maxwell’ tells me that all the time."

"Well," Jenny drawled provocatively, "that handsome Italian heartthrob can lecture me any time he wants to." Both women laughed as Jenny stood up to leave.

"We have to do this again, Jenny … soon. I’ve had such fun tonight."

"Me too," Jenny agreed.

As they walked toward the door, Jenny put on her coat. When Cathy took the chain off the door and opened it her friend teased, "You lock this door right away, Missy!"

"I will," Catherine promised. After a brief hug, Jenny rushed down the corridor, turning twice to wave.

Catherine shut the door, bolted and locked it, then turned to face her balcony. There, as she knew he would be, was Vincent, silhouetted against the reflected light from the city. Her feet hardly touched the floor as she flew across the room and into his strong and loving arms – where she always wanted to be.

"You had a good time with your friend, I felt your joy," Vincent whispered into her hair.

"Oh, yes, we had so many laughs. Someday I want you to meet her … and my boss, Joe."

"One day, Catherine," he sighed, "hopefully, one day."

"I’m going out to dinner with Joe tomorrow evening. I’ve worked extra hours, searched endless dusty old files, so this is a ‘thank you’ celebration. He’s a good friend, Vincent."

"I know," he said, trying to hide his regret that he could not be the one with her.

"Please, will you be here tomorrow night when I return from my evening with Joe?"

"I’ll be here," he assured her, "waiting on the balcony. I would have anyway, until I knew you were safely home. The few short hours I’m able to spend with you make my life bearable."

"Vincent, these evenings we spend together, are what make it possible for me to face the relentless days at the office."

His gentle hug made her feel so safe … so protected … so loved. "Till tomorrow – know that I’m thinking of you." He turned away and left the balcony.

* * * *

The following evening, Joe knocked on Catherine’s door at eight o’clock, armed with a small bouquet of flowers and a huge box of chocolates. "If you don’t want the candy," he remarked with a sly grin, "you could always bring it to work tomorrow."

Dressed for a special date, Joe looked the perfect escort and Catherine had to admit Jenny was right – he was a hunk! Just not her hunk.

* * * *

They heard a soft, inviting strain of music as they entered the famous restaurant, known for its cuisine. The maitre de led them through the packed room to a corner table. One waiter poured water for them, another offered a wine list and still another stood by to hand them menus. When their selections had been made and the waiters had departed, Catherine looked up to speak to Joe. A movement caught her attention and she glanced at the next table – she couldn’t believe her eyes! Seated there and staring directly at her was Tom Gunther!

She averted her gaze and concentrated on Joe, hoping desperately that Tom and his companion would leave – a companion that was not his wife! Tom’s intense stare was making her uncomfortable but she was not going to allow him to spoil the evening Joe had planned.

Despite Tom’s unrelenting scrutiny, Catherine and Joe had a delightful dinner. Joe was infatuated with Catherine but he did not allow it to interfere with their friendship, which he valued so much.

After dinner Catherine and Joe went into the lounge to listen to the music for a while. They took seats at the piano bar and Joe ordered drinks. Catherine took a sip and as she sat her drink down, glanced up and saw Tom standing on the other side of the piano. He glared challengingly at her, then reached into his pocket and laid a bill in front of the piano player. "Play "It Had To Be You," he demanded loudly as he slid onto a stool at the bar.

This is way more than coincidence, Catherine thought. Jenny’s warning began to echo through her mind. He’s up to no good – you’ve got to be careful.

"Why the worried look, Cathy?" Joe asked.

"Sorry, Joe, its nothing, I was miles away," she said with a smile.

They left around midnight but as Joe helped Catherine into the cab, she saw Tom, standing in the shadows of the restaurant, watching them.

* * * *

Joe escorted her to her door, where he leaned forward and kissed her, not passionately, but lovingly. "Goodnight, you," he said tenderly. "See you tomorrow."

"Yes sir, boss," she said cheekily, "goodnight to you, too." She closed and locked the door, dropping her purse and wrap on the sofa as she passed by. Catherine opened the balcony doors, but Vincent hadn’t arrived yet. A cup of herb tea was what she needed while waiting, she decided, and then headed for the kitchen.

A few moments later as she returned to the living room with her cup of tea, there was a knock at the door. She glanced at the clock in annoyance as she sat her cup on the table. "Who is it?" she called out as she approached the door.

"Joe," was the mumbled reply.

Alarmed there might be a problem, she impulsively unlocked and jerked open the door, then froze in shock at the sight of Tom Gunther, who pushed past her before she could react.

"Do come in," she said sarcastically. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"I had no choice," Tom said. "Seeing you again, after more than two years, made me want you more than ever."

"This is ridiculous, you shouldn’t be here." As she spoke, Jenny’s warning was echoing in her mind.

"Yes, I should … we belong together and you know it," he insisted.

"You’re married, in case you’ve forgotten, Tom ... and not to the woman you were with at the restaurant tonight," she added.

"My marriage is over," he said impatiently.

"I’m sorry," she said automatically, then added firmly, "but it has nothing to do with me."

"You ended our engagement, and you ruined my life, so it has everything to do with you," he argued. " But we could recapture it all."

"No. There is nothing to recapture," she said angrily. "Get out of my apartment!"

"That’s not very nice after all we meant to each other."

"We never meant as much as you thought, but that was then and this is now. I have someone else in my life."

"You can’t possibly mean that Joe," he said in disgust.

"His name is Vincent," she blurted before she could stop herself. "And I love him."

"He isn’t here, and I am," Tom arrogantly pointed out.

"And you don’t want to be here when he does arrive," she warned. "So I want you to leave."

Furious, Tom pushed her back against the door, pawing her and trying to kiss her as she struggled against him. A ferocious roar filled the room. Tom raised his head, visibly shaken. "What the hell was that?"

"I didn’t hear a thing," she lied and tried to push him away again.

"Oh, who cares," he mumbled and renewed his efforts.

Vincent slipped through the balcony doors and silently stole up behind them. He dropped his cloak over Tom’s head and jerked him backwards away from Catherine. Before he could react, Vincent wrestled Tom to the floor putting a knee on his back, keeping him immobilized while pulling his hands behind his back. He jerked loose the thong that laced his leather vest together and asked Catherine to tie Tom’s wrists. He then fastened the cloak more securely around Tom’s head so he couldn’t see.

After she stepped back, he leaned down and spoke deliberately and threateningly in Tom’s ear. "My name is Vincent. You have insulted ‘my’ Catherine and seriously displeased me. You will pay dearly for your transgressions," he said menacingly, then stood up and jerked Tom off the floor and slung him unceremoniously over his shoulder .

"Vincent …" Catherine said apprehensively. She despised Tom and did not care what happened to him but she did not want another death on Vincent’s conscience.

Vincent flashed her a devilish smile. "Trust me, Catherine," he said and spun around and was gone

* * * *.

The following morning Joe was reading the newspaper as Catherine walked into his office.

Joe looked up with a cheeky grin. "Hey, Radcliffe, great night."

"Yeah, it was, I enjoyed it," she agreed.

"Seen the paper, yet?" he asked.

"Nope. Didn’t have time. Somebody kept me up too late," she joked.

"Well, somebody had an evening to remember," Joe laughed. "A guy was discovered early this morning, stripped naked and tied to a post on the Brooklyn Bridge."

"Is he dead?" she inquired, "is it a case for us?"

"Nah. Whoever did it must have had a score to settle with him. According to the paper he spent a couple of hours on public view, while people honked car horns and the people walking by made rude comments about his very naked body. I guess it was quite a while before somebody reported it and the police rescued him." He laughed. "I called Greg Hughes and asked about it. He said the guy kept mouthing off to the cops so they took him to the station and charged him with indecent exposure."

Catherine laughed, "I agree, he must have made someone really angry. Do you know who he is?"

"I don’t, but I think you do," Joe said accusingly. "His name wasn’t published but there’s a picture – a picture of his face, that is – in the paper. Funny thing, Radcliffe, it looks like that guy in the restaurant who was staring at you all evening."

"What! Let me see that paper." She snatched it out of Joe’s hands and looked in disbelief at a photo of Tom Gunther.

"The theory seems to be, they think some jealous husband had it in for him and was paying him back, big time, for an affair. Naturally, he says he was a victim of mistaken identity, but it seems like an open and shut case to me," Joe said cynically.

Catherine shrugged and hoped she projected a look of total innocence before she turned away. As she exited his office, only then could she allow a grin to steal across her face as she thought of Vincent and his way of telling Tom to leave ‘his’ Catherine alone. She felt very protected, very loved and totally delighted that ‘her’ Vincent had such a wicked sense of humor.