by Trisha Kehoe
Vaulting easily over the stone railing encircling the terrace, Vincent started forward, then hesitated and stayed exactly where he was. Noticing a light on in Catherine’s bedroom and suddenly realizing that his urgency to be with her had caused him to arrive much earlier than expected, he grimaced, chiding himself, ‘You know that this night is very special, to both of you, so have the courtesy to allow her to finish dressing. Your over-eagerness is all too obvious, so calm down, sit down, and wait.’
Lowering his ample frame to a metal porch chair, he shook his wind-tossed hair away from his face and eyed the softly undulating curtains to his left. From behind those gauzy frontiers, flickering candlelight seemed to be beckoning to him, inviting him to enter a part of his Beloved’s world he had never willingly intruded upon, until the night of their third anniversary. Recalling that extraordinary time in his life, Vincent ducked his head and turned his face toward the shadowed wall of the balcony, unwilling to allow even the moon to be witness to such an openly lustful smile. That evening had begun innocently enough.
Just before midnight, Catherine had asked if he would like to listen to some music. When he agreed, she stepped into the dining room for a moment, then returned holding a small, portable tape recorder in her hand. The composer she had chosen was Brahms: Concerto Number Two in B-Flat, Opus Eight-three. Ah, such glorious music. If he closed his eyes, he could still hear those sweet strains, even now.
Sensing her anticipation, and realizing full well that she hoped he would ask her to dance, he had started forward. That’s when it happened. In his eagerness to hold her, he took an incautious step and caught the toe of his left boot on the edge of the wrought iron table.
Seeing him stumble and hoping to break his fall, Catherine had reached out, but her assistance hadn’t helped. If anything, her brave attempt only served to make matters worse, for when she gripped him by the arms, the gesture had disturbed his unique sense of equilibrium. Wrapped in an intimate embrace, they had tumbled to the terrace floor.
Coming to rest with the hard length of his body pressed down firmly onto the softness of hers, and immensely embarrassed, he had apologized and immediately started to get to his feet, but she would have none of it. Weaving her fingers through his hair, his dauntless angel had searched his eyes for a moment, the depth of love shining in her gaze causing tiny heart seizures to squeeze at his chest. The sensation didn’t kill him, nor hurt him in any way, but it was enough to turn his knees to jelly and his blood to liquid flame.
For a moment, he hadn’t been able to breathe nor move. And when he did manage to regain his focus, for once in his life he found the courage to move in the right direction, toward Catherine, and toward love, there to shatter and be born anew within the refuge of her arms; made whole and complete by the limitless scope of his own passions, and hers.
Toward dawn, when they lay happily entangled in their love-tossed bed, he and his patient, gentle lady had finally exchanged more ‘traditional’ gifts. His offering to her had been a lovingly handmade diary, its leather casing painstakingly rubbed and finished to a mahogany-tone gloss. Tucked inside of the front cover had been two newly budding roses, one of velvet red, which his Beloved had compared to the finest of rubles. The second blossom had been almost pure white tinged just at the throat with glowing traces of pink. He found it odd how time and circumstances could change one’s perceptions of even the most ordinary of things.
When he had first seen the pink-tinged rose, he’d been reminded of the tint of Catherine’s luminous complexion-so fair, so delicate. Recently, when he noticed a similar blossom in a Helpers shop, he remembered thinking that it called to mind the flushed hue of her mouth after he had bestowed one of his more ardent kisses there. Tilting his head back to view the luminescence of a new, butter-colored moon and smiling at it like the old friend it was, Vincent chuckled softly. Indeed, time and circumstances had changed…much. Moving the tip of his tongue over his lower lip, he sighed, wondering if anyone else had ever been both the giver and eager recipient of such utterly ravishing, mind-shattering kisses?
Catherine’s gift to him that night had been much more personal in nature. Sliding one hand into an inner cloak pocket, he stroked the gold watch concealed there with the pad of his thumb. This had belonged to her father, and before that, to her grandfather. Carefully easing the watch from its resting placer he held it in the palm of his hand and examined it for what must be at least the thousandth time, still finding it a bit overwhelming to be the owner of such a fine timepiece.
When a shadow drifted across his line of vision, bringing him sharply back to the present, eyes glittering with anticipation locked to the entry of the apartment. Unable to stay his impatience for another moment, Vincent swayed to his feet. Tucking the watch back into its sheltered place within the confines of his cloak, he took the few steps necessary to bring him to the threshold of the dining room. Parting the billowing curtains with the tips of his fingers, he stepped in between them.
Finding himself alone, he peered over at the louvered bedroom door, calling out softly, "Dearest?”
"Hello, Love,” came the immediate reply. "I’ll be out in a few minutes. Please make yourself comfortable.”
"I didn’t intend to arrive this early,” Vincent began by way of apology.
Interrupting him, Catherine’s voice drifted out of the bedroom a second time, scolding lovingly, "Don’t you dare apologize for wanting to be with me. After all, it’s been four whole days since we’ve seen each other!”
"Four days, six hours, and twenty-four minutes,” he corrected, smiling.
In the other room, Catherine glanced at the partially open door, her smile matching his. Leaning toward the mirror to inspect her hair one more time, she exclaimed, "Oh, oh, I’m definitely in trouble! You’re not counting the seconds anymore!”
That teasing observation was immediately contradicted. "Oh, yes I am, but I thought not to bore you with those small fluctuations of time.”
Smoothing her gown down over her hips, she studied her reflection in the mirror for a moment and then nodded in satisfaction. Turning to scoop up items of clothing strewn about the room, Catherine hurriedly stuffed them into a bureau drawer. Then, deciding to taunt him just a bit more, she announced, "Vincent, you’ve done a great many things to me these last years, but you’ve never bored me!”
Unable to see the smile that statement brought, she still felt it. It seemed to settle in just around her heart.
"Why, thank you, my Dear.”
"No, Love…thank you.”
As her happiness washed over him, Vincent eyed the bedroom door for a moment and shook his head back and forth, laughing softly. Then, the look in his eyes altered to one of vague unrest. What on earth was Catherine doing in there? He wanted to see her. He wanted to kiss her. He wanted…
Struggling to repress his impatience, he decided to do as requested and make himself comfortable. Shrugging out of his cloak, he hung it on the brass coat-rack just inside of the terrace doors. Taking a moment to dig his thumb under the Mandarin style collar of his new shirt, loosening it slightly before it succeeded in strangling him outright, he lowered his gaze to inspect the garment more closely.
Cautiously moving his left forefinger over the Chinese red, silk material, he eyed it appreciatively, thinking that he must remember to write to Lin and Henry and thank them for their generosity. Changing his center of focus, Vincent bent slightly forward to inspect the pants he had thought to be an acceptable addition to his new shirt. Noting that they seemed to be adhered to his lower body almost like a second skin, he furrowed his brow, wondering if the decision to wear these tonight had been the right choice after all?
From past experience, he knew that leather usually stretched with wear at least leather boots did. He eyed the pants again. As of this moment, these hadn’t stretched at all-anywhere. Although he deeply appreciated the addition to his wardrobe, one newly acquired from a Helper who owned a leather goods shop, he wasn’t quite at ease in such ‘clinging’ material.
Grimacing at the clearly defined bulge at the division of his thighs, he shifted uncomfortably. Good Lord, these were far too tight. Deciding to rectify this abysmal situation, he hooked his thumbs at the back of the pants and gave a downward yank, trying to move them lower on his hips, and at the same time induce them to release the death-grip they seemed to have on his buttocks. Yanking again, just a bit too forcefully, he want wide-eyed and instantly stopped all activity. That time, the metal teeth of the zipper had caught on a part of him that he considered rather vital, and it had hurt. This wretched garment had him by the scrotum now, and it wasn’t letting go!
Finally managing to adjust ‘everything’ to a slightly less-confining position, Vincent exhaled a deeply grateful breath. Placing his hands at his hips and widening his stance, he eyed the lower portion of his anatomy a third time, then freed an annoyed grunt from deep in his throat. Oh bother. This material defined much more of him than was decent. In the past five years, Catherine had acquired a quite intimate knowledge of his anatomy-from every possible angle. What good purpose would be served in belaboring the obvious?
Suddenly, the bedroom opened fully, only to be closed again, followed by a cry of, "Oh, I nearly forgot to put on my...!”
All right, enough was most definitely enough. Starting forward, Vincent covered the distance separating him from the bedroom in three purposeful strides. Stopping just at the threshold, he glowered at the door and cleared his throat, questioning hopefully, "Beloved, do you require any…assistance?”
"No thanks, I’m almost ready. But, there is something you can do for me.”
"Of course,” he readily agreed, reaching for the doorknob.
"Will you please light the candles on the desk?”
The desk? Vincent glanced into the shadowed living room. The desk was over there, and at the moment that was not where he wanted to be. "As you…wish.”
His vexation obvious, he ran one hand through his hair and backed away from the bedroom door, suddenly wanting to reach out and rip it from its nefarious little brass hinges.
Turning on his heel, he moved toward the living room, then stopped short and put one hand to his chest. As the sight before him seemed to dissolve the tightness there, he smiled, murmuring, "Oh Catherine, this is lovely.”
Viewing this area closely for the first time since his arrival, Vincent’s eyes gleamed with delight on observing the vast amount of effort his Beloved had taken in preparing for tonight’s celebration. Why, the room had been set up to resemble an intimate bistro-one that would have only two patrons. Approving of the way she had moved her desk closer to the fireplace and situated two chairs at either side of it, he thought, ‘Yes, the atmosphere here, would be far more relaxing than having their late night supper in the brightly lit dining area. And the table was beautifully set.’
Moving over to the desk, he picked up one of the fluted silver knives, then proceeded to examine the rest of the dinnerware appreciatively, noting that Catherine had set out her mother’s fine china, delicate crystal stemware, and tiny salt and pepper shakers. Completing the setting were two rose-patterned place-mats, and intricately folded matching napkins.
Standing in the midst of this subtle opulence was a small vase filled with an abundance of roses in varied shades of red, yellow, and pink, offset by a few blooms the color of freshly clotted cream. Bending forward, he inhaled deeply of the floral centerpiece. ‘Hm, what a delightful fragrance.’
When a brace of gleaming silver candlesticks caught his eye, instantly reminding him of what he had been asked to do, Vincent straightened and reached into a rear pocket for matches. Tunnel residents always carried matches. On discovering that he could barely edge one finger into his overly tight pants, he sighed, vexed to find his earlier observations confirmed.
"A pox on these…”
Muttering some rather unique epitaphs under his breath, he finally accomplished his mission-and nearly wounded himself in the bargain. Rubbing at his left buttock, he watched as soft flickers of light dispelled the shadows, casting gently undulating patterns over the living room walls.
Pleased with the effect, Vincent turned and walked toward an oak credenza just at the entrance to the bedroom. Hesitating with one hand on the front of it, he called out, "My Dear, do you remember what the radio setting is for the station we listened to last Sunday night; the one that played so many of our favorite pieces?”
"I think it was an FM station. Try ninety-eight point six.”
"Thank you.” Sliding the cabinet door open, he switched the dial to the ‘on’ position and began shifting it to the right. Nearly deafened by a sudden din of music the teenagers of his world termed ‘heavy metal’, Vincent made a face and quickly moved on to the next station. That anyone could enjoy such drivel, much less dance to it, was truly beyond his powers of comprehension.
Appearing to be totally focused on what he was doing, he didn’t react in any way as a pair of sparkling green eyes peeked at him from behind the bedroom door. In the other room, Catherine had been trying to locate her shoes when a flash of red caught her attention. Peering over the hinge of the door, she found herself greeted by the sight of Vincent crouched down next to the stereo. Noting the color of his shirt, she smiled, loving how the vividness seemed to mingle with the amber tint of his long hair, setting it aflame.
Allowing her gaze to drift lower, she stifled a gasp of surprise behind one hand. Oh my. Leather pants? Leaning forward and resting her palms on the door frame, she took a closer look. Uh, huh. Very tight leather pants.
Eyeing the delectable curves of Vincent’s firm buttocks as he sat back on his heels and the shifting muscles of his upper thigh as he rested his left hand there, she put one hand to her chest, trying to take slow, even breaths. Oh God, he was too beautiful for the human eye.
Forgetting all about her shoes, Catherine stepped out of the bedroom and walked up behind him to place a kiss on the top of his head. "What on earth was that dreadful racket I heard a moment ago”’
"Noise,” Vincent replied solemnly, glancing up at her over his left shoulder. Then, blinking rapidly, he slowly rose to his feet, moved away from the stereo, and turned around to gape at her in a way that she would have considered to be extremely rude if anyone else had done it.
His expression one of utter astonishment, Vincent scrutinized the woman standing before him without comment, unable to trust his voice to quite that extent. Indeed, there were no words to define such absolute radiance, at least none that he could recall at this particular moment. To know that such a wondrous creature was truly a part of his life, and of him, was an intoxication that left him giddy, drunk with the wonder of it.
Catherine’s long hair was held back from her face by slender gold-toned pins, adorned with lustrous pearl beads and clusters of what appeared to be lily-of-the-valley. Slit up both sides, quite daringly, to the softness of her thighs, her flowing, kimono-styled gown was the exact same shade as his shirt, the primary difference being that a tiny, black silk dragon, with golden wings, was emblazoned just over the curve of her left breast. Curled inward, the tips of the beast’s angular claws seemed to be covetously embracing the softness there.
Unaware of doing it, Vincent narrowed his eyes to scowl at the location of the dragon’s forepaws. With a sudden, fierce urge to reach out and shred the thing, leaving it as bits of twisted thread on the carpeted, dining room floor, he studied it a moment longer, thinking, ‘Mine.’
Taking a deep, cleansing breath, he shifted his gaze to his Beloved’s feet and smiled on discovering tiny polished toenails peeking out at him from beneath the hem of her gown. Catherine had such delicate-looking, dainty feet, yet her legs were surprisingly strong. He eyed them intently for a moment. Especially when she wrapped them around his hips in the throes of one of their mutual, intensely satisfying completions.
Standing with her hands clasped together and her head slightly bowed, her bearing purposely demure and serene, Catherine studied Vincent from beneath her lashes. Enjoying his openly lustful stare, she smiled to herself. From the way he was looking at her, she might just decide to wear this outfit all weekend. Meeting his eyes just as the extent of his desire for her seemed to erupt outward through the bond, she was forced to alter her original perception. Then again, she could spend the next forty-eight hours wearing nothing but a smile-and the body of a quite larger incredibly ardent lover.
As though suddenly realizing he had been staring at her quite rudely, and for a very long time, Vincent reached out to take Catherine’s left hand into his. Turning it palm up, he bent his head, the gesture nicely concealing his reddening face, and brushed his lips over her slender fingers, then touched his mouth gently to the tips. Resting her palm on his much larger, callused one, he compared their dissimilar skin tones and dimensions thoughtfully a moment, finding himself at a loss to comprehend how such dainty, utterly feminine hands could actually enjoy touching any part of him.
Seeming to understand that he needed a few moments to collect his thoughts, Catherine put her free hand to the back of Vincent’s bowed head and brushed back his long hair with the tips of her fingers. Hoping to soothe him, she leaned forward to place kisses as soft as rose petals on the crown of his head, whispering, "I love you.”
"I love you, too,” he breathed, fighting to keep his voice steady. "So much, so deeply, there are no words…” Lacing his fingers through hers, Vincent swallowed hard several times, trying to clear his throat, his expression uncertain, as well as immensely embarrassed. When he managed to speak again, the words drifted out from beneath a curtain of golden hair, huskily entreating, "Please forgive such a breach of good manners on my part?”
Frowning, Catherine tilted his head back, the question in her eyes.
"I was staring at you quite rudely.” Clasping her fingers almost too tightly, he looked away. "…and I’m sorry.”
"Oh, Vincent…” Urging his head up, she met his eyes, declaring firmly, "You haven’t done anything to be sorry for.”
When the pleasure of merely looking at her caused his breath to catch in his throat he gulped, whispering, "Truly?”
Smiling, the woman he adored put one hand to the center of his chest. "Truly.”
Accepting her words, and understanding that she hadn’t considered his staring crude nor offensive in any way, Vincent exhaled a shuddering, immensely relieved breath. Placing his hand over hers, he began, "When I saw you standing there in that gown, I…I simply wasn’t prepared.” Unable to continue, the look in his eyes uncertain and oh, so heart-wrenchingly vulnerable, he smiled hesitantly, trusting her to understand.
Coaxing his ragged-edged bangs away from his eyes, Catherine blinked away tears. Even now, after eight years, this sweet, shy man was still so afraid of hurting her feelings. Cupping his downy cheek in her palm, she studied him lovingly. "If I tell you something, will you promise to listen; really listen?”
Nodding his head, he waited for her to continue.
"If anyone is owed an apology Vincent, it’s you.”
"How can that be?” His bewilderment obvious, he furrowed his brow. "You have said nothing, nor done anything which would require an apology.”
Contemplating the pink-tinged glow staining her cheeks, he waited for her to explain. When she didn’t, he asked, "Please, tell me what is causing you such feelings of self-reproach?”
Examining the carpet in great detail, Catherine sighed, admitting, "I was staring at you, too, a little while ago, from the bedroom.”
"Yes, I know. I could feel your eyes on me.”
"You did? Oh.” Doubly embarrassed now, she glanced at him and then looked away. "You seemed to be so intent on what you were doing.”
"My thoughts were focused on what I was doing, but my heart wasn’t.”
Understanding that, she nodded her head and peered up at him. "It was with me.”
"Always,” Vincent replied, stroking the side of her face. "Forever. Wherever you are, wherever you go, whether it’s across a room, or across a continent, my heart shall always be with you, Catherine.”
"As mine is with you.” Wrapping her arms around his neck, she sighed. "Well, anyway, it’s not like I…ogle…you all…that much.”
Unwilling to compromise her dignity by negating that obvious untruth, Vincent’s mouth curved up at the comers until glinting white teeth came into view. Trying to phrase the words as delicately as he could, he began, "My Dear, I can always sense when you are looking at me…” He hesitated. "…Even from another room.”
Damn. Leaning back in his arms, she cast him a mortified look. "Even when I try to be especially careful?”
"Even then.” Adoring eyes met hers. "I have come to accept the fact that you enjoy…studying…me, and sometimes at great length.” With that, the color of his eyes deepened, turning the shade of a tempest-tossed sea. "And it’s only fair to tell you that I have come to enjoy the sensation very much.”
Purposely using what Vincent termed her ‘lawyer voice’ Catherine arched an eyebrow, asking, "But, if you enjoy the sensation, then how could you presume that I’d consider it rude when you ‘study’ me?”
Realizing that he had just been very cleverly ‘Hoisted on his own petard’, as the expression went, Vincent unleashed a rumbling chuckle from deep in his throat. "Touché, my Love.”
Sensing that his inner turmoil was slowly receding, she slid her left hand over his chest and relaxed against him. "It’s nice to know that you like what I’m wearing tonight.”
Closing his eyes and tensing his jaw, Catherine’s soul-mate tried to inhibit the desire clutching and releasing at the center of his masculinity. Dear God, it felt as though her touch was burning right through his clothing, to his very skin. Attempting to keep his voice steady, he managed, "Y…Your gown is lovely.”
"Thank you. So is your new shirt.” When she walked the fingers of her right hand along his rib-cage, Catherine smiled as the muscles there tensed expectantly. The poor dear was extremely ticklish. Resting her ear against his heart, she reached around the curve of Vincent’s hip and cupped one of his tensed buttocks in the palm of her hand. "These leather pants are so soft, and they feel absolutely wonderful.”
Arching his back, Vincent grunted softly, thinking, ‘At the moment, they don’t feel all that ‘wonderful’ from this side of the zipper.’
Nuzzling closer, Catherine observed, "But then you always feel wonderful to me, whatever you’re wearing.” Pausing for effect, she added throatily, "But I still prefer the feel of your warm, bare flesh moving beneath my fingers as we love.”
This woman seemed intent on destroying him one heartbeat at a time. Forcing himself to take a step back, before her caresses and words caused him to lose all semblance of control, Vincent placed his hands at his hips and allowed his eyes to drift over her, confessing, "Although I admire your gown, it’s not that alone which…seizes at my heart; it is the image of you wearing it.”
Before he could say anything more, a song on the stereo, its strains hauntingly beautiful, momentarily caught his attention.
‘I have never seen you looking as lovely as you did tonight, never seen you shine so bright, never seen so many men asking if you wanted to dance, looking for a little romance given half a chance. I have never seen that dress you’re wearing, or the highlights in you hair that catch your eyes, I have been blind. Lady in red, is dancing with me, cheek-to-cheek. There’s nobody here, it’s just you and me. It’s where I wanna be. And I hardly know this beauty at my side. I’ll never forget, the way you look…tonight. Never seen you looking so gorgeous as you did tonight, never seen you shine so bright. You’re amazing. Never seen so many people want to be there at your side, and when you turned to me and smiled, it took my breath away. I have never had such a feeling-a feeling of such complete and utter love as I do tonight…’**
Reaching out to encircle Catherine’s waist with both hands, Vincent started swaying slowly back and forth in time with the music. Opening the bond fully, he gasped as the tempo of their two heartbeats seemed to blend with the music. Pressing his body the length of hers and bending his head until his mouth rested at the curve of her ear, he nuzzled it gently, murmuring, "My thoughts exactly.”
Closing her eyes, Catherine moaned his name once, then again, and buried her fingers into his hair.
Lost in the sensation of holding her in his arms, just as the song came to an end, without knowing it he echoed the words of the balladeer whispering, "I love you.”
Rising to her toes to clasp him around the neck, she began dropping moist, nibbling kisses to the side of his jaw. "I love you, too, very much; very much indeed.”
Sliding one hand down over the tensed muscles of her buttocks, his large palm nearly encompassing the softness there, Vincent groaned, "I realize that you have gone to great effort tonight, and I appreciate it, truly I do. But would it be possible…” Shaking his hair out of his eyes, he cleared his throat and tried again. "Will the meal you’ve prepared be ruined if it’s kept in the oven for a…little while?”
Easing back in his arms, Catherine smiled up at him. "Define ‘little while’?”
Knowing, of course, precisely what she was doing, Vincent focused hungry eyes on her. "That choice, as always, is yours to make.”
"Well…” Leaning forward to suck at his lower lip, she released it slowly as two powerful arms encompassed her waist, "…it’s Chinese, so I can always refrigerate it, and then heat it up again later.”
Getting a ‘bit of his own back’, as the Irish would say, Vincent placed his left hand to the center of her spine and brought her forward in his embrace. "Define ‘later’?”
His eyes sparkling with gold-tinged flame as they captured hers, Vincent slowly shook his head back and forth. "No, I don’t think so.”
Deciding to examine his tight leather pants in more detail, Catherine edged one hand between them and ran the tip of her forefinger gently along the bulge at the front. "One a.m.?”
Curling his pelvis toward her, he groaned, "Not if you continue doing… that.”
Pressing the palm of her hand against the essence of his masculinity, she caressed him sweetly, observing, "My friend, Jenny, once told me that she likes Oriental food for breakfast, but I’ve never tried it at that time of the day.”
Narrowing his eyes to scrutinize her in a way that settled in somewhere down around the soles of her feet, Vincent’s eyes flashed with intent, his voice whisper-soft, hoarse with emotion. "Then perhaps it’s time that you did.”
Well aware that he was just about ready to explode in ten directions at once, Catherine decided to find out just how far he was going to allow this to continue. "But, what if I don’t want it for breakfast?” Deepening her touch, she afforded him a charming pout. "What then?”
"Then you shall have it for lunch…”
Lunging forward, Vincent swept his left arm around her waist. Lifting her from the floor and settling her body into the curve of his arm, he edged a searching right hand under her gown and purposefully slid it up over her hips. Needing desperately to touch her, his fingers strayed between her thighs to carefully stroke the softness there. As a sob burst from his throat, he bent forward to take Catherine’s mouth with a starved urgency that simply refused to be constrained.
And he kept kissing her until the world truly did ‘divide and shatter’.