by Trisha Kehoe
For many moments, the only sounds spilling out of the bedroom were excited raspy groans accompanied by breathless cries, and the soft rustle of clothing as it drifted down onto the carpet.
All of the questions this oh, so special being wanted to ask of his lady would have to wait; so would patience. For now, passion had claimed him. And after so many unendurable empty years, Vincent had finally learned that he could surrender to that emotion fully, without hesitation, without fear, knowing that the woman he loved would always be there, holding him tightly, until his need of her was beautifully, utterly sated.
On this, their eighth anniversary, there were also presents to be exchanged, but they too, would have to wait.
Catherine’s gift to the man she adored was to be a somewhat over-sized, hand-knit, turquoise sweater--one that had taken her nearly six months of concentrated effort and many false starts to get exactly right.
Vincent’s offering to his bond-mate hadn’t taken six months to create, it had taken most of his life. That wondrous gift consisted of three questions. Just three. And when he found the courage to voice them aloud, those precious entreaties would well and truly change…everything.* * *"Oh, my Love, my dearest Love, please…please don’t stop now? Yes, like that, touch me there again…”
Curling his left arm over his eyes, Vincent made no effort to subdue the rumbling, passion-induced grunts rising in his throat. Spreading the fingers of his right hand, he cupped them around Catherine’s tensed bottom as it dipped and rose in cadence with his fiercely rocking hips. Digging his heels into the bed, he arched upward once, twice, and then a third and final time, waiting…waiting, his impatience slowly devouring him, and nearly unhinging his mind.
With his entire body yielding to an urgency deeper and more powerful than any other single thing, his last rational perception was that all of the romanticists and poets who defined passion as a living, breathing entity with a force of its own, were correct in their assumptions. Now, at this moment, in this bed, he fully believed that what they spoke of lived within him; within his blood, as it lived within all people who loved completely, with utter faith.
This heat, this fire sweeping through his veins, truly was a craving which could lift him to the gates of heaven itself, or damn him to eternal agony. And still, even knowing what could happen, he opened his soul and welcomed its power to consume him.
Tightening his jaw and clenching his teeth as a desperately needed release reached out to snap his body taut, dealing the ultimate, crowning blow, Vincent curled his fingers into his Beloved’s hair. Cupping his other hand around her urgently rocking bottom, at that same moment from within his consciousness came the words he had no breath left to voice aloud. ‘Oh God, please end this sweetest of agonies, and allow it to happen soon, before I lose all sense of patience!’
Thrusting upward as spiraling colors from within his mind and all of the fluids in his body seemed to merge and then explode outward at the same moment, enclosing him in tints of crimson, purple, and liquid gold, Vincent knew that they were the shades of his passion, ones that reaffirmed his masculinity.
Just as the measure of a single beat of his heart mingled with his pleasure, flinging him beyond the limits of coherent thought, from within the bond came a silent cry that was joyous, thankful, and immensely relieved.
‘Catherine!’* * *
Cracking one eye open to peer over at the bedside dock, Catherine sneered at it. Four a.m.? Blah. Not relishing the idea of being awake before the flippin’ pigeons, she muttered to herself, snuggled back down into her pillow, and reached behind her only to find herself patting an empty bed.
Frowning, she glanced over at the terrace doors, thinking that perhaps Vincent had decided to get a breath of fresh air. But the doors were closed, and there was no large shadow in her range of vision. Certain now, that he was still in the apartment, she sat up and blew her hair out of her eyes. Trying to pinpoint his exact whereabouts, she pursued the man she loved in a way only she could-with her heart.
At that precise moment, the aroma of something wonderfully spicy drifted into the bedroom, causing her nostrils to twitch and her tummy to rumble.
Inhaling deeply, Catherine stood up and stretched for the ceiling. After easing the stiffness between her shoulder blades, she reached for Vincent’s new, but somewhat rumpled, shirt. Sliding into it and enjoying the slightly musky scent clinging to the silk, she rolled up the sleeves four times before her fingers came into view again, thinking, ‘Good Lord, are his arms really this long?’
Eyeing her reflection in the mirror, she toyed with the buttons at the top of the shirt for a moment, and then decided to ‘go for it’. Fastening the one just above her navel, she glanced down at her cleavage. Uh huh. This effect should get a certain someone’s engine jump-started again quite nicely, and rather quickly. Not that he had ever needed much encouragement in that area in the past five years.
Studying the room and then frowning, she tried to remember where she had last seen her slippers? Maybe a big hairy toe had nudged them under the bed? Sinking to her knees, she lifted the edge of the spread and peered underneath it. Nope.
"Where are those damn things hiding?”
Sitting back on her heels and eyeing the carpet, she smiled as her explorations turned up a large pair of white cotton socks sticking out of the top of an enormous black suede boot. Perfect.
Reaching for the socks, Catherine tugged them on, folded them down to her ankles, and then proceeded to wriggle her toes back and forth. Tilting her head to one side, she studied the length of her new footwear thoughtfully for a moment, and then clamped both hands over her mouth to stifle a fit of giggles. From the size of these things, what was claimed in some of the articles she’d read might just be true: the measure of a man’s ‘virility’ did match the size of his feet!
With that thought, she ran one hand through her tousled hair, leapt up, and headed toward the kitchen. As she neared the folding doors, sparkling green eyes locked on the glints of florescent light streaming from beneath them. There was definitely a much-beloved bandit in her kitchen, and it seemed that the little dickens was starving. But this time, it appeared that he was hungry for something else to munch on besides her drowsy little body.
Standing in the kitchen doorway, Catherine took a moment to admire the view.
With ringlets of still-damp hair from his shower cascading halfway down over his back, Vincent was wearing a thigh-length, navy blue bathrobe--which revealed a lot more of him than it managed to conceal.
"Can I help?” she offered, watching as he bent forward over the refrigerator and straightened up holding two cardboard containers in his left hand.
"No, thank you,” he replied, smiling at her. "Everything is under control…I think.”
Lifting one hand to shove his damp hair away from the nape of his neck and padding busily about the kitchen on bare feet, to Catherine Vincent looked adorable, and he looked just a bit tired. With that, she leaned back on the door-jamb and smiled. As well he should after last night. As far as she was concerned, she already had her anniversary present, and then some.
Their first loving had been subdued, yet completely satisfying; the second time had been equally so, but the third time…ah, the third time. Looking just a bit smug, she closed her eyes and sighed. The third time was just about as lusty as you could get and survive to savor the memory.
As a rule, Vincent was a quiet, exquisitely tender lover, ever aware of her needs, always meeting her desires before satisfying his own, which she appreciated more than he would ever know. Yet sometimes a woman wanted to be taken; she needed to be taken. Sensing that within her last night, he seemed to rejoice in it.
Oh, that third time still raised goose-bumps!
Responding eagerly to her emotions, he had become incredibly aroused, even for him, seeming to be more than willing to set the pace and intensity of their physical union. Making no effort to constrain the depth or extent of their bond, he had allowed it to guide him completely, in every way, which had both surprised and delighted her.
Eyes ablaze with intent, Vincent had settled his body resolutely over hers and given voice to his needs, which was unusual for him. Curling powerful fingers at her hips and lifting her toward him, he had pressed forward without hesitation in an urgent, single thrust of his hips. It was one of the few times when he seemed to give no thought to his weight, or to his size.
Becoming more and more frenzied, and then ardently demanding, last night was one of those rare instances when her usually shy man made no attempt to contain his passion, or to restrict it. Under ordinary circumstances, he was an adept and sensual lover, but when he freed every part of himself as he did last night, he was simply astounding.
Although she cherished all aspects of Vincent’s love-making, the all-too-infrequent moments when he trusted himself, and her, enough to lose his inhibitions completely, all of them, allowing a seemingly inherent wildness to surge up and engulf them both, were stored away in a very special place within her heart. In those precious moments, a wantonness in him seemed to call to a part of her Catherine had never known existed until the first time he caressed her body with those sensitive, beautiful hands.
‘Okay lady, enough of that, before you attack the man and end up ravaging him on the kitchen table.’
Setting her reminiscences aside for the moment, she watched as Vincent bent over the stove and opened the door, waiting to see what he was preparing. Suddenly, her eyes went very wide, then darted to the kitchen counter and the oven mitts lying there.
"No!” Catherine gasped, starting forward, but it was too late.
Reaching for the spareribs he was heating up, the man she loved grasped the side of the metal pan, then released it again quickly and popped his fingers into his mouth.
Growling, "Blast,” Vincent turned away from the stove just as Catherine reached his side. With his fingers still in his mouth, he eyed her and sighed, mumbling, "Dood mawning.”
"And ‘dood mawning’ to you.” Tensing the muscles of her jaw and chastising herself roundly for wanting to laugh at such an inopportune moment, she gestured toward his hand. "Are you all right?’
She wouldn’t laugh. She…would…not…laugh. "Is it bad?”
Waving the objects of discussion in the air, Vincent sneered at them. "Bad enough.”
"You poor dear.” Casting him a sympathetic look, she started toward the cabinet just behind him. Opening one of the drawers, Catherine pulled out a clean linen dishcloth, ran the kitchen faucet, and ducked the cloth under the cold water. Wringing it out, she captured his waving hand into hers, wrapped it up, and then brought it to her lips. Placing a kiss to the enormous bandage, she murmured, "There, that should help.”
"The kiss or the towel?” he asked, arching an eyebrow at the more-than-adequate dressing.
"Both.” Patting him on the chest, she reached around him for the oven mitts, slid them on, and then bent down to open the oven door. "Whatever you’re cooking smells wonderful.” Inhaling deeply of the Peking Ravioli, pork- fried rice, and boneless spareribs, she glanced up, smiling. "So, you’ve decided to have Chinese food, huh?”
Looking somewhat like a little boy who had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, Vincent nodded. "I hope you don’t mind that I have raided your icebox.”
Trying to control her tone of voice, Catherine announced, "It’s our icebox, and of course I don’t mind, as long as you’ve cooked enough for me, too.”
"Oh, there is more than enough for both of us,” he reassured her.
Glancing at what she was wearing, Vincent felt his heart skip two beats, wondering if she had any idea exactly how adorable she looked clad in his far-too-large shirt and floppy socks? Eyeing her almost fully exposed cleavage, he sighed. Of course she knew. He dearly wished she had buttoned at least two of the buttons, because suddenly he felt very warm, and this heat was not coming from the oven.
Taking a mental inventory of her limited supply of breakfast items, Catherine gestured to the kitchen cabinets, noting, "If you’d rather have something else for breakfast, there’s some instant oatmeal in there.”
"Thank you, no.” Unwrapping the towel she had placed around his hand, Vincent set it down on the sink, admitting, "I really don’t care for oatmeal…aIl that much.”
"You don’t?” Thinking that bit of information over, she peered up at him. "But when I stay below, that’s what you usually eat in the morning.”
"Hm.” Hunching his shoulders, Vincent smiled at her. "Sometimes that is all there is, my Dear.”
"Oh.” Frowning, Catherine tried to imagine what it would be like to eat something for most of your life, even when you didn’t like it, because it was all there was. Making a mental note to change that state of affairs as quickly as possible, like today, she tensed her jaw and said nothing more for several moments.
When a small kitchen timer emitted a soft ‘ding’, Vincent started toward the counter. "Ah, the coffee is ready.”
Without his being aware of it, as he reached into the cabinet for the cups and saucers, the front of his robe crept open, and it stayed that way as he turned around to face Catherine.
Suddenly having a quite exceptional view of him in all of his naked splendor, his startled lady asked,
"Aren’t you feeling a bit of a…um…draft?”
As a matter of fact, he was. Frowning, Vincent set the chinaware on the kitchen table. Peering down, his eyes widened considerably. Oh dear Lord. Noticeably flustered, he hastily tugged his robe closed. "Please excuse me.”
Unable to stop gawking at him, she muttered, "Uh huh.”
Closing his eyes and tilting his head to one side, as though listening to something only he could hear, Vincent murmured, "Hm…yes…”
Forcing herself to change her range of focus, she peered up at him. "Yes, what?”
Chuckling softly and opening his eyes, he smiled. "May I have my breakfast first?”
"I was talking to the bond, or rather to your emotions emanating from within it.” Reaching into the cabinet for two plates, he handed one to her, and then proceeded to stir the pot bubbling on the stove. "For some reason, what I’m hearing is quite powerful at the moment.”
Realizing she was being teased, Catherine eyed him, thinking, ‘Oh, it is, is it?’ Waiting until he was finished with the stirring business, she came up behind him and slid her arms around his waist, announcing, "I’d like a rib, please.”
"Of course.” Starting to reach for them, Vincent stiffened as her fingers pressed against his rib cage.
"Not those ribs, these…” Digging her fingers in, she got exactly the reaction she was expecting.
"Don’t,” he implored, shifting to the left. Her hands followed.
"Stop!” he cried, edging to the right. Her hands followed.
"You are utterly merciless!”
Finally managing to capture her persistent little fingers, Vincent held them away from his body and scowled at her, the love in his eyes conflicting with the vexation in his tone of voice. "Unhand me, you wicked, wicked woman.” Blue eyes narrowed as they bored into hers. "Or I shall be forced to retaliate in kind.”
Oh, oh, time to stop. It was either stop now, right now, or be tickled until she howled for mercy. Pouting, Catherine took a step backward. "But, I’m only little and you’re big and strong. It’s not fair to…to…pick on…m…me.”
Studying her intently, Vincent fought back the urge to grin. So, we were going into the ‘act’, were we? Bending forward until they were fuzzy chin to quivering one, he narrowed his eyes, announcing, "I’m on to you, you know, and this time it isn’t going to work.”
Laughing so hard she began to hiccup, Catherine fell against his chest. "Oh, you…hic…devil!”
As he hugged her tightly, a wry look came into Vincent’s eyes. Devil? Perhaps. Pulling back slightly, he smiled down at her. "So, would you like some food, or would you prefer a cup of coffee first?”
"I’d like some coffee first, please.”
"Very well.” Taking his lady firmly by the shoulders, Vincent steered her toward a kitchen chair.
"Please sit here, behave yourself, and allow me to serve you?”
Leaning back in the chair with her arms folded across her breasts, Catherine eyed Vincent as he padded back and forth. ‘Okay, I’ll let you eat, but later on, kiddo, your exquisite butt-and everything else, belongs to me.’ Glancing at his damp hair, she stated the obvious. "You’ve already taken a shower.”
"Not wanting to awaken you, I ran the water as quietly as I could,” he replied.
"But why? I would have joined you, and we could have showered together.”
"Which is precisely why I ran the water as quietly as I could.”
"Well, thank you very much.”
Setting Catherine’s food and a cup of coffee in front of her, Vincent sat down and reached across the table to touch her gently on the side of the face. "Dearest, you know very well that I would have enjoyed sharing my shower with you, but after last night you needed your rest.”
When Catherine’s only response was a disdainful grunt, shimmering turquoise eyes searched hers. "Realizing full well how…ardent…I tend to be at that time of day, you must know that if you had been in the bathroom earlier, your ‘rest’ would have ended rather…abruptly, that I promise you.”
Thinking it over, she nodded. "Okay, I forgive you.” Reaching out, Catherine seized a lock of his hair between her fingers and tugged on it. "But I definitely want a rain-check.”
"Of course.” Getting to his feet and leaning toward her, Vincent placed his left forefinger under her chin and urged her head up. "Will this do?” Opening his mouth, he took hers very quickly, and very hard.* * *"Oh,” Catherine groaned, "That food was too good!”
Putting down his fork and leaning back in his chair, Vincent nodded in agreement.
Patting her tummy and taking a mental count of the trillion calories she had just consumed, she crinkled up her nose. "I may never eat, nor move, again.”
"And if I do not move, then I shall fall asleep right here at the table.”
Rising slowly to his feet, Vincent stretched his long arms for the ceiling, and very neatly touched it. "Ahh…” Glancing at the small cardboard box on the counter, he asked, "Would you like a fortune cookie?”
Arching an eyebrow as her Best Beloved’s stretching motions parted the front of his bathrobe, causing him to unintentionally ‘flash’ her for the second time this morning, Catherine thought, ‘Fortune cookie? Oh, is that what men are calling it now?’* * *
Trying to remember how to breathe properly, Vincent rolled over onto his left hip, facing Catherine, and moaned, vowing, "One day, this passion we share will surely destroy us.”
Nuzzling into him, she buried her nose into his damp chest. "I wouldn’t mind dying at a time like that, would you?”
Chuckling, he shook his head adamantly back and forth, sending long amber hair flying in all directions.
"Still, there are some things I’d miss,” she admitted in a hushed tone of voice.
"What, for instance?”
"The tunnels, all of our friends, and the children. Especially the children.”
"Yes.” Suddenly looking very somber, Vincent sat up on the edge of the bed and folded his hands together. It was time to ask what must be asked, and with God’s help, he would speak the words as they should be spoken. He only intended to utter them once in his life, and only to this lady--his lady.
"What is it?” Getting to her knees, Catherine put one hand on his shoulder. "Are you all right?”
"Yes,” he whispered, his eyes focused on his hands. "I was merely contemplating the future…our future.”
"And what you see doesn’t please you,” she asked, her tone anxious, tinged with apprehension.
Turning around, Vincent met her eyes. "No, not…altogether.”
"Oh.” Blinking away tears, Catherine stared down at the bed. "I’m sorry. I thought you d be looking forward to it--especially now.”
Dear God, he was making a complete botch of this.
Reaching out to crush her to his chest, Vincent rocked her gently back and forth. "Oh my Love, my dearest Love, please don’t cry, or it will surely break my heart. You misunderstood what I am trying to say to you-what I’m trying to ask you. Forgive my clumsiness, but I…I thought never to say such words, to anyone, and they do not come easily.”
Wrapping both arms around his neck, Catherine rested her mouth against the softly pulsing vein there--one that seemed to be beating in cadence with the rhythm of her heart. Taking a deep breath, she forced the words from her throat. "Am I going to lose you, Vincent? Am I?”
"Catherine, no!” Cupping her face in his hands, he searched her eyes. "Never. You must believe that. But if I don’t find the courage to say what must be said, I could very well lose you--eventually.”
Before she could argue with him, Vincent put one finger to her lips. "When I watch you with the children, with all of the little ones of our world, I feel your pain, your emptiness. Loving you as I do, when you are in such turmoil, then so am I. My Dear, such anguish is unendurable to me, especially knowing that the blame is mine.”
"There is no blame,” she insisted.
"Dearest, please,” he implored, "Don’t try to spare my feelings in this matter?”
Knowing that he would accept nothing less than the full truth, she nodded her head. "I try to put those feeling aside, really I do, but sometimes it’s so difficult to control my…” Hesitating, she nibbled at her lower lip.
"Your envy,” Vincent stated quietly, finishing her thought. "You want children of your own, you want a home of your own, even if that home is, to quote Devin, ‘A hole in the ground’. Please believe that I want the same things you do.”
Trying not to hope for too much, she murmured, "You’re not just saying that because you know it’s what I want to hear most in the world, are you?”
"No. In truth, perhaps I want those things, those dreams, even more than you do. These last years, ‘wanting’ seems to have become a part of me.” Straightening his shoulders, Vincent took a deep breath. "As you well know, I was reared in a world that is somewhat…old-fashioned. Father taught me that people who share a chamber and their lives, should also take certain vows.”
Pulling back to search his eyes and finding a great resolve in their brilliant blue depths, Catherine gasped, "Oh God, did you just ask me to…to marry you?!”
"Yes, I…I believe I did.” Blinking rapidly, Vincent put one hand to his chest, looking more than a little stunned. "Although where I finally found the nerve to ask that particular question, I shall never know.
Smiling through her tears, she whispered, "You finally found the courage to follow your heart.”
"Yes.” Eyes glinting with turbulent emotions met hers. "And it led me to you. It always has. It always will.” Clasping her firmly by the shoulders, he took a deep breath and handed the woman he loved the only world she had ever wanted. "Oh Catherine, I want it all, for both of us. We’ve more than earned it. We have waited so long, and we deserve it. I want you to live with me, as my wife, and if it’s…possible, I would like a child of our own one day, or, if the Fates allow, perhaps even more than one.”
The three questions were asked, and now he held his breath, waiting for her to answer them.
Causing apprehension to seize at the middle of his chest, Catherine stared at the terrace doors for what felt like an eternity, and said nothing. Then, swiping at her face, she got to her feet, squared her shoulders, and moved away from the bed.
Struggling to get the words around a sudden dryness in his throat, Vincent asked, "Beloved, what…what are you doing?”
Blinking away happy tears and tugging a large suitcase out of the closet, his fearless angel turned around to bestow a heart-stopping smile on him, answering all of his questions with two words.
"I’m packing.”* * *
Concluding the introductory part of the ceremony, Master Po turned toward the two people behind him and bowed, asking, "By what name shall these gifts of heaven be known?”
Tightening her embrace on the baby she was holding, Catherine turned slightly to focus on Vincent’s face. That dear, oh so beautiful face. Beaming up at him, her joy quite evident, she declared, "My husband and I have chosen to name our son Jacob.”
Smiling at her, and then bending his head to lovingly regard the small bundle cradled against his heart, Vincent studied the delicate features of Jacob’s twin sister, thinking that he should feel ashamed of the intense sensation of pride inundating him, but he wasn’t. He would never be ashamed of such emotions again--not ever. This was his family, his life, and his destiny, fulfilled at last. In a world where so many things would forever remain beyond his reach, this he would have.
Meeting Catherine’s eyes to find his own image reflected within their shimmering green depths, he thought, ‘Yes, this is what I am, who I am, and I am loved by this lady. Such a gift--such a miracle. Truly I am the most fortunate of men.’
With his eyes conveying a pledge of eternal devotion, and with a new-found optimism in the future, Vincent gazed at Catherine in a way that truly seemed to light up the room, bringing tears to the eyes of those who had gathered for this most extraordinary of events.
As a deep sense of utter peace and contentment glided through every part of him, an exceptional man who had expected to be alone all the years of his life, finally came to accept fully that he would never be alone or lonely again. In that brief span of a single heartbeat, the shadows were gone--all gone; so was the fear. Gone from his thoughts, from his life, and from his soul.
Drawing a deep, cleansing breath, Vincent knew in the deepest part of who he was that he had been set free, finally and forever. Resting one hand gently on Catherine’s cheek, he leaned toward her and studied her thoughtfully, allowing his heart to express the words for him.
‘For all our lives and forever, my dearest, most precious Love.’
Thinking of Ellie, the beautiful young woman they had rescued, only to lose to illness, he hoped that she would have approved of what he was about to do.
Rising to his full height, Vincent put one hand at Catherine’s slender waist. Bringing her and their newborn son forward into the protection of his arms, he announced in a strong, clear voice for all to hear, "My wife and I have chosen to name our daughter Eleanora Rose.”
‘Almost paradise, we’re knocking on heaven’s door.
Almost paradise, how could we ask for more?
I swear that I can see forever in your eyes. Paradise.’
(1)‘Almost Paradise’: Love theme from the movie ‘Footloose’ Sung by Mike Keno and Ann Wilson Columbia Records - Catalog # 04418 Be sure to email Trisha for a list of her few remaining novels.
(2)‘Lady in Red”’/ Sung by Chris DeBurgh