How Shall I Love Thee, Catherine??? 
By Barbara Hill  
(Part 1)

   I love the look of you when your eyes meet mine. 
     I love the sound of you when your whisper soothes me 
  in the early morning hours. 
And I love the warmth of you, 
  the strength of your arms enfolding me, 
keeping me safe. 
I love the touch of you, the feel of you, the fit of you . . . 
I love you. 
(Author unknown)

      The Great Hall was alive with happy laughter as the tunnel community and their helpers from Above celebrated the annual Winterfest Party.  A small band played soft music while several couples danced. 
      Catherine watched the dancers with envy, wishing she were among them.  She glanced up from her conversation with Mary and Sarah to gaze across the room at the tall unique figure of the man she wished was holding her on the dance floor.  Vincent. 
      Her heart practically sang his name, her eyes devoured him.  He was wearing a light gray ruffled shirt belted at the waist over dark gray slacks made of soft suede.  A pair of black leather thigh-high boots complimented the outfit, making him look like a figure straight out of one of the Victorian romance novels she’d read voraciously as a teenager. 
      His tawny mane fell in thick waves over his broad shoulders and though she could not see him clearly, Catherine knew that the deep contours of his striking features and intense blue eyes would be even more beautiful than usual in the soft glowing candlelight that filled the room.  God, he was gorgeous! 
      Sensing her intense scrutiny, Vincent looked at her and smiled tenderly.  Returning his smile, Catherine sent a gentle nudge through the bond they shared, letting him know that she wanted him close. 
      Vincent politely excused himself from his companions and started across the wide stone floor to ask Catherine to dance.  Half way there he was ambushed by a helper and as much as he wanted to be with her he was, as always, polite and attentive.  He glanced at her apologetically, his blue eyes mirroring the feeling of disappointment he could sense in her. 
      ‘Damn it!’ Catherine thought to herself.  ‘I’m never going to get him alone.’  She looked up longingly at the mistletoe left over from Christmas hanging from a rafter.  She’d been hovering near it all night in the hopes of getting him under it. 
      Catherine’s mind wandered back to the Christmas Eve gathering and the comedy of errors that seemed to prevent her from getting Vincent anywhere near the mistletoe that night.  She had finally fallen into bed exhausted with slightly chapped lips and a feeling of frustration that had kept her awake, tossing and turning, all night.  Though she had been kissed by so many pairs of lips she’d lost count, not once during the entire evening had she even come close to the one pair of lips she so desperately wanted to taste.  A mouth as unique and beautiful as its owner. 
      A soft deep chuckle filtered through their bond, bringing Catherine’s mind back to the present, and once more she found Vincent gazing at her in apology.  She flashed him what she hoped was an encouraging smile. 
      ‘Don’t worry, Vincent’ she thought to herself.  ‘We’ll get together before this night is over.  One way or the other I’m going to get you under this mistletoe.  You’re not getting away from me again.’ 
      Catherine felt a small tug on her arm and looked down to find one of the children, Andrea, smiling up at her.  Bending slightly, she listened as the child whispered in her ear.  Nodding slowly, Catherine took the child’s hand and followed her to a corner of the room where Mouse, Jamie and Samantha waited. 
      Vincent’s gaze followed Catherine’s retreating form appreciatively.  Visions of her waiting patiently for him at their threshold that evening, bathed in the glow of the light radiating from her world Above, deluged his senses; she was dressed in a long gown of deep red satin that hugged her soft curves.  The front of the dress dipped low, and his eyes were drawn to her crystal where it lay nestled between her breasts.  The long skirt was slit half way up her shapely thigh, affording him a glimpse of creamy skin as she walked slowly toward him, her arms reaching for a hug.  Her beauty had quite literally taken his breath away. 
      Vincent shook his head slightly, the delightful memory fading as he became aware of someone demanding his attention.  Mouse stood next to him, his expressive face alive with excitement. 
      "I’m sorry, Mouse.  My mind was elsewhere.  What is it you need?  What can I do for you?” 
      "Nothing.”  Mouse smiled secretively and held out his hand.  "For you.”  The boy held something vaguely green and slightly wilted. 
      Vincent gazed curiously at the object Mouse held.  Though the young man spoke in a language all his own, Vincent seldom had trouble understanding exactly what he meant.  Tonight, however, seemed to be the exception. 
      "Mouse, what do you propose I do with this?”  Vincent very cautiously picked the object out of the boy’s hand and held it up. 
      "Wear it.”  Snatching the treasure out of his mentor’s hand, Mouse proceeded to tuck it into the soft waves of Vincent’s hair, giving it a gentle pat to make sure it was secure. 
      "There!  All set.”  With that, Mouse bounded across the floor to join Catherine and the others.  Vincent watched with curiosity as the young man whispered excitedly to Jamie. 
      Just as he was about to join the small group, Vincent heard another familiar voice calling him and once more found himself thwarted in his attempt to get Catherine on the dance floor.  He soon found himself involved in another round of conversation and the thing that Mouse had put in his hair was all but forgotten. 
      Across the large room, Catherine stood deep in conversation with Jamie and Samantha.  Catherine laughed softly and hugged both girls.  They were playing Cupid and while she had doubts as to whether their idea would work, she was more than willing to let them try.  At this point she was willing to try anything. 
      Jamie smiled confidently as she patted Catherine’s hair in place.  "It’ll work, Catherine, I know it will.”  Jamie leaned down to speak to the younger child.  "Andrea, you go get Vincent. Bring him over here.” 
      Scooting around the crowd, the little girl ran toward where Vincent stood talking to Peter Alcott. 
      "Vincent, come quick.  We need you right now.”  Vincent scooped the child up in his arms, his soft voice filled with concern. 
      "What is it, Andrea?  Is there something wrong?”   The little girl shook her head vigorously. 
      "No, nothing’s wrong.  We just need you to come.”  She pointed across the room toward her friends. 
      Vincent wasn’t sure what was going on, but Andrea had just given him the excuse he needed to get to the one place he so desperately wanted to be –  at Catherine’s side. 
      "Excuse me, Peter, I must see what the problem is.  I’ll talk to you again before you leave.”  Putting Andrea down, Vincent took her small hand in his and headed across the room. 
      Their gaze met and locked as Catherine watched him stride across the floor toward her,  his long, powerful legs moving with the grace of a big cat.  Face to face at last, they both glanced around waiting for another interruption and shared a long sigh of relief when it didn’t come. 
      Giggling softly, Andrea took Catherine’s small hand, placed it in Vincent’s and gave them both a satisfied pat.  The child beamed with pride as the couple smiled down at her gratefully, then ran to join her friends. 
      "Catherine, may I have this dance?” 
      Catherine shivered as his blue eyes sparkled at her in expectation.  She smiled and took his arm. 
       ‘It’s about time!’ she thought to herself.  To Vincent, she merely whispered, "I would love to.” 
       The four young matchmakers watched as their two favorite people walked hand in hand to begin their long overdue dance.  As Vincent wrapped Catherine in his strong arms, neither was aware of the vision they made as their friends turned to watch them fondly.  Catherine and Vincent had eyes only for each other. 
      Vincent was so captivated by the vision in his arms that the dance was half over before Vincent noticed that something was tucked into Catherine’s hair.  His thick eyebrows practically disappeared off the top of his forehead as he realized what it was and climbed even higher when he also realized that the object Mouse had put in his hair was more of the same.  He and Catherine both had a twig of slightly wilted mistletoe in their hair! 
      Glancing across the room at his friends, he saw them smiling like the proverbial cat that ate the canary and it suddenly dawned on him.  They’d been had!  Vincent’s forthcoming apology to Catherine for his friends’ breach in etiquette was cut short when he saw the look in her eyes.  She knew!  Catherine was in on it! 
       Pulling him close, she glanced into his questioning eyes and smiled demurely, waiting for her kiss.  And Vincent could tell from the look in her eyes that Catherine would not be denied this time. 
      Vincent slowed the gait of their dance slightly, his eyes riveted to the full moist lips awaiting his attention.  As the waltz swelled to a conclusion, he tucked Catherine into his body and folded himself over her in a gallant dip.  His left hand slid around to cradle her neck gently.  His long hair cascaded over her face like a golden curtain and that fascinating, uniquely shaped mouth hovered close.  So very very close. 
     Catherine’s green eyes twinkled with surprise and delight.  She slid her hand up the sleeve of his shirt to tangle her fingers in his thick hair and, without realizing it, held her breath. 
     She was going to get her kiss! 
      Vincent’s mind vaguely told him that they were in a crowded room, that this was neither the time nor the place for him to be kissing her, but his heart and body had a mind of their own.  Catherine was in his arms, warm and willing and waiting to be kissed, and kiss her he intended to do.  One small kiss to satisfy Catherine’s wish.  One chaste kiss to satisfy his own need and curiosity, for he’d never kissed a woman like that before.  Just one tiny kiss.  Surely one little kiss couldn’t hurt? 
      The moment their lips touched, long denied, deeply buried yearnings ignited and all their suppressed passions came suddenly crashing to the surface.    Vincent claimed Catherine’s mouth hungrily, wrapping her petite form in a gentle bear hug.  The soft ruffles of his shirt rubbed provocatively against the swell of her breasts and, with a deep sigh of contentment, Catherine gave herself up to a kiss like none she’d ever before experienced. 
      Vincent pulled back slightly, just enough to look at her, his eyes growing dark with passion.  Nothing in the thousands of books he’d read or the many tales he’d heard had prepared him for this!  Nothing in his entire life had ever affected him so quickly or so strongly as Catherine’s kiss. 
      As if in a daze, Vincent lowered his head for another kiss and was brought rather abruptly out of his reverie by a thunderous sound.  Breaking free of the spell only Catherine could cast upon him, he glanced around him to find the entire room applauding their approval.  Looking back down at the face of his beloved, Vincent found her looking up at him, her face flushed with what he thought was embarrassment. 
      Straightening up slowly, he glanced around once more at the grinning faces of all of their friends and was at once guilt stricken.  Catherine clutched the front of his shirt for support, trying desperately to steady herself in a world that suddenly turned topsy turvy.  She stared at him, her luminous eyes wide with surprise. 
      Vincent silently berated himself for what he considered his unforgivable behavior.  How dare he do something like this!  And in front of so many people no less!  No wonder Catherine was so embarrassed that she couldn’t or wouldn’t speak. 
      Vincent was so upset by what he considered his terrible indiscretion, not to mention his own reaction to their first real kiss, that he couldn’t feel Catherine’s emotions at the moment.  He had no way of knowing that she couldn’t speak because he had quite literally taken her breath away with his kiss, or that her face was flushed not because of embarrassment but because his kiss was more than she had ever imagined or dreamed, or that she very much wanted to be kissed again.  Vincent could not sense any of this at the moment. His only thought was to get away and try to find a way to tell Catherine how sorry he was.  Taking her by the hand, he turned and hurried out of the Great Hall.