Vincent awoke later that day to the feel of Catherine nestled against him and the warmth of sunlight streaming through the closed curtains. This is nice, he decided, though “nice” was too small a word for the scent of Catherine which surrounded him and the certainty that they had this time together. He became aware that his right hand was under her t-shirt, cradling the cool silk of her left breast . Vincent would have pulled away, but his conscience, which sounded suspiciously like Devin, boomed in his ear. Just what do you think you're doing?
I was fondling Catherine in her sleep, Vincent thought, wondering just when Devin had taken up residence in his brain. First the Other, now him. Wonderful.
Yeah? So what if I'm here too? Don't you dare move your hand. It doesn't look like the lady minds it.
But nothing. You left your safe places, and you've come this far. So don't get all uptight. Just relax and enjoy this, will you?
Very well, Vincent thought, and determinedly slammed the mental door on his conscience. He nuzzled the soft, sweet spot where her neck met her shoulder, where the scent of her was strongest. Catherine had discovered some time ago how acute his sense of smell was and had once asked him what she smelled like. He'd answered, “Sunlight,” but there was more to it then that. There was the smell of the soap and shampoo she used (no matter how much she thought she'd rinsed it off, he could always smell it,) the dry cotton smell of her t-shirt, and the faint floral smell of her deodorant. There was also, overlaying all those odors, a stronger smell that in some ancient, instinctive part of his brain whispered Mate. Vincent had never told her that last part, and had done his best to ignore it himself, but his illness the previous summer had changed many things for him.
So he nuzzled and kissed and lightly nipped that sweet spot until Catherine stirred and her eyes opened. “Mmmm, that feels good,” Catherine said, sleepy green eyes darkening in arousal which skittered through their bond like light and cloudshadows. “And good morning to you too.”
“It's late afternoon,” Vincent corrected mildly, between kisses.
“So it is,” she replied, running her hands through the thick hair at the base of his scalp. “But I'm going to ignore the clock for now, okay?”
“What clock?” he asked, smiling, and kissed her again, enjoying the feel of her mouth beneath his and the increase in her scent. His hands reached under the thin cotton shirt to caress her breasts and she arched against him while a distant voice inside him wondered at his temerity. Surely she would pull away...
No, she won't. She isn't, Vincent said to himself, and watched as Catherine sat up slowly to remove her shirt....
...Just as there was a knock on the door.
Catherine's eyes met his own. Fury at being interrupted warred with arousal in her green eyes as she snarled at the door, “What?”
“Housekeeping,” said a voice that even to Vincent's ears sounded entirely too cheerful.
“Damn, damn, damn, DAMN,” Catherine muttered, jumping off the bed. “Vincent, love, I'm sorry, but you'll have to get into the closet.”
Vincent nodded, although the last time he'd hidden in something that small was when Father had come after him for pouring itching powder in Devin's bed; then, he'd hidden inside a wardrobe. The lock began to turn and Vincent made a mad dash for the closet, trailing sheets and blankets behind him as he went. Just as the door opened, Catherine shut the closet door.
“Good evening,” the maid said.
From a crack in the closet door, Vincent could just barely see Catherine force a smile. Her anger made her thoughts much louder through their bond and he could hear quite clearly what she was thinking: Fuck. Of all the lousy, rotten, goddamned timing.
Vincent was momentarily shocked that his Catherine, so gentle and self-controlled, would even know such language, let alone think it. I hate to tell you, Fuzz, but you know she's always been a woman of strong passions, his conscience said, again sounding depressingly like Devin. Catherine wanted to be with you, in every way, and she didn't want to be interrupted. Why wouldn't she react that way?
Viewed in that light, it really wasn't so surprising. And it was strangely.reassuring that she felt that way about him.
Mmmm...hmmm, his conscience muttered. Now you get it.
Vincent settled back in the closet and waited for housekeeping to leave. When they finally did---obviously not soon enough for Catherine's taste---she opened the closet door and looked down at him, grinning. “How in the world did you ever fit in here?”
He looked up at her and smiled. “Did I have a choice?”
“No, I suppose you didn't.” Vincent crawled out of the closet and stood up. “Are you hungry?” Catherine asked.
“Yes,” Vincent replied, sending an image through their bond.
Catherine laughed. “For food, Vincent. I don't suppose this place has room service but I can go get us some take out from the restaurant. Is there anything you're hungry for?”
He just gazed at her. Catherine stood on tiptoe to kiss him. “Much as I'd love to pick up right where we left off, I haven't eaten since lunch yesterday and I know you haven't either. And it'll be dark soon. So let's eat first and figure out...things from there.”
Vincent gathered her close to him. “I shall very much enjoy figuring out...things with you, Catherine,” he murmured against her ear. She shivered once, all over, then was gone.
Catherine returned to the sound of running water. Vincent, taking a shower.
Still gonna let this one go, Cath? her inner Jenny asked.
She considered it for a bare few seconds; there was the food, which was hot, but there was Vincent, who was hotter. It wasn't even really a contest. Placing the containers of food on a nearby table, and making very, very sure the door was locked and bolted, she stripped and walked into the bathroom. The shower stall wasn't precisely tiny, but the shower head was at a bad angle for someone of Vincent's height, and he was clearly having trouble rinsing the last of the shampoo out of his hair. “You look like you could use some help with that,” Catherine said, stepping in neatly behind him.
He turned to look at her and she was struck by how changeable his blue eyes were---dark, when he was aroused, pale and glacial cold in anger or fury, a warmer blue when he was happy and content, as he was now. “Indeed,” Vincent said, almost purring.
“I think you're going to need to bend down a little,” Catherine managed, needing to look away from those eyes but not really wanting to. “Otherwise, you're going to end up with a kink in your neck.”
Vincent knelt before her, and she angled the shower head just right so that the warm water rinsed the last of the shampoo out of his hair. And Catherine thought again how beautiful he was, and how utterly unaware he was of his own beauty.
“I am not beautiful, Catherine,” Vincent rumbled, catching her thought easily.
She flushed a bit; sometimes his empathic abilities still startled her. “You are to me, love. And to everyone else who knows you.” Catherine looked down at his soaked hair, seeing that tangles would be forming in the dense mass. She turned off the shower and tugging lightly on his hair, she asked, “Can I help you with this?”
Vincent nodded. Drawing him to the chair at the small table outside the bathroom, Catherine retrieved her own wide-toothed comb and the bottle of leave-in conditioner. “What do you use at home for tangles?” she asked as she began to comb through the long, dense mane and her fingers worked through a particularly dense tangle.
“Rebecca makes an herbal preparation that helps. But my hair tangles anyway,” he said ruefully.
With his hair combed straight, thick and damp as it was, it reached well past the middle of his back. Catherine sprayed a little of the conditioner here and there and the tangles began to dissolve. “Who combed your hair when you were little?”
“Mary,” Vincent answered. “She was the only one who had the patience to deal with both my hair and me,” he chuckled. “The number of times she had to comb my hair out after Devin and I had been playing, I'm surprised she didn't shave me bald.”
Catherine laughed, thinking of the mischief he and Devin must have gotten into. “Why do you ask?” Vincent asked curiously.
She combed his hair gently, feeling the last of the tangles dissolve. “I know so much about you and at the same time, so little. I don't know what your favorite color is, what games you liked to play as a child.” Catherine moved some of his hair back behind his ears, loving the rounded, slightly tufted feel of them. “Until last night, I didn't even know what your ears looked like.”
One of his hands clasped hers where it rested on his shoulder and his head tilted back to rest on her stomach. Vincent's eyes, warm and dark with feeling, met her own. “We will learn much of each other on this trip, and during the rest of our lives together.”
Together. It held such a nice ring.
As soon as it was full dark, Catherine checked out of the hotel while Vincent waited in the van. “Okay,” she said cheerfully as she climbed into the van and buckled her seatbelt. “If nothing else goes wrong, we should be there by tomorrow morning.”
Vincent handed her one of the sandwiches she'd bought for dinner. “You'll pardon me if I'm not terribly optimistic,” he said wryly.
Catherine chuckled. “No, after what we've been through so far, I wouldn't blame you at all. But let's just hope this is the last of our bad luck streak.”
They talked of companionable things as the night and the road stretched out before them. They played “20 Questions,” and told stories of their childhoods. Vincent was right in the middle of one such story involving some of his and Devin's childhood antics when there were two loud shuddering noises and the sharp, acrid smell of burning rubber filled the air. “Hang on, Vincent,” Catherine said tightly, trying to regain control of the van. She struggled with the steering, but eventually managed a rough landing on the side of the road.
Reaching under the passenger seat, Catherine finally located the wayward flashlight. She exited the van just behind Vincent, who was crouched down next to the van, trying to see damage. “Do you see anything?” she asked; his eyes were much better than hers, even with the flashlight.
“Two of the tires are shredded,” he said. “Didn’t Mr. Ang say the van had new tires?”
“He did,” Catherine said grimly, “but I’m thinking he didn’t get what he paid for.” She leaned up against the van and considered their options, which were few, at this point. If she could get to a payphone, she could call for a tow-truck, but it was full dark and the nearest town was four miles away by the map. It would make much more sense to stay with the van until daylight, and then walk back to the town.
The rub, of course, was Vincent. If she waited until daylight, there would be no place---save for the back of the van—for him to hide should someone come. Having him walk with her, in daylight or dark, in such an exposed area, was out of the question, regardless. The red light from the emergency lights reflected in the glow of Vincent’s eyes---his eyes glow in the dark? Why did I never notice that?---as he came towards her. “We should stay with the van, I think,” Vincent said. “Help will come.”
“You hope,” Catherine said wearily. “Though with the way our luck’s been running, it’ll probably be Jason.”
“Jason?” Vincent asked, clearly confused.
I’m guessing they don’t show many horror films below, Catherine thought, amused. Aloud, she said, “A character from a horror film. Never mind. I think you’re right. Let’s see if there’s some emergency flares your brother packed back here. He seems to have packed everything else.”
A few minutes of searching unearthed a box packed with signal flares, some granola bars that seemed not quite past their expiration date, and a deck of playing cards. “I take back every bad thing I ever said about your brother,” Catherine said, emerging from the van.
Lips quirking, Vincent asked, “You thought bad things about Devin?”
Catherine raised her eyebrows. “When he was playing at being a lawyer, you bet I did.” She flipped the package of emergency flares over and angled the flashlight to see the directions better, and opened the package. “Okay, here goes nothing.”
The flares lit with a bright orange flame as Catherine placed them on the diagonal behind the van. They climbed into the back of the van, closed the doors and waited. Catherine turned off the flashlight to conserve the batteries and watched as Vincent's eyes glowed the faint green of the fireflies she'd seen as a girl. “I never knew your eyes glowed,” she said wonderingly, nestling against his chest.
The vibration of his voice rumbled against her ear as he spoke. “Mmm...hmm. I used to hate it as a child.”
Catherine tensed minutely. So often it seemed to her that Vincent's childhood, as loving as it was within his extended tunnel family, also held a bitter edge of pain—his battles against his own limitations, Father's overprotectiveness, Devin's departure, the horrors of the debacle with Lisa. And her own pain was always, always, easier to bear than his.
But to her surprise, he chuckled a bit. “I used to play hide and seek with Devin and Pascal and I had the best hiding places, you know,” Vincent continued, mock-sadly, “but my eyes would give it away every time.”
Catherine shifted a bit to look at him directly. “We've taken so many walks together at night, but I never saw them glow.”
“They don't always,” Vincent replied. “Or so I'm told. Only when it's completely dark, as it is now and as it was when we were outside. ”
“Well, I love your eyes,” she said. “And the rest of you.”
“Do you, now?” he responded softly, and touched his lips to hers. Catherine felt her heart give a little leap of sheer joy as it did each and every time he kissed her. How did we ever survive two years without this?
“Because I was foolish,” Vincent replied, stroking the side of her face with fingers grown rough and calloused in the tunnels' service. She shivered at his touch in the near darkness; in a way, it was like a repeat of their first meeting, when she couldn't see him and all she was really aware of was the gentle touch of his hands and the warming, safe sound of his voice.
Catherine raised her hands to touch the unique, slanted planes of his face, the high cheekbones, the lips that were so soft upon her own. Vincent's eyes watched her, intent and, she thought, probably dark blue now, though of course she couldn't see the color in the dark. His hands moved down her shoulders, to the thin, worn cotton of her t-shirt---feeling his way, she thought, though he was anything but blind in this darkness.
She was reaching back to unhook her bra when there was a thumping sound on the passenger side door. “I don't believe it,” Catherine moaned. “Are we cursed?”
Vincent kissed her, quickly. “Not at all.”
“Connecticut State Police,” the voice said from outside the van. “Is there anyone in there?”
“Yes,” Catherine called back. “Just a second.” Thinking fast, and relieved that Vincent seemed to be following her thought, she threw some blankets over the now-reclining Vincent. With any luck, if the trooper did see inside, he'd think he saw carpets or blankets, anything but a person.
Catherine hopped out of the back of the van. Smiling brightly, she said, “Boy, officer, am I glad to see you! I blew a couple of tires, as you can see.”
The trooper aimed his flashlight at her. “Yes, ma'am, I definitely can see that. You alone?”
She nodded. “I thought I heard voices,” the trooper said. “I'll call a tow-truck for you, ma'am. Just wait here.”
Click here for Chapter Five...