The house was, and was not, what Vincent had expected when Catherine had spoken of her father’s cabin. He’d expected, knowing how wealthy she was, a more imposing building, but the little cabin was just that---little. It was a red, cedar-shingled two-story cottage with a grey slate roof, a enclosed wraparound porch with a long white porch swing, and Victorian tracery in all the corners.
What he had expected, though, was what the cottage turned out to be---a peaceful place in harmony with its surroundings. It fronted the water but the woods around the house were largely let to run wild, so much so that it seemed the cottage, along with the trees and wildflowers, had grown from the earth itself.
“The two bedrooms have the best view of sunrise over the water. We’re just past sunrise now, but it’ll be glorious tomorrow.” Catherine said, setting her satchel down in the entry-way. “What do you think?”
His eyes took in the hardwood floors, the comfortable, overstuffed furniture, the bookshelves filled to the ceilings and considered that much of this world, unlike the world that Catherine normally inhabited, could have folded neatly into the tunnels. “It’s lovely,” Vincent said.
Catherine smiled. “We came here every year from the time I was about three until the summer I left for college. Some of my happiest memories are of this place, and I so wanted you to see it.”
The curtains were pulled back and sunlight arched across the wood floors to spill on Vincent’s features. Catherine saw the red hair mixed in with his gold mane, the high cheekbones and the flattened feline muzzle as though she had never seen them before. Well, I haven’t. Not like this.
He turned to her then and the radiance of his smile dimmed even the sunlight. “And no one looked twice,” he said wonderingly.
“No,” Catherine replied. “No one will. It’s just you and I here this week.” She took his hand, feeling the faint tremors of emotion and sensing the joy he couldn’t fully express in their bond. “Come,” she said. “Let’s get unpacked and go exploring.”
Catherine smiled as she heard the hardwood floors on the stairs creak under Vincent's weight. The floors were old, built in her grandmother's time, and sturdy. Amused, she wondered what her grandmother would have thought of this latest visitor to her old home. “The two bedrooms are up here, and the bathroom is right in between them.”
She opened the door to the larger of the two bedrooms, which was dominated by a carved Jenny Lind bed that had been in the family since her grandmother's time. It was covered with a quilt made in the mariner's compass pattern that Catherine remembered snuggling up under in the cool autumn nights. An old brick fireplace dominated one side of the room and a braided rag rug in a multitude of colors warmed the floor. On the opposite wall was an old armoire and a bowed-front dresser.
Catherine turned to look at Vincent, who was walking around the room as if in a daze. “Do you like it?” she asked.
Gently, he placed his satchel on the floor and rested one clawed hand on the fireplace mantel. “You offer me paradise and ask if I like it?” His gaze met hers, intent and blue. “Catherine, I have dreamed of us...here...for months now.”
“Come,” she said, “there's more to see.”
And there was: the study on the upstairs floor that still reminded her of her father, the smaller bedroom that had once been hers, the kitchen and library on the first floor, the copse of trees near the house that once had hid the young Catherine in the endless days of summer. And, finally, she led him down to the water's edge, where the water glinted clear and bright in the sunlight.
“There's no one around,” Catherine said again; she could feel the muscles in his arms tensing, preparing to bolt in an instinctive fear of being caught in the open. “Relax, love. It's only us here.”
The chill autumn wind was ruffling the ends of his mane. “Don't be,” Catherine replied. “This is all unknown to you. Take the time to get used to it.” Taking his hand, she led him to some weathered stone benches behind the house, surrounded by a dense yellow hedge.
“My mom planted these when I was small,” Catherine told him. “We used to have tea parties out here.” She gazed at him. “What are you feeling, love?”
“It's all so...alive, Catherine,” he responded. He tilted his head back, feeling strange and naked without the hood of his cloak shadowing his face. “The sunlight on my face...I never thought to feel it. And the colors of the leaves...we don't have such colors below.” His eyes were all blue in full sunlight, like the autumn sky. She had never seen them such a vivid, deep blue.
Rising, she walked over to stand between his legs and he rested his head against her. Stroking through his thick, dense mane, she asked, “Are you hungry?”
He nodded. “I think Gertrude got the pantry stocked up for a few days at least. Let's go inside; I need to call her and find a mechanic for the van anyway.” Catherine tugged on his hand and they went back into the house.
Later, contently munching on a roast beef sandwich and drinking hot apple cider, Catherine felt herself becoming drowsy. She'd called Gertrude and then the local mechanic that Gertrude recommended, and made arrangements for the van to be towed and repaired, and all of their clothes were unpacked and put away. Now that they were, finally, at their destination, some part of her was succumbing to a bone-deep weariness.
“Catherine,” Vincent said, amused. “You nearly fell asleep in your sandwich. Come upstairs and rest with me.”
Groggily, she looked at him. “You're tired too?”
Vincent nodded. “We've gotten used to sleeping during the day, after all. We'll both feel rested if we sleep now.”
Catherine pushed her hair out of her eyes, and smiled up at him. “When you're right, you're right. I could really do with a nap right now.”
They staggered up the creaking stairs and Catherine collapsed on the bed. “I'd forgotten how soft this bed was,” she said, pulling her sweater off over her head and leaving only her camisole top and jeans on. Ugh, this bra. This bra has got to come off, because I'm not sleeping in it. She threw the offending piece of underwear in the corner, not caring for once where it landed, and pulled back the covers on the bed.
Her mouth went dry suddenly as she gazed at Vincent. He was wearing one of the homespun-knit-flannel shirt concoctions of the tunnels and a pair of jeans that seemed newer than his normal garb, but as he took his shirt off, she found herself mesmerized by the play of muscles under the soft fur of his arms. She remembered how those arms had held her in the night, braced over her in their passion and...Suddenly, it felt very, very warm in the bedroom.
“Should I light a fire?” Vincent asked, shooting her a wry, humorous glance that told her he'd picked up on her thought and was clearly enjoying it.
“Um, yeah,” Catherine said, remembering that Gertrude had said on the phone that the chimney had been swept only last month. “There's some wood by the fire.”
Vincent bent down and swiftly lit the fire, affording her an excellent view of his posterior. He stood up and Catherine came to stand behind him, rubbing the soft fur of his back. “Though if you ask me, it's already pretty warm in here.” Great. I sound like some character out of a really bad romance novel.
Cath, her inner Jenny piped up. It's not a cliché if it's true. Vincent smiled down at her, that happy, full-fanged grin she loved to see, and turned to rub her back.
She put her arms around his waist. Without all the layers of clothing, he was thinner than she would have guessed, something which had startled her the first time she'd noticed it in the hotel. But his sheer presence was something quite aside from his actual physical mass; he loomed large whenever, wherever he walked.
His arms drew her close and Catherine listened to the soft susurrus of his heart, remembering how she had done so in the height of his illness last summer. “I'm here now, my Catherine,” Vincent said, softly, and it was enough for her to chase back the shadows of that dark time. Unexpectedly, she yawned. “You should rest,” he said.
Catherine looked up at him. “I can always sleep, but we won't always have this.”
“Nevertheless...Catherine, you are tired, and when you awake, I will be here.”
Such a simple thing to say, but it brought tears to her eyes. “I love you, you know.”
His lips nuzzled the part in her hair. “And I love you, my Catherine.”
She awoke to the grey, watery light of early evening and the warm crackle of the fire. There was a faint hissing of rain on the windows and Catherine's eyes snapped open. Rain? She tilted her head just slightly to see the rain skitter down the uneven glass of the windows. She smiled; Vincent had to see this. “Hey, love,” Catherine whispered.
He muttered something unintelligible. “Vincent,” Catherine said softly. “It's raining.”
One blue eye opened, then the other. Because of the way he'd been sleeping, half the fur on his face had gone one direction, the other half had gone the opposite direction, giving him a mussed kitten appearance that Catherine found absolutely irresistible. “It's raining?” Vincent asked.
Catherine nodded. “Just like our first concert together. You want to go see it?”
He nodded, pulling on his shirt and cloak and handing her sweater. He put out the fire, and they walked down the creaking stairs, the sound of rain pounding on the slate roof as they went. She opened the screen door and they stepped out into the rain and the darkening clouds. Rain pelted them in cooling drifts and dampened their hair and the damp leaves squelched underfoot in the mud. “It all smells so clean here,” Vincent said wonderingly. “No city smells, no smog, no gasoline, no asphalt. Just...clean.”
“What else do you smell?” Catherine asked, not caring that the rain was falling on her face.
He tilted his head back. “Grass, leaves, earth...you.”
“Me?” Catherine asked, stunned again by how acute his sense of smell was.
His blue eyes darkened as he looked at her and Catherine shivered, though not from the chill rain. “You, with the rain in your hair,” Vincent said hoarsely. “The first time I saw you like this, it was all I could do not to kiss you.”
A thundercloud opened up and the rain poured down in hard torrents over and around them. His cloak billowed out, turning his eyes the blue-grey of the storm clouds above them. “Nothing's stopping you now, Vincent,” Catherine said throatily. His lips came onto hers with an almost bruising force as his arms pulled her closer. She felt his warm hands under her sweater, then stop. “Catherine,” he said, backing away slightly. “You're soaked and freezing. Let's go inside.”
Was she freezing? She hadn't noticed. But taking his hand, they ran back to the house. As soon as they came to the side entrance of the screened porch, Vincent stopped and took her hand. “You were saying something about a porch swing, Catherine?”
Click here for Chapter Eight.....