They made love twice more that night before being awakened later in the morning by a nervous hotel manager, wanting to know if they'd heard the “cougar” howling in the night. Catherine, with what Vincent decided was remarkable sangfroid, answered the door in nothing more than a smile and his cloak and politely told the manager that she hadn't heard a thing but would certainly let him know should they come into contact with the “cougar.” He'd left hurriedly, but not before telling Catherine that the water heater was now working.
“Are there cougars in Connecticut?” Vincent wondered, curiously.
Catherine shrugged. “There have been sightings out here for years, but I don't think any of them have been confirmed. My dad swore he saw one once, coming back from a fishing trip, but since that was also the same trip where he swore he caught a six foot bass---that got away, of course---mom and I had our doubts. ”
Vincent chuckled, wondering if all fathers told those stories. He remembered Father, years and years ago, swearing there was a giant fish in the waters beneath the falls and he and Devin, ever so cautiously wading in to see if they could see it, and half-fearful they would. His mind turned to other matters as he watched Catherine take his cloak off and place it carefully on the bed. “I'm going to take a shower,” she said. “I'd love to have you with me but the mechanic should be calling to tell us the van is ready.”
He rose and wrapped his arms around her, loving the feel of her cool skin against his chest. “I'll wait out here, then.” Vincent kissed her and was pleased to see the faint flush climb upwards on her fair skin.
Catherine stepped into the bathroom and cautiously turned on the water, pleased and surprised to find that “warm” now actually meant “warm,” instead of the glacial temperature it had been just yesterday. She stepped into the shower and leaned for a second against the hard enclosure. Just yesterday...just yesterday, she and Vincent had never been lovers, had never held each other in that caring, intimate way. She had never heard his faint roar of passion and had never heard similar sounds drawn from her own mouth as she arched against him.
Just thinking of it now made her legs wobble. Down girl, her inner Jenny piped up. You still have to drive another couple of hours to your father's house and it'd be nice if you didn't get in an accident first. Concentrate. And she did her best, though knowing Vincent was right outside that door and that the shower stall was almost large enough to hold the two of them nearly did her resolve in.
As she towel-dried her hair and pulled on an oversized sweater and jeans, Catherine opened the door just a crack. Vincent was sound asleep, naked, and as she came near the bed, she saw he was smiling. “Oh, Vincent,” she murmured, coming near the bed.
His azure eyes opened just a bit. “Catherine,” he said softly. “This isn't a dream, then.”
“No, love,” Catherine replied. “Definitely not a dream.” She toyed with a lock of hair that had fallen over his shoulder. “I've never seen you smile in your sleep before.” Of course, the few times she had seen him sleep were in times of injury or illness, which were hardly smiling times...but still, there had been something so enchanting about that smile on his face.
She traced the feathery, light brows that arched over his high cheekbones, the cleft pad of his lip and the soft, velvet fur of his muzzle. Catherine remembered, with a start, how panicked his eyes had been on that long ago day when she'd pushed back the hood of his cloak and really seen him. Now those same eyes, blue as an autumn sky, were watching her with joy and love in their depths. How far we have come, both of us.
Catherine had asked Father, during the long, agonizing nights of Vincent's illness the previous summer, what Vincent had been like before they had met. Father had considered the question carefully before answering. “He was much more of a loner. Oh, I don't mean that he didn't take part in the community—far from it. But there were times when he'd go off by himself for days, and sometimes weeks, in the caverns beneath us. I never knew quite what triggered those spells, but that was just how he was then. Now he...doesn't stay away so long.”
She smiled, remembering that conversation and the the sense she'd had, even then, that her relationship with Vincent was on the cusp of some dramatic change. And so it had been; he'd become slowly more demonstrative in his affection and more forgiving of his own perceived faults. In many ways, Vincent was not the same person she'd first known, but then, neither, was she. They'd come through the crucible together, but forever changed.
“What makes you smile, my Catherine?” Vincent asked, roughened fingers tracing the scar at the side of her face.
She leaned forward and kissed him soundly. “You,” Catherine replied. “Always you.”
The mechanic called late that afternoon to say that the van would be ready in an hour. Vincent had showered and they ate a quick lunch as he and Catherine looked at Devin's map and plotted out an alternate route away from the road which was being resurfaced. “I'll warn you,” Catherine said, looking critically at the map, “this is a more rural route. But we should be there sometime today.”
Vincent merely looked at her. “Oh, all right,” Catherine laughed. “I think we should be there sometime today, if we're not hit by a meteor. Or if space aliens don't kidnap us.”
There was a sultry look in Vincent's eyes that clearly said what other activity might delay them. Catherine took his face between her hands and looked straight into his eyes. “Vincent,” she said, “when next we make love, I want it to be at the cabin, or under the stars, or on the porch swing---”
“The porch swing?” Vincent's eyebrows climbed nearly to his hairline.
Catherine felt the heat in her face as the vision swirled in her mind's eye: Vincent, hands holding onto her thighs, as the porch swing rocked gently beneath them. “Mmm...wow. Did I say that out loud?”
Vincent's amused gaze and his soft, breathy laughter told her that yes, she had indeed spoken out loud. “What other locations did you have in mind, Catherine?” he asked.
“You'll find out,” Catherine said wryly. “Once we get to the cabin.”
As soon as dark fell, they left for what they both hoped was the last leg of the trip. The road stretched wide and free before them but Vincent found he couldn't enjoy the sight of it, as he had before. He found himself watching the forest on the side of the road intently. Vincent tried to relax; they were less than half an hour's drive away from her father's cabin and surely nothing would happen now.
Catherine picked up on his nervousness. “Vincent?” she asked. “What is it?”
He shook his head. “Nothing. Just a feeling.”
She turned down a narrow access road where the woods enclosed the road on both sides and where the pavement was more uneven. “I think this was one of the first roads created up here, back when this was a resort for the robber barons. Gertrude says this used to be a delivery road.”
“Gertrude?” Vincent asked, trying to fight down his uneasiness as the forest seemed to close over them.
“An old family friend and a historian of sorts. She and her husband Matt bought a house up here when I was in grade school; they're our closest neighbors.” Catherine laughed then. “'Close' up here means they live about five miles away; we passed the exit to their place about half an hour ago. Most of the houses are pretty spread out and normally, they'd all be rented or used in the fall. But with the main road being closed down, it's too much hassle for a lot of people.”
Vincent chuckled, thinking of the hassle they'd gone through so far. “I know,” Catherine said, in that astonishing way she had of catching his thoughts, even without using their bond, “who'd have thought this trip would have been such an adventure?”
There was a leaping blur in front of the van, a terrible crunch, and the hiss of steam and outraged metal as Catherine steered the van over to the side of the road. His own arm had flown up to brace her in her seat and he felt the shuddering vibrations of the vehicle and the hammering of Catherine's heart through the contact. “Deer,” she said tersely.
After several bumps, she was able to steer the van safely to the side of the road. “Are you okay?” she asked as they got out to inspect the damage.
Vincent nodded. “You?”
“I've been better,” she said shakily.
He gathered her in his arms and held her close until the shaking stopped. Releasing her, Vincent said, “Let's see what the damage is.”
They walked to the front of the van and there they saw it, the full grown deer who was just as twisted and broken as the van he'd jumped in front of. “Oh, no,” Catherine said softly, for although the deer should have been dead, he wasn't.
Vincent knelt down next to the deer and Catherine watched as the he touched the animal's head gently, murmuring words she couldn't quite hear. The deer's gasping breaths were loud in the silence as Vincent's eyes met hers. His hands were covered in blood that was dark in the moonlight. “Will he live?” Catherine asked, though she didn't see how. The damage had to be fatal.
“No,” Vincent said softly. “He's in pain and suffering.” She watched as he took the deer's neck between his large hands and twisted. The deer's painful, shuddering breaths stopped, and Vincent bowed his head.
Catherine went to him then, feeling an odd sense of deja vu as she remembered the first time she'd seen him kill for her. He had that same distant, agonized look on his face and his hands then had been soaked in blood. She knelt down beside him and taking his bloodied hands in her own, she said, “Vincent. It was a merciful thing you did.”
He raised his head to look at her and she could tell his thoughts were not just on the deer but on all the people he'd killed, just as easily as he'd ended the deer's suffering. “I know. But I wish I didn't know how to kill.”
There was nothing to say in response to that, so Catherine didn't try, though she, too, wished he'd never had to learn. She put her arms around him and held him until his own shuddering stopped.
“I think we'll just call a tow-truck driver from the house,” Catherine said not long afterward, when Vincent was ready to resume their journey. “We can walk to the cabin from here.”
Vincent nodded. “How far away is it, do you think?”
“Probably about an hour's walk. We might even make it in time to see the sunrise.”
Vincent smiled at her and held out his hand. “Come,” he said. “Sooner begun, sooner ended.”
She laughed. “You sound like Mouse.”
There was a faint flash of fangs in the moonlight as he smiled. “I'll take that as a compliment,” Vincent responded. “I wonder how they're all getting along.”
“I'm sure they're getting along well. Mouse has probably driven Father nuts with his plans to build an hydraulic electron microscope and Father is wondering where he hid the tranquilizers, and Arthur has probably run off with William's prize stash of strawberries,” Catherine laughed.
Vincent stopped then, and turned to face her. “Wait. Mouse plans to build an hydraulic electron microscope?”
Catherine giggled. “No, I made that up.”
Vincent sighed. “That's a relief. Last month, it was a solar powered laser. Though where he expected to find the raw materials, I have no idea.”
“Oh, you know,” Catherine said airily. “'Not stealing, taking.' I'm sure he'd know of a few places that are just tossing out solar powered lasers by the handful.”
Vincent pushed back his hood and watched as the sun rose slowly through the trees. The light turned his blond mane into a fiery red where the light struck it. He closed his eyes, feeling the warmth on his eyelids and hearing the faint sounds of the forest coming alive in the morning. “Oh, Catherine,” he said, pulling her closer. “To think I might never have seen this.”
“I know,” she said, snuggling against him. To think I might never have seen you.
Click here for Chapter Seven...