“Oh, no,” Catherine said, agonized. Vincent had worn his cloak but he hadn't worn his hood up since they'd arrived. He wasn't supposed to need to hide, not here. It's the damn Watcher all over again. And that thought alone was enough to turn her stomach to ice. Bad enough that the Watcher had seen them from a window in an apartment across the street. But the specter of someone watching them from the dense woods, where there was still plenty of cover, was even worse.
Vincent's hand tightened around her own. “We should go back to the cottage,” he said. He released her hand briefly to pull the concealing hood up and Catherine felt the sadness of that gesture arcing through her. He shouldn't have to do this, not here. This was supposed to be our refuge.
“Catherine,” he said quietly. “No place on earth can change what I am.”
“I know,” she said. “And I wouldn't want to change you. I just wish you didn't have to hide here.”
When they arrived at the cottage, Catherine drew the concealing blinds as Vincent hung up his cloak. She sat down heavily on the couch in the living room. “Here's some tea,” Vincent said, handing her a mug.
“Thanks,” she replied, taking a sip. Chamomile, of course, soothing on her stretched nerves. Vincent would have sensed her tumult. “What do you want to do?” Catherine asked him as he came to sit beside her with his own mug of tea in his hands.
“Father would say it's prudent to return, that my place has always been below and this incident is merely the proof of it.” Vincent sipped at his tea, his blue gaze distant as he marshaled his thoughts. Catherine had seen him like this many times, most recently over yet another chess match that Father had lost. “But...I do not wish to be prudent, Catherine.” He smiled, a sweet, slow smile that melted the ice churning in her gut. “I need this place. We need this place. And perhaps our watcher is not as we fear.”
Catherine crossed her legs underneath her, thinking. Had this been a sighting at the height of hunting season, there would have been no question. She would have bundled him back in the van and taken the fastest road back to the tunnels. But it was early fall, most of the houses were vacant, and their nearest neighbors were five miles away. Could he have sensed a solitary hiker, who maybe didn't realize what he'd seen? Could they be that lucky? “What did you sense, Vincent?”
He placed his empty mug of tea on a coaster on the carved end-table. “There was a...presence, watching. Not malevolent, but...confused.” He shrugged. “It was far enough away that I couldn't catch a scent or anything more specific.” Vincent gazed across at her, eyes warm and dark. “I think we should stay inside for a couple of days and wait and see.”
Catherine considered this. Father would never forgive her if Vincent was injured up here, and yet, wasn't taking risks, moving beyond their barriers, what this whole trip had been about? Vincent would be at least as safe in the house with the curtains drawn and lights kept low as he would be in the tunnels, and Vincent had said the watcher didn't seem to be violent. A couple of days should prove or disprove that notion.
Her eye fell on an old seaman's chest near the fireplace. “Very well,” Catherine said, trying to relax and hoping they weren't making a huge mistake. “Have you ever played Scrabble?”
By the end of their third day in the cottage, Catherine had learned a few thing she never would have suspected about Vincent. Despite his facility with words, he was an abysmal Scrabble player, but had a cutthroat knack for Trivial Pursuit. And as for poker---well, considering that their one game had ended up with her naked and him fully clothed, Catherine thought that it was a safe bet that he'd have been a skilled card shark in Vegas. The aftermath, as he claimed his “winnings,” had been memorable, she recalled, smiling a private smile.
What had surprised her the most, though, was how much she enjoyed his presence on a day-to-day basis. After her disastrous relationship with Stephen Bass had ended, Catherine had had a few relationships, but none of them were with men who, she knew now, would have been good to have around permanently. Those men said all the right things, but if they'd gone through even half of the adventures she and Vincent had endured on this trip....well, Alex would have been on his therapist's couch in a New York minute and David would have tried to blame everything on her lack of planning. And Tom...Tom would never have consented to go in the first place.
But Vincent...ah, Vincent. Catherine found that she enjoyed washing dishes with him, or making the bed, or folding clothes fresh from the laundry. Their days had assumed a certain routine, of quiet chatter or no talking at all, of making love and making beds, of playing music on her dad's old record player or simply watching the fire crackle. Now that their relationship no longer consisted entirely of stolen moments on her balcony or in his world, Catherine was delighted to find that they could and did work together on a more mundane level as well.
Will we fit together as well in his world? Catherine wondered. I'm not domestic. I barely passed Home Ec. I can't sew and the only thing I know about candles is how to light them. What will I do Below? She was no fool; it took a lot of concerted, hard work to keep the community running and she very much doubted they had need of a lawyer when there was so much hands-on work to be done.
It was then that Vincent's arms had come around her and pulled her close against the soft, furry warmth of his chest. He'd clearly sensed the direction of her ruminations, for he said, “Beloved, our relationship has always been about making a place between our worlds. We'll find a way that works for both of us.” He kissed her gently, then drew her down onto the bed and reminded her that there were many other things they did well together.
That night, Catherine found Vincent on the roof. Not the arched roof of the cottage, but the flat roof of the porch addition. A harvest moon loomed large and the stars were bright and twinkling in the cloudless sky. “Hey, love,” she called out from the bedroom window. “How on earth did you get up there?” She knew the words were absurd as soon as they left her mouth; if he could manage the climb to her balcony and the very top of a subway car, the roof of a porch likely posed no problem.
Cloaked, he was a figure of blackness, tall and solid and part of the night itself, except for the faint reflection of his eyes in the starlight. “I used the ladder,” he said, gesturing to the ladder propped on the side of the house.
Catherine chuckled. “Of course you did. The stars must be lovely tonight. I'll be up there shortly.”
The harvest moon had turned everything orange and eerie but none of that mattered as she settled under the warmth of his cloak. “Can you see any of this below?” she asked, hearing the soft, slow tread of his heart under her ear.
“In the mirror pool, sometimes. But we never see the moon quite like this.” He smiled then, a smile of awe and wonder and she thought of the child he had been, going above with Devin to see the moon for the first time.
“Devin would be so pleased you saw this,” Catherine said, remembering how she used to take such wonders, such times, for granted until she began to see things through Vincent's eyes. So many, many things she had never considered, now seemed like priceless gifts: the sunlight as it touched his hair for the first time, his joy at the colors of the leaves still pinned to the curtains in the library. Even his joy at simply being here, with her, was a gift she'd never thought to receive. How much more would it be for Devin, who had grown up knowing that Vincent could never leave the tunnels?
“Mmmm...hmmm,” Vincent said against her hair. “But he would be even more pleased I took the risk to come here. He always said I should trust myself more.”
“I'm glad you did,” Catherine said. She glanced out into the darkened forest beyond them. “Do you still sense that presence you felt earlier?”
Vincent nodded. His hand felt warm and solid in her own. “Yes. It comes and goes, but whoever, whatever it is, is still out there. Watching.”
She shivered at that. After the Watcher, after Spirko and Hughes and Gould, it was impossible for her to shut out the possibility that anyone who saw them might go running off to the local newspaper. Even wild reports could be taken seriously by someone, somewhere. Vincent's arm around her tightened. “Catherine, do you trust me?”
“With everything I am,” she responded, smiling, trying to shake off the foreboding. “As if you need to ask.”
“Then trust me on this. Whatever is out there...it means us no harm.”
His empathic abilities were not to be disputed, and so, Catherine tried to relax, to shut out the ghosts of other times and dangers long passed. Whatever, whoever was out there, they'd meet it together.
They stayed on the porch until sunrise.
Click here for Chapter Twelve.....