Vincent's eyebrows rose and a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “You have to ask?”
Catherine chuckled. She put her arms around him, inhaling the scent of leaves and earth and their loving that rose from his clothes. Vincent's cloak was stuck through with leaf bits and dirt and her own hair, she supposed, was just as wild and mussed as his. “We look like...” and she tried to repress the cliché that rose to her mind. It was such a sensitive area with him sometimes....
“We look like what, Catherine? Something the cat dragged in?” Vincent murmured against her hair, the chuff of amusement riding just under his words.
He kissed her forehead. “'Fluffed' is a good look for you.” Vincent waved a hand at his own hair, which was sticking up in any number of aimless directions and looked even more like a lion's mane. “It's not such a good look for me. I think I'll go upstairs and take a shower.”
Catherine reached up to tug on a disordered lock of hair that had fallen over his shoulder. “You go do that, then. How does soup and sandwiches sound for lunch?”
“Fine,” Vincent said. “I'll cook dinner if you like.”
“That sounds wonderful,” Catherine said, and watched as he went upstairs for his shower.
She had chopped the vegetables and added them to the stew to simmer when she felt a jolt of surprise through the bond and heard a muffled thump. Oh, heavens, what now? Catherine wondered, lowering the temperature on the stove and rushing upstairs.
Catherine opened the bathroom door and was struck by Vincent's expression. Embarrassment? “What is it, love?” she asked.
He didn't answer for a bit and so she had time to notice the location of one of his boots, which was laying askew on the floor as if it had been thrown there. A thought occurred to her and she struggled mightily not to laugh. “Vincent, was there a spider there?”
Vincent nodded. “I don't like spiders,” he confessed.
Catherine shook her head. “I don't like them either but...Vincent you live in tunnels underneath New York City. Caves, even. Rats and insects must be all over the place. And it's spiders that bother you?”
He pulled a towel off the ledge to start drying himself off. “Catherine, have you ever seen anything like that where we live?”
“No,” she said, “and I'm surprised I haven't, now that I think of it. How do you do it?”
He dried off one muscular arm. “Simple, Catherine. We have cats.”
“I've never seen them,” she replied, amazed by something else she didn't know about Vincent's world. “Where do they live?”
“Well, Kali likes to sleep with Father, and Wilma prefers Pascal's chamber. No one knows where Slinky disappears to at night, but I've occasionally found him on my bed. Father doesn't know how they came down here; we don't keep pets as a rule—Arthur being the obvious exception. Father theorizes their ancestors were down here long before we were, but at any rate, they keep our rodent and insect population down to a minimum.” He shrugged. “Nevertheless, I don't like spiders. Never have.”
“I don't blame you there,” Catherine said, chuckling a bit at the mental image of her mate, fearless in the face of all other dangers, being startled by an insect a fraction of his size. “Well, when you're done...'come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly.'” She grinned impishly. “The soup should be ready soon.”
After they'd eaten lunch and the dishes were cleared away, they went into the library. Far to the east, the clouds were gathering. “It'll rain tonight,” Vincent said; the scent of moisture in the air that he'd noticed earlier in the day was stronger now.
Catherine looked out the window. “You're right. I didn't see those clouds this morning. Which reminds me, I should call Gertrude and let her know her leaves are ready.”
Vincent smiled. “The leaves that she no doubt has more than enough of already?”
“Yes, those leaves.” Catherine chuckled. “I can't blame her for liking the sound of your voice...and I'm certainly not going to complain about the result of all that leaf raking.”
“Nor I,” Vincent said, pressing a kiss to the top of her head. Making love in the sunshine---even if it was something they were never able to do again---had been worth all the risk for the sense of normalcy, of freedom it had given them both. I was as every other man, in the sunlight. I am a man. Whatever else I am or may become, I am at least that.
Catherine nestled against him, near to his heart as she always, always was. From the contentment that flowed through the bond, he knew she was listening to the sound of his heartbeat, the reassurance of his life and its continuation. He closed his eyes, remembering. They had come so very close to losing everything last summer.....
He'd opened his eyes to Father's worried face, just bare spaces from his mouth and felt Catherine's head on his chest. Father's eyes were damp and abruptly, Vincent became aware of her muffled sobbing. “Father...what happened?” he said, and winced. His throat felt like it had been torn with daggers.
In the dim light of the cave, Vincent saw that Father looked years older, haggard and worn. “You died, Vincent. Catherine saved your life; she screamed for me and started CPR herself until I got in here.” His hands touched the side of Vincent's face. “I am so very glad you're back with us, my boy, so very glad.” Father stood then. “I'm going to go outside and call for help. Catherine, you'll be fine with him?”
Vincent felt her nod, felt the golden silk of her hair tickle his neck, but couldn't see her face, and when he tried to lift his head, found he had not enough energy to do even that. “Catherine,” he whispered. His ribs ached and everything hurt where muscles and tendons had been tensed and strained beyond their limits in his delirium, but none of that mattered. He had to see her face.
Catherine lifted her head so he could see her. “Oh, Vincent. You're all right.” Her green eyes were swimming with tears. She laid her head on his heart and the sobs shook her body. “You died, Vincent. Oh my God, you died.”
“I'll not leave you ever, either,” Catherine said, as she had the previous summer. The incident had not been very far from either of their minds since. She pulled back a little to look at him and her hand touched his cheekbones. “You know that, right?”
He nodded. “I shouldn't have pushed you away so often. I was so hard on you.”
“We were hard on each other, Vincent. All those times you had to rescue me, I regret what that cost you. I told Father when you were so ill that I'd begun to wonder if some part of me was going into danger knowing that you would be there to rescue me.”
“Nonsense,” Vincent said firmly. “Catherine, it's true, I did save you, many times. But those situations were not of your making. I didn't enjoy the killing and I hope to never do it again...but I'd do it a thousand times if it would save your life.” He pressed a quick kiss to the palm of her hand. “You are my life, Catherine. I promised your father I would protect you until my last breath. I meant it then and I mean it now.”
Tears fell from her eyes and he brushed them away, careful of his claws. “What is it?” Vincent whispered. He could sense nothing through the bond but her joy and love, but she was crying....
Catherine sniffled a bit and blinked rapidly. “I was just thinking...all we had to go through to get here...but if that was the price, I can't regret it. Not one bit.”
“No,” Vincent agreed, pulling her close.
A few hours later, Catherine called Gertrude about the leaves. Matt answered the phone. “Gert's down with one of her headaches, Cathy,” Matt said. “She's sleeping it off now.”
“Oh, that's too bad, Matt. Will you let her know we called and that we'll put her leaves inside the porch?”
“No problem,” Matt replied. “Thanks for your help with the leaves, by the way. I've been meaning to rake ours up for her, but my back's been giving me some trouble for the last couple of days and you know how Gert is about her compost heap.”
“You're right about that; we've been going to the Farmer's Market in town for years but even then, some don't sell. It seems like such a waste, but how much squash can you eat, anyway?”
Catherine smiled, thinking of Vincent's story of the mushrooms in all the food below. Which lead to other thoughts about the tunnels, and food, and how good fresh vegetables would taste below. “I know what you mean, Matt. Maybe I can find a way to take the excess off your hands come harvest time.”
“That'd be great, Cathy—I'll have Gert call you when we're up to our ears in squash and pumpkins.”
“Sounds good to me, Matt. Tell Gertrude I hope she feels better soon.”
She could hear the farmer smile on the other end of the line. She didn't know how old Matt was, or Gertrude either, for that matter, but like Father, they seemed timeless. “Will do, Cathy. Thanks again.”
Catherine hung up the phone and turned to Vincent, who was cutting up the raw ingredients for spaghetti sauce in preparation for dinner that night. “Vincent, how would you all like some fresh vegetables?”
He raised his eyebrows. “Via Gertrude and her compost heap? That sounds wonderful, but someone would have to come back up here to get them; there are no helpers out this far.”
She smiled at him. “Yes, I suppose someone would have to come out here. I can't imagine who would come this far, can you?”
Vincent smiled his wry half-smile. “I believe I can.”
Click here for Chapter 18....