- II. -

 

Baby Jacob Wells lay on his stomach atop a thick blue rug on the floor of his father’s chamber. He lifted his head from the rug and stared out, but soon his head grew heavy, his eyes weary.

 

There was so much to see, so many wondrous colors and textures and smells. The best thing of all were the loving eyes of his father, who also lay on his stomach, nose to nose with his infant son.

 

Vincent watched his baby with an awe that did not diminish with time but rather increased with each passing minute he spent in his son’s presence. He had been around many babies and small children during his life. He had been privileged to see them grow and change and even had the pleasure of participating in their upbringing in some form or another.

 

But this...this surpassed anything, any feeling he had ever known. His days were filled with wonder and the most profound love he had ever experienced for a child. This was his own flesh and blood, and every movement, every look, every sound was cause for celebration.

 

The baby succeeded in lifting his head from the rug a second time and now he looked around, weaving slightly. He returned his big-eyed gaze to his father. A smile curved his mouth as he reached out to touch Vincent’s face. Before Vincent could catch him, Jacob lost his balance and landed on his face.

 

Howls of anger and pain tore through Vincent like slashing knife wounds. He swept the baby up into his arms and paced the room, comforting him in a hushed voice.

 

“There, there, Jacob,” he whispered, cradling the baby to his pounding chest. “You’ll be all right. Everything will be all right.” He continued moving around the chamber until the baby’s crying subsided to a few hiccups.

 

Vincent sat on his bed. He held Jacob in his arms and watched as the baby’s eyes were weighted down with sleep. When the baby succumbed to slumber, Vincent placed him in the cradle that Cullen had built and covered him with a soft quilt.

 

He stood by the cradle for several minutes, wondering at the intensity of his emotions, doubting his strength to survive the turbulence he had just felt. Everything Jacob felt - a moment of joy, a bump on the head, a hunger pang - it was all transmitted to Vincent through an invisible bond.

 

Vincent smiled as he returned to his chair. At least his life was never dull, not with the connection he and his son shared. It was so similar to the bond that had existed with Catherine, yet somehow...

 

Clenching his fists, he bounded out of his chair and began pacing. The thought of Catherine drove a dull spear of pain through his heart. Three months had passed since her death; three months of anguish, grief, turmoil. Until he had touched his son for the first time while being held captive by Gabriel, he had stopped hoping for a reason to go on living.

 

Now things were better. His health had improved. He could sleep, although his dreams (no - don’t think about that). At least he was able to sleep a few hours each night. He had his life, his friends, his son and Diana...well, Diana was definitely a part of his life, but where she fit into the complicated scheme of things was something he had not yet discovered.

 

He resolved (for the thousandth time at least) to put away the thought of Catherine, when he heard a knock outside his chamber.

 

The sound brought a smile to his face. Although he couldn’t sense Diana’s presence, he knew it was her. She was the only person who knocked when she came to see him. The thought was at once amusing, pleasing and a little touching.

 

“Come in,” he called, taking his place next to Jacob’s cradle.

 

“Hello, Vincent,” Diana said as she entered the room. She shrugged off the heavy bag she carried and set it on the floor. “Sorry I’m late,” she whispered, gazing fondly at the baby’s sleeping form.

 

“You haven’t missed anything,” Vincent softly replied. He smiled at Diana. “We can watch him sleep together.”

 

A beautiful smile illuminated Diana’s face. She placed her hand on Vincent’s broad shoulder and joined in his vigil.

 

***

 

Cathy recoiled as the wall returned to its original emptiness. For a few moments she sat folded into herself, staring blankly, unable to organize her chaotic flow of emotions into recognizable words or thoughts.

 

She turned to the patient Maggie. “She’s…” Cathy stopped, unable to finish.

 

“Taken your place?”

 

“No!”

 

“No,” Maggie calmly agreed.

 

Cathy searched her face for the truth and found it. She sighed, exhausted, and rested her forehead in one hand.

 

“No, Cathy,” Maggie continued. “She has not replaced you in Vincent’s heart. That is impossible. But as important as she is to your life, she is at least that important to Vincent. In fact,” her voice grew even gentler “were it not for her, neither Vincent nor your son would be alive today.”    

 

“You told me her name,” Cathy said, trying to control her voice. “Now tell me who she is.”

 

“All right then, a summary.” Maggie straightened and focused. “Diana is a first-rate policewoman working out of the Special Crimes unit. After your alleged death, your friend Joe Maxwell persuaded her to investigate. Diana agreed and then proceeded to find out more about you than anyone other than Vincent had ever known.”

 

“Including my relationship with Vincent.”

 

“Yes. But she never revealed her knowledge to anyone Above.” Maggie stared thoughtfully at the door. “She saved Vincent’s life after he became involved with Elliott Burch.”

 

“Elliott,” Cathy breathed. “Elliott and Vincent.” She shook her head in amazement. “How in the world?”

 

“Vincent approached Elliott in secret. Both men were determined to find your killer, and this bound them together until Elliott nearly betrayed Vincent.” Maggie touched Cathy’s arm. “Vincent was almost killed in an accident that took Elliott’s life.”

 

Cathy’s eyes narrowed. “Gabriel,” she said.

 

Maggie nodded. “Diana found Vincent lying across your grave. She took him into her home and helped him heal. It was Diana who reunited Vincent with his son. And it was Diana who killed Gabriel.”

 

Cathy unconsciously pressed one hand to her bosom. The sight of her baby and Vincent together had released something in her soul; she felt an unfamiliar heaviness in her breast. “And now,” she said. “Vincent and Diana. What do they mean to each other?”

 

Maggie took a deep breath. “To Vincent, Diana is a cherished friend. He loves her for reuniting him with his son. He admires her ability to inhabit another person’s feelings and thoughts, which is her greatest gift. In small ways he resents her for being there, although he would never acknowledge this to anyone, including himself.

 

“Diana’s feelings, on the other hand, are even less clear cut. She finds Vincent’s strength and sensitivity enormously appealing. She is unable to resist the attraction entirely, but she is handling their friendship with great care. Although Vincent seldom speaks of you, she senses the strong feelings he still bears for you.”

 

Cathy’s eyes filled with tears. He seldom speaks of me! ”Does he ever think of me?”

 

“He avoids it as much as possible when he’s awake. But at night, in his dreams, he seeks you out with all the passion he could never display when you were together.”

 

Maggie smiled. “At night, dear Cathy, he belongs to you completely.”

 

Cathy shook her head. “Why doesn’t that make me feel better?” Her expression was as woebegone as her words.

 

“Well, love, you can look at it this way,” Maggie said. “He hasn’t forgotten about you. God knows he’s tried, but he can’t.” She stroked Cathy’s hair. “Hang on to that thought, and take it with you into your dreams.” She assisted Cathy in lying back down and covered her with a thick white blanket.

 

“I don’t think I can sleep,” Cathy said, a wide yawn engulfing her words.

 

“Sleep you will.” Maggie tucked her in. “I’ll be here when you awaken, and then you’ll be ready to decide.”

 

She smiled at Cathy, who was asleep before the last words left Maggie’s lips.

 

***

 

For several minutes Diana and Vincent stood close together, watching little Jacob sleep. They were silent, but a wealth of feeling traversed that silence from one to the other.

 

With his extraordinary sense of perception, Vincent was aware of Diana’s presence in ways that far surpassed her mere appearance. Her scent was slightly intoxicating: a mix of soap, shampoo and her own womanly fragrance. She was breathing quickly, as if from exertion, and the muscles of her slender body were tense, poised for action.

 

Diana didn’t possess Vincent’s depth of awareness, but that was just as well. She always found his presence overwhelming, regardless of the circumstances. His tall, powerful body radiated a warmth and masculinity unlike anything she had ever encountered. Being alone with him, this close, hearing each breath he took, she felt weak-kneed.

 

Abruptly she removed her hand from his shoulder and leaned over to pick up the bag she had brought.

 

“You brought them?” Vincent’s eyes were alight.

 

“Yes.” She gave him the heavy bag and followed him as he moved toward a table. To her astonishment, they sat side by side on the edge of his bed.

Vincent sensed her reaction a split second too late. He examined the contents of the bag with great deliberation as if unaware of Diana’s flustered state, silently berating himself all the while.

 

Diana watched as he fished baby clothes and toys out of the bag, enchanted with each new discovery. I am sitting this close to him, on his bed, she thought. She was dizzy, and she could feel a flush of heat spreading across her neck. Damn it, she hated to blush!

 

She prided herself on controlling her emotions, considering that ability to be one of her strengths. But here she sat, flushing like a schoolgirl on her first date.

 

She sighed and returned her attention to Vincent, who had emptied the bag of its many treasures. He turned to her, a grateful smile lifting the corners of his mouth.

 

Oh no, Vincent, please don’t thank me, PLEASE…

 

“Once again I must thank you, Diana,” he said.

 

The silky gravel of his voice penetrated her confusion and brought her back to herself. “You’re welcome,” she said. It took so little to please him (and so VERY little to shake me up, she reminded herself).

 

Vincent carefully folded the small heaps of clothing, then stood and placed them in a deep drawer in his bureau.

 

Diana reached into a side pocket of her bag and pulled out another item. “There’s something else,” she said, holding out a package.

 

Vincent looked at the package, then at Diana.

 

“This is for you.” She cleared her throat. “Every parent should have one.”

 

Her eyes were locked on Vincent as he unwrapped the package and withdrew a Polaroid camera. In addition to the camera, Diana had included film and spare batteries for the flash.

 

“Do you know,” she began, then hesitated.

 

“A camera,” he said. He examined the gift from every angle, his expression rapt. Finally he looked at Diana. Holding her gift in one hand, he extended his other arm and gathered her in a heartfelt embrace. “Thank you,” he whispered, tightening his grip.

 

Despite the heat of his massive body, Diana felt a thin chill along her spine. As gently as she could, she disentangled herself and reached for the camera. “Let me show you how it works.”

She spent the next few minutes avoiding Vincent’s eyes as she explained how the camera worked. Satisfied that he understood, she returned her bag to her shoulder and turned to look at the sleeping baby.

 

Vincent joined her, standing a little farther away than before. They had spent many hours together observing Jacob’s limited activities. The bedside watch was something they often shared.

 

Diana smoothed a delicate tendril of hair away from the baby’s forehead. “He’s more beautiful every day, isn’t he?”

 

“Yes, he is.”

 

An awkward silence descended.

 

“It’s O.K.,” she said, her eyes on the baby. “Go ahead and say it.”

 

“He looks like his mother.” Vincent’s voice was a whisper.

 

She turned to him. “And as long as he lives, you will never forget her.” There was no resentment in her voice, just acknowledgment of the fact.

 

Vincent’s face was set in hard lines as he continued to watch Jacob. “I can…” He stopped, lowering his head so that his hair obscured his features.

 

Diana placed a hand on his shoulder, whispered goodbye and left.  For once, she was able to withhold her tears until the inhabited tunnels were lost in the distance behind her.

Chapter 3