Dreams of Thee

Chapter 21

 

The large dining hall was filled with merriment when they arrived.  The candles glowed from every table, and lamps cast a light about the room, pushing back the shadows and bathing the room in a wash of gold.  The voices stilled for an instant when they stepped into the room, then everyone began talking at once, calling out greetings of welcome. The cacophony of sound filled the room, dipping and whirling, rising to rebound off the rocky walls and settling into a mighty din of orchestral proportions.

Father made several attempts to bring order but even his powerful voice was lost within the vortex which surrounded them.  He exchanged glances with Peter when the air was suddenly split with the loudest ear-shattering whistle that Father had ever heard.  It continued for several moments, causing all within to turn, trying to locate the source of the sound.  The room grew silent as the shattering note slowly ebbed. Father turned, realizing at last that the unearthly sound came from his side.

Her face warmed under the stares of so many, but her eyes laughed and, with a slight shrug of her small shoulders, Catherine looked at Father with a sheepish grin and said, “Comes in handy for getting a cab in rush hour,” as she slowly drew the two fingers away from her lips.

Father and Vincent stood in shocked silence until Peter’s laughter split the air and he stepped beside Catherine, asking to be taught how to whistle.

William shouldered his way through the crowds, took Catherine’s arm, and led her toward a smaller table while Father, Vincent and Peter stood looking, each wearing a look of bewilderment, shock and astonishment.  Gathering their befuddled senses together, they quickly followed, and some semblance of order was finally brought to the hall.

“On behalf of the entire community,” William spoke loudly, “I would like to warmly welcome the return of our friends Vincent and Catherine.  The community is pleased, no, joyous, over the return of your good health, Catherine. We have missed the warmth of your friendship and the pleasure of your company.”

“Friends,” Father said, “I, more than anyone, am overjoyed by the return of my son and to again have the pleasure of Catherine’s company.  She is, you know, one of the few within our community who has not taken great glee in soundly defeating this old man over the chess board.”  Father sought Catherine’s eyes and smiled warmly at her as the whole community joined in the laughter at Father’s bit of whimsy.  Reaching down, Father took Catherine’s hand, drawing her to her feet.

His speech and gesture caused tears to brim in Catherine’s eyes, and it caused the community to break into applause and cheering.  Catherine stood looking around the room at the faces of so many who had become friends, the faces of people who had come to Vincent’s chamber to inquire of her health during her illness, and she realized how lucky she was to have such a large extended family.

“Your kindness to me during the time of my illness is beyond anything I can ever hope to repay.  Your support, concern and love are things I shall always treasure.  I can’t begin to thank each of you, but if I may, there are two among you I wish to especially thank.”

Catherine stood searching the crowd until she found one face and, turning toward that face, she began to speak.  “Many tried to be my eyes, helping me about the tunnels and chamber, reading to me to fill the long hours, or sitting to tell me stories of your community, but no one brought the world to me so clearly, with such clarity and depth, as the person who kindly loaned me a special sweater.  Thank you, Cullen, for the warmth of the sweater and the kindness of your friendship, which I shall always treasure.

“The other person I have to thank is one to whom I truly owe my life; without his generosity and his blood, I would not be here to enjoy all of you.”  Catherine moved from the table, passing several people before stopping in front of the pipe master.  She leaned down, whispering a special, private thank you, and planted a tender kiss on Pascal’s very surprised lips.

Pascal leaped up, his face flushed pink, and hugged Catherine in a warm exuberant embrace.  His actions, so unlike the Pascal most of them thought they knew, caused wild cheering.  Offering Catherine his arm, he guided her back toward the table where Vincent waited.

“Friends, the generosity of our community, the gifts of the spirit and love to Catherine and me warm my heart and serve to enhance what I have always known: I am blessed with love in friends and family.”  The richness of Vincent’s voice reached into the hearts of all within its sound. 

William finally restored order to the crowds of milling friends who made their way towards Catherine and Vincent by announcing that dinner was served.

The evening slid by in a whirlwind of faces and voices, all coming to wish Vincent and Catherine well.  Across the room, their eyes found each other as they shared moments with many friends.  It was a time of joy. Catherine discovered, first hand, how the community felt about her. For Vincent, it was a time of renewal of friendships and a time to accept all the warm feelings of love which were freely and honestly given to him. All the things he felt were partly due to his position within the community as Father’s son and, he found, just as Catherine had assured him, they truly cared about him as a person.

Vincent stood talking with Mouse when he was suddenly aware that Anya, the newest of the tunnel children to have captured his gentle, tender heart, was running toward him. He stooped down, ready to receive her exuberant hug, his heart warming as he delighted in seeing her.  Like so many other tunnel children, Anya had been deeply bruised by life.

Anya hurled herself into Vincent’s arms, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck, her tears wetting the golden hair she held prisoner with her arms.  Vincent held her trembling, thin body as he rocked her slightly.  Anya and her father had only been living Below a short time after they had been found living in a packing case where they had resided since Anya’s mother and sister had been killed in a car crash; Anya’s father had lost his job as a result of his injuries and the streets became their only home until a helper found them and brought them Below.

“You won’t go away and leave me again, will you?” she asked through her tears. Vincent felt her pain and felt his own heart breaking.

Bending toward her slightly, he said, “Anya, I am so very sorry my absence from the tunnels upset you. Catherine was very ill and I needed to care for her.”

He held her in a warm embrace as he rose to greet her father. Vincent continued to hold Anya securely, comfortably, as he listened to all her stories of what had happened in their classes while he had been away.

The younger children were, with great reluctance upon their part, gathered together, and Father told them only one bedtime story, while the older children went off to collect musical instruments for an impromptu concert to be held in Father’s study.  Anya slept securely in Vincent’s arms, never aware when she slipped from one pair of loving arms to another as her father carried her to their chamber.

After Father’s story, Catherine helped get the children ready for bed and enjoyed the time with Mary in settling the younger ones after repeated hugs and goodnight kisses.  Returning to the library, she worked her way across the chamber and up the stair case until she came to the tall, shadowy figure of Cullen and, smiling at him, she said, “Cullen, may I speak privately with you for a moment?”

“Is there anything wrong, Catherine?”

“No, nothing is wrong; I just need your assistance on a private matter.”  She took Cullen’s extended arm and together they moved up toward the balcony and the privacy the library offered.

The children had completed their first selection when Vincent slipped quietly in, unnoticed by all but Father’s keen eyes.  A look of curiosity crossed Father’s face as he looked at his son, but the look on Vincent’s face never changed, giving no indication as to his absence.  During the children’s next selection, Vincent silently moved across the chamber until he stood next to Elizabeth, his head bending low to speak privately.  Father watched the exchange, wondering why Vincent was behaving so mysteriously.

“It was a fine evening, Jacob, and I’m surely glad I was here to participate in the celebration.  I would’ve been distressed had I missed this evening.”

“Peter, you know you are always welcome here and need no excuse to join us.  Perhaps you will come again later in the week so that we may finish our game of chess.”

“Jacob, will you never learn?”  His chuckle resounded in the stillness.

“Mouse, what do you say? How about walking this tired old doctor up top?  You know, even after all these years, I still need a guide to get home.  I’d enjoy a chance to tell you about something new I saw today which I think would be of interest to you.”

“Fine, take you up topside quicker than quick, know a great short cut, get you up top in no time.”

“You aren’t leaving, are you, Peter?”

“Yes. I have an early appointment at the hospital tomorrow, and unlike you, Cathy, I require my beauty sleep.  You are to come see me before you return to work.  I want to give you a thorough exam before I release you for work.”

“Peter, thank you so much for coming tonight.  Your presence has added to our joy, I assure you.” Vincent stood beside Peter, his very presence reassuring Peter of the deepening friendship between them.

“Goodnight, all.  Mouse, shall we begin our journey?”

Vincent and Catherine stood beside the stairs, wishing each person goodnight and thanking them for making their return special.  Only William, Cullen, Mary, Pascal, Winslow and Father remained—the closest of their family - and as they stood, Vincent’s arm encircled Catherine’s waist as he felt her tiring and offered his arm as support.

After bidding the last goodnight, Father sank into a chair, looking at Catherine, who also looked very tired. “It was a wonderful party. William certainly outdid himself tonight to make such a delicious dinner on such short notice.

“Vincent, if you are not too tired, I would enjoy a game of chess with you before retiring.”

Vincent could see that Father was eager to talk, to enjoy the companionship they had always shared over the chess board. “I think I could manage a game or two, if you are willing,” he said with a smile.

“Catherine, if you would like to retire, I will escort you to the chamber.”

“No, I think I would enjoy watching or just browsing about the library.  All the books here fascinate me, and I don’t think I have ever had the opportunity to see all that is here.”

Father set up the chess board and Vincent moved into the chair he had occupied for years in Father’s chamber. Catherine wandered about the library, removing books, reviewing titles, and just generally acquainting herself with the vast contents of Father’s extensive library.

“Father, I think you have left your queen in a very vulnerable position,” Vincent commented with a wry grin on his face.

“Yes, I do seem to have gotten myself into rather dire straits.”

“Father, would you object if we stopped the game for tonight?”

“Of course, if you are tired, we can finish this tomorrow, though I dare say, we both know the outcome.”

“No, it’s not that I am tired. I would just prefer to talk with you.  The things which you said to Catherine and to me this morning have troubled me all day.  I would sleep better if we could talk about what happened this morning.”

“We have always been able to talk, and if you are troubled by what I said earlier, I certainly wish to discuss it.  I wondered about your abrupt departure this morning.”

“My thoughts aren’t clear; there are so many things which are new feelings, thoughts, ideas to me—things which Catherine has helped me to see clearly.  I don’t know if I may adequately be able to tell you all I feel, Father.

“I left this morning because all you said caused my emotions to whirl, and I was unsure of what I felt.  One of the things which upset me was your feelings as a man about Margaret.  Until this morning, I don’t think I ever honestly stopped to think of you as a man, only as my father.  You were simply the person who reared, supported, educated, nurtured and loved me all my life. I did not think of you in the same light as I think of other men within our world.”

“Vincent,” Father reached out, placing his hand upon Vincent’s, “what you feel is normal.  Most children never look at their parents in any other role than that of being a parent.”

“When Margaret died, as aware as I was of your pain and suffering, I still couldn’t bring myself to discuss my feelings because I still felt such remorse for having violated the privacy of your chamber, going through your desk, reading your private thoughts.”

“I knew then how you felt, and in knowing, perhaps I should have brought the subject up. You mustn’t blame yourself, Vincent. You did what was necessary under the circumstances.  If you hadn’t done it, I would never have found Margaret and we would never have had those last glorious days. They were days which will live in my memory until I’m with her once again.  They are days I owe to you—and to Catherine—for without you, I would never have found Margaret again.”  Father’s voice choked with unshed tears which stained his lashes.

“It is late, Vincent, and I think we could all use some rest.  It has been quite an emotional day for all of us. Catherine is tired, I’m sure; where is Catherine, by the way?” He looked around bewilderedly.

“She is asleep on your bed, Father. I saw her slip into your chamber several hours ago.  She knew I needed to talk and, rather than disturb us by leaving, she went to rest on your bed. I hope you don’t object.”

“Heavens, no!”

Vincent and Father stood looking at each other and then together they reached out to gather each other in a warm hug of shared affection and love.  Wordlessly they parted, walking together towards the alcove where Father slept. There they found Catherine curled on her side asleep, with Father’s dressing gown pulled over her shoulders.  Vincent smiled down at her, whispered a quiet goodnight to Father, pulled back the gown and lifted Catherine into his arms.

He moved through the tunnels effortlessly, carrying Catherine’s light form.  He was near the entrance to the shared bathroom facilities when she stirred, awakened, and smiled up at him.

“Did you finish your talk with Father?” she asked as she snuggled against his chest.

“I don’t know that we finished, but I feel more at ease with myself for having talked with him.  There will be further opportunities for continuing the conversation. I had to leave this morning, Catherine; what he said was so personal, brought such feelings to me, that I was unable to stay.”

“I know. I could feel you so strongly. I wanted to come find you but then I felt you relax and I knew you were handling it.”

Setting her on her feet, he looked down at her with a smile and kissed her forehead. “Perhaps you would wish to stop here?” he asked.

“Yes, thank you.”  She slipped inside, marveling at the sight of her brush, comb and toothbrush sitting beside Vincent’s own similar items.  Her hands lovingly touched his brush, fingering the strands of hair that remained.  Sighing softly, she washed her face and brushed her teeth; stepping back into the tunnel, she grinned at Vincent, who was reclining against the wall. “It’s all yours.”

He reappeared several minutes later, scooped Catherine into his arms again, and strode the remaining distance toward his chamber, humming softly.

When they reached the chamber, Vincent set Catherine on her feet, allowing her to walk in.  She stopped, looking around, then turned wordlessly and went into his waiting arms. “It’s so beautiful. How… when did you do all this?”

The light from many sparkling candles placed all around the room lit the chamber, casting warm dancing shadows on the walls and bathing the room in a soft glow.  There were several containers of flowers placed about, which filled the air with a warm floral fragrance.

Vincent watched, a look of loving delight upon his regal face, as Catherine moved about the chamber, stopping to smell each container of flowers.  The impish grin on her face heightened the joy within his heart.  “It’s so wonderful.  You are such a romantic soul, Vincent, and I love it!”  Throwing herself into his arms, she hugged him fiercely.

“Catherine, you made it possible for me to experience everything.  How easy it is to spoil you with the small things I am able to give you. I may not be able to offer you moonlight here in my chamber, but I can bathe you in candle glow, which turns your skin translucent in its light.”

Reaching up, Catherine pulled his face closer as she offered her mouth to him.  At the gentle, soft touch of his lips upon hers, Catherine felt her heart begin to pound rapidly. Relaxing into his gentle kiss, Catherine felt the beginning of the butterflies which filled her stomach each time Vincent kissed her.

“You are so beautiful, Catherine, so beautiful.” Kissing her eyelids, Vincent moved across her face, pressing light kisses as he moved to kiss the hollow of her throat.  Catherine stood with her hips pressed firmly against his, her arms encircling his neck, as she felt his hands traveling down her spine, cupping her bottom in his large hands as he pressed her hips firmly against his own. He was instantly rewarded as Catherine wiggled against him, attempting to get even closer.

Their hands stroked, finding fastenings and buttons, and with a slow laziness they worked to remove the barriers between them.  Catherine raised her arms as Vincent removed the aqua sweater vest she wore.  His fingers were surprisingly adept at the tiny buttons of the blouse.  He eased the blouse out of her pants, slipping it down from her shoulders as his lips trailed kisses across her neck.

The fasteners on his flowing white shirt finally gave way beneath her impatient fingers, and she buried her face against the down hidden there as she worked the shirt up and off.  Vincent’s body trembled as Catherine brushed her face again and again across his chest before her mouth began trailing a path of fire.

Carefully, Vincent cautiously moved his fingers over the swell of her breasts, no longer hidden by the lacy white bra.  He slipped the straps from her shoulders, blazing kisses upon this exposed creamy flesh.  The feel of her breasts pressing firmly against his chest set him on fire.  He lifted her up, enjoying the feel of her breasts moving across him, and then Catherine’s mouth captured his in a deep kiss.

Slowly, she slid down his chest and her hands traveled down, stopping to unfasten the snap of his well-worn navy cords. Freeing the snap allowed just enough room for her to slide her small hand inside as her hips moved against him, increasing the pressure of her hand.  He moaned against her mouth as his hips began to duplicate her movements.

Trailing kisses down the length of Catherine’s body, Vincent slowly dropped to his knees, pressing his face against her quivering stomach.  Catherine buried her hands in his hair, holding him closer as he breathed deeply her warm, womanly scent.  Moving only slightly away, he eased down her slacks and panties in one graceful move as she steadied herself against him, lifting first one leg then the other.

Sitting back on his heels, Vincent’s eyes traveled the length of Catherine’s body as she stood proudly before him.  His gaze lingered, caressing her body and setting it on fire by the very intense heat which seemed to radiate from his eyes.

Catherine felt her skin becoming warm where Vincent’s eyes lingered. “Your very gaze is like fire,” she murmured, “and you haven’t even touched me yet.”

“Should I touch you?”

“Oh, yes, yes.”

“Should I touch you here?”  Leaning forward, Vincent bent to lightly brush his mouth against Catherine’s shapely ankle, then turned his lips to her other ankle. “Tempting,” he murmured. “Perhaps you would prefer I touch you here,” he said as he laid siege to the sensitive creamy skin behind her knees.  Catherine’s legs began to tremble as Vincent continued his exquisite torture.

“Vincent,” she said, her voice breathless, “oh, it feels so...”

Raising one quizzical eyebrow, he looked up at Catherine, “This does not please you?  It pleases me greatly.” His mouth continued moving up, pausing to nuzzle, then moved up again.

“Hmmm...”

“Perhaps there is someplace you would like to touch?”  A flash of his canines showed as a slight smile crossed his face, his eyes revealing the intensity of his love.  Sitting again on his heels, he waited as Catherine swayed before him, lost within the sensual ecstasies his touch created.

Catherine sank down gracefully, her knees resting against Vincent’s hard, muscular thighs, her stomach pressing against the broad expanse of his chest, arms wrapped around Vincent’s neck.  She presented him with a very tempting view of her breasts as her lips moved against his mouth.  Vincent’s heart thudded in his chest as Catherine’s mouth fired his blood, molding against his lips softly, tenderly, then turning wild and wanton.

Catherine moved slightly away, her hands still caressing the golden hair which she adored, as she pulled his head toward her breasts.  Willingly, Vincent acquiesced to Catherine’s desire, nuzzling against one rigid nipple as his hand gently cupped and softly rubbed the other.  Catherine’s reaction was instantaneous, sending tiny waves of shock and pleasure through their bond, allowing Vincent to feel her pleasure completely.

Gathering her into his arms, Vincent rose and carried her to the bed.  “Hurry, please,” she pleaded as her hands stretched up to caress his chest as he bent to remove his pants.  Vincent allowed himself a moment to just stare, worshipping Catherine’s beautiful body, as he slid the cords past his slender hips.

Easing down beside Catherine’s warm and welcoming body, Vincent sought her lips as she caressed him. “Catherine,” his voice whispered against her ear, “I love you more than I thought it possible to love.”

Catherine’s legs rose, lifting her hips to press closer. “I need you, please, I can’t wait any longer...it’s been too long.”

His lips continued to taste Catherine’s body as he continued his downward path, pausing to savor her breasts before continuing.  Her body trembled beneath his mouth as he moved lower, blazing a trail of fire. “Please...”

Catherine moaned deeply as Vincent plunged within her welcoming warmth.  Their hips moved in perfect counterpoint, rising and falling, fueling the fire that blazed.  Catherine writhed beneath him, her hips rising and falling, as her desire to be closer—more a part of his body—filled her, the blood pounding through her veins.

There was a wildness in her that Vincent had never experienced before, and it fueled his own desire.  His hips moved faster as he filled Catherine’s body only to withdraw and plunge again within her honeyed depths.  Catherine began shuddering beneath him, her cries filling the chamber as Vincent buried himself, filling her as his own body trembled and shuddered.

Vincent held Catherine closely, his whole being filled with the experience they had shared, totally new and different from all that had come previously.  Tears brushed his lashes, his breathing ragged, as he tenderly claimed her mouth. “Catherine, it was so beautiful,” he sighed.

They slept arms and legs intertwined.  Even as they slept, their bodies sought each other, moving to lie wrapped around each other in a cocoon of warm, sated flesh.  Vincent woke briefly, his heart filled with a serenity unknown before as he experienced the warmth of Catherine asleep beside him, the agony of awakening alone without her slipping away, replaced by a sense of love and acceptance. Cuddling her even closer beneath him, Vincent buried his face against her neck, smelling deeply the fresh scent of her hair, and drifted into a deeper sleep.

************

Catherine heard the increased tapping on the pipes, realizing from her time of illness that the community was beginning to stir.  She turned just enough to be able to watch Vincent as he slept, the steady rise and fall of his chest a perfect counter harmony to her own.  She studied his face in repose, finding him more beautiful, and felt her pulse racing as the truth of his beauty washed over her, causing a lone tear to escape her startling green eyes.

She enjoyed the feel of his body against her own, the silkiness of his body hair against her skin, and, unable to control her actions, she buried her face, inhaling deeply, then rubbed it across his chest.

“I gather from that delightful action, my love, you are awake.” His voice had a sleepy sensual quality and the very sound of it caused Catherine’s skin to warm. “You seem to be particularly fond of that part of my body.”  She could feel a chuckle building within his chest as she again rubbed her face against him.

“I think it must be because, for so long, all I knew of your body was the warmth of your chest against my face and the delicious smell that was always a part of you.  When you held me, I used to think I would melt because the smell which clung to your clothes was so masculine, so sexual.  I use to dream about what it would be like to press my face against your chest, to be able to feel the warmth of your skin. Sometimes I think your chest would cause me to have more restless nights, loss of sleep, and to awaken in a warm, moist state.”

“You are teasing me, I know.” His face registered surprise at Catherine’s words and then, sensing the truth of her words, he found himself again in the unfamiliar state of a blush.

“No, it’s true.  Your arms holding me close, hearing your heart beat so reassuringly against my ear, and with the wonderful smell of you, I would to go to sleep with this sense of you invading my dreams. Even when we would part at the threshold, when I reached my bed I could still feel you surrounding me.”

Vincent continued to absorb the wonder of her words, the feelings his very presence had caused within her. “As I would walk home, the very air around me seemed filled with you. I could feel the warmth of your hand in mine and, as I walked, I could detect the essence of your perfume still clinging to the tunnels.” His voice was a gentle, velvety whisper, trailing away as his eyes suddenly filled. Surrounded by Catherine’s love, Vincent was able to surrender into her tender care the aspects of himself he had kept hidden, the buried feelings he had rarely been able to share. 

They snuggled close, sharing secrets each had thought were too painful, too personal to have given voice to before they had crossed the barrier which had kept them apart. They burrowed under the quilts, enjoying the warmth it provided, the joy of lying hip to hip, as their newfound intimacy spread to encompass all aspects of their loving relationship. 

“Catherine, would you walk with me today? Perhaps together we could revisit some old places of my world I would like to share with you.”

Catherine shifted slightly, allowing herself to clearly view his face. “I would go anywhere with you.”  She leaned over to gently kiss him.  “Perhaps we could talk William into a picnic lunch for our walk.”

“I’m certain that would be no problem—all you would need to do is look at him, smile, and he would cook the entire kitchen to please you!

“Remember, he did say he thought you had grown too thin and he wanted to fatten you up.  He’s right, Catherine, you did not eat as well as you should have during your illness. You must have lost 15 pounds.  See how prominent your hip bones are?”  His hands moved across her hips to emphasize his words and his concern.

Capturing his hand, Catherine moved it to her stomach. “I’d prefer to gain those pounds here by growing very round with your child.”

“Catherine! I have not made you pregnant, have I?”  His face was a mixture of wildly conflicting emotions, all playing across his face in rapid succession.

“No,” she said wistfully, “I have taken all the necessary precautions, but I hope that soon you will allow me to stop.  I want to have your child, Vincent, the child born of our love.”

Her words caused Vincent’s heart to beat rapidly, his body shaking as his senses and emotions exploded with hundreds of differing complex feelings, unable to speak as he was assaulted by the endless waves of emotions.

“Oh, my love, what have I done to you, by speaking so freely of my dream for us?”

His deep blue eyes settled into a steady gaze upon her face and after several slow breaths, he found his voice. “That you should want my child is more than I could ever dare to dream.  Your love of me is a constant source of joy, beyond anything I have ever known or hoped to know in my life.

“But a child, Catherine, you must not even think of it!  There is so much we will never know, and to create another of my kind wouldn’t be wise.”

“He would be our child, Vincent, and he would be loved beyond all. We don’t know, perhaps he would look like me. Though I would hope he would look like his beautiful father.” Her hand caressed his face gently.

“I promise you I will not attempt to get pregnant without your knowledge.  I didn’t mean to cause you distress.  I only wanted you to know how much I would welcome your child growing within my body.”

“That you should want this is . . . .”  He could only stare into the endless depths of her green eyes as his emotions welled up, making further speech impossible.

The sounds of loud communications upon the pipes stirred them later as they lay still wrapped in each other’s arms.  “We should hurry or we will miss breakfast,” Vincent said as he reluctantly began untangling his legs from Catherine’s.

Taking his robe from the chair where he had tossed it yesterday, Vincent slipped into it, crossed the room and removed Catherine’s robe from the étagère. “Do you wish to shower first?”

“No.” She smiled at him. “You go ahead. Although it would be nice to shower together as we did yesterday.”

Bending, he kissed her. He murmured, “If we showered as we did yesterday, Catherine, we would miss both breakfast and lunch.”  Grabbing his clothes, he left the chamber as Catherine smiled at his disappearing back.

Catherine wiggled down beneath the quilt, enjoying the warmth of where Vincent had lain. She buried her nose in his pillow, inhaling the lingering fragrance of his hair, and caught herself smiling anew; just being near where he had been, she giggled and hugged herself at her own silliness.

She was still wrapped in the quilt when Vincent returned minutes later, his damp hair flowing down his back. “I’ll hurry,” she said as she jumped up from the bed and made a grab for the robe just as Vincent reached out to hold it for her.  She slipped her arms inside, belting it just as his arm encircled her narrow waist.  Lifting her hair away, he lightly nuzzled her neck and murmured something which sounded like, “Maybe we could skip breakfast and begin with lunch.”

Laughing, Catherine pulled away and headed toward the entrance way; she returned several minutes later, her hair wrapped in a towel, and began to dress quickly.  Vincent thoughtfully had selected warm clothing for her to wear on their journey.

“Should I take anything with me? I mean, are we likely to be gone overnight?”

“An extra change of clothing might be a good idea. Shall I return for you or will you join me in Father’s chamber?”

“I’ll join you there.”

Vincent left and Catherine wrapped her hair in another dry towel then set about the business of gathering things for their journey.  A small backpack lay open on the table and into it Catherine put extra socks, a change of underwear, a thermal shirt and a sweater.  Inside the sweater folds, she slipped a small package, smiling as she covered it, then straightened and began vigorously drying her hair.

 

Chapter 22

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