Dancing

Light

 

Vincent sits on the Whipsering Gallery bridge

 

 

“Dancing Light”

 

A Story of “Beauty and the Beast”

 

By Judith Nolan

 

Artwork by Kathy Fidge

 

This zine picks up the story of Vincent and Catherine and their family after the end of “All Things Are Possible,” the last zine in my Trilogy series. My Trilogy seems to have developed into a Fourthogy…

 

To all those who have joined me on this journey that began with one small idea, How Shall I Hold My Soul, so long ago now – I couldn’t have done it without you all. To Tic, my chief editor and avid zine reader, my special thanks. To Inez and Andrea, I have tried to do all you asked. I hope it is enough. To the present day and for Jo Baca who found me again, after all the years away, and to Carole Whitehead, for her good humour and endless patience, Winterfest will have a special place in my heart…always...

 

This story is dedicated to all the cast of “Beauty and the Beast”. Without them there would truly be ‘nothing’ indeed. Still holding out hope for ‘our’ movie. Please, Mr Koslow, before I’m too old to appreciate it!

 

(Please do not reproduce, by any means, this story)

 

“Dancing Light” is an amateur fiction fanzine and as such does not intend to infringe upon the copyrights of RON KOSLOW FILMS, REPUBLIC PICTURES, CBS TELEVISION, WITT THOMAS PRODUCTIONS or any other holders of “Beauty and the Beast” copyrights.

 

“Masquerade, paper faces on parade, masquerade, hide your face so the world will never find you…”

 

 

 


“You turned and looked at me,

your eyes were filled with dancing light

and I was bathed in your warmth.

And I believed in that moment,

that even for me,

all things were possible…

 

In that warmth,

in your light,

I felt what it is to be beautiful…”

 

Vincent

 

 

     

 

My heart leaps up when I behold

A rainbow in the sky:

So was it when my life began;

So be it now I am a man;

So be it when I shall grow old,

Or let me die!

The child is the father of the man

And I could wish my days to be

Bound each to each by natural piety.

 

William Wordsworth

 

 

Joe peered cautiously into the bottomless depths of the Whispering Gallery. The mists in the great yawning hole swirled and beckoned, arrowing downwards into distant nothingness. He swayed back abruptly, casting a thoughtful look at Father who stood, in apparent unconcern, at his side. Joe took a strong grip on one of the bridge’s upright posts for added support.

 

Words and brief moments of broken sound echoed down from Above, adding to the awesome magic of the place. Joe cocked his head to listen to the strains of a Bruce Springsteen number that suddenly cut across all the other voices. The music echoed into the distant corners of the vast cavern.

 

“All this, and I never, not even in my wildest dreams, imagined that a world so vast and complex as yours existed right beneath my feet. I always thought I was beyond the age when things surprised me anymore. I guess I was wrong. After this, I know New York will never be the same.”

 

And I won’t be either, Joe thought, edging away from the broken planking beneath his feet. No one would believe me anyway, even if I tell them the truth.

 

Joe had left the wedding party soon after Catherine and Vincent’s departure, drawn by an intense curiosity when Father had offered to show him something of the world that had been created Below. The sheer magnitude and wonder of it all took his breath away.

 

He shook his head now on a small, incredulous laugh, speaking more to himself than his companion. “Or was it just that apple cider after all, and I am truly dreaming?”

 

“It’s not a dream, Mr. Maxwell.” Father glanced at him with a wry, self-deprecating smile. “When I first came Below, I had the same doubts you are having now. I couldn’t grasp the scope of it, the sheer magnitude of all that one small group of people had achieved down here. Even now, I am amazed by some of the discoveries Mouse and Vincent continue to make from time to time.”

 

“Vincent…” Joe mused, glancing back into the echoing depths below his feet. “Your son is a remarkable man. All along, ever since Cathy came to work at the D.A.’s office, I knew there was something going on in her life, someone she was protecting. But she was always funny about it, real secretive. She wouldn’t even tell me his name.” He shrugged. “I’ll admit it was driving me nuts, but now I know why she had to keep her private life, very private. I have never met anyone quite like Vincent.” Joe looked back at Father. “He and Cathy love each other very much.”

 

“I once thought it could not be possible,” Father answered the unspoken query in Joe’s voice. “I once thought my son could only be hurt by contact with your world, with any woman from Above. Then Catherine came into his life and I feared the worst. I counselled him strongly to be rid of her as soon as possible. I could not bear to see him hurt.”

 

He sighed, looking down into the abyss. “For Vincent to find love was a true gift I could not hope or expect for him.” He gripped one of the bridge’s rope links. “There were times when I despaired of either of them finding eventual happiness.”

 

“He was her protector in the city,” Joe chose his words carefully, not wishing to stir up a host of grim, unwelcome memories for his companion, but needing to know the truth. “One of my investigators, Diana Bennett, stumbled onto the truth. I could never understand why Catherine managed to slip out of so many situations where death was a very real possibility. Then, there was that night at the carousel…” He lifted his shoulders.

Vincent looking pensive

 

“They have a bond, an empathic connection that allowed Vincent to sense whenever Catherine was in danger.” Father looked squarely at Joe. “Whatever Vincent has been forced to do in the past, Mr. Maxwell, he has done for Catherine, for the survival of their love, each for the other, and the continued existence of our world. I know Catherine has done the same if Vincent was in danger. If she had died, I think the loss would have destroyed my son, destroyed the man he strives so hard to be. I would say he chose the lesser of two evils to allow their love to live.”

 

“Just plain Joe, remember?” Joe returned Father’s straight look. “And don’t forget, I owe my life to Vincent as well. I left my D.A.’s hat in my office. I didn’t have a choice. Knowing your secrets has changed more than a few things for me.”

 

He sighed brusquely. “Look, when I go back Above, I will make sure that those cases involving Cathy and Vincent are buried so deep they will never see the light of day again, you have my word on that. I would never knowingly do anything to endanger Radcliffe’s new life and happiness.” He smiled grimly. “Besides, the politicians are not too anxious to investigate Striker’s connections in the city or the obvious links between his death and other similar killings, like those at the carousel and John Moreno’s death. They get real twitchy about things that threaten them in an election year.”

 

“Thank you, Joe.” Father nodded gratefully. “When Catherine first told me that you were coming Below, I did hold grave fears about your ability to understand and reconcile our situation and keep our secrets. But she assured me that you could never betray us or our world.”

 

“I don’t have a problem with that.” Joe gave a short laugh. “All this would take one hell of a lot of explaining anyway, and then they’d probably lock me up in a rubber room and throw away the key. Catherine’s friendship is very important to me.” He eased back cautiously from the yawning pit beneath his feet, looking away from Father’s speculative gaze. “In the end, I guess it all boils down to the fact that I can only return the trust you have shown me.”

 

“Thank you,” Father returned simply, placing his hand on Joe’s shoulder as they walked together out of the chamber and into the tunnel beyond.

 

“But you have no clues to Vincent’s origins or parentage?” Joe glanced at Father with curiosity, as they walked through the torch-lit quiet. “Catherine told me that you found him as a baby behind St Vincent’s hospital.”

 

“A member of our community found him, yes.” Father pushed at a stone with the tip of his cane. “Vincent only cried when his rescuer nearly stepped on him. He had been badly injured; his life hung in the balance for many days.”

He shook his head. “Someone had tied a cloth bag over his head, we presume because they couldn’t bear to look at him. In those early times I almost convinced myself that perhaps it would have been better to just let such a sick baby slip away, to spare him the awful pain of his very existence.”

 

“But, you didn’t.” Joe watched with interest as Father operated one of the many gates they had encountered in their wanderings.

 

The device that opened the portal had been cunningly wrought out of metal in the shape of a candlestick set into the wall. The naked flame dipped and swayed as Father depressed the lever, and Joe remembered Mouse, the inveterate tinkerer, and hoped they didn’t come across any of the boy’s more insane inventions along the way.

 

“No.” Father exhaled. “I just couldn’t let him die, when he had struggled so hard to live. Despite all his injuries, his appalling state of neglect, I could feel such life in him, buried so deep and banked. As if he was simply conserving what little strength he had left, waiting for someone to find him and care enough to fan that tiny flame back to life. From the beginning he knew how to fight for what he needed to survive. And I loved him for having that kind of extraordinary courage.”

 

He closed the gate behind them with a soft clang that echoed into the far distance, momentarily disturbing the rhythm of the quiet. “In one so young, his desire for life was unbelievable. With each passing day, his will to live grew stronger. He simply refused to die. That is Vincent’s true gift, to find that same flickering ember in others and nurse it back to life. He was, and is, a miracle.”

 

“Yes.” Joe nodded. “But then, I think this whole place is a miracle.” He expanded his arms to include everything around him. “I’m still not totally convinced I’m not dreaming. But I know I’ll want to return here again.”

 

“You will always be most welcome.” Father smiled at his enthusiasm. “I know Catherine will always welcome your presence. You have been a good friend to her through some very troubled times.”

 

“If you have any problems, send for me.” Joe placed a restraining hand on the other man’s arm, as he led the way back to the more inhabited tunnels. “I mean anything. I might only be the D.A. of Manhattan, but I do have the power to help. Burch’s tower could happen again; we both know that. I can hold up developers for years, if necessary. Moreno succeeded in crippling Burch’s project.”

 

“And now Elliot is a valuable ally in our struggle to keep our two worlds separate.” Father nodded his understanding. “I am sure knowing you in a official capacity will prove useful in the future. Thank you.”

 

“I shall make certain of it.” Joe grinned, as the sound of voices swelled in the confines of the tunnel and Mary appeared, shepherding the smaller children from the excitement of the wedding celebrations to the dubious pleasure of their beds.

 

“I always feel so hard-hearted doing this.” Mary sighed as she came abreast of the two men. “The children do so enjoy the festivities.”

 

A small, ragged child suddenly attached himself to Joe’s hand, as Mary attempted to gather her scattered charges after they had greeted Father and demanded bedtime stories. They all showed a tendency to linger, hindering progress.

 

Joe looked down into the boy’s bright, dark eyes and found he could see himself at the same age. He could remember the times when he had been such an innocent, trusting in all life had to offer, before the realities of the world in which he lived intruded upon his innocence. A broad, gap-toothed smile greeted his gaze. The cast of the child’s features suggested some mental deficiency, but a wonderful sense of self-worth fairly shone from his sparkling eyes.

 

“His name is Angelo.” Mary supplied softly, as Joe continued to survey the boy curiously. “When Vincent found him, up there in the snow on Christmas Eve, Angelo was unconscious and nearly dead. He’d been badly beaten and his life hung by a very slender thread for many weeks. Angelo managed to tell us later than his father didn’t love him because he couldn’t think quickly enough to earn his living on the streets like the other children. His mother had died when he was a baby.”

 

The boy nodded, the trust in his eyes fairly blazed forth, and Joe found it difficult to equate this obviously happy boy with someone who had been brutalised and abandoned by those he had depended up for his very existence.

 

“Christmas Eve…” He shook his head slowly in despair as he went down on his haunches before his small companion, taking a firmer grip on the long fingered, thin hand that had been laid so trustingly in his. “Hello, Angelo.”

 

The boy beamed and shook Joe’s hand vigourously, like one man to another. Joe felt a lump rise in his throat as the boy opened his mouth to laugh, but no sound came forth.

 

“Angelo is mute.” Father watched the pair of them with compassion. “His vocal cords were damaged in the last beating he received. But, he is an incredible musician. He composes piano concertos that would make you weep, they are so beautiful.”

 

Angelo nodded briskly, his long fingers flying animatedly through the air, making sweeping passes as if he was playing an unseen piano. His gap-toothed smile widened into one of mischievous glee. He laughed soundlessly, his hands dancing again in complicated movements, too fast for Joe to follow.

 

“What’s he trying to tell me?”

 

“He’s describing his latest masterpiece to you.” Father smiled. “He has learned sign language from Vincent and one of our helpers who also cannot speak. We all share in his progress. He is a remarkably bright pupil. One day, I’m afraid, he will outgrow our ability to teach him down here.”

 

“And yet, his father beat him…” The sickening picture of a child with such a talent being beaten to within an inch of his life and being unable to plead for clemency twisted Joe’s heart painfully. He rose abruptly to ruffle the boy’s dark curls with an unsteady hand.

 

“I wish I could say that I could prevent such a thing from happening again.” He shook his head. “But I can’t. I see so much anger and violence in my world that sometimes I despair for any of us up there. Down here, you have so much to offer, so much to give each other. Even the simple matter of trusting one another has escaped those in my world, and yet you offer your trust to those who come here so easily and completely.”

 

“I’m afraid there is only so much you can do up there.” Father laid his hand on Joe’s shoulder, as Angelo gave Joe’s hand a final squeeze, then darted away again with the rest of the children, Mary following in their chattering wake. “I have had those same feelings of helplessness many times.”

 

“Yes, but you can at least do something about it,” Joe replied in an exasperated tone. “If I come across an abandoned child, I can only place that child in the care of the state. But the system is so overworked and under-resourced that I sometimes despair of even one child having a complete and happy life.”

 

“A happy life is what all parents wish for their children,” Father agreed, his tone thoughtful. “Vincent has often said that all we can do is try and touch those with whom we come in contact, influence their thinking for the common good. If we are lucky, in turn, they will touch others who cross their path. There is no other way – one conscience at a time.”

 

“A brave philosophy for a world obsessed with itself.” Joe gazed after the children, the sound of their chatter floating back from the tunnel shadows. “I wish it could be different; I really do. I wish I had the power to change things in my world.”

 

“By helping us, keeping our secrets, you are helping to make a difference.” Father took Joe’s arm and led him slowly onwards. “Your silence is a very valuable commodity. But let’s not dwell in such matters now. I am sure there must be some cake left, and I know William will be offended if we do not sample some more of his cider. And there will be a bevy of young ladies waiting to implore you to dance with them. I’m afraid there is no escaping their attentions.”

 

 Above, the night faded into a morning that dawned bright and clear. The city dwellers bustled about their business, totally unaware of the secluded chamber deep beneath their feet where the smallest, muted echoes of city life filtered down through the intervening rock on ghostly tendrils of sound.

 

Catherine stood poised above the waters of the pool, her naked toes just edging the rock on which she stood, the slender lines of her nude body gleaming satin in the flickering candlelight as she raised her arms above her head, reaching up as if to touch the shadowed recesses of the rock ceiling of the cavern far above her.

 

Vincent sat back against the head of the bed where Catherine had left him, one arm draped over his upraised knee, as he watched his wife breathe in the crispness of the morning air that filtered down through the rock walls from the world Above, carrying a remembrance of the city that held them all in place.

 

His wife…the words echoed softly through his consciousness, touching on all the memories, all the gifts of Catherine’s generous spirit and body.

 

“My wife…” He rolled the sound softly off his tongue, savouring the words, listening to their resonance as he shook his head in wonder. Would he ever get used to the sound of them, the incredible beauty of their simplicity? Two words, two words that had taken on a meaning he never knew before. His wife…

 

Catherine turned her head to smile at him across the sandy width of the shore, the slim lines of her body lending her an air of fragility Vincent knew to be deceiving. He answered the taunt in his wife’s eyes with a shake of his head and an upraised hand. In the morning the waters of the pool held a chill that he respected, but Catherine had made light of his protests, slipping from beneath the covers of their bed without hesitation.

 

His eyes darkened with all the power of his love and need as Catherine walked away from him around the edge of the pool, completely at ease with her own nudity, the long length of her hair swinging in time with her steps. The sight of her was almost too tempting to deny, but Vincent was content to sit and watch, to study all the varying facets of her personality.

 

Sitting back on the pile of bedding, his eyes followed her path to the rock above the pool, indulging his need to simply watch and absorb everything about this woman who had changed his life so completely and irrevocably. Dancing candle flame outlined the rounded upthrust of her breasts, the lean lines of her stomach and flanks, pooling in the shadows at the angle of her upper thighs, adding the warm touch of mystery and the promise of another gift of love.

 

The slow, rhythmic patter of Jacob’s heartbeat underscored Vincent’s own, reminding him of another precious gift who awaited their return to his small world. Left in Mary’s tender care, a pair of thoughtful sapphire eyes had followed his parents until they were out of sight. Winterfest and the wedding party had continued until dawn, long after they had departed to their own private world. The warmth of Shannon’s beautiful voice followed them into the darkness, Mouse sitting raptly at her feet, accepting her song as his due for encouraging her sing.

 

Elliot had stood in the shadows, his eyes following Catherine’s progress out of the hall with a thoughtful smile, Vincent acknowledging his hand upraised in farewell as they left. Then Elliot had turned his attention back to Shannon and his thoughtful expression softened into warm enjoyment. Vincent nodded his satisfaction at the obvious trend of his friend’s thoughts. He had wished him a silent good luck in his quest.

 

“Has married life taken away all your sense of adventure, Mr. Wells?” Catherine’s voice jerked Vincent’s attention back to the present. Calling from across the pool, her clear tones rang against the rock walls of the cavern, stirring echoes to life, her voice holding more than a hint of laughter.

 

“I prefer to think of it as self preservation,” Vincent countered, shaking his head. “The pool is spring-fed; it runs out through the rock on the far side down into the waterfall below. It,s very cold.”

 

“Just the way I like it.” Catherine swept her arms above her head once more, leaning out over the water before diving cleanly into the limpid depths. A stream of bubbles marked her progress as she dived deep into the chill waters, her body a slender gleam of silver against the darkness of the sandy bottom. The water closed behind her with hardly a ripple and only the echoes of her laughter remained, trapped in the hollows of the cavern’s upper reaches. The sense of their mutual bond touched against those lost whispers, adding to the memory of the night before.

 

Vincent touched the forefinger of his right hand against the unfamiliar feel of his broad wedding ring, the plaited strands of gold, cool to his touch. The candlelight glinted on the polished surface, adding a spark of gleaming fire. He dropped his hand to smooth over the bedding beneath him. The warmth, the presence of his wife was still held in the material and the pile of clothing at his side. He turned his head to consider the discarded attire. Tunnel clothing, tawny leather, dark velvet and old lace, to Vincent, tangible symbols of all that Catherine had left behind when she had given herself finally into his keeping.

 

The memories of the previous night touched him gently, adding layers to the bond that connected him with the two people he cared most about in this world. He gathered the folds of her gown and let the softness of the material run back through his hand before gathering them again to hold them to his face, breathing in the clean, fresh scent contained in their lingering warmth. They carried all the scents, a hint of the vitality that was his Catherine…

 

A chill drop of water fell onto the back of his hand, running swiftly through the soft fur, startling him from his intent thoughts. He had not heard Catherine approach over the soft sand of the pool surround, his sense of her momentarily lost in the past. She had dried herself on a towel, but her hair was still wet.

 

“You look so pensive.” Catherine dropped to her knees at his side, her skin dimpled with gooseflesh, the scent of her clean and cool.

 

“And you look cold.” Scooping up a large patchwork blanket, Vincent drew it around her slim shoulders, feeling, as he did so, the shiver that ran through her. With the fine length of her hair in unruly abandon after her swim, she looked no more than sixteen, at once both innocent and wise.

 

Gathering her chilled softness close, Vincent rubbed her skin with the blanket, urging circulation back into her chilled body. Shuddering, she pushed closer, moulding her body into the curve of his side, burying her face in the silken length of his mane.

 

“I was thinking of you,” Vincent told her, in answer to her observation. He lifted her left hand where it lay against his chest, to study the fine gold circle on her ring finger. “And of this…”

 

“Last night was only the beginning,” Catherine whispered, turning her hand within his grasp to hold his fingers tightly. “Sometimes I have to remind myself that all this is real, that our dream has finally come true. But then, I look at you, and I know there could be nothing more real than our wedding night.”

 

“Yes…” Vincent nodded slowly, turning his head to plant a soft kiss in the warm dampness of her hair.

 

“I love it here; it’s so peaceful and quiet.” She sighed, burrowing deeper into his comforting solidness. Vincent relaxed, drawing her closer to him, his hands wandering at will over her nakedness.

 

“I wonder if Joe and Mouse have found anything in common yet,” Catherine remarked presently, her voice dreamy and reflective.

 

A soft laugh echoed through Vincent then, sounding against Catherine’s cheek. “I’m still wondering about that four-poster bed Mouse informed me he had erected in one of the other chambers. I can only hope he didn’t steal it from Above.”

 

“I think it would be safer not to ask.” Catherine chuckled, bringing Vincent’s hand up to her lips to kiss each other his fingers in turn. The soft fur whispered across her cheek, adding its own sensual touch to her drowsy senses. “The thought of someone coming home to an empty bedroom stretches the imagination.”

 

“Let’s not think of it.” Vincent lifted a fold of Catherine’s blanket with his free hand and began drying her hair, running his fingers against her scalp. “But when he showed me this chamber, I knew it was the one for us. Mouse was pleased. He approved of my choice.”

 

“I’m glad.” Catherine dropped her head back, closing her eyes. “I love it here.”

 

“And I love you, wife.” The smooth column of her throat, half shadowed in cream and gold by the surrounding candles, invited Vincent’s questing touch. Lowering his head, he placed a lingering kiss in the hollow at the base of her throat, just above where his gift of crystal gleamed diamond fire.

 

Catherine’s skin tasted of her swim, a fine, clear wine, chilled and moist to the sweep of Vincent’s tongue. The edge of the blanket slipped from his grip against the dampness of her hair as he became lost in her once more. His fingers, still entangled with hers, stroked a whispered caress against the slowly heating warmth of her abdomen.

 

Opening her eyes, Catherine smiled into his, his gaze studying every curve and plane of her face with solemn intensity, as if to memorise her for all time. Bringing his hand up between them, Catherine ran her tongue from the base of his thumb to the tip of the finger that carried the symbol of their union, their commitment, one to the other, before finally curving around the long nail with deliberate intent. Her eyes gleamed witch-fire taunts in the flame-lit quiet.

 

“Always…” she murmured, as Vincent slid his fingers through her hair, cupping the neat elegance of her head between the strength of his hands, teasing the softness of her lips with caressing strokes of his thumbs.

 

“Always…” he agreed softly, noting the darkening fire in her green eyes, answering the molten need that would forever riot through him anew, each time they loved.

 

Lowering his head, he touched his mouth against hers, his thumbs slipping to define the line of her jaw, then still lower to outline the pulse that beat frenetically in the soft column of her throat. He felt her quiver and heard her groan against his seeking caress.

 

Giving again the whispered word of aching desire, Vincent deepened the kiss, slowly and with the new skills his love had taught him, he drew her soul from between her parted lips to blend with the fire that raged through his own. Catherine’s hands rose to hold him, clutching handfuls of his hair to steady her world, as her body responded to the exquisite torture of his caressing touch.

 

It was a long time before Catherine sat back to move across him, sinking to her knees as she slid down to sit in his lap. Vincent’s hands dropped to smooth the satin skin of her thighs, defining the muscles beneath.

 

“I love you, Mr. Wells.” Leaning forward, Catherine began a detailed exploration of his face with a butterfly touch that tempted and teased. She smoothed across the lines of his forehead, down over his prominent cheekbones to the width of his nose and the full curve of his mouth, her head tilted to one side in seemingly abstract contemplation.

 

Hooded within the blanket, with her gaze locked on his, intent on her exploration, she appeared almost not to notice as Vincent’s hands moved again. Cupping her bottom in his palms, he brought her up and forward, then down, sliding her onto his body, her warmth absorbing that most intimate part of himself which would always need to be joined with her.

 

Vincent drew a long, shuddering breath, deep into his lungs. Warm, tender flesh quivered beneath his touch as he brought her up again, slowly, infinitely slowly lifting her almost clear of him before bringing her back down again to take him all the way once more into her warmth. His breathing intensified as his fingertips curved in at the junction of her body, touching delicately against her satin heat where she enclosed him, stroking along the softness of her body’s innermost secrets.

 

He smiled, watching her eyes, seeing them flare wide with awareness, but her pretence at absorption in exploring him continued. Her fingertips traced the line of his jaw, the corded muscles in his throat and neck. She pushed her way into his mane, defining the curve and shape of his ears.

 

Vincent’s smile widened into an answering taunt, watching her as he lifted her away from him again, adding the extra twist of rocking her gently from side to side as he brought her back down again, sliding completely into her once more. Poised above him, Catherine’s body arched back in reflex, her whole being momentarily centred on that one sweet torment. Vincent growled in appreciation of her reaction. His breathing became fractured as he continued to torment his love. Giving up her quest to memorise his features, cupping his face in her hands, she mutely begged for completion, but he shook his head in denial.

 

Moving ever upwards with aching slowness, he began to trace lazy patterns on the slender curve of her hips, running his forefingers over the indentation at the base of her spine before rising to encompass the slim span of her waist with both hands. To lift her above him required no effort at all, drawing her warmth up to the intimate exploration of his mouth and tongue.

 

“Vincent…” Catherine dropped her head forward, mingling ash blond with tawny wild silk, as her body began to quake with reaction, her breathing staccato and filled with voiceless anticipation.

 

A soft moan of frustration escaped her then and Vincent found the tiny sound infinitely pleasing as Catherine pushed down against his deliberate and ongoing torture, desperately seeking the release he was denying her.

 

“Not yet…” Savouring every quivering contact, he lowered her again, his hands still encompassing her waist as he continued his exploration, dipping into her soft belly with his mouth and teeth before moving upwards to the ripe curve of her breasts, their rose tips warm and sleek against his tongue.

 

Please…” Catherine begged then, all thoughts of teasing him in turn forgotten. His name, voiced again and again, became an invocation on her lips. All her desires, all her desperate need for him encompassed in that breathless begging. “Make it end…”

 

“Catherine…my Catherine, my love…” Closing gently against the tip of her breast, his canines leaving tiny indentations in the smoothness of her skin, Vincent answered her demand, raising her above him again, high into the dancing light, the surrounding flames a molten caress to equal the depth of their union, lowering her once more back into his lap, her thighs parting eagerly to encompass him intimately once more.

 

Their gazes locked as he moved within her, the glance only lasting a breathless moment, or perhaps an eternity, before Catherine laid her body along the length of his, burying her face in his neck, their combined shadows blending into each other until they were inseparable.

 

Safe within the circle of his arms, she let go of the reality that cemented them both in this sacred place. Following Vincent’s lead, trusting him with everything that she was and could ever hope to be, she finally surrendered herself to the increasing tempo of her body’s most intimate need, knowing that Vincent would always have the power to take her where she most desired to go…

 

 

 

Vincent and Catherine , Vincent's lips rest against Catherine's forehead

 

Say you’ll share with me one love,

One lifetime, say the word

And I will follow you…

 

Share each day with me, each night,

each morning.

Anywhere you go, let me go too…

Love me, that’s all I ask of you…

 

Phantom of the Opera

 

 

Sitting cross-legged on the floor of the great hall, tucked quietly away in one corner, Mouse played happily with the contents of the box at his feet. Before him, the few remaining guests and tunnel dwellers were working diligently to restore the hall to some semblance of order after the wedding party and Winterfest.

 

It was now the early hours of the morning, and the young and old alike were fast asleep in their chambers. Father had gathered together those who had lasted the night, clustered around William’s wine and cider barrels, and put them to work. All except Mouse, who had scuttled quickly out of Father’s line of sight when he came looking for volunteers. Now he ignored the others completely as he delved into his box, running his hands lovingly over the contents.

 

“Thank you, Elliot Burch.” Mouse caressed his present.

 

Elliot had brought something for his young friend, and he had only remembered to give it to him late in the previous evening. Laughing softly with delight, Mouse held up each gift in turn, watching as the candlelight reflected on their polished surfaces. Bright, gleaming new tools, many that Mouse had only as broken rejects from the world Above. Equipment he had carefully restored, though still not as good as brand new tools.

 

A voice in the small group of people before him attracted the boy’s attention.

Joe Maxwell was talking with Shannon and Elliot, making them both laugh at something he said, as they laboured beneath Father’s benign dictatorship to set everything to rights. Mouse liked Joe; he’d endeavoured to show him the best of his inventions down in his chamber, not quite understanding the look of uneasy reluctance on his new-found friend’s face when Mouse had juggled a block of plastic explosive nimbly plucked from the questing fingers of his pet racoon, Arthur.

 

“You do know what you’re dealing with there, I hope.” Joe had sidled to the entrance to the tinker’s chamber, one eye on escape and the other on the innocent-looking block of green in the boy’s hands.

 

“Sure.” Mouse had caressed the smooth coolness of the explosive. “One tiny bit and boom! Used it a lot. But need more detonators.” He looked up at Joe hopefully.

 

“Sorry, can’t oblige you.” Joe shook his head.” “Not my department.”

 

“No matter.” Mouse beamed. “Elliot Burch finds stuff for me.” He replaced the block on the bench, far away from his wandering pet. “He said his stuff is now my stuff. All of it. He has some neat stuff for Mouse to use.”

 

These last careless words had sent the remaining blood in Joe’s cheeks scurrying for cover. He wasn’t too far gone with William’s excellent cider to know this kid was extremely dangerous. He would have some choice words with Burch just as soon as he and Mouse returned to the party now getting into full swing above them.

 

“I think I can hear Father calling for you.” Joe took Mouse’s arm firmly and led him away from the danger. “In fact, I know he wants us both urgently.”

 

Behind Joe’s back, Arthur sidled up to the block of soft green material that intrigued him. He paddled on it with delighted hands as Joe led his master away. He attempted to tear off a small piece to see if it was good enough to eat…

 

Mouse grinned to himself now, as he watched Joe labour good-naturedly. Dressed in shirt-sleeves and suit trousers, just like Elliot, he contrasted oddly with the leather and patchwork clothing of his co-workers. William and his band of helpers moved among the group, removing the last of the vast spread of food to the safety of the kitchens. Mouse returned his attention to his box of treasures, huddling further into his corner when Father cast a critical eye over the work being done. Mouse had no intention of being hauled out to help with the tedious chore.

 

Father smiled as he saw Mouse’s bent figure shuffle crabwise into the deepest shadows of the great hall, huddled protectively over the open box in his arms. He hoped Elliot had the good sense not to give the boy anything too explosive.

 

 

“Vincent…” Catherine stirred lazily in the aftermath of their loving. Curled into her husband’s side, she rose over him and laid both hands on his chest, smiling at him as she rested her chin on the backs of her fingers.

 

“What is it?” Vincent brushed back the fall of her bangs from her eyes, his gaze quizzical as she continued to regard him solemnly, her lips pursed in deep thought.

 

Vincent’s touch was light against her cheek, encouraging her to speak even as his eyes told her of the beauty he saw both within and without the sweetness of her face. Catherine tilted her head, answering his smile, reaching forward to brush her lips lightly across his.

 

“I want to do something,” she said finally, as if picking her words, even worrying over her choice. “Something for your world, our world. Something to repay all that you have given me.”

 

“If there is a debt to be paid, it is ours.” Vincent drew his fingertips slowly down the curve of her cheek, his claws whispering softly on the delicate skin.

 

Catherine shook her head at that, determined to deny his words. “You have given me far more than I could have hoped to possess, even three years ago, before we first met. You know of my life then. It was empty and meaningless. Of all that you have given me, Vincent, the greatest gift of all is a meaning and a purpose, of doing the right thing without counting the cost for the first time in my entire life.”

 

Her lips twisted wryly. “I have no practical skills like Mouse. I’m afraid I have no wizardry in the kitchen to equal William’s expertise. I do have a talent for burning toast.” She laughed softly. “I have always thought that what I was good at could be of no practical use in your world.”

 

“No one has given more than you, Catherine.” Vincent framed her face with his hands, looking deep into her eyes, reinforcing his words with the strength of his love. “You have certainly taught me a few things I never dreamed to know.” His wicked smile teased at her senses.

 

“Thank you, Vincent,” she replied in mock solemnity, dropping her face to plant a kiss on his chest, tracing the lines of muscle to the base of his throat. But her face was as determined as before when she raised her eyes to look at him once more. “I want to be of use down here. I need to know that I can make a difference in this world too, Vincent. I have thought a great deal about it since you asked me to marry you, and I think I have finally come up with an answer.”

 

Emerald eyes fell into sapphire in the candlelight, as Catherine smiled slowly, sensing all the love and security that surrounded her now, love that said she needed to give nothing more, but respecting her right of choice. In all their time together, Vincent had always been very aware of Catherine’s right to choose her own path, however painful her final decision might eventually be.

 

“I remembered Michael, and I knew exactly how I can help my new world.” Catherine shifted her position, moving higher up Vincent’s chest to place a deeper, more lingering kiss on her husband’s lips. “I wish to teach, Vincent. I want to impart everything that I have learned to all the tunnel children who wish to go Above to further their education. Michael was the first step; there were so many things he needed to learn about my old world. I know I can make a difference, Vincent. And for our children in their turn, if they chose to go up there.”

 

Vincent was silent, absorbing all she had just said and all that she’d left unsaid. The surety of this new path echoed softly to him across the unseen links of their bond. A path that offered a sense of purpose, a choice to fill a need deep within his wife that he had not been aware of until now.

 

Catherine’s coming Below had been the end of her life Above, the end of all her work and struggle to help those in the great city who could not help themselves. Vincent knew well all that she had left behind to go with him into his world. Now, as he turned her words over in his mind, studying them closely, perhaps she had found a way to come full circle, to help those children Below who wished to seek a place in the other world. The rightness of her decision made him nod slowly as he drew himself up against the head of the bed, taking Catherine with him to rest against him.

 

“The choices are always yours, Catherine,” he reaffirmed his wife’s decision. “They always have been and always will be. But you should discuss this with Father when you feel ready to begin. He knows the children best and their individual needs.” Jacob came to his mind then, the child’s face bright and inquiring of everything around him. One day his son would walk in the world Above, to taste its delights and learn all its mysteries. One day…

 

“He is your son, Vincent,” Catherine answered her husband’s unspoken thoughts. “Wherever he goes, he will always take you with him. He will love this world as much as you do. But he also needs to know the ways of the world Above. I can only prepare that way for him, when the time is right.”

 

“I know…” Vincent’s tone was low and considering as he smoothed the length of her hair. “With all your gifts, I know you will make an excellent teacher.”

 

Catherine smiled and nodded, needing to know that Vincent understood her reasoning and receiving his reassurance by his very touch. His reassurance and his trust in the choices she, and she alone, had the right to make. It was the truest gift he could give to this beautiful woman nestled against him, her gaze warmly enveloping him with all her love and understanding.  

 

 

Mouse!” William’s commanding voice jerked the boy erect. “Come with me. I want you to show me where to find Catherine and Vincent’s chamber.”

 

Mouse was now alone in the great hall, still playing happily with his new acquisitions. Everyone else had long ago dispersed to rest or return Above. William had reappeared after a few hours sleep, looking well rested.

 

“Honeymoon!” Mouse looked shocked at the idea of intruding. “Need to be alone.”  

 

“Need to be fed.” William’s ample belly bounced in time with his laughter. “Honeymooning has a way of making you very hungry indeed. Now, come along and show me where they are. I’m getting some trays all prepared.”

 

“Vincent won’t like.” Mouse climbed to his feet, reluctant to leave his new tools. “Told me to keep it a secret.”

 

“You leave Vincent to me.” William pushed the boy before him towards the kitchens. “I think you’ll find they’ll be happy to see us. Man cannot live by love alone, or woman for that matter.”

 

“Okay good, okay fine.” Mouse grumbled, still unconvinced.

 

 

 After bathing in the pool and getting dressed, Catherine and Vincent lay together in the bed, lazily replete. Neither felt inclined to move, but soon they would have to leave, if only to answer their growing mutual sense of hunger and Vincent’s sense of duty to the world he cared for.

 

A loudly whispered conference from beyond the chamber’s entrance attracted their sleepy attention. Voices could be heard arguing.

 

“Said not to go in,” Mouse’s voice complained. “I told you. Wait for Vincent to say so.”

 

“Leave it to me.” William cleared his throat and made knocking noises with his knuckles on the stacked trays in his hands. “Room service. You guys decent?”

 

“Told him not to come in here.” Mouse’s head popped through the opening, keen to defend his unwanted part in the intrusion. “Told him you’d be busy. Not to disturb.” He turned back to glare at William. “See, Mouse was right. They’re still in bed.”

 

“It’s all right. Come on in, boys.” Catherine sat up as Vincent groaned, swinging his legs over the side of the bed, leaning down to pull his boots on.

 

“So much for the peace and quiet.” He turned to smile at her, his shoulders lifting in resignation. “But I will admit I am hungry.” His stomach rumbled in agreement, and they both laughed.

 

“Need to fix things up.” Mouse sidled into the chamber, fussing around the walls, replacing and renewing the candles from the large bag he carried. He kept darting them sidelong glances as Catherine straightened the bed covers, and William bustled in with his trays of food.

 

“Thought you guys would’ve worked up a healthy appetite by now.” William’s eyes twinkled mischievously. “So I thought a picnic breakfast would be the answer. Help me here, Mouse.”

 

“That sounds heavenly.” Catherine licked her lips.

 

“Excellent. I knew I’d be right.” Handing the trays to Vincent, William beamed as he began to bustle around, unfolding the rug he carried slung over his broad shoulder. Ordering Mouse to take the other side, he laid it out on the edge of the pool, arranging and fussing until Mouse came back from sorting out the candles to stand beside him with his hands on his hips.

 

“Food will get cold,” he complained. “Vincent looks hungry.”

 

“Fair enough.” William chuckled, taking the trays back from Vincent and arranging everything to his satisfaction. “Enjoy.”

 

“Thanks for this, boys.” Catherine kissed Mouse’s cheek, much to his stammering embarrassment. “It looks delicious.”

 

She was enveloped in William’s arms and squeezed tightly. “You’re very welcome, lass,” he rumbled.

 

“William’s idea,” Mouse admitted honestly. “I said not to disturb. Not come here until Vincent said it’s all okay.”

 

“I forgive you, Mouse.” Vincent smiled. “It’s all right; you have done well.”

 

“But then, Mouse, you and food don’t have much of a working relationship, do you?” William ruffled the boy’s hair. “Enjoy, you two. I’ll be back in an hour to tidy up.”

 

“This all looks so delicious, Vincent.” Catherine peered under the lids after they were alone again. “I hadn’t thought of food. Remember I told you I can manage to burn toast, but not a lot else.”

 

“We had different things on our mind.” Vincent chuckled as he assisted Catherine to sit on the rug. They ate in companionable silence, dining on William’s delicious creations.

 

“Do you mind if we take some time to explore the tunnels?” Vincent took her hand. “Left to his own devices, Mouse could cause havoc. And Father can’t cope on his own with everything. We will return here each evening, of course. But adding to your knowledge of this world would be a good idea.”

 

“Of course, I don’t mind.” Catherine smiled. “I would love to explore. And we will always come back here. It will always be our special place.”

 

“The Wells family retreat.” Vincent nodded, his eyes full of amusement. “I will admit to still being intrigued over that four-poster bed. I wonder where it is?”

 

“We should have asked Mouse.” Catherine chuckled. “He’s very proud of all he’s done for us. Perhaps, if we look hard enough, we may find it. We could certainly put it to good use.” Her smile promised new delights.

 

Vincent laughed as he raised her hand to his lips, kissing the back with lingering affection. “You deserve the very best of everything, my love.”

 

“So do you.” She returned the pressure of his fingers. “And there will always be time for us now. We have all the time in the world now. Love me, Vincent, that truly is all I ask of you.”

 

“Always…” Vincent reached across to lick the strawberry jam from her lips, and their world spun away once more…

 


Joe sat back in his chair behind his desk, carefully weighing his darts in one hand, the expression on his face thoughtful and distracted. The battered dart board that hung on the wall of the District Attorney of Manhattan took another direct hit as he aimed without really considering his shot. His mind was a long way from his office and far beneath the city. The scope of Vincent’s world staggered the mind. Its possibilities were breathtaking.

 

But it also seemed incredible to him that such a world could remain isolated and hidden, right in the middle of one of the world’s biggest and busiest cities. A part of Joe, the wondering child that still existed within him, rejoiced in that isolation, in its ability to survive despite the overwhelming odds against all who lived Below. But Joe also feared for them, for the ability of their world to survive at all in the face of what would happen to them if they were ever discovered.

 

He was well aware Cathy could survive that discovery, perhaps even come to terms with the loss of her new home, but for those she had chosen to live among, it would be an entirely different matter. He threw another dart. He sighed, thinking of Catherine’s son. A beautiful baby with such intelligent eyes – it was hard to believe how young he was. Joe could picture the boy and the others he had met far below the city.

 

Their faces came back to him, images of Cathy’s wedding, thoughts that brought a smile to his pensive face. Mary, Father, Shannon O’Neill. All bruised and battered by life in his world. All had found shelter in a world that accepted them for who they were and asked no questions.

 

Mouse…the memory of his new-found friend’s face surfaced in Joe’s mind and he sighed audibly. It had been two days since the wedding, but Joe couldn’t shake the conviction that Mouse was going to be trouble. The scope of some of his more elaborate inventions was enough to scare any sane man.

 

Joe and Elliot had found themselves in uneasy alliance over that particular subject. Joe hoped that Mouse wasn’t trying Father’s patience too far while his son was on his honeymoon.

 

“And Vincent…” Joe sighed audibly then.

 

There was only one fate for a man so different. Joe threw another dart at the board in disgust. What his world would do to Catherine’s new husband if he were ever discovered soured his thoughts. His hands clenched in despair. The line they all walked together was so fine and fragile; it needed only the strength of a harsh wind to bring all that had been built crashing down.  

 

If only he could make it safe for all of them, for the—

 

“Joe…?” A woman’s voice intruded on his distracted thoughts. Joe sat forward abruptly in his chair to find Diana watching him from the open doorway of his office.

 

“Sorry, I didn’t hear you come in.”

 

“I did knock.” Diana’s gaze was cool and speculative as she advanced into the room and shut the door. “But you looked very preoccupied. Difficult case?”

 

“More than one.” Joe rolled his shoulders, indicating a large stack of files on his desk. “Look, I’ve got a lot on my plate at the moment,” he continued, shrugging off the uncomfortable thought that Diana had been watching him for some time. Had she heard him mutter Vincent’s name just then? He prayed she didn’t. He needed to be a great deal more careful around this woman from now on. She saw too much and had a disturbing habit of coming to the right conclusions far too easily.

 

He got to his feet to walk around the desk to perch one hip on its edge. “It’s a fact of life in this place. Do you have something for me or is this just a social call?”

 

“Business, Joe. Always business.” Diana placed her large hold-all on Joe’s desk. “Not much more on the Chandler case, though a friend of mine at the courthouse rang to say that a woman of that name now has a child registered in the name of Wells. Curious development, I thought.” She pursed her lips. “Her lawyer was very evasive when it came to giving out any information on the matter. Apparently the father is listed as unknown, supposedly he’s not an American citizen. I thought that was an interesting turn of events. You know any more?”

 

“What more is there to know? I think it’s about time we dropped that case.” Joe spoke more abruptly than he intended, drawing the investigator’s uncanny gaze again. “Cathy deserves some peace now. I think we should respect her wishes of privacy.”

 

“Okay…” Diana intoned slowly. “But aren’t you in the least bit curious about the child? It’s a boy, I’m told.” She looked taken aback. “You were the one who was so insistent that we go all out to find Catherine Chandler in the first place. I know she’s shielding this Vincent character who appears to be her protector. Why are you looking at me like that?”

 

“Bad day, too many cases to solve,” Joe complained, looking away. He threw another dart.

 

Diana frowned, as she studied his reaction. “After the incident at the carousel in the park, you were convinced there was more going on with Catherine than she was telling you. Those gunmen were torn apart. It takes a powerful man to do that. Perhaps this man who protects her is also the father of her child. It all fits, very neatly.”

 

Diana sighed, shaking her head in frustration. “But, what gets to me is the fact that I just don’t know anything more concrete about Catherine than I did when I first started. There sure are a lot of smoke and mirrors.” She raised a frustrated hand. “Whichever way I look at this case, I can’t shake the feeling that there is so much more going on with her that we just aren’t seeing. The whole affair has so many layers. Just when I think I’m getting close, everything seems to slide out of my grasp again. I hate that.”

 

“You need to leave it alone. There’s nothing more to learn,” Joe lied blatantly then, wondering how he’d become so accomplished in the act so quickly. “And I want Radcliffe left strictly alone. Let her live her life as she chooses. What she does is no longer any of our concern. She’s done nothing illegal.”

 

Diana was silent for what seemed an eternity as she surveyed his face closely, delving into all he’d said and all he had left unspoken. Joe stared straight back at her, feeling beads of sweat starting on his forehead. He knew full well Diana’s powers of observation and hoping that his face gave nothing away.

 

Finally she nodded slowly, her lips pursed thoughtfully. “Okay, Joe, if that’s what you want, I will halt the investigation, but I won’t pretend to be happy about it. That night at the carousel continues to bug me. I know I’m getting close to some of the answers. This Vincent of hers must be one hell of a guy. A man who will do anything for her, even lay down his life, if necessary. They are very rare, indeed, these days. A true knight errant.”

 

She sat in a chair before the desk. “But I have all the mess created by Gabriel’s death to deal with. I have actual countries hounding me for answers I don’t have as yet.” She blew a long breath. “So what do you want to do with the Chandler paperwork?”

 

“Bring it to me, all of it. I’ll deal with it.” Joe slid out from under her unblinking gaze, returning to the relative safety of the other side of his desk. Diana’s eyes followed him all the way.

 

“How far have you got with Pat’s diary?” Joe attempted to distract her attention.

 

But he suspected Diana merely allowed him to think he had her compliance. The sooner her notes were in his possession the better, and he hoped she wouldn’t ask another new set of awkward questions, if she ever discovered how deep Joe had buried all the relevant files on Cathy Chandler and her mysterious protector. So deep, he fervently hoped, they would never see the light of day in anyone’s inquiry again.

 

Suddenly Joe felt weary and old. Must be the coffee, he decided, staring at the offending plastic cup sitting beside the telephone. A headache at ten o’clock in the morning wasn’t a good sign.

 

“Elliot Burch was right when he said his people suspected South American drug interests were involved in Gabriel’s empire.” Diana drew some papers from her bag and pushed them across the desk. “These are copies of what I’ve already uncovered. Hanlon’s diary gave names, places, and dates. We appear to be dealing with an international cartel of immensely powerful men who control the drug trade, finance arms sales, and carry out wholesale slaughter for a fee. Gabriel was at the top of it all, Justin Cole was his European deputy, and Striker played a considerable part with murders and extortion threats. We have some leads on at least four others.”

 

“You must be very careful with this information and who you share it with.” Joe scanned the closely typed pages quickly. “The men in that diary have nothing to lose and everything to gain by shutting down this investigation. I don’t want your death on my conscience.”

 

“Are you trying to take me off this case, as well?” Diana demanded then.

 

“You know I don’t have the authority.” Joe shrugged. “I’m only warning you that we need to tread carefully here. Men with the kind of power Gabriel exhibited are to be respected. A good dose of healthy fear will keep you alive.”

 

“Fair enough,” Diana acknowledged. “The investigation is still very low key. I think they all relaxed a little too much with Striker taken out. That was a lucky break, Striker being dealt with so neatly and you not seeing a thing. Another unsolved mystery to add to my growing collection.”

 

Her brows rose as she surveyed Joe, waiting for him to comment. Another area where he felt acutely uncomfortable. He shifted uneasily in his chair. Diana hadn’t believed a single thing he and Cathy had said about Striker’s demise. She’d obviously compared the wounds on the gunman’s body with those on the three men from the carousel and come to her own conclusions.

 

She’s like a damn bloodhound, nose to the ground, constantly searching for clues to put the whole puzzle all together. Joe just thanked his lucky stars she was on his side. But what would happen if she ever discovered the truth?

 

“So we don’t want any of Gabriel’s associates slipping through the net,” Diana continued, after Joe didn’t speak. “We have to make sure we have an airtight case against the lot of them.”

 

“All the more reason to be careful.” Joe emphasised his words by leaning forward across his desk. “They have all the weapons on their side. We only have the cold comfort of the law on ours.”

 

“And she can be a fickle lady at the best of times, I know.” Diana nodded. “I will be careful.”  

 

Shannon moved carefully through the piles of discarded boxes and stacked rubbish that lined the walls of the basement exit into Elliot’s world. Behind her, the concealed door to the world Below shut softly, cutting off the muted sounds of the pipes. Her heart fluttered nervously at the sound of the closure. Malcolm, her escort to the surface and the outer guard for this section of the tunnels, had gently pushed her through the door, encouraging her first foray into the outside world since she had fled to the sanctuary of her childhood home.

 

Diffused light filtered through the filmed windows high above, while tiny dust motes, stirred by her passing, danced lazily in the chilly air. Shannon shivered despite the warmth of her full-length cloak. She lifted the hood to arrange it over her hair, the velvet trimmed cowl concealing her face from possible recognition.

 

“Limousine service for two.” From the shadows before her, Elliot’s voice spoke softly, his voice echoing in the concrete depths.

 

“Hello, Elliot.” Shannon touched a hand nervously to the upswept style of her dark hair before stepping forward to meet the man she had agreed to accompany to the opera in a rash moment of madness three days ago.

 

Elliot had been persistent since he’d secured her agreement, not allowing her to renege on her nebulous promise to go Above with him. His ready access to her world had made avoiding him an impossibility.

 

“You look lovely tonight.” Elliot’s eyes slid over her appreciatively as she stepped into the filtered light of the stairwell that led up to the basement level.

 

“Thank you.” Shannon smoothed her damp palm over her thigh. Nervous tension was making her jumpy.

 

Beneath her cloak she had dressed with care in a form hugging evening gown, a relic of her life before, carefully preserved in the suitcases of her possessions Elliot had delivered to her chamber at Winterfest. She felt now as if she was stepping out into an alien world.

 

“You don’t look too bad yourself,” she replied, breathlessly.

 

It was a huge understatement, of course. This was the first time she’d seen him dressed so formally in a dark tuxedo and crisp white shirt. He looked…devastatingly handsome, and so much more dangerous to her fragile peace of mind.

 

She was sure Elliot could hear the beating of her heart, loud as it was to her own ears, as she took his proffered hand. The sinister shadow of her late husband still loomed large in her life, even though he’d been dead for months. But the look in Elliot’s eyes stilled the rustling of the ghosts in the recesses of the cellar as he studied the picture she made, the deep wine red of her gown complimenting her clear skin.

 

“Once Vincent and Catherine knew of your invitation, they said I had no choice but to come.” Shannon found herself hurrying into speech then, feeling the need to say something, anything, against the melting warmth in Elliot’s eyes, her hand feeling small in his strong grasp. “They said they will trust you to take care of me.”

 

“Wise counsel.” Elliot smiled. “I promise to do my best not to disappoint them.”

 

He tightened his grip on her slim hand, as he drew her upwards out of the basement and into the fading sunlight of early evening. Shannon halted on the edge of the sidewalk, as concentrated city life hit her in the face. People bustled through the streets, intent as ever on being somewhere else, and no one paid the slightest attention to two people emerging from a basement entrance in full evening dress, or the limousine parked at the curb with its attendant driver holding open the rear door with a guarded stare.

 

“I’m sorry. I’m not sure I can do this.” Shannon faltered.

 

“You will be okay.” Turning to her, his grey eyes deeply serious, Elliot slid his hands beneath her hood, taking her face between his hands and kissing her with warm promise. “I’m here with you. I won’t let you fall.” He smiled as he brought her mouth to his again, deepening the kiss until Shannon felt her knees begin to buckle.

 

The pedestrian traffic flow parted around them, smiles lighting a few faces as Elliot continued a slow exploration of the soft contours of Shannon’s mouth, oblivious to his surroundings or the stiff expression of his driver, who was now staring into the middle distance with fixed intensity.

 

“Your life before we met is in the past now.” Elliot rested his forehead against hers, smiling into her startled green eyes. “All of it. You don’t owe me any explanations or excuses for what you had to do simply to survive. I am just immensely grateful that you did. Now we have a whole new journey to begin…hopefully together.”

 

“You certainly have a way with words, Stosh Kasmarec,” Shannon whispered, her eyes glimmering tears in the street lighting.

 

“I still have a lot to learn.” Elliot pushed her gently in the direction of the open door of his vehicle. “In fact, a great deal to learn,” he concluded softly before following her into the car. “Perhaps you could teach me?”

 


Oh, who is the Beauty, who the Beast?

Would you die of grieving when I leave?

To children too blind to see

I would fall in your shadow, I believe

 

My love is a man who’s not been tamed

Oh, my love lives in a world of both pleasure and pain

We come from different worlds, we are the same

I never doubted your beauty, I’ve changed…  

 

Stevie Nicks

 

 

Jacob was the first to see his parents returning from their honeymoon. Playing with a set of metal trucks, making roads through the dust of the tunnel floor under Samantha’s watchful gaze, Jacob sensed his parents before he saw them. With a squeal of glee, he scrambled to his feet, momentarily alarming his youthful babysitter as he tottered away down the tunnel, hurrying on his sturdy legs into his father’s waiting arms. A huge smile of contentment lit his small face with unbounded joy as Vincent lifted him high against his chest to hold him against his shoulder.

 

Dad, Dad!” Chubby fingers locked securely into his hair, as Jacob smothered his father’s face with wet kisses of welcome.

 

Matching sapphire eyes looked into each other’s, Vincent sensing the chaotic thoughts of his son’s childhood mind. Catherine felt her heart miss a beat as she watched them together, content with their wordless communication. The intense pleasure of their communion washed through her senses, colouring the edges of her conscious thoughts with images and impressions of joyous reunion.

 

Four days spent in the cavern of the pool, wandering its immediate tunnels and exploring the wonders of Vincent’s world, had added another layer of much needed knowledge to Catherine’s perception of her new home. It had also been intriguing to find their evening meals left discreetly for them to find when they returned. William had turned all his considerable skills into preparing some memorable feasts, but the giver of these aromatic gifts they did not see.

 

Vincent had said it was probably Mouse, doing what he did best, scurrying unseen through the tunnels and passages, delighting in surprising them both with each new evening’s repast. After the first morning, he held firm to his belief that the honeymooning couple should not be disturbed when they retired to their private haven.

 

“Jacob has missed you both,” Mary said now, emerging from her chamber further along the tunnel, watching her small charge with a mixture of satisfaction and regret. Of all the children Below, Jacob held the largest piece of her heart. “Father was forced to read to him every night before he would go to sleep.”

 

Catherine and Vincent exchanged glances. Behind Mary’s words there was a whole world of unspoken thoughts. They both could well imagine the trials of strength that would have gone on in their absence. Both Father and Mary felt they were in charge of Jacob’s care, and Samantha also hovered in the background, not to be outdone in her attentions. Jacob’s grin widened in a totally unchildlike pleasure. His blue eyes twinkled his satisfaction as he noted the trend of his parents’ thoughts.

 

“You are incorrigible.” Catherine tickled him in the ribs.

 

Her son’s bright eyes turned to hers, sharing his delight across the warmth of his connection with his mother. He bounced in Vincent’s arms.

 

“Me, me!” he cried triumphantly, before he dissolved into laughter, throwing himself back into his father’s shoulder to bury his face in his hair, wriggling with delight. All was right once again in his innocent world.

 

Vincent

 

 

 

“Another child…” Father’s bemused gaze travelled from Catherine to Vincent and back again, his face a study of varying emotions as he tried to grasp all the implications of what Catherine had just told him.

 

“Jacob is delighted.” Leaning back in the warm shelter of Vincent’s arms, Catherine felt sympathy for Father’s obvious bewilderment.

 

So much of what he believed possible for his son had been so radically changed over the past few months. They had all come so far now. Too far to ever go back. In all the years she had known him, she had never seen him so much at a loss for words.

 

And now they had presented him with another unalterable fact that he was trying to come to grips with. Father sat back at his desk, his brow furrowed in thought as he tapped lightly on the cover of the book he had been reading when Catherine and Vincent had first walked into his chamber.

 

“Well, I think the news is just wonderful,” Mary stated joyously, getting up from her pile of mending, coming forward to kiss Catherine’s cheek warmly and hug Vincent’s arm. “You both deserve all the happiness in the world. Jacob will have a new playmate.”

 

Father mumbled something they did not catch. He was obviously trying not to voice all the questions that ran riot through his mind, but needing answers to them. He removed his glasses to polish them diligently on his sleeve. Catherine was sure she could see tears in his eyes, but he blinked them away rapidly, as he cleared his throat, replacing his eyewear on the bridge of his nose.

 

“I certainly did not expect news of such an event so soon,” he said finally, trying to remain in control of the situation as Mary eyed him in exasperation, obviously expecting more than this bald statement. “I would have thought…” His voice trailed off under Mary’s stern gaze. Finally, he tried again. “Are you sure?”

 

“I saw Peter before I came Below.” Catherine laced her fingers where they lay against the slight swell of her abdomen. “He said all was well and that he would visit me as soon as he can get away. He said to remind you about ‘roses around the cottage door,’ saying that you would know what he meant.”

 

“I see...” Father peered at her over the rim of his spectacles, the reminder of his conversation with Peter all those months before Jacob was born, sitting awkwardly on his thoughts.

 

Peter had been convinced that Vincent and Catherine’s love was nothing short of a miracle, and the physical part of their relationship doubly blessed as a direct consequence. Father felt the burden of playing the devil’s advocate once more, but the question had to be asked, however painful it could be for him and those he loved most in the world.

 

“And the implications of another child?” he voiced the words unhappily, not wanting to colour the happiness of the two lovers before him with the harsh shadows of his doubts. “Jacob’s birth answered only some of the questions that troubled me.”

 

“We will cross that particular bridge if and when we come to it, Father.” Vincent’s gaze was straight and calm. “This child will be loved, as all here are loved. Without reservation.”

 

Father considered them both for a long moment, taking in the fresh loveliness of Catherine’s face against the broad sweep of his son’s shoulder, the calm assurance with which they were both regarding him and his reaction to the news.

 

“Then, of course, I wish you both well.” He nodded slowly at last, his eyes glistening again in the flicker of the candle flames surrounding him. “And please, believe me, I am truly happy for you both.”

 

He stood and, moving around the desk, took each of their hands between his own. Mary watched them all with compassion and undisguised joy. “It is simply that there have been so many changes in your life, Vincent. Changes in a life that, for your own sake, I once truly believed could never be changed…for the better. I was afraid that you would always be alone, out of the sheer and unavoidable necessity of your own birth.”

 

“I do understand, Father.” Vincent returned the pressure of his father’s warm grasp. “Our love will endure…whatever happens, whatever comes. I know that now, before anything else.”

 

Vincent’s voice dropped on his last words, their tones flowing through Catherine’s senses. She turned her eyes up to his, as his hold on her waist tightened and the sapphire depths of his gaze held the bright flame of his love, secure and undeniable, and she knew those words were for her alone…and always would be. Whatever happens….whatever comes…

 


Shannon stood at the window of Elliot’s apartment and marvelled at the view of the city she had once known so well. Lights sprawled in all directions, almost as if precious jewels had been thrown by some thoughtless giant with careless abandon over the midnight velvet of the landscape. Towering skyscrapers, trying desperately to rival the penthouse in which she stood, paraded into the distance, gleaming with a myriad of colours.

 

In the far distance the twin towers pointed the way to the stars, evidence of the permanence of man’s creating hand in the city that truly never sleeps. She had forgotten how beautiful the city could be at night. Darkness covering all the heartache and sorrow of its crowded streets. Music played softly somewhere in the shadows behind her, soft strains of a song about a lost love wound their way through her senses, making her body sway. She hummed the tune beneath her breath.

 

She had now ventured Above three times in the last two weeks to spend the evening with Elliot. It was becoming a serious habit, this need to see him, to be with him, but she didn’t want such magical nights to end. Not just yet…

 

That first night he had taken her to the opera, then a music recital, and tonight it had been a Broadway show. Always, they had used a private entrance, and he’d taken great pains to make sure she was neither seen nor recognised in public. Elliot knew there would have been too many awkward and unanswered questions about where Shannon was now living or hiding and why.

 

Who murdered your husband? What was your involvement? She appreciated his care and attention for her need to remain out of sight for now. One day she would have to face the world and give her statement.

 

Intent as she was in her observation of the world beyond the window and the music, she didn’t hear Elliot approach. He extended a glass of chilled wine before her, bringing it to the level of her eyes, distracting her attention with a low laugh. She took it with a whispered word of thanks as his gaze travelled over her slowly.

 

He liked what he saw. The long, elegant sweep of her black evening gown made her look mysterious and remote, like an unattainable dream. With the soft darkness of her hair confined in a chignon at the nape of her neck, Shannon looked very different from the woman in tunnel costume he’d first encountered. He raised a denying shoulder. He found he missed the swinging braids and soft, shy smile of the other Shannon. But he was intrigued by the air of sophistication she wore now, a carefully cultivated air of self-containment.

 

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” He waved a hand at the window, but he wasn’t looking in the direction of the city below. “But there is beauty in your world too.”

 

He dropped his arm to his side. He knew he wanted to touch her, to bring her to an awareness of herself, of his own need to draw her closer to him. But she seemed to have retreated into herself, become detached from all that had happened to her, from the life that went on heedlessly around her. As if she was no longer emotionally connected. He found that so sad to contemplate. That the incredible young woman she’d once been had been destroyed by one man’s careless use and abuse.

 

“You looked like the homeless child with her face pressed to the toy store window.” He smiled, attempting to lighten her sombre mood as he moved back to lean his shoulders against the thick glass of the window, watching the many expressions that chased each other across her face. Trepidation, uncertainly, then – so fleeting he almost missed it – a look of intense yearning that tugged at his heart.

 

“I had forgotten the beauty of this great city.” Shannon dropped her eyes to the wine in her glass, moving it slowly so the cold liquid swirled against the rim. “A beauty that hides so much corruption and sorrow.”

 

“You are a romantic.” Elliot glanced over his shoulder at the world beyond the window, at the bright city lights that promised so much and gave so little of its steely heart. “Knowing there is corruption out there simply allows you to appreciate the glorious nature of this city much more.”

 

“Does that make you a cynic?” Shannon raised her eyes to study him closely. He met her gaze squarely, humour adding a warmth to the cool, grey depths of his eyes. “And I suspect deep down, you are also a realist, Elliot Burch. Hold it, touch it, taste it, measure it, but don’t believe it exists unless you can have a fifty page report document to authenticate its reality.”

 

“I was that man once, long ago. I came to this city to build,” Elliot replied quietly, almost reflectively, his eyes appreciating the picture she made in the soft lamplight behind her. “I wanted to leave my mark. I wanted everyone to know in two hundred years time that Elliot Burch had lived and had done something in this world. I once wanted a lot of similar things…” He shrugged. “Now that has all changed. Perhaps I have come to believe…a little…in the possibility of dreams and decent, honest men.”

 

“I’m sorry.” Shannon shook her head contritely. “I shouldn’t have presumed to know how you feel. I know it has been difficult these last few months. Maybe it is simply the night, seeing this city again as I remembered it…from before. When I was young and it was merely a spectacular playground to be abandoned when night fell. Gabriel took many things away from us both.”

 

“I think perhaps he gave us more than he took.” Elliot reached out to run the back of his fingers down the soft curve of her cheek. Colour bloomed instantly beneath his touch, flooding Shannon’s clear skin. “He forced me to see what I wanted…and what I needed…were two totally different things. I can at least thank him for that knowledge.”

 

When she didn’t immediately pull away, he gave into temptation, continuing to touch her softly, his fingers defining a gentle trail down over the line of her jaw to the warm column of her throat. He felt like a child again, about to embark on the first great journey of his life, an adventure that would take him to places he never dreamed existed. He delighted in the soft quiver of her skin beneath his caress as she held his gaze steadily.

 

“Did you enjoy seeing Phantom for the first time?” he asked then, his eyes directly challenging before dropping to watch his insistent exploration of the fine bones at the base of her throat, feeling the throb of her erratic pulse through his fingertips. “I loved watching you watch it. You were so caught up in the romance and the ultimate tragedy.”

 

“The show was…wonderful,” Shannon managed huskily, both frightened and fascinated by the warm insistence of his touch. It had been a very long time since any man had touched her with such care and reverence. As if she would shatter if he pressed too hard. “I loved it. If I were ten years younger, I might have auditioned for the role of Christine…”

 

“If you were ten years younger…” Elliot’s eyes came back to hers, and he smiled at the trepidation he saw there. He brought his hand up to gently tap the full curve of her lower lip with his fingertip. “You look so young right now. Like a small, frightened bird who has just seen the snake and there’s nowhere to hide. I could never hurt you. You know that?”

 

“Yes, I know. Is it that obvious?” Shannon questioned shakily. “My husband…he was not a…kind man. I’m afraid I’m a little out of practice when it comes to men.”

 

“Don’t you think I understand that?” Elliot shook his head as he took her glass from her and set it aside with his own. “I know you better than you think.”

 

The look in his eyes made her gasp as he mocked her gently. “Let’s forget the ‘men’ part of that statement and just concentrate on this man,” he said softly, as his hand returned to define the curve of her lower lip, bringing a heat to her blood she had never known, while her legs felt as if they would no longer support her. The touch of his hand forced all the air in her lungs into her throat, making it difficult to breathe.

 

“I should be getting back…” she finally managed shakily. “I wouldn’t want anyone to worry about me. Wonder where I am.”

 

“Father knows where you are. He knows you’re with me. He also knows I could never hurt you.” Elliot raised his eyes to hers, and Shannon’s heartbeat began to hammer high in her throat, choking her words. “But I want you to believe that as well.”

 

“Of course.” She inhaled sharply. “Yes, I know that.”

 

“Then there are no pumpkin coaches at midnight, Cinderella. How long do you intend to run from me? I can wait forever, if necessary. I have endless patience.”

 

“Run from you…?” Shannon managed through the sudden dryness of her throat, her small laugh shaky. “I’ve been standing here wondering what is the truth. Where do we go from here, you and I?” She sighed. “Or perhaps I’m only running from myself. But then it has always been easier to run away from a situation you’re not sure you can handle anymore. I’ve had a lot of practice at that recently.”

 

Elliot shook his head. “To leave a man like your late husband took more courage than it did to stay.” He placed both hands on her shoulders, impelling her to move closer into his arms and, after an agony of indecision, to bury her face wearily in his shoulder.

 

A shudder passed through her then, accompanied by a long sigh. “I don’t know why I’m crying. This evening has been wonderful.” 

 

“I’ll admit it’s not usual for my date to cry on my shoulder.” Elliot smoothed his hands over the length of her back, drawing her closer all the while, holding her when she would have pulled back. “But I think I can handle it.”

 

“And it has been a perfect date.” Gradually she relaxed, even turning her face into the side of his neck, and then slowly, almost reluctantly, her arms came around him, sliding around his body at his waist, the coolness of her palms spreading against the scars of his encounter with Gabriel’s hired killer beneath his silk shirt. Swaying to the music playing in the darkness of the apartment, they began to move slowly together.

 

Drawing her closer still, Elliot placed a lingering kiss on her bare shoulder, his beard rasping softly across her skin. The new song from the shadows asked him to take the ribbon from her hair. He lifted his hands into the confines of her chignon, spilling pins to the carpet as he threaded his fingers through the gleaming length, letting it tumble down her back in a glorious flood. They circled the floor in a slow, drifting dance of spiralling need and anticipation.

 

“Yesterday is dead and gone…” Shannon murmured a line of the song, letting the pure sensual pleasure of Elliot’s hands on her body suspend all her doubts and fears in some other time and place as the music soothed her confusion. “I truly know how sad it is to be alone.”

 

She also knew if she denied him, Elliot would not force her, demand her attention. That marked the difference between Justin and this man who watched her now with such concerned intensity she had to close her eyes.

She could hear the blind voice of her blood, heated and demanding, echoing through her pulse with the accelerated beating of her heart.

 

The sane, reasoning part of her mind which should have pulled her away, found itself suddenly swamped in the demands of her body, in the insistence of Elliot’s increasingly urgent touch. But to surrender was to change, emerge from the selfimposed shell of indifference that she had forced on the more sensual side of her nature through the need to survive.

 

But she could not deny her body’s sudden and intense craving for fulfilment, for the touch Elliot’s fingers as they slid beneath the neckline of her evening gown to detail the rounded fullness of her breast, sending a shiver of pure desire rocketing to the very limits of her consciousness.

 

With a muffled groan she surrendered, her limbs trembling with reaction and an overwhelming need to know she was loved and desired for who she was. Perhaps, perhaps this time it could be different…for both of them…

 


Detailed as the outer guard of the junction door for the night, Mouse spent the long hours happily sorting through Elliot’s gift, arranging and rearranging the tools to their best advantage in the specially constructed box he had made. Endlessly fascinated by their possibilities, he tested their edges lovingly, keeping only a cursory vigil at his post.

 

Now the broad peace of his midnight solitude was broken by the sound of footsteps, furtive treading on the gravel filled dirt beyond the closed steel portal of the junction door. Mouse froze in position, listening as the footsteps crossed from one side of the door to the other, as if the intruder was searching for a way through. He heard tapping, as if someone was seeking a weakness in the steel plate. The barred gate rattled briefly and then fell silent.

 

Mouse stole forward, his booted feet making no sound in the softness of the tunnel flooring on his side of the door. A swift glance confirmed the portal was securely latched from his side. Only someone who knew about the secret emergency latch behind the grill on the outside could gain entry. The footsteps recrossed the floor outside, pausing in the middle for a breathless moment.

 

Mouse pulled a stethoscope from one of his capacious pockets and applied it to the door. He could almost feel eyes boring through the solid steel, eyes that caught him leaning closer to hear any movement. Then the sounds of hurried retreat came to him, and there was a short, pregnant pause of silence.

 

Mouse released his indrawn breath. “Okay good, okay fine…maybe,” he whispered. “Need Vincent.”

 

Suddenly he was startled by a muffled scream from beyond the closed door, a terrified intake of air was cut off in mid-breath. Footsteps scuffled frantically for a moment, seeking purchase on the coarse gravel floor of the outer tunnel. Something was flung against the bars of the gate beyond the door, rattling against the steel before falling to the floor. Mouse jumped back in alarm, barely managing to stifle a rising shout of dismay. Then an awful silence, heavy and complete, fell again…

 

Mouse strained forward, his blond head cocked on one side like an inquisitive sparrow, but after a long time, he could hear the footsteps retreating, accompanied by a heavy, dragging sound as they receded into the distance. Who was the intruder? Perhaps a couple walking in the evening who saw the tunnel and decided to investigate, playfully frighten one another? Or … someone more sinister?. Were they really gone? Mouse couldn’t decide what to believe, but he knew Father and Vincent must know immediately.

 

Ever since Gabriel had tried to recapture Catherine at any cost, security in the underground world was even more tightly controlled than usual. Father had given instructions that any suspicion of an intruder was to be reported immediately.

 

Hurrying back to his lookout, Mouse picked up the long staff that was his authority as an outer guard and used it to tap out a message softly to Pascal. Softly, because he didn’t want to panic his sleeping world, and softly because he wasn’t at all sure the intruder wasn’t still listening on the other side of the gate…

 


“We must double the guards in that sector.” Father bent over the map spread across his desk. “You said you found, when you opened the door, nothing beyond some footprints and the marks of something being dragged away. I don’t like it, Vincent, this not knowing what happened up there tonight.”

 

“Staying vigilant is all we can do.” Vincent leaned over his father’s shoulder, the long fall of his hair obscuring his features as he studied the map, running one long nail over the area lying behind the junction door. “Perhaps they were only drunk and got lost.”

 

“Mouse feels that the intruder was more than a casual wanderer.” Father pulled off his spectacles, worry lines marking his forehead. “If we are forced to reseal the entrance once again…”

 

“The security of our world is more important than my nocturnal wanderings in the park.” Vincent looked at his father, correctly divining the trend of his thoughts.

 

“I know.” Father sighed, tapping his glasses on the map sharply. “Your safety is as important to me as all of the others. But to curtail again what freedom you do have to come and go in peace…”

 

“There are other exits, Father.” Vincent straightened, slanting his head to listen briefly to the staccato message that clattered along the pipes outside the chamber. “Now that Catherine is here with me, the exit has lost its primary importance.”

 

“Perhaps Mouse was wrong, perhaps the intruder was simply investigating the tunnel.” Father looked up into his son’s pensive face. “Seeing if it led anywhere. It’s happened before, as you know.”

 

“Perhaps,” Vincent agreed slowly. “But the guards need to be aware of the possibility of danger. I will take the first watch tonight, with James.”

 

“It would be for the best.” Father dropped his eyes to the map again and listened to his son’s measured footsteps leaving the chamber as he studied the map with weary trepidation in his eyes.

 

 

“I swear I’m getting too old for this!” Joe shook his head in frustration, running a tired hand around the back of his neck, as he tried to shake the sleep from his brain. A very early Sunday morning taxi ride across town had not helped his perceptions any. Standing beside the mortuary table with its shrouded body, he felt drained of all empathy.

 

“Tell me about it,” Greg Hughs replied, with a thinning of his lips as he held up the corner of the sheet that covered the body on the table. “The coroner has been moaning like an old woman all night, and I’ve been forced to listen to every complaint.”

 

The body Greg revealed now had been a young woman in her early teens and once she had been quite pretty, before her face had been severely battered. Long blond hair spilled from beneath the sheet, flowing in a silken stream over Greg’s hand, hair matted with dried blood.

 

“Her body was found in the park last night.” Greg dropped the sheet back over the girl’s face with a sigh. “She was little more than a child. When I get cases like this I think, just what I am doing wrong in this job that something like this can happen. Such a senseless crime.”

 

Joe, remembering the tunnel child Angelo and the scars in his short life, knew the same feelings of helplessness. At least the boy had survived to find the love he needed to thrive.

 

“And now you’re telling me that there’s a link between this death and others?” Joe stared at the shrouded body.

 

His world and Catherine’s…so different. The thought made him grimace. His world thrived on violence and corruption. More than anything, a senseless murder accentuated the difference between the two worlds.

 

“Yeah, we now have a definite pattern.” Greg answered Joe’s question over his shoulder, as he led the way to the coroner’s office. “I also have an aversion to being hauled out of my bed at three o’clock on a Sunday morning to come down here. But this is my case, and, I’m sorry to say, this girl’s body is the piece that makes the rest fit into a pattern.”

 

The coroner’s office was brightly lit, the overhead strip lighting reflecting starkly off the white walls. Joe could not overcome his aversion to the place, even though he had been here many times before, often, as now, in the middle of the night. Greg didn’t have that aversion on his own. But death never kept regular hours.

 

“At first all we had was a couple of random killings.” Greg paused beside a table. “Two young women strangled and stabbed, admittedly in a similar way, but then homeless people kill each other all the time over nothing. But they occurred two weeks apart and always on a Saturday night.”

 

On the table lay several plastic bags. Bags that held the life and death of the child down the hall. There were pathetically few. “I know this getting out of bed in the middle of the night is no longer your department, Joe.” Greg shrugged. “You’ve moved too far up on the food chain. But I knew you’d want to see this one.”

 

“Okay, so talk to me.” Joe took a chair beside the table. “Forget the D.A. bit, I know you need to tell me about this. And the girl.”

 

“Random killings,” Greg said again, sorting carefully through the bags, turning

each over in his hands to study them carefully. “Not much to show for a life, is it?”

 

“There never is.” Joe shrugged, his compassion tempered by the hour and the bleak surroundings. “How much of one person’s life can you pack into a few plastic bags?”

 

Greg nodded as he selected one of the bags and held it up for Joe to see. It contained a photograph, clean and well kept, as if it were a memento of a better time in the life of the victim in whose possession it had been found. It was certainly not something you would expect to find on a girl from the streets who lived life by the barest of means.

 

“This was found on the body of the first victim.” Greg held the photo by the corner of its evidence bag. “She was an unidentified Jane Doe, until her mother filed a missing person report ten days ago, when she hadn’t heard from her daughter in some time. Her name was Cherry Stanton. Her mother said she was a waitress at a local diner, but from the state of her things, I think she was homeless.”

 

He heaved a long sigh. “She was murdered four weeks ago. Stabbed and strangled in a remote area of Central Park. The photo had been blown under a nearby bush, only found when the guys did a detailed search of the undergrowth.”

 

Greg replaced the bag on the table and held up another photo, larger than the first, but like the first, showing a young woman, a smiling young woman who posed happily for the camera, sunlight gleaming on dark red hair. “This one was found under the body of Helen Stock, the second victim. From what little we could discover, she’s been living on the streets for the past year. Strangled and then beaten to death with savage intent two weeks ago in the park. Neither woman has been sexually assaulted, but this guy gets his kicks in other ways.”

 

He turned to the next bag. “And now this photo was found on the body of the latest victim tonight. She was murdered about seven hours ago. Again on a Saturday night, just like the other two. In a different area of the park this time.”

 

The detective held it up, but Joe couldn’t see the contents against the reflection of the overhead lights. Taking the bag he turned it over in his hands. Like the rest it was neat and well kept, as if it had great sentimental value for the owner.

 

Joe smoothed the plastic to see the photo inside. Again it was of a young woman, standing in the middle of a busy street, the people on the sidewalk breaking around her as they hurried about their own business. Long, blond hair flowed from beneath an unusual cap, almost a hood over her hair. Her clothing was an odd assortment of cast offs, but the girl still managed to look neat and almost stylish. And full of life…

 

Joe felt his stomach suddenly cramp with foreboding. A chill of fear sliding icy fingers down his spine. He wanted desperately to be wrong, to find some other explanation for what he saw, but the photo was too real in this place of death and decay. It’s bright promise of youth, refreshing and warm.

 

“It can’t be…” Joe dragged his eyes from the bag in his hands to stare at Greg. He willed him to find another explanation, any explanation other than the truth that stared back at him so horribly.

 

“I thought the same as you, at first,” Greg said slowly, his eyes on the table. “That’s why I wanted you to come down here, to tell me I was wrong. To say it’s just a coincidence. I didn’t want to believe it was happening again.”

 

“Oh, God…” Joe groaned, closing his eyes on a sigh that came from the very depths of his soul.

 

“I don’t think even He can help us with this one, Joe,” Greg stated grimly, as the two men studied the evidence before them, each fearful of what the future might hold now. “I think we’re strictly on our own from now on. God has taken a holiday.”

     

 


I've seen the tears and the heartache and I've felt the pain
I've seen the hatred in so many lives lost in vain
And yet through this darkness there's always a light that shines through
And takes me back home, takes me back home

All of the promises broken and all of the songs left unsung
Seem so far away as I make my way back to you
You gave me faith and…

 

You gave me a world to believe in
You gave me your love to believe in
And feeling this love I can rise up above
And be strong, I'll be whole once again

'Cause your love is my soul once again
I can live I can dream once again
'Cause you make me believe…

Celine Dion

 

 

The huge, claw-footed bathtub Mouse had recently installed in the bathroom shared by Jacob and his parents was a playground of infinite possibilities.

Almost lost in its vast, cream-enamelled depths, Jacob approved wholeheartedly of the arrangement and demonstrated his contentment by initiating his mother in the delights of his new toy with a shower of soapy water.

 

“If I joined you, I wouldn’t get any work done.” Catherine shook her head as she sat back on her heels, wiping her face with the towel while her son smiled at her disarmingly, his blue eyes wide and innocent.

 

With his blond hair growing longer about his ears, spiked and fluffed out in the rising steam of the bath water, and the deep colour of his eyes, her son was beginning to look more like his father with every passing day. Catherine felt her heart contract as Jacob continued to regard her steadily, the warm tenderness of his love touching on the edges of her consciousness with infinite care.

 

Turning away, he dipped his chubby hands into the water, searching through the array of bubbles that danced on the surface. Catherine watched, fascinated as he came up with one large, bright bubble perched precariously on the tip of his finger. The colours rippled across its soapy surface, rainbow colours that didn’t come from this world far beneath the city, colours reflected from the bright light of the lamps overhead.

 

They ran across the fragile membrane, blending into each other with fluid ease as Jacob cooed with delight. Then, extending his hand with slow, exaggerated care, for he well knew the brief lifespan of a bubble, he offered his gift to his mother, his young face screwed up in deep concentration.

 

“It’s beautiful,” Catherine whispered, as she extended her finger to accept the soapy sphere. It slid readily onto her hand, shivering in the slight draft that crept around the edge of the heavy curtain that covered the doorway to the bathroom.

 

“One day I will show you a real rainbow,” Catherine promised her son, as they both watched the colours swirl and change smoothly. “Just after the rain, the sun comes out, and you have all these beautiful colours in the sky. Beautiful colours like those in Elizabeth’s painted tunnels.”

 

“Sky colours,” Jacob affirmed in his small, deep voice, in perfect mimicry of her words. “Rainbow, Mummy colours.”

 

“Yes, Mummy colours…” Catherine smiled at her son’s words.

 

Jacob had an uncanny ability to imitate anything spoken directly to him, even at his young age. Others, like Father, thought he was merely imitating what he heard and learned to reproduce it with amazing accuracy. But Catherine could sense her son’s thoughts.

 

She was coming to know the mind and heart of her son as he grew, and what he said was not always in mere imitation of others. Jacob possessed the intuitive soul of his father, and he was well aware of when those he loved needed his reassurance.

 

“Mummy’s colours.” She nodded then, her heart aching for the memory of another sweet, bright little boy who had never been shown the sky or the bright wonder of a rainbow against the roiling clouds of a passing summer shower. Her heart contracted with regret that no one could ever show Vincent the beauty of a summer’s day.

 

“Pretty.” Jacob looked from the bubble to Catherine, his head slanted to one side as he reached up to touch his mother’s cheek, patting her moist skin gently. “Pretty,” he agreed.

 

Catherine reached one arm into the bath, disregarding the water soaking her clothing and hugged her son with fierce love, leaving the imprint of his soapy body on her shirt. The bubble, still shimmering on her free hand, popped in a spray of tiny droplets of colour.

 

“Pop!” Jacob flailed the water with his fists, soaking his mother anew. “All go pop.”

 

“There will be other rainbows,” Catherine whispered against the neat roundness of her son’s head, as the bath water ran from one end to the other, slopping over the rim and pooling on the floor. “Lots of them, I promise.”

 

Within her a small awareness stirred, pushing outwards to touch lightly on the connection that bound them all. Jacob’s eyes twinkled knowingly as he played with the water, his sense of who he was sharpening with each new day as he became aware of the continuing changes in the world around him and the gifts to come.

 

 

 


Vincent

 

 

Late on Sunday afternoon, Joe stood in frustrated silence before the large bulletin board on the wall of Diana’s apartment. The board was covered with police photos of the bodies of the murder victims, as well as the crime scenes. Diana had arranged them in patterns, notations and questions written beside each of them in red pen. Joe studied Diana’s thoughts on each crime, his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his trousers, his shoulders hunched in worried thought.

 

In addition to the police photos there was, below them, the grouping of photographs that had been found with all the dead women. Joe’s eyes hardened as he stared at them from beneath lowered brows. They seemed so out of place to his tired mind, as he recounted them slowly. They were spontaneous and full of life.

 

He wished they knew the identity of the last girl they’d found in the park. He hesitated to release the photo to the press, who were already over-sensationalising the whole thing. But if they received no new leads, he would be forced to do so, if only to give her family the sad news they didn’t want to hear. He sighed heavily. Sometimes he hated his job.

 

The pictures had been pinned to the board, still in their evidence bags, arranged neatly by Diana in her new quest for the answers to their mystery. Joe began again, studying each in turn.

 

“Come on, what are we not seeing?” Looking intently at each picture, he tried to force some truth from the two dimensional surfaces, any clue, any lead, however small, that could possibly end this madness. “You’re supposed to be so good at this,” he complained, glaring at Diana.

 

“I can’t work miracles, especially since you only brought me into the case this morning.” She moved to stand at his elbow, thrusting a mug of steaming, black coffee into his hands. “Don’t worry. I’ve already tried staring at them like that, trying to force open the door.” She took a sip from her own mug as she stared at the pictures. “I sat here and worked them for three hours already. They still refuse to speak. Our killer isn’t into leaving too many clues.”

 

She glanced at Joe’s set profile, noting the signs of deep anger and frustration in the grim lines bracketing his mouth. She traced the rim of her mug with one finger as she carefully phrased her next question.

 

“Do you want to tell me why you have asked for my immediate help with this case? Why this case, above all others, has affected you and Greg so much? Child murders are not uncommon in this city; you have dealt with them before. It’s almost like a personal crusade for you two. And you’re no longer a foot soldier; you are the D.A. This is no longer your turf. You pilot a desk and give the orders. And I have the Gabriel case to concentrate on.”

 

“I know you’re busy. But I had thought it was all in the past.” Joe sighed, turning bleak eyes to her. “I know it would be better for everyone if we’d left it there.” He took a long mouthful of coffee, swallowing hard. “Greg and I once had a very good friend, a detective on the force called Erik Coltrain. Ten years ago he got a call to meet an informant in an alley over on the East Side. According to Erik, the informer had an aversion to police stations.”

 

He rolled his shoulders. “So, like the good cop that he was, he agreed. He didn’t want any back-up; the guy liked to do things his own way.” Joe looked back at the board, his next words stark with suppressed anger and resentment. “Erik was shot sixteen times in the back and head and bled to death in that alley with only rats for company.”

 

“I’m so sorry, Joe.”

 

“Yeah, so am I.” Joe looked at each of the photos with distaste. “When I saw these photos beginning to surface again, I knew Erik had died in vain.” Joe brought his eyes back to Diana’s considering look. “Ten years ago, Erik and his team, which included Greg, were investigating the Snapshot murders. Erik’s informant said he had information on the stalled case. Six children were murdered, all girls, and each body was left with a photo of the victim. Erik knew he was close, and he badly wanted to get the guy. It was a personal thing for him; the fourth girl had been the daughter of a close friend. But, with his death, the killings simply stopped, and no one knows why.”

 

“So now it’s personal for you.” Diana leaned her hips against the edge of her desk, studying each exhibit on the board with the same clinical detachment that annoyed Joe immensely at times like this. But she was the best resource he had. After this morning’s early meeting with Greg, he’d immediately asked for her input, knowing it would ruffle a few feathers downtown. He didn’t care.

 

“It got too hot for the killer then,” Diana mused slowly. “After killing a cop, perhaps silencing someone who was getting too close for comfort. But he didn’t need the attention in that way. Maybe he went to prison for some other, unrelated crime. Could be, he moved cities, but he’s come back. And, now the heat is off, he’s found a fresh supply of victims.”

 

She looked back at Joe. “Our friend, Detective John Russell, is of the opinion that he’ll catch this guy inside a week and what do you want my help for anyway.”

 

“Russell is an idiot,” Joe replied shortly. “He wasn’t on the force in this city ten years ago. He didn’t know Erik for the man he was. He got too close and he was eliminated. It’s his work, and ours, that will get this guy.”

 

“So for our killer, then, torturing the new D.A. of Manhattan with an old, unsolved case just makes the game more interesting.” Diana nodded. “And he won’t stop until he gets your undivided attention. So I want all the files, and I want the files of all the past cases that you and Greg have prosecuted, whether or not you secured convictions.”

 

“I’ll have them sent over.” Joe frowned. “If this is some sort of sick game…”

 

“Your average sociopath gets more enjoyment out of torturing their victim than the act itself. A sick game, yes, but also a very dangerous one. You and Greg will have to watch your backs. This guy plays for keeps.”

 

Remembering Striker, who’d almost murdered him and Catherine that day, made Joe feel sick to his stomach. The cat and mouse game that had been played out then was prolonged and agonising. But Joe was determined to avenge his friend.

 

“I’m getting tired of game playing,” he complained, glaring at the board. “I think it’s about time we invented some new rules.”

 


Mouse hurried along the tunnel, casting furtive glances right and left as he crossed other bisecting tunnels. Huddled forward awkwardly, he was attempting to shield what he carried in his arms with his body, hiding it from any casual glance that might come his way.

 

His blond hair was slicked down against his head, for it was raining Up Top, and the chill of raindrops ran from his hair down the back of his neck to disappear beneath the collar of his shirt, adding to the sodden nature of his clothing. His boots squelched softly with each footfall. A few wisps of steam rose gently into the warmer air of the tunnel, as he began to dry out slowly.

 

Mouse didn’t like the rain; it had ruined some of his better inventions with its insidious wetness. Shaking his head like a shaggy dog he hurried along, attempting to appear inconspicuous, which seemed to be working well until he ran into Jamie at a bend in the tunnel.

 

“What have you got there, Mouse?” Jamie felt it was always a good idea to be very direct where the engineer was concerned.

 

“Surprise.” Mouse drew himself even further around the parcel in his arms, almost doubling up in his attempt to keep it hidden.

 

“Will Father be annoyed if he finds out what you have there?” Jamie got right to the point of her argument.

 

“Not for Father,” Mouse hedged warily, trying to sidestep his unwanted challenger, but Jamie moved into his path.

 

“Who’s it for, then?”

 

“If I tell you, won’t be a secret anymore,” Mouse prevaricated hopefully, his voice dropping to an exaggerated stage whisper.

 

“If you don’t tell me, I will have to tell Father and Vincent that you have been Above again without permission,” Jamie countered ruthlessly.

 

“Don’t need permission to go Up Top.” Mouse drew himself up indignantly, revealing a large parcel wrapped in heavy oilskin. He realised his mistake and dropped his body forward again, cuddling his burden to his chest lovingly, glaring at Jamie in frustration.

 

“Mouse…” Jamie said, warningly.

 

“Surprise,” Mouse reiterated stubbornly, shaking his head in denial.

 

“I won’t tell, Mouse.” Jamie moved closer to lay her hand on his arm. “But sometimes your surprises can be a little too much,” she ended tactfully.

 

“Mouse always makes good surprises,” his tone was hurt. “But sometimes Father doesn’t understand the surprise. He doesn’t like a lot of noise.”

 

“I know, Mouse.” Jamie couldn’t help smiling. “Will Father like this surprise?”

 

“Not for Father.” Mouse looked at her slyly, still hoping to be able to slide around his assailant and make good his escape, but Jamie blocked his way firmly.

 

“You are going to tell me, Mouse. Or I will be forced to tell Father.” Jamie folded her arms and waited, tapping an impatient foot.

 

“Christmas present.” Mouse mumbled, after a tense silence.

 

“A Christmas present!” Jamie shook her head in disbelief. “But Christmas isn’t for months yet. What are you up to this time?”

 

“Needs work, fixing.” Mouse eyed her determination warily. “Need time to make it good. For Jacob.”

 

“You’re making a Christmas present for Jacob?” Jamie repeated his words blankly, much to his annoyance. His look spoke volumes about his impatience to be getting on with his work.

 

“All in pieces, has to be fixed.” Mouse sidled forward, hoping that, having allowed Jamie in on his secret, she would allow him to get around her interference in his plans.

 

“Does Vincent or Catherine know of your gift ideas?” Jamie took his arm firmly and held on despite his vocal protests.

 

“Wouldn’t be a surprise if I told,” Mouse growled, as he subsided with ill-grace, glaring at Jamie from beneath the shock of hair falling across his forehead. But his friend was completely unperturbed by the look.

 

“I think you’re going to need a hand, Mouse.” Jamie slipped her arm through his and urged him down the tunnel. “In fact, I’m sure of it. And it’s no use complaining. You’re stuck with my help, whether you want it or not.”

 

“Steal Mouse’s idea.” He moved a shoulder in resignation, simply wishing he’d taken the express route to his chamber and avoided all the fuss.

 

 

Diana stood looking down at the roped of area of beaten down grass where Helen Stock had been killed. Dark patches of blood still stained the ground.

 

Nothing registered in her expression beyond a clinical curiosity. She could not allow herself to feel anything ­– despair, regret, even anger. She found that such thoughts always clouded her judgement, so she had learned to suppress them. She kept the folder of crime scene photos clamped firmly beneath her right arm.

 

“Not much to go on, is it?” the detective at her elbow spoke as if he was discussing the weather. “This guy’s good. But I’ll get him soon.”

 

A small man of lean temper and no humour, who wanted…no…needed to elicit some kind of human response from the woman he’d summed up and dismissed as the original ice maiden, John Russell didn’t like coming off second best to a female.

 

“The killer’s methods are messy.” Diana went down on her haunches, her hands still in the pockets of her coat, touching nothing, simply gazing and absorbing the crime scene. “But then, I don’t think housekeeping was his main objective, do you?”

 

Beyond them, further away among a stand of trees, a small cluster of homeless people had gathered, talking amongst themselves in the long, Monday afternoon shadows. An old woman, wispy grey hair sticking out at odd angles beneath a disreputable woollen cap, finally sidled forward, her fingers tangled in the folds of her ragged cardigan.

 

“The poor girl never did anyone any harm,” she mumbled, her eyes darting from Diana to the surrounding policemen and back to the investigator again. “But street people don’t matter to the city fathers. Helen was like a daughter to me.”

 

“Go away.” Detective Russell glared at the old woman, obviously considering her words to be a needless interruption of his work. When she didn’t move away, he took a step forward, forcing her to scurry back to the safety of the small crowd.

 

Russell turned to stare at Diana. “We’ve taken everyone’s statement. I don’t see why people have to keep hanging around like a bunch of undertakers waiting for customers.”

 

“Perhaps it’s because she was their friend.” Diana spoke calmly, with only half her mind on the complaints of a man she had scant time for. “Maybe they care.”

 

“A woman from the streets doesn’t have any friends.” Russell lit a cigarette, his fourth since arriving at the scene to check on Diana’s unwanted involvement in his case.

 

“Your compassion does you justice.” Diana gave him a long, straight look that brought a flush of anger to the detective’s lean face, as he eyed her with intense dislike. “Now, if you don’t mind, Detective, I have work to do here.”

 

“Then I’ll get out of your way, Miss Bennett. But I’ll want a full report on your findings. This is my case, not Joe Maxwell’s. Remember that.” Russell gave her a hard smile, flicking ash from his cigarette in her direction before moving off to disperse the crowd with heavy-handed authority.

 

Without even glancing to see where he’d gone, Diana put him from her mind as she went to work. The woman’s body had been found by a passing horse patrol. Anything of value had already been stolen by someone more intent on their own needs than those of the dead girl.

 

Diana pulled the folder from beneath her arm, opening it to consider each of the crimes scene photos in turn. Visible beneath the body’s blood-stained shirt, Diana could see the corner of a neat photograph. Its cleanliness contrasted starkly with the body. Diana surveyed the photo with fatalistic calmness that would have intensely annoyed John Russell, if he’d still been at her side.

 

With no more clues than they had two days ago, when the latest Jane Doe had been murdered in a different area of the park, Diana knew this case would drag on, the killer powerless to stop playing his game of cat and mouse with Joe Maxwell. Diana felt for Joe, but she could not allow her sentiments to interfere with her approach to her work.

 

Emotions were an expensive liability when you were dealing with a man who murders the innocent without compunction and walks away free once more.

Diana extracted her notebook from the pocket of her coat and opened its pages on the small luxury of a sigh. She was going to spend another long, sleepless night trying to find the answers…

 

 

   


The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ.

Moves on; nor all thy Piety nor Wit

Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,

Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it…  

Omar Khayyam

 

 

Shannon slipped into the hushed shadows of the basement entrance to the world Below. It was late afternoon before she’d finally told Elliot she needed to leave. It had been a hard decision to make, against everything within her that clamoured to stay with him. Allow him to persuade her to spend another night with him.

 

Elliot followed her into the darkest corner where the secret entrance was concealed. In answer to her coded knock sequence, the door swung silently inwards, revealing the bulky figure of the tunnel guard.

 

“Thanks, Peter.” Shannon nodded, then stopped, standing half in and half out of her world, when Elliot placed a hand on her arm to detain her.

 

“You won’t reconsider spending the evening with me?” Elliot lifted a length of her hair with his free hand, entwining it through his fingers gently. Her face was bare of makeup and very kissable. He forced down his baser instincts as Shannon gazed at him with remembered passion in her green eyes.

 

Peter cleared his throat. “I’ll be back here when you’re ready.” He retired tactfully to the inner shadows.

 

“I’m sorry, Elliot. I can’t.” Shannon placed her hand over his. “Last night was…”

 

“Magical…” Elliot supplied when she paused, looking confused. His fingers stirred against her clasp.

 

“Magical,” she agreed, the memory of her wanton abandonment of her suffocating inhibitions in Elliot’s guiding arms bringing a fresh flush of colour to her cheeks. Tentatively she raised his hand to her lips to kiss his palm lingeringly. She saw his eyes darken at the erotic contact. “But now I must go. If I stay, you will only coerce me shamelessly into doing exactly what you want.”

 

“This is not over between us.” Elliot took her shoulders, smoothing over the bare skin that rose from the dark neckline of her evening gown, his thumbs tracing a path up her throat to lift her chin. He took her lips in a kiss that made her tremble.

 

“If I thought coercion would make you stay with me, I wouldn’t hesitate,” Elliot admitted honestly, kissing the tip of her nose with a smile. “I have so much more I want to show you, to experience…with you. You looked like you were enjoying Monday morning breakfast in bed.”

 

Shannon opened her mouth to reply, but Elliot closed her lips with one admonishing finger before he turned her around and gave her a tiny push in the small of her back, propelling her into the darkness of the world beyond the portal. “Go on, before I lose all my good intentions. But I will be back for you.”

 

“You ready to go?” Peter materialised out of the shadows. The long staff of his office thumped hollowly on the floor as he halted at Shannon’s side, impatiently waiting for Elliot to leave.

 

“I will be waiting for you.” Shannon touched Elliot’s bearded cheek briefly before she stepped back to allow the portal to close. But she stayed to watch until it shut on Elliot’s tall figure with a soft thump that pushed against the enveloping darkness.

 

Father lost the final chess game of the evening with good grace, owning himself to be beaten even before Mouse declared the win, bouncing with unseemly glee in his chair. The boy’s playing was erratic at best, at worst, alarmingly flawed. Father shook his head in bemused wonder as his opponent pounced with unholy delight on his king, snatching the hapless piece from the board in triumph.

 

“Got it!” Mouse crowed. “My game! My game! Makes six in a row!”

 

“Sheer madness...” Father raised his hands in futile supplication. He’d given up trying to teach his young pupil the king was inviolate.

 

“I keep telling myself I should give this game up,” he muttered into his beard, as Mouse carefully reset the board and looked at him with undisguised hope. “No, Mouse, I think losing six games to you is all the excitement my constitution can stand tonight.”

 

“Perhaps you should take up a different hobby,” a voice spoke from the doorway of the chamber. “You have a strong masochistic streak in your nature that keeps you wanting to teach your pupils to better you in the game.”

 

Father looked up at the sound of Catherine’s voice with a rueful shake of his head. “I know what you mean. Somehow I just cannot seem to resist the temptation. Vincent finds little to challenge him in my game these days.”

 

“Here, Catherine. Sit.” Mouse slid out of his chair as Catherine descended the short fight of steps into the room and offered her the seat with a quaint courtly bow. “Have to go anyway. Big project, lots of work to do yet.”

 

He fled before Father could even think of a question to detain him. His hurried footsteps faded rapidly in the tunnel beyond the chamber.

 

“Perhaps it’s better not to ask.” Father brought his eyes back to Catherine as she sat down at the chess table opposite him. “I am sure I will find out what he’s up to, in Mouse’s own good time.” He eyed her speculatively for a moment. “Would you care for a game?” he asked hopefully.

 

“My father taught me to play when I was very small.” She eyed the pieces dubiously. “I think I can still remember how everything moves.” She reached out to test her memory, moving each piece in turn. Father watched her moves with renewed interest.

 

“I actually came to ask you something.” Catherine rearranged the pieces and made her first tentative move with a pawn.

 

Father countered the pawn with one of his own and looked at her across the pieces. “You sound as if you expect me to deny your request.”

 

“No, it’s not that.” Catherine caught her bottom lip between her teeth as she considered her next move. “You and your world, Father…You have given me so much. You have given me a place where I can belong, with people who care about what happens to me.” Carefully she moved forward one of her bishops.

 

“I think it is we who stand in your debt, Catherine.” Father made his move with baffling efficiency, leaving Catherine frowning in concentration. He reached to take her hand where it lay on the table beside the board. “You have given my son everything, more than I could ever hope for him. You have given him himself. No one else could have done that for Vincent.”

 

“Thank you, Father,” Catherine acknowledged his words with a warm smile. “But I feel I need to give something in return, something back to this new world of ours. I have spoken to Vincent and asked him to consider my ideas. He said I must speak with you.”

 

“And you would like my approval?” Father shook his head in despair. “Don’t you think it’s a little late for that?” he chided her gently with a rueful smile.

 

“Well, perhaps not your approval.”  Catherine smiled at his mock despair, taking his hand between hers. “But certainly your blessing.”

 

“Now you do have me intrigued.” Father laughed, peering at her over the rim of his glasses, his eyes warmly appreciative of the beautiful picture she made.

 

“I wish to teach, Father.” Catherine spoke quickly. “My skills as a lawyer are next to useless down here. But what I can impart to those children who wish to make their way in the world Above is the knowledge of its ways. Michael was simply a beginning. I can take what he has learned so much further if I tackle the task from down here.”

 

Father looked at her then, as if he was truly seeing her for the first time. He realised that he only knew a small part of generous personality of this woman who had married his son. A part of the beauty, both within and without, that Vincent first saw on the night he brought her Below three years ago. He shook his head as he thought of the limited expectations he’d had in those early days. Limited by his own unsatisfactory experiences of a rich man’s daughter. He wondered briefly how he could have been so wrong in his expectations, knowing Catherine as he did now.

 

“You have already given us so much,” he replied simply. “You have given of yourself, even when it seemed that we did not welcome your presence here with us. I think our children will be very lucky in their new teacher.” He closed his free hand over hers. “Bring me your list of requirements ,and I will see they are met. I, in turn, will draw up a list of the most likely children to need your help.”

 

“I will make it out first thing in the morning.” Catherine smiled. “And thank you for understanding. I must admit, it will be quite a different experience to be in front of a class, instead of part of it.”

 

“I am sure we will all benefit from the experience.” Father nodded as he returned his eyes to the board.

 

“Here goes nothing…” Catherine made another tentative move and then watched closely as her opponent made his next move, and she couldn’t help wondering if he was trying to lead her into a trap with his bland expression and easy moves. Her skill at the game had not been honed to a fine edge by the constant practice Father and Vincent allowed themselves. She suspected that he would not be a generous opponent and was grateful to him for that.

 

A short time later, Father won his first chess game in many weeks. He had also found himself with another pupil to teach when Catherine ruefully confessed her rustiness at the game. She soon surrendered the second game, admitting defeat within a few moves as she watched Father pounce on her queen with a cry of triumph.

 

Vincent, coming in halfway through the third game, found wry amusement in Father’s jubilant mood. Under his expert coaching, his wife succeeded in winning the next three games in a row.

 

“When will I learn?” Father wondered to himself as he got ready for bed later that night, but his smile was filled with warm remembrance of an evening well spent in delightful company, and he found himself looking forward to the challenge. At least Catherine didn’t possess the same streak of off-beat ability Mouse displayed. That had to be an unalloyed pleasure in itself by Father’s reckoning.

 

 

 

You are the love of my life

I knew it right from the start

The moment I looked at you

You found a place in my heart.

 

You are the love of my life

You give me reason to live

You taught me how to be strong

With you is where I belong

 

No one’s ever touched me

Quite the way you’ve touched me

People search a lifetime

To find what we have…

 

You are the love of my life

One thing that’s good in this life

I’ll spend the rest of my days just loving you…

 

George Benson / Roberta Flack

 

 

 

 

“Catherine, may I speak with you?” Shannon came up to her at breakfast, just as Catherine had plucked Jacob from his highchair. Vincent put aside the washcloth he’d been using to wipe all the oatmeal from the boy’s face and hands.

 

“Of course.” Catherine lifted her son onto her hip. “You don’t mind, do you, Vincent?”

 

“I’m sure Jacob and I can find some work to do together.” Vincent smiled, plucking his son from Catherine’s arms and swinging him up onto his broad shoulders.

 

The child squealed with abandon, as he was swung high through the air to finally settle his sturdy limbs around his father’s neck. Wrapping his arms enthusiastically around Vincent’s head, he clung tightly to his new position.

His father was forced to peel away one small hand from his eyes, so he could see where he was going, as Jacob bounced with glee over the promised treat of working beside his father.

 

The two women watched the performance with varying emotions. One with pride and a deep sense of love. The other with an empty, wistful sensation in the pit of her stomach and uncertainty on her face. Catherine reached up to kiss Vincent’s cheek and then her son’s clutching fingers.

 

“We can go to my chamber.” Shannon watched Vincent and his son out of sight, before turning to Catherine. “I have something I want to ask you.”

 

Shannon’s chamber was cunningly wrought out of the bedrock of the lower tunnels, one of a series that usually accommodated the younger members of the community and any visitors who happened to come Below. The chamber’s multitude of nooks and crannies were filled with the many small figurines Shannon had collected in her youth. Made of pottery, stone, glass, and crystal, they added a depth of life to the blank rock walls, gleaming in the flame of an overhead lamp made of glass in many different colours. Highly coloured rugs were strewn across the floor, jewel bright patterns mixed together carelessly to form an endless flow of pattern and designs that defied the eye to separate them.

 

“I used to collect all the colours that were lacking in this world.” Shannon indicated the carpets as she led the way into the room. “Once I returned here, I discovered Father had stored them away against the possibility I would return one day. I couldn’t believe it when I saw my old chamber again with all my things in it. It was only then that I truly felt I had finally come home.”

 

“I know that feeling of finally belonging somewhere.” Catherine smiled her understanding as she picked up the figurines of a small unicorn from the shelf.

 

It was unlike the rest of the eclectic pieces that lined the walls. Lovingly shaped, the tiny creature nestled warmly in the palm of her hand. It had an absurdly funny expression on its face, and two buck teeth protruded from its top lip. If anything it looked more than a little drunk. 

 

“I couldn’t resist him when I found him in a curio shop in London.” Shannon came to stand beside her. “He appealed to the child in me.” She caressed the soapstone figure with love. “He also brought me happiness and, somehow, helps me to forget.”

 

“He’s beautiful.” Catherine touched the buck teeth lightly and tapped the end of the animal’s long nose. His comical expression didn’t alter as he smiled at nothing, the small head tilted to one side, as if in surprise.

 

Gently, she replaced the figure and looked about the chamber with interest.  

It was a truly charming room, filled with the scent of beeswax candles arranged over a large secretaire in the corner and the small bowl of scented wood shavings on the nightstand beside the bed. Catherine brought her eyes back to Shannon standing beside her, looking confused.

 

“I wanted to talk to you…about Elliot.” Shannon drew a breath before launching into speech, lacing her fingers nervously in front of her. “About my going Above with him last night.”

 

“He cares for you.” Catherine considered the other woman’s jerky movements for a moment, before drawing her to sit on the bed behind them.

 

“Yes…” Shannon agreed slowly, sitting heavily and reaching to play absently with the fringe of one of the pillows at the head of the bed. “He…is a good man, I believe.”

 

“Shannon, did something happen when you went out with him?” Catherine was perplexed by the other woman’s tone that contrasted oddly with the dreamy quality of her expression.

 

A blush mounted into Shannon’s cheeks then, a whimsical smile curving her lips as she dropped her head to stare at her hands, the heavy fall of her hair obscuring her face. Vastly curious now, Catherine leaned forward to draw back the curtain of long hair.

 

“What happened last night?” She almost didn’t catch Shannon’s next words.

 

“I never thought I could fall in love…”

 

“Fall in love…with Elliot? But that’s wonderful news.” Catherine caught her chin and brought Shannon’s eyes to hers. “You’ve had a great deal of tragedy in your life; you deserve to find happiness.”

 

“Sometimes I wonder if everything happened as I remember it. We had a lovely night at a Broadway musical, and then…back to his apartment.” Shannon’s blush deepened. “I…it’s been a long time. I mean, since I…my husband was the only man I have ever…” Her words trailed off beneath the understanding look in Catherine’s eyes.

 

“Lord, I am making a mess of this, aren’t I?” Shannon laughed shakily. “But, being with Elliot…it all happened so naturally, as if it was always meant to be. We didn’t stop to think or consider the consequences.”

 

“And that worries you.” Catherine struggled to understand her fears. “Elliot would never hurt you. He is a good and decent man.”

 

“No, I don’t believe he could ever hurt me.” Shannon took Catherine’s hand. “But, you know him, and you must have realised he is a very complex man. He has the power to create great things, put a lasting mark on the city up there, and yet he wants more. He wants to be remembered for himself and not just for his creations. But I also know why he came here and the hopes he still has. Even when he was only Stosh, the dreams were truly vast…and I find that frightening. I don’t know if I could cope.”

 

She drew a long shuddering sigh. “Justin had such incredible dreams; they consumed him, day and night, to the exclusion of everything else. Even me – I was also just a means to an end. He was always making deals, hosting dinners, and networking. And he wanted me at his side, always.”  

 

“And with Elliot, you don’t want to be left behind.” Catherine nodded in understanding. “If you cannot share those same dreams.”

 

“What is there for a man like Elliot, Below?” Shannon rose to pace the room. “I love him, but I would not chain him to a world where he could not function simply because I would like him in my life. I know he would eventually suffocate down here. But I cannot function anymore in his world. I feel alien and alone up there. I just don’t know what I should be feeling now, how to be. I’m so confused.” She turned and came back to the bed, to the warmth of Catherine’s sympathetic eyes. “I knew you, Catherine, of all people who have come Below, would understand.”

 

“But you are never truly alone. My life with Vincent has not been easy.” Catherine acknowledged the truth of Shannon’s words. “It involved great sacrifice on both our parts to be together, to raise our children in an environment that is both nurturing and safe. Don’t think I haven’t had my doubts, because I have. But we both knew that Vincent could never live in my world, so I had to come and live in his. I had no choice.”

 

“Choices…” Shannon nodded slowly. “And yet you chose the hardest path of all.”

 

“Because I loved Vincent too much to let him go,” Catherine replied simply. “Even though he tried to release me from loving him several times. There is nothing I would not do for the sake of our love…nothing.”

 

“I understand that.” Shannon sank to her knees at Catherine’s side, laying her hands on her arm, plucking uncertainly at the cloth of Catherine’s sleeve. “To have a love as wonderful and complete as yours…” She shook her head as she looked around the chamber. “To have Elliot in my life, the choices are going to be as hard and as painful.”

 

“If you love someone too much to live without them, then there can only be one choice.” Catherine looked down at the plaited ring of gold and touched it with a loving forefinger. “And in the end, you will discover that it really wasn’t a choice after all. It was simply something you were always meant to do.”

 

“Do you really think so…?” Shannon whispered.

 

“Always and forever.” Catherine smiled warmly and nodded.

 

Two minds answered the sudden intentness of her thoughts. One young and jumbled with impressions and breathless excitement; the other, older and wiser, and filled with gentle understanding and a deep abiding love…

 

“The press are going to have a field day with this one,” Greg muttered in disgust. “They’ve raked up everything from the past, and they’re constantly harping on about our not getting any closer to this guy than we were ten years ago. It makes me sick. What do you wanna do?”

 

“Not much we can do about them.” Joe scanned the newspapers on his desk as he sat on the corner. “But, we’re going to get him this time. He’s playing with us and I’m not about to let him get away with it.”

 

They’re calling him the Happy Snapper Killer this time, for Pete’s sake!” Greg snorted in derision. “As if he needs any encouragement to go and do it again.”

 

“Then we shall have to catch him before he does.” Diana looked up from studying the papers on the case Joe had given her. “He’s operating now in a confined area of the city, but his pattern is still constant. He kills on a two week cycle, and it hasn’t varied since the last time he was active. And always on a Saturday night.”

 

“Sixty city blocks isn’t exactly confined.” Greg pushed his fingers through his hair. “I would say he has quite an area to rattle around in.”

 

“Those are the facts.” Diana slanted him an exasperated glance. “And we have another ten days before he strikes again. I, for one, am not prepared to sit around on my hands and do nothing. I’m going to nail his butt.”

 

“You say there’s a reason all the present murders have the park as their focus.” Joe looked from one to the other with ill-concealed impatience over their professional rivalry, as he tossed the newspapers aside with a grimace of disgust.

 

“The park is his focus, because he’s comfortable there.” Diana consulted the large folder she had open on Joe’s desk. “Jane Doe, his third victim was killed there four days ago, just like the others. Only the site varies. He has some sort of deep attachment to the place.”

 

“Lives near the park, works in the park?” Greg ticked off the options on his fingers. “Travels through to get to work. Jogs, walks his dog?”

 

“When you and Coltrain were on the case, the killer operated over a far wider area of the city.” Diana leafed through the papers on her knee. “Now, for his own reasons, he’s confined to a more local area and the park. I would say he lives near the park and works there too. He’s someone no one sees or is concerned enough about to report to the police. An anonymous face in the crowd. He’s there, but no one truly sees him.”

 

“You lose me when you get too mysterious.” Greg sat forward in his chair, his hands held out, palms upwards. “The guy is out there, and he’s playing his own game that doesn’t have any rules apart from the ones in his own imagination. Now you’re telling me that he’s there, but no one sees him. The original invisible man.”

 

“No, I’m saying that he exists in the park, but we’re just not seeing him because he’s part of the landscape, part of everything you would expect to see there,” Diana reiterated patiently. “In that way he is invisible, and he likes the cover it gives him. Though he appears to be confined to the park area, he seems to have greater freedom than before.”

 

Greg scratched the back of his head in frustration and cast a glance of appeal at Joe. “I just want to catch him, that’s all. Just by doing something as plain and simple as foot-slogging police work.”

 

“Then he will kill again and again until you get the point he’s trying to make.” Diana gathered up her papers and thrust them into her bag.

 

“And what is that point, Bennett?”

 

“That you won’t catch him unless he wants to be caught. And that may be never. He’s enjoying himself too much to stop now. He has the media’s attention and he likes it. Why stop now?”

 

But, neither Joe or Greg could see anything funny in the situation that had cost a friend his life. They both regarded Diana with a jaundiced eye, and she shrugged at their collective inability to see her point.

 

 

Mouse moved cautiously through the confines of the park. Moonlight washed the path he took with silver, gilding the drab concrete with something approaching beauty. But Mouse, stepping around the puddle of rainwater, only mumbled to himself about the brightness of a moon that showed more than it hid. To his mind the purpose of darkness was to conceal things.

 

“What did you say?” Jamie demanded tersely, labouring along at his side, encumbered with an ungainly package.

 

“Moonlight. Too bright.” Mouse tossed his shock of hair in disdain at the pool of sliver light at his feet.

 

“But it’s beautiful.” Jamie looked up at the bright orb sailing high above, unhindered now by the passing rain clouds. “Surely you can see how wonderful it looks. Vincent said—”

 

“Too bright.” Mouse dealt with the subject summarily, clanking ominously as he pushed at the odd assortment of metal objects he had concealed beneath his shirt and slung around his neck like some bizarre decoration. “No moon Below. Good thing.”

 

“And don’t you find that sad?” Jamie shook her head in frustration.

 

“Could build one,” Mouse offered by way of atonement, brightening as they approached the drainage tunnel entrance. “Sun too, but have to make that hot.”

 

“Thanks, Mouse,” Jamie replied hastily, her mind well able to grasp the scope of such a project if the boy decided to get started on it. “I think it’d be better and safer if we just came up to look at the moon when we feel like it.”

 

“Okay.” Mouse sighed gustily, his voice echoing in the tunnel confines. He was eternally unable to figure out the fickleness of the female mind. Did Jamie want a moon or didn’t she? “Lots of other things for Mouse to fix up.”

 

“Well, we’d better get this lot down to your chamber before someone comes nosing around to see what we’re doing at this time of night.”

 

For not the first time since she had gotten herself involved with Mouse’s latest project, Jamie slanted him a sideways look as the tinker operated the secret lever that rolled back the steel door behind the barred gate. “Are you really sure no one out there is going to miss all this stuff?”

 

“Been abandoned. You saw the sign.” Mouse clanked through the open portal, motioning his companion through with an impatient wave of his hand. “Besides, all my stuff now.”

 

“I know I shouldn’t have asked.” Jamie hauled her burden through into the tunnel beyond, uncaring of Mouse’s protest as the bulky wrapping snared momentarily on the doorsill.

 

“Hey, who dropped this here?” Jamie bent to collect a crumpled leather cap trapped behind the gate. She held it out to show Mouse.

 

“Not mine, don’t know,” Mouse muttered crossly. “Come on, let’s go.”

 

“All right, all right…” Jamie tucked the cap into the pocket of her coat and returned to her task of hauling her burden inside the tunnel. The portal slid shut behind them as Jamie fell to arguing with Mouse about his attitude toward her ongoing assistance.

 

In the tunnel leading in from the park, a shadow flickered briefly over the mouth, highlighted by the brightness of the moon, as a man’s head craned to see into the junction. A lean, short body followed as he moved further in, cocking his head to listen to the muffled voices beyond the barred gate and closed metal door, the boy and the girl’s, arguing still as they retreated slowly into the distance. Pausing at the entrance, the man studied the door and its confines with careful, clinical eyes and nodded in satisfaction…

 

 

“Father, I need to talk to you.” Mary stood in the entrance to his chamber, her brow creased in worried trepidation mixed with more than a little fear.

 

“What is it?” Father started out of his chair, casting aside his spectacles and the book he was reading, alarmed by Mary’s expression.

 

“I’m afraid it’s Sarah,. She hasn’t been seen lately.” Mary descended the steps, smoothing her hands over her apron absently. “I know she’s almost seventeen now, and she will be annoyed with me for mentioning it. I know I shouldn’t worry, but we usually hear from her at least once a week, always on a Tuesday. Just a check in to let me know she’s all right. It’s now Thursday and I’ve heard nothing.” The words spilled out in a breathless torrent of concern. “I need someone to go and talk to Lady May. To make sure Sarah is all right.”

 

“Sarah chose to go Above, to find employment under Lady May’s care.” Father took her hand and pulled her down to sit in the chair beside him. “May told me a month ago Sarah was ready to move on. There could be a dozen different reasons why she has not been in touch. She is young, and New York City can hold endless fascination for someone like her. To the point of perhaps making her forgetful.”

 

“I want to believe that, Jacob. I truly do.” Mary returned the pressure of his grasp. “I’m well aware of the wonders of the city. But I have also seen the cold, dark heart of the life up there, and I know the dangers that exist for a girl like Sarah. Besides, she would never worry me with her silence; she would get a message to me somehow.”

 

“If only the people Above cared for their children as you do for yours.” Father sat back to tap the cover of his book. “It’s only been two days. Do you really feel Sarah could be in some sort of danger?”

“She is young and pretty.” Mary pursed her lips. “And she is not as worldly wise as she would have me think. She always comes Below each week to tell me of her life and worries. She knew how much I cared for her and wished to see her happy.” She fetched a photograph from her apron pocket. “Sarah gave this to me the last time I saw her.” She held it out.

 

Father accepted it. “Very well. If you really think there is a need, I will alert the sentries, ask if anyone had heard from her recently. Pascal can send word Above to those of our helpers who may know of her recent movements, and I’ll send Geoffrey to see May. I am sure we will find Sarah safe and well. If we still have no answers, I will ask Catherine for her advice on how to contact the authorities Above.”

 

“Thank you.” Mary nodded, getting to her feet. “They are all my children, Jacob, all of them, no matter how big they grow or how far they fly. I cannot help but worry and care about what comes to them.”

 

“I’m sure we will see her soon. Demanding to know what all the fuss was about.”

 

“Good, then I won’t worry about her anymore, will I?” Mary smiled wisely as she left Father alone with his thoughts. He frowned at the photograph of a girl with long, blond hair flowing from beneath in a jauntily set leather cap, smiling as if she had not a care in the world.

 

“No, but you will continue to worry about all the rest,” he said, to Mary’s shadow, as it stretched back through the doorway, cast by the lights beyond. “You always do.”

 

 


If there were no dreams

And there were no dreamers

Then how could I dream you up?

You’re still a mystery to me

 

The way that we love

The life that we’re leading

I don’t want to give you up

Whatever I have to do, I’ll do…

 

Neil Diamond

 

“Sometimes I think the city should pay us for all the work we’re forced to do, shoring up their mistakes.” Cullen reached for another slice of William’s apple cake from the basket Catherine had set at his feet, his fingers hastily wiped of their clinging mud on the leather of his shirt.

 

“I doubt they could afford your rates,” Catherine returned lightly, folding the cover that William had placed over the food, watching with interest the other members of the work party.

 

The sight of her husband’s wild silk mane underscored her innate knowledge of his position as Vincent worked the beaten metal patch Mouse had prepared into position, ready to stem the flow of muddy water from the crack in the pipe. As a direct consequence of the back-breaking work involved in capping the leak, Vincent was liberally covered in the same yellow mud and sand as the rest of the crew. The clay texture streaked his face and clothing in bizarre patterns, clinging in wet clumps to his hands.

 

Catherine’s eyes fell to the pool of darkness beside the food basket; her husband’s discarded cloak. Bending to gather it up into her arms, she folded it neatly beside her against the tunnel wall.

 

She’d brought the food to the men at William’s request, but she didn’t need any encouragement to search out her husband when he was working close to the home tunnels. It was Vincent himself, despite his desire to have his wife close, who warned her against venturing out when he was working further from home in the far more dangerous reaches of the tunnels both above and below the central living areas.

 

In time Catherine knew she would come to know Vincent’s world as well as he did, roaming its endless passages and chambers with ease. But for now, she joined her husband whenever she was able, leaving her son in Mary’s capable care, overseen by the ever present shadow of Samantha’s hovering figure.

 

At the moment, Catherine was standing to one side in the mouth of a lower tunnel that ended abruptly in a deep, sunken mess of yellow clay and debris. Rocks and broken stones surrounded a large water pipe thrusting its bulk above the bottom of the collapse. Once it had run unseen beneath the tunnel floor, now the crack had opened, causing a leak that made the surrounding earth subside, exposing the pipe’s smooth concrete sides. The tunnel dwellers were forced to dig to expose the leak and seal it with the metal patch and then some of Mouse’s magic sealing mix before its seepage flooded the area.

 

Cullen had lamented long, in Catherine’s hearing, about the ineptitude of the Topsiders to ever make anything that would last. Since he obviously didn’t include her in that anonymous group of people, and was at great pains to tell her so, she was in no way offended by his complaints. Vincent had looked on with wry humour in his eyes, but had refrained from commenting. He knew that his family and friends considered Catherine as definitely one of their own, despite her beginning in the upper world.

 

Cullen leaned wearily against the tunnel wall beside Catherine now, savouring the food as well as the respite. He nodded his thanks, drinking deeply from the cup of water Catherine filled for him. Soon another of the workers would take his place, eating in shifts while the work went doggedly ahead.

 

For Catherine it still seemed surreal, even after living Below for some time now, to be bringing a noonday meal to the work crew through the night-shrouded tunnels. Slowly she was gaining a sense of night and day here in this place deep beneath the earth, but she still had a long way to go to be as accurate as even the smallest child among the tunnel dwellers.

 

Vincent had an uncanny ability to tell her what the time was, despite having lived his life below the city. Though time down here stretched and broadened into a slow moving river. It did not have the same impetus as her old world. It didn’t carry the same importance or need to be so bound to the clock.

 

Catherine was shaking her head in wonder over this when she heard the unexpected sound of a watery explosion and the sudden yells of the men below, which brought Cullen abruptly to his feet.

 

Damn! I was afraid of that!” He thrust the remains of his meal into Catherine’s startled hands before running to leap into the pit, wading through the sticky morass of stones and mud to Vincent’s side.

 

The muddy flow of water had widened the crack, and it swelled to a torrent, escaping into the confines of the pit with vindictive force. Vincent threw his weight against the hastily installed repair, attempting to stem the flow of water before it became unmanageable, while the other men fought to seal it. Catherine could feel the surge of power that went through him then, touching against the edges of her conscious mind, allowing her a brief glimpse of the raw darkness that balanced Vincent’s soul.

 

The remains of Cullen’s hastily abandoned meal slipped from her fingers as the weight of sheer energy pushed her back against the tunnel wall, the rough stones bruising her palms as the water’s defiant roar of assault and Vincent’s instinctive answer to the water’s raw power echoed through her into the confines of the tunnel beyond.

 

The link that connected her to her husband had never before vibrated with so much fire and brute force, even balanced as it was with his conscious thoughts. He was using the darkness of the power within him, harnessing it to his will, tapping the deep pool of explosive energy. But the effects were just as far reaching as when he’d been forced to attack to defend Catherine and their world from harm.

 

Catherine pressed a hand to her chest. She knew the development of the bond had been a gradual thing of time and distance, sensual pleasures that drowned all reality, tying them together on so many levels. Jacob hovered there; his young world bounded more by sensation and colours, unaware yet of the depth of knowledge to come, unhindered by the depth of connection his parents shared now.

 

Icy cold water cascaded over Vincent’s head and shoulders as he fought against the escaping current, the muslin of his shirt washed free of the clinging mud only to be plastered against the great straining muscles of his powerful frame. Cullen and the others worked desperately to clear the clog of stones and mud that hampered Vincent’s effort to close the gap between pipe and the metal patch in his hands.

 

Catherine leaned down to gather the folds of her husband’s cloak, letting its elusive scents of smoke and leather enfold her, the tiny flicker of movement within her womb a reminder she was not alone. The links that had been forged between them were strengthening, almost imperceptibly, she realised, until this moment. Before, when Vincent had fought an unwelcome foe, the effect on Catherine had been minimal. She did not share with him this new depth of connection, this linking of the spirit that their new life together and the arrival of their son had brought into being.

 

Sensing a need within him, she strained outwards with her mind, with all her love and strength, forging yet another link in her connection with her husband, giving back to him anew all the strength and support he’d always given her, adding her own will to his.

 

Vincent surged against the water’s flow, another growl of determination rising to a full-throated roar at the metal in his hands gave a little more, grudgingly. Cullen’s face was riven with strain as he toiled at Vincent’s side, unmindful of the storm raging in his ears and senses. Above the water’s voice he could hear the crack of mighty sinews as Vincent redoubled his efforts. Bracing his feet in the slippery mud, Cullen threw his weight bodily against the stubborn panel that had once been the bonnet of an abandoned car.

 

“You can do it, Vincent…” Catherine’s gaze remained intent on Vincent’s position. Pushing outwards along the flow of thought and emotion more vivid in his consciousness than her own, Catherine attempted to reverse the flow, adding her own awareness to the swirling current that linked them.

 

Leaning down, his head falling between his upraised arms, Vincent felt a sudden warmth, an awareness that coiled through the reaches of his mind and heart. It was a bright light, a pure warmth that shone into all the dark places of his soul and banished them from thought. Rising from within him, the heat curled up, touching against the searing strain in his shoulders, easing the pain of muscles stretched to their limits, soothing the rawness of abraded palms with an angel’s satin kiss.

 

Confused, Vincent shook his great head on a half-suppressed growl of bewilderment, distracted from his purpose by the unusual invasion of his senses. Then, startled beyond puzzlement, he simply went away…

Vincent and Catherine embrace at the tunnel entrance

   

 

The beautiful reaches of Central Park lay open for all to see, fresh and warm in the light summer air. The sun, hot and bright, so unlike the cool of the moonlight, warmed each leaf, each casual display of nature’s artistry, with brilliant colour and warmth, brighter and more vivid than anything experienced before, even in the depths of dreams.

 

It all appeared so much more alive, as nothing in the darkness of night ever could. Warmth seeped into every muscle and tired sinew.

 

Lightly, drifting on the warm, fragrant air, kissing against the senses to stir puzzled thought, children’s laughter sounded in the distance, out among the trees, lost from sight to eyes not used to the brightness of the sun’s caress. Fluctuating and dying away is if it never had been, the sound pulled inexplicably at the heart, promising a life filled with careless and untrammelled joy.

 

Beyond the park’s limits, city buildings hovered above the earth, divorced from all involvement in this place, floating adrift on all ties. Sunshine reflected back from a million blank windows, concealing all they contained. But no sounds issued from beyond the limits of this place, no traffic noise, no voices apart from those of the unseen children. All else hung with the stillness of imminent death…

 

 A shake of the head and attempted dismissal of such unwelcome and intrusive thoughts. Scents, a myriad of odours and hidden knowledge in every breath of the summer breeze. Fresh grass, green and vibrant with unknown life, dipped and flowed like a vast uncharted sea. Summer blossoms and the drone of a bee enveloped every thought, every sense of what was real and what could not possibly be.

 

The rasp of booted feet on the hardness of the concrete apron underfoot merely accentuated the feeling of utter unreality. A bird dipped past, bright and sleek as it chased the desperate flight of an escaping insect that fluttered wings of impossible colour and texture.

 

“Where am I?” Vincent drew back into the sheltering arms of the drainage tunnel entrance to his world, slipping beneath the scant shelter of the overhanging foliage as he searched desperately through his mind for his bearings, trying to make sense of what could not be.

 

The tunnel, the pipe, Cullen and the others, his Catherine, watching and helping him with her love and strength, where have they all gone?  He reached up to grasp a branch beside his head, crushing the leaves against his palm, feeling the prick of twigs digging into the tender flesh so recently scourged by rough metal. So, a reality of sorts. He released the branch and watched it spring back above his head.

 

Escape was behind him, blessed darkness that led towards home. But the feelings that had assailed him the last time he’d found himself unaccountably alone and exposed in the park were absent. There was no sense of urgency, no blind panic over his own actions now, as when he’d awakened to the strangeness of a spring morning sprawled on the grass without even the scant concealment of his hood.

 

Reaching behind his head now, Vincent was startled to find only the absence of the leather-bound wool. Looking down he found he was dressed in no more than the thin muslin shirt and his usual well-worn cords above the fur topped length of his leather boots. He was no longer covered in mud. Puzzlement creased his brow as he contemplated the inexplicable loss of his cloak. He would certainly not venture Above without its concealing folds and hood.

 

The soft leather bag containing his rose flew out in startled flight as Vincent whirled to the renewed sound of a child’s voice crying out in sudden fear, reaching out from behind him. But no one stood in the confines of the tunnel mouth that beckoned him with its sheltering appeal, no sign of a single person anywhere, despite the heat of the afternoon that would usually entice a host of weary city dwellers into the relative cool of the park and its trees.

 

Hovering uncertainly, caught between the hopeful certainty of his world beyond the end of the tunnel and the inexplicable yearning to push outwards into the unknown dangers of the park, Vincent curved his nails into the hardness of his abused palms, hoping against hope the sudden flash of pain stabbing through his senses would restore his world to rights…

 

“Vincent…”

 

A voice, echoing more in his soul than his ears, snapped his head up, the fall of tawny hair skimming the sun dappled leaves of the drooping foliage as he tried to determine the direction of the voice.

 

“Vincent…?”

 

There! His gazed fixed on a distant movement, held against the darkness of a stand of nearby trees, a flash of bright colour, someone walking an uncertain path between the solid trunks. Held like a moth entranced by a flame, Vincent found he could neither retreat or go forward, as the sound of children playing came again, more distant now, to finally die away with the sigh of the passing breeze.

 

A young girl’s voice floated on that breeze, one Vincent felt he should know, half tearful, but still filled with a sense of laughter, as if unsure of where she was and how she got there. Confused by the absence of anyone to go with the sounds, Vincent fought down the sense of unreality as he watched the figure among the trees, the bright splash of a summer dress that moved as if searching for something…someone…

 

“Vincent, where are you…?”

 

“I am here.”

 

Pulled forward from his hiding place, propelled by something other than his own conscious will, ducking beneath the reaching branches that would snare him in place, Vincent took his first steps forward, moving out onto the concrete apron that fanned out before the entrance. Left behind were the thoughts of escape, concealment. Left behind were the many well founded inhibitions about daylight and the hostile gazes of the city strollers in the park. Drawn forward, he had no will but to obey the impulse to go forward and protect those he loved. From what…his puzzlement increased along with a new found, healthy sense of trepidation.

 

“Vincent…” The slight figure of a woman seemed to dance in the summer haze.

 

Unused as he was to the brightness of the sun’s light, Vincent dipped his head to peer forward through the welcoming concealment of his bangs, shielding his eyes from the immediacy of the sunshine.  

 

“Catherine…” he breathed in wonder then, as the reality of the woman’s identity became clear through the diffused concealment of his hair.

 

“Where are we?” Catherine walked, unhesitating, through the waves of summer grass to finally halt only inches from her husband’s bulk, gazing around in puzzled wonder, seemingly totally oblivious to the fact they both stood in the revealing light of the sunlight.

 

“The park, I think, I have no idea…” Vincent felt keenly the loss of a viable explanation, as he noted the dreamy look in his wife’s eyes, the quality of unreality crystallising deep in his soul.

 

Never before had she shown such complete unconcern for the exposed nature of their position; she seemed to be adrift in another place and time.

She smiled, gazing around her.

 

“The park…yes, I remember.” Her clear, green eyes came back to his face. “The children… I was with the children.”

 

“Children…?” Vincent felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand with the thrill of an icy touch. “”Whose children?” The sound of soft laughter echoed again, far removed and fading into the sun rimmed distance, falling into a long, deepening silence that threatened inexplicably.

 

“I don’t know…” Catherine drew closer, resting the slim length of her body against Vincent’s in an achingly familiar pose, gazing up into his perplexed face with a smile that simply took the breath from his throat, at once bemused and entirely sensual. “They came to play in the park, and they stayed.”

 

From unconscious habit Vincent’s arms enfolded her, cradling the curve of her waist between his powerful hands, senses stirring anew beneath the unashamedly sensual nature of her gaze, as she reached to encompass the warmth of his nape, sliding her fingers up through his hair.

 

“Through everything, we are together. I have always dreamed of showing you the beauties of the park on a summer’s day,” she mused slowly, curving her body into his, the leather bag containing her gift of love coming to rest in the shadowed valley between her breasts. “And now, somehow, it has come true.”

 

“Catherine.” Vincent shook her in his arms. “This cannot be real. There is danger here.”

 

Vincent pulled his gaze away from the entrancing invitation in her eyes, to study every facet of the surrounding landscape, needing to know the secrets of this place out of time. The sense that everything was all right, and all so very wrong at the same time, unbalanced his ability to search out the correct answers.

 

“But it’s as real as you and I…” Catherine drew his head down to hers, brushing the softness of her lips across the warm curve of his mouth. “It’s as real as your touch…” she whispered with aching entreaty. “Love me…”

 

“This is a place of dreams, of wishing for those things that can never be,” Vincent whispered into her breath, allowing the momentary assault on his senses of her tongue invading his mouth. “We do not belong here…”

 

“But…the children are here…” Catherine drew back to frown, obviously not understanding why he was questioning that which simply was without the need for explanation. She shook her head. “No, you must be wrong, Vincent. This is…this is like paradise…”

 

Vincent sighed. “I do not pretend to begin to understand it, but I think we have somehow slipped into another place…another time.”

 

“But then, why are the children here? They are all alone and afraid.” Catherine’s gaze wandered away from him to look back over her shoulder at the hushed beauty of the park.

 

She shook her head again, seeming perplexed by her lack of understanding. “I felt them; I knew they were here. We played in the trees, but I never quite saw them. They were always ahead, always out of reach…”

 

“As all things we are not ready to know are just out of reach.” Vincent nodded in understanding, remembering his own bemused thoughts at the sound of the children’s laughter that drew him inexplicably. “Catherine, do you remember the tunnel? The water pipe? We were fixing the pipe, remember?”

 

“They are gone; children are all gone…” Catherine rested wearily against him then, letting her whole body slip into his secure hold. “Perhaps they were never here at all…”

 

Vincent bowed his head over her bright hair. The memory of the voice of the tearful young girl troubled him; he felt he should know who she was, but the knowledge hovered just out of his reach. “We must go back; we cannot stay here. I do not know this place, but I suspect its nature is not what it appears to be.”

 

Against his chest, Catherine nodded slowly, her body almost limp in his hold, alarming in its very slackness. Vincent gathered her into him then, supporting her slight weight with deceptive ease.

 

“Catherine…?” He felt the first flaring of real alarm feathering through his senses, as even their bond drifted into oblivion. “Catherine! No! Not now…”

 

 

   

 

The golden gate of sleep unbar

When Strength and Beauty, met together,

Kindle their image, like a star

In a sea of glassy weather

May the purple mist of love

Round them rise, and with them move

Nourishing each tender gem

Which, like flowers, will burst from them,

As the fruit is to the tree

May their children ever be…

 

Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

 

“Vincent, what’s the matter? Vincent!” Cullen’s voice was harsh with fear as he shook his friend’s suddenly slack shoulder. “Hey, what gives here, buddy?”

 

Vincent felt himself snap back to reality with brutal force, the breath momentarily beaten from his starving lungs. He found he was still standing in the same position, arms upraised above his head, hands supporting his weight against the metal sheet, chin pressed to his chest with the strain of the past few minutes. But the vital, healing warmth that had feathered through his soul was gone, its departure leaving an aching void of helplessness.

 

“Hey, I thought we had lost you then, for sure.” Cullen’s voice vibrated with relief when he saw Vincent’s head rise slowly off his chest. “I was wondering how the hell I was going to explain your sudden demise to Father. You can let it go now, Vincent. We’ve got it licked.”

 

“Good.” Vincent nodded, easing slowly into a standing position, thoroughly chilled and uncomfortable in sodden clothes and boots that squelched with every movement. Every muscle protested the movement as he stepped back to lean heavily against the side of the pit. The metal patch, he could now see, was firmly attached to the pipe, and the runoff around his feet was slowly seeping into the surrounding bedrock.

 

“Mouse will be pleased to know his repair worked. He’s always so sure that what he makes works without question.” Cullen grinned. “We can get this sorted now, Vincent. I’ve got the sealing mix all stirred up. We should have it good as new in no time.” He swept wet hair from his eyes. “Hey, are you sure you’re okay, Vincent?”

 

“Battered, but in one piece,” Vincent managed to reply through lips stiff with cold, swaying with reaction as he pushed himself away from the wall at his back, stepping over the stones and rocks littering the bottom of the pit. He wanted to reach Catherine, memories crowding in on his tired consciousness, needing to know she was safe. His mind was only half on what Cullen was trying to tell him.

 

“Whoa, that fight with the pipe must have taken more out of you than you realised.” Cullen grabbed his arm, supporting Vincent, as they climbed out of the pit.

 

“Catherine…?” Vincent questioned the knot of workers clustered at the tunnel mouth, a few standing, others kneeling around a huddled figure against the wall.

 

“Think she’s fainted, Vincent.” Phillip, one of the work crew was on his knees supporting Catherine’s head in his lap. “Sean has gone for Father. I didn’t want to move her, just in case.”

 

A cold chill of premonition took the rest of the warmth from Vincent’s chilled body as he took Phillip’s place, gathering his wife’s limp body into his arms, attempting to impart some of his own will into her still body. Someone draped his cloak around them both. Vincent gathered its folds, tucking them securely around Catherine as he quickly checked her vital signs. He took painful note that her palms were bruised and cut, obviously from contact with the rough tunnel wall. But, to his heartfelt relief, Catherine’s chest rose evenly, steadily, the flutter of breath easing the jam of despair in his own throat.

 

Cullen and the others hovered worriedly, not sure what to do next.

 

“My wife used to faint all the time when she was having our third,” Phillip offered by way of rough comfort as he stood awkwardly behind Vincent, questioning the others for support with his eyes.

 

Catherine stirred briefly, her eyes opening, and a collective sigh of relief ran through the rest of the gathering. She looked at Vincent for a long moment, and then she smiled wistfully, almost sadly. “It was beautiful…” she whispered. “So beautiful…”

 

In the far distance came the sound of running feet and the unmistakable tapping of an agitated cane. Father hurried along in the wake of Sean’s more athletic frame, his face creased into a hundred new lines of worry, his bag clutched firmly in his free hand.

 

“I know.” Vincent bent forward to hear Catherine’s words, stroking her hair with a tender touch. “Wishing for such an elusive dream can sometimes make it a reality, but that reality comes with its own inherent dangers.”

 

Catherine nodded slowly, understanding Vincent’s warning well enough, but she still sighed, low and softly. “I felt you, deep inside me, I tried to help, to give you some of my own strength…you were so cold.”

 

“And I felt you touch me, a soft, pure light that flickered so brightly.” Vincent shook his head. “But you must save your strength now; the work is finished.”

 

“The children…what happened to the children?” Catherine frowned suddenly, ignoring his words as she forced her clouded mind to concentrate on the remaining scraps of memory. Soft summer afternoons and the warm distant laughter vied with an unwelcome sense of disquiet. Desperately she clung to the good memories, dismissing the others.

 

“I do not know where the children are,” Vincent answered soberly, aware of the trend of his wife’s thoughts and knowing full well all the dangers of abandoning the shell of life to follow another’s soul into such a place as they briefly visited today. But he knew, for Catherine and his son, he would always be prepared to do just that. He would follow them to the very gates of heaven and beyond, if it were the only way to spare them one moment of pain or grief.

 

Suddenly Father was going down on one knee beside them, Cullen holding open the medical bag for him. Catherine’s eyes travelled from Vincent’s to Father’s worried eyes and back again. “But it was beautiful…”

 

“Yes, Catherine,” Vincent agreed softly, as Father began his examination. “It was beautiful…”

 

“A summer’s day to share…” Satisfied that they had shared the fleeting memory of beauty on a summer’s afternoon in the park, Catherine closed her eyes on a sigh with a wistful smile.

 

 

Vincent lay full length on the bed in his chamber, resting back against the pillow at one end. Dressed in fresh, dry clothing, his hair still hung damply around his shoulders, taking a slight curl from the warmth of the bracketed fire in the corner of the room. In his cot, Jacob slumbered quietly, his dreams things of many colours and images of his perception of his world. His small heartbeat thudded above Vincent’s own.

 

Curled into his side, Catherine sighed in her sleep. Vincent dropped his head to watch her as she burrowed deeper against him, one hand resting confidently within his grasp. Catherine trusted him to keep her safe. Father had cleaned and bandaged her hands. Vincent fingered the neat folds of white cloth with concern, his thoughts troubled, far from the confines of the chamber. His own body ached from the abuse of the pipe work, but he ignored the nagging pain.

 

He smoothed a hand over Catherine’s hair. Her dreams were of green meadows and warm sunlight, of children playing in a place and time all their own. Utterly worn out by the trauma of the event, Catherine was already asleep before Vincent had finally carried her into their chamber and laid her on the bed. Mary and Samantha had hovered nearby to help put her to bed while Vincent went to change out of his wet clothes. Taking only the briefest of showers to remove the mud and grime from his body, he was back in the chamber even before Father had finished with Catherine’s bandages.

 

“Well, there appears to be no need for alarm, Vincent.” Father stood at the table repacking his bag. “Pregnant women, I’m afraid, often faint for no apparent reason. I think, with a few days rest, all will be well again. I will send a message to Peter for a complete examination as soon as he can get away. In the meantime, Vincent, you must not allow Catherine to do too much.” He raised one hand when Vincent shook his head. “I know, a tall order at best. I am aware that will be no easy task. But the early stages of pregnancy are the most crucial. She was a very lucky woman last time.”

 

Vincent had not told him of their shared experience in the park. He was not sure he fully understood it himself. He had watched the older man leave, unsure if his father would ever understand the depth of a connection that encompassed all that he and Catherine were to each other. He didn’t begin to understand it all himself.

 

Beyond the chamber their world slumbered on, the quiet tappings of the pipes the only sound in the hushed silence. Vincent rested his cheek against Catherine’s head, following the silent trend of her thoughts, but his eyes remained watchful, reflecting the glow of the fire as he tried to gain an understanding of their perplexing journey into an unknown realm. But even into the early hours of the morning, as sleep finally claimed him, the chill sense of foreboding would not leave his mind…

 

 

“Mr Maxwell, any comments on the latest murder?”

 

The collection of microphones suddenly shoved into Joe’s face, as he pushed through the swing doors of courtroom, irritated him almost beyond enduring.

Monday morning and the ravening pack was already on his trail.

 

“Do you have a line on the killer yet?”

 

That one earned the reporter asking it a straight Maxwell stare of considerable contempt and disgust, but the ice in Joe’s glance simply slid off the man’s hard shell.

 

“Is the Happy Snapper’s fourth victim young and pretty like all the rest? And how did this one die?”

 

Joe wanted to take the man’s tape recorder and do things with it that had never been dreamed of in any service manual. So he could wish, couldn’t he? Instead he bared his teeth in a gritty smile, halting in the middle of the wide corridor leading to the courtroom elevators. He turned at bay to the clamourous pack clustered behind him and gave them his best line.

 

“No comment.” He turned his back to them.

 

“The word is you’ve got that private investigator, Diana Bennett, on the case. We hear she’s good.” That one nearly took Joe’s head off with the speed of delivery, as the mike barely missed his ear from behind. “She was the one who exposed John Moreno and his drug connections, wasn’t she? When’s she gonna front up and give us an interview? How does the D.A.’s office react to her involvement in this case?”

 

The mention of John Moreno and the on going investigation into his alleged connections with the drug world hit Joe on a raw nerve. He was stung into a retort before he could think to keep his big mouth shut.

 

“I guess you’re writing the book on John Moreno, with or without the truth, right?” he shot back, fixing one eye on the red-haired woman quietly skirting the crowd undetected, while Joe struggled through the press of expectant and eager faces and their collection of appendages that could trip up the unwary. How he wished he could throw Bennett to the horde, but he forced down the wayward temptation, knowing her anonymity was in the best interests of the police…and his own, if he was completely honest with himself.

 

“Only print the facts, Mr Maxwell, only the facts,” the reporter in Joe’s face replied to his acid remark with a causal shrug. “How about parting with some for us? What do you have to say to our readers?”

 

“What I would like to say, you wouldn’t want to print.” Joe stepped back between the opening doors of the elevator, uncaring if he walked over unwary toes to get there.

 

As a mob, the reporters tried to go with him, but got hung up in the rapidly closing doors as Joe thumbed the button for the descent with a deep sense of grim satisfaction.

 

“Do you always give the press such a hard time?” Diana was leaning back against the rear wall of the elevator, looking cool and unruffled as the doors slid shut on the clamour beyond.

 

“You took your time in showing up. I noticed you were a big help out there.” Joe ran a tired hand up and around the back of his neck. He straightened his clothing, shrugging himself back into his jacket and tugged the knot of his tie straight.

 

“Oh, I thought you were doing very well.” Diana shook her head. “Though I doubt that reporter would have appreciated the trend of your thoughts.”

 

“That obvious, eh?” Joe sighed as he set his briefcase on the floor. “I don’t have time for their questions when I still have a dozen fires to put out and not enough hands to do it. How I wish I still had Cathy back in the office. I sure could use her help right now.”

 

All he got for his words of despair was a speculative look and a shrug. “Face it, Joe You’re public property, whether you like it or not.”

 

“Only in office hours, Bennett, only in office hours.” Joe studied the falling numbers above the door. “Share a cab with me, then you can tell me what you’ve got for me, and it’d better be good.” 

 

Diana fell into step with him as the doors opened on the ground floor level. They hailed a cab, and Joe flung himself after her into the smoky interior and closed his eyes as the car rocketed away from the curb and into the flow of traffic. He reached to close the driver’s slide, giving them some privacy.

 

“Right, what do you have this time?”

 

“Same two-week cycle,” Diana said quietly. “But this time she wasn’t a homeless runaway. Now why did he break the pattern for this one?” She pulled a file from her bag and opened it. “Man walking his dog found her in the park yesterday morning. Trudy Klein, fifteen years old and missing from her home since Saturday night. Mother works, she had a sitter in for the evening. The woman went out of a cigarette and the girl was gone from her bed when she returned. No sign of forced entry on the windows or doors. Sitter swears she saw and knows nothing.”

 

“I hate this!” Joe dragged his mouth down at the corners. “Photo?”

 

“Yes, a shot of Trudy on one of the white horses at the park’s carousel. Taken around noon, judging by the shadows. Very crisp and clear, professional job. No fear, no distrust on her face. Nothing but happiness.”

 

“Which tells us that she knows her killer enough to let him get close to her?”

 

“Perhaps. “Diana shrugged. “Or he’s someone who seems so normal and natural in her life, she doesn’t think twice about letting him take her picture. But I get the feeling he’s never seen at all. I think he’s using some expensive camera equipment and a really sophisticated, long lens. It makes sense then why no one has reported seeing him. I’m canvassing all the stores to see who sold what and when.”

 

“So no one sees any of the pictures being taken. Find out who took her to the carousel and when.” Joe tapped the driver’s window. “Drop me here.” He looked back at Diana as the cab slowed and came to a halt. “We need witnesses, Bennett, and we need them fast. I want a full report on my desk by the end of the day.”

 

“I know the feeling, Joe.” Diana held the door open after he got out. “The mother said her daughter was in the park on a school outing three days ago. Thirty kids and two teachers. No one had time to see anything that day.”

 

“Find him, that’s all I ask.” Joe closed the door.

 

The park; it always comes back to the park. Why? Joe pondered the question to which he had no answer. He thought of Catherine and her close ties to the carousel and the park. He was sorely tempted to make his way Below and lay all the problems revolving around in his overworked brain before her and see if she could make any sense of it all. But the impulse was short-lived.

 

Catherine had another life now, far away from the grind and her often times painful duty to the D.A. of Manhattan. But the thought just wouldn’t go away, even after he pushed it firmly down into the depths of his consciousness where the rest of the unpleasant tasks of his job lurked out of sight.

 

He could still wish, couldn’t he?

 

 

 

“It was all so strange, real and yet…so unreal.” Catherine struggled for the words to explain the complexity of her thoughts.

 

Curled on the bed, she watched Vincent guide his son’s efforts with a crayon on a sheet of discarded building paper. Jacob drew off the edge of the sheet and back again, leaving a line of bright orange colour across the table’s polished surface.

 

Vincent raised his eyes from his son’s work to study his wife with compassion. The need to understand, to analyze what had happened, was strong in her, her lawyer’s mind chewing at the problem while her instincts struggled to simply come to grips with something that was far beyond her experience.

 

“The empathic bond we share has powers we can only begin to guess at,” Vincent began slowly, selecting his words with care. “You pushed all your strength and courage outwards, away from yourself and into me, leaving yourself open to other forces, other levels of consciousness.”

 

“A dream?” Catherine’s fingers worked the leather stitching of a pillow, her eyes intent on Vincent’s. “But you were there; we share the memory of it.”

 

“Part of it was a dream.” Vincent helped Jacob select another crayon and streaks of green were added to the orange circles in the paper. “Your wish of one day showing me the beauty of the park in the sunlight created the setting…the rest, I am not sure. But there was something ominous hovering just beyond our reach.” His brows drew together in concentration.

 

“It was chilling.” Catherine slid off the bed to pad across the floor, encircling Vincent’s neck with her arms, resting her cheek against his hair. “I needed to find you; I was desperate for some sort of contact with you. The children were always just out of sight, but I didn’t know what to do, how to reach you. I could only call your name in the hope you would hear me.”

 

“I have lived with such dreams all my life.” Vincent took one of her hands in his and carried it to his lips. “They are reflections of feelings, visions of the future, some even had a sense of hope.” He turned his head to look up at her. “The night before I found you, Catherine, I had a dream that something, someone was coming into my life and I would be changed…forever. That I would no longer be alone. All I could do was accept it and know that I could not change what was to be. But I never dreamed how far that vision would take you and me.” He ruffled his son’s shock of blond curls. “Now I know and understand all that the dream was trying to tell me. It was a gift from the future.”

 

“But my wish to show you the park in daylight can only remain that…simply a wish.” Catherine moved around to kneel beside his chair. “It was a thought and a wish too deep to be even a memory.”

 

“We all desire to bring happiness to those we love,” Vincent told her gently. “Your wish was an unselfish dream born of a belief in the future. It cannot be dismissed because of circumstance. It is part of who you are now.”

 

“And the rest? The children, the fear you felt for us both?”

 

“The pull of your love was so strong, so real, it pulled us into another dimension of our bond, another place. Who else exists there is still a mystery. One of the children’s voices I thought I knew, but it was a fleeting impression. I could not grasp the connection. But I was so sure…”

 

“Yes…” Catherine nodded slowly, smoothing the blond length of her son’s hair and receiving a toothy grin in return. “I had the same feeling. I am sure I know her voice.”

 

“I wish I, too, could remember…” Vincent stared at his son’s drawing in perplexity. “But the knowledge hovers, just beyond my grasp.”

 

 

Diana stood in the park, the bushes that had concealed Trudy Klein’s body immediately in front of her. The long shadows of the afternoon reached across the ground, slowly filling in all the gaps occupied by the bright sunlight. A sharp wind picked at her coat, but she ignored the bite of the cool air. A small group of men were working in the area, taking pictures and sifting through the debris of the crime scene. The yellow strips of plastic tape denoting the police cordon decorated the trunks of several of the surrounding trees, marking off the area of the crime.

 

Head bowed, hands, as usual, pushed deeply into the pockets of her coat, Diana stood still, her eyes absorbing the scene in measured increments, noting all the details that had been in the report John Russell had thrust into her hand half an hour ago. The detective’s attitude had been smirking and superior when Diana had encountered him beside his car parked on the carriageway above the roped off area.

 

“Hey, Bennett. You haven’t caught up with him yet, then?” he’d remarked.

“Maybe he’s too clever, even for you.”

 

“Your perverse pleasure in the fact does you credit, John.” Diana took the report without touching him. “I notice you don’t have the cuffs on him, either.”

 

“Whoa, do I detect a note of sarcasm, Bennett? Are we getting a little testy over this one?” Russell drew deeply on his cigarette with a hard smile of satisfaction. “Maybe you’ve finally met your match. You can’t just shoot this guy and get a medal for it. I suppose it’s now up to the rest of us hard-working stiffs to catch him for you. I’m still way ahead of you.”

 

“I have never been one to believe in miracles, John.” Diana turned away from his sneer. “Nor do I believe the rumour about you actually being a prince in disguise.”

 

Diana sank to her haunches now, her eyes measuring the distances from where the body was found to various points in the park. The nagging feeling that she was missing an obvious clue would not be banished. She could hear Russell talking to one of the uniformed officers guarding the scene and the sound of crude male laughter ruffled the edges of her calm.

 

Turning her head, she continued to work the scene, pushing the sounds of the voices away from her until they were lost on the general noise of the city. Russell was right on one count – this case did needle her more than usual, but she wasn’t about to let him know it.

 

“I wonder…” A drainage tunnel in the distance caught her attention.

 

Foliage covered much of the entrance, drooping down over the concrete sides, providing perfect cover for anyone who wished to remain undetected. Diana had put the unwelcome sensation of being watched by unseen eyes down to Russell’s careless observation of her movements, but now she was not so sure…

 

Perpetrators of such crimes often liked to observe the police at work. Dropping her eyes, she studied every aspect of the ground between her position and the tunnel entrance. There was nothing out of place, only a few pieces of litter that would be found in any public park. In the distance the carousel music began, accompanied by the sound of children’s voices lifted in expectant laughter.

 

“Am I becoming paranoid…?” Diana remembered the night she had followed Joe to his secret meeting with Catherine Chandler. That particular mystery was still unexplained.

 

The feeling that it all somehow fitted together would not go away. Diana knew she was missing something very obvious here, and the thought needled her more than John Russell’s smirking certainty. She thought of Joe, waiting impatiently for her to deliver her report, and for one sweet moment she toyed with the idea of sending Russell to be eviscerated in her stead over the lack of progress in the case. The thought gave her a moment of hard-won satisfaction.

 

The litter of discarded rubbish beyond the scene blew up suddenly in the wind, teased by a small gust that danced briefly and was as quickly spent, dropping to the ground again, almost in time with the distant carousel music. Park maintenance had not been allowed to clear the area. One of the park staff, a small, stocky man of short temper, had been arguing for some time with Russell about schedules when Diana had arrived, but he’d been summarily dismissed in favour of John’s favourite game of scoring points on his favourite target.

 

“Come on, Bennett, think!” Diana eased back into a standing position, watching keenly as the drift of litter settled again, whispering slightly in the chill wind. “He’s not going to beat you this time.”

 

In her mind’s eye she pictured the park attendant again, his words and his attitude to the disruption of his schedule, John Russell’s barely concealed intolerance at the intrusion of another fool getting in the way. They had both been of the same height and build, and neither had been prepared to give ground until Russell flashed his badge and threatened to take the other man in for questioning.

 

But where was he now? Diana looked back at the small cluster of police officers patiently sifting through the scene.

 

The man had drifted away, unnoticed by anyone on the team once Diana had arrived. Russell would walk barefoot over broken glass for the chance to needle her. Diana turned her eyes back to the drainage tunnel and studied it with a thoughtful gaze, the sensation of being watched still tugging at her senses…

 

 

Elliot watched Shannon push the food around her plate with a growing sense of disquiet. She looked so pensive and unhappy. And he knew what he had just imparted to her was the cause. But she had to know the truth some time.

 

They were alone in a private room of one of New York’s most exclusive restaurants. They had been seeing each other for several weeks now, but Shannon was still very reticent about being seen in public. Given the choice, she always preferred to dine in his apartment and spend the night with him, holding him close, whispering all the things she was afraid to say in the daylight.

 

Of her confusion about their relationship and her concerns that their being together was simply an impossible dream that could not last forever. He’d tried to argue, make her see they were meant to be together, but she still denied there could be a future for them. She said they came from such different worlds…

 

He realised she was fast becoming very necessary in his life, his need to see her, to be with her, a beguiling addiction. He could only pray, given time, Shannon would come to understand she could feel the same about him. Without limits or reservations.

 

She looked so sad now, his heart contracted with fear. He would never try to make her stay with him against her better judgement, against everything she wanted for herself. He was nothing like Justin Cole….but if she left him now…

 

He knew he wanted to take her out, show her off, but he also knew she was not ready to face the world again so soon. He could be patient. Finally he had decided to tell her about her late husband’s estate and his own handling of the complicated situation.

 

Shannon looked up. “Thank you, Elliot, for making it all so easy for me, for taking care of things.”  She shook her head. “I know I couldn’t have coped with all that without you. I owe you so much, I can never repay you.”

 

“You owe me nothing. It will take months, and the estate is still in a chaotic mess. It’s better if my lawyers continue to deal with it.” Elliot sighed. “But at least, at the end of it all, you will be extremely wealthy. You can plan what you want to do with the rest of your life. You must face your fears, not let them make you afraid to live.” He took her hand, where it lay beside her plate. It felt small and cool within his. “You cannot remain a recluse forever. The whole world is yours to explore. You have the means to return to singing, if that is what you want.”

 

“I’m sorry, Elliot, but I want no part of my husband’s estate.” Shannon frowned, aware of the deepening concern in his intent gaze. “I will keep only what was mine, and you may dispose of the rest as you see fit. It wasn’t my money, and I want no part of him…not even his memory. As for the world, I have seen that too, Elliot. And it is no longer a place I wish to be a part of. My life is Below now.”

 

“You don’t have to explain your actions to me,” Elliot chided her softly, tightening his grip. “The choice was always yours. But I worry you are thinking only of running away again. Don’t make decisions in haste that you may come to regret one day. There are things you could do with the money. You could set up scholarships for those tunnel children who chose to come Above. Surely there are other things your world needs. You would be doing something good out of all this mess.”

 

Shannon nodded. “Yes, I could do those things. But it is important to me that you know. I feel I don’t have any right to things my husband owned or used. I don’t want any part of him to remind me.”

 

“The choices will always be yours to make, of course.” Elliot tightened his grasp on her hand. “But let’s discuss that another time.”

 

Father limped into Vincent’s chamber. “I’m afraid we have an urgent problem, Catherine. One of our older children is missing. She lives Above, but she always visits once a week. She has been gone for more than two weeks now. Mary is seriously worried about her. She gave me this.” He offered a photograph. “Her name is Sarah.”

 

Catherine looked up from the book she was reading to Jacob. She took the photo, turning it to the light.

 

“She’s very pretty.” Catherine frowned. “I hate to ask this, Father, but are you sure she is actually missing? Perhaps, she just forgot to get in touch.”

 

“Mary assures me it could not be so.” Father sat heavily on the bed. “She says Sarah would not dream of worrying her like this, and I am inclined to believe her.” He passed a weary hand over his eyes. “One of our helpers, Lady May, takes charge of those girls who wish to find a life in the city. She has an enormous house up there, and she lives alone. For many years now, she takes and trains the girls in their chosen field, and, if they prove suitable, she takes care of all the relevant documents and secures them employment. Most of the time the work will be with another of our network.”

 

Father frowned. “I have contacted Lady May, and she said Sarah has already moved on to her new employment. But the employer is outside our network, so we must tread carefully. I would hate to find that something has happened to the girl and we didn’t discover the truth in time. Do you have contacts Above that could help us?”

 

“I will do everything I can to help, Father.” Catherine looked at the photo again. “Very well, but this could be difficult. I know Joe is caught up in this awful Snapper case. I wouldn’t think to worry him with a missing person. Besides, he would feel obliged to handle it himself, given the sensitive nature of the girl’s background, and I can’t allow that.” She pursed her lips in thought. “Truly our best avenue would be to ask Elliot to put his private investigator, Cleon Manning, onto this. He would be happy to oblige, I’m sure. It may be simply a case of memory lapse.”

 

“Good. “Father sighed. “I only hope it is a case of memory lapse and nothing more serious. Mary will be devastated if something has happened to the child. She cares deeply about every one of her charges.”

 

“Then we will do our best to find her.” Catherine squeezed his hand. “I will send Zach with a message for Elliot immediately. Please try not to worry until we have something to go on.”

 

Father squeezed her hand and smiled wryly. “I’m afraid worrying is what I do best.”


“I guess it’s pointless to ask the reason why you want to know where this girl is, Elliot?” Cleon frowned at the photo Zach had delivered to Elliot’s office the same morning. “But surely you know who she is. You can’t tell me you haven’t seen her face before. I know you’ve been to Diana Bennett’s loft before now. She said you dropped in to check on some things about the Gabriel case. About the best way to separate your companies from his empire.”

 

“I’ve also been very busy lately. I can’t remember every conversation I’ve had with that woman.” Elliot defended himself with upraised hands. “Why? Who is this girl. Why should I recognize her?” He didn’t like the other man’s tone.

 

“I guess your attention must have been on other things.” Cleon shook his head. “I’m sorry, Elliot, but she’s the only unidentified victim in the Snapper case. I saw her picture at Diana’s Bennett’s loft a couple of weeks ago, when I delivered my files on Gabriel. They’re about to release her picture to the press in the hope of tracking down her family. How did you get her photo? What do you know about her?”

 

Damn!” Elliot thumped his fist on the desktop. He leaned forward to speak into his intercom. “Get me Joe Maxwell, Gloria. Tell him its urgent.” He broke the connection. “Sorry, Cleon, this is personal.”

 

“More of your mysterious connections, I suppose,” Cleon complained. “One day you will tell me where you were all those months you were missing. And where and how this girl comes into it all.” He placed the photo on Elliot’s desk with a grimace. “You should know by now that you can trust me, boss. I know how to keep secrets. I’ve kept yours all these years.”

 

“If these were my secrets, Cleon, then you’d be welcome to them. But they’re not. More than that, I’m not at liberty to tell you.”

 

“Fine, have it your way. But does the person you’re protecting happen to be Shannon Cole?”

 

“That’s also none of your business.” Elliot’s lips thinned. He wasn’t surprised Cleon knew about Shannon. He paid the man very well for his expert skills at finding the truth. Perhaps too well. “She’s a friend, and that’s all you need to know.”

 

“Okay, boss.” Cleon threw up his hands. “It’s your life. I just hope you know what you’re getting yourself into. But from where I’m standing, I’d say she’s damaged goods. You could get seriously burned.” 

 

“As I said – it’s none of your concern. I’ll take it from here.”

 

“Suit yourself.” Cleon sat back on the couch with a mulish expression.

 

Elliot knew he had bought some time, but he also knew Cleon hated to be kept out of anything. He would have to be extra careful from now on in his dealings with Shannon. He would trust Cleon with his life, but Shannon’s wellbeing was his first concern.

 

Samantha sat cross legged, encouraging her small charge to explore the smooth concrete surfaces over which Elizabeth painted her murals. Jacob’s touch was light and sure as his small fingers skimmed the paintings, patting them and exclaiming at all the bright colours he didn’t know.

 

Standing beside them, Catherine, like her son, found endless fascination in the work that Elizabeth never seemed to finish, the recounting of the life story of her new world, still full of tales Catherine had not yet heard.

 

“Come and tell me your story some time soon,” Elizabeth had encouraged the last time Vincent had brought his new wife to visit the painted tunnels. They had been on one of their honeymoon rambles. “And I will paint it for you, so that others may know who you are and what you mean to us all. I need other stories from Above besides Elliot Burch and his tower.”

 

“I will. But perhaps another time.” Catherine had demurred then.

 

Even with the reassuring strength of Vincent’s arm around her waist, she’d been hesitant to add the life story of a topsider to the varied richness of her new world displayed before her.

 

“It’s all right. When you are ready.” Elizabeth had smiled gently and patted Catherine’s cheek. “Come and see me, and bring that lovely little boy of yours. I will paint for him too.”

 

“Everyone has a story, child,” Elizabeth said now, adding the final touches to an exquisite painting of Father and Joe.

 

Perched over the echoing depths of the Whispering Gallery, Elizabeth had captured the comical expression of dismay on Joe’s face with great accuracy. Catherine couldn’t help smiling as she thought of her old boss. She hadn’t seen him in the past weeks, and she found she felt the loss of contact more keenly than before. But she was well aware of the hectic life in the D.A.’s office that left little time for social calls.

 

“Father told me this story of how he showed Joe Maxwell our world.” Elizabeth stood back to admire her work. “I liked your friend; he has a kind face. Though he worries too much, for you and for all those who live up there.”

 

“He has a good heart.” Catherine nodded, looking anew at the painting, remembering Joe’s many kindnesses in the face of her own need for total privacy. She wondered if he felt the loss of contact as keenly as she did. Or was he too busy to think of her now? She could picture him, chocolate cheese nuggets in hand, making light of her concern for him as the constant battle of the office swirled around him. Life goes on, Radcliffe. Right?

 

“But, such problems now…” Elizabeth sighed, bringing Catherine’s attention back to her abruptly. “Why do they always have to harm the children, the innocent ones?”

 

“I don’t understand.” Catherine frowned in perplexity. “Who is harming the children?”

 

A chill sensation whispered through the recesses of her mind, Vincent’s consciousness answering her thoughts in swift puzzlement as she searched Elizabeth’s words for meaning. Catherine remembered the voices in the park of their shared dream, the laughter of children and the unseen threat that hung in the air.

 

“The children Above.” Elizabeth put aside her paintbrushes and picked up a newspaper from the floor. “I read about it yesterday. See, your friend Joe. His name is mentioned…here.”

 

Catherine scanned the article the older woman indicated beneath the banner headline with trepidation, absorbing the facts of the case swiftly, the chill feathering outwards to prickle her skin. Beside her, Elizabeth craned her head to see over Catherine’s arm.

 

“Always the children.” She sighed in bitter memory, turning her eyes back to her paintings. “If only we could keep them all safe.”

 

 

“I am seriously worried about Sarah, now.” Catherine laid Elizabeth’s paint splattered newspaper before Father. “I sent Zach to see Elliot yesterday, and he promised to look into her disappearance immediately. Do we know any more?”

 

“We are still checking.” Father looked from Catherine to the paper in puzzlement. “As you know, Catherine, it is a huge city up there.”

 

“We have searched the city.” Vincent came down the steps behind her, his concern over his wife’s continued sense of disquiet deepening by the minute. “But Sarah always was a free spirit. She disliked long term commitments.”

 

“Mary is concerned, very concerned.” Father studied the newspaper. “And Sarah would not want that.” He raised his eyes from the article to Catherine’s face, deepening concern colouring his voice. “And you think that this article may be linked with her disappearance?”

 

“I pray I am wrong.” Catherine looked into her husband’s face, taking strength from his quiet presence, bracing herself for what she must do now. “I hope I am very wrong, but there is only one way to find out for sure. I have to see Joe right away. I must go Above.”

 

“We can send him a message.” Father rubbed his forehead, the beginnings of a headache nagging at him. “Geoffrey can run to him…take a note from you. He would wait for a reply.”

 

“There may be a body to identify,” Catherine said sadly, the warm comfort of Vincent’s arm around her shoulders. “I don’t know what I may find up there. We have to know for sure, Father.”

 

“Yes…yes, you are right, of course.” Father lowered his hand slowly to stare at her in despair. “We must pray that it is not so. I will tell the others after you have gone. I don’t wish Mary to worry needlessly, until we know the facts.”

 

“I won’t be long, Jacob,” Catherine answered the plea in the old man’s eyes. “Trust me in this. I can go and be back tonight.”

 

“I have always trusted you, Catherine.” Father laid his careworn hand against her cheek. “It’s the others of your world I fear. Please be careful up there.”

 

A portrait of Catherine

 

From what realm,

When your beloved appears,

Do you take the future?

More than will ever be.

One who knows distances

Out to the outermost star

Is astonished when he discovers

The magnificent space in your hearts.

How, in the crowd, can you spare it?

You, full of sources and night.

 

Rainer Maria Rilke

 

 

 

Catherine stood in the warm circle of Vincent’s arms, leaning against him with her eyes shut in silent resignation. Her awareness of him flowed through every vein, every muscle and bone of her existence. She wanted nothing more than to blend with him, be absorbed by the solid strength of his body, to be held safe within the limitless spaces of his great heart for all time. Even being dressed again in city clothes did nothing to alleviate Catherine’s feeling of stepping once more into an alien world.

 

The warmth of her husband’s breath stirred the feathered edges of her hair, the touch of his mouth sure and compelling against the side of her neck. Life was a series of goodbyes, Vincent had said once, and Catherine felt the keen poignancy of his words through every fibre of her soul.

 

“I will be back tonight,” she whispered raggedly, drawing her husband even tighter into her own embrace until there was no room for anything to come between them, not even the very air they breathed. “Joe will tell me what he knows. We can only hope Sarah is safe.”

 

Vincent bit back his words of denial, even before they became thought, before they influenced Catherine to stay with him. He knew she must go Above, for all of them to discover the truth, but the bare knowledge of her duty didn’t make the parting any easier. But he had come to an unpalatable truth.

 

“I haven’t told Father, but I am afraid it was Sarah’s voice we heard in the park, in our shared vision.” Vincent shook his head. “I have thought about it many times, and the conclusion I come to does not alter. I know it was her voice. There was danger…and death, in that place.”

 

Catherine’s breath hitched with despair. “I’m sorry if that is so, Vincent. We can only hope the dream was nothing more than that. Some kind of odd nightmare, born of my fear for your safety.”

 

“I hope so too, but I fear the worst. You must be careful up there, Catherine.”

 

“I will.” She nodded quickly. “I will be very careful.”

 

“And I will be waiting for your return.” He drew back gently, his hands moving over her with slow deliberation, before coming to rest against the slight swell of her abdomen. “I will be with you, always...”

 

“I know.” Catherine nodded on a sigh. “And I will be back as soon as I can. Please don’t worry about me. Joe will take good care of me.”

 

“How can I not worry?” Vincent whispered. “You will be beyond my keeping.”

 

A sound from the shadows behind them attracted Vincent’s attention to a figure approaching them slowly in the half-light of the tunnel beyond the open gate of the junction entrance. Shannon, dressed, as Catherine, in the clothing of the world she had left behind, moved into the daylight shafting down the drainage tunnel.

 

“I can’t let you go up there alone.” Shannon stood defensively, as if expecting to be denied. “I know about Sarah. Father told me. At least, this way, I get a chance to repay you both, and I want to do this.”

 

She looked at Vincent. “You taught me years ago to face my fears and not to be afraid. I had forgotten that lesson, until Elliot reminded me of your great truth the other night. So I will go up there to help where I can.”

 

“Joe will be with me, and it won’t be easy, identifying a body, if Sarah is one of the victims,” Catherine said quietly. “Are you sure you will be all right?”

 

“If Vincent was able to go with you, he would.” Shannon stood resolute. “So, since he cannot, I will go for him. Please, Catherine, I must do this. Choices…remember?”

 

“Choices…” Catherine agreed slowly, aware of Vincent’s disquiet over their exchange.

 

Reaching up, she placed a lingering kiss on his parted lips before he could speak. “I won’t be away a moment longer than necessary. I am already missing you.”

 

Shannon stepped away, averting her eyes from the intimate moment.

 

“And I you,” Vincent agreed softly. “Go now…I will be waiting for your return.”

 

Catherine nodded, turning away from the depth of love in her husband’s eyes with lagging steps. His heartbeat ran, smooth and unfaltering, with her own, but even that comforting reassurance could not compare to Vincent’s physical presence in her arms. The loneliness of the way ahead would only be relieved by her return to the one shelter she could trust in the whole world.

 

“We can do this…together.” Shannon moved to her side, taking Catherine’s arm through hers, glancing one final time over her shoulder at the portal to her world and the lonely figure who stood in it’s entrance like a sentinel, his face haunted by all the fears Vincent dared not show in Catherine’s presence.

 

Shannon nodded slowly, acknowledging that which Vincent had left unsaid and giving her reassurance for their safety. Then she walked with Catherine down the long tunnel that led to the park and out into the bright sunlight of a new day…

 

 

   


When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,

I all alone beweep my outcast state,

And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,

And look upon myself, and curse my fate,

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,

Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,

With what I most enjoy contented least;

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,

Haply, I think on thee, and then my state,

Like to the lark at break of day arising,

From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;

For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings

That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

 

William Shakespeare

 

 

 

 


LITERARY REFERENCES

 

 

My heart leaps up when I behold   William Wordsworth

 

All I Ask of You    Phantom of the Opera

 

Beauty and the Beast   Stevie Nicks

 

You Gave Me a World to Believe In    Celine Dion

 

The Rubaiyat   Omar Khayyam

 

You Are The Love of My Life   George Benson and Roberta Flack

 

If There Were No Dreams   Neil Diamond

 

A bridal song   Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

Antistrophes   Rainer Maria Rilke

 

Sonnet No. 29    William Shakespeare 

 

 

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