To Hope Anew

by Rosa N. Tadeo


Prologue

"O Hester!" cried Arthur Dimmesdale ... "thou tellest of running a race to a man whose knees are tottering beneath him! ... There is not the strength or courage left me to venture into the wide, strange, difficult world, alone."

It was the last expression of the despondency of a broken spirit ... "Thou shalt not go alone " answered she, in a deep whisper. Then, all was spoken.

... The decision once made, a glow of strange enjoyment threw its flickering brightness over the trouble of his breast ... "Do I feel joy again?" cried he, wondering at himself. "Methought the germ of it was dead in me! O Hester, thou art my better angel. I seem to have flung myself - sick, sin-stained and sorrow-blackened - down upon these forest leaves, and to have risen up all made anew ..."

from The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

 

Chapter One

 

The stars were especially bright tonight, despite competing against the city's own illumination. The chill in the air held within it a promise of springtime, even though the trees were lax in their budding. It seemed as though the earth had yet to make up its mind as to which season it was willing to be coaxed into. There was a hesitancy to nature just then.

There had been a hesitancy within Vincent an hour ago. He wasn't certain if he should risk the coming here, at this time, at all, either. The physical risk, yes, was there. Since the hour was still early he had to consider the possibility of being spotted in the half light. But any later and little Jacob would have been long sound asleep. And this was one time that the little boy really needed to accompany his father.

Being truthful with himself, Vincent acknowledged the other risks which nearly kept him from his journey - the risks to his heart and soul, the risks to his peace of mind.

He had to come, tonight, though.

Jacob cuddled closer to his father's powerful body. Beneath his hooded cloak, the child was safe and protected, his little cheek sheltered on Vincent's shoulder, warmed by the soft locks of his long hair. Holding the child close to him had always filled Vincent with hope.

Their destination was soon within sight. Jacob knew it, and with his indecipherable ability to understand his father's heart, the little boy realized the powerful forces at work within him on this journey: Something about the place made his father's heart ache, deeply. Jacob could feel it shuddering in his own sweet young spirit.

Keeping to the shadows and trees, Vincent realized his steps had become slower, more measured. It was still so difficult to reach his destination, even now, acknowledge its actual existence and what it all meant.

But, the nightmare had been real. Its horrific shadows did not disappear from his life with the coming of the dawn. He had been swept away with it, crushed by it all, powerless to defend himself.

And powerless to defend the woman he had loved.

A simple granite marker. A name. A date. The end of his night's journey.

Vincent stood for a long moment, silently. Jacob lifted his head from his father's shoulder. The movement sent the hood of Vincent's cloak easing down off his head. The pale moonlight glinted off a tear just then trailing down features that would have been familiar in a misty fairyland somewhere between ancient legend and mythic tales. The little boy reached his hand out to the tear with tender care. His touch brought his father back from the far-off reaches of his soul. Vincent took the little hand in his and kissed it softly. Then he leaned slowly down and set the child on the ground before him.

Jacob took several steps away from his father, from his protective reach, and ventured up to the stone marker before him. In his hand was a small bunch of roses - red ones and white ones - not the expensive florist blooms that always seemed to lack fragrance, but small blossoms obviously picked from off a home-grown bush, a mystery themselves at this time of year. Their scent was sweet and distant, like a memory.

Vincent watched quietly as his little son set the flowers carefully into a small granite vase before the monument. Reaching out then, he rubbed his hand, slowly, over the letters carved into the marker. Somehow, even in the chill night air, the stone beneath his small hand felt warm. Like a memory. Then the child turned and ran back to his father.

Coming down to his knees on the ground, Vincent drew the little boy close to him easily, wrapping him carefully into his own cloak again. He remained there on the ground, on his knees, sheltering his child, preparing for the onslaught of memories which he knew would not be denied.

 

He had watched her plant that rosebush one evening on her terrace. She had been so happily occupied in her work that he didn't want to disturb her. Instead, he simply studied her from the shadows, something he found pleasure in doing more often than he would ever have the courage to admit to her.

He watched how her hair slipped down into her face, like a little girl's, how carefully she had examined the plant, pruned it, imagining it in full bloom, until she had caught her hand on an unexpected thorn.

Her distress had called him out to her. As it always did. And when he realized her hand was bleeding, without a second thought, he had leaned his head down to it, caught it to his lips, and kissed it.

Suddenly shocked at his own unfettered actions, he had turned away from her then in guilty shame, but she had eased his gaze back to her with a reassuring touch - and a look of tender wonder.

Then there was a knock at her door. She had asked him to remain, but he had used the excuse to leave her, to flee from her actually. For, if the knock had not broken in on them at just that instant...

But, the moment had been lost. So many moments had been lost. Mercifully so. Moments that hinted at promise and hope and possibility. Never touched.

The rosebush had been left to languish, parched, without care, after her death.

Only to be resurrected by another's hand - gentle, patient, daring to imagine. The rosebush came back to life. As did his own soul.

That was what he needed to say to Catherine tonight, why he needed to risk coming, with Jacob. He had been left to languish in agony after her loss, alone in the memories, lost in the unfulfilled promises and dreams, his heart crushed to dust with no hope left to cling to, no one left to dream with, only the needs of a newborn child holding him to life against his will.

Until another's hand had dared to touch his anguished soul.

Vincent caught little Jacob up into his arms again, as he came to his feet. The boy was close to falling asleep. Just as his young son had done, Vincent reached a hand down to the letters of the name on the stone, with tender remembrance.

"Thank you, Catherine," he whispered softly, the words still caressing her name. "For your love. For opening the world up to me. For daring to believe in me. Thank you for our son. I would never have survived without him. Thank you for coming into my life and giving me hope.

"And thank you for helping me let go."

 

Six cardboard boxes, a suitcase, and a handbag: All that was necessary to pack up the essentials of her life. Was it a sign of personal strength or insignificance, this lack of concrete worth?

Diana sat on the bed of the guest chamber and took stock of the important things in her life that were now traveling to a new world with her - books, photo albums. Her scruffy "Bingo" dog, the little stuffed animal her Dad had bought her when she was two - now worn and limp, but no less loved for the memories.

The dried bouquet from her sister's wedding that she had caught. Next in line: That had been eight years ago and Maureen had despaired of ever seeing her wed. Till tomorrow. And Diana couldn't even tell her. Her little niece Alex was six. Perfect age for a flower girl. Maybe someday she could share all this with them. Would they believe it? Did even she?

Fighting back the deluge of emotions converging within her, Diana gathered her courage back together. That was the problem. The things weren't important . The feelings, the people left behind: those were the ones that could cause the heart aches.

Grandma Annie's teapot and cup had come down with her, along with the gentle childhood memories of growing up bathed in a marvelous, strong, fairy-sighted love. And her father's Medal of Valor, the flag that had draped his coffin. He'd been so proud of her the day she graduated from the Police Academy. "Imagine that, my youngest daughter following in my footsteps - a cop!" Timothy Bennett had said to her with a kind laugh and a wink. She missed him so very much. Even now.

Especially now. No one to walk her down the aisle tomorrow. For that matter, no aisle no Father Callahan no mother's tears as she started to get dressed. Who would have thought that gentle lady would also have been lost to her so quickly, too? The doctors had said, cancer, but Diana knew the truth. Maggie Bennett had died of a broken heart, one that didn't want to keep beating without the love of her life. . .

. . . This wasn't helping any.

Diana got up from the bed and walked over to the center of the room. She slowly turned round and took in the many details of the place, the antique furniture, the massive strength of the stone walls glowing in the candlelight: This would be home now, these would be familiar things soon enough.

The warmth of the candles was no less beautiful than the warmth of the sunshine in her loft at early morning. And she could go Above, into that sunshine, whenever she felt the need to. Most importantly, this world Below was his world, Vincent's world. After tomorrow it would be their world.

"May I come in?" Mary's kind voice sounded at the entrance to the chamber. Diana's heart warmed once again. Mary had been a very special part of this new life for her, over the past three years - friend, confidant, surrogate mother, kindred spirit despite the differences in their ages. She just seemed to sense when Diana was in need of support. Like now.

"Come on in, Mary," Diana responded with a smile of relief.

"I thought you might like a cup of tea." The older woman set down a tray onto the small table that sat next to the wall with a practiced hand. Many ills had been soothed over a cup of tea, she knew.

"To tell you the truth, I was hoping for a little company just now." Diana took the offered cup and sat next to Mary at the small table.

"Are you anxious about tomorrow, dear?" Mary asked in gentle concern, reading the uncertainty in the younger woman's face.

"A little, I guess." Diana took a sip of tea, trying to sort out the clashing elements of her spirit.

"I know how difficult this must be for you, Diana. A woman dreams of sharing such a special and happy day with her family, those closest to her heart." With a knowing look Mary reached her hand out to Diana's, covering it.

The younger woman's deep green eyes glistened, threatening to betray her hard-won control. She merely nodded her head. It was all she could trust herself to do.

Mary understood the turmoil that lay just beneath the calm, almost fragile features. What a treasure this russet-haired young woman was, the answer to so many prayers, fierce in her beliefs and hopes, yet still so poignantly uncertain of her own place.

"We all know what this is costing you, Diana. We wanted to do something to show you that you are very special to us. We want you to feel like you have family here with us, too."

Looking into the woman's face, Diana could read the care and support there. It was a mother's gentle face, gazing kindly upon her when she could have no other's. Wasn't that what she herself had become to little Jacob? Another mother, someone to be there, when only a mother's love could possibly help.

If felt so good to be caught in Mary's tender, reassuring embrace. When Diana knew she could count on her own strength again, she lifted her head from the older woman's shoulder.

A sweet, breathless voice announced Samantha's presence at the chamber entrance. "Could we come in, too, Diana?"

Smiling, and at last feeling it within herself, Diana motioned the girl into the room. To her surprise, Samantha was followed quietly by Rebecca and Laura. Then Olivia, Brooke, and Jamie. A half dozen of the other women and girls from the community also stepped into the room and stood around its perimeter. Each was carrying some type of bundle or box.

"What's all this?" the amber-haired young woman asked in bright surprise, gazing around the room at the warm faces of her unexpected guests. She turned back to Mary, a question mirrored in her manner.

"You didn't think we'd let a new bride get married without a proper shower, did you?"

"For me?"

"Well, who else?" replied the elder woman with gentle humor.

Everyone in the room laughed and Diana soon found herself enveloped by the radiant good wishes each woman was happy to share with her. They seated her on the bed with Mary at her side, and one by one offered her their treasures, from the heart:

Rebecca's bundle, tied with a rescued satin bow, was a dozen candles she had just made, fragrant and hand-dipped. Brooke and Laura set two fine china teacups before Diana on the bed table. Olivia unwrapped a beautiful crocheted table cloth and Samantha added a patchwork table runner, "For every day."

One by one, each of the women presented the bride-to-be with a gift she had obviously spent a great deal of time and effort in preparing for her, simple things that constituted the necessities of life in the unique world that was their home - lavender scented soap made by hand, a pair of nearly new bath towels graced with cross-stitching, a personal canister of tea and cocoa.

But just as precious as the unobtrusive treasures offered were the gifts of friendship, acceptance and genuine joy that spoke to an extraordinary heart. Diana may have been unable to share a precious milestone with her actual family members, but she knew that tomorrow she would be surrounded by those who would welcome her into their community with open hearts and arms.

"This is something special for you, Diana." Mary smiled as she handed her a final flat square box wrapped in plain tissue paper. A length of white ribbon was tied around it into a soft bow.

Diana took the box into her hands slowly. Rebecca, Olivia, Samantha, and all the women who had opened their hearts to her with such generosity these past three years, joined into a small semi circle around Mary and her. The gentle, supportive warmth that radiated out from them all touched Diana's heart. She carefully pulled on the ribbon and removed the unpretentious wrapping.

Inside the box was a gown, a night gown, made of fine creamy white linen, a luxury in the unflourished lifestyle of the Underworld. Diana knew at once that the garment was the collective handiwork of all those women there standing round her with quiet and eager anticipation. It was typical of the spirit of the place she would now be calling home.

Almost hesitantly, she touched her hand to the gown's bodice, lined with tiny pintucks, carefully stitched with someone's patient expertise. Gentle watercolored sprigs of small flowers were embroidered in several places between the tucks. Antique cluny lace rimmed a simple collar and tiny mother of pearl buttons ran down the front to the waist. A full sweep of skirt and more lace on the hem and sleeve cuffs completed the gown.

Diana could only hold it gently in her hands for a long moment, without words.

"We all worked on it, " Mary explained, holding Diana's melting heart with her eyes.

"It's Irish linen. We thought you might like that, " said Brooke with a smile.

Even Jamie, who usually had little use for more feminine attire, had to speak. "You will look beautiful in it, Diana."

"I don't know what to say." Diana finally managed to find her voice.

"Hopefully you'll strike Vincent speechless in it as well tomorrow night." Rebecca's totally honest comment had all the women laughing in an instant.

"It is exquisite," Diana responded, a sudden shimmering warmth touching her spirit. "Thank you. Thank you all. For everything." With genuine affection, then, and truly feeling so close to all those present, she hugged and kissed each of the women easily.

Mary took her hands into her own. "We couldn't be happier for you, Diana, or for Vincent and Jacob."

The sincerity in the kindly woman's voice caught a lump in Diana's throat.

Olivia smiled and nodded, holding Diana in a gentle hug as well. "You've brought us all hope."

A few moments latter Diana found herself alone in the room again. But she was far from lonely or anxious now. Olivia's final word held her thoughts.

Hope.

That word had carried dozens of different meanings to her the past three years. It was a word filled with life and possibilities. It was the welcoming smiles on the faces of the women who had just left her. It was a shy little hand tucking itself into hers. It was the strength and courage of an extraordinary man, his shattered soul, resting itself finally beside hers.

Still, there had been so many hopeless moments for her along the way. At first, the despair of ever triumphing over the hellish evil that had gripped them all so mercilessly. Then the hopelessness of remembrance - of a heart so rent by grief that Diana never dared believe there could be even the tiniest breath of love and acknowledgment within it for her.

But along with the desolation, there had somehow managed always to be just the whisper of hope: a moment of shared joy, a word of shared dreams, a touch of shared need.

A touch... accidental, offered without forethought, heaven's own mercy:

 

They had been speaking about the unexpected intertwining of their lives, the anguishing set of circumstances that had caused their paths to cross. Always, in Vincent's voice, a laboring grief. How could there have been anything else?

And then the question... Why? Why had she helped him? Why had she risked so much for him?

There was no answer to be found. Only the depths of a feeling, a - rightness - that could not be described. She could not manage to put it into words, stumbling through an explanation she wasn't certain he would ever be ready to accept. Still, he had understood, somehow.

"Jacob was not my only blessing," Vincent had quietly revealed. His pained gaze rested on the promising little face of his infant son, lying in his cradle.

She knew what he was truly saying: Catherine had been his first blessing, the bright light of her love the very source of his hope in life.

Diana had managed to bring her eyes up to meet Vincent's. "You're thinking of Catherine," she had found the strength to say.

"Always," he had breathed, the word so shadowed with remembrance and pain. Diana knew it could only be so. What could she ever possibly hope for?

But then Vincent had unexpectedly let her catch a glimpse of his heart. He had held her eyes at that moment, with his own piercing blue ones. There was a truth she could read there within them that held her soul, took her breath away. Then words she never dared expect: "And I am thinking of you."

Diana had felt the tears rising within her battered spirit. What was she reading into that response? Beyond the gratitude it surely was meant to simply convey? She didn't even belong there. It wasn't her place, could never be her place, standing beside him and offering him the solace of her care. No matter what her heart ached for, it could never be hers. The sooner she reconciled herself to that fact, the easier it was going to be for her to survive the tormenting wonder that was loving him.

Still, she dared hope. Even though she knew the miracle of his love would not be within reach for a wrenching eternity. Not until his heart could be healed. Not until Vincent could look upon her with the same tender hope, unafraid.

Yet, the distant promise had been remarkably offered, if she could believe her own innermost sense of self, that had clung to it instantly in recognition. Was she strong enough to carry it within her, in patient, anguished silence? Could she survive on it, through the pain and uncertainty ahead? And there would be pain and uncertainly, surely, and guilt, fear and tears. Would it be worth the cost of her security and serenity?

Yes, it had to be so. If she could only hold on to the hope, believe in it, and manage to courageously offer it back to Vincent as well.

Diana ached to bring him close, acknowledge all the pain and tragic loss that had become his life, shelter him in her love. But she had to look away for fear her own tears would be shed. To cause him more desperation. So she brought her attention down to the baby in the cradle before her. He kicked and reached his little arms out, ready to embrace life and the world around him.

A tender need rose within her as she held the child in her gaze. She could at least offer that little soul a touch of her own, without guilt. She longed to. And she dared ask.

"Could I hold him?" she had managed to ask Vincent, her voice catching in her throat with the emotion she battled to still.

He hadn't hesitated. He had leaned his powerful body tenderly over the cradle and carefully, gently, gathered up his little son into his embrace. Diana found herself thinking that there could have been no more beautiful portrait of loving care than the one before her at that moment, father and son.

Softly, then, Vincent had set little Jacob into her awaiting arms, as he would entrust a priceless treasure to its trusted guardian. Their hands had touched - clasped actually - his unearthly one releasing the weight of the child, her trembling, slender one accepting it easily. The touch - the promise of hope.

It had given her the courage to hold Vincent's soul-baring eyes, and read within them gratitude, pride, sorrow, and a heartbreaking need that drew her irresistibly to her fate

 

Diana looked down at her watch. It was almost midnight. That was one thing that was going to take some getting used to down here. With the sky visible only in the Mirror Pool and in the filtered light of the River Chasm, her experience of time was drastically altered in the Underground. It seemed ever to hover in an undefined, misty, suspension.

In a moment she was walking down a corridor that was already familiar to her - the one heading to Father's chamber and the Inner Circle. Vincent could be found as often in his father's company as in his own solitude.

The thought of the two men together made Diana smile easily to herself. They shared such a nurturing bond, parent and child, even as one man was reaching the later years of his life and the other was himself a man with a son of his own. Both had survived hardship, loss and pain. Both drew strength from each other even at this point in their lives. And both had opened their hearts to her, in quiet communion.

The refined and distinguished leader of the Underworld community set his glasses down onto the medical journal he was reading the moment he saw Diana come into the chamber entrance. A gentle smile warmed his kind face instantly. Father never ceased to be amazed at how alike this young woman was to his son. She shared a strength of spirit, a nobility and passion for truth with his son that was truly remarkable. Catherine may have been Vincent's ideal. Diana was his equal.

"Come in, my dear. Are you still awake? You'll never survive tomorrow without a proper night's rest." Father gestured her into the chair beside him.

"Vincent wasn't in his chamber. I wanted to say 'good night'."

Thinking a moment on what his response should be, the older man toyed with his glasses. His natural instinct was to defend his son in all things. Yet, he had come to love Diana deeply as well and wished to spare her any pain he could.

"He's gone Above with Jacob for a short time. They should be returning soon." Truthful and non-committal.

But Diana read the concern in his careworn face immediately. And her heart warmed at all it meant and offered.

"Don't worry, Father. I know he went Above to be with Catherine tonight. He needed to."

Father reached across the books on his table to the gentle hand resting there and took it carefully in his. "Diana, you have a capacity for generosity in your love that I've found in only one other person. And that is Vincent himself."

It wasn't difficult to understand Father's observation and Diana acknowledged it gratefully.

Yes, she could easily have felt pained, even threatened. On the night before her wedding the man she was pledging her life to was Above, visiting the grave of his first true love, the mother of his child.

There was a time, Diana confessed honestly to herself, when such an act would have given her soul pause. Even now, the thought was still somewhere in the back of her mind - unacknowledged - but still present. How could it not be? Tomorrow the Underground would be filled with so many expectant people. They had long been waiting for a reason to rejoice with Vincent, to see him happily begin a new life in hope.

But would they be waiting there to welcome her into their community, their family, or was it really someone else they longed to embrace? Would Vincent see her face, take her hand in his, or would his heart still ache for another - for Catherine? Would she find herself awakening from what had been only a dream, to a life of destined solitude, the deepest part of her heart untouched by the only man she could ever open it to? Dare she believe the reality was truly her own?

Yes. Because she was secure in the love that she shared with Vincent. They'd braved the guilt and fear and pain together, daring at last to see past it all to the truth of the hope they could share, the truth of their love. She wouldn't think of keeping him tonight from a very real need to complete his life with Catherine. For once it was completed, he could allow his heart to freely move on. To her.

"I'm giving Vincent nothing more than what he has offered to me."

"Oh, Diana. I know what you are giving Vincent. And what it is causing you to sacrifice." Father looked deeply into the gentle, ethereal beauty of the young woman's face, and that suspension of time became suddenly so evident in the room. Because, though he was speaking of Vincent and Diana's experiences of love, his own heart was reliving his.

"Loving Catherine gave Vincent a wondrous dream to hope for. Losing her meant losing that dream as well, losing promise, losing possibility.

"But you've brought him back to that promise, that hope. With a love that has been quiet, patient, courageous even in the face of fear. A love that has cost you your own dreams and hopes, your whole world.

"Most of us are lucky if we ever can find one soul with which to share our deepest selves, one love to carry within our heart of hearts. You've made it possible for Vincent to experience such wonder again. You've given him back his sense of joy and belonging in his own world. You've let him love you."

"I'm the lucky one in that, Father, truly. I have a new set of dreams and possibilities because of him. And because of all of you." Diana got to her feet then, and came over to Father's side. She gave him a gentle embrace that carried within it all the gratitude she felt in her heart. When she looked into his eyes she recognized a light that she long thought lost to her: the light of a father's encompassing care.

A steady, healing hand brushed over her burnished hair. "God bless you, dear child," the physician said quietly.

 

She caught sight of Vincent as he slowly came walking the corridor back to his chamber. No matter how many times she had seen him in his world in the past three years, she found herself thinking the same thoughts: even in her innermost imagining, she could never have dreamed of such a man, in such a place, carrying such a love within himself for her, finally for her. Somewhere in her childhood, between her dear grandmother's fairy tales and the tender musings of her own extraordinary soul, she had perhaps just hinted at the possibility of such a reality, but it had only ever been the romanticized fantasies of a child.

The reality stood before her approaching.

With each step he took towards her, Vincent's leather and wool cloak swept rhythmically along his formidable body. He never went anywhere without that heavy garment, for the compassionless city Above them forced the need for him to shield his image from frightened, judgmental eyes. But at that moment, Diana thought that the very garment that was meant to conceal his form, diminish his dignity, only served to accentuate the power and mystery about him.

Vincent had always worn his thick hair long and flowing, to help him shield his face, she knew. Yet, those distinctive golden amber locks did little more than call attention to his extraordinary arresting blue eyes, the very mirrors, in truth, to his soul.

And the extra length and lacings on his sleeves were supposed to conceal his arms and hands. Yet, those powerful, unimaginable hands now cradled a sleeping child with so much tenderness it took Diana's breath away.

And that was only the reality of his physical power. The strength of his soul, the tenderness of his spirit, the scope of his mind, could never easily be concealed. Especially not from Diana. No, their revelation to her were truly a blessing heaven had already brought into her life.

Diana easily reached up to Vincent's shoulder and gently lifted Jacob from under the cloak. The little boy came awake a moment with the movement. Catching sight of the lovely, cherished face, he smiled an instant, and then nestled his head against her body serenely. From his father's shoulder to her breast: Jacob knew the protection and solace offered him would never be broken or denied.

Vincent whispered softly in tones that never failed to stir her heart. "I'm afraid I've kept him out too long tonight. I'm sorry."

"Don't be. The two of you needed to go." Diana turned to head towards Vincent's chamber. He let her lead the way. He'd been doing that more and more often lately, relying on her strength, trusting in her judgment. Her power was undeniable, even if it was shielded by a mystic grace from somewhere long ago. She was one of those mythical spirits of legend in her own right - beauty masking wisdom and honor.

But still in need, at times, of encouragement and support.

"Did you enjoy your evening with Mary and the other women?"

Diana stopped and turned to look at him in surprise. The powerful figure was momentarily hesitant. There was a true need within him, just then she saw, to know that she had been pleased, that her transition had been made a bit more comfortable.

"You knew all about it?" she asked.

"Mary approached me with the idea several weeks ago. But she wasn't certain if the gesture would be helpful to you or not. She didn't want to remind you of those you may have left behind, friends and family you might have wished to share these moments with."

An uncertainty hung in the air, innocently, between them, as Vincent hoped the gathering he had approved had not caused her more pain. The brightness in her eyes reassured him immediately.

"Oh Vincent, being with everyone tonight brought me only joy and comfort. It was a wonderful gift." A relieved tenderness in that face beyond description reached out to her in humble gratitude.

"I'm glad you were pleased."

She had to ask him what was in her heart at the moment, to be certain as well. "Have you found comfort tonight, Vincent?"

He thought her eyes searched his deeply for a moment longer than would have been considered necessary for the question. Yet, he could answer her truthfully, as she deserved. "I am at peace, Diana." And he took her hand into his.

An unexpected relief swept through the usually well-controlled outlets of her own spirit. Diana smiled genuinely, from the heart, then let herself be occupied with the child in her arms. They had reached Vincent's chamber.

As she had done dozens of times before, the gentle-hearted young woman set about making little Jacob comfortable in his crib. Caring for the little boy, giving herself to him in the myriad occasions necessary during the day, was the second sweet gift this new life of hers had presented Diana. That, and sharing those moments with Vincent at her side, opening her heart and soul to him, and knowing he would understand them.

Vincent slipped his cloak off easily and set it on the chair near the table in the center of the room. He found that he was softly carried by the moment: Diana cuddling Jacob, carefully pulling the covers up over him, letting her hand brush lightly over his sweet cheek. The picture was one of gentle love, miraculous. For the three of them. There had been no question in his mind about it when he'd first recognized that love. He'd denied it to himself long enough, but the heart has its own paths to follow, whether one is willing to believe and hope or not. Love seeks its own fulfillment. Even in the midst of pain.


Continued in Chapter 2