CHAPTER FOURTEEN


Catherine woke with a start in the wee hours of the morning, drenched with sweat. She'd been dreaming of Nicholas and over the harsh sound of her own breathing, she could still hear his high-pitched screams as the small bones in his fingers were broken, one by one.

Too shaken to return to sleep, she got up and wandered to the window, where slanting bars of moonlight came in through the half-open blinds. Beyond the wide pane of bullet-resistant glass was the city, brilliant with light even at this late hour. She pulled the blinds aside and leaned her cheek against the cool glass.

Malek's tale had reminded her of the horrors waiting on the other side of that glass, and the dream had merely reinforced what she'd already known; Nicholas must never be allowed to fall into Gabriel's hands.

He might not want to cause Nicholas actual physical harm, but what he might do to Nicholas's quick mind and bright spirit could easily be worse.

The case against Gabriel Vandt had dragged along for nearly three months; now, with John Moreno's testimony, a grand jury quickly found enough evidence to bring him to trial. Catherine was glad there was movement in the case, even while she was dispirited that she hadn't been called to testify. She understood her role as a minor witness, but inaction was frustrating.

The trial date set was five months away. The time loomed before her as a vast, empty space she would have to work hard to fill. She wondered if the ordeal would ever end.

Time passed slowly, but it did pass. Catherine clung doggedly to her routine and after six months in the facility, felt sure it was only the routine and the letters from home that kept her sane.

She returned from the library one afternoon to find a small, rectangular package propped against her door. She recognized the shape instantly from her months working in Rick Stearns' video store in Washington. A videotape. But who would send her one, and why?

Her name on the outside was in a hand that might have been familiar, but which surely wasn't Vincent's. The tape inside the brown paper wrapping was unlabeled. Trepidation rose, but she pushed it firmly away. What could possibly be in a video tape that could harm her?

Still, she hefted it in her hand for a long minute before finally stuffing it into the slot on the VCR and turning on the TV.

Lines of snow and static filled the screen, then vanished as a bobbing, wavery picture popped up. Someone's living room, she thought, noting the furniture in the background. Someone's child.

The child lifted his head. "Look, Daddy," he said clearly, and Catherine's heart skipped a beat. Nicholas! Taller, as everyone had told her, with shaggy hair to his shoulders. His face was thinner, too, his cheekbones more defined. He looked beautiful.

"Look, Daddy," he said again. "Look at me."

Look at me. How often had she heard him demand that of her? His request now was more polite, but still bore a trace of imperiousness that expected to be obeyed.

"I'm watching, Nicholas." The voice came from off-camera, slightly distorted by the camera's microphone, but still beautifully recognizable.

Nicholas had something in his hands; he held it up, but she couldn't make out what it was. "Look," he said yet again, and released whatever he was holding. It spun violently in his hands and made a rude-sounding noise. He laughed.

Some kind of wind-up toy, she thought. He'd found out that if he released the key while holding the toy, rather than putting it down so the mechanism had resistance, it would unwind with a delightful racket.

"Before you wind it again, Nicholas," Vincent's voice said, sounding unruffled and wonderfully patient, "perhaps you could sing the song you've just learned."

Nicholas's expression brightened with the suggestion and the camera's operator - Peter Alcott, she guessed, having recognized the background as his Gramercy Park townhouse's living room - zoomed in so that Nicholas's head and shoulders filled the screen.

Nicholas pulled himself up in an exaggerated display of good posture and took a deep breath. "'Twinkle, twinkle, little star,'" he sang, with more enthusiasm than melody. "'How I wonder what you are,'"

Her eyes filled as he spent the next ten minutes showing off happily for the camera. For her. He was so beautiful, and he'd changed so much. Not just his appearance. His speech was clearer, and he used words he hadn't known before and put them into more complex sentences. He was more graceful when he moved. His eyes, she noted through a haze of tears, were bluer than ever.

"Nicholas." Vincent's voice sounded suddenly solemn. "Can you say hello to the camera?"

Nicholas glanced toward the lens. "Hello," he repeated dutifully, and his gaze strayed to the right of the screen. "Why am I saying 'hello'?" he asked, suddenly curious. "Why is Peter taking my picture?"

"It's a present," Vincent said.

"Oh." Nicholas frowned. "My picture is a present?"

"Yes," Vincent told him. "For someone who loves you very much."

An odd expression flitted across Nicholas's face. "I'm tired, Daddy," he said. "I don't want to do this anymore." He turned away from the lens.

"Nicholas..." That was Peter's voice, pleading. "Please don't..."

"It's no use, Peter," Vincent, still off-camera, said gently. The picture went black.

Though it tore at her heart to do so, Catherine watched the tape over and over, until she'd memorized everything about the way the planes of Nicholas's face changed when he moved his head, and the way the light shone on his hair. She learned the inflection of his voice and the cadence of his speech. Then she watched again and listened to her son's father, absorbing every nuance of meaning inherent in the rich voice.

The fleeting expression on Nicholas's face near the end remained unreadable, but she suspected he'd figured out the tape was for her. His reaction saddened her, but it didn't keep her from rewinding the tape to watch it yet again.

Finally, when she thought the tape might well be close to wearing out from the number of times she'd played it, she pushed the machine's 'record' button, and sat with tears running down her cheeks as she erased the precious footage.

Her voice was still choked from crying when she picked up the phone and dialled.

"Hi, Joe," she said, when he answered. "It's me."

"Are you okay?" he asked, alarmed.

"Yeah. Kind of."

"You need me to come over?" he offered. "I can be there in twenty minutes."

"Thanks, Joe, but no," she told him. "I really am okay. But I need to get a message to someone."

Bless him, he understood immediately. "Sure. What is it?"

"Tell him I got the tape... and ask him not to send any more."

"Got the tape... don't send any more. Got it." There was a small pause. "Why? What was wrong with it?"

"Nothing. I watched it over and over. But it's too dangerous. What if it fell into the wrong hands? They might learn what he looks like..."

"Oh," Joe said, sounding stupefied. "Of course. We never thought of that."

"'We'?" she asked. "You were in on it?"

"My brother's video camera," Joe said. "Our mutual friend" - that must be Peter - "asked if I thought you'd like a tape of your little boy. I never thought..."

"Don't apologize, Joe," she said quickly. "I'm so glad I saw it. He's changed so much, I hardly knew him. But we can't risk it again."

"You're right," he agreed. "I'll tell them. Goodbye." He was careful, she noticed gratefully, not to use her name.

"Goodbye."

The tape roused all her fears; for herself, for Nicholas, even for the peaceful world that lay beneath the city. She was protected here, but they were so vulnerable. Safety for them lay in secrecy, and even so innocuous a thing as a videotape, a voice, might give them away. Even the letters she received were risky.

Her sleep that night was restless, filled with wild, anxious dreams. She rose early the next morning, glad to leave the terrors of sleep behind. Taut nerves and insufficient rest made her irritable and twitchy, and she was tempted to abandon her usual routine. But even back in the days with the D.A., she'd known exercise was a good release for stress.

Mike was late getting to the gym. She waited, stretching and doing some light aerobics work, but finally she went out to look for him.

"Hey, Doug," she called as she neared the guard station near the elevator.

"Morning, Cathy," the burly guard greeted. "You need something?"

"Mike," she answered succinctly. "It's past time for our workout."

The change in Doug's expression was subtle, but she picked up on it instantly.

"What?" she demanded. "What is it?"

"Mike's been transferred," he said.

"Transferred?" she asked, a bit wildly. "Where? Why?"

"I don't know. Just transferred."

Dread gripped her. "There's more. Isn't there?"

"Look, Cathy, you should be talking to someone else about this. Not me."

"There is something else," she breathed. "Is he dead?"

"Not that I know of," Doug answered quickly. "I really can't say anything."

"I want to talk to Arlen."

"You bet," Doug said, looking relieved and reaching for the phone. "I'll get her."

Despite its being Saturday, Arlen arrived promptly. Catherine turned from pacing the length of the hallway to confront her.

"Where's Mike?" she demanded.

"He's fine," Arlen assured her. "Let's go sit down somewhere, shall we?"

Catherine didn't like the sound of that, but Arlen's expression, firm and impassive, clearly indicated she wasn't saying more until they'd followed her suggestion. Reluctantly Catherine led the way to her room and closed the door behind them.

Arlen pulled out the desk chair. Catherine perched uneasily on the side of the bed and waited.

"Mike was approached," Arlen said flatly, with no preamble. "You were the target."

The back of her neck went cold. "Dear God."

"It's all right," Arlen said. "Mike reported the incident last night; he's already been removed to a safe place."

"Oh, no," Catherine murmured, her concern for herself overshadowed by what was happening to Mike. "What about his family?"

"He has none," Arlen said, looking surprised. "None of the guards here do. It's safer."

Catherine's gaze flicked to the dried flower arrangement on her desk. She could still hear the smile in Mike's voice as he presented it to her. "My mom made it," he'd said clearly.

"His mother..." Catherine faltered.

"Mike's mother died a little over a year ago," Arlen said. "That's when he became qualified to work on this level. People without close attachments are harder to suborn; no leverage."

Catherine understood that instantly; it was the basis of her own deepseated dread that never went away. "What will happen to Mike now?"

"He'll be relocated."

"New identity?"

Arlen nodded.

The weight of Mike's sacrifice bore down on her. "Can I write to him?" she asked. "Before he's placed somewhere?"

Arlen looked surprised. "Of course," she agreed. "But why?"

"Because he was my friend," Catherine whispered. "And because I'm sorry."

Arlen stood up. "I'll be glad to take a letter for you, Cathy," she said gently. "I'm sure Mike values your friendship, too. But I want you to know it isn't your fault. Mike knew the risks when he accepted this assignment, and if anyone's to blame, it's the people who approached him. Remember that."

"I'll try."

Arlen pressed her hand and left; Catherine had started to swing the door closed when Malek came out of his room.

"Arlen wasn't here to deliver mail," he said. "Something's wrong."

Catherine didn't bother to wonder how he knew; the facility grapevine was notorious. She nodded. "It's Mike. He's been transferred."

Something in her face must have shown her distress; his expression softened. "I am sorry. I know he was your friend. I cared for him, too."

She tried to smile. "I know. We all did." The smile faltered and she fought back tears.

Malek's compassion turned to alarm. He took her arm and helped her inside, settling her on the edge of the bed and bending over her solicitously. "Shall I get you some tea?"

She caught at his arm. "No. Please, Malek, don't go. Just stay with me."

He looked faintly surprised, but acquiesced quickly. "Of course." He reached for the single chair.

"Wait. First... could you lock the door?"

The surprise was unmistakable this time, but he crossed the room without question and secured the door before coming back and taking his place across from her. "I am here," he announced.

Haltingly, fighting tears, she told him the whole story behind Mike's transfer. "I'm so scared," she finished. "What if it happens again? What if, next time, the guard doesn't know me as well as Mike did? Isn't my friend?"

"And accepts the bribe?" Malek asked.

She nodded and held out her hands. "Look. I'm shaking."

"A brush with death is not a pleasant thing," Malek observed. "What would be odd is if you did not react in this way."

"I feel so badly about Mike, too," she confessed. "So guilty. Even though Arlen told me not to."

"Arlen is right," Malek said. "Mike knew the risks. He understood, and still he wished to become a guard. For him, there was a choice. He is less a victim than you or I."

She looked at him. "I didn't think of it that way."

"They'll find a safe place for him, Cathy. Doing work he enjoys. We will miss him, but he will find new friends. He will be happy in his new life."

She smiled faintly. "I suppose."

"I am right," Malek said, with conviction.

She laughed, sadly. "You're good at this," she said. "You should have Arlen's job."

He shook his head. "I will not be here long enough."

"You...?"

"My cousin's trial. It begins next week, and I am told I will be called to testify very quickly."

"Oh, Malek. Are you worried?"

"I do not look forward to facing my cousin," he said. "I do not wish to be in the same room with that man ever again, unless it is just he and I. Then I will kill him."

"You're a gentle man," she objected.

"I am a gentle man," he agreed, "who cannot forget what happened to my son. An innocent child."

"I know. But the courts will take care of him for you."

"I know this. I will do my part to make it happen the way it should."

"It will," she promised. "I'm sure of it." She tried to smile. "Then what happens? Where will you go?"

"To my own country," he answered. "I will see my father, my brothers. My wife and my daughters will be there."

"Will it be safe?" she asked, worried despite herself.

He smiled faintly. "Possibly not. But my father will do what he can to make it safe for a few days. Then I and my wife and daughters will disappear."

"Will your father know where you are?"

"It is he who is making the arrangements. Since I am leaving the U.S., the government here will not be responsible for me, although they have offered some assistance."

She nodded understanding. "I'm glad for you," she said. "I know how much you miss them." She forced a small laugh. "But you keep me sane in this place. What will I do when you're gone?"

He nodded toward his room across the hall. "You will befriend the poor soul who comes after me, as I was befriended by the man who had this room before you."

"Kind of a tradition, huh?"

He smiled. "One that benefits both parties."

"I'll try to be worthy of you, Malek," she promised. "I'll try to be as good a friend as you've been."

"You will, Cathy. I know you will."

Malek spent four days testifying. Catherine watched for his return each night. He was always too agitated to talk much, but having her nearby seemed to soothe him, so she made a point of slipping into his room to listen to his music, or to read while he paced the floor or scribbled brief, cryptic notes to himself.

And then, suddenly, it was over and Malek was gone. As she'd expected, things seemed emptier without him, and she avoided the open door to what was once his room.

"Cathy?"

The voice outside her locked door was Kelly Freemont's, and Catherine hurried to let her in.

Kelly had a dark leather garment bag slung over one shoulder. With a start, Catherine recognized it as her own. From before.

"Diandra said you had to have something to wear when the trial starts," Kelly announced. "I think Joe Maxwell took care of getting these for you."

Catherine carried the bag to the closet and unzipped it. Inside were a number of outfits - all her own. Suits, dresses, some skirts and blouses. In the bottom were shoes and purses, in the pockets were slips and pantyhose. Even some underwear. All hers. She unpacked the things slowly, wondering at the selections taken from her extensive wardrobe. Who'd have ever thought Joe had such a fine sense of fashion?

And then she came upon a note pinned to the lapel of a dark jacket.

My God, Cathy, it said, in handwriting she recognized instantly. I couldn't believe it when Joe told me. He says you're okay. That's true, isn't it? You are okay? And he says you can't answer me, either, so I don't know why I'm asking, except that I've been so worried about you! You've been in so many of my dreams, and you were always scared.

This is the best news I've heard in ages. I want to laugh and cry. I want to hug you and at the same time, I want to shake you for letting me worry so much.

Don't be mad at Joe for telling me. He didn't mean to. But when he asked me if I knew what boxes your clothes were stored in, I knew something was up. You knew Peter and I closed up your apartment? But all your things are safe. We made sure of that. Anyway, I could see right away he was sorry he'd mentioned it, and I badgered him until he told me everything. I went and got the clothes myself.

Joe says you're going to testify against that Vandt guy I've been reading about in the papers, and that you're the reason John Moreno resigned and was arrested. I can't believe it, except that if Joe says it, I know it's true.

He said I can't go to court to see you, either, because it would endanger us both. Endanger him, too. I want to come, Cathy. I want to see you. I guess I want to see for myself that you're okay. But I won't do anything foolish. I'll wait until it's all over, okay? And then you'll have to tell me everything about where you've been and what you've done.

And you'll have to tell me all about that terrific little boy I've been hearing about. You with a child and me married. Things change quickly, don't they? I can't wait to see you. Until then, be careful.

The note was signed, Love, Jenny.

So Jenny knew. Reading the note, Catherine had to suppress the sudden longing to call her just to hear her voice. But it was bad enough she'd endangered Joe that way. She wouldn't allow the danger to spread to Jenny.

She missed Malek even more than she'd expected, and that he left so soon after Mike made it worse. The loneliness of living alone on the west end of the building was oppressive; she had to work hard to keep her spirits up.

She read whatever the library had to offer, books, plays, and poetry. She wrote letters she couldn't send. She worked out every morning by herself. For a while, she went on a movie binge, borrowing videotapes from the library and watching them one after another.

But filling empty hours was demanding work, and there were times when the processed air of the sealed high-rise building threatened to stifle her. One night, the confinement of her room became more than she could bear. She needed movement, an outlet for the anxiety that plucked at her nerves.

She prowled the hallways with a reckless energy, peering into darkened doorways, pausing at the sound of guards and altering her course to avoid them.

It was a voice from behind that finally halted her restless pattern.

"Hey, Cathy."

She wasn't in the mood for interruptions, but she couldn't bring herself to be rude. She turned reluctantly to face Morris.

"How's it going?" he asked.

She lifted her hands in a small, helpless gesture. "Not so good right now," she admitted.

"Yeah. I've seen you go down this hall a half-dozen times this evening. Looking for something?"

"Peace of mind?" she suggested, only half kidding.

"Ah. Restless, huh?"

"Yes." She admitted it with reluctance. "I feel like I'll explode if I don't get a breath of fresh air."

"I know that feeling," he confirmed. "Makes you crazy?"

"That's one way of putting it." She bounced a little on her toes.

"I can fix that," he said.

She settled onto her heels in surprise. "You what?"

"I can get you outside." Her expression must have been vastly amusing, because he grinned.

"You can?" She had a vision of him smuggling her down in the elevator, though how he'd get her through the warren of offices and hallways to the other elevator on the thirty-fifth floor defied her imagination.

Morris's confident grin didn't falter. "You bet. Come with me."

Curious, she fell into step beside him.

At the guard station, he paused to snag a lined jacket from behind the desk. "You'll need this," he said. "It's chilly out."

She put the jacket over her arm, still wondering what he planned.

He took her to a heavily reinforced doorway. A monitor inset into the wall showed a small area at the base of a flight of steep concrete steps; it was empty. Morris punched a code on the numbered keypad above the door handle, waited for a confirming beep, and pushed the door open.

"Wait here," he said, and went through the opening. The door closed heavily behind him and she could hear the solid thunk of its locking mechanism slamming home.

She could see him now on the monitor as it scanned the area right outside the door, but the camera didn't follow as he climbed the stairs. Just before he disappeared from view, she noticed the gun in his hand.

Five minutes later he was back. The gun was holstered and his cautious air was gone. He paused outside, gave a cocky grin to the camera for her benefit, and let himself back in. "All clear," he said.

"What's clear?" She couldn't help the suspicion in her voice.

"The roof. Come on."

The roof. Fresh air, cold on her skin. The night sky. The stars.

She followed him eagerly. "We don't allow this often," he told her as they climbed the stairs. "We've never had funding to secure the roof properly. I mean, we can pretty much stop people from getting in, at least long enough to evacuate the floor, but there are no cameras up here. No motion sensors, no alarms."

That was all right with Catherine. She didn't relish the idea of being observed while she enjoyed a moment's freedom.

The narrow stairwell opened abruptly onto a tar and gravel roof, crowded with housings for heating and cooling systems, air vents, elevator shafts. A high parapet enclosed it on all four sides.

"Snipers can't see you," Morris pointed out. "A grenade launcher probably could get an explosive device up here, but first they'd have to have some way of knowing you were here. So we figure it's pretty safe, as long as we don't overdo it."

Catherine was too overcome with exhilaration to care. The evening was cool, as Morris had warned, and she shrugged into his jacket. Mingled scents of his aftershave and something that smelled like peppermint tickled her nose.

"I'll leave you," Morris said. "Come down and beat on the door when you're done. I'll let you in."

She nodded an absent acknowledgement.

"Don't be too long." He clattered down the stairs and she heard the thump as the door closed behind him.

She walked towards the edge. The parapet was too high to see over, but she had a view of the street from her window, anyway. She didn't need to see it now. What she needed was the night air, blowing damp and brisk against her face and smelling of rain. What she needed were the stars that peeked through the clouds.

Perhaps Vincent was out tonight, too. Maybe, even now, he stood on a nearby rooftop watching the same stars, feeling the same breeze ruffling his hair. If she shouted his name, she wondered if he might hear her.

She moved in a slow circle, absorbing the night, concentrating on appreciating the small measure of freedom, and trying not to long for more.

"Catherine."

She closed her eyes against the sudden tears. He was so close in this moment, she could imagine she heard his voice, calling her name.

"Catherine."

It was clearer this time, more tangible as it cut across the sharp breeze. She whirled.

He stood silently in the shadow of the parapet, his dark cloak making him all but invisible in the dim light.

"Vincent?" she whispered, hardly daring to believe he was there.

He pushed back his hood; starlight glinted on his hair. "Yes."

An instant later she was in his arms and he was crushing her to him as though he'd never stop. She never wanted him to stop.

"You're here," she gasped against his chest. "You're real."

"As real as you are," he agreed, and set her away from him to examine her face. "You look tired." He touched her cheek with the fingers of one hand.

She closed her eyes and tilted her head toward the caress. "Sometimes," she admitted. "Mostly I'm just lonely."

"I know. You try not to be."

Her eyes flew open in surprise. "You know that?"

"I can tell. It is a battle I must fight, as well."

"But you're here now." She clutched at his arm. "How's Nicky?"

"He is well. Kipper is with him."

"The tape you sent... he's getting so big."

"Yes. Mary and Sarah have a difficult time keeping him in clothes."

"He's done that to me, too. Grown out of things practically overnight." She sobered. "Is he still angry with me?"

If she hadn't known him so very well, she'd have missed the gleam of unease in his eyes. "He loves you, Catherine. You're his mother."

"But is he angry, Vincent? Please. I need to know."

He looked away. "He still refuses to speak your name. He told..." He broke off abruptly.

"What?" She pulled at his arm.

He hesitated for so long that she feared he wasn't going to answer.

"Please, Vincent."

He sighed and freed his arm to wrap it around her shoulders, bringing her close. "There is a new family below," he began, his voice half muffled in her hair. "Their son is Nicholas's age. I heard Nicholas telling Mark..." He stopped again. "Catherine, I don't think it will benefit you to hear this."

"Vincent, please! I have to know."

His arm around her tightened. "He told Mark he didn't have a mother. That there was only me."

His words seared through her like fire. "No," she heard herself say, very quietly, against his chest. "No."

"Catherine, he doesn't mean it. He's only a little boy, and he's upset. He misses you."

She shook her head. "It's been seven months, Vincent. That's an eternity to a child his age." She laughed softly, bitterly. "It's an eternity to me."

"And to me," he said quietly, into her hair.

"I miss him so much, Vincent. I love him so much. It hurts to know he doesn't understand."

"That is why I tried to keep it from you," he said.

"I know. To protect me. But you can't, Vincent. I've learned that here. I have to do it myself. Even if it..." she stopped suddenly, appalled at what she'd been about to say.

"What? What is it?"

She shook her head. "Nothing. A dumb saying."

"A saying that frightens you. What is it?"

She closed her eyes. "I was going to say... even if it kills me." She shivered. "And it might, Vincent. It might. Did you know there was an attempt on my life?"

He stiffened. "No. When?"

"A few weeks ago. One of the guards... he was my friend, Vincent. He was approached. He reported it, and he's been transferred to a place where he'll be safe, but it frightens me. I keep thinking, what if there's a next time?" She clutched at his vest. "I'm so tired, Vincent. Of being scared. Of being lonely. I want to come home."

He put his hands on her shoulders and moved her away from him to look into her eyes. "Yes," he said simply, and lifted his hand to stroke an errant wisp of hair from her eyes.

A wave of wanting swept her.

"Catherine." His voice, suffused with longing, still managed to chide her, just a little.

"I know. Not the place, or the time. I'm sorry, Vincent. I can't help it."

"Don't be sorry," he said, and bent to kiss her lightly. "You keep me awake some nights when you feel like this."

Nights when she thought about him. "I keep myself awake," she murmured in reply.

He pulled her against him. She was aware of it all; the hard length of his body pressed to hers, the rough stubble of his beard against her temple, the ragged pace of his breathing.

He stroked her back in a gesture that probably soothed him as much as it did her, and she could feel him kissing her hair. "Catherine," he said at last. She could hear the effort it took for him to keep his voice steady.

In the stairwell, the door opened with a thump. Vincent went rigid and poised to flee. Catherine caught his sleeve and hung on.

"Cathy? You up there?"

Her heart, which had leaped violently at the sound of the door, eased out of her throat. She tightened her grip on Vincent's arm. "I'm fine, Morris," she called back. "Just a few more minutes, okay?"

"Okay," he said, sounding reluctant. "But then you've got to come in."

"All right."

The door closed solidly, but Vincent's arm remained rigid. He bowed his head. "I must go. This rooftop is not safe for either of us."

"I know," she admitted. "But not yet. I'm not ready yet. Just another minute."

"Another minute," he agreed. "But no longer, Catherine. These stolen moments are not worth the risk."

"They are to me. But I know," she added quickly, forestalling him. "They wouldn't be to Nicky. Not if he lost both parents."

"No," he agreed softly.

"But tell me something before you go."

"Of course. Anything."

"You've said, in your letters, that sometimes you sit on a nearby rooftop."

"Yes."

"Could you tell me which one? Maybe I could look for you..."

He glanced toward the parapet, but it was too high, and there were no breaks where he could show her. "It's across Sixth and a little north," he said. "The modern building with the gray facade."

"I know that one! I can see it easily from my window."

"I don't know which window is yours."

"The one farthest south, I think. On the west side."

He smiled. "Now I know where to look. Even if I cannot see in." He raised his hood, settling it over his hair so that it shadowed his face. His eyes gleamed from its depths. "And now I must go."

She stilled her instinctive protest and bit her lip.

He took her hands in his, cradling them against his chest. "Close your eyes."

She searched his face, but his gaze was calm and steady. "All right," she whispered, but another moment passed before she could bring herself to do so.

She felt his breath on her cheek and lifted her face to receive his kiss. It was warm and tender and much too brief. He lifted her hands, kissing the fingers of one, then the other. The pressure of his fingers on hers increased for just a second, and then his hands slipped from her grasp.

The hum of city traffic, punctuated by an occasional car horn, rose from the street far below, but on the rooftop, all was silent. When she opened her eyes, he was gone.

Loneliness, like the damp breeze, swept over her, but she fought it down. He'd come. He'd been here, even if only for a few moments. She'd had that much.

She tipped her head back and smiled. "Go with care, Vincent," she whispered. "I love you."

Back inside, though, unexpected tears sprang to her eyes. She ducked her head, but Morris noticed, and slung a sympathetic arm around her shoulders. "I know," he said. "It affects most people like that. Like a touch of freedom you can't have, or something."

"Or something," Catherine agreed, smiling through the tears. "But it was worth it, Morris. Every moment."

I told Nicholas I had seen you, Vincent wrote in his next letter. I gave him your love and told him you were well. He didn't acknowledge it, but he listened.

Seeing you was like a double edged blade, Catherine. I am grateful for the stolen moments, relieved beyond words to have seen with my own eyes that you are well. But somehow, it makes the loss all the keener. I miss you...

"I miss you, too," she murmured, and touched the letter to her lips before folding it and adding it to the others in her drawer.


Continued in Chapter 15