IN THE DARKNESS

By Karen Mason-Richardson


Hot eyes glittered in the darkness.

From beneath a black, leather-trimmed hood those eyes focused on the interior of the brightly lit apartment. The artificial light was not kind to the unique face, casting angular shadows on the gaunt cheeks and muzzle-like mouth. An occasional hard glint of exposed fang pierced through gusts of steam created when hot breath met cold night air. A chill breeze shifted the dark folds of cloak against his leg, a rough wool caress.

Why was he here? He should never have come here, not now, not so soon. Why did he torture himself this way?

Because part of him was incapable of resisting the soundless, sirens' call of her: because she was there, inside. Needing him. Needing...

No!

With a muffled growl, Vincent tore his gaze from beyond the gauzy curtains to focus on the concrete balcony floor.

They were so sure. All so sure that he was better now. That he was cured. They did not understand, could never know. There was no cure for this, no cure for him. How could you cure yourself of your own nature? No, there was no cure... for that.

How could he forget how close he had come? He had stopped the Beast in the only way he could. How he had managed he didn't really know. All he knew was that she must never be harmed.

The inevitable loss of grip on that dark side of his nature had been in process for some time. Her very presence tore at that grip without mercy. The scent of her, the touch of her hand, tugged at his control and beckoned the Beast to wake. And from within the bond, the connection he could never escape; would never want to escape. That avenue, too, fed him her desires, at times in torrents he could barely control. Fed the beast.

Oh, yes, he knew her desire. Both sides of him knew...

She had kissed him once. He had felt the sweet weight of her body press lightly against his as she rose on tiptoe to reach him. Frozen by that simple touch, his only movement had been the rise of his chest in a silent gasp of shock that she would dare do such a thing: one that had drawn in the sweetness of her. Then, she had kissed him. For the first time he had felt the softness of her lips against his own.

He had not moved, not responded in any way. Did she have any idea what that had cost him? She had smiled, thanked him, and walked away. Always, he let her walk away. He must! Oh, but the drive to follow had been so strong, the howling urge to rush forward, pull her against him once again, and take more. Always, more! To finally let go and embrace what they both so longed for. But it would not be just the two of them at that moment, for to loose passion was to loose the other side of his nature. The Beast. Passion, anger, rage, all the primal emotions belonged to that side.

No one knew. No one understood the inescapable battles he waged every day. Usually he won. Usually. There were days when, control fraying, he would retreat to the underground river to rest for a few hours. Rest and loose the reins. Relax his vigilance. Free the Beast to prowl and rage where none could see and there was no one to hurt.

Father knew some of it and had once tried explaining to Catherine the delicate balance that was Vincent's struggle. He knew the face of the Beast. He had, with tears in his eyes, pulled taut the leather straps to hold him down during that period in adolescence when the Beast had won free. He had seen...

Catherine had seen as well. That knowledge burned inside, shaming him. He had often said how he marveled at her courage. The depth of that courage also shamed him, for in that black cavern she had stood and faced the Beast, while he...

Movement! Reflexively Vincent shrank further back into the shadows. She couldn't see him! Not now! He was too raw, too close to the edge.

 * * * * *

 Catherine smoothed the last of the lotion onto her freshly shaven legs. It had been wonderful to relax in a long, hot bath. She had needed it. The last few weeks had been rough: the Spirko crisis, Paracelsus... Thanks to the stalker she still couldn't totally relax in the bathtub or shower unless the door was propped open a few inches.

Yes, the last month or so had been more than difficult, each incident leaving its own scars and repercussions.

Vincent's collapse had been the worst. She had screamed for Father, desperately searching for a heartbeat, for any sign of life. There had been nothing. Father had finally given up his frantic CPR efforts on Vincent's supine body. Hands shaking, mind frozen in disbelief, she had reached out to touch, to stroke the tangled mane, screaming for him not to leave her, pouring heart and soul into that plea.

And... a heartbeat. Slow, sluggish, but undeniably present. Followed by another, and another. A shallow breath. Father's tear-muffled 'thank God.'

They had carefully taken him home and she had not left his side for days. He had been so weak, driven past exhaustion by his illness. Roles had been reversed as this time it was she who had read to him, cared for him. Yesterday, finally, he had been strong enough to get up and, albeit shakily, walk a few steps. By this afternoon he had been well on his way to full recovery.

He would be all right.

With a dismissive shake of her head Catherine replaced the cap on the lotion bottle and wrapped a towel around her wet hair. It was over. And it wouldn't happen again. Not if she could help it. She'd had a lot of time to think in those long hours sitting at his bedside. Time to think about changes.

 

* * * * *

Hot eyes glittered in the darkness.

Scent curled its way from the open bathroom to vent out the balcony door, left open a crack for fresh air. Peach lotion. Herbal shampoo. Flesh, heated by the bath. Nostrils flared to drink them in. A shivering rumble vibrated through Vincent's chest as the beguiling scents of Catherine wrapped around his senses.

He watched her leave the bathroom and turn to the dressing table. A softly rounded breast, pinkly flushed beneath blue lace, drew his eyes like a magnet before she tightened the belt of her robe. Breath catching, he lowered his head, mane swinging forward to block out the sight as he focused once more on the bare concrete. Unconsciously he clenched the back of a wrought iron chair, desperately grasping at anything to hold, anything to keep his hands still. To keep them from what they really wanted. To keep them from reaching forward, pushing open the door, and...

The world narrowed as, panting, he strove for control.

 

* * * * *

 

A cup of tea would hit the spot. Catherine unwrapped the towel and gave one last rub to her still damp hair. After running a comb quickly through, she made her way to her tiny excuse for a kitchen. As she passed the dining table she noted with regret the envelope atop her briefcase. That was tomorrow's first order of business: handing in her resignation. It wasn't going to be easy but she would drop it off, say goodbye to everyone, and leave. She wasn't going back to work there. At all.

Joe was going to be livid.

When she had joined the DA's office it had been as a pampered corporate lawyer looking for a new start. It had been an unfortunate fact that, during her few years at her father's firm, she really hadn't done much of anything. While writing up her resume she had been shocked to realize she couldn't list even one substantial professional accomplishment. For good or ill, however, the DA's office was always short of people. She had gone into that position with a lot to prove, both personally and professionally.

Well, she had proven herself on both counts. Now it was time to get out. The danger. The long hours. She didn't need it any more, on either level. Yes, she still wanted a job where she could help people, that hadn't and wouldn't change. But there were a lot of ways to help others that didn't require putting your neck on the line. She had considered asking to be reassigned within the office, but she was a top investigator in her perennially understaffed division. It was inevitable she would be dragged into things, willing or not. No, this would require a clean break. Fortunately, between her mother's trust fund and her inheritance from her father, she had enough money so she could take her time to find just the right position. That was tomorrow's second order of business: researching non-profit organizations. A lawyer with her background, especially one who would work three or four days a week for a low salary, would be invaluable to them.

Filling the kettle with water, Catherine glanced around the kitchen. It held space for an oven, a small refrigerator, a microwave, and not much else. The one-bedroom apartments in this building catered to the high-end single professional, the kind of people whose idea of a home cooked meal was reheated takeout. It had suited the old Cathy just fine. Lately, however, her thoughts had been going in a different direction in this as well. Why had it taken her so long?

Vincent had called her "a woman of both worlds." And he was right. Tossing everything to go live in the tunnels was a lovely fantasy, but in reality it just wouldn't work. Not for her. She was too much a part of life above. To Vincent, Above was an important part of who she was and he didn't want her to leave that part behind.

Somehow both of them had fallen into the trap of all-or-nothing. What had happened to her lawyer's mind? What had happened to compromise? He risked so much to come to her balcony, the journey, the exposure...

Several helpers had tunnel access in their homes or, as in Mr. Long's shop, their workplaces. It certainly wasn't unheard of. Tomorrow's third order of business: beginning the hunt for a new home. Real estate was ridiculously expensive in Manhattan; it would take a serious chunk out of her inheritance to get something appropriate, but for Vincent to be able to safely come and go to her home was worth it. The job change and workload reduction would also mean having time to share it with him. Maybe even during the daylight!

So many plans to make. So many changes. A speculative smile warmed her features as she contemplated other changes she was determined would come to pass. Soon! It was well past time to stop dreaming and start doing. Wondrous possibilities swirled through her mind as she headed back to the bedroom, teacup in hand.

 

* * * * *

 

Another scent, warm, familiar. Tea. The herb tea she liked, the one he had given her when she was healing in his chamber. Through the bond, another warmth. She was thinking of him...

He should not be here. He must go. Go now! Sense screamed at him to follow these commands but his body refused to obey. A shaft of panic was barely suppressed in time. She must not feel his presence here! He could not be touched, not by her, not now. It would be disastrous. Minutes passed as he fought the primal demands wracking his body. Dimly he heard her moving about the bedroom. All that he was cried out to enter that forbidden expanse, go in and...

He must leave! He should never have come.

 

* * * * *

 

Catherine sipped her tea as she finished the last of the laundry. Over a week away had resulted in a quite a pile. Absently, hands smoothed and folded until an unfamiliar texture caught her attention and she gently shook out the garment. Warm beige fabric, loosely gathered at the neckline, worn from many washings. One of Vincent's nightshirts. It must have gotten mixed up with her things when she had packed this morning. She hadn't paid much attention to what she was doing, her mind whirling with ideas and mental to-do lists.

He had been unconscious for the first few days. Throughout, over Father's objections, she insisted on being the one to care for him. She had attended to his needs herself: all of his needs. However, Father had taken over certain physical aspects once Vincent regained consciousness. Her quick offer of help had been met with the deepest blush she had ever seen on Vincent, his golden cheeks flushed dark copper as he dropped his eyes to the blankets. He had been mortified at the thought. But, while unconscious, he had been hers.

She had removed this shirt...

 

* * * * *

 

An unexpected surge of surprise caught him off guard and, helpless, Vincent looked once more into the warmly lit bedroom. Catherine stood beside the bed, his nightshirt in her hands. His! A soft smile graced her features as she lifted the garment and caressed her face with it. Warm tendrils of pleasure threaded through the bond. Vincent's hands clenched even more tightly on the abused chair as a wonderful, hazy memory surfaced, eclipsing everything.

He was in his chamber. She was close, her warm personal scent curling into his consciousness. He could feel the dip in the mattress as she knelt on the bed beside him. Chill air replaced the warmth of quilts as the covers were pulled away. Soft hands worked the tie at the neck of his nightshirt, loosening the garment

"Catherine, No!" She must not do this, mustn't see... Eyes flying open in shock, he swiftly brought his hands up to catch hers, to halt their mission...

Nothing! Speech was denied. Eyelids refused to lift. He lay immobile, his body deaf to the desperate command to roll away, to do something to stop this, stop her, before she saw too much. Before her inevitable revulsion became a knife lacerating his every dream.

Her weight settled lightly across his chest. Anguished moans of denial echoed soundlessly through his mind as burrowing hands rooted beneath him to grasp the hem of his shirt. With difficulty she worked the cloth from underneath his body, finally stripping the garment over his head.

It would all end here. He knew what he was and what he was not. Frantically he slammed shut the bond. At least a few minutes more, couldn't he just pretend? Pretend that all was well, that she was not disgusted at the inhuman differences he could no longer hide? Just a few minutes more!

 

"Oh, Vincent." Her soft breath carried his name in a warm gust above his heart only moments before her lips pressed against the center of his chest.

Touching him. She was touching him! From that touch, a wellspring of reluctant hope began to trickle. Her small hands slid through the fur on his chest, wrapping into the long curls, softly tugging. The short hair coat on his shoulders was pushed against its lie, the resistance tingling deliciously. Could it be?

"Mmmmmm." Her quiet murmur sounded approval, rife with sensual enjoyment.

Daring to hope, he reopened the bond a crack. Instantly it was blown open by the rushing gale of her emotions. Love. Joy. Surprised approval. Appreciation. She liked - no loved - what she saw. Fingernails trailed through the short coat on his thighs with delicious abandon, leaving rough furrows. Lines lovingly eradicated as her warm hands smoothed the fur back into place. Sensuous delight flowed through the bond in a steady stream. Gently, those wonderful hands stroked over every inch of him, warm lips softly following their path.

Breathing faltered at the brush of her cheek against his thigh, against his...

"Catherine?" Mary's voice. From the chamber entrance.

 

A spike of embarrassment cut through the bond, swiftly replaced by resolution, a reaffirmation of her right to be here, with him, like this.

"Oh, yes. Could you set it on the table, please?" Footsteps on rock, then carpet. The solid sound of something heavy set onto his bedside table.

"The water should be still warm. I've brought some extra towels too, just in case. Oh, and Kipper will be by later with some supper for you."

"Thank you, Mary, for everything,"

Footsteps leaving the chamber. Once again the bed shifted as Catherine leaned away. The sound of dripping water. A shock of warmth as a cloth was run over his face and neck, leaving cooling wetness in its place. A welcome soothing sensation fading into grayness...

Vincent forced himself back to reality with a truncated growl. It must have been a dream, a figment of his fevered recovery. She could not have reacted that way to his body. He was dreaming again, constructing fantasies so strong they felt as if they could be real if only he would just reach out.

If only it were truth...

 

* * * * *

 

She had removed this shirt. She had bathed him. She had run her hands over every inch of him. Of his physical differences, none were a mystery now. And there were differences. She had always had suspicions about his shyness in exposing any part of his body other than hands and face. Speculation had been confirmed. He was furred. Pretty much all over. In a moment of weakness she had been unable to resist exploring the textures of him. Soft, downy fur on his face, coarser and longer on his chest and down his spinal column, peach fuzz on his backside, and a silky short pelt on arms and legs. The only bare spots were where rubbing occurred, under his arms... between his thighs...

Catherine shook herself from the sensuous memory with a catch of laughter. "Enough of that, Chandler! Save it for when it counts."

And it would count. She would make sure. Vincent thought that the two of them being 'truly together' was unthinkable. Well, he'd better just get used to the idea because one of the changes she was determined to implement was to stop not thinking about it. She knew that feeling those emotions from her made him uncomfortable, especially if he wasn't alone. For over two years now she had suppressed any thought in a sexual vein, for his sake. Lately she had wondered if perhaps, in the long run, this had done more harm than good.

They didn't talk, at least not as much as they should and certainly not about specific subjects. Discussion of a physical relationship was the number one taboo. Lacking Vincent's acute sense of the bond, admittedly she was running on guesswork, but two years in the DA's office had resulted in some unexpected benefits. One of them was learning to read people, learning to 'hear between the lines' so to speak. That intuitive skill told her Vincent didn't shy away from discussion of a physical relationship because he didn't want it, but because he wanted it too much.

Vincent had not been himself in that dark cavern. There the otherness, the side of his nature that killed to protect, the one set free by Paracelsus' drug, had been in control. Raging through the dark, it had screamed its loneliness and pain to the uncaring rock. But she had no fear of this particular Beast. What she had seen on his face as he stumbled and fell in that lonely place had been despair. Longing. Wanting. Other than the obvious violence, she knew now the other reason Vincent feared his so-called dark side so much. It was the same reason he feared discussing a physical relationship. Because it, too, wanted...

The glowing numbers on the bedside clock read eleven thirty. Below all would be settled into their chambers for the night, asleep. All except for Vincent. This morning, after examination, Father had insisted he remain resting in his chamber for at least another couple of days. However, with his nocturnal nature, Vincent would not be sleeping. He would be; reading, or perhaps writing in his journal, readying lesson plans, or reviewing the endless project proposals necessary to keep the tunnels safe and in good repair. Regardless, he would be awake and, more importantly, alone.

 

Giving herself a shake, Catherine set Vincent's shirt aside and determinedly finished folding the laundry. After returning her teacup to the kitchen, she glanced towards the apartment door to ensure the locks were engaged and turned out the lights. With a quiet yawn she entered the bedroom, dark except for the bedside lamp. Removing her wrap, she draped it over the chair. Vincent's nightshirt lay crumpled on the bed and she picked it up to fold. Soft cotton caressed her palms, comforting and enticing...

 

* * * * *

 

She was going to bed now. She was removing her wrap to slip into that silken bed, the one he had so recently shared with her, albeit innocently. Was it really only a week ago? Regardless, she would sleep now and he would watch over her as he always had. Temptation would fade to bearable as he guarded her slumber. He could almost hear the resigned grumble as his nemesis calmed. With an inaudible sigh of relief, Vincent relaxed his iron vigilance. Today he had won. The Beast had remained caged.

The relieved sigh was choked off, mid-breath. Metal creaked audibly as claws tightened in a death grip on the iron chair. Shocked to the core, he desperately strove to avert his eyes.

The sight of her! Blue silk cascaded in an audible rush to pool on the carpet, revealing ivory flesh warmed by gentle lamplight. The gleaming curve of shoulder, rose tipped sway of breasts, tapered drop to narrow waist, rounded swell of hip, luscious curve of backside, graceful legs...

Burning desire coursed through him, intense, undeniable. The coiled tightness of the Beast burst loose, hot whips of awareness inexorably stealing control. With supreme effort Vincent wrenched his eyes closed, striving desperately to rob the Beast of the sight of his prey.

No. He wanted to see. The Other could not deny him that. Immobile, clenched in struggle, only eyelids moved, slowly opening, to see.

A red mist tinted his vision; that crimson fog that heralded the presence of the Beast, the color that revealed its increasing dominance. Inside, Catherine pulled his cotton nightshirt over her head and bent to turn down the covers of the bed. The deep, unlaced neckline draped alarmingly over her shoulder, revealing the gentle swell of her breasts, shadowed, full of mystery. Hands twitched with the desire to unveil that mystery, to feel the softness of her flesh under his claws as he stroked...

Greedily, he watched as she lay on the bed and stretched luxuriously, arching her back towards the ceiling, breasts thrust against the thin cotton. Gusting pants answered her movements as she sinuously reversed to lift her hips. Hips lifted just right so that he could-

No!

Please, Catherine! Please, sleep now...

She was settling, turning off the lamp, lifting the covers to her chin and closing her eyes. Yes, she would soon be asleep. Then the drive would diminish. Temptation removed, the Beast could be forced back to its cage. He only had to hold it here until she slept. Keep it from gaining complete control. If only she would sleep!

 

* * * * *

 

The pillows still smelled of him. She hadn't had the opportunity to change the bed since his illness began. With a sigh, Catherine snuggled her face into the cool silk. He had been here, near enough to touch, to hold. She had woken up beside him. She knew now what it felt like to have his large frame in her bed curled next to her, his warmth augmenting her own. Not in quite the way she wanted but it was a start. Closing her eyes, she settled the comforter around her shoulders.

She knew what he felt like, the glide of fur and skin beneath her hands as she learned of him. What he so ashamedly hid from other's eyes she found beautiful. The sculpted strength of him, muscular and solid under a layer of soft fur, was wonderfully sensual to the fingertips.

Yes, to have him here in her bed. To touch, to slide her body against all of him...

He would arrive on her balcony. She knew he often did so without revealing his presence. She knew a lot more than he thought she did. How he would come just to sit and look out over the lights of the city. How it gave him comfort to guard her sleep, to feel that he could at least do that one thing in her world to keep her safe. Tonight, though, would be different. He would not sit on the wrought iron chair staring over the forbidden lights, but stand at her door. Watching her. Wanting her.

Unless temperatures were well below freezing she had a habit of leaving the French doors to her bedroom open just a crack, just enough to let in some fresh air. At least, that was part of it. The other part, the poorly disguised invitation, was tactfully left unacknowledged by them both. Tonight, however, he would be standing at that threshold, contemplating that open door, knowing it symbolized everything. And that all he needed to do was reach out and step inside.

He could be there now, a shadow imperceptible against the darkness. Watching her. Wanting her. Catherine moved restlessly, feeling a subtle ache stirring in her most female place. That ache which she had not allowed to surface for so long, not even to be assuaged by her own hand in case he would feel it too.

 

It was so clear in her mind. The well-maintained door would swing open slowly, with only the barest creak. He would be standing there, his cloaked form blotting out the city light. His desire would be revealed in the tenseness of his frame. Revealed by his breath, hot steam against the chill night air. Revealed by his eyes.

 

* * * * *

 

Hot eyes glittered in the darkness.

He must not panic. Panic eroded control. Fear, though. Fear gave strength to the struggle. Fear for Catherine, for what the Beast would do to her. To them. To everything they dreamed of being, together.

No. She... She was thinking of him! Unbidden, a muffled, harsh rumble shivered through his chest. He could feel her reaching for his presence. Her body shifted beneath the blankets. Shifted restlessly in her thoughts of him. She wanted him so! She called to that part of him he now fought. Giving it strength...

Within, he could feel the Beast gaining ground. Responding to her call. She could not understand the risk of this. She must stop, stop now! A muffled whimper escaped his lips, the last remnant of an anguished scream of warning, choked off by the Beast's increasing control. Eyes widened in terror as his arm raised, fingers extended to touch the open door. Desperately he strove to halt that forward reach, to no avail. Clawed, inhuman hands made contact, the light push sufficient to swing the door open slowly, with only the barest creak.

Scent wove its way through that open door, the rich scent of her now complemented by an enticing, unfamiliar note. Feminine. Mysterious. Musky and sweet. Nostrils flared tensely as he drew that new facet of her scent into his being. Silkily it beckoned, crying softly for what it needed. The Beast knew that new scent instinctively. Knew, and echoed that need. Another shuddering rumble shook him, a soundless answer.

So strong! Never had it been so strong, not even in that dark cavern before Catherine came. Even then he had had enough control to prevent the Beast from returning to the home tunnels, from going to her! But then he had never felt this need from her, never felt the full rush of her longing and desire. There had been hints of it, beginnings firmly suppressed almost before he sensed them at all. Never had he imagined this!

Despair swamped through Vincent as the Beast raised its head, reveling in the drenching desire coursing through the bond. His body responded to the feminine plea, a swift hardening almost painful in intensity. A last supreme effort proved useless as with an inner despairing wail Vincent felt the last of his control shunted aside.

Breath gusting hotly, the Beast gazed with triumph into the darkened apartment.

 

* * * * *

 

He would be standing there, staring at her with an expression she had only glimpsed in the past. Standing proudly, eyes bold, lungs heaving. How she wanted that for him! To replace that habitual reticence, that deeply ingrained humility, with pride and confidence.

Confidence. He would stride into the apartment as if it were his right, which it was. Long, graceful strides would be soundless on the carpet. Reaching the side of her bed, he would drop to one knee and reach for her. The softly furred back of his hand would glide down her cheek to gently cup and lift her face. She would open her eyes and see...

 

* * * * *

 

Hot eyes glittered in the darkness.

She was there, waiting for him. Wanting him.

With determination the Beast stepped into the apartment; over that threshold that for too long had represented everything forbidden to his other side. That gentle, patient, human side. Too patient! To the Other, this represented a crossing of boundaries, a tearing down of barriers, a loss of control. His upper lip curled in contempt. How foolish! It was just a door, albeit a special one. A door to better things, wonderful things. The door to her.

Soundless steps led him to her bedside. He remembered this place. He had almost won free here several times. Ironic how, for all the worry about his harming people, it had been the Other who had smashed things, who had destroyed the bedroom door. He had done nothing, nothing except... want.

As did she, he could feel it, so strongly! Her thoughts of him, in this very spot, drew him forward. Smoothly he dropped to one knee beside the bed and raised his hand to touch her. His hand, furred and clawed, vicious in defense, quick in reprisal. For a moment he felt an unaccustomed touch of apprehension. That hand had never touched in love. Could the Other be right? Would he hurt her? She looked so small, so fragile. Hesitating, he turned his hand; claws now curved inward so as not risk an inadvertent scratch, and stroked down her cheek.

With a gusty smile Catherine leaned into his touch and opened her eyes.

"Vincent?" She spoke his name questioningly. Slowly she came upright, adjusting the neckline of his shirt that had slipped down to bare her left shoulder.

He wanted to lick the moonlight off her skin.

A chill breeze blew in from the open door and she shivered. "What's going on? You shouldn't be here, Father told you to rest. Has something happened Below? Are you all right?"

He could feel the concern. Concern, rapidly escalating into alarm. The Beast blinked in consternation. Speech. Emotions were his province. Speech belonged to the Other.

"What's wrong? Vincent, talk to me."

Alarm and confusion, rapidly descending into fear. His lack of response frightened her. He was frightening her! No! The Other couldn't be right! If he was right about this then he could be right about other things, about his being evil, mad, a monster. He was not these things! It wasn't true!

Surely she would understand? She must! Eyes pleading, hands beginning to tremble, he reached for her.

 

* * * * *

 

He looked frightened. His eyes held that hazy confusion she had seen that night on her balcony when he had licked the drop of blood from her finger. When she had first felt the soft rasp of his tongue. Her gaze flicked to the open door. The door he had refused to pass until that other side of his nature drove him through. The side that was brave in defense, heartless in battle, yet also frightened and alone.

Yes, that side. Wearing the hauntingly familiar expression last seen when he collapsed at her feet in the catacombs. Mane brushed her face as he shook his head heavily, a short growl escaping him. Eyes rose to meet hers, a desperate unspoken question. Slowly he reached his hands for her and she grasped them quickly, tightly.

Too tightly. She hadn't paid attention, drawn in by the naked fear in his eyes. A sharp prick at her wrist.

"Ouch!"

 

* * * * *

 

The Beast drew in a sharp breath. It couldn't be, it hadn't...

He looked down at their clasped hands. At a claw, tipped in wet crimson. At the small bead of shiny red that swelled from her wrist. The smell of her blood, iron and copper, assaulted him.

He had barely touched her! Only that one little thing, a clasp of hands, and he had harmed her! With a piercing half-roar of anguish he splayed his hands open, desperate to remove his claws from anywhere near her flesh. The Other was right, these hands were not made to give love! What more proof was needed? He could never know this woman's love, just the sucking wet tear of flesh shredding beneath his claws. All he would ever know, all he deserved to know, was anger, blood and death...

He had to escape! Escape the thin red line of proof that trickled down her left arm, a line that separated him forever from any hope of tenderness. Condemned him to a life alone, a life without her.

It must end. He must go from her, never harm her again...

"No. That's my fault! It was an accident!" Alarm. Fear.

She was gripping his hands. He couldn't pull free. He would cut her again! He had to make her understand! He had to tell her... He needed to...

He needed Speech.

 

* * * * *

 

Vincent shook off a wave of dizziness as he was abruptly plummeted back into control. Inside he could hear the Beast's howl of anguish as it retreated in shame, curling in on itself like a beaten dog. Strong blood scent drifted upwards, heavy and sweet.

"I'm sorry."

Gently Catherine disengaged her right hand and reached forward to touch his face, cradling his chin, lifting his eyes to hers. "Don't be. I know what you're doing. You're building this up in your head to be something it's not. Vincent, this was an accident. It wasn't your fault."

Her soft green eyes drew him so, their warmth as palpable as her touch. "Yes, it was! You see, now. How easy it is to hurt you, when I lose myself! Even without trying, even being careful- "

"What about envelopes?"

Vincent blinked in confusion. Envelopes? What?

"Yes, envelopes. Should I never touch one again?" Catherine smiled at his confusion. "Look."

In his hands, her wrist turned. His gaze caught and followed the movement, noting the wound he had inflicted was already beginning to clot. Slipping from his grip, she closed her hand to present her index finger, revealing a shallow cut across the tip.

"This afternoon I opened some mail and cut myself on an envelope flap. It's just a little thing really, isn't it? And it was my fault, I wasn't being careful. It hurt and bled more than this little cut I just gave myself. So am I never to open an envelope again? What about use a kitchen knife? I've nicked myself with one before, so I guess I can never use one of those again either?"

Gentle amusement rippled through the bond. Its soothing coolness washed through him like a balm, calming. Reaching through to that other presence...

"Vincent, not everything is your fault. I can be a klutz at times, and this was one of those times. It probably won't be the last time something like this happens, so you can't go into a frenzy of self-blame every time. It was just a little accident. Please, let it go."

Hot emotion swelled as the Beast within uncoiled. Relief. Understanding. An accident. Everything was all right. It was just the Other, poisoning him, eroding his confidence.

Her hair cascaded across her left shoulder, bared by the deep neckline of his shirt. The moonlight painted soft shadows under her delicate collarbones and hinted at rounded femininity beneath the soft cotton. Cotton that would be dislodged with one small catch of a claw...

With a gasp, Vincent tore his eyes away to focus on the floor. It was happening again. The beast was resurging. Did it never lose strength? He was exhausted from the constant struggle, escalated over the past few weeks to beyond bearing. He had to leave while he still had some control.

"I'm sorry, Catherine. I have to go." Lurching to his feet, he almost stumbled as he turned and took several steps toward the door. Wrenching at his control, the Beast fought. It wanted to stay. It wanted her.

So tired. Strength, which had seemed adequate an hour ago, had been all but exhausted by the trip to her balcony and the struggle to contain the Beast.

She was in front of him, barring his path to the open balcony door. How had she moved so quickly?

"Why is it so important to leave? It's because you're losing control again, isn't it? It was that other part of you that woke me, that touched my face."

Vincent swallowed a moan. She knew!

From deep within, a jagged smile. She knew.

A rough swing of mane, burnished silver in the moonlight, concealed his features as he turned his head away. "It's so strong. Catherine, it wants... so much."

"What does it want?" she asked softly.

Vincent slowly shook his head in negation, trembling with effort to contain the rough desires of the Beast. She couldn't understand...

 

* * * * *

 

It was like watching a battle. And it was always like this. He would stand there, shaking with iron control, until he could force himself to leave. Then she wouldn't hear from him for weeks, while he retreated to some dark cavern to work out his frustrations. Once he had reinforced that incredible self-control, he would be back. Eventually. Hopefully.

Well, she had two choices here, both of which had drawbacks. She could let him go but as usual their relationship, any progress they had even come close to making, would be swept away and in its place would be more unwritten rules, more barriers. Or she could force the issue and either everything would work out or...

 

It was a risk. But they couldn't keep shunting everything aside like this, pretending those forces and desires didn't exist. It was hurting them both.

Perhaps the time had come to take that risk.

With an enigmatic smile, Catherine walked to the French doors and determinedly swung them closed. A sharp click announced the turning of the lock. If he wanted to leave, he was going to have to go through her.

Turning, she twisted her shoulder. The loose neck of the nightshirt slid off and drooped down her left arm, almost exposing her breast. "You know, it strikes me that perhaps we've been going about this all wrong." A tight inner leash was undone as she allowed her stemmed desire to resurface. Her voice softened, a sultry whisper. "We dance around each other, hiding our feelings, always staying in control. I think maybe we need to... loosen up a little."

Through the curtain of mane she caught a glimpse of fang as his breath left him in an audible rush. 'That got his attention,' she thought with thrill of smug delight as she walked slowly toward him. He looked as if he would press himself through the bedroom wall if it were possible.

"He won't hurt me, Vincent," she continued softly. "He's as afraid of that as you. Look at what happened just minutes ago." She leaned against him, feeling as well as hearing the ragged pants as he fought to remain still. One small hand lifted to smooth the tousled mane away from anguished eyes. Gently she stroked her thumb across the tense line bisecting his forehead as she slid her other arm around his neck.

"Let go. Just let him go."

 

* * * * *

 

Did she truly understand what she asked? What she invited?

She pressed her soft body against him. He could barely breathe beneath it, the slight weight out of proportion to what it signified. A burrowing hand slipped beneath his mane and kneaded the back of his head lightly. The soft friction of nails against his scalp carved furrows through his resolve. Within, the Beast writhed in dark sensual joy.

Could she be right?

A moment's hesitation, the tiniest waver in control and with an inner snarl of triumph the Beast twisted free.

 

* * * * *

 

Beneath her stroking fingers trembling abruptly ceased, replaced by a different sort of tension. One which, rather than denying her touch, welcomed it. A soft vibration against her breasts resolved itself into an audible thrumming.

Catherine lowered her hand from his forehead to press against his chest, to feel the low, shivering rumble. "You're purring!" she exclaimed softly. "I didn't know you could do that." Surprised and delighted, she tossed her hair out of her face to look upwards.

It was not the Vincent she knew who gazed back. Once again, his eyes bore that hazy, unfocused quality. Slowly she reached up to firmly cradle his face as she looked deeply into those eyes. Eyes that glowed with desire for her. An expression she had waited far too long to see.

"Hello." All her love, her admiration, and her acceptance were wrapped into her warm greeting. "I've been waiting to meet you for a long time."

 

* * * * *

 

Languidly he turned his face to nuzzle her cupped hand, rubbing the fur of his cheek and nose into it. A gust of warm breath preceded the silky rasp of his tongue as he licked the small mark where his claw had cut her wrist, guilt and apology plain in his expression.

"Shhhh. It's all right. I know you didn't mean to hurt me. It was an accident." Her voice was warm and he closed his eyes with a grunt of pleasure. Through the bond, he knew of her forgiveness, of her love. She knew that it was he and not the Other. Knew and accepted. Everything was all right. Soft hands stroked over his face and he dropped his head to press more firmly into that wonderful touch. His hands grasped her waist as he pulled her to him and burrowed his face into her hair, breathing deeply. Beneath him the pulse of her life thrummed hotly through the delicate column of her neck. She was so warm.

A tiny wedge of sadness shifted the shape of emotions through the bond. Why sadness, now? It was wonderful, she was wonderful. Touching him with soft hands. No screaming, no explosions of pain, no raging fear of being too late, of not being able to stop those who would harm her, of losing her.

Sadness, in her voice. Pain.

"You've never been touched like this, have you? With love? Not since you were a child, maybe not even then. Oh, Vincent, what have you done? What have we all done?" She lifted her head and leaned back in his grip, trying to move.

She was pulling away! An agonized growl welled up as, reflexively, his hands tightened on her waist. She would pull away like the other one did! She mustn't! She couldn't, not now. He wasn't ready for it to end yet. He needed her too much. It was too soon!

Soft hands, gentle on his, taking them into hers, pulling against his grip.

Never enough! There would never be enough! With a growling sob he slackened and dropped his hands, defeated. He could not hurt her, not like he had the girl who danced. If she wanted to go, it was her choice. Hot tears welled as he surrendered himself to go back to Aloneness.

Never would she come to harm. He would shred to ribbons every last one who raised hand to her. But the Other he would fight no more. There was no reason.

Releasing control, he began his retreat to darkness. The Other would take them home now.

 

* * * * *

 

She had retaken his hands and was tugging him forward.

"Come! I just want us to go and sit down on the bed. I'm not going anywhere. It's OK!"

Dazed, Vincent docilely followed her lead and sat on the edge of the bed. Easing beside him, Catherine scooted up to lean against the headboard and pulled him back until he lay supine, his shaggy head cradled in her lap. Deft fingers burrowed through his mane to smooth across his temples in a repetitive, hypnotic caress.

He... was not in control. At least, not fully. The Beast was here, too. Unresisting. Allowing him control, cringing in defeat. He could sense small, automatic lunges for dominance defuse as they arose, like wavelets rippling against a shore, suppressed and removed.

Catherine had bent forward to press a soft kiss to his forehead. Gentle hands stroked his hair and through the bond he felt a swell of love, rising like a tide.

"It's OK. Everything is all right now. You're safe here with me and I'm not going to leave you. I'll always be here for you. I'm not going anywhere."

"Catherine? The Beast- "

"Shhhh. Just relax now."

Those wonderful hands continued to stroke his mane and run soothingly over his face. A familiar melody wove its way into his heart. She was humming, that tune that was her mother's lullaby.

 

He was so tired of resisting her, of resisting what he, what both sides of him, needed so badly. With a trembling moan he shifted on his side and tugged helplessly, bringing her to lie beside him. He burrowed his head into her midriff, a living shelter from a lifetime of aloneness. His throat tightened as he felt her arms encircle him, clasping him strongly. How had she known how much he needed this?

It was like a dam, finally giving way. The months of turmoil and struggle had eroded his defenses to the point of practical nonexistence. Silent sobs wracked him as he drank in the acceptance and comfort both sides so desperately needed.

 

* * * * *

 

He had clung to her for hours. The bedside clock read two a.m. now. At first he had cried as if his heart would break, his body trembling in her embrace. The occasional choked sob and increase in the tightness of his embrace had followed, but even that had tapered off. Now he lay motionless, breath quietly warming her stomach.

"Vincent?"

She could tell her voice had startled him. He would get up now, apologize for his behavior, and run below...

He wasn't moving.

"How are you feeling?"

For a moment his head burrowed into her once more, just a small movement, but speaking volumes. A heavy sigh gusted against her as he released his hold and rolled onto his back.

"I don't know. Lighter."

"How do you mean?"

"Like I was Marley's ghost, dragging my chains around for centuries and then suddenly finding them gone. Adrift."

"Like there are no more barriers?"

Abruptly he turned his head to face her, blue eyes sparkling gray in the moonlight. "Catherine, what did you do?"

"Do? I didn't do anything."

"You did! You stood there and faced it. Defeated it."

"I faced him. But it wasn't hard at all. I knew there was no harm in him, at least not for me. I've known that for a long time now. As to defeating him, no one did that but himself. Or, I should say, yourself."

Vincent shook his head and sat up. Undaunted, she rose with him, taking his arm.

"Defeat is not the word I would use, either. He was scared. I could see it in your eyes. He's so frightened of rejection, and of hurting me. He's just as terrified as you!"

"But he did hurt you! And it could have been so much worse." Tenderly he stroked his thumb over the tiny puncture wound. His chest rose unsteadily in a shuddering breath. It must never happen again. "Tonight, you were thinking about me and feeling..." His words trickled off and he dropped his head in embarrassment.

"If you mean I was thinking about us together, then yes, I was. It's something I've denied myself for a long time. I was afraid those kind of thoughts would drive you away. But it's time that I, that we, stop being afraid and start taking some chances. The strain of holding back so much is hurting us both, especially you. I'm sure it's part of why you were so sick. You told me once that one either moves towards love or away from it, that there was no other direction. Well, I think it's past time we started moving towards love. The other direction is impossible, for me if not for you."

"Catherine, please, I ask you not to do this, not to ask such things." His need to constrict such a natural expression of her love wrapped a sick twist of shame around his heart. "It's for your own safety. Those kind of thoughts strengthen that other part of me, they weaken control and I am lost."

"But I know that side of you already. You're so afraid of it, but if it weren't for that side I'd be dead! Many times over! It's true that you can be lethal in certain situations, but surely you know by now that that side of you could never harm me. That's been proven tonight, twice over."

He felt her hand insistently tugging him to face her, to meet her eyes. Their truth blazed through him.

Tonight the Beast had been in control. Not that it hadn't been before, many times, but always those had been times of danger, when the need to protect called forth ferocity. Tonight, however, had been different. Twice this night, twice the Beast had forced itself into being, stripping him of control in the situation he had most feared for over two years. With Catherine close by, reachable. And each time, his deepest fears had proved unfounded.

The Beast still lingered, close. He could feel its turmoil beneath the surface. Desperately wanting but inexplicably not fighting him.

"Vincent. Would you do something for me? Please?" A tremulous smile trembled on her lips.

"If it's within my power, I can refuse you nothing. You know that."

"Do you truly mean it?"

"You can ask, after all you've done for me?" At the stubborn tilt of the chin, he acquiesced. "Yes, I truly mean it."

"Stop fighting. Drop your control."

She could not have asked anything less expected. Eyes widening in horror, he shook his head in automatic negation.

"Trust me. I've more than earned it. Prove that trust. Prove your belief in me. Drop your control. Just let him come."

"What you ask- "

"I know just what I'm asking. I do. Trust me, it will be OK. Don't forget, I was there too this evening. He loves me just as much as you. And, Vincent, he is you, just a part you're scared of. A part you're more frightened of than anyone. But I'm not scared. There is no harm in him for me."

A cold shudder rippled across the back of his neck. He had never done this. Never even considered it.

Long days of recuperation in bed had given him a lot of time to think about what had happened, and why. A similar sickness had plagued him once before, after attraction to Lisa had first tested his control in that manner. Control that had been strained unmercifully since Catherine had come into his life. In one wonderful, terrible day, his world had been remade. "Catherine, I- "

"Please! Trust me. As you love me, please, just let go."

He sighed heavily and dropped his head back in defeat. It had come to this, finally. What she asked was for him to reach for his deepest, most hidden dreams; to gamble everything on the possibility of being able to love her in all ways. On the chance to be everything to her but, in so doing, chance spawning his worst nightmare...

In truth, he could deny her nothing. Not when what she asked was what he most wanted to give.

Here and now, then. Above. If the worst happened and the Beast ran amok, then he would be discovered, hunted down, and shot or imprisoned. And, if such did happen, it would be the least he deserved.

With a brief but heartfelt prayer, his eyes drifted shut as he unlocked the cage...

 

* * * * *

 

She was so beautiful.

Rumpled, sitting on the bed, resting her head and folded arms on her knees, wearing a wrinkled cotton nightshirt. Gazing steadily at him when he opened his eyes at last. There was nothing more beautiful.

 

"Catherine." His voice, full of wonder.

Unmoving, she continued to gaze directly at him. "Is it done?"

"As far as I can tell."

"How do you feel?"

A long pause. How did he feel?

"Strange. Open." His head lifted as he met her direct stare.

"Give me your hands." Uncurling herself, she extended her own towards him.

Slowly he mirrored her gesture. She took the deadly clawed hands and curled her fingers around them protectively. Concentrating fully, she turned them in her grasp, examining from all angles. With the soft pads of her fingers she tested the hardness of his claws and drew them over her wrist. She brought her face down to nuzzle and ruffle the fur on their backs, kissing lightly.

"I love your fur here. It's so silky. I like its other textures, too. I've felt them all, when you were sick. I took care of you and bathed you, and I loved what I saw. You have no mysteries there anymore, no secrets, nothing to hide."

It had not been a dream, after all. It was near pain, this tumbling of yet another barrier, and in its wake a tiny whisper of pride sounded. She had smoothed her hands and cheek over his body. Her joy and approval had bathed him as he lay, unable to respond. She had touched... all of him. Deep within he felt the stir of the Beast's response. Freed of barriers, its presence spread through his body, rich and dark. Smooth. The customary horror and shame-laden battle for control was supplanted by an oiled, hotly pleasurable glide into awareness. Heaviness settled into his groin, tense and thick. Breathing deepened.

"Do you remember what I told you about these hands?" She looked up expectantly, patiently awaiting his answer.

"You said... they were your hands. They were beautiful." His voice was a low rumble. Heavy lidded eyes, slumberous and dark, met hers. Hazy.

Summoning her courage, with a brief unspoken prayer, she asked a final question. "Are my hands meant to give love?"

His eyes closed and he dropped his head. Suspended, she awaited his response. Minutes passed until, finally, his hands closed around hers. With a gentle tug he drew them forward to graze his lips across their backs before placing a licking kiss in each palm, a gift and a treasure. Looking shyly up through ragged bangs, he opened their world.

"These hands... are love."

"Yes." The word was borne on a slow sigh of relief. He understood. At last.

Gently Vincent tugged, pulling her to kneel before him. A single claw smoothed tangled hair from her face, revealing the small scar. His callused palm cradled the side of her face and flowed down her neck, following the lure of collarbone to close lightly around her left arm. The skin of her exposed shoulder glistened in the spare moonlight. He wanted, needed, to taste that satin glow. Hollow pants gusted against her exposed flesh as his mouth opened to reveal fang tips. Unselfconscious. Lost in the wonder of touching her.

Catherine slipped her hand under his chin and ran her thumb across his lips, feeling the moistness of his breath. Soft hair on his muzzle teased her fingertips. A languid tongue slid out to lap against her thumb as he moved to take her hand into his mouth, biting lightly.

A rumble shivered though his chest, resolving into an audible purr. Startled, his breath caught, a reflexive stab of embarrassment piercing through the fog of pleasure. Immediately, he released her arm and the sound abruptly ceased.

"No. Don't stop. It means you're happy. It's wonderful." Leaning into him, Catherine wrapped her arms around his neck, burrowing her face into his mane.

He could feel her smile as she sighed delight into his ear. Her soft shoulder nestled beneath his chin, bare flesh beckoning. Without thought, he lowered his head to taste her.

She was warm against his lips, ripe with hills and valleys of satin textures. Her scent flooded his nostrils, sweet with a just a hint of wildness. He sipped from the hollow above her collarbone, tasting flowers and sunshine. His tongue swirled over her shoulders, the light rasp in delicious counterpoint to its smooth glide, underscored by the occasional press of fang. Her neck was bathed in moistness as he traced the pulse of her life upwards. Unbidden, the rough purr welled to the surface once more and her answering smile danced through the bond.

Needing to see that smile, Vincent leaned back in her embrace. In the moonlight, her graceful neck and shoulders glistened wetly, tiny diamonds put to shame by the light of joy in her eyes. Her gaze did not leave his as she unfolded her legs and sank backwards to lie on the bed. One hand opened and extended in invitation.

There was no resistance in left in him.

Reaching forward, he folded her hand into his own. Pale skin shone against moon-washed fur and gleaming claws. She truly was his light in the darkness. A growling sigh escaped him as he lowered himself to her side. So beautiful...

Her body curved as she lifted her arms to surround him, to pull him against her body. He partially covered her as he leaned his weight on his elbows to hold her face in his hands. She smiled, eyes shining as she smoothed the hair from his eyes. He had to shut out that sight, to close his eyes and smother a near snarl of helpless disbelief.

So many years of fruitless longing, of knowing that such could never be for him. How he had tried to stop dreaming! When he could bear no more, he would vow to eradicate those hopes and desires that brought only pain and emptiness. Yet, despite his efforts, the seeds of those dreams had always survived and grown stronger. And now, to have all unanswered longings nestled against him, within his grasp. His Catherine who, knowing all that he was, loved him still.

She was a miracle.

The warmth of her hands bracketed his face as he felt her lift upwards to him. Soft lips brushed lightly against the corner of his mouth, stringing small kisses across his chin. An impudent lick across his cleft upper lip, lightly exploring. Warm breath caressed him as the liquid tip of her tongue followed his gasp of surprise upward into that tight cavity.

Pleasure struck like a whip. Frozen by drenching waves of sensation, his breathing stuttered to a stop. Never had anything compared to this, not even in dreams. A moaning snarl shuddered through him as he tightened his grip in her hair and lowered his mouth to her, taking her.

Kissing. He was kissing her at last. Wildly, without reservation or trace of shyness. The vibrating purr deepened and slowed as his tongue lapped against her. Opening for him, she took his full lower lip between her teeth, nipping lightly. His mouth dropped open in helpless response and she took full advantage to slip her tongue between those strong teeth to explore a hard fang, long and smooth. Claws in her hair tightened deliciously, immobilizing her head as his mouth rocked against hers in long, drugging kisses, lifting only to tilt and turn her, seeking new angles. Sensuously, she licked across the pads of his upper lip, teasing the center of that sensitive area, slipping her tongue inside. Each time, his breathing would hitch and he would tense, claws flexing lightly. The helpless rumbling response shook through him.

"You like that," she breathed into his mouth. A murmuring growl was his only response as a callused hand loosened to wander over her exposed shoulder. Gentle, biting kisses followed it as he grazed his way down her throat.

She couldn't keep her hands still. They speared through his mane and trailed over broad shoulders. The textures of rough wool, leather, and suede passed in turn. Not right, not enough. She needed to feel him...

The brush of velvet muzzle halted at the neckline of her shirt. A heavy gust of breath stirred the cotton as he raised his head, eyes pleading. An iron claw slipped beneath the laces, a careful questioning tug.

With unmistakable intention, Catherine rolled Vincent onto his back and sat up beside him. Leaning forward, she grasped the hem of her nightshirt and in one movement pulled it over her head. The rustle of cloth almost obscured his harsh gasp as her body was fully revealed to him.

There was nothing in this world save this woman. His woman. Ivory skin gleamed, impossible to not touch. Wonderingly, he trailed his fingers from the base of her throat, between her breasts, and down over the visible quiver of her belly. And the scent of her! That sweet musky note, new but instinctively recognized, spiraled through him, unrelenting, beckoning to the wildness in him. The tip of a claw grazed through the nest of curls that flagged her womanhood. Tracing circles, it wound the curls around it and pulled lightly, deliciously. Her stuttered moan of pleasure sank into him.

She needed to touch him, to run her hands once more over the sensual feast that was Vincent. Leather laces on his vest proved too much for coordination and her hands fumbled ineffectually, picking at the unfamiliar knots. Frustration rose, a harsh whimper.

Hot eyes glittered in the darkness.

Quietly, he sat up and arose from the bed, a tall shadow in the darkened room. His gaze never left hers as he methodically began to remove the layers of clothing that had served for so long as his buffer against the world, against her. Piece by piece, cloak, vest, and heavy corduroy pants all dropped to the floor. Stray moonbeams cast silver luster on smooth golden fur as he stood before her. Proudly. Boldly. No shyness turning him from her.

He was so beautiful! Now, completely nude, fully awake and aware. Diffuse light played across his heavily muscled body, bringing to life the swell of pectoral muscle, tight abdomen, and the heavy maleness that nothing now concealed. He was magnificent. He was hers.

"Yes." His wondering sigh of agreement.

Catherine moved to sit on the side of the bed before him. Reaching up, she stroked her hands up his chest and then down, burrowing into the thick curls. Softer than they appeared, they slipped through her fingers in a waterfall of moon-washed gold. Following their course, she trailed her fingers downward over muscular swells of abdomen. Downwards, until the hard jut of maleness rose strong and thick into her hand.

A shivering moan rumbled from his chest. To feel her touch there! It was beyond anything he had ever imagined. Eyes drifted closed on a helpless growl as her hand encircled him, squeezing softly. Barely, he contained the instinctive urge to thrust himself into that grasp. That incredible enveloping pressure, released as her touch slid downward to explore what lay beneath. The world narrowed further, until it contained only her and the paralyzing pleasure of her hands on him at last.

He was big. All over, but especially here. A rich copper thickness that yearned to be tasted. And there was no reason to resist, not now. Everything he was was hers to explore and to treasure. With a gusting sigh, Catherine slid from the bed to her knees before him. Both hands cradled him as she nuzzled her face into the satiny lushness suspended beneath his manhood. Firm globes, nestled close, slipping smoothly within their furred pouch. A sweet musky odor filled her senses, heady and evocative. His hot male scent encompassed her, coiling a heavy ache into that most intimate part.

He could feel the moistness of her breath wash over his sensitive flesh, the warmth of her cheek gliding along the length of him as she lifted her head. Forcing his eyes open, he looked down, watching her run her face against him once more, her sigh of approval a gust of sweet warmth spiraling along his length. She was flushed, eyes unfocused. Desire coursed through the bond, meshing with his own. Her eyes drifted closed in sensual enjoyment as she ran her tongue around the tip of his erection. Wet lips slid around him.

He couldn't not look. Never had he imagined, even in his wildest dreams, that she would do such a thing. Would even want to. The liquid heat of her mouth engulfed everything in a spiraling center of sensation. There was only the sight of her, the incredible feel of her gliding tongue as she sucked lightly. An unsteady hand rose to cradle her head, to feel the small movements that sent waves of swamping pleasure through him. Helpless, he trembled as he curled forward, his chest heaved in audible pants. Beneath it all, a grinding rumble ebbed and flowed with each breath.

Sudden coolness as her hungry mouth released him. Her body slid against his as she rose, flowing upwards in an electric glide. Hands grasped his head as she pulled him down. He could scent himself on her, a heady intermingling that begged for more. A rough snarl swirled through him as he grasped her waist in his hands and lowered his head to take her lips once more.

She was drowning in him.

Everything Vincent was was in his kiss. Passion. Uninhibited wildness. He devoured her senses. Eclipsed them. His head swayed in mindless abandon as his mouth wove its way to her neck. Catherine's back arched as she bent to aid his progress. For a moment his wet kiss ended, replaced by the vise of sharp fangs as he took her throat in his teeth, bearing down lightly with a deepening of his constant rumbling purr. Pressure alternated as he gently rocked his head, a killing twist softened to an innate, instinctive claim, clawed hands kneading her waist lightly. She felt the sharp vise of his fangs relax, as his tongue stole out to gently bathe the points of contact.

She needed him. The musky scent of him inflamed her senses, his hard body against hers a feast of temptation. Bowed backwards beneath his dominance, she felt the firm press of his maleness against her belly as he swayed in unconscious rhythm. His kisses grazed down her chest to flow over a breast. A hitch in his shivering rumble was the only warning before a yearning tip was engulfed in the heat of his mouth. A low moan shook through her as the liquid rasp of his tongue curled across her nipple. Her hands clenched in convulsive response, response that was echoed within in a dizzying shower of sensation.

His lips left her body, leaving only the huff of panting breath swirling across her breasts. Slowly, her eyes opened. He loomed above her. Waiting...

One hand rose to smooth over his cheek and run gently up the fur his nose. "Please..."

Not taking his gaze from hers he bent, lifted her slight weight into his arms, and carefully placed her on the bed. The shivering rumble never wavered as he came down to stretch out beside her, a furred leg slipping up to lay heavily over her knees. One callused hand came to rest beneath her breasts, claws spread. Deadly claws, spanning her ribcage, drawing sparkling lines across her belly as they traced their way down to her hip.

"Catherine, I... " Words were forced over the heavy rumble, an unalterable part of who he was.

"Shhhh. Everything will be fine. More than fine." The tip of a fang showed as he smiled, hazy blue eyes betraying his apprehension. "I need you."

The throaty confession was his undoing.

Beneath him, Catherine arched her hips, her legs drifting apart. The swelling rise of her scent called to him, crying her desire and need. Her arms urged him forward and he shifted himself to settle between her legs, bracing his weight on his arms. A soft whimper welcomed him as he felt the softness of her breasts press into the fur of his chest. An unsteady gasp as his hardness brushed her waiting warmth.

The touch of her froze all thought. The only possible response was unrelenting, driving instinct. Clawed hands slid carefully beneath her to grasp her shoulders as his back arched, pushing his hips forward against that sweet, secret place. Melting heat caressed him as he felt her flesh yield, bathing him in liquid silk. Sweet tightness engulfed him as sinuous movements drew him deeper.

He was sinking, drowning in the unbelievable slick welcome of her. There was nothing in the world except the scent of her need, the rolling sway of her hips beneath his, the tight heat that drew him again and again into her. The feel of her life surrounding the very heart of him. Beyond imagining.

Catherine moved against him, tilting her hips to take more. A harsh moan of pleasure was wrung from her as internal muscles yielded, impossibly taking all of him. He was fully sheathed, his size pressing deep. Filling her utterly, body and soul. Beneath her hands, back muscles flexed. Slow rolling movements translated to his hips, compounding the paralyzing pleasure rocking against her, inside her. Mindlessly she flexed her nails into velvet fur.

Her pleasure was his, each swaying thrust a deepening well of sensation for both. There was only the helpless physical need for more. Together, they were one flesh, rocking together in a dizzying spiral ascent. Cresting...

Her strangled gasp as she stiffened. Her long wavering cry as she convulsed beneath him. Electric pulsing waves coursing from her, through him. An explosive twist of ecstasy uncoiled from where they were joined, lifting him in an iron spiral of drenching release.

Throwing his head back he roared his completion, triumphant.

 

* * * * *

 

The moon had almost set. Beside him, Catherine stirred, muttering something incomprehensible before turning to nestle her backside against him.

The room was saturated with the scent of their loving, underlining the truth of what they had experienced. Languorous contentment weighted his limbs as he traced a claw down the curve of her spine. He felt his maleness stir as she shifted against him.

What they had done had surpassed his most daring fantasies.

Was it wrong, to want it again? So soon? Was it... acceptable? His body told him yes, but then that was not a reliable gauge. Perhaps...

Turning on his back, he willed himself back to sleep. He could nap for a while longer before heading Below.

"Vincent..."

The sultry whisper sent currents of anticipation through every nerve. The mattress swayed as Catherine turned over, sat up, and leaned over him. Unmistakable tendrils of desire crept though the bond, following the soft fingertips that drew patterns on the fur of his chest. Could it be? Slowly, he raised his eyelids to see...

See her hot eyes, glittering in the darkness.