SHADOWS OF THE PAST

By Rosemarie Hauer

"Catherine."

She turned at the sound of her name, glad Vincent had come to her. "I wonder if I'll ever not be surprised to see you there," she said calmly, turning to face him. He was standing in the corner of her balcony, and the soft light from inside the apartment cast deep shadows over his troubled face.

"We've never withheld the truth from each other," he began, and automatically she steeled herself for his words.

"No," she replied, waiting for him to continue.

"Catherine, there are things I must tell you, about who I am and what I am." There was such anguish in his voice, and she tried not to show the apprehension she suddenly felt. Her heart went out to him as he stood there, obviously fighting the impulse to flee into the night and hide from her eyes. Slowly she walked toward him.

"Vincent, to me you're beautiful." She swallowed her tears as she looked into his vulnerable eyes.

"What I have to tell you is not beautiful," he said, allowing his gaze to evade her for a moment as he looked up to the sky. "It's terrifying and shameful, but it is the truth."

She gave him an encouraging nod. "Then I want to hear it."

"It's about Lisa and what she meant in my life."

"Yes?"

His eyes darted away from her as he began to speak. "I would watch her dance. She would dance in the Great Hall alone, for herself, for me. There was nothing in the world as beautiful as Lisa."

His face had taken on an almost dreamy expression as he lost himself in the memory. This was a side of him Catherine had never seen before. With her, Vincent had always seemed impervious to feelings like that and she had accepted it as part of who he was. At that moment she realized what a depth of longing he'd been hiding beneath a surface of self-composure and inner distance. She wanted so much to hold him and caress those memories away from his sorrowful mind. Silently she cursed the circumstances which had caused him so much pain, a pain that was still with him, restraining him, suffocating him.

"You desired her," she stated as evenly as possible. "There is no shame in that."

"For me there is," he insisted, his eyes filled with a knowledge of something she couldn't grasp yet.

"Why?" she asked breathlessly.

"Because I hurt her. Because in my desire I forgot who I was, who I am. As she moved closer I wanted to hold her. She was dancing and I felt a pull. It was pulling me to her and I reached out for her. Suddenly...in her eyes I saw her fear of me. I...I saw myself but I couldn't let go of her. These hands wouldn't let go of her. And I hurt her. And I knew that..." He paused, staring down at his long, taloned fingers as they curled into fists. "These hands were not meant to give love," he continued with a shuddering gasp.

Catherine's heart constricted painfully in her chest, and she reached out to take his hands in hers, rubbing her cheeks against their furred backs. "These hands are beautiful. These are my hands," she whispered emphatically, kissing each in turn. Another sob wrenched from his chest and he wouldn't raise his eyes to look at her.

For long, breathless moments, Catherine's world consisted only of the point of contact where Vincent's forehead touched the crown of her head. A barely perceptible squeeze of his fingers reminded her that she was still holding his hands in a firm clasp. His breathing had returned to normal, and she felt as if he were slowly recovering from the toll his difficult confession had taken on his soul. He straightened, and it was with reluctance that she released his fingers at last. When she looked up into his face, his long, golden lashes were still glittering with tears. There was apprehension in his eyes as if he expected her to judge him, or fear him, now that he had revealed such a painful part of his past to her. Her heart turned over in her chest as she saw him struggle for composure. Expressing to her what had haunted him all those years seemed to have taken up all his words.

Catherine knew instinctively that nothing she could say now would get through to his wounded heart. She reached up slowly to touch his chest, glad when he tolerated the gesture. He just kept gazing at her, and she wondered briefly if he expected her to say something, but finally she decided it was more likely that he had simply withdrawn to that quiet place inside his soul where guilt and shame could no longer reach him.

Involuntarily her eyes strayed to his slightly opened mouth, and she imagined the sensation of cool air on moist lips as he took slow, quiet breaths. He inhaled deeply and she watched with fascination as his nostrils widened and a tiny area of pink flesh became visible in the cleft dividing his upper lip. Suddenly he touched the tip of his tongue to that very spot and she swallowed, wondering if he was as aware of her as she was of him. From the restless darting of his eyes she could tell that he was growing more and more uneasy.

"Vincent?" she called out softly.

He tensed, and as he looked at her again, it seemed to her that he was slowly returning from a place far away. She watched him take a shuddering breath and his eyes darkened as he finally focused on her.

"Death," he said, and she saw his hands tremble. "I've always thought that death was the only thing that could burn away the beast from my soul."

"No," she replied firmly. "Not death, Vincent. Love."

His eyes flickered briefly before they came to rest in hers. "Love," he rasped, as if the word strained against his effort to say it, "can never be for me what it is for you."

Her heart constricted painfully as she took in the anguished expression on his face. Gently she put one hand against the bare skin on the side of his neck. He flinched, but she insisted. She had to get through to him in some way, and she knew that words alone wouldn't reach him now. The pulse in his throat fluttered against her palm and made her knees go weak with tenderness.

"Love," she said, "is what we make of it. If we make it pure and beautiful, it will be."

"Pure," he tossed out. "Am I forever to deny the truth of what I feel?"

She shook her head. "Desire, Vincent, as well as passion, can be the purest thing in the world if felt by a pure heart."

Shrugging off her touch, he turned away. "My heart isn't pure," he said, curling his fingers into taut fists before her face. "It's like these, full of darkness and rage."

"What about me, Vincent?" she began carefully. "Do you think I'm tainted because I desire you?"

Her challenge had been a deliberate one, yet she started as his head snapped up and he stared at her in stunned surprise. Groaning under his breath, he cast a helpless glance up at the night sky. "You don't know what you're saying."

She cupped his cheek with one hand and guided his gaze back to hers. "Let me prove to you that I do know," she offered quietly.

Instantly his eyes clouded with apprehension, and her heart ached for him as she stepped closer and rose on tiptoes to press the softest of kisses on his full bottom lip. His breath caught in his throat, but he didn't shy away. Encouraged, she repeated the kiss but lingered a little longer this time. His mouth was so invitingly warm, so irresistibly soft.

Suddenly an irrational gust of despair swept through her and she broke the kiss. She was helpless to explain that feeling and quickly gave up trying to, knowing only that it had come from within him. Her lips were still tingling from the pressure of his mouth, and as she waited for an explanation that might never come, she touched her fingers there as if to prevent the sensation from fading away. Instantly his expression became contrite and he reached out to gently brush her hand away. "Did I hurt you?" he asked, his voice hoarse with concern.

She shook her head, meaning to tell him that it was impossible to hurt someone without moving at all, but then she felt the pad of his thumb brush across her lips and all thought was driven from her mind. She seized his wrist and kissed his palm, glad that he didn't pull away.

"We shouldn't play games," he murmured at last.

"I'm not playing games," she said. "I mean every word I say and every move I make. What makes you think I'm playing?"

A shuddering moan wrenched from his throat. "Lisa said it was child's play."

"Lisa didn't understand," Catherine replied, giving his hand a soft squeeze. "She didn't know you. She didn't realize what she was doing."

He locked his gaze to hers. "And you, Catherine?"

"You wonder if I'm fully aware of what I'm doing?" she asked.

He didn't respond; he just hung his head in silence.

She seized him by his upper arms, shaking him gently. "Of course, I do, Vincent."

Gently, he disentangled himself from her grasp and turned away, looking out over the city. Then he brought up his hands, staring at the long, sharp tips of his nails. "I wish I could be certain," he whispered.

With effort, she kept herself from touching him. She so wanted to take his hands in hers and pull them against her wildly beating heart. "I don't need any certainties," she answered. "I trust you completely."

"How can you...?" he rasped, dropping his hands to his sides.

"Vincent," she said entreatingly, "you're such an important part of who I am, just as I'm a part of you. You know me so well. Why do you think I know you any less?"

Slowly he turned and locked his gaze to hers. "How well do you know yourself?"

Catherine found herself at a loss for words. She scanned his face for any clue as to what he might be referring to. "I'm not the only one who bears emotional scars," he continued, his voice distant and low. "How well do you know the dark places within your own soul, Catherine? The places where you've been hurt?"

She swallowed, struggling for words, but none would come. Her mind was a whirl of conflicting thoughts and confusing memories. Involuntarily she reached up to wipe a tear from her cheek. Instantly she felt herself being enfolded in a pair of strong arms. The familiar smell of his cloak -- of cedar and candle wax -- calmed her as it always did.

"I don't know," she whispered helplessly. "I don't know."

His hand was in her hair as he stroked her gently. "I may not be the right one to visit those places," he rasped. "I might cast too big a shadow over your soul."

She pulled back a little to look up at him. "What do you mean, Vincent? I'm afraid I don't understand."

His eyes were calm and clear as he looked down at her. Finally he pulled her close again, cradling her head against his chest. "There are...dreams in you, Catherine, and fears. Dreams I may not be able to fulfill and fears I may not be able to dispel."

Catherine's mind worked feverishly. What was he trying to tell her? Was there anything about her that he knew but she couldn't remember? And if so, did she really want to know? To her dismay, she became aware of violent shivers that shook her body as she clung to him in desperation. He began rubbing her back with slow, reassuring strokes, and gradually she relaxed a little.

"Tell me," she demanded. "What is it you see within my soul?"

She felt him shake his head against hers. "It's not anything I can see clearly," he replied. "It is more like sensing a chill amidst the warm, lively breeze of your spirit."

A shudder ran down her spine. "You're scaring me, Vincent."

"I'm sorry," he said, releasing her gently. "I wasn't sure how to address this, and it was never necessary before, but..."

"But?" she coaxed.

"Catherine," he began, and she braced herself for what he was going to say. Releasing a shuddering sigh, he threw back his head and closed his eyes. "This is so difficult."

"Please?" she begged hoarsely.

He returned his gaze to hers. "You're cold," he observed. "We should...go inside."

Surprised, she watched his face closely for any sign of uneasiness. "Are you sure?" she asked. "You've never wanted to enter my apartment before unless it was absolutely necessary."

For a brief moment he looked away. "It is necessary now," he said at last. "If we stayed out here in the cold, you might become ill."

So simple, she thought. His reasons always seemed to be so simple. They were a matter of life or death, of safety or danger, of comfort or hurt. With a warm wave of gratitude she realized how much she trusted Vincent. Whatever he was going to reveal to her tonight, she knew that the time for it was right.

And I thought I was going to help him, she mused wryly as she took his proferred hand and followed him to the terrace door which led to her living room.

He paused there, waiting for her to lead the way, and she gave his hand a soft tug as she crossed the doorstep before him.

***

Vincent made a deliberate effort to concentrate on Catherine instead of his surroundings. Casting a furtive glance at his cloak where it lay folded over a chair, he struggled to shake off the feeling of being trapped above. Inhaling slowly, he watched as she curled up on the love seat opposite him, cradling a steaming mug of tea in her hands. Her contentment as she absorbed its warmth was a palpable thing. She looked tired, and he felt guilty for coming to her this late, but he also knew how much he had owed her the truth about himself. What he hadn't reckoned with was her determination to prove him wrong, to show him that he was meant to give and receive love. The memory of her kiss sparked a tingling warmth in the pit of his stomach, and for a moment he closed his eyes to savor it.

"Vincent?" she called out softly, and his attention snapped back to the present. Her eyes were wide as she looked at him across the coffee table. "Why tonight?" she asked. "Why has it become necessary to point out my own shadows to me at last?"

Suddenly Vincent found it difficult to breathe. He struggled to gather his thoughts. "Because never before did you get so close to me as you did tonight."

She lowered her gaze to the mug she was holding. "You never allowed me this close before."

He swallowed the lump of uneasiness in his throat. "Somehow I...couldn't believe that you really wanted to be."

Her smile sent a ray of joy down to the bottom of his soul. "And what made you finally realize that I do want to be this close to you?" she asked, her eyes sparkling with warmth and affection.

All he could do was hope that the blush he felt burning his skin didn't show. "I had a feeling as if...as if you wanted me to..." His voice broke and he lowered his gaze to his fists where they rested on his lap. He heard a soft clatter of dishes as she put down her mug.

"It's not true that your hands aren't meant to give love," she said quietly. "I wanted so much to show you that."

The warm, tingling sensation was back, and he gasped with the intensity of it. "I know," he whispered, looking up at her again.

"But you wouldn't let me," she went on, and it was more a question than a statement.

A groan built in his chest, and his voice sounded raw with his effort to suppress it. "I couldn't."

The fabric of her robe made a rustling sound as she stood up and walked over to the window, staring out into the night. "Because of that shadow in my soul," she murmured.

He rose and walked over to where she was standing, curling his fingers into fists to keep himself from touching her. "You are afraid, Catherine," he whispered. "I can feel your...love for me, and yet at the same time..."

"There is that chill," she finished, turning around to face him. Her eyes had taken on a dark shade of green and her features were solemn as she gazed at him silently for a long moment. "And you think that it might be you I'm afraid of," she said at last.

"Catherine," he said, taking her hands in his, "I can't be certain what it is you're afraid of unless you are confronted with it. And if it turned out to be me..." He averted his face, but as he tried to release her hands, she held on to him.

"Oh Vincent," she gasped, "I didn't mean to confuse you so. I'm sorry."

He shook his head. "You only meant well, Catherine. What you tried to do for me...means more than I can say. It showed me how much you...care about me."

"I don't merely care about you, Vincent," she said, "I love you, and I know deep within myself that you and I are meant to be together. But now..." She paused and he watched her struggle for words. "Vincent, I trust you completely, and if you say there is a shadow of fear in my soul, I believe you. But I refuse to believe that it is you I'm afraid of."

There was fire in her eyes as she stared at him defiantly. He opened his arms and drew her to him, rocking her gently as he hid his face in her hair. What he had to tell her was so difficult to express, more difficult than anything he had ever told her before.

"Maybe what you are afraid of," he began at last, "is the feeling of helplessness. You might perceive physical strength as a threat. After what happened to you, you may find it difficult to trust...anybody...not to hurt you, to be gentle with you in moments of utmost vulnerability."

She struggled to lean back in his arms in order to look up at him. He released her immediately, taking a step in retreat.

"I may not trust just anybody," she said, quickly reaching for his hands again, "but I do trust you, Vincent...with everything I am."

He felt tears sting his eyes as he looked into her face. It was all there, her desire for him, her trust, and a dark something he couldn't name. He pulled her into his arms again and kissed the top of her head. Nuzzling her hair, he sighed. This beautiful, warmhearted woman offered her love to him, and he didn't know how to accept it. The risk...the risk was so great.

"Please tell me to go," he urged her quietly. "Send me away while there's still time."

Her breath was hot against the skin of his throat as she whispered, "No!"

He tilted back her head, cradling it securely in one hand while he brushed away an errant strand of hair with the other. He tucked it behind her ear with deliberate slowness before he bent down to press a soft kiss on her forehead. Her eyelids fluttered delicately and closed as he skimmed his mouth softly across her face. Her lips were full and inviting and he fought hard not to lose himself to the temptation of taking them in a passionate kiss. He must go with great care. It was with utmost tenderness that he dared kiss her at last. The sensation of her lips moving beneath his was overwhelmingly sweet, and it became increasingly difficult to remain alert to each and every emotion rippling across the surface of Catherine's mind. He opened the bond as fully as possible and was relieved to encounter nothing but pleasure and contentment. And a desire so deep that it shook him to the bottom of his heart. Reluctantly, he ended the kiss, meeting Catherine's gaze calmly as she cast him a look of disappointment. Cupping his palm around her cheek, he brushed the pad of his thumb aross her lips.

"You're not afraid of my kisses," he stated in a hushed voice.

"No, but you seem to be afraid of mine," she retorted with a twinkle in her eyes.

"That's right," he conceded, unable to hide his smile from her. Another rush of desire reached him through the bond, igniting his own, and he sobered instantly. This was madness. He wouldn't be able to carry it through. How could he ever hope not to get lost in feelings of such intensity? But it was too late. His mouth was drawn back to hers as if it had a will of its own. She wound her arms around his neck, and he ran his palms down the sides of her body to rest them on her hips. The impulse to pull her close, to hold her against his hardening flesh, was almost impossible to resist. As if she had read his thoughts, she strained toward him, but he held her firmly away. She moaned and her lips parted under his, allowing him a touch so inimate that he thought he would die from the sudden tightness in his groin. He couldn't remember loosening his grip on her hips, but suddenly she was pressing into him, tantalizing him with small, enticing movements of her pelvis.

He broke the kiss and threw back his head, panting for air, and instantly he felt her mouth at his throat as she kissed and nibbled him gently. With a groan, he crushed her to his chest, holding her tightly against him. For the fraction of a moment she tensed within the circle of his arms, and he released her abruptly.

"Catherine?" he rasped helplessly, suddenly not knowing what to do with his hands.

"It's nothing," she reassured him, embracing him again. "I don't know what's wrong with me. For a moment I thought..." She paused uncertainly, and he feathered a small caress onto her cheek before he put his arms around her in return.

"Yes?" he urged gently.

"I thought I would die if I ever lost you. To choose a moment like that for such a thought... isn't that strange?"

He thought about it for a moment. "I don't think it is, Catherine."

Suddenly her eyes went wide, and he sensed some deep regret in her. "Vincent, you didn't think I was afraid of you, did you?"

Her eagerness to convince him made his heart ache with tenderness for her. "Not really," he assured her.

"But for a moment you did?" The mere thought seemed to terrify her.

"It would be understandable," he said carefully, "if you shied away from any situation which might remind you of that terrible experience when you were assaulted by...those men."

"Nothing about you could ever remind me of them," she protested.

He pressed a soft kiss in her hair. "Reactions like that are seldom rational, Catherine."

She leaned back in his arms and searched for his eyes. "Do you think the fear you sense in me is that kind of fear?" she asked.

He shrugged uncertainly. "Maybe it was a ghost from my own past which made me think so," he said, tracing the dark circles of fatigue around her eyes with his thumb. "It's late, Catherine. You're tired. I should go now."

Her arms tightened around his waist. "No," she implored him. "Don't leave yet."

"But you need to rest," he insisted.

"Can't we rest together? Please, Vincent, only for a little while?"

Maybe she was right. They had come so far tonight. If he left her now, there was no way of telling when such a moment of closeness might present itself again.

"For a little while," he murmured, and the smile of relief she gave him warmed his heart.

He followed her into the bedroom and stood staring at the bed indecisively for a moment before he complied with her gesture of invitation and sat down on its edge. It felt strange to pull off his boots as if he were at home in his own chamber, and he experienced a flicker of doubt about the wisdom of his decision to stay. Gathering his resolve, he reclined against the pillows and opened his arms for her. With increasing concern he watched as she shrugged off her robe before she curled up against his chest. His palms came to rest on her bare shoulders, and the sensation of skin on skin made him tingle all over again. He clamped down on his desire and closed his eyes, probing carefully along the bond for Catherine's feelings. The invisible strings of their inner connection tightened immediately and she raised her head, studying him attentively.

"Why would I tense in your arms?" she asked. "With you of all people. How can such a thing be possible?"

He was unable to keep his eyes from following the curve of her neck down to the low-cut bodice of her gown. Slowly he reached up to pull her to him again. She mustn't see his face when it betrayed so much of what was going on inside him.

"The human psyche is a complicated instrument," he replied huskily. "Its ways are beyond the grasp of the rational mind. Sometimes it's hard to believe that all the pain our emotions evoke in us is, in the last analysis, there to protect us from things even more dangerous."

She sat up, and instantly he missed the soft warmth of her body against his. "Like what?" she asked, eyes wide with curiosity.

Suddenly her intoxicating nearness was more than he could bear. He rolled himself away from her and got off the bed.

"Vincent?" she called after him and he froze, experiencing a sting of pain as his nails dug into his palms. Forcing his fists open, he rubbed his hands against the rough fabric of his jeans.

"You may not be afraid of me physically," he began, ignoring the erratic pounding of his heart, "but still there's something inside you to protect you from things you don't really want to happen."

"You think I don't really want to make love to you?" she asked, and his heart stopped. He flinched as he felt her hand on his shoulder. He hadn't heard her approach.

Slowly he turned around and met her gaze. "I don't know, Catherine," he replied, shaking his head dejectedly. "You may desire me for the moment, which is a miracle in itself, but there is a higher part of you that is able to survey a wider range of time and events, and it warns you of all the obstacles and complications someone such as me will bring to your life."

"No," she gasped. "That's not true, Vincent. I'm not afraid of complications, and no obstacle can be great enough to keep me away from you."

Despite the painful quality of the moment, he couldn't help but wish to pull her close and feel her warmth against him once more. He longed so badly to hide his face in the gentle curve of her neck, but he held himself back. There were still things he had to make her see.

Her palm felt warm as she slipped her hand into his. "I'm sorry," she murmured, "I didn't mean to demand so much of you, Vincent. All I wanted was to comfort you and assure you of my love. After what you told me about Lisa and what had happened between the two of you so long ago, I thought that was all that stood between us, preventing us from...getting closer. But now you tell me there is something else and that it's within me. Whatever it is, Vincent, I have every intention of tracking down that shadow and erasing it. Nothing must stand between us when you and I finally love." She hugged him gently and released him again.

The love emanating from her wove itself like a cocoon around his mind, numbing it while his senses took command over his will. With utmost thoroughness he studied every detail of her beloved face, tracing its shapes and contours with his eyes before he allowed his fingertips to follow. The familiar fragrance of her perfume permeated his soul, and he reached out to pull her close again. "I love you," he whispered, startled at his own audacity to make so intimate a confession.

Tears gathered in her eyes and he watched with fascination as they glittered and sparkled for a moment before they rolled down her cheeks. Bending close to her face, he kissed them away. She trembled, and he pulled back. "What is it, Catherine?"

"I think now I know what I'm really afraid of," she said in a quivering voice.

His heart skipped a beat and he sucked in his breath. "Yes?" he prompted carefully.

"I'm afraid of not being able to live up to who you are," she confessed shyly. Releasing his breath, he opened his mouth to contradict, but she covered it with her fingers. "And I'm afraid I can't make you as happy as you deserve to be. I've disappointed you before, Vincent. What if it happens again? I can't bear the thought of hurting you."

"You never disappointed me," he said.

"I did," she insisted. "After my father's death I told you I wanted to stay below and live with you, and then I went above after all."

"I expected that," he replied. "I wasn't disappointed."

She cupped his face between her palms. "I saw the hope in your eyes," she whispered.

He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. "I didn't hide it well, did I?" he said, smiling wryly.

She smiled back at him, shaking her head. "No, I'm afraid you didn't."

Suddenly he saw a shadow cross her face, and her sorrow gripped his heart with such force that he released a helpless gasp. He seized her wrists and dislodged her hands from his face, pulling them against his heart. "I've always been afraid of hurting you, because of what I did to Lisa. Who did you hurt, Catherine? What is it that makes you so afraid of hurting me?"

To his surprise, she broke into tears, and he gathered her close, rocking her tenderly as the words began to pour from her heart. "She wouldn't let me have the dog and I was mad at her. She said I was too young to take proper care of it. I sulked and wouldn't talk to her. She came to me and wanted to hold me, but I shrugged off her hands. She told me she had to go away for a while, and I shouted at her to leave me alone."

"Your mother?" he asked softly.

She nodded against his chest, and when she finally looked up at him, the despair in her eyes cut through his heart like a knife. "She never came back, Vincent. I let her go without saying good bye, and I never got a chance to tell her...how much I loved her."

He wiped away her tears with the pad of his thumb. There were no words to ease her pain. Her sorrow went too deep. Gently he kissed her forehead and cradled her close again.

"It hurts so much," she sobbed, and his heart constricted under the onslaught of anguish he felt from her.

"I know," he whispered. "I know."

She continued to weep against his chest, and the wetness of her tears seeped through the fabric of his clothes, searing his skin.

"Every time we have to part," she sobbed, "I curse myself for not having told you all that's in my heart. There is so much danger in our lives, and we never know if we'll ever see each other again. I can't bear the thought of not having given you everything. Vincent, I want so much to share with you the closeness we both crave."

Vincent's mind reeled under the impact of her words. Her eyes were huge as she gazed at him imploringly. "It's not too late, Catherine," he heard his own voice.

Her face was still wet from crying, but now he sensed a hopeful smile behind her tears. "It will be morning soon," she whispered.

Smiling, he gathered her close again. "I don't care," he rasped against her ear. "I won't leave you ever again without...without giving you everything you desire...from me."

Wriggling free from his embrace, she cradled his face between her palms. "And will you tell me," she asked almost shyly, "of your desires, too?"

"I doubt that I could ever find words for that," he replied truthfully, pulling her more tightly against him.

She laughed softly, and her delight washed over him in a wave of pure pleasure. "I don't want to put you in any danger," she said with a glance toward the window.

He followed her eyes with a frown, knowing that she was looking for the first signs of the approaching dawn. "We have at least two hours yet," he said quietly, locking his gaze to hers.

"Then we have to make them last," she whispered in a throaty voice that sent a tremor down his spine. His blood pounded in his ears as he bent to kiss her trembling lips. Tenderness and desire pulsed their enchanting rhythm through his veins, and the intensity of Catherine's response brought tears to his eyes.

"We will," he promised, gathering her even closer against his healing heart.