by Joan Stephens-

Jason had moved to the tunnels about six months ago. His experiences with the world Above mirrored so many of the residents that they took him into their society with little reservation and less background checking. His previous life was a mystery to all, but he had such a winning personality that no one seemed to care. He fit right in from the beginning and was soon taking his turn at teaching the younger children. He was funny, articulate, and lovable. Even Father relaxed his guard with the young man, almost treating him as another son. Jason and Vincent became close friends.

But Catherine sensed that he was keeping something hidden, and she watched him closely even though she was not immune to his charm. Then one day as she was quietly observing Jason, Vincent walked into the dining chamber to have lunch with her and Father. She was shocked to see the look of naked hunger that passed swiftly over the good-looking face. Glancing around, she wondered if anyone else had seen his look. Apparently they had not. So . . . that was his secret and her Vincent was the object of his affections. She genuinely liked Jason and didn’t want him to be hurt, which she was afraid could happen if he said anything to Vincent. She decided that the best thing that she could do was to tell him of the depth of the relationship between her and Vincent. And there was no time like the present.


“Jason, I’d like to talk with you if you have the time.” Catherine caught him by the sleeve as he left the library chamber.

Extraordinarily handsome with genteel manners that harked back to the Victorian Era, he stopped and gazed down at Catherine, thinking how lovely she was and that it was no wonder that Vincent loved her deeply. He was aware of just how deeply the man loved her, and he wondered if her love was as deep “Of course.”

“Not here, some place where it’s quiet and less crowded.” She looked around, noting the comings and goings of the tunnel folk. It was difficult, almost impossible, to find any privacy, but what she had to say to the man standing beside her needed to be said behind closed doors.

“Would I compromise you by taking you to my chamber?” He raised an expressive eyebrow, his mouth quirking in a half-smile. He knew from the tense set of her shoulders that it would not be a pleasant interview. With a half-smile on her lovely lips–even he appreciated beauty for its own sake–she gave a tiny shake of her head

Silently, each sunk in their own thoughts, they proceeded to his chamber. He held the quilt that served as a door to the side, letting her enter before him. She declined to sit in the chair that he offered her. Instead, she stared at him with hard eyes.

Squaring her shoulders, she held her head high. “I know your secret, and I think it is time that you understand my relationship with Vincent.”

“Really,” he replied dryly, attempting to inject a little levity into the situation.

She didn’t smile. “Yes, really. Vincent and I have a special relationship; we are connected in a way that I don’t understand, but we know what the other is feeling. Father says it’s an empathic sense. Vincent has it much stronger than I do, but I know that he loves me and only me, and I feel the same way about him.” She stared intently at the young man who calmly gazed back at her. “No one can come between us. No one!”

“I’m well aware of that,” he answered tranquilly.

“And I won’t allow anyone to hurt him,” she stated flatly. “Do not be deceived by his loving manner. He is the same with all his friends, and I know he counts you among them. Don’t presume on his friendship and mistake it for love.”

Jason bowed his head. “I have already presumed on that friendship,” he said softly as his eyes flickered with sadness or distress. Catherine couldn’t decide which it was.

“How did he react? He wasn’t . . .”

“Angry? . . . Upset? No, he was very calm and kind. Too kind, for his kindness cut deeply.”

“How? What did he say?”

“He thanked me for my feelings about him, but said that he was not inclined that way, and then he proceeded to tell me of his love for you and how the two of you are one soul. That there was no one in the world that he could ever give his love or his heart to as he had given them into your tender care in return for your heart and love.”

Catherine’s stiff manner evaporated and her eyes went soft with deep-felt love. She sighed happily. Jason felt that sigh to the depths of his soul. How he envied her. She held in her heart what he desired: Vincent’s love. She looked up at him, and he seemed so unhappy that tears came to the corners of her eyes. “Oh, Jason, I’m sorry that you feel as if you’ve been rejected. He’s such an easy man to love.”

Jason was shaking his head. “Oh no. No, he didn’t reject me; he offered me his love as a friend, someone who understands. I accepted it gladly. I just wish . . . ”

Catherine favored him with a knowing look. “You wish that he loved you and not me, but you can’t stop loving him, can you?”

“No, I shall love him until I die, but I sincerely hope that this will not be a problem between the two of us. That we can be friends, too.”

She took him by the hands and smiled up into the face that other people considered the standard of perfection, but in her eyes, his good looks could never compare to Vincent’s savage beauty. Now that she knew that he was aware that Vincent’s love was only for her, she could accept his friendship . . . easily. “There will be no problems. After all, to know him is to love him.”