Rosemarie Hauer's MAGIC

Mists of Darkness

The acrid smell of singed cloth and leather stung Vincent’s nostrils as he made his way Below with long, determined strides. Catherine lay unconscious in his arms as he carried her away from the danger which lay behind them and toward the safety of his world. Catherine’s head rolled against his shoulder as he shifted her weight to tuck her more securely against his chest. The heady scent of her perfume teased his senses and he wondered why he’d never noticed it on her before. Usually she wore light fragrances, fresh and unobtrusive, but this one wove itself around his mind, all but numbing it. Which was obviously its intended purpose, Vincent mused grimly, as he realized why her perfume had been changed.

Alexander Ross had done everything to estrange Catherine from who she really was. In order to fit his dark goals, the professor had tried to transform her into his creature by taking all brightness out of her and replacing it with obscure and deluding attributes that had nothing to do with the real Catherine.

Ducking into a rarely used side tunnel which led down to Narcissa’s lair, Vincent cast a glance at Catherine’s drawn face. Yet again he felt appalled by how unfamiliar she seemed with all that paint on her face, a face that seemed to belong to someone else entirely. His gaze slid lower to the reassuring throbbing at the side of her neck and the barely noticeable rise and fall of her breast. But her pulse was fluttering, her breathing flat and irregular, and he knew he must hurry.

Vincent pushed aside the thought of Father’s response to his decision to seek out Narcissa’s help instead of his own. He would deal with that later. The only thing that counted now was to fight the darkness Ross had inflicted upon Catherine, and only someone familiar with the darkness could do battle with it.

The odor of burned incense drifted over him, lingering in the air as he neared Narcissa’s chambers. The old Haitian woman was waiting for him at the entrance of a vast chamber filled with odd paraphernalia that served purposes beyond Vincent’s grasp.

“Over here,” the seeress said as Vincent carried his precious burden across the threshold to Narcissa’s world. She indicated a cot that stood beside the brazier, and slowly, carefully Vincent lowered Catherine onto the patched sheet.

Narcissa stepped up to him, reaching for Catherine’s wrist. Vincent watched as she turned one of the pale, lifeless hands and examined the palm. Then she placed her own palm on Catherine’s forehead, mumbling something Vincent couldn’t understand.

“Can you help her?” he asked anxiously.

The old woman shook her head. “The darkness has already reached out for her,” she stated enigmatically. “There is only a thin thread between this world and a terrible darkness.”

An icy wave of apprehension swept over Vincent and he leapt to his feet. “Please,” he gasped. “Please.”

“You must get her out of these clothes,” Narcissa demanded, “while I prepare something to hold her to our world.”

Without thinking twice, Vincent began to undo the buttons at the front of the red dress, a dress that was as alien to Catherine as the exaggerated makeup and the insistent smell of the heavy perfume. Vincent felt himself flushing suddenly and tried desperately to push aside the desire that rose unbidden, causing reactions that he knew were dangerously distracting. Setting to work with determination, Vincent slid the straps off Catherine’s shoulders and gently pulled her arms free of them. He hesitated then, needing a moment to compose himself before he pulled the garment over her hips and down her legs. Automatically Vincent reached for a blanket that lay folded at the foot of the cot and draped it over Catherine’s exposed body. She lay there so still that he reached down to feel for her vital signs.

“There is still life in her.” He heard Narcissa’s voice behind him. “But we must not waste time.”

“What is happening to her?” Vincent asked in a trembling voice.

“The powder,” Narcissa began, turning her blind eyes toward the rocky ceiling.

“What about it?” Vincent urged.

“It pulls her out of her body,” the old woman explained as she began washing Catherine’s face with a cloth that was drenched with some sticky-looking concoction. “And you, child, will be the anchor of her soul.”

“But how?” Vincent demanded desperately.

“Take off your clothes,” Narcissa said simply. “The skin is a reservoir of life force.” Grasping Vincent’s hand, she put it on Catherine’s stomach. “Feel how cold she is.”

Vincent shuddered as he realized how clammy Catherine’s skin felt under his heated palm.

“Hurry,” Narcissa urged. “She needs your warmth. You must share your life force with her or she will slip away. She hasn’t much left inside her anymore.”

Hastily Vincent began to undress. His mind reeled with countless conflicting thoughts and emotions, but he knew very well that there was no time for hesitation. Clad only in his cotton briefs, he slipped beneath the blanket, pulling Catherine into his arms. So deep was his awareness of her, Vincent scarcely noticed Narcissa as she spread a thick, downy comforter over them and then stoked the embers and put more coal to the fire.

So cold, Vincent thought as he wrapped his arms more tightly around Catherine and entwined his legs with hers. A strange calm settled about him as he held her close, willing his own warmth into her body. He pulled her face into the curve of his neck, wishing he could do more to warm her toes that felt like ice against his calves.

He heard Narcissa shuffle across the room as she got yet another blanket which she threw over them. Vincent noted gratefully that his body heat was gradually increasing beneath the layers of blankets. Catherine’s skin no longer seemed as cold, and soon a thin film of perspiration began to form between their bodies.

An unfamiliar singsong filled the air as Narcissa stood by her stove, stirring some liquid in a tin cauldron. As a tendril of steam drifted toward their bed, Vincent felt his mind grow foggy and unfocused, and he would have drifted off to sleep if not for Narcissa’s sharp voice.

“Do not sleep!” she admonished. “You must fight! Fight for her, for both of you!”

Eyes closed tight, Vincent forced his concentration on the dormant bond, willing it to open and give him access to Catherine’s soul, but there was no response. Involuntarily he began to stroke her shoulders and back, skimming his palms lightly across her skin. As he stroked her tenderly, he thought he heard the barely noticeable sound of a gasp from her parted lips. His eyes flew open and he scanned her face intently; but there was no sign of returning consciousness in her features, so he concentrated on her body again. Holding her tightly against him, he gently massaged her back, buttocks, and thighs with small, circular motions. She moaned weakly, a barely audible sound deep in her throat, and he moved his ear to her mouth to assure himself that he’d really heard it. With relief he noted that her breathing was deeper now, more regular, and he kissed her damp forehead and her closed eyelids.

“Catherine,” he whispered, his voice sounding hoarse and raw to his own ears. He repeated her name several times, praying that she might hear him, respond to him, come back to him.

Suddenly her thigh came up and his breath caught in his chest as she rested it on his hip. Gathering his courage, he reached down to stroke her gently, encouragingly, and his heart skipped a beat when she suddenly began to move against him, encircling his waist with her leg.

Instinctively, his body responded to her sensuous movements, and he experienced an instant and painful erection. With a soft sigh, she nestled against him, and he swallowed helplessly as she rubbed her belly against his engorged sex. He ran his hands down along her body and firmly gripped her hips to push her slightly away from him. Her skin was warm now, almost hot to his touch, and he breathed a sigh of relief as her eyelids fluttered open at last.

For a long, uncertain moment she merely stared at him uncomprehendingly, but then she whispered his name, and he thought he’d never heard a sweeter sound in his life. His heart raced in his chest as he kissed her impulsively, heedless of Narcissa who stood by, watching them intently.

“You have brought her back,” she said simply. “Now be good to her.”

Vincent slanted a puzzled glance at the old woman, but Catherine buried her face against his throat, a small act that suddenly demanded his undivided attention.

Narcissa chuckled. “Sleep now, children,” she ordered, sprinkling some clear liquid over them. “When she has rested, you may take your Catherine home.”

Vincent acknowleged Narcissa’s order with a brief nod and the old woman shuffled away, leaving him alone with Catherine, warm and naked, in his trembling arms. With one shaking hand, he brushed a strand of hair from her face, stroking her temple tenderly with the pad of his thumb. She closed her eyes in abandon, and he raised his head to press a lingering kiss on her cheek. He felt the bond hum gently with her contentment, and he cradled her head close, grateful when she drifted off to sleep at last.

He held her reverently while she slept, ignoring the numbness in his arm where the weight of her head rested. At one time she dreamed, a wild and frightening dream, and he stilled the shivers that shook her by turning her onto her back and covering her with his body. She calmed at once and, as if of their own accord, her arms snaked around his neck, pulling him down.

“Vincent,” she whispered, arching her back, and a rush of desire made it all but impossible for him to breathe. He threw back his head and squeezed his eyes shut in his struggle to ward off the heat of passion that centered in his groin yet again.

Gradually, her grip around his neck slackened as she sank back into a deep slumber that would replenish her strength eventually.

Vincent jerked awake, realizing that he must have dozed off after all. For once, he had no idea what time it was. Catherine stirred in his arms, and he thought with a smile that he didn’t care much if it was night or day. The candles had burned down considerably, some of them had already burned out, and he studied Catherine’s relaxed features in the flickering light of the dying flames. Tenderly he caressed her cheek and traced the curve of her neck with one trembling finger. To have her this close...he’d never dared dream of anything like that. The heavy perfume was still lingering in the air, but beneath it now he could discern Catherine’s own scent and he savored its familiarity.

Swallowing past the sudden tightness in his throat, Vincent remembered Catherine’s sensual return to consciousness and how much it had aroused him. He drew slow, even breaths to maintain control over his physical reaction to that memory. She was so slender and petite, and earlier, when he’d lain on top of her, his fear that he might harm her had all but paralyzed him.

There was a subtle shift in the steady thrumming of the bond, and Vincent knew that Catherine was about to awaken. He pushed back the blanket and rose to his feet, solicitously covering her again before he quickly put on his clothes.

“Vincent?” she said drowsily. “Where are we?”

Drawing a deep breath, he gathered his thoughts and then he sat down on the edge of the bed to explain to her how they had gotten to Narcissa’s chamber. She listened to him attentively, and at one point of his narration she lifted the blanket and peered under it. Vincent noticed a faint blush staining her cheeks as she became fully aware of her state of undress.

Vincent dried his sweating palms against his jeans as he told her about Narcissa’s cure for her condition. “Narcissa said,” he pointed out, “that you hadn’t enough strength left to tie you to this world and that I must sustain you with my own body heat and my lifeforce in order to bring you back.”

She looked at him pensively for a moment. “And how did you do that?”

He looked up at the vaulted ceiling of Narcissa’s cavern as if he could find an answer there that was less...uncomfortable. But finally he decided that all he could do was tell her the truth, no matter how much he dreaded her reaction.

“I lay with you and warmed you with my body,” he said huskily, unable to meet her eyes. She was silent for so long that he risked glancing at her at last. The expression on her face was solemn, and there was a hint of surprise in her eyes, but then the corners of her mouth lifted in a serene smile.

“Thank you for bringing me back, Vincent,” she said, sitting up and pulling the blanket more tightly about herself. “Thank you for warming me with your body as well. You’ve been warming me with your heart from the moment you found me, and I...”

As he watched a sudden shadow cross over her face, he recognized the feeling that reached him across the bond for what it was: Guilt. She felt guilty because she had rejected his help before, when she’d been still under Alexander Ross’ spell.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “I didn’t mean a word of what I said back there on my balcony. I wasn’t...”

“Yourself?” he provided when she fell silent. She nodded mutely, and he whispered, “I know.”

Tears welled up in her eyes and he sat down on the edge of the bed, reaching for her hand. “Catherine, please,” he said soothingly, “your words weren’t directed at me. Not really. You were terrified, because a part of you knew what Alexander Ross had been doing to you. You just vented your fear and your helpless anger, and I was the one who happened to be around.”

She gave him a sad look and then leaned her forehead against his chest. “That I have it within me to treat you like that,” she murmured.

He pulled up the blanket to wrap it more securely around her body. “We all have it within us to lash out when we hurt or when we’re threatened,” he began.

Narcissa’s footsteps from the corridor outside diverted their attention. She approached the bed and dropped a bundle of clothes onto the blanket. “It is good to see you, Catherine,” she said. “Put these on and then Vincent will take you home.”

“Thank you,” Catherine replied. “Thank you for everything.”

The old woman smiled. “Do not thank me,” she said. “Thank your Vincent.”

Vincent rose and touched Narcissa’s arm affectionately. “We owe you our lives,” he said solemnly, but the old woman just laughed.

Growing serious again, she repeated, “You be good to her, child.”

Vincent wasn’t certain what to make of that particular remark and he could tell from Catherine’s puzzled look that she didn’t know either. “I will,” he promised nonetheless, and was confused when Narcissa laughed again.

“You know,” she said enigmatically, “Mother Earth wouldn’t have to suffer so if men would listen more to the voice of womankind. Listen to your Catherine, Vincent. Listen to your heart.” With that she grabbed a tiny box from her table and left them to their thoughts.

Catherine shrugged and cast him a helpless look before she untied the bundle Narcissa had left for her. Vincent rose and turned his back to give her privacy to dress.

“You can look now,” she said at last and he turned, stunned how beautiful she looked even in the worn fabric of a dress that had been patched together countless times. An image flashed by in his mind’s eye -- the memory of how strange and distant she had looked in that frivolous, red dress and elaborate, distorting make-up. Now, clad in the plain style of the tunnels, she looked almost childlike and so much like her true self that he ached to reach out for her.

“Hold me, Vincent,” she begged as if she’d read his mind, and he moved toward her, drawing her into his embrace. “The darkness was so awful,” she mumbled against his vest. “I don’t know how I’ll ever sleep in peace again, knowing that it’s there -- somewhere within me.”

Oh, how well he knew what she was talking about, but he had no words to console her, so he merely held her close, stroking her hair. After long moments of silence, he whispered into her hair, “We’d better go back now.”

She nodded. “Is it far?” she asked.

“If you get tired I will carry you,” he reassured her.


Wrapped in her robe, Catherine sat on the terrace, turning the shell Alexander Ross had given her in her hands. She was afraid to go to sleep, afraid of the nightmares that lurked just around the corners of her mind. Of their own accord, her thoughts wandered to Vincent, and she remembered his words, ‘I lay with you and warmed you with my body.’ With a quick intake of breath, she looked out over the city, straining to force back memories that kept eluding her. She would have so loved to remember the feel of his body against hers, and a tremor ran through her as she imagined his palms touching her bare skin. Suddenly it occurred to her that in order to warm her so quickly, he must have been naked, too. A sudden heat sprang to her cheeks and her heartbeat accelerated considerably. So many nights she had lain awake with her desire for him, longing for the physical closeness that he was so determined to avoid between them, and when it did happen at last, she hadn’t been aware of it.

Catherine sighed and closed her eyes, and a tingling sensation spread through her body, as if every nerve ending within her had a life of its own. Suddenly, although she’d heard no sound of his approach, Vincent’s hand closed around the shell she was holding. He took it from her and she rose, locking her eyes to his, starved for the sight of him. Effortlessly he crushed the shell in his palm and flung the tiny pieces out into the darkness. They watched as the sparkling dust drifted through the night air.

His gaze returned to hers and he held it with an intensity that took her breath away. She traced the contours of his face with her eyes and finally stopped at his lips. How soft they look, she thought. Suddenly she ached to touch the fine golden stubble that covered the lower half of his face and her need to kiss him became overwhelming, but she dared not.

Mists of Darkness

He must have felt it, for he lowered his head, but his mouth stopped a fraction of an inch before hers. Closing her eyes, she waited breathlessly for him to close the distance at last.

Just when she thought she would die if he drew away again, she felt a brush of velvet against her mouth. Opening her eyes slowly, languidly, she caught his silent regard as he studied her reaction to his tentative kiss. Wishing she could read his thoughts, she reached up to cup his cheek tenderly. His eyes closed reflexively as he leaned into her caress and her heart turned over with the desire to pull his head down and kiss him again. How wonderful it would be to be close to him, really close, and feel the heat of his skin against her own.

“Were you naked, too, when you warmed me?” she asked quietly.

His eyes flew open and widened briefly before he lowered his gaze, obviously pondering his response very carefully.

“I know you were,” she said, framing his face with her hands.

A muscle twitched in his jaw as he brought his gaze back to hers, and she could see the rapid pulse throb at the side of his neck as he searched for words.

“I just wish I could remember it,” she added breathily.

“Catherine,” he gasped, but she silenced him by touching her finger to his lips.

“Kiss me again,” she demanded softly.
He hesitated, and his eyes darkened as he fought for his decision. Finally he bent toward her, taking her mouth in a slow, searching kiss that left her weak with desire. She shivered, and he pulled away.

“You’re cold,” he whispered and she nodded.

“Will you warm me again, Vincent?” she asked huskily.

He froze and she silently reprimanded herself for pushing too hard, too fast.

His voice was barely audible when he finally replied, “Of course.”

He enfolded her in his arms, cradling her to him and rocking her softly. She nestled into his embrace, noting drowsily that she was more tired than she’d realized. Vaguely aware that he settled himself on the chair she had vacated, she snuggled contentedly against his chest, and the soft ebb and flow of his breathing lulled her to sleep at last.

Vincent was terrified by the reaction of his body to the soft weight of Catherine’s body in his lap. He was accustomed to keeping his responses in check. He’d had a lifetime of practice. But now, with Catherine needing him so much, he felt his control slip, and what disturbed him most was his unwillingness to fight to maintain it. The memory of the intoxicating sensation of skin against skin wouldnt leave him in peace, and the passionate desire he had experienced haunted him mercilessly. He was afraid that, if Catherine ever learned of his responses to her nearness, she would turn away from him in distaste.

Catherine shifted her weight, nestling closer and tightening her hold around his neck. One of her hands brushed his skin and he could feel how cold it was, so he gathered her up in his arms and, after a brief pause of consideration, carried her inside the apartment. For a moment he stood there in the center of the living room, looking about him indecisively. Then he made his way over into the bedroom and placed her gently on the bed.

She mumbled an unintelligible protest and Vincent knew she sensed his intent to pull away and straighten. He had no choice but settle himself on the edge of the bed and wait for her to sink deeper into sleep, so that he could extricate himself from the fervent clasp Catherine so needed to maintain. Careful not to break the contact between them, he shrugged off his cloak and dropped it to the floor.

He knew the demons she had to face. He knew everything about nightmares and the inner darkness that gradually swallowed up every ray of light and every ounce of strength, and as he looked down into her pale face, something turned over in his chest. He couldn’t leave her alone in this. He simply couldn’t, no matter the cost.

Slowly and with great care, he lowered himself farther onto the bed beside her and drew her into his arms. She came willingly, burrowing endearingly against him, and he held her close, comforting and protecting her. He’d meant to stay awake, to be ready for her when the nightmares would start, but at some time during the night he fell asleep.

Catherine’s sudden restless movements startled him back into wakefulness. She thrashed and kicked against him, straining away from him as he tried to settle and comfort her in his embrace.

“Catherine,” he called out. “Catherine, wake up. It’s only a dream.”

Her eyes flew open and she looked at him in confusion.

“Vincent?” she murmured.

“I’m here,” he replied and she dissolved into his arms with a desperate sob. “Tell me,” he demanded softly.

“His lips,” she stammered, “and his hands -- they were everywhere. Like snakes...” She shuddered.

“Alexander Ross?” he asked. She nodded, then hesitated for long moments before answering in a low, troubled voice.

“I remember clearly that he kissed me once, but now I believe that he might have done more than that.”

Vincent’s throat constricted with helpless anger. “What makes you think so?” he inquired, careful to keep his voice even.

She frowned. “I’m not sure. The images of my dreams tell me that...that...” Another shudder ran through her.

Vincent sat up straight and pulled Catherine onto his lap. “Alexander Ross wanted to control you,” he said, his voice sounding hoarse with the effort to appear calm. “He did everything to break your spirit and your will. He needed you to serve his warped purposes and he meant to achieve that by crushing the person that you really are. Fear is the most powerful means to make people submissive. Another means is sexual dominance. He used both on you.” With a sharp intake of breath, he finished, “That doesn’t mean that what you dreamed about really happened.”

Catherine was silent for so long that Vincent thought she’d fallen asleep again, but then she whispered close to his ear, “How shall I ever know that what I feel is real if Alexander Ross could make me believe that I...wanted him.”

Vincent swallowed hard, momentarily at a loss for a reply. But then he said softly, “Maybe you should simply give yourself time to get over it, Catherine. I’m certain that your thoughts and feelings, and even your dreams, will clear again.”

She pulled away from him, averting her gaze. “Vincent, what I feel for you is stronger than anything else,” she said in a small voice. “It’s just that I’m afraid that you won’t be able to believe me after all that happened.”

Vincent got up on his knees and seized her shoulders, making her meet his eyes. “Catherine,” he pleaded, “please give yourself time to heal. I will do everything I can to help you. Everything. Just tell me what I can do.”

“You can tell me the truth,” she said quietly.

Releasing her shoulders, he sat back on his haunches and bowed his head.

“What do you wish to know?” he asked warily.

She thought about that for a moment. “I remember,” she said at last, “that your nearness affected me quite strongly. I know that I.. .that I desired you very much when we lay together. I’m afraid that I might have done something that.. .offended or repulsed you. I...”

Vincent pivoted on the bed and pushed himself to his feet. He strode to the far side of the bedroom and remained with his back to her, staring out the window unseeingly.

“Was it that bad?” she asked in a trembling voice.

Heaving a sigh, Vincent returned to the bed. He sat down on its edge and reached for Catherine’s hand. “What you did,” he said softly, “only mirrored my own feelings, my own desire for you. Having you so close, feeling your skin against mine...” He threw back his head and released a helpless groan.

Without relinquishing his hand, Catherine edged closer and leaned against him. “Do you still want me, Vincent?” she whispered.

Vincent’s mind raced. Her mere words brought a devastating response from his body and he shifted his weight uncomfortably. “Oh, Catherine,” he moaned at last, “I have no words to tell you...”

Wordlessly she pulled him down to lie beside her and encircled him with her arms. “Please love me, Vincent,” she implored him and his blood pounded in his ears with her irresistible invitation. With great effort he pulled back enough so that he could see her eyes clearly. They were huge and dark, and misted with desire. His gaze dropped to her lips and he watched with fascination as she parted them as if on a sigh. The throbbing of her pulse just below her jawline drew him and he inched closer, pressing his mouth there. Encouraged by her moans of pleasure, he moved up to her lips and took them in a kiss that fueled his hunger for more. His erection strained painfully against the taut fabric of his jeans, and just when he gathered his resolve to break the kiss and pull away, he felt her hand on him, tracing the contours of his hardened flesh enticingly.

“I want to touch you,” she whispered. He squeezed his eyes shut against the sweet torment her touch and voice were inflicting on him. The voice of reason had died away to a weak whisper, telling him that he should stop, that they should wait, that their time for this wondrous step hadn’t come yet.

“Catherine,” he pleaded in a rasping voice, “please...”

Her head came up slowly and she regarded him with an expression so vulnerable and fragile that it wrenched his heart. He realized that making love to her now would inflict far less damage than rejecting her would. Narcissa’s voice came back to him. ‘Listen to your Catherine, Vincent. Listen to your heart.’

His hands shook as he unbelted her robe and slid it off her shoulders. He got to his knees and slowly undressed before her incredulous, delighted eyes. She pulled off her gown and threw her arms around his shoulders, hugging him enthusiastically.

“I love you,” she breathed as they toppled over and landed on the bed. She came to rest atop him, and he savored the healthy warmth of her skin on his.

“You were so cold,” he whispered, “and I was so afraid of losing you.”

“You didn’t lose me,” she said. “You brought me back. And now you’re stuck with me.”

Pulling her head down, he buried his face in the curve of her neck and murmured, “There couldn’t be anything sweeter for me, Catherine.”

She kissed the top of his head, and he lifted his face to meet her eyes. They were wide and luminous and perfectly clear, and he was relieved to see that the mists of darkness had disappeared.

“Love me,” she whispered throatily.

Guiding her face down for a kiss, he mumbled against her mouth, “Always.”

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