The mouth is made for
Catherine and Vincent walked arm in arm through the crowd of Christmas party goers in the Great Hall. Reaching the edge of the dancers, they stepped back into the darker shadows that hung beyond the bright glow of the lamplight.
The evening had been hectic and this was their first chance to be alone.
A single, flickering candle, tucked neatly into a recess carved in the wall, illuminated their secret hideaway, casting moving shadows on the walls.
Turning to face each other, Catherine went eagerly into Vincent’s embrace, and they stood close together, arms linked around each other’s waist. Catherine sighed her contentment, reaching up to kiss her husband, when something above them caught her attention.
“Vincent, look. Is that mistletoe up there… ?” she queried, leaning back to frown upwards. She dropped her gaze to smile at her husband. “We’re right under it.” Her eyes sparkled. “What do you think, Vincent?”
“I’m thinking someone has been very busy.” From his better vantage point of height, Vincent reached up to set the dangling bunch of greenery moving. With no visible means of attachment from above, it swung back and forth against the darkness of the Great Hall’s vast ceiling, dark green merging with black.
“Mouse has been missing for days. He must have lowered it down from above somehow. Even the strongest light cannot reach the darkest places up there. There is said to be all sorts of passageways and blind tunnels in the rock above us, but no-one has ever been eager enough to explore them all, for fear of being trapped. Except Mouse. That boy has more lives than any cat.”
“Oh, Vincent… ” Catherine sighed, shaking her head. “I wasn’t asking how it might have got there.” She laughed. “I was thinking of a rather more romantic use.”
“You were?” Vincent dropped his searching gaze to hers. He smiled, his blue eyes darkening to midnight black in the shadows. Tiny lights of devilment seemed to dance in them, wickedly tormenting. He had obviously grasped her meaning.
His arms came around her again, and he drew her closer still, pressing her soft warmth against all of him, glorying in the vital sensations of want and need that always rocketed through him at Catherine’s slightest touch. This was truly how it was always meant to be, even in the darkest of times…
“Must I spell it out?” Catherine dipped her head, looking up at him through her lashes. “Just one candle burning on, shadows lurking everywhere. Someone came, and kissed me there… ” (*) she quoted softly. “I love you so much, Vincent.”
Going onto her toes she reached for him, threading her fingers eagerly into the depths of his mane, her palms cradling the back of his head as she brought his mouth down to hers. She took her time exploring the fullness of his bottom lip, before moving to the cleft uniqueness of his upper. The soft bristles of his cheeks brushed sensuously across her skin, making her shiver, as her tongue moved across his canines.
Her husband’s arms linked across the small of her back, his fingers sliding down to enclose her thighs as he lifted her higher, and Catherine slid her legs around his hips. Vincent’s strong arms held her aloft as he plundered her soft beauty with increasing need.
Not to be outdone, Catherine caught his inner lip between her teeth, firming the contact slightly, and heard him growl a soft warning. Immediately she released him, smoothing her tongue across the abused flesh with sensual apology, and that was quickly answered in kind.
“Vincent, I wish… ” Catherine leaned close to his ear. “How soon can we get away?”
“Not soon enough, I’m afraid… ” Vincent growled, his mouth moving over the warm skin of her neck. “But, perhaps we could — ”
“Vincent!” Found you, at last! Catherine too!” A voice beside them broke into their communion, pulling them apart. “Okay, good! Okay, fine!”
“What is it, Mouse?” Vincent briefly rested his forehead against Catherine’s, both of them breathing heavily, before he finally straightened to glance down at his friend.
“Found this… ” From behind his back Mouse produced the most pathetic looking branch of mistletoe. A single stem with three sagging berries. Holding it up over his head, he stepped close enough to plant a quick kiss on Catherine’s cheek. He winked up at Vincent.
“Merry Christmas!” The tinker giggled, before diving away, clutching his straggle of mistletoe, as he went in search of fresh victims.
Elliot leaned his shoulders back against the rock wall behind him and watched the dancers gracefully circling the middle of the Great Hall. In his other life, far away and far above this secret place, he didn’t do Christmas. He’d spent years actively avoiding the whole season and its maudlin sentimentality. Besides, who did he have in his life to share it with?
He shook his head as he watched Vincent and Catherine slowly circling at the edge of the dancers, arms around each other with their heads close together, whispering those secret thoughts only lovers share.
In another time and place Elliot would have envied them their closeness and deep, abiding love. But not now, things were so different now…
The man he once was hadn’t given the festive day a single thought for himself personally, even before he’d left home when he was twenty-one. That long-ago day he had been clutching the envelope his late mother had left for him. It had contained the princely sum of one thousand dollars. More money that Stosh Kasmarek had seen in his entire life… more money than his father had ever seen on one place. The older Kasmarek had pushed the creased and faded envelope into his son’s hand, before telling him to get the hell out of the old man’s life forever.
And don’t you dare come back!
Stosh had reluctantly complied, knowing it was already too late to argue or make amends. He and his old man had never seen eye to eye and they had always wanted different things from life. And what he wanted the old man simply wouldn’t, or couldn’t, understand.
Stosh didn’t look back, and he didn’t go back. That thousand dollars had given him the initial step up he’d so desperately needed… to become more than his humble origins would allow… to become the fabulously wealthy Elliot Burch.
But Christmas… he shook his head. He’d always done the corporate thing, of course. Or more correctly his PA saw to that. All his employees received generous bonus checks, and the more senior, the addition of an expensive gift basket from Saks for the holidays. Elliot often worked through, barely pausing in his drive to succeed.
And yet now, here he was, right in the middle of a rowdy, festive party and he couldn’t be happier. “Christmas… ” He shrugged. “If the old man could only see me now… ” He laughed wryly. “Maybe we had more in common, after all.” He watched the scatter of tunnel children run through the crowd, making a beeline for the new treats William had just set out. Their cries of delight found echoes in the deeply shadowed vaults of the ceiling far above.
“A penny for them?” a soft voice queried at his side.
“Just looking over some old memories, of another time,” Elliot replied, turning his head to gaze down at Shannon. “Or maybe it’s William’s egg-nog… ”
Dressed in tunnel costume, with her dark hair divided into two neat braids, his love looked like every fantasy he’d ever denied himself. She was the epitomy of every dream of something better he’d dismissed in his climb to the life he had created for himself. That was the life he had always thought he wanted, but one he’d eventually found to be empty and unpalatable. It had taken the arrival of Catherine Chandler to show him what might have been, if only…
Once he had tried to make Catherine his, against all the odds... . despite her love for another man, an unusual and unique man whom Elliot had been unaware of until that fateful night up in the tunnel beneath the park, when he’d discovered a pregnant Cathy, and much more than he could ever have believed possible. That mysterious lover had become his very good friend.
“Christmas is not a time for brooding on what might have been… ” Shannon slipped her fingers into his, linking them together tightly. She gave him a small tug, drawing him off the wall and closer against her. “Come on, dance with me. I’ve waited all night to get you alone.”
“I was thinking about how lucky I am to have found you.” Elliot smiled down at her, enjoying the soft collision with her fragrant warmth. He dropped his face into her hair, and inhaled deeply, with sighed contentment. She held all the scents of Christmas he had forgot, or perhaps he never knew, candle smoke and spices, the tang of pine needles and cinnamon sticks.
Linking his hands in the small of her back he took them a few steps in a slow circle, following the pace of the waltz that had just been struck up. It was only as they swung back that Elliot became aware Shannon was holding something behind her skirts in her free hand. It brushed against his fingers, something leafy.
“What’s that?” He reached for her hand, but she forestalled him by holding the bunch of mistletoe high above her head.
“Merry Christmas.” Shannon smiled at him, watching his grey eyes change to a darker shade with sudden desire.
She had been wanting to kiss him all night, but her duties as Mary’s helper with the children had kept her from his side… until now. In a quiet moment when the children were distracted by new treats, she had managed to slip away, snatching up the bunch of mistletoe from the table as she hurried into the shadows.
“Merry Christmas, my love… ” The strong hands at her waist tightened as Elliot drew her closer, the generous warmth of his mouth brushing a sensual path along her jawline. “You taste good enough to eat… ”
“And you are everything I have ever wanted for Christmas, and more,” Shannon teased, capturing his face between her palms to lift his lips to hers, her eyes sparkling with unshed tears of happiness. Their kiss was long and sensual, and there among the dancing shadows they blended seamlessly into one entity.
Eventually Elliot pulled back just far enough to rest his forehead against hers. “All that I am, all that I could ever hope to become, I owe everything to you,” he said, before lowering his lips to hers once more to kiss her with incredible tenderness. “I love you more than life itself… ” He whispered against her mouth, before kissing her closed eyelids, and tasting the salt of her tears on his tongue.
“I love you too… so much… ” Shannon pulled back gently. She reached up to trace the shape of his lips with her fingertip. She smiled. “All that you are, you gave to me.”
“Shannon… I — ” Elliot began, only to be cut short by an unseen interruption.
“What’s up, Elliot?” a voice from behind them demanded. “What’s wrong with Shannon this time? She okay?”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake… ” Elliot groaned, closing his eyes for a long moment and counting to ten. It didn’t help. He opened them and turned his head to survey the intruder. “Mouse, I swear you were born to appear at the wrong moment.” He laughed. “And there is nothing wrong with my wife. It’s what couples do when they are alone.”
“Okay, good. Okay, fine!” Mouse bobbed his head, grinning from ear to ear, as he hopped from foot to foot in his excitement. “’Cause I got this!”
From behind his back he produced the saddest, sorriest looking twig of mistletoe, a single branch with three lonely berries. Holding it high over his head he stepped close enough to give Shannon a smacking kiss that landed on her cheek at the corner of her mouth.
“Merry Christmas!” The tinker chortled with glee, before he dived away, taking his straggle of mistletoe with him in search of further victims...
Wherever this festive season
(*) Mistletoe a Christmas poem by Walter de la Mare
Illustrations supplied by the author