sequel to The Only Gift
IRON BEHIND THE VELVET
chapter 17 ~ So Long as the World Contains Us Both
The ocean of longing,
the sea of your deeper want,
the gravity well of your own desire,
the place you would fall becomes
the place you are held
Long waves of persimmon and rose streaked the lavender sky. In the waning light, flowers blazed with an in-drawn heat. The canopy of pale spring leaves darkened to deep forest green as if the trees dreamed themselves a more ancient woodland. Circles of shadow gathered beneath. In one beguiling bower, Joe and Rosie stood together in close conversation, and when she pointed to his watch, he unstrapped it, offering it up without apparent question. She tucked it into his jacket pocket and his hand followed hers in.
At the kitchen window, Catherine smiled and scraped another carrot.
In the gloaming the glass was translucent and the landscape beyond shimmered. But the evening ticked on and the panes turned more to mirrors, reflecting the enterprise behind her. Flynn pulled bubbling trays from the kitchen’s range, Eimear laying out quilted mats for each one just before he arrived at the kitchen table. Eimear’s long serrated knife bit through the golden crust of the braided, seeded loaves Joe had chosen. Flynn wrapped the slices she cut in foil, set them to warm in the still-hot ovens. The pair crossed the room, then crossed paths again, speaking with mere glance and passing touch … a practiced dance of intimacy, of history.
Always. This was what it looked like.
She might not see him for days.
I want you here.
Here. Beside me.
The wanting became longing became hunger became thirst.
It wasn’t new, this longing …
in me all that fire is repeated
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten 1
Between the pulse of her heart, another drumming …
Like a march, like a race …
… a secret road that brings us close
Outside, a young team of three prowled the flowery paths, lighting the garden luminarias – tin cans and sap buckets pierced in patterns of leaves and stars and hearts and fireworks. The garden candled into familiar light.
The window she stood before seemed a portal now – two worlds in easy tandem, outside and in.
… Only a few miles separate us, a few miles of night, a handful of earth, a transparent wall …
And he was there. In the black-pearl glass … there.
… at last face to face
… all thirst ends in our embrace.2
An indigo silhouette took shape, drawing closer … closer … cloaked in a golden aura.
His blue eyes glistened; his gaze met hers … held …
“Well done, Catherine.”
She startled at Flynn’s voice and the peeler clattered on the porcelain. “That should be plenty,” he said, fishing the tool from the heap of orange ribbons. “I’ll shred them up for the salad and we can get outta the kitchen. You’ll give me first dance, won’t you?”
“I will, but I don’t have a clue. Consider yourself warned, okay?” A full-throated droning, a hollow staccato rumbled down the hall from the living room. She turned on the water and, with a cupped hand rounding the sink, coaxed what peelings clung there into the pile.
“You’ll catch on,” Flynn assured her. Her trimmings went into a copper bin he kept nearby. “Martin will take the second dance; I’ll send one of my brothers for the third, and by then you’ll be a pro. The band’s gearing up for Shoe the Donkey. That’s an easy one – just count to four. If Gay Gordons is next, you’ll be fine. It’s a couples dance; someone will drag you through. And Seige of Ennis just has the same few steps over and over.” Without her asking, he tugged open a drawer, handing her a towel from it – one faded and soft, embroidered in tiny violets behind three frayed initials – LMB.
Catherine laughed and dried her hands. “If you say so.”
The front door bell had rung dozens of times, and through the open side gate neighbors ambled in to the garden, the party amplifying, spilling over into the churchyard. Each guest arrived with a contribution to the table – appetizers and snacks on the sideboard in the hall, drinks in coolers on the front porch – and now the potluck of desserts crowded one kitchen countertop. Eimear appeared in the doorway, another square pan in her hands, the scent of warm chocolate curling from it. She wedged the brownies into a last space between a many-layered spice cake – a stack cake, she’d called it – and a pyramid of Linzer cookies. As if she felt their study, Eimear turned and grinned and clapped her hands, three satisfied taps.
The window was raised an inch, but the room had warmed, significantly so. Flynn reached past her over the sink. The sash was stubborn, but he shoved the window higher with the palm of his hand. Evening air billowed in through the screen. Eimear’s image – the broad and pleased smile she offered – wavered in the doubled-up panes.
An effect of old glass, Catherine hoped.
The heat of the kitchen had ruddied Flynn’s fair skin and his black hair curled long, caught in the collar of his tee shirt. His hip against the tiled counter’s edge, his arms folded, he was powerful … but reigned in. A small muscle worked in his jaw as if some silent debate wrestled toward conclusion. His gaze into the garden was fixed – not, she discerned, on the four laughing children she could see snaking hand in hand along the brick path, but distanced … perhaps within.
“Forget if you can,” he half-whispered.
When she asked for explanation, he looked down at her, blinking as if surprised by sudden light.
She’d once called Vincent back from the magnetism of the abyss to glimpse the same expression lodged somewhere between awe-struck and apprehensive.
He raked a hand through his hair, reached for a juice glass in the near cupboard, filled it with water … raised a humble toast before drinking it down. “Eat, drink, dance,” he said. “Don’t be shy. If someone calls for The Cashel Set, you’d best sit that one out, but otherwise … ” He slid a wooden cutting board into place, positioned a shiny box grater, took up a scraped carrot from the collection on the drainboard. “Otherwise just … forget. Forget your feet.”
* * *
Years had passed since he last traveled the main northwest tunnels, years upon years since he’d explored the deeper reaches with its plunging flumes and ragged gorges. There was no forgetting; the map folded square and tight in his vest pocket was unnecessary. Yesterday became today, became now, became always. His feet knew …
He needn’t think.
What he was doing wasn’t thinking.
Vincent … I want you here. Here, beside me.
Every step away from her was like a knife inside him. Love called … and called; love called him back.
Freed to fulfill his responsibilities. The irony …
He ran, ran too fast. He’d be upon them too soon.
Expected to speak, he might only scream.
Walk it off.
Accept the pain, move through it.
It never worked for him.
He took a wrong turn. Purposefully wrong.
Then another to a long straightaway he remembered, high-arched, still strung with caged bulbs on cloth-coated wire … dim boasts of amber in the thorough darkness.
A round-about, but the route would take him to camp, and in the long run …
The long run … He almost laughed, but his Other’s choked bellow rose first.
He cast aside the torch he bore. It hissed before it sputtered out, barely on the edge of earshot.
A waste … such a waste. What more can he need? Stubborn man, foolish man. He has his freedom, the love of a woman, her faith, her patience … babies born of his own blood craving his touch. Every choice in the world. Every choice, and he makes this one.
Need you, Vincent. Intercede. Champion them … defend them.
… pushing me … pushing at me. Demands. Expectations. Why, Father? Why must I–
Your voice, Vincent. The truest, the strongest. Promise me. Promise …
… if this is my fate
Too much. Too loud, the spirits and wills, all free to choose … even against love.
Freer than I.
… no life without limits
My own choices so limited. Now they are hers.
… not without sacrifice
She dreams me above, at her side. We were walking down 5th Avenue. You bought me ice cream. A humble fancy. No more than that …
And I cannot.
Mine. I want what is mine! A day, a single hour without limits. My … wife … beneath me in abandon, the sun on my back, the light on her face …
I deny … but there is memory.
Beyond everything, beneath the black river, what? Dark … so dark … raging. I hear it, hear it rising up. Smell it. Taste it.
fury pleasured to full extent … desire …
must protect her … must protect everyone
A second thunder in my heart …
He skidded to a stop, a dead stop … and for a pressured moment, he did not breathe, his chest a steel trap, his lungs bone-dry. His thighs, his calves burned, fired yet for speed. A fueled engine thrummed in his ear. Flexed in anticipation, his fingers hungered for engagement.
A menace of shadows …
One more turn, a race down the last corridor into camp and he would catch them unawares, gloried and huge in his frustration. His friends, his family … they would see, see him whole. They would learn.
The course of my blood …
He scraped sweat-soaked hair from his face.
The abyss from this slippery height was a burning lake.3 The flames licked up.
A faint call resonated. He whirled.
Not from camp, but behind him. Too far behind.
A guttural snarl thickened in the back of his throat, a knot of responsibility, of expectation, of anger unexpressed … inexpressible.
No nobility this.
I want you here.
In argument, he shook his head, cutting her off, but she persisted, her smile patient, her step achingly slow but sure. Don’t be afraid to want it. Don’t be afraid to deserve it.
“Even if it cannot be?” His words reverberated, thunderous despite their muttering.
It can. It will.
A pinpoint of light glittered in the reach of his mind where the way lay straight between fearsome bends. The black river ebbed, the current of it calming to pacific waves.
Without trying, he could hear it. The music.
He knew where she was.
His vow a silent, flaming leap of heart …4
I’ll find you. Tonight.
He found the crew at their supper. They stood around the small fire, spooning stew from rimmed tin plates, the conversation low, punctuated by nods of agreement – the give and take of talk that gets a job done. At his approach, everyone turned to him, their expressions welcoming, no concern etched at the corners of eyes, no grim set to a mouth.
“You’re here already!” Jamie exclaimed. “We figured you’d come.”
Vincent searched the group. “Is Kanin back?”
Cullen snorted. “No. But, hey, don’t let him spoil your appetite. You’re just in time.” He set aside his plate to fill another, one banked in the ashes of the fire keeping warm. “You look worried, old friend. I didn’t make the stew. Compliments of Aniela’s mom.”
Jamie gestured him nearer the fire. “You’re a little winded. You okay?”
“I … hurried.”
“Why?” Jamie asked.
“Maybe you should sit down, Vincent,” Cullen said. “Was there a … problem on the way over?”
“No.” He hesitated. “Perhaps I’ve overreacted. I was worried Kanin’s journey might bring an unwanted element.”
“You mean he might be followed up top back to another entrance? We’re on that.” She poured a cup of water for him, holding it out until he thought to take it.
“Thank you, Jamie.”
“Drink up. Remember what Father always says … the perils of dehydration.”
“Et cetera, et cetera,” Cullen intoned.
He couldn’t help laughing.
“We posted sentries inside the first entrance up top on either side of the blocked junction,” Jamie told him. “So far, nothing to report. Kanin went topside all the time … you know … before. It’s been a while, but he can’t have forgotten how to be careful.” She sank to the ground beside him. Cross-legged, she leaned on her elbows. “I still don’t believe he did this.”
“You should see those rock falls,” Cullen said, dropping pan-warmed slices of polenta into the soup.
Jamie took the proffered dish and passed it to Vincent’s hands. He balanced it on his knees, savored the aroma.
“It’ll take days to clear them,” Cullen went on. “Kanin had some plan, all right. He must’ve worked out the physics, knew just where to cut. I thought we’d be dropping delaying barriers, but they’re as good as impenetrable. If I weren’t so mad at him, I’d give him a medal.”
Minestrone ragout, he registered. Aniela’s mother’s specialty. One of his favorites. The heat seeped through the patched corduroy of his jeans. He hadn’t expected reward.
Jamie poked him with the handle of a spoon. “We’re going back to work right after supper,” she said. “That old two-level stairwell? Not so bad. The steps are still solid. We’re replacing the railings and hanging some torch holders.”
“Have you put up temporary–”
“Rope guardrails? Sure we have.”
He rubbed the back of his neck. “You’ve worked overtime already. You should get some rest.”
“You’re one to talk.” Cullen passed over a basket of cookies. “Aniela’s mom again. Oatmeal raisin. I think your side’s getting dinner tomorrow.”
“Aniela is still below at the eastern camp,” he said, taking two. “I hope she remembers to go home to get it.”
A fog of grit hung in the air. His mouth was dry; his teeth sooty to his tongue. They’d not thought to bring water and the nearest trickle where they might wet a bandanna and mop the dust from their faces was a half-mile back, a level down. Squinting, he traced the tight joints of the rock barricade. “Amazing,” Vincent muttered, his sleeved arm pressed to his mouth and nose. “What he knows … all he’s capable of …”
They backtracked in silence until they met with clearer air.
“We need Kanin,” he went on. “And he needs us. I’ve failed to reach him.”
“We’ve all had a go at him,” Cullen said. “Jamie gave him a good piece of her mind. She had a letter from Olivia he didn’t want to take. I guess Elizabeth did a sketch of Luke and the baby. I told him myself Olivia won’t wait forever.”
“What was his response?”
“He really didn’t have one. I don’t know what to do.” Cullen sighed and tapped his forehead. “He’s got this thing going in his head, a loop. You know – I’m a sorry bastard and I’ll always be a sorry bastard, and I’ll prove it to you, since you don’t believe me. He’s pushed everybody’s buttons in just two days together.”
“Olivia’s acceptance, her love, should free him, and yet he chooses to run.”
You’re one to talk. Yes, he could hear himself. He expected at least a raised eyebrow from Kanin, if not a repeat of his earlier chiding.
“The problem is,” Cullen said, his eyes fixed on the ground instead, “eventually you run smack into a mirror. And there you are, standing all by your lonesome, staring at your big ugly mug.”
There was no reason to stay. On arriving, the crew had toured the planned worksites, compared the maps and blueprints to geography most had never seen. Jamie had organized the sentries, scheduled their watches; Cullen, the work shifts and meals. They’d stashed first aid kits and canteens of water at the prioritized stations, lidded coffee cans of nuts and dried fruit. Tools were inventoried and allocated.
Their strategy was sound.
Kanin was gone across the perimeter and he would return. To think otherwise was unacceptable.
He bid them farewell, to fare well.
“We’ll send a message as soon as Kanin’s back.” Jamie speeded at his side, her pace matching his out of camp. “Coded somehow. Like … Arthur loves peanuts. It won’t mean anything to anybody but you.”
He grinned. “That will do. Dominic will come for Kanin on Monday for his appointment above. Surely he’ll have returned by then.”
Near the junction, Jamie slowed to a stop. “We’ll be all right,” she said. “It was good to see you, Vincent, but you didn’t have to come.”
How beautiful she was – her shoulders squared, her chin tipped up. A crossbow’s bolt, fierce with determination, the fire of right and fair in her eyes. So short a time ago, she was new to them – a child, hesitant, wary, standoffish to others her age, demanding a corner bed in the dormitory where, with no more than a look, she drew a defining arc around her space. At breakfast, she’d wait for Winslow’s appearance, run to him, the hem of his long vest clutched in her hand as she trotted beside him. He’d pry her fingers loose, shoo her to school or to the children’s table, but often enough, no matter how remote the work, they’d look down to find her materialized at Winslow’s knee. He’d scowl and tap out an urgent call to Mary or Sarah to retrieve her, point her to some distance where she’d sit, her arms crossed, her mouth turned down – his mimic. Grrrrrl, Winslow called her.
“You’re right,” Vincent said. “This crew is in fine hands. Your hands. You’re a strong leader, Jamie. An independent thinker. A woman to be reckoned with.” He hugged her close and left her blushing her goodbye.
He retraced his route in a long, swinging stride. His frustration pounded out, the veil of it lifted, familiar passages opened right and left, reviving in his memory the youthful discoveries at their end. Another day, he might linger, explore again, but now a silken summons, the coral voice within a seashell, beckoned him.
* * *
With a gasping laugh, she begged off another invitation to the floor and bee-lined for an empty chair, one pushed into a corner far from its likely position flanking the tiled hearth and oak mantel … collapsed in it. The yellow upholstery was worn soft, the cording threadbare. As she traced the scrolled-leaf carving of the wide wooden arms, she imagined it below – in Father’s study, in the commons’ sewing room … In their own atrium beneath the glowing light of a tall candelabra.
Nothing in the room matched, she noted. The furniture a mix of styles and eras, there was nothing … frail. Heavy, overstuffed, substantial. Welcoming. A family’s history graced the walls; mementos and artifacts crowded the plate rail. Books jammed the glass-fronted cabinets – paper and hardbound, the odd leather binding, the clear-filmed jackets of library loans. The colors – paint, fabric, photographs – were more jeweled in the abundance of light here, but if the floor were stone instead of burnished wood, no windows but chiseled niches …
The front room had been made larger with the removal of walls, the dining room and pantry sacrificed for space before she was born, Eimear had told her. The widened archway to the hall was spanned now with a hewn timber, stained black in places. Salvaged, Martin explained during the respite of a two-step shuffle, from a fire in a church two blocks over, three decades earlier. Nearly took Francis out, he’d said, when it came crashing down, the neighbors having pitched in to clear the damage. Behind her back, she was sure, he’d signaled the band to repeat the slow air from start to finish, tightening his hold on her hand ever so slightly, keeping them coupled for the dance, asking her questions she was able and willing to answer.
Now The Cashel Set began and she was glad for Flynn’s advice to decline and retreat. None of her earlier dance partners – Martin, Flynn, his brothers Eli and Cormac, or the half-dozen others – had flinched when she stumbled or flailed. She had … nearly … forgotten her feet, but in her mind’s eye, she saw herself tripping up one couple after another in this complicated circle, heard their wooomphs of surprise as their knees buckled. She lifted damp hair off her neck, settled back to watch and listen, keeping the music’s irresistible time with one tapping toe.
Two fiddles, a guitar, an odd-shaped, bellowed-thing – the button box, she’d learned – sometimes a wooden flute or a penny whistle … The players commanded the entryway and the stairs, their tunes somehow pitched to the space – loud enough for the caller to be heard, for the stamp of feet to accent rather than drown the music out. Already she’d learned that céilí meant a visit, reason enough for a kitchen party and different from a hooley, which was rowdier by far. That ceol meant music, and damhsa, dancing. That this evening was craic – fun, indeed – and all these terms taught to her by a neighbor from three houses down, Madhuri, and her young son, Rohan, over her pista sandesh and the promise of its recipe.
A youthful passer-by with a clutch of bottles in hand stopped chairside, offered her a choice. “A Cidona? A TK’s?”
An apple-flavored soft drink, he explained, or a fizzy red lemonade.
She asked him to choose for her.
“Well, if my mom would let me,” he whispered, “I’d go with a beer. Of these two … the TK’s, for sure.”
Flynn’s baby brother Hugh whirled by, Rosie on his arm, a delicate version of his strapping siblings and a teenager clearly in love. Even the momentary loss of his partner to the Ladies Cross caused him to squint as if in pain. Joe sat out as well. Slouched against a wooden column, his sleeves rolled up, his smile was Catherine’s favorite – the one that dimpled his cheek and wrinkled the skin at his eyes – one she’d not seen often enough lately. He met her gaze, raised his glass in acknowledgement, and barreled over, perching on the sturdy wing of her chair. He threw his arm around her shoulders.
“Cathy, I gotta tell you. I never expected to see you like this.”
“You mean you’re surprised I’m such a klutz?”
“Where’s your sense of rhythm?” Joe grinned at her and hitched his knee higher. “I thought you East Side girls had mandatory dancing lessons.”
She nudged him with her elbow. “If it’s a waltz or the cha cha or even the mambo, I’m fine, but in a Haymaker’s Jig …” She blew out a breath that riffled her bangs. “But you! You look mighty confident out there.”
“What can I say, Radcliffe.” He buffed his nails on his shirt. “Some of us have it …”
“Others don’t. Yeah, yeah. Promise you won’t tell everybody in the office I bollixed up an entire set by turning the wrong way? I do know my right from my left. I do!”
He studied her for a moment. Not so long ago at all, barely hours before, really, she’d have turned from his regard, felt it necessary to forestall any declaration or curiosity. But now, the way between them lay easy and open …
Well, easier, she amended. More open at least.
“I’ll keep your secrets, Cathy.” Joe winked and pulled her hair. “But, man, it’s gonna cost you.”
Would it? The keeping she never doubted. But the price of his knowing …
With a deep sigh, he settled in, his arm outstretched across the back of her chair. He took a long swallow of black beer. “Nobody cares, no matter how bad you mess up. Now that’s a great feeling. I don’t know when I’ve felt so …”
She looked up at him and laughed. “Messy? You have a foam mustache.”
“Hmmmph,” he mumbled behind his hand.
The Eightsome Reel was announced – for those who know, the caller said.
“Whew,” they sighed in unison.
Rosie started off the floor but was called back by Hugh, and over his head, she flashed Joe a look of playful apology. The amber cast of the lamps gloried her copper hair.
“Hmmmph,” Joe repeated. “I could use some air. Wanna go outside?”
The small porch was strung in tiny white lights, its railings wrapped and looped in a necklace of pearls. A knitted wool cardigan hung from a wooden peg just outside the door. Joe held it open for her and she slipped into it, snugging the lapels. Heavy with cables and honeycombs, it fell almost to her knees. Likely Flynn’s, she imagined. The warm, earthy perfume of lanolin mixed with something spritely herbal. In the pocket, she found loose leaves, lemon-like when she brought them to her nose, dried to a crisp green-brown.
The night garden seemed an enchanted place. The luminarias kindled the darkest corners, and from the trees green glass bottles hung, fitted with votives. The swath of sun-yellow tulips paled to meringue and chiffon. The air was sweet with honey and vanilla, whether from the kitchen or from evening-scented flowers, she wasn’t sure. The party spilled outdoors, even into the church yard where just beyond the archway, a spontaneous concert roared. The high stone walls surely funneled the sound to the stars.
Vincent, I want you to hear this. Can you? I wish …
“Crazy, isn’t it? That’s called a seisiún,” Joe said, “when a group gets together to play like that.”
“Rosie’s helping you with your Irish, is she?”
“Ummm.” Joe gargled his answer behind another gulp of beer.
“I can see you blushing,” Catherine whispered.
He set his cup on the railing, turned it round and round in its thin ring of condensation. “It’s weird,” he admitted. “This feels like … like it might be something. Ahhhh,” he scoffed and drained the glass. “I can’t think like that. You, of all people, know I’m not great at relationships. I have some … strange expectations.”
“Strange? Honesty, loyalty, commitment. You call those strange?”
“I’m not always easy to be around.”
She leaned a shoulder against a post and crossed her arms. Leather patches protected the sweater’s elbows, their rough-sewn edges both familiar and a surprise. “Easy isn’t necessarily … necessary, Joe. Maybe all the other relationships were a kind of preparation, to make sure you’d be ready when you met Rosie.”
His forearms on the railing, his hands clasped, Joe stared into the distance. “Do you believe in soul mates, Cathy?”
A measure of music rowdied by. Someone whooped, loud and long.
“Of course, you do,” he said and dropped his head. “You got any advice for me?”
“Will you listen if I do?”
“This time I will.”
“All right.” She turned her back to the garden. Propped on the balustrade, Joe seemed tired and forlorn, but when he looked sideways at her, something hopeful sparked from him, something … boyish. A glimpse of his heart. “What we do feels … heavy,” she began. “The work is relentless. And the things we see, the people we try to help, often far too late … Sometimes right doesn’t win and that hurts. But you’re conscientious and honorable. You don’t give up or in. You’re not jaded or defeated–”
“Dull stuff, Radcliffe.”
“No, not dull stuff. You’re a man to be counted on, a man who’ll stay the course. Erica hurt you …”
“And I deserved it. I let–”
“Stop right there, Joe.” She curbed an impulse to pinch him. “One of these days you and I are going to have a talk about Erica, but not tonight. Let’s take a look at your list. Counting backwards: Nia, Faylinn, Jewel …”
“Who wasn’t one.”
“No, she wasn’t. And who was that woman you were dating before Erica. Justine? Juliet? The one you met in the grocery store.”
Joe’s head dipped further. “Journey,” he mumbled.
A laugh bubbled up. “Right. And what do they have in common?” She didn’t give him time to answer. “They’re all lawyers.”
He pushed away from the railing and scrubbed his jaw. “But that’s who I tend to meet.” She arched her brows, held them high until he grinned. “Until now,” he conceded.
“Wouldn’t it be nice to talk something besides shop? To not have politics or ambition get in the way or have to assess and avoid all the conflicts of interest, which, in this city, are legion? Rosie’s confident and talented and her life is so different. She sees beneath the surface, past the walls to a whole other world. Imagine it, Joe!”
“I’m no prize, Cathy.”
He scrubbed his face with both hands. She reached out, pulled one away … the other … forcing him to meet her gaze. “You are. Take this chance, Joe. Rosie has wings. Fly with her a little.”
“She made me take off my watch.”
Ah, ha! The dimple was back.
“She made you want to take off your watch. And think about this. She doesn’t have a car here. She’ll need a ride home.”
* * *
Certain the out-posted sentry marked his return, still he skirted his own camp, hurrying past without report. If there’d been trouble or news he’d have been waylaid, but he passed unaccosted. Purposed toward the narrow corridor, his thoughts were pulled toward the mark as an arrow through the air … his heart arching, his quivering focus on the landing at the stairs, on the music he could already hear …
He took the last steps two at a time. A cluster of musicians played fast and near – strings and winds, an echoing drum, a mellow droning pipe – the repeating melodies a rush of dark-hued passion. He bent his ear to the door. Beyond the music, he discerned the banter among men, a child’s squeal and skipping step, the murmur of women – the company of friends, not unlike concerts and gatherings below. He strained to hear her voice in the throng.
She was close … closer now, her laugh dulcet on the night air. He sensed her merriment and more, something deeper than delight. He leaned against the door, his palms flat, pleading against it.
I’m here, Catherine. Here.
“Go on back in, Joe. I should give the other dancers a break.”
He knew when Joe embraced her, that he touched a soft, sweet kiss to her cheek. He felt both.
“You’ll be all right out here by yourself?”
So close …
Her contentment was a tangible thing. He pressed his fingers to the slats. Words took shape; his lips parted to dare to speak, sure she would hear …
“I’ll watch over you, Cathy.”
His exhilaration plummeted. Not his voice, not his promise she heard, but a man’s … another man’s.
My vow … stolen from me.
An icy anticipation speared his lungs, but he chided himself, stepping back, his hands clenched at his sides.
This is wrong. She doesn’t know I’m here. I cannot … I will not spy.
Determined to leave, he whirled toward the trap door.
“Neal, right?” she asked, her voice turning him from the stairs.
Curiosity bickered with his conscience. With his confidence.
“You work with Flynn,” she said.
“Right on both counts. Have you given up on the dancing?”
“It’s the merciful thing to do.” She laughed, guileless. “Didn’t you hear the yelps of pain? I know I mashed your toes, several times. Hard, too.”
“You showed some potential by the end of that last set.”
Appraisal … he could hear it in the man’s tone. The effect of her smile washing warm over him …
“You’re being kind, but thank you.” Inescapable, her presence. Her pull …
“Perhaps you’ll come again. For practice,” the man continued. “We have these regularly enough in the church basement. Those are well attended, but these in-house parties are more intimate.” His voice rounded and softened on the last word.
Only a gentle wariness stirred within her. She moved closer to the door. Save for the damning barrier against which he now pressed, she was almost in his arms.
Can she know that I’m here? He forced himself to breathe.
“Neal, I have to tell you …”
“Uh oh. I’ve put my foot in something.” The man laughed as if her refusal carried no sting. “I should have known you’d be taken.”
The word aroused the callous, banished creature whose foul mutterings seeped like fog into his thoughts. Cold fingers wrapped the bars of the dungeon gate, rattled them.
Taken by … what?
Chapter title: Robert Browning. Life in a Love. 1855.
Opening Quotation: David Whyte. Millennium. 1999.
- Pablo Neruda. If You Forget Me.
- Pablo Neruda. Ode and Burgeonings.
- Theodore Roethke. the Abyss.
- Elizabeth Rooney. Mute.
Irish Music House Party (opens a youtube video)
The Cashel Set (opens a youtube video)
GOOD TO READ
Fan Fiction Sites
ON THESE WALLS
Fan Art Sites