sequel to The Only Gift




chapter 55 ~ Amid a Place of Stone, Be Secret and Exult

(Adult Content, second half of chapter)

All that is eternal in me
Welcomes the wonder of this day


They began the journey Below, following the path he’d earlier defined, the one they were to have taken on their own if in five minutes he’d not returned from Eimear’s house.

Five minutes! Then, what, just leave him there? Who did he think he was talking to.

That last wasn’t a question. At six minutes, she’d been ready to rush the stairs; at eight, she was reaching for the door’s iron latch.

But she had listened … as had Eimear. At the first junction they took the ten o’clock spoke a half-pace ahead of him, veering first into the second passage on the right. She sent a side-glance his way, expecting an appreciative grin. Instead, he breathed out and for a moment closed his eyes. A certain tension left his shoulders.

Then … he smiled.

In the corridor indeed laddered with pipes, on the conduit in the fifth row down, Vincent tapped out a message in a code she didn’t understand. A reply came quickly, a discrete but discernible pinging.

“The alert of our arrival,” he told them. “A code I’ll teach you.”

She heard a future in his words. A promise that included Eimear. A prelude, an exordium.

From quiet homes and first beginning, out to the undiscovered ends,” Eimear whispered.1

As if her friend knew and shared her thoughts. As if they were bonded.


The corridor sloped and spiraled; mortared brick walls gave way to those of stacked, hewn stone, then to solid rock grooved and striated. At first, between them, Eimear strode along unspeaking, her eyes wide, her gaze skimming their confines, offering a look of stunned wonder as often to Catherine as to Vincent. But as they descended, he briefed the history of the community, recounting stories of his and Noah’s and Stuart’s youth – stories she hadn’t heard herself – describing landmarks he promised to show them both. Hidden chambers, promontories, gorges. A waterfall spilling over white flowstone. A black-water lake, a gymnasium, a needle passage illustrated with mysterious runes. Distracting Eimear from the worry she suffered Above, drawing her ever in, proposing sanctuary, refuge … retreat in its most comforting guise. Soon enough, Eimear’s hushed astonishment gave way to unabashed questions, and more than once Catherine imagined Father’s insistence – Don’t tell her anything! –  and his face could he have but overheard Vincent’s freely-given answers.

How much can you accept … she’d asked her once.

Her answer was evident. Everything.


The living chambers were indeed deep. Some long passages were barely lit, darkness stretching between the placement of bare bulbs in wire cages. Another level down, the fixtures numbered fewer until they came to the last one. She stopped to listen. Was that the lap and gurgle of flowing water she heard? Eimear edged to her side, but Vincent hurried past, to return in moments with a clutch of fat torches in hand. A match struck and light filled the tunnel. The canopy of chiseled Gneiss glittered.

A serpentine of switchbacks ended at massive iron hatch set into stone, gritty and orange-red with rust. Vincent had to shuck his cloak and grapple with its entry wheel. While he grumbled about the lack of stashed lubricant, Eimear leaned against the wall to watch. The effort tested his muscles, making obvious his strengths – his corduroys tight to his thighs, his sleeves crowded with power. Once he’d wrenched the doorway open, he disappeared down the ladder it protected – to test the rungs, he said, to help them make the necessary leap from the last crosspiece to the corridor floor. From her vantage point, Eimear offered her a sportive grin – a girlfriend’s knowing, appreciative look – and Catherine knew they traveled – together – an entirely new territory.

The decline leveled. They passed through an open chamber, its high ceiling spiked with dripstone, its perimeter clothed in calcite draperies. Cave bacon, the children call it, Vincent said, the bands of brown and gold, the rippled folds making the resemblance clear.

Strands of electric lighting reappeared coupled with torches lodged in cast iron sconces. Once they rounded a bend to find a soft golden glow filtering down from no source she could discern, diffusing the darkness with an unquestionable magic. But at a swinging bridge over a seemingly bottomless fissure, Eimear balked and looked back over her shoulder as if she might change her mind, retrace her steps for home. Vincent took her hand, remarking on her courage, assuring safety. Eimear across, necessarily he’d returned for her, nodding patiently while she reminded him of her own dislike of splintery planks knotted together with frayed rope, regardless of the twisted steel cable he pointed out to her more than once, the anchor bolts and turnbuckles, the metal netting between the rungs.


Only a single conduit ran the walls of the passage now. A hollow drumming called for attention.

“Wren is close,” Vincent said, his hand on the resonate pipe. “Liz is with her, a few others as well.”

“Where are we?” Eimear asked.

“Beneath Van Cortlandt Park, under Croton Woods.” He drew and released a breath. “We’re … Below.”

“We are?”

Catherine heard the awe in Eimear’s voice, and, as well – when Wren appeared with Liz and her sons, and Julia on her way to relieve the stationed sentry, and Étienne and Mercy and Seth alongside in welcome – in the fall of silence, the full charge of the privilege and responsibility she’d been granted.

A minute passed while Wren stood staring. “Eimear?” she managed. “Oh, my God, I can’t believe …” She looked to Vincent, who nodded.

“It’s a long sto–” Catherine began, but Wren had already launched herself at Eimear, held her now tightly in her arms, the two of them rocking with soft laughter and the release of tears.


Catherine’s belief she might surprise Vincent with the connection between Eimear and Wren had been short-lived. Only steps into the upper tunnels, she’d taken his arm.

You won’t believe this, Vincent, but Eimear and Wren–

… are friends. They work together.

He’d finished her sentence and punctuated it with a rather triumphant grin, she’d pointed out after her own dramatic harummmph, encouraging him then to tell her of his earlier conversation with Wren and his independent piecing-together of this part of the puzzle. But his announcing message – the one in the strange code – had apparently lacked the certain specific of their visitor, leaving Wren the surprised one.

She asked him why he hadn’t named Eimear, and he shrugged and covered her hand with his. “Showing is better than telling.”


After introductions and a surprisingly minimal amount of explanation, the welcoming party – save Liz and her sons – departed for their own rooms or occupations. The last she saw, Wren’s arm was hooked with Eimear’s as they disappeared through a junction. They’d be good for one another. Wren’s sponsorship cemented Eimear’s footing Below, and the school’s upcoming court case – Edward’s future and welfare – would focus Eimear’s thoughts elsewhere, away from what loomed before her. Respite before morning, before telling Flynn about the phone calls, the threats … before making real all she’d endeavored to deny, before confronting the consequence of Flynn’s certain fury and shame.

Be well, Catherine sent after her. Take heart. You’ll love him through it; you will.


Liz’s boys wanted to give them a tour, one beginning and ending in their own chamber. “You gotta see our turtle!” one of the twins cried, tugging at Vincent’s hand. “Read us a story. Two stories!” the other demanded.

Ephraim? Tobin? They were identical in feature and insistence. Vincent promised to do both and would put the boys to bed with but one story, much to their vocal dismay, though he did acquiesce to their clamor to grab-hold and swing from his outstretched arms. After one dropped to the ground, then the second, she saw him grip his shoulder, rotate his arm, shake his head when they begged for another ride.

“They miss their father,” Liz observed. “Their ya-yas are building up. I’m seriously thinking of sending them to their grandpa’s for a couple years.”

With Vincent off with her children, Liz showed her their readied suite, one of the holiday chambers, she called it. A sitting room, a stocked keeping room, a bedchamber. Even though the message heralding their arrival had gone out less than an hour before, a single peony bloom stood in a glass test tube on the dresser. Someone had thought to share a blossom from their own bouquet.

“There’s coffee in the dining hall by five in the morning,” Liz told her, straight-faced. “I hear it’s important.”

Already she had a reputation. Belonging blazed within her, turning her fully from the lonesome edge of her life.

As a result of Kanin’s expedition across the perimeter, the all-quiet had been lifted. The community’s pipes chimed and echoed, but Liz assured her only an emergency message would be transmitted to their lodgings. “We’re not really far away, just a few turns, but it’s tradition for these holiday rooms – you won’t have any visitors. We’ll have tea with Eimear, get her situated for the night, answer the rest of her questions.” Liz laughed. “I thought we’d have to resuscitate Wren when you guys came around the corner, but I know she’s glad to have a friend up top. I was in her chamber, listening while she practiced her … whattaya call ‘em … arguments … for court tomorrow when Vincent’s announcement came in. I wasn’t much help, and the boys wouldn’t stay down, but now … Eimear can really hear what she’s saying.” Liz chuckled. “Some coincidence, huh?”

She nodded and her vision blurred. “Thank you,” she said, “for accepting all this. It’s breaking procedure, I know, and you have so much on your mind already, the incursions, the reconstruction, Noah away from home, Stuart, so many others …”

Ehhh, don’t worry, Catherine. Trust is everything. You, of all people …” Liz reached for her hand. “We live a little different here. No less secret, for sure, but …” She tipped her head – in Father’s direction, Catherine believed, the glint in Liz’s blue eye a little sharper than in the brown. “Look,” Liz went on, “we’ve got things under control. I know how it is over there, but I promise we won’t be needing Vincent to change a light bulb just because he’s here. Go to bed. Have some fun. Sounds like your tomorrow’s gonna be a bear.”

* * *

Hidden from view, she waited for the shuffle of his boots or the signaling flicker of torch light, some alert he swept the long corridor toward their guest chamber. At first, her hands behind her back, she leaned against the stone, her eyes closed in anticipation, but now she paced the small foyer, every second circuit peeking around the wall. How long has it been …

When she knew his approach, she scurried over the threshold into the room Liz had prepared. By the time he rounded the entry, she was innocently working the glossy wooden door back and forth, open and closed, open and closed. The heart-pine framing notched into solid stone, it swung easily over the smooth floor.

“If you ask me,” she said, “this is quite an invention.”

He stepped through and she backed to the wall. His lips parting, his chest a bellows, his warm sweet breath rushed the hair across her brow, at her cheek. At last. Alone. His eyes were a rough cobalt sea flashing with spilling silver. One hand was braced on the stone above her and the other

Once, in nearly this same posture, he’d whispered his imaginings – touch he longed for, kisses he dared not take. She remembered the tenderness of his mouth turned down with raw ache, the charged distance between them, the emptiness of never. But now … Beneath her sweater, his hand … His lips closing on the lobe of her ear, drawing it in. His tongue-tip flickered, teased and fondled its captive, teased and promised. His knee pressed between her legs … pressed and rose. With his foot, he kicked the door shut behind them. The latch settled home with a decisive click.

All she’d planned to tell him, all she wanted to ask, swirled to indistinct colors, any single thought formless, irretrievable. His lips followed the line of her jaw an infinitesimal distance from her skin, one she begged him to close with the tilt of her head, the offer of her throat. One to the other electricity arced, the heated current thrilling her to vapor – a vapor he breathed in. He buried his nose in the lustful place behind her ear, caught her up when her knees gave way. She felt his stiffening against her, the silent quake that traveled up from some deep place to speed his heart. All want, nothing but want. Cloak, clothes – she needed done with them, if she could but get her hands between their pressed bodies, if she could but work the thwarting buttons and laces.

Slowly he released her to firm ground. He cradled her face, the pads of both thumbs stroking her lips. “Catherine,” he managed, before his mouth met hers, his first kiss – always – intense, fragile, trembly with memory.


The bed was wide, its covers a crazy quilt of rich reds – wools and velvets, ribbed and waled and embroidered. Her legs wrapped around his waist, her fingers tunneled in his hair, with one hand he reached for the spread, flinging it to the foot. One knee on the eider mattress, he laid her down, leaving her there, stepping back, caressing her from too far away with a lingering look. Her hunger burned like a stoked furnace; from deeper than deep, the flame of her leapt out to twine, to dance with his. I see it, she was sure she heard. And then his cloak went flying, his flannel shirt sailing after. He turned in hurried study of the room, dropping to a broad velvet chair to unlace his boots. On her knees, she stripped off her sweater, but he was there to peel off her slub-silk tee, to slip the ribbon straps of her bra from her shoulders, down her arms, to bare her breasts swelling the eyelet trim. With deft hands, hands he’d once believed destined never for love, he released the front closure; the encumbrance fell away to the sheets. His palms turned up before her, supplicant, for a moment he closed his eyes, the irises nearly blue-black when he opened them again, when he cupped her fullness, when he lightly, torturously, exquisitely, drew his nails across her skin. Her nipples, so achingly peaked, so tightly beaded, would be satisfied only with their gentle capture between his teeth, with the hot wetness of his mouth, with his tongue pressing her tangible need to the precious soft cleft of his lip. Wordless, he reached behind his head for the collars of the layered thermals he wore. Behind him banks of candles glowed in rough-hewn niches, in wrought-iron stands. Illumined in their amber nimbus, he was golden, gilded, glorious.

The sight of him – his body was still new country, hers to wander. As if blown with fanciful wind, his hair flew wild about his shoulders. The slabs of his chest flared out; his belly was a sheet of laddered muscle beneath feathery whorls of honey, copper and tawny wheat. His fly was open at the waist, the top button stripped from its fastening by the haste of his undressing, a thatched bronze line darkening … disappearing. She reached for him, dragging him closer by his belt loops, and fell to the buttons. After wresting the last, the deepest one stubborn within the placket, she parted the soft-worn fabric of his cords, with both hands sweeping the hollows and ridges of his steeled haunches. She pressed her lips to his abdomen, and when she turned her cheek to the flat plane of his stomach, when she nestled to the softness there … as she always did, she counted her breath-taking blessings.

He stepped from his loosened trousers, his freed erection glistening with promise, and with no more than a look, urged her to lie back. His frown of anticipation she recognized; his frown of assessment, of struggled self-possession, she understood, but this … A secret artist at work, his countenance transfigured. He frowned with brilliant intent. Advanced. With his thumb and two fingers he fondled the button of her jeans. The feel of his furred knuckle at her navel, the press of his other hand just above her knee … she burned with need, with now, would gladly sacrifice her remaining clothing if he would but dispense with it, rip the seams, shred it all away. Already, she was bare to him, soul and spirit. His. Slowly he drew down the zipper, slipped his hand inside her briefs. Silk and denim together, he tugged the fabrics down. Her craving for him scented the air.

There was no waiting. Like an incoming tide, he washed over her, a parched shore thirsty for him. On his knees and hands, he valleyed the mattress with his weight. Soft, so soft, wisps of silk and light, his hair swept her skin calves to thighs, over the jut of her hip bones, each rib then one by one. She smoothed the knotted tension in his arms and, along his downy back, trailed the groove of his spine over chiseled muscle to the tops of his thighs. Take me. Give yourself. His gaze was riveted to hers as he answered her, entered her, his long guttural sigh cut short as she surged up against him, as she gripped him, rolled him to his back. Settling to him, taking him fully, slowly, with a groan of raw bliss she rocked her hips. His brow furrowed in dark concentration. Beneath her his body quivered, so sweet a friction, so delicious the rippling waves …

“Catherine, don’t move …” He gasped and pulled her down, held her fast, the wrap of his arms wishfully forestalling even her imagined movement. But his deep-drawn breath stuttered out, his chest then heaving hard and fast. She rose and fell with it, rose and fell … “Catherine!”

Every muscle drew bowstring-taut, his back arched, and she knew his unfurling. A spun-gold luminosity fluoresced his skin; a hoarse bellow tore like a white-hot arrow from his loins to his throat, forcing his mouth wide. His sound … Candles sputtered with the gale. Some fettered wildness let free, the surprise of his ecstasy … awakened her … opened every door in her heart and she saw the world he saw, knew the same sun. Later she would tell him she heard birdsong, drew summer’s honeyed breath.2

When, spent and raspy, he sank to the bedding, she slipped to his side. There were no words. His mystery would not be unraveled with thought; part of him would always be secret. Nothing mattered but the joy she could bring him, the pleasure he allowed himself to take from her … and if he held back the full infinity of his soul, he was pleasured … as proclaimed by his pounding heart. But he was frowning again, and it was other than a frown she cherished.

“What’s wrong? Tell me.”

He laced his fingers with hers. “I … You didn’t …”

She nuzzled closer, her head on his shoulder. Covered with the cloth of happiness, there is no other prize.3 “If you think that, Vincent, you’re wrong.” Languidly, she drew her leg over his, wedging her knee between his bristled thighs, the prickle like little match-strikes to the kindling of her bonfire, sparks mixed with stars. “Besides …” she added, “you remember, don’t you? The last thing you said to me?” She tried to retrieve her hand – to show him, had he forgotten – but it was caught firmly to his chest.

His breathing evened. The vivid heat he generated had lessened, she realized. When she looked up at him, she saw his mouth now just curved … his half-smile of sleep. She crawled to the foot of the bed, dragged the layers of covers up from the floor. Cinnamon and amber – his hair waved damp and tangled across the pillows. She brought one matted lock to her nose, scenting something crystalline, like the waters in the pool beneath the falls, yet more … more brilliant, more silvery … and congratulated herself for packing his wide-toothed comb. “Rest well,” she murmured, tucking him in, tucking her body to his. For now.


Next to him, his repose … his stillness, his tranquility … deepened her own slumber, restored her. Only a few hours sleep and she was renewed.

Luckily, she acknowledged, opening her eyes, not for the first time adding, Magically.

Will I ever not be surprised to see you standing there, she’d once wondered.4 Waking in his arms was more than that, more than a surprise. Waking in his arms was every dream fulfilled. Spooned to her, he was her velvet complement. His arm was around her, the blankets clutched in his hand drawn up to her breast, his breath warm on the nape of her neck. His legs stretched long behind hers. A slow-eddying current held them; as if entwined upon a float of rushes, they drifted a gentle river. Loathe to leave him, roundly, she nestled to the cup of his thighs.


She shifted and he released his grip on the covers, rolled to his back. His breathing shallowed, but after a prolonged and rumbly snort, lengthened out again, deepened. Her feet on the floor, she watched him. Still asleep. And soundly, deservedly so.

She’d left him last agitated by the deciphering of Kanin’s cryptic message – had it even been one. The journey he’d made to Kanin’s hypothesized aid was undoubtedly long, likely strenuous, surely solitary. Regardless of her parting admonition, she was sure he’d traveled alone and unfed, the apparition of Mitch his foul companion there and back. A midnight supper, Martin had told her, its precipitating event still unexplained. Conversation till dawn, a nip of The Green Spot. A grueling workday compounded with obvious injuries, and, she suspected, a headache. Kanin’s findings, whatever they were, their impact on this borderland community. And Eimear. His acceptance of her unwavering, still she brought change to their lives. All she’d not yet told him – about Phan and Mr. Haas, about Mitch and Sam … about Jenny – he knew it all, if only by color and weight, their bond’s transmission.

The world on his shoulders, Martin had observed.

Two worlds, she amended.

The stain of bruises marred his hip and ribcage. What happened? Too much could. She bit her lip, longing to soothe him. First chance, she’d ask Dr. Wong for the liniment of myrrh and ginseng and camphor Vincent admitted he sometimes used – though no more, he’d asserted, unwilling to subject her to its odor. As if anything could drive me away. Gently, gently she brushed back the hair clinging to the wound on his cheek, touched her fingers to it. It was reddened still and ridged, but cool. Healing.

Contusions and scrapes aside, she delighted in the rare pleasure of studying him. He’d raised one arm behind his head, flatted one hand on his abdomen. One leg drawn up, the rumpled sheets just draped his loins. She couldn’t remember a time when she’d left the bed he didn’t wake as she did so, when he didn’t sigh with what seemed relief when she returned to his embrace. Once …

Hed been ravenous for her, waiting with a fierce passion that was all give, his hands, his mouth … everywhere, adoring, delighting …

Afterward, dazed, limp and liquid, she asked him,  “What … was that?”

Never leave me,” he whispered, his forehead bowed to hers.

She couldnt help herself; she laughed … softly. That … was a bribe?” 

He settled his lips to the pulse of her throat, and through a fog, she recognized the irreverence of her words, wished them back. A moment passed and then … she felt a chuff of breath against her skin. Call it … insurance,” he answered, before beginning again a fervent worship of her neck and shoulder, the inside of her wrist, the palm of her hand …


She shook away the memory and drew the quilt to his waist. He snuffled and turned his head on the pillow. The bathing chamber for these rooms was across the corridor and down a curving staircase. Really, she had no choice.

Bare-skinned, she’d expect to shiver, but there was no chill in the air. Its  hearth-source as yet undiscovered, a mysterious chimney ducted a stream of heat into the room, and Liz had demonstrated the operation of the vent’s louvered slats. “It comes in puffs,” she’d explained, “and it’s not exactly hot, but it takes the edge off. There’s a brazier if you need it.” Here Liz grinned and winked and continued on. “Which you probably won’t. This is our honeymoon chamber, ya know. Or a getaway, depending. Whatever, you don’t wanna be so bundled up all the time. The pool, it’s toasty in pockets, cool in others. Normally you gotta share it with the other holidayers, but nobody else is down here since Wren’s put your friend up at her place.”

Though half the candles had sputtered out, the overnight pillars still burned with a steady glow. She could see well enough to find her clothes, but, even so, she didn’t want to dress. This was business, after all. She’d soon be back. There was tunnel-wear in the dresser: a stitched gown, a long nightshirt, tucked-together pairs of knitted woolen socks. But the drawer creaked, she remembered from her earlier exploration, and his cloak was handy, flung half-across the standing mirror. She pulled it from the glass, clutched it close. Something heavy weighted the breast pocket.


So these are hoodoos? She wove a maze of white spires to the staircase down. The passage walls were shining ivory and ecru – flowstone, Vincent had told Eimear, when they passed through a domed room hung with curtains of it. So different from home, these northern tunnels. Still the corridor was lit with flaring torches, and the familiar conversational pipes ran the length of the wall.

The bathing chamber was a dressing room at the foot of slab steps inlaid with blue-black and sparkly pebbles – a chiseled table, a gold-leafed mirror, an armless chair with a crewel-embroidered seat. A partition of calcite like a frozen waterfall hid a stone sink and the facilities; a key-hole passage opened to a torch-lit cavern lake. The plunge-pool beckoned her to wade in, wisps of steam rising from the still surface. But first

Afterward, wrapped in a towel, she plucked Vincent’s cloak from the back of the chair. An older one, she reminded herself. And ripped, she noticed. She spread it on the dressing table, inspected it. The damage was not its first; other rough mends had been made. She reached for the lantern’s control. The tan leather lapel was blotched dark brown, rusty-red in the brighter light. And then she did shiver, the sudden cold like bony fingers on her arm. She lifted the garment, swung it open. Something fell from the pocket, two somethings, pinging, metal skipping on stone, a folded square of paper fluttering after.


“I remember,” he said.

She spun from her business at the dresser. She’d been gone perhaps a quarter of an hour, and he’d been asleep when she returned – on his side, his back to the doorway, his respiration sweetly rich and slow. She’d not yet removed his cloak, holding it closed with one hand even while she inspected her finds in the low light of the boudoir lamp.

“What I last said to you,” he whispered on, propped now on one elbow. “What I do and what I dream, include thee, Catherine.”5

He rose from the bed, crossed the room in two long strides, most definitely awake. The vestige of shuddery coldness dissipated. She dropped the medal and the silver talisman, the crease-worn paper she’d found to a catch-bowl on the bureau top, letting her grip on the cloak’s satin edging soften, exposing her shoulders, the mounds of her breasts. His gaze moved to her cleavage, his voice a rising-falling, low-rumbling growl.

As if the first time. Always, always, always as if our first time. Oh, Vincent.

“You’re wrong … again,” she murmured. “The last thing you said … ” She allowed the fabric to dip lower. His brow knit searchingly. When memory dawned, he pulled back one black woolen wing where, beneath, her hand smoothed over the flat of her belly. He drew in a sharp breath. She smiled. “Your hands are my hands … remember?”

The cloak puddled on the floor. Before the tall mirror, he turned her, her back to his chest … pulled her close. His cheek pressed to her crown, his embrace was gently possessive, an arm across her collarbone, a fingertip grazing her taut nipple.

She saw; she knew he saw.

“Kristopher’s painting,” she began. With one splendid difference. She watched his touch travel her flanks … down … to the flare of her hips … then rise … to the undersides of her breasts. He caressed her, caught up her pearls. She met his cupping, threaded her fingers with his. He propelled their linked hands over her ribs to the dip of her navel and down to her springing curls, to her petals.

“Show me,” he urged her, his hoarse whisper just audible over her glad, glad gasp.




Chapter title: William Butler Yeats. To a Friend Whose Work has Come to Nothing.

Opening quotation: John O’Donohue. From A Morning Offering. To Bless the Space Between Us.

1.Hilaire Belloc. Dedicatory Ode. 1910.

2.  William Shakespeare. Sonnet LXV.

3.  Mary Oliver. The Rapture

4.  Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Untitled Poem. Sonnets from the Portuguese. Quoted in Vincent’s note to Catherine in Chapter 49: Erelong, Erelong.



  1. Carole, I love this chapter! Great introduction of Eimear and her journey through the magical world. I share her bewilderment and delight…Catherine and Vincent their glances and conversation along the way without words…Wren’s joy.
    The promise to Eimear that she will be connected to this place, now her sanctuary,Vincent’s stories to ease her pain and stress of the situation Above…all of this is of great importance, this connection between them,understanding…Flynn will know the truth and it is inevitable,necessary and important. I love Vincent’s playing with the kids and reading to them at bedtime(he’ll make a fantastic father) and I really love the holiday rooms, it’s a fantastic affair,everything is so thoughtful.
    Their intimate time together is something extraordinary,how can you describe tenderness,love,passion,longing without many details.
    In what you have written one can feel the uniqueness of their relationship, the connection between them is something more like a marriage as it was described in some earlier chapter. I enjoy this time of theirs in the chamber, they deserve this peace and quiet, a respite from many difficult issues, a healing sleep.
    Catherine’s memory when Vincent gave her his “insurance” makes me think of how much her presence means to him and the knowledge that she is close and who he would be without her…I don’t even want to imagine it…
    What is this square, what is this souvenir? it nags me all the time;)….a sublime and wonderful ending…incredible passion!
    Carole is definitely worth waiting for every next chapter. There are no words to convey your writing.

    • Paula, your message here was the first thing I read this morning. I don’t have the words to convey how glad your comments made me! You found everything I hoped you would. You’re bothered by what’s in his pocket too! I’m incredibly grateful that you read with the care that you do, that you find this story worth coming back to even if I am the slowest writer in fandom. I’m even more grateful for your encouragement. I’m not sure what I would do or where I would be with this story without you.

      Thank you is inadequate, but I do thank you – for your kindness and generosity and support, for always letting me know you were here, for your friendship.


      • I’m touched by your words…This has a lot of meaning for me…. I haven’t noticed that you are the slowest writer in the fandom, seriously? I just enjoy your stories, Carole, keep writing at your own rhythm, don’t feel the pressure:)

  2. Yowza! Oooh, I remember this chapter and have been looking forward to it. How beautifully you capture the Otherness of their relationship, hinting at that deeper level of connection, that extra “gear” that Vincent has, and just an inkling of how much he holds back so as not to overwhelm Catherine completely. And how much she wants to BE overwhelmed. Such luscious language!

    I also always contrast Eimear’s warm welcome Below with Catherine’s initial experience. A welcoming committee waiting to greet Eimear contrasted to Catherine’s isolation, Father’s distrustful urgings to “tell her NOTHING,” an urging that Vincent almost immediately disobeys. How Eimear instantly becomes a welcome friend, whereas Catherine was held at arm’s length — mostly by Father — for so long.

    It would be disheartening except for what Eimear’s immediate welcome Below represents — Catherine’s full citizenship Below, a citizenship that means her judgment is trusted to the point that ANYONE she would bring Below would automatically be embraced and accepted.

    WONDERFUL chapter, so of course, there must be MORE!



    • Thank you so much, Lindariel! You’ve described a very key point in this whole story perfectly. I’m thrilled you found it and really pleased you remember this chapter from “before”. Your support means a lot to me and I often can’t believe you’re willing to reread these chapters again from their first iteration (and second, and now third!). How glad I am that you do!

  3. It is a considerable understatement to say it’s not easy to write intimate scenes that have a balance between subtlety and explicitness, a blending of romance and sex, remain true to the integrity of the characters and the storyline, and maintain the established atmosphere and tone of the story, all while being beautifully crafted both artistically and technically. However, Carole, once again, you have done it!

    And the progress of joining, blending parts of Above and Below is so well paced and expressed. It all seems very natural and believable.

    I often read the I/V chapters twice, first as a reader for the enjoyment of the story itself and then as a writer for appreciation of the craftsmanship that created the story. Like every other chapter, this one has it all — and then some! It really is amazing when a writer can bring you into their world and you never question a word they’ve written. It’s like visiting a new place, somewhere you’ve never been, but immediately understanding and appreciating it for what it is, recognizing its truths.

    Your Catherine and Vincent — and all the classic and original characters in your stories — have made up a world like that. The way you see BatB is so believable, in large part because you have made us recognize your individual perspective merged with canon in a way that is original yet true to what we would expect to find.

    As always, I’ll look forward to discovering what happens next! And also as always, thank you for sharing your gifts with us.

    • Linda, I am humbled and delighted all at once! Petrified, of course, that I cannot possibly live up to your kinds words. I’m inspired and encouraged to try, though! You make me feel more confident as a writer and storyteller and I am incredibly grateful (and lucky) to have you as a reader and a friend. You were my first favorite writer when I found fandom and you continue to amaze me with your own work. That you could see all this in this story of mine … Thank you!


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