Beyond the Stained Glass
Here is the golden close of love, all my wooing is done
a brief revisit of the last moments of I Carry Your Heart, and then …
~ The Hidden Chambers
“I brought your things down for you.”
“I found them. Thank you.”
“I brought all of them …” he said, directing his gaze over her shoulder.
The nightdress was draped across the footboard of the bed. She turned back to him with a mischievous expression.
“You said that was for our wedding night.”
He blushed, a distinct bronzed rose. “I did.”
“Yes.” He looked a little puzzled.
“Do we have to wait … all day?”
“Let’s not,” he said, as he closed his beautiful hands over hers.
After a moment, he released her and raked his hair back from his face. He turned to stare at his reflection in the great mirror, to stare at the reflection that at last contained the two of them.
“Tell me,” he whispered. “Tell me this is not a dream, that when I wake again, I will find you in my arms.”
Catherine rose from her chair, going to his side where she stood – quiet, waiting – until he pulled her into his lap. His arms tightened around her. Her lips played under his jaw, at his pulse that quickened with her touch. She wove her fingers into his soft hair.
“I love you, Vincent. This is our dream … come true.” She kissed the warm skin beneath his ear. As his breath stuttered in tiny gasps, her kisses deepened and she nipped at his earlobe. He grew hard beneath her; his grasp was possessive. She did not pull away.
He knew … knew that she loved him. She embraced him, accepted all that he was, all that he was not …
He was chosen.
A sigh escaped and a shiver overtook him. He would have his dream. His skin would know touch … her touch. She would invite him into her body, join with him, become truly one.
Catherine pulled back to look at him, her smile teasing, as if she knew his vision of lying in rapture, wound ’round each other. “What is it? Tell me what you’re thinking.”
“I’ve wanted you close for so long and now …” He looked away, lost in desire. “Now I am …”
“Nervous? Are you nervous?”
“I am too … a little.”
“You are?” Out of habit, he braced himself for the slightest feeling of fear from her, but she stroked his hair and whispered to him.
“I want to give you all that you’ve waited for. I want you to take what you’ve dreamed of. I want to show you how beautiful you are to me. I am a little worried … but only that I won’t have the … words.”
“Words.” He uttered a small, soft laugh. “The words are so new, still strange on my tongue. Lover. Husband …”
He shook his head, wonder in his eyes. “I want everything … everything with you now – all at once – and I want to slow the minutes down, savor each one as a lifetime, take each step slowly. Yesterday, I despaired of ever knowing the taste of one kiss from you and today …”
“This time tomorrow,” she promised, “we won’t be so nervous.”
The press of her lips to the corner of his mouth parted his in pleasure; she teased his sharp teeth with her tongue. Her ardor was real. He knew; he truly knew, but still …
“Catherine.” His voice broke over her name. “I love you … love you. If I am clumsy, should I disappoint you …”
“Hush,” she said, smoothing the furrow of his brow, brushing away his fears. “It will be sweet and it will be perfect.”
Nestled into his embrace with her hand to his heart, she stilled him – her offering to pause, to rest. He buried his face in her hair, its honey scent familiar. His heart slowed. Waiting now was pleasure. Waiting now held fine promise.
“You wanted a tour, Catherine. Do you still?”
“Can you walk? I’ve probably cut off your circulation, sitting here so long.” She eased him with her gentle humor, eased from his arms, but when she shifted, when she started to rise, he held her back.
“First, there is something I should ask you … I must ask you. What you said about … we need …”
“Birth control?” Her words, aloud, deepened his rose flush.
“I don’t … I’m not …”
“This is serious, Catherine.”
“Yes,” he returned, firm, struggling to scowl … but her laugh rang as silver bells in his mind.
“Remember something else I said earlier. That I’d been wishing too? I’ve been … hoping … for this for a while now. Peter thinks … well, we’ve considered everything and I’ve taken care of that issue the best I can.
“I couldn’t ask Father, Vincent. That would have been just too personal.”
“No, I can see that.” He frowned. “But what does that mean … the best you can?”
“It means don’t worry. I love it that you asked.” She slid off his lap and bent to him, nose to nose, cajoling him to smile. “I meant what I said to you … whether we plan a baby or if we’re surprised … though I’m hoping for time with just you. Now show me. I want to see where we are, where we will live together. And when we’re done, I want to come back here, to this room, to that beautiful bed again. With you.” She walked to the doorway, turned in it, to see him rise and follow her.
* * *
“Tell me … everything.” They stood outside the mirror room, the atrium rising high above them while the light, soft and golden, brighter than before, flashed and canted in a strange rhythm. It was quiet here. The pipe sound was muted; the subway sounds silenced.
“Devin and I shared my chamber until he left. After … Lisa … after I … recovered from my dark time … I went roaming the forgotten places. The glass window I found several months later. Before, there was only a curious opening in the stone, barely fitting a small lantern. I chipped it out over time to make room for the window. It was good therapy.
“And when the opening was large enough and I could crawl through, I did, of course. I discovered the passageway behind my chamber and the staircase. I ran for Father, dragged him through the opening I’d made and brought him here. He was as amazed as I. The rooms stood empty except for the mirror. He knew nothing about them, neither who had created them, nor who had lived here. It was as if they were waiting just for me.
“Father said it would be our secret, but that proved impossible. After the window went in, I created the hidden doorway in my room with Winslow’s help. The latch system was his design. Eventually, we discovered another hidden passage … a back door out. I needed a place where I could be alone, and there were times …” He held her gaze. “No one comes down here, not even Father, without an invitation.
“I built the library and I come here to study. I bathe here. Some nights, I sleep here. Many days I’ve walked a circuit on these stones, dreaming of these rooms filled with voices and laughter. With music. I’ve imagined dancing with you here, Catherine, as we did at Winterfest. I’ve imagined … many things. Until now, I believed they would echo forever with my aloneness.”
“Most are still empty.”
“I want to see.”
Nearest the bedchamber was a shallow nook. A knowledge deep and bright unfurled. It was large enough, close enough for a cradle, for a rocking chair. A look charged between them, but he led her onward without a word.
Tall cabinets lined the walls of the next room and a stone sink cut into a far wall was piped with hot and cold water – a kitchen. A large table claimed the middle ground, on it bowls of fruit, a loaf of William’s dark, chewy bread, a ewer of water and a flagon of red wine.
The circular stair led to the second floor, to a gallery where, along one side, three smaller chambers opened. Two were indeed empty, but one bore evidence to Vincent’s retreat. There, a simple iron bed – soft patch-worked quilts on a deep feather mattress – and an old-fashioned dresser piled with books spoke of silent hours alone, a man apart.
He took her hand, guiding her past the head of the sweeping stairs, around to a long, narrow room above the library and bath and opposite the bedchambers. It faced the gallery with three wide, arched doorways, and inside, similar arches divided the space into rooms. In one, ledges and niches were carved floor to ceiling, shelves calling out for books or keepsakes. The walls of the second were chiseled smooth, the room nearly round. The last was smallest, square and plain, though on its vaulted dome, stories high, the strange light danced, minerals in the rocks twinkling like stars.
Drawn into the space, enchanted by it, she left him at the doorway and trailed her fingers along the walls, arranging her treasures on the shelves, crowding the ledges with photographs and books. She imagined her father’s massive desk in the center of this room, the glow of his lamp, the antique globe in its slow spin. Her vision blurred and she braced herself against the stone.
Vincent stood outside the rooms, watching as she moved through them. “Do you think you might be comfortable here, when you … are Below? Anything, anything you want, I will make happen.”
“It’s beautiful. We’ll be happy here.” She went to him, to the rock railing of the gallery, and leaned into him, open, certain. “Together.”
“Are you at all afraid, Catherine?”
“No.” She took his hands in hers, bringing them to her breast. “I feel … blessed.”
For a long moment, he studied her face, then closed his eyes.
“What? You’re … dreaming?”
“I’m remembering what Tennyson wrote – a poem for Emily, his wife. He felt his marriage to her was the culmination of his life’s work, the finest thing he’d yet or would accomplish. For this is the golden morning of love, and you are his morning star …” 1
His voice, always the same effect, a melting heat …
Love me …
Not in words but with her heart, through her eyes, she spoke to him, and her hand in his, he led her in descent of the curved stairs. When he reached the floor, she stopped him, turned him with a tug.
“Vincent,” she began. “There is something I want.” She stood two steps above him, nearly at his height, and pushed both hands into his hair, combing with her fingers, tracing his ears, the tensing muscles in his neck.
“Anything. Tell me.”
“I suppose I am asking you.”
“Then ask me. Please.”
“The bath … is so beautiful.”
He inclined his head and a heat colored his throat. “It is.”
“Will you let me … your hair … I saw your comb. I’ve dreamed of it,” she whispered, blushing.
She’s dreamed of …
Blood forging ahead of thought, he kissed her, insistent, his hands in her hair. He felt … in flight. There was nothing but desire in her answer, nothing but love. Her tongue teased his teeth again, probed his riven lip. The taste of her, the scent that rose from him … a twist of need.
“Let you? Yes, I will … let you.” His breath, ragged, carried the words hot into the hollow of her clavicle. He scooped her up, carried her cradled in his arms and with fluid, quicksilver movement, crossed the atrium for the mirrored chamber. In his mind, the words echoed, wild and hot … their bedchamber, their bedchamber, their bedchamber, followed only by her name, overreaching, again and again, the only word, the only word, one word … one word …
~ The Golden Close of Love
“Catherine.” His voice rasped, the distinct rattle returned. “Catherine.”
She could just hear him over the heavy throb of her pulse … separate beings for the last moments … lovers, about to be …
He let her stand, his hands gripping her arms, blue fire in his eyes …
“Catherine,” he said again, beautiful to say, wondrous to hear. “Will you … may I … undress you?”
She willed herself silent though joy leapt and sang in her heart, willed herself to refrain from attacking his wide belt and his shirt, to stand hushed, to allow him his pace. Whatever he wanted, whatever he needed …
“I want to see you,” he answered.
Her permission, her … invitation …
She helped him start. The first, then the second fasteners of her vest unbuttoned, she let her hands fall and with her eyes and tremulous smile, summoned him to finish. When he hesitated, the hoarse rasp underscoring his rapid breath, she reached to open the third.
He stopped her hands.
“I will,” he promised.
Slowly, deftly, he opened her vest and unclasped the belt low-slung over her shift. He pulled it away, letting it fall to the floor, and knelt before her. As he lifted one foot, she sank onto the edge of the high bed, bracing herself behind with her hands. He removed her soft boot, pulled away her thick wool sock, repeating the same tender mercies with her other foot and then … pushed up her skirt and caressed her calves with the palms of his hands.
He bent over her knees, pressing them closed, and lay his head, his cheek, to her thighs. His hair feathered golden and downy over her legs. Moments passed and she was spellbound … until with his chin he gently nudged her legs apart … just barely apart … and pressed soft lips to the inside of her thigh, just above her knee. His touch was lightning – sudden, brilliant, electric.
Her hand threaded into his hair and he raised his head, meeting her starry gaze with his of deep and ancient longing. Catherine saw the azure irises of his eyes darken and spark as if a gallery of images and memories played behind them.
His voice … hoarse, deeper than she’d ever heard. “I will remember this – you – every moment, forever. How I’ve wanted you, Catherine …”
Warm and rich and heady, his words poured over her. He rose then, pulling her to her feet and began again with her clothing. Her vest shrugged from her shoulders and fell to the floor. He pulled open the buttons of her dress with eager appetite, the brush of his knuckles, the graze of his nails between her breasts … jeweled flame. When he reached the last button, he slid his hands beneath the fabric and moved her shift open across her collarbones and away and down her arms. Her dress puddled at her feet and he pulled her one step out of the entanglement. All that remained was a lacy, long-sleeved, clinging camisole – silk, translucent, a color caught between bronze and gold – and impossibly sheer, high-cheeked shorts.
Thrilling her with his gasp of surprise, he raked her body with his gaze, from the swell of her breasts, from her beaded nipples pleading for touch, to the plane of her belly, to the peek of her navel that summoned his tongue. His eyes riveted on the dark, commanding triangle, the call to his loins primal and urgent.
No longer able to resist, she did reach for him, opening first his belt, dropping it, and then the fasteners of his vest, dragging it from his shoulders, pulling the leather-strapped necklace over his head. “Help me, Vincent,” she whispered as she tugged at his overshirt. He reached for the collar to rip it free. Another layer underneath … more buttons. She worked them open, pushing the flannel from his shoulders, pushing up his undershirt, baring his powerful chest. She burrowed into the silky curls with both hands, brushing his nipples, taking one between her lips … taking his breath.
He seized the hem of her camisole and drew it over her head, tossed it aside …
… his hands in her hair, his fingers … tracing the curve of her ears, trailing the cords of her neck to her heartbeat thundering at her throat, following the chain of her necklace down … the fullness of her breasts in his palms … his thumbs stroking, teasing her nipples … again … again … again …
No sound … but the rush of breath from their open mouths.
She could part only the first button of his pants, the rest too tight, strained by his erection. “Help me,” she whispered again, begged him, helpless with desire. He dragged the bench closer, sat to pull off his boots … threw them to the corners, then stood and finished with his undershirt, finished with his pants, ripping open the fly, yanking the fabric down and off his legs. He reached for her last sheer vestment, slipping his hands beneath the waistband and back, over her soft, rounded cheeks. His fingers grazed the cleft there before he swept the silk down, before she kicked the wisp away.
Eyes glistening, eyes wide … counterparts … hard and soft, furrowed and curved, bronze and cream. Skin starving, hands clenched with need … a musky scent, a ripeness. The light flashed again … strange … illuminating his hair, a wild halo waving loose on his shoulders, moved by a mysterious wind. His skin was glittering, incandescent with heat. And in his eyes, she was ethereal … hallowed … bathed in a white, crystal brilliance …
Closer … his hands stroking her spine to the enticing hollow at the small of her back, he embraced her, a keen moan escaping as he buried his face in her hair. He lifted her; her arms were around his neck, her breasts pressed to his chest, her legs wrapped around his waist, hot center to his shaft. He lay her on the bed and stood, reverential, until she begged him in.
“Vincent. Hold me. Don’t let me go.”
Side by side, face to face … he tucked her body to his. Against his chest, he found the velvet softness of her breasts, the taut nipples; under his hand, the rise of her hip. He tucked her closer, found her mouth, her tongue … so sweet, the taste … touched her flanks … free, free to love her … his skin aflame, desire wildfire between them … so soft … at last, at last …
“Closer,” she said.
Closer … he would melt into her …
She pulled him in … her arms strong, her smooth leg over his bristled thigh, locking at his waist. Through soft, hot folds and tickling curls, his swollen sex homed, bringing her to the edge … the anticipation of hours, of months, the spilling-over … she cried out in surprise … closer …
He entered her … wet … stunned by heat … deeper … the secret, the mystery … I see …
High, high with desire … the briefest friction, a thrust … again … again, again, again … a shudder, a sob of joy … slow, again, deep, deep, against her … rock, oh, again, again … no knowledge of how, only … I must, I must have you … with her, into her … exquisite … bright light in his mind, in his blood, in her mind, in her blood … his face … eyes unblinking, lips parted, the hoarse rasp of every breath … her voice … everything … resonating, the ancient sound … I love you, love you, Vincent, love you, now, now … oh ... and he came into her, the first time, his first time, with her, loving her, a roar of power … loud … loud … he came …
… still breathing after, great hard breaths, lungs begging for air, slowing, slower, slowing … the thud of two hearts in one rhythm … loud … slowing …
… loving him … lips swollen from his kisses, from the press of months of checked desire … no longer … the swirls of golden hair, his umber nipple … beautiful, she said … molded to him, hollows filled … her hand … soft … a cup of his testicles, a caress of the tender skin … untouched by another, ever … his shaft quivering with her feathered stroke, the ridge and flare, the tumescent head, the wetness of passion foretold … his head, thrown back against the pillows … past this, is there life … tasting him, under his chin, at the throb of his throat, out into collarbones, into hollows defined by muscle, at the flex of biceps to the crook of his arm and back … again … how will I bear this … a storm in my blood, the sweet agony, the promise … his mouth … oh … her tongue tracing his lips, a nip to the cleft, a tender tug, a touch to the riven spot … beyond bearing … kisses covering his face, suckling his earlobe, her hands in his hair, pinning him, her hot sex to his hard belly, the beat of his blood a drum … her body … velvet … her nipples pearls … let me see you … beautiful … astride now, thighs to his waist … tighter … his hands on her breasts, her heart’s rhythm in his palms, a whimper of pleasure … please … the down of her flanks … gripping her hips, large beneath her … hard … her deep moan a rumble in his throat …
… his mouth famished for her breast, drawing in, the lap of his tongue, fire from her loins … her hand his guide … here … one finger … careful … two … yes … within the secret folds, the swollen nub of pleasure, his tender gyre … the wonder, the surprise … soft … desire evidenced on his hand, the clench of muscle, the scent … oh … her rhythm learned with pressured whorl, a deep-toned vibration … hers … ringing through him, profound, steeled, straining toward her, enwreathed, enveloped … her power … so small … beneath him, inside me, deep, deeper … wanting … his hair a lustrous veil, an aura golden, native, fierce … his great weight, his rippled muscle, yielding … yours … her smile … only you … breathing Vincent … his name … Vincent … again … slow slow slow strokes, again, again … arched to him, sinuous hips, higher, higher on her, mine … on one arm, above her, embrace her, lift her … tight, tighter … her head back … oh … her throat, alabaster and rose, exposed to his lips … the scrape of his teeth … your mirror … in, in, in … rock … against me, rock, Catherine ... slow, slower, so slow … need you … thrusting … take me, one creature … thrusting … now … Vincent! … wild, hard, fast, hoarse, coursing, oh, a dark and private sound … hers … through his veins, his own, she was his … HIS … his seed loosed at her womb, loud, long, again, MINE, huge, all that he had, love her, all that I am, love you …
He fell to her shoulder with a cry for mercy … at her neck, in the air, the scent of lovemaking, their love … collapsed to her side, his head on her breast, her legs twining his … loving him … her caress, stroking his hair … holding him, close, close … I love you, love you, only you, forever, only you … at last, at last …
… slow to return … eyes narrowed, open, light bathing her skin, glowing, blushed, the landscape before him curve, hollow, fullness, shadow … woman. Mine.
Catherine … her low response, a humming sound … am I heavy on you?
Oh, yes … no, don’t move … rest with me now … shhhhh …
Sinking, fading light, rapture … love.
Time went missing for her. Late, early, lost … there was only him, with him naked, warmed, guarded by him, secured … given. After, perhaps long after, Catherine roused, rising as if up through a lake of pearls, silver light in shining, beaded rivulets coursing over her dream self …
He stirred, shifting his weight from her, opened his azure eyes to find her there … close, so close, not a dream … merciful wonder … not a dream …
“Well?” She smiled at him, her lips a silken sweep to his. “Are we? Are we as you imagined?”
Words caught in his throat and were lost. There was a sound; he knew he made a sound, even a second sound and a third – unintelligible – and yet her smile broadened.
“What did you say?” All innocence and mirth.
He shook himself and made a fourth attempt. “Yes … and no, Catherine.” His voice gathered strength. “Yes, as I knew I would be rendered nearly speechless … as I am proving to you. And no, because my imagination, as exercised as it was … in this … could not envision the change you would make in me … again.”
“Tell me …”
“My aloneness … was a stilled kaleidoscope. Your love is the twist and the pieces … the pieces have fallen into a new pattern … a brilliant pattern of …” His voice trailed away.
His face showed her something else, something fleeting, something he tried to hide from her.
“What is it, Vincent?”
He traced a small bruise on her upper arm, “Catherine … did I …”
“That happened at work …”
She began a protest, but stopped and rolled away from him onto her stomach. He moved his eyes and his fingers over her, over her cool, unmarked back, until the contrast of his great and unusual hand to her satin skin paled and his confidence returned. He pulled her into his embrace.
“Mmmmm,” she murmured, as she spooned into the curve of him. “I’ll tell you about it later. It was funny. Everyone in the office was in tears laughing.”
“Then I will remind you.” His sigh was deep and relieved. “To tell me.”
“Talk to me, a poem maybe? One you know by heart?”
“I was thinking of one, one of Emily’s ”
“Come Slowly, Eden.”
“Tell me,” she said, her voice honey to him, amber and sweet, lulling, undeniable.
“Come slowly, Eden, lips unused to thee, bashful, sip thy jasmines, as the fainting bee, reaching late his flower, round her chamber hums, counts his nectars – enters, and is lost in balms.” 2
“Lost in balms …” His hand rested at her waist; with hers she guided his, coaxed him to cup her breast. “Keep talking. Tell me about the light.”
“The light?” He nuzzled into her hair.
“How it flashes and changes?”
“Ah, the light … like Tennyson’s light. ‘Light, so low upon the earth …’ 3 I don’t know how or why, but when the light flickers in these rooms, Above, there has been a storm.”
“A storm …” She turned to face him then, brushing the hair away from his eyes. “I want to see you happy, Vincent. Always. I want to hear your laughter, like that night under the concert stage, the night it rained.”
“Yes, that night … you were so beautiful … and so wet.” He smiled at the memory as he passed his hand down her arm. “Perhaps, if you were to be that wet again … I might feel the same … happiness.”
“Are you teasing me?”
“Oh, no. I mean every word. We do have our own warm pool and a private waterfall.”
She stroked his shoulder and down his spine, pressed her hand to the definition of muscle at the small of his back, brushed over his hip to the top of his thigh … pulled his leg over hers.
“You’re feeling happier already, aren’t you?” She favored him with her slow, knowing smile.
And he kissed her … before she could say another word.
sequel to this story is Interludes
1. Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Marriage Morning.
2. Emily Dickinson. Wild Nights.
3. Alfred Lord Tennyson. Marriage Morning
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