Written for the 2023 San Diego Conzine
Rated hard R.
(Arrgghh… There be smut in these here waters. You’ve been warned, my thirsty friends.)
“A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match…”
Robert Browning, “Meeting at Night”
You might say Catherine lives for Friday nights.
She burns for them, plans her entire week around them.
This has become obvious to those closest to her. Sadly, most of them work in her office.
Surrounded by files stuffed with accounts of crimes that run the gamut from banal to horrific, black humor makes the work bearable. Too bad she’s become the butt of the joke.
“Hey, Radcliffe.” Joe had approached her that afternoon as she rushed to wrap up. “I was planning to take Rita and Moynihan out for drinks tonight. They put in extra on McNeely. You should come too. You—” He broke at the flash of horror and the automatic No, racing to her lips. “Oh, Cathy,” he snorted, “you should see your face.”
Everyone had figured out her weekends—especially Fridays—were now off limits.
5 p.m., 5:30 at the latest, she was punching the down button, fighting the other government employees for elevator real-estate, then darting through the after-work grocery crowd and doing everything short of hitching up her skirt for a cab home. She had to get back to be dressed and prepared.
Vincent usually arrived around true darkness, which, with encroaching spring and its co-conspirator Daylight Savings Time, (seriously, she was going to bring them both up on charges for obstructing her sex life,) was well after 8 p.m.
The only good with expecting him this late, she’d have their food and herself ready before he appeared, because when he did…
Her cheeks flame as she places finishing touches on their meal – grilled salmon and arugula salad with the crusty French loaf she fought a Yuppie with a Shih Tzu for at Dean and DeLuca’s. She would have fought twelve just like her for something Vincent would enjoy.
Discovering his tastes has proved … challenging. Whenever she asks, he demurs.
“Whatever you choose.”
“Anything you wish.”
Dragging out his likes and dislikes may be a battle, but she’ll win the war. She’s learned to read his reactions—the way he savored a bite of prosciutto and fontina. Or how he enjoyed three curry chicken sandwiches at a go but didn’t finish a celery and fennel sauté.
In fact, since they’d become lovers, she’s learned a lot. For one, it was best to prepare a meal they could enjoy at room temperature, because sometimes food was the last thing on their minds.
More blushing, more reminiscing, anticipation. It’s a wonder she’d gotten anything done since she last saw him.
Catherine never expected a scheduled … rendezvous … would feel as amorous and heated as a spontaneous one. Now she had experienced both, she couldn’t say which was more perfect. She just wished there were more of them.
They had tried to see each other during the week, but her latest cases had thwarted any plans. The McNeeley trial had kept her up all hours going over each day’s notes. Then there was the Gingrich case coming up at the end of the month, and Holly Rivera recanting her testimony, leaving the strength of the domestic violence charges against her husband uncertain.
And as for Vincent, the simple day-to-day fight that was existence in the Tunnels hindered his efforts for even a short visit. All she had from him were brief notes filled with sorrow and longing.
There’d been no time.
But Friday… Friday was theirs.
Done in the kitchen, she checks the bedroom. It’s as ordered and inviting as she’d left it before work. She lights the candles on the dresser, then analyzes herself in the mirror. The after-work shower didn’t destroy her styling from this morning. She smooths a few stray hairs into place, then strokes on the lightest make-up—a dusting of powder and blush, a little lip gloss, some no-smudge mascara, no eyeliner or eye shadow. Vincent prefers her without make-up, but she’s not willing to give him only her fresh-from-the-shower self, not to greet him, anyway.
She paces and the satin gown she’s chosen swirls around her calves. She adjusts the plunging decolletage above the Empire waist. She’d never have picked this type of nightdress prior to becoming Vincent’s lover. She hadn’t counted her small breasts as a feature worthy asset, but, despite their size, Vincent thoroughly … and expertly … appreciates them. Reflecting on how and how much sends desire spiraling to her core anew, her heartbeat echoing through the waiting place inside her, a place he would fill, more than once if possible.
Perhaps she can persuade him to spend the weekend together. She has an excuse to stay Below tomorrow.
She studies herself in the mirror again, doubt creeping in. They’ve never been together in his chamber. In fact, whenever they’re Below he holds her, literally, at arm’s length. No kisses, no caresses, nothing more than handholding. His coolness there broadcasts as clearly as his desire here.
But it’s not like they’ve had the opportunity of recent, not with the ongoing cases hanging over her head.
Where is he?
She tries to calm.
She doesn’t want to draw him before dark. She needs him, but she needs him safe, first and foremost.
Venturing onto the terrace, the cool concrete greets her bare feet, and the wind holds a floral hint above the other less alluring smells of the city. She rests braced against the brick wall looking out. The gloaming sky wavers in sunset colors of deep orange and purple, the night only truly beginning.
He can’t be here yet. Not yet. Just a while longer.
Eventually, lights from the buildings across the green-black expanse of the park become stark against their grey exteriors. The wind picks up, brushing her bangs from her face, reminding her of his touch, of how he can be so gentle and so strong depending on the circumstance.
The quiver low in her belly returns.
She needs to stop. She—
“I love thee…”
She turns as he jumps from above, a rose bud in hand.
He’d snuck up on her.
“I love thee,” he continues in his beautiful rasp, “to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach…”[i]
She launches into his embrace.
He easily catches her.
He’s here, he’s here, he’s here.
Her arms tighten as he clasps her to him.
“I hunt the house through, we inhabit together…”[ii] she answers with Browning for Browning.
He bends and engulfs her, kisses her like she is water and he has been living without since their last night together.
He kisses like he will never stop.
She doesn’t want him to stop.
“I almost came to you yesterday,” he breathes, taking the shortest of pauses, while backing her to the wall next to the doors. “I was half-way here before I could stop myself.”
“I wish you hadn’t,” she gasps, undoing his cloak so it sinks to the balcony floor.
“You needed rest,” he insists, but concedes with a susurration in her ear, “I could only endure knowing I would have you today.” Then he descends upon her with another deliciously eager and searing kiss
He traps her, secures her, between his body and the warm brick. The cool wind entwines their hair as if approving of their relationship, while his hot, jean clad leg slides between hers. Everything overwhelms her senses and she can’t be still. His open-mouthed nips and kisses to her throat cause an ache, a throb, where his thigh presses against her core. She bucks against him, and he smiles into her neck. He relishes taking her to where she can’t be still.
After a few more kisses, he eases a satin strap off her shoulder, exposing her already taut nipple to the night air. But he doesn’t leave it cold and abandoned for long. With thorough and careful hands he cups and teases her breast to a sensitive peak, and it isn’t even words he coaxes out of her. More like a cry of surrender surrounding his name.
“Shhhhh,” he whispers before engulfing her breast with his mouth.
Writhing against him in earnest, searching, she whimpers for something she cannot name.
“Shhhh,” he says again into her skin, but still grinning. “You must be quiet, Catherine.”
“Can’t,” she moans, then murmurs a little softer, “Can’t, Vincent.” She coils his hair between her fingers and wrenches him up for another heated exploration of his mouth, testing his cleft and sharp canines.
When they both come up for air, she begs, “please…”
“So eager,” he says, breathless. “So eager for me.”
She answers with a frantic nod of the head, desperate for him to do … something.
“Can’t wait any longer, can you?” he asks, but with a rumble of irresistible confidence that makes it more a statement of pride than a question.
She can’t wait.
And she can’t move him if he won’t be moved.
But he is her beloved. He knows what she needs. She trusts him and he rewards her by taking her inside the bedroom.
More kisses and caresses, carnal and raw, and a bit of work to divest her of her dress, she soon lies naked before him. He, in turn, reveals himself with each layer he sheds—sweater, belt, boots, slacks—and he is glorious. Once he is bare, he covers her body and holds himself notched at her juncture, waiting. A nod, a kiss, and he is finally burying himself with a groan inside her.
Her channel is slick with desire, but not enough to take him easily.
At the beginning of their physical relationship, he insisted they take time, every time, to get her used to him, his size, before he’d enter her. But since, she’s convinced him, at least for their first coupling, she wants hot, fast. She wants burning pleasure, and when he’s gone, to physically remember.
When he’s left, the ache is all she has to remind her he was ever there at all.
This first coupling since being apart is all devouring demand, a flood of impatient desire. His initial surge hits something deep, reaching a secret place only he has ever found. Each stroke conquers her in a new way, sending stars dancing through her body. Against the tide of his powerful rhythm, she can only clasp his hips and cling to his shoulders. She’s drowning and she never wants up for air.
“Precious jewel,” he growls and fills her again.
“Vincent…” she answers, arching where they are joined. The change in angle wrenches another moan from him and drives her further towards the tightening edge of pleasure.
“Need you, Catherine.” he rasps.
To know he craves her, desires her, close to how much she needs him, sends her unexpectedly over the cliff. With one more thrust, her vision goes white and she’s pulsing around him.
She returns from her climax to him bowing over her, his gaze drawn to where they are fused.
“You’re pulling me in,” he whispers in awe.
His eyes close as his head falls back.
“So tight for me.”
She buries her face into his neck wanting his weight, his lush presence, fur and muscle rippling under her fingers.
Holding her under her hips, he barely has to leave her body before plunging back inside.
It’s so much.
“So much.” He echoes her thoughts.
“Everything,” she murmurs into shoulder.
His shorter rhythm heralds the approach of his own release.
Another few strokes, he jolts and sheathes himself, coming inside her.
She grips him tight with her legs, wanting every scrap of him she can have for however long she can have him.
She’s on birth control.
She almost wishes she weren’t.
After a few blissful moments of aftermath she whispers, “I love you.”
He responds, breathless, “I love you with everything I am.”
Then with care and a few extra kisses, he leaves her body and bed to clean himself and get a washcloth for her.
Her heartbeat still loud in her ears, she lays back and stares at the ceiling.
Round one is over. The clock is ticking.
She’s been wanting to ask him something all night.
They finished her exquisite meal—the perfectly baked bread, the flakey fish and peppery salad with tarragon that teased his palate.
The gift of her efforts for him astounds, contrasting with his paltry offering.
The rose sits in the bud vase between them, scarcely the worse for its time waiting for water, forgotten on her balcony wall.
It mocks him with inequality.
He can hardly wait to leave the table, to get back to the bedroom and divest her of the gown he’d so recently helped her back into.
This time, he keeps her (and himself) on the edge for as long as she can bear. He makes love to her with his hands, and where he cannot safely touch, she does, at his command. He makes love to her with his mouth, his cock. He holds them on the precipice as if they had all the time in the world.
So, he does it again for good measure.
The second (third) occasion he brings her to climax that evening, she is anything but quiet.
Afterward, grateful exhaustion drags her into sleep, while gratitude keeps him awake.
She did everything to make their nights together special, like she was handing him gifts of her heart with every detail—her gorgeous gown, the one he almost tore in his desire to worship her flawless body, the food, the wine, the candles. Through their bond, he shared in the flurry of her preparations, her rocketing across the city, her readying everything, her home, their meal, herself.
Yet she’d been quiet as they ate. She offered only a few word answers to his questions about the week. There was something on her mind. He could feel it, the anticipation, the trepidation, like a quivering note waiting to burst free from the main melody of her emotions.
When she announces she’s awake by curling further into his embrace, and says, “I’m coming Below tomorrow,” he holds his breath.
She continues. “There are some decisions with Margaret’s trust I should consult Father on. He knew her best.” Catherine plants a lingering kiss on his neck. “And I thought I might stay overnight with you. What do you think?”
The words leave his mouth before he can reason, before he can stop them.
“That’s not a good idea.”
For a moment, she’s stunned to silence, paralyzed in his arms.
Even he is shocked. So much so, that when she rises, throws on a robe and excuses herself, he doesn’t follow her.
He lays there, a failure in her bed, staring at her ceiling, the flat color broken only by the lights and shadows created by the city outside the glass doors.
Why doesn’t she understand?
This place, the balcony and now her apartment, this is theirs, their sanctuary, their place of privacy.
It’s not perfect. He can’t stay until the morning or be with her throughout a day Above, but it is enough. More than he ever expected. More than he dreamt possible.
To be together Below…
There is no privacy.
The others will know.
Yet she wants…
Remorse, along with the need to reconcile, propels him. He pulls on his pants and searches her small home, knowing she is here, yet unable to locate her. Long, near panicked moments elapse before he spies her sitting on the balcony, hidden in the shadows, looking out.
When he steps outside, her owl-like stare finds him.
“I don’t understand.” Her voice breaks high, so different from her usual confident mezzo. “You don’t want me to stay with you?”
He sits next to her. Her disappointment fills every space between them.
“Catherine, if I could, I would have you for all my life and forever.”
“Then why?” she begs.
How to explain what is so deep, what feels baked into his skin.
“I worry … for you. I worry what people will say.”
“Vincent—” Her brows bend inward. “Do you believe I care what people think, especially if you and I can be together? I’m a grown woman.”
Of that, there is no doubt.
She inquires further.
“Is it a moral thing,”
“No,” he exhales. “While many Below live celibate lives, it is also common for others to couple.”
“And for you?” she asks.
He bows his head, and she sighs.
“Sometimes I forget how new you are at this.”
His head jolts up and she hurries to reassure.
“I said new, not bad,” she half-chuckles, “You’ve proven to be a quick study … in many areas.”
He shrugs, going along with her levity. “I’ve had to make up for lost time.”
The smile she offers in return is soft and warm. “You have, Vincent, you have,” she soothes.
She traces across his collar bone and peeks upward. “But you haven’t told Father, have you … that we’re lovers?”
He shakes his head, shamed by cowardice.
“It’s all right.” She takes his hand. “I remember the first time I had to tell my dad I was in a relationship. When I had to tell him…” She stutters. “… I was living with someone.”
She doesn’t say the man’s name, yet Vincent experiences her own disgrace, which solidifies the past lover’s identity.
Steven Bass, who spends his days now confined to a mental facility and wheelchair.
Base jealousy and pride sweep away any pang of remorse Vincent might feel.
The man will never hurt or manipulate her again. He has seen to that.
“Telling my father about moving in together was awful. He wasn’t happy about it. Rightly so, as it turned out.” A deprecating shrug and her gaze falls to their hands entwined. “My dad still saw me as a child, his little girl, even after college. It was a long while before we found our footing again.”
She searches out his eyes.
“Is that the problem? You don’t want Father to know.”
“In part,” he answers as truthfully as he knows how. “I don’t want Father to question us … this decision we have made.”
“To be intimate,” she supplies.
“It is a big change,” she agrees. “Although not unprecedented in the Tunnels, right?”
“But that’s the … There is no true privacy Below. Everyone will know.”
“And you’re worried?”
It’s difficult to face her unwavering confidence.
“Catherine, my people have treated me, and you, kindly … but differently. They think of us, our love as… chaste, courtly. If they find we are lovers, they will look at you … with different eyes.”
“I think you have too high a regard for what others may think,” she says with a bit of a huff.
She doesn’t understand.
“Catherine, I must care what they think. My entire existance hinges on my people’s regard and forbearance.”
She takes a moment to contemplate his words before she says, “I hate you believe that.”
There are more long breaths before she adds, “And I think you have too little regard for your family and friends. But are you certain?”
Certain? He’s certain of nothing at this point.
“Are you certain they don’t know already? I hide our relationship from those that wouldn’t understand, but those close to me have noticed that I’m …. different. Edie saw me for lunch last week and grilled me about you. She said I couldn’t stop smiling. Even the people in the office have noticed.”
Did those closest to him suspect there had been a change in his and Catherine’s relationship?
Was George’s gentle ribbing on being out again tonight something more, or William’s asking after Catherine’s food tastes greater than polite curiosity?
“Perhaps, but if…”
She waits. She doesn’t interrupt.
She lets him work this out.
“Catherine, nothing stays a secret Below. They will … I will be bombarded by their thoughts, their speculation. Many men find you attractive. It will be impossible for me to ignore their knowing… their conjecture about us, their desire for you…”
“I’m sorry,” she says with genuine sympathy. “I’m sorry that you have to deal with that.”
She looks deep into him.
“But you do know, no matter what, I’m yours. I only want you.”
Yes, it was a gift he never imagined being given.
“I do, Catherine. I’ve known of your desire for me since before I had the courage to kiss you back.”
She runs her fingertips over the fur on his shoulders and across his collar bones. “Well … you’re very attractive,” she contends. “Even thinking about you can get….”
The heat transfers over their bond along with her feelings. They are … distracting … gratifying … and new enough he doesn’t know what to do with them.
She lifts his chin and shakes her head.
“Vincent, never be embarrassed by who you are, by your gifts,” she insists. “And never doubt your beauty. If I could, I’d shout about it to the whole world.” She gestures out to the city and beams.
“As would I,” he pledges. “Your breasts alone…”
She shakes her head, still grinning.
“And I always thought of them as my worst feature,” she says, only half-joking.
He can’t believe that, but she shrugs.
“It’s easy for a woman to … to fear she doesn’t measure up. We want to be wanted and it’s easy for us to doubt.” She stands and kisses his cheek. “But you make me confident … strong. Maybe I can’t feel what you are feeling, but one look from you and I feel beautiful. I never want to lose that.”
He stands in turn and hugs her to him.
“You never will.”
“Just as you will never lose my love,” she responds into his bare chest, “no matter what Father or anybody else may say.”
He almost laughs at how easily she ambushed him with his own conviction.
She looks up, imploring. “We made this bed together, now we should get to lie in it.”
Perhaps … but tomorrow.
He breaks their embrace, offering her a hand.
“Speaking of bed, it’s late and it’s been a long week. You need rest.”
H“Please Vincent.” She begs, er round eyes widen, the dark circles that she tried imperfectly to cover with cosmetics, speak to what he already perceives; she is bone weary.
But still she begs, “Please Vincent, don’t go. I don’t want to wake up without you.”
He shakes his head.
“That is impossible here. We know this. We agreed.”
She jerks her head downward, like the words are a blow. She closes her eyes against the frustration, but, in a moment, opens them again and acquiesces.
Yet the wall still goes up between them.
He can do many things. But he cannot change the world Above.
Maybe it is time for his people to see him in new light.
And perhaps he can give her her wish.
She wants to know she’s wanted?
He can do that. He can show her what he holds back, what she makes possible.
She’s waited long enough.
“Do not worry, Catherine. You will see me tomorrow.”
Vincent makes good on his promise.
Although she wakes alone and disappointed with both the state of universe and herself, Vincent is waiting for her by the time she descends the ladder to meet with Father.
He escorts her to the Hub and begins to pace around them, circling.
She greets the old doctor, describes the reason for her visit, and tries to outline the trust investments, along with the changes she thinks he should consider.
But Vincent is so …. distracting.
He has hardly said two words together, but he stays close. Watching.
“As you can see here, I think we could transfer some of the money into real-estate…”
Another pass, with Vincent’s boots scuffing against the rock and metal at the periphery of the hall.
She can’t help but think he’s enclosing her, cordoning her off.
He sent Jamie and Mouse scurrying with a warning glower.
They’d vamoosed without a word, and if her preoccupied and poor pipe code translating can be trusted, they broadcast something about <<Vincent … off limits>>>
Everything from his crossed arms to his clipped walk, broadcasts impatience, hardly suppressed. In fact, he feels … barely contained.
She trys to focus, girding her loins for Father’s questions on the REIT.
Oh God, don’t think of loins.
Flanks of sinuous muscles, golden in the candlelight…
She jams her eyes shut, but behind them, it’s all Vincent—heavy shoulders, sculpted chest, the V of fur leading down…
“Catherine?” Father interruprts her reveries. “Are you all right?”
She blinks and attempts to locate her place in the prospectus, but then she makes the mistake of glancing up again.
Vincent has stopped pacing, He’s staring, his raking gaze sharp.
Excitement bubbles through her body, then narrowing, until she has to squeeze her thighs together.
Vincent took her words to heart.
In his home, under his father’s nose, he is showing how much he wants her.
Maybe … too much?
It feels like if she were foolish enough to run, he would chase her.
And she wouldn’t stand a chance.
A slight lift of his eyebrows, meant only for her, affirms her hunch.
He won’t wait for much longer, and that thought sends a pleasurable jolt to her already tender places.
“Ok! Well, that’s enough for today!” she exclaims and hurries to assemble the papers, shoving them back into her briefcase. “Thanks for your help, Father. I think I can handle the rest.”
It’s Vincent she may not be able to handle.
“Oh!” The older man startles at the quick conclusion of their meeting. “So, nothing else?”
Not unless you want your son to bend me over this table and…
“Nope. I think that’s it,” she says, trying to sound unaffected. “If I think of anything, I’ll find you.”
But, hopefully, there won’t be a lot of thinking between here and tomorrow.
“Good, good,” says Father, taking off his reading glasses. “Now that’s finished, let us have some tea. I see you brought some things.” His gaze points towards the overnight bag she brought. “Are you staying with us tonight?”
She dares to meet Vincent’s penetrating stare and her heart stutters.
It’s so … blatant.
Will Father finally notice?
“Yes. I … ummm… hoped—”
The leader interrupts her floundering.
“That’s fine, fine. I’ll have Mary ready the guest chamber—”
“No need, Father.”
In two long strides Vincent crosses the room and gathers both her bag and briefcase in one hand.
“And no tea,” he concludes, as his other furred hand takes hers.
“I’m sorry?” the older man questions his son.
But Vincent doesn’t hesitate. “Catherine and I will be occupied for the rest of the day, and she is staying in my chamber tonight. I have made certain everyone gives us some privacy.”
She can’t take her eyes off her beloved, and he won’t let go, the intense black of his stare mesmerizing.
When she finally wrestles her gaze from his, she sees Father ping-ponging between them before releasing a small, “Oh,” but says nothing further.
For his restraint Catherine gives him a quick peck on the cheek. Then Vincent tugs her up the stairs. She scrambles a bit, doing a two-step turn to wave at the shocked elder.
“Talk to you tomorrow, Father!” She calls as her beloved ushers her away to destinations unknown. “I think I kept Vincent waiting long enough.”
[i] Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Sonnet 43”
[ii] Robert Browning, “Love in a Life”