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Catherine returns to her hometown to bury her great grandmother and settle her estate. After meeting with the attorney, she visits the house her grandmother bequeathed her in the will. Seeing the house she grew up in brings back memories and she finds she can't sell it as she had originally planned. That one decision will open a door from her past and change the way she sees the world in general. Will she be able to overcome a difficult past and open her heart to a love that's destined?

Chapter 1



The all too familiar white house came into view as Catherine turned right. The sound of the gravel crunching under the tires signified her arrival at a place that was still deeply embedded in her heart. After leaving the attorney's office, where she was informed Grammy had bequeathed her the house and a small sum of money, she had decided to take one last look at the property before selling it.

Pulling up and getting out of the car, she surveyed the place that had been her refuge in the past. Unless of course, her selfish, conceited mother came rushing into town. It wasn't that often and definitely not for very long. As quickly as she could finalize one divorce and hunt another willing and able sucker down, to continue the charade of being a trophy wife. Whatever disaster was left in her wake, didn't register on her radar. Her daughter was nothing more than a nuisance, that she quickly dropped off to Grammys, before the ink on the discharge papers from the hospital were dry. Evelyn Chandler hadn't even deigned to show up for Grammy's funeral. No one was surprised, most of all Catherine. She had been disappointed by her mother most of her life, but now she was old enough to recognize her for who and what she was. A narcissist.

Entering the house, she was taken aback. Utter disarray was an understatement. Items were strewn about as if someone had been rummaging through them, searching for something. Surprisingly, the house wasn't as rickety as she had assumed. Entering the last room, the past collided with the present. Her old room opened a portal she had closed ten years ago. She had written to Grammy while away at college and even visited her in the nursing home, but this was her first time since leaving town, being in the house again. Old pictures and posters reminded her of the life she had left behind. She wondered had it been worth it. Had she sacrificed everything for the sake of her own selfishness or simply ran from her mother, the bane of her existence?

Catherine took one last look at the dilapidated remains of her childhood home. Nostalgia suffused her body, slithering through her veins, gripping her heart. She backed into the wall as memories accosted her. Her eyes lost focus as she drifted into a holding pattern. In vivid detail, she saw her and Grammy sitting on the porch, talking and laughing. As if looking through new eyes, the priceless treasure steeped in history, spoke to her clear as day.

Drawing herself up to her full height, she brushed specks of dirt off her jeans. With each brush, despair and regret diminished. Ten years ago, she had left this podunk town, vowing never to return. Of course, that was after a heated argument with her mother, but obstinate as she was, she had kept her promise, only returning when Grammy entered the nursing home.

Catherine stepped out onto the porch, breathing in the country air, relishing in the sounds of summer. In that moment the finality of her situation impacted like a ton of bricks. Grammy was gone! But as one revelation faded, an idea manifested. This was her home and she was staying. Decrepit and dated, it was hers to start anew.


Vincent stared at the clock. His mind willed his body to move, a command lost in translation. He groaned, while turning over, sensing the day ahead was going to be a tedious uphill battle. Stomach pangs added to his agitation, forcing him to leave his bed sooner than planned. Swinging his legs to the side of the bed, he stood up to his full height. Padding across the floor and down the hall to the kitchen, he scoured the pantry and refrigerator for some type of nourishment, finally deciding on toast, grits, and turkey bacon. After quickly preparing breakfast, he sat down to eat. With a spoon of grits halfway to his mouth, a loud buzzing noise suddenly pierced the air. Vincent jumped up, nearly knocking the chair over. He rushed over to the window, frowning and close to furious. In the distance he spotted someone standing by a saw horse. Seconds later the buzzing sound filled the air again. Unfortunately it was the straw that broke the camel's back. Having heard enough, he barreled out the back door, fuming mad, and headed to confront the source of his ire. Small towns were supposed to be quiet, peaceful and serene. Construction noise early in the morning was a direct contrast to that belief. Reaching the yard, he approached the lone worker in overalls and a cap by the saw horse.

He shouted angrily, "What do you think you're doing?" 

The worker turned around and Vincent's stomach lurched, his heart skipped several beats and his mouth was drier than the Sahara desert. He found himself tongue-tied looking at the woman before him, mesmerized by her emerald green eyes. Seconds felt like minutes, before he heard the sound of her sweet voice.


Unable to collect himself, he simply glared.

In a professional tone she asked, "May I help you, sir?"

Taking aback by her beauty and calm demeanor, his anger abated, but unfortunately his bad attitude didn't.

With one last scowl, he said, "No, you may not. Good day."

Catherine watched the strange man walk away, wondering to herself, what had just happened? He was tall, dark, handsome, and he could teach a class on brooding. Whoever he was, apparently he wasn't too pleased with her. It was if he had taken one look at her and found her wanting. The man was an enigma that surprisingly intrigued her. The little voice in her head reminded her that she was there to renovate the house and get her life together. The mysterious stranger with the captivating blue eyes, didn't factor into the disaster called her life, so leave him be. A man of his caliber surely wasn't interested in her. A living, breathing, Mr. Darcy, in the flesh and to make matters worst, next door. Not only was her composure hanging by a thread, her concentration was nonexistent. And just like that her morning was sabotaged by a man. Insufferable, but handsome man. She shook her head. It was going to be a long summer with Mr. Panty Dropper living next door.

Vincent knew he was being rude, but he was so disconcerted, he couldn't restrain himself. He had never experienced a reaction of that magnitude to a woman. A mere woman. A mortal woman. He shook his head as he ambled slowly toward his house. He almost chuckled to himself at how fast his ego deflated, followed by his anger after one look. That woman was trouble and he'd best stay away from her. Who was he kidding? He would need more than a wing and a prayer for a woman like that to even feign interest in him. Women like that weren't interested in some old battered war veteran. And why was she doing construction on that deathtrap. Entering his house, he headed straight to his bedroom. Climbing back in bed, he lay on his back staring at the ceiling. His day and neighborhood had taken a nosedive, and he hadn't been up a good hour yet. Upcommance had delivered a bowl of cruel and unusual punishment for breakfast, and there was no doubts about it, life as he knew it was definitely over.


Chapter 2


Saturday morning found Catherine dreading the mundane task of removing wallpaper. Moving with very little purpose, she headed to the kitchen, desperately needing her morning cup of liquid energy. The renovations were moving exponentially, and after one week she was pleased with the progress. Luckily her room was habitable, so she'd decided to live in the house during the renovations. Waiting on her coffee to brew, her mind wandered to her neighbor. For some reason, she couldn't shake the feeling that she'd seen him somewhere before. He had made himself scarce, so it was safe to assume he wouldn't be bringing her a casserole to welcome her to the neighborhood. He could sulk and brood until he walked a hole in his floor, because this was her home and she was here to stay. He could take his issues and roll them up and smoke them until the filter burned his lips off, for all she cared. Filling her cup with steaming hot liquid, she headed to sit on the porch.

"Are you okay ma'am? My momma said that place is dangerous. She said all kinds of critters live there. Are you homeless? Old Lee Ray is and he lives under the bridge on Sanford Avenue. I take him food sometimes when I can sneak it out of the house."

Startled out of her reverie, Catherine turned to see a tow head little boy on a bicycle.

She carefully set her cup the steps and walked into the yard. "I assure you, I've never been better. And who do I have the pleasure of speaking with?"

He got off his bike, promptly letting it fall to ground as he held his hand out to Catherine. "My name is Luke. I was named after my grandfather. He's dead now, but he was the closest thing I had to a daddy. I visit him sometime at the cemetery around the corner. Do you have a daddy?"

Catherine chuckled to herself. Luke was certainly entertaining and a gentleman as well. She wondered if he was a good swimmer, because he sure was loquacious, barely taking a breath.

"I'm Catherine. I guess we are both special, because I don't have a daddy either," she said, with a hint of sadness.

"Are you going to live there?" Luke asked, pointing toward the house.

"Yes. I grew up here. My grandmother died and left it to me.

"Are you going to fix it up? My momma said it was falling apart."

Hiding a smile, she said. "Your mom is right, but when I finish it will be like new. I've actually started fixing it up already. You can even visit and see the new look when I finish."

"Can I help if my mom says it's okay? I'm a good helper and I'm out of school for the summer," Luke asked, excitedly, with a sparkle in his eyes.

"I suppose it's okay if your mom agrees. I will need to meet her first though. Do you live on this street?"

"Yes ma'am, my mom runs the bed and breakfast at the corner," he said pointing to the left.

"Do you know the guy who lives next door to me?" She asked, anxiously awaiting his answer.

"Not really. His name is Vincent Keller. He doesn't talk to anyone and he hates noise."

"Ah, that explains a lot. How about I walk down to your house and meet your mom?"

"That would be great. You'll like her and she makes the best apple pie in the whole parish," Luke said, already mounting his bike and preparing to leave.

"Well in that case, let's get a move on."


Luke brought his bike to a stop with Catherine following close behind. She looked up at the white two story Victorian house with yellow shutters and a wrap-around porch. A variety of roses lined the left and right flower beds, and a sign hung out front, revealing the establishment to be Southern Flair Bed and Breakfast.

A petite blonde rushed out the front door.

"Luke, have you gotten yourself into trouble?" She asked with a quizzical brow.

"No ma'am. I brought the new neighbor to meet you."

Catherine extended her hand. "Hello, I'm Catherine Chandler. I just moved in the house at the other end of the block."

"Hi, I'm Avery Roberts. I see you've met my precocious son," she said, shaking Catherine's hand.

Catherine smiled. "Yes, I have. My very first visitor from the neighborhood, which brings me to the reason for my visit. Luke was nice enough to offer his services to assist me in renovating my house. I asked to meet you first, so I could get your permission."

"If you don't mind the entertainment, then I'm okay with it. He can get quite chatty, so feel free to send him home, if he gets to be overwhelming," she said, looking at Luke. He smiled and looked away.

"We'll be so busy, we won't have a lot of time to converse a lot, but I think we'll get along just fine."

Avery gave her a strange look "Did you say the house at the end of the block? As in next door to Vincent Keller?"

"That's the house. My grandmother bequeathed it to me in her will. Is there something I should know about my neighbor?"

"Luke, go check on the guests. See if anyone needs anything."

"Yes ma'am," Luke said, as he ran toward the house.

Avery waited for him to go inside, before she started speaking again. "He repeats everything he hears. He's very smart, so I try to watch what I say in front of him." Smiling, she said. "Now back to Mr. Keller. He moved here two years ago and he's the epitome of a recluse. I heard that he's a war veteran, but I haven't had the pleasure of conversing with him. I must say he is a handsome man, and it hasn't escaped the notice of the local women. Many have tried to get his attention, but to my knowledge, unsuccessfully. It seems he wants to live in complete solitude, and I respect his wishes, because he doesn't bother anyone. Although he has admonished the children in the neighborhood before for being too noisy. Maybe he has flashbacks from the war or PTSD."

"I think he almost unleashed his wrath on me yesterday. I turned on a buzz saw and a few minutes later he was standing right behind me. If looks could kill, they would be slow singing and flower bringing, before laying me to my final resting place," Catherine said laughing.

Avery laughed and shook her head. "Girl, you are a breath of fresh air. Come on in and have a cup of coffee and a cinnamon roll with me."

"It would be my pleasure."

Catherine immediately liked Avery. At that moment she promised to work on being a good friend and release her baggage. It was time to stop holding on to memories of Vinny. He was a childhood friend who had moved away, and so much time had passed since then, she was starting to believe he had been a figment of her imagination. Maybe he had. In any case she'd sabotaged enough friendships, because they didn't live up to her perfect Vinny. Feeling optimistic, she vowed to let her past go. Her mother was too defective to save and Vinny was a distant memory. Following Avery into the house, she felt the chains of despair and rejection fall by the wayside. In Grammy's own way she had given her a key to a new beginning.

Chapter 3


The sun beamed straight through the window into Catherine's eyes. Waking up in the country made her happy. Although the last time she had lived in this house, it was Grammy waking her up for school.

She could still hear her voice. "Don't give that bus no heel dust this morning."

You didn't miss the school bus, unless you wanted to walk a mile to school. In that case, all your friends laughed...wait, friends, bus..Catherine sat straight up in the bed. Her mind took her back years earlier to fourth grade. Every morning and every evening, she sat next to her friend on the school bus. They were in different grades and he lived on the other side of town, so she could only talk to him on the bus. He was the most handsome boy she had ever seen and she secretly hoped one day he would be her boyfriend. Then one day, without warning, her hopes and dreams shattered right before eyes, when he told her they were moving at the end of the school year. First her mother had left her, and then her friend. She had shedded tears for a mother who was unable to love her and for a boy who wasn't around to love her. Through the turmoil of one night, Catherine arose from the ashes, vowing to never let her heart be broken again. Over the years, she'd always kept people at a safe distance, telling herself if she wasn't emotionally invested, it wouldn't hurt when they left. Now she was all alone and the closest person she had to a friend was nine year old Luke. Bringing herself back to the present, she realized the handsome boy from so many years ago was now one delectable, hunk of a man and his name was Vincent Keller, more affectionately known to her as Vinny.

Catherine jumped out of the bed and looked out the window at the craftsman style home next door. Everything about it hinted to new construction, and it certainly wasn't there when she was growing up. She couldn't believe her Vinny lived next door. Her Vinny. Where did that come from? He wasn't hers and probably wouldn't take too kindly to her ever assuming he was. He had grown into one fine specimen of a man. Too bad his attitude was so horrible. Since he didn't remember her, she wouldn't have to force an awkward, stilted conversation that neither wanted to have. The little boy she knew moved away years ago and never came back. Whoever lived next door wasn't anybody she used to know. No, her granny had always said to let sleeping dogs lie. And this was one dog that needed to hibernate. It was best she kept her mouth shut and her mind focused on renovating her house. Resigned to minding her own business, she put her ear plugs in and listened to some gospel music, as she proceeded to work on pulling the bathroom cabinets out. Soon she was lost in her music as she worked. Singing and grooving, she wielded a sledge hammer, realizing too late a pipe was below. Water sprayed everywhere, soaking her t-shirt in the process.

"Just great. Way to go, Catherine. Now what. The house will be a lake in a few minutes."

Then it hit her. Surely Vincent would know how to fix a busted pipe. In sheer panic mode, she went out the back door and headed toward Vincent's house.

Water streamed down Vincent's body, as he stood in the shower. He propped his head against the shower wall. The hot water soothed the pain in his bum leg. The past week had been rough, mentally and physically. To make matters worse, his beautiful neighbor, with her black hair and emerald green eyes had taken up residence in his head. It was something vaguely familiar about her, but for the life of him, he couldn't figure out what it was. Stepping out of the shower, he grabbed a towel, and proceeded to dry off, suddenly interrupted by the sound of the doorbell.

This had better be important," he grumbled, as he walked to the door with the towel wrapped around his waist. He flung the door open and you could have purchased him lock, stock, and barrel for a penny, because at that moment, he was worthless. There on his porch, stood his neighbor in all her wet t-shirt glory. He might as well have been a statute, because he couldn't have moved, even if his life depended on it. What was it about this woman that took his breath away?

She smiled shyly at him. "I...I I'm sorry to bother you sir, but I broke a pipe in my bathroom and I need some assistance."

Catherine looked at Vincent, standing there with only a towel around his waist. Her eyes roamed over his body, admiring the way the water glistened on his pecs and protruding biceps. He was sex on a stick with a body built for sin. "Did you shut the main water valve off?"

Realizing he was talking and she was on the verge of entering pervert status, she managed to utter a few words, while silently berating herself for not thinking of the obvious solution.

"No, it happened so fast, It never crossed my mind. I guess I panicked."

"And yet you're smart enough to operate a buzz saw. If you'll shut the valve off, I'll get dressed and come look at it," he said, curtly.

Anger rose up in Catherine. "Look, you can spare me of your rude attitude. I don't know what crawled up your butt and died, but I know I haven't done anything to warrant such behavior. You can catch the first thing smoking back to Hades, you and your horrid ego. I'm sorry to have ever called you a friend. Taking a page from your book, Good Day!" she said, as she turned to leave.

Hanging his head and expelling a breath, Vincent felt nothing, but shame and guilt. He didn't know this woman's name, didn't know her story, yet he continued to be discourteous and condescending towards her. He would have to do something he very seldom, if ever, did, apologize. He swallowed his pride, and bolstered his courage, as he proceeded to run after her.

"Wait," he yelled, while running and trying to keep his towel secure.

Catherine turned around, barely stifling a laugh. She couldn't stay angry with a living breathing Adonis running toward her in a towel. Too bad he was just her cantankerous, egotistical neighbor, certainly not Mr. Darcy or Prince Charming.

He came to an abrupt halt in front of her. He raked his fingers through his hair, looking uncomfortable. "Look, I'm sorry. I would like to expound further, but you have a more pressing matter at the moment. Give me five minutes and I promise you'll find me more appropriately dressed and more agreeable."

He smiled, revealing two dimples, and that was her undoing. Struggling to maintain her composure, she nodded her head. "See you in few."

Catherine shut off the main water valve and surveyed the damage. Shaking her head, she plopped into a chair. Murphy's law: If anything can go wrong, it will, was the theme of her life. A knock at the door brought her out of her solitary pity party.

Assuming it was Vincent, she yelled. "Come in."

True to his word he was fully dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, holding a toolbox.

"Before we go any further, I want to rectify an oversight on my part. I'm afraid I've been remiss in my duties as a neighbor. First, I would like to welcome you to the neighborhood. My name is Vincent and I live next door. To make amends for my surly behavior, I have come prepared to fix your broken pipe at no charge to you."

"It is nice to meet you Vincent. I'm Catherine and if you're willing to fix the damage in my bathroom, then I'm willing to start over. Although, I was under the impression that a welcome to the neighborhood, came with a casserole," Catherine said."

He smiled. "I can remedy that oversight as well. Maybe not with a casserole, but I'm a beast on the grill. Dinner on me, tonight. Just come around to the back deck at seven o' clock."

"It's a date."

Vincent furrowed his brow at her.

Catherine looked flustered. "I ..I mean a neighborly dinner."

Vincent smiled. "If you'll lead the way, I can get started and I'll even help you clean the mess up when I finish.

Catherine smiled as she got up and headed toward the bathroom, very aware that Vincent was close behind.



Chapter 4


Vincent sat on the deck, staring into the distance, appreciating the simplicity of country life. The serenity of the backyard did little to lessen the battle in his head. He had no earthly idea what prompted him to invite Catherine to dinner. He dreaded the one on one exchange, because there were aspects of his life he couldn't and wouldn't discuss. This dinner would only confirm what she had no doubt been told about him. A crazy reclusive war veteran. Although, he was a recluse, he was far from crazy. He rubbed his hand down his face, as he agonized about his dilemma. It was too late to cancel, even if he wanted to. Taking a swig of his beer, he reflected on the events from earlier, and he chuckled to himself. Catherine had some passion in that sexy little package called a body. She stood her ground, and had all but chewed him up and spit him out. She'd even used his own words against him. As he mentally replayed the confrontation, one statement sobered him up instantly. "I'm sorry to have ever called you a friend." That implied she knew him and they had been friends. Only problem was he didn't remember her. Surely he wasn't that disconnected from society that he'd forgotten a beautiful woman, who apparently remembered him quite well. No, she was upset, and most likely misspoke. In any case, the mystery wouldn't solve itself. There was only one way to appease his curiosity, he would simply ask her.

Catherine walked across the grass to Vincent's house. Birds chirped in the distance, while the sun hung low in the west. She found herself nervous, unsure of what to expect. She had gotten so angry earlier and inadvertently revealed their past friendship. Surprisingly, he didn't acknowledge her comment, so hopefully he didn't hear her.

Vincent looked up to see Catherine walking up.


"Hey. Would you like something to drink. I have water, tea, wine, and beer."

Catherine deliberated for a minute. "Oh, what the heck? After the day I've had, make it a beer."

He rose from his chair. "Coming right up. Have a seat." He pointed at the other side of the table, as he headed inside to get her a drink. A few minutes later he emerged and placed a longneck bottle on the table in front of her

"Thank you."

He nodded.

"It's so beautiful back here. So relaxing and peaceful. Did you use a local contractor for the house and deck?" She gestured with her hands, admiring the expansive deck.

"A local contractor built the house, but I built the deck."

"Wow. I'm impressed. You are exceptionally talented."

She was absolutely amazed. It would seem Vincent had a lot of layers.

"It's more of a hobby. My father was a contractor and I loved helping him, when I was younger. I enjoy using my hands, but I wouldn't do it as a career. I like the freedom of no deadlines or hassles."

An awkward silence followed.

Vincent stood up and checked the grill. "The grill is ready, I'll go grab the steaks. How do you prefer your steak cooked?" He asked.

"I'll live on the edge and try medium well," Catherine said, smiling.

Vincent disappeared in the house and returned moments later with a plate of steaks and potatoes.

They made small talk as Vincent grilled the steaks and potatoes. After everything was finished, he fixed two plates with everything, including a green salad. Sitting down, he said grace and they proceeded to eat.

Silence permeated the air until Vincent put his utensils down and looked at Catherine.

"I have a question for you?" He asked, his expression serious.

She looked at him. "Okay."

Her heart plummeted, because she knew without a doubt, what he was going to ask.

"You implied earlier that we had been friends before. Am I wrong or perhaps you misspoke, considering the circumstances."

His blue eyes studied at her, waiting patiently for her answer. It wasn't a big secret, it was the discussing of the past, she hated.

She looked at him shyly.

"When I was in the fourth grade, I sat next to a boy on the bus with the bluest eyes. Since I got on the bus before he did, I saved him a seat every morning and every evening. At the end of the school year he moved away and I never saw him again, until last week."

She could feel her cheeks becoming inflamed from his piercing gaze. Oxygen seemed to be short in supply. If he didn't say something soon, she was going to spontaneously combust. Finally he rescued her from her mental anguish.

"I'm sorry if I seem dazed, but that's the last thing I expected you to say."

Vincent remembered her all too well. In fact, he had never forgotten her. Although, he knew her as Cat and he was known as Vinny. She must have dropped her moniker like he did. But obviously his memory of her eyes was shoddy, because he didn't recall her eyes being so green.

"So, you remember me then?"

"I do. To be honest, I never forgot you. How long have you known?" A solemn look flit across his face.

"I was woolgathering the other day and it suddenly dawned on me why you looked so familiar. I was just as shocked as you appear to be right now."

Vincent found himself in unfamiliar territory. Journeying down a rarely traveled road. "I'm the last person to visit memory lane, but I find myself eager to discuss the past with you. Is that okay with you?"

"That train has already left the station. No point in wasting a trip," Catherine said.

"Were you going to tell me?" He asked, almost sounding sad.

"Honestly, I don't know. On our first encounter, you didn't exactly strike me as the friendly type. Before today I probably wouldn't have told you, because I wanted to remember Vinny as I saw him last. Kind, friendly and my best friend. I don't know Vincent."

He had the feeling it was more to the story, but the sadness in her eyes stopped him from proceeding further.

"Tell me about Catherine."

"I lived next door with my grandmother until I graduated from high school. I went away to college at the University of Southern California. I graduated with a degree in finance. I worked at a firm in California, until two years ago. My grandmother went into the nursing home, so I relocated to Monroe, so I could be closer to her. She died a couple of weeks ago and I inherited the property next door. That's pretty much my life in a nutshell. Now what brought you back to Winston," she said, while cutting her steak.

He filled his mouth with food, hoping to delay the inevitable. He despised talking about himself, but she had elaborated on her past, so he couldn't refuse to discuss his.

"My family moved to New York after we left here. I graduated high school and attended Harvard, then medical school. Following medical school, I joined the military as an officer. I did one tour of duty, before I was injured and honorably discharged. Winston has always held a special place in my heart, so I decided to retire here. I bought this lot and built my house on it. I never would have imagined the little girl with pigtails from so long ago, would end up being my next door neighbor. Talk about life coming full circle.

"Many would call it serendipity. No matter the reason or circumstances, I'm glad you're back in Winston. I thought of you often over the years. I tried to imagine what you would look like all grown up and if I would recognize you," she said, placing her utensils in the near-empty plate.

Funny I keep picturing you with pigtails, but I don't remember your eyes being so green, he said looking directly at her.

A very flustered Catherine, stood up. "I hate to eat and run, but I have an early morning tomorrow. I really enjoyed dinner and the food was delicious. I guess I'll see you around, Catherine said, clearly flustered.

"It was the least I could do. Welcome to the neighborhood. Have a good night."

"You too," she said, before making a beeline for her house.


Chapter 5


The sound of the alarm startled Catherine awake. The aches and pains in her body was evidence the long hours and strenuous labor was taking a toll on her body. Quickly showering and dressing, she ate a light breakfast and prepared to start another day of renovations. The doorbell rang as she was turning the doorknob to go outside. There stood Luke, bright-eyed with far too much energy for a person to have early in the morning.

"Good morning, Catherine," he said, excitement ringing in his voice.

"Morning, Luke. Have you eaten breakfast?"

"Yes ma'am. I ate a bowl of cereal."

"I guess that will suffice. We're going to start on the back bedroom today."

"My mom told me to to tell you about the founder's day parade. Are you going?"

"I'll think about it. Right now my aches and pains in my body say no," Catherine said, stretching.

"My mom takes BC powder and drinks a coke when she hurts. She says you aren't southern if you don't keep BC powder in the house at all times," Luke said, following behind Catherine.

As Luke and and Catherine entered the back bedroom, the doorbell rang again.

"Luke, would you open the door for the contractors?"

Luke was halfway down hall by the time she finished speaking. He opened the door and just stood there staring with his mouth wide open.

"Good morning," Vincent said, completely aware the little boy was shocked to find him at the door.

"G...Good morning," Luke said, still in shock.

"Luke, right?"

"Yes sir."

"Nice to meet you, Luke," Vincent said.

"Luke is everything okay?" Catherine yelled.

"Yes ma'am, but you have a visitor," Luke replied.

Vincent waited silently. Seconds later, Catherine appeared at the door.

"Good morning, Vincent," she said, clearly surprised to see him.

"I came to see if I could be of assistance."

"Sure. If you'll follow me, I'll put you to work," Catherine said, a little too enthusiastically.

Vincent followed Catherine, admiring her figure, unwilling to examine his need to see her again.

"What is your specialty?" Catherine asked, without turning around.

So engrossed in the view, Vincent didn't hear her.

"Vincent, did you hear me," she said looking back.

"I'm sorry, what did you say?" He asked, trying to collect himself.

"I asked about your specialty. I know this is more your area of expertise, so I figured you would prefer to work on a task of your own choosing."

"Actually I don't have a specialty. I can do it all. I noticed the living room needs replastering and I'm assuming you're going to have hardwood throughout the house. If so, I can do the replastering and the floors."

Catherine stared at him. "Are you sure?"

"Don't worry my services are free. You can cook me dinner when everything is finished," Vincent said, trying to put her mind at ease.

"How can I refuse an offer that great? You have a deal."

"When is the renovation slated to be finished?"

"I don't have a definite timeframe but the roof is done and the painters are painting the outside today, so I would probably estimate in a month."

"How about if you let the contractors know you won't need them after this week, and I'll finish the inside. No cost to you. Look at it as a friend helping a friend."

Catherine didn't know why it bothered her so much to be considered just his friend.

"Vincent, I couldn't possibly let you assume a work load that large by yourself."

"How about you let me worry about that? Besides I'll have my two assistants, you and Luke."

"Although I appreciate the offer, I can't let you do it. Even with me and Luke helping, it's a huge undertaking."

"Vincent gave her a smile. "You leave me no other choice, but to pull out the big guns. I do believe I am in default on a past obligation. If I am correct, and I know I am," he said with confidence. "By you saving me a seat on the bus every morning, binded me to a moral contract. Or as they say in the south, scratch my back and I'll scratch yours."

Catherine gave him a hundred kilowatt smile. "Well played. Fine, I'll go along with it, but I will find a way to repay you."

"Vincent, are you going to the founder's day parade Saturday?" Luke chimed in.

"I hadn't planned on it, but that could change," he said, belatedly aware of Luke's presence in the room.

"What about you Catherine? Are you going to the parade?" Vincent asked.

"I'm still on the fence, but as of right now my body says no. The strenuous activity is catching up with me."

"It will be fun and they'll have food too," Luke said, excitedly.

"I'll think about it. We had better get to work. It will be lunchtime soon."

Everyone went to work and soon the sound of hammers and other tools filled the air.


Catherine looked around at the crowd gathering on main street as she exited her vehicle.

"Catherine, you made it," yelled a very excited Luke, as he ran toward her.

" I did. Where is your mom?"

"Come on, I'll show you."

In true Luke fashion, he took off running, as Catherine struggled to keep him in her line of sight. A few minutes later, she saw him stop in front of Avery. She slowed, trying to catch her breath. She heard Luke say her name as she approached the pair.

Avery looked up. "You made it. Come on and I'll introduce you to everyone," she said.

"Mom, there's Ethan, can I go sit on the back of the truck with him?"

May I," Avery said, correcting Luke.

"May I, please," Luke begged.

"Go ahead and don't you go any further than that. Do you understand?" Avery said sternly.

"Yes ma'am. I promise, I won't."

"Go ahead."

Luke took off running before she could change her mind. Meanwhile Avery and Catherine walked in the opposite direction. They approached a petite brunette with a billowing flower sundress on.

"Alicia, this is our new neighbor Catherine Chandler. Catherine, meet Alicia Reynolds.

"Well hello Catherine, and welcome to Winston. You must attend my barbecue next month. I see you're not wearing a ring, so I must tell you there will be plenty of single men there.

"Now Alicia, don't go scaring the woman away. The last time you tried to fix somebody up, it was a complete disaster.

"How was I supposed to know Vance was a cross-dressing pervert?"

"Stop trying to fix things that ain't broken. No where was I? Oh I was taking Catherine to meet some of the townsfolk."

"It was really nice to meet you Alicia and I would love to come to your barbecue."

Avery looked behind Catherine. Well stuff my mouth and roast me. It must be raining skittles from a sky of rainbows," Avery said with a shocked look on her face.

Catherine gave her a questionable glance. "Are you all right?"

"Honey, are you having an adverse reaction from being overexposed to the sun, because you're speaking gibberish," Alicia said with a southern drawl.

"Darling, I'm perfectly fine and so is the sexy man headed this way."

Catherine swallowed past the lump in her throat. Her pulse quickened and her heart raced. Without a single doubt, she knew the identity of the man approaching without turning around. His deep voice reached her first, resonating in her ears, traveling down her spine, setting her body ablaze. After working so closely with him all week, it wasn't enough water in the town to extinguish the blazing fire raging through her body, threatening to engulf her, if he so much as touched her.

"Hello ladies, is it okay if I join you?" Vincent asked, looking at Catherine.

"More than okay," Alicia said, enthusiastically.

"Catherine, we'll be right back. Alicia, walk with me to the fried catfish stand," Avery said, pulling her along.

"But I'm not hungry."

"Well I am and you're a real live idiot if you think Vincent was interested in talking to us. Have you ever seen him attend anything before?"

"No, I don't think so."

"Well I rest my case. He only had one lady in mind and I hate to burst your bubble, but neither of us made the cut."

"And you got all that from one question?

"If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, swims like a duck, it's a duck. And that duck has found his pond."


Chapter 6




Vincent smiled at Catherine. "I see you decided to come after all."

"And so did you."

"I did, even though I have a strong aversion to crowds and noise," he said, clearly uncomfortable.

"So I've heard," she said looking at him.

He looked at her, his face serious. "I'm not a weirdo or a lunatic. However, I do occasionally have flashbacks. After enduring the sound of gunfire, bombs, and grenades, I prefer peace and quiet. That was one of the reasons for me moving back here. Although, sometimes I fear I've become too accustomed to my solitude. If I am being honest, I have you to thank for bringing me out of my shell."

Catherine looked absolutely perplexed. "While I do appreciate the compliment, I think you would have come out of your shell eventually."

"Maybe so, but I guess we'll never know now." He gave her a smile.

The first float approached, grabbing everyone's attention. Soon beads and candy flew in the air. Catherine looked over at Vincent. He was taking everything in stride, but the stress was visible on his face.

She tapped him on the shoulder, before raising up on her toes to whisper in his ear. "I need to run to the ladies room. I'll be right back."

He nodded as she walked off. She stopped a woman and asked for the directions to the restroom. After being informed the bathrooms in town hall were delegated for use, Catherine headed in that direction. After using the facilities, Catherine fixed her clothes and reached for the lock on the door, stopping when she heard her name.

"I heard her name is Catherine. If she thinks she can just waltz in and snap her fingers for the men in our town, she is sadly mistaken."

Another voice chimed in. "I don't want to be friends with her either. She thinks she's all high and mighty in her fancy sports car."

By this time, Catherine had heard enough. She opened the door of the stall and held her head high as she walked over to the sink and proceeded to wash her hands. Grabbing some paper napkins to dry her hands, she looked at the two surprised women. "For the record, I'm not accepting applications for friends at this time either. With friends like you two, I wouldn't need enemies. My grandmother always told me a dog that brings a bone, will carry a bone, so you can keep walking down Backstabbing Lane and Two-faced Boulevard. If you get lost, hang a right at the corner of Kiss My Grits and Go To Hell."

"Well I never."

"And you never will, as long as you're a hater. For future reference, you can catch more flies with honey. And since you seem to be slow, sliding in on stupid, I'll spell it out for you. Fix your ugly attitude and men might find you more attractive.

Catherine threw the paper in the trash and looked back. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have a sexy man waiting on me...special emphasis on ME. Have a good day."


Vincent looked up as Catherine approached. He knew something was wrong immediately. Before he could ask she spoke.

"Take a ride with me."


Vincent slid into the passenger seat of the sporty convertible. By the time he adjusted the seat, he was almost sitting in the trunk. His truck would be a welcomed sight after sitting in this matchbox. Catherine pushed a button and the engine roared to life. She didn't hold back after shifting the car into gear. Her foot hit the pedal and his heart hit the floor. He stole a glance at her. "Where's the fire? He asked as he pushed his imaginary brake.

"No fire, just letting Ruby breathe."

"If she breathes any harder, we'll be airborne."

"Relax and enjoy the ride soldier. What's the point in having a fast car if you don't open it up on the highway?" She asked, braking behind a slow moving vehicle.

Vincent breathed a sigh of relief. Thank God for one-car parades and no passing zones.

He looked at her. "Oh, I don't know, maybe living to enjoy driving it," hoping in the back of his mind he would make it back home in one piece.

"Fine, you win. I'll slow down."

"Are you going to tell me what happened?"

"What do you mean?"

"Come on Catherine, we both know your whole demeanor changed after you went to the restroom."

She turned down a gravel road and continued driving. "Let's just say the locals aren't too happy with me spending time with you."

Catherine turned and parked in a gravel parking lot. She got out of the car with Vincent following close behind.

"Where are we?"

"It's called Picnic Hills. When I younger, I came here every Sunday during the summer with my friend and her parents. Up ahead you can drink from the spring. It's pure spring water.

Vincent walked up to Catherine. Using his hand to gently lift her chin, he looked into her eyes. "Don't let those small town busy bodies get to you. They don't know me and I'm sure they vaguely remember you. Look we're both grown and it's our business what we do."

"He held her gaze, lost in her mesmerizing green pools. He cupped her face with both hands, hesitating briefly to give her time to back away. Their lips met in a sweet kiss. Vincent pulled her closer, encompassing her body. She relaxed in his embrace. Much too soon the kiss ended.

"I think we'd better go."

"Yes, I think we better," she said, stepping out of his arms.

The ride back to town was quiet as both Catherine and Vincent were lost in their own thoughts. The parade was over, but a few stragglers were still standing around as Catherine pulled up beside Vincent's truck.

"Thank you for the ride. I'll see you later."

He exited the vehicle and got in his truck. Catherine pulled off, knowing things had changed between them. One kiss and both of them were running for the hills.


Pulling into a parking space at the nursing home, she got out. She had grown close to Grammy's roommate, Alberta during her visits there, so she still went to visit her.

Ms. Alberta sat in her recliner, her long gray hair pulled back in a ponytail. She looked up from her sewing as Catherine entered the room.

"Well hello, Catherine. You are a sight for sore eyes. Sit a spell with me and regale me with stories on the renovations."

Catherine sat in the other recliner and relaxed a little "We're almost finished with the renovations. Two or three weeks to go."

"And when you say we, are you referring to that gorgeous man next door?"

Catherine blushed. "As a matter of fact, yes. He volunteered to help."

Ms. Alberta furrowed her brow. "So is he the reason why you're down in the dumps today?"

"Sort of."

"Now you're gonna have to do better than that. I'm seventy years old and I live in a nursing home. The most exciting thing happening around here is chocolate cake for dinner occasionally. Help a old lady out and let me live vicariously through you."

Catherine told Ms. Alberta the story of how her and Vincent grew up together and the details on their friendship before the kiss.

"You still haven't enlightened me on why you're upset."

She told Ms. Alberta about the bathroom incident.

Ms. Alberta laughed until she was crying and coughing uncontrollably. "Are you okay?" Catherine asked.

"Honey, I've never been better. Hand me that glass of water and keep talking. We're getting to the meat and potatoes of the matter now," she said between coughs.

"Are you okay in there Alberta?"

"Yes, just laughing too hard. How are you today, Helen?"

"Well my arthritis is acting up and my blood pressure is high. I got a bad hip and I can't eat what I want because of my diabetes."

"It's a blessing you woke up this morning with all those afflictions. I'll come visit with you when my company leaves."

"Okay, try the day room if I'm not in my room."

She waited for Helen to leave. "Ok, continue, and don't leave nothing out and I do mean nothing."

"I took Vincent with me on a drive and ended up at Picnic Hills. He questioned me about my change in demeanor, so I gave him the diluted version of the story. Afterwards we kissed and it changed everything. I'm scared to want more. No one has ever loved me, but Grammy. My own mother hates me. Vincent can have any woman he wants, so why would he choose me?"

Ms. Alberta looked at her for a minute before she spoke. "Why wouldn't he? You're smart, pretty, and single. Not to mention educated, a landowner, and very independent. However, you are your own worst enemy. Let me tell you something. The past is gone. You can't modify it, erase it, or relive it. Sometimes when we're hurt by someone, we compartmentalize our hurt and store it in the back recesses of our mind. That's our way of holding on to fragments of the past to remind us not to love or trust anyone again. You know what that's called? Baggage. You are doing that right now. I want you to clean your mental closet out and let love into your life. Nothing is guaranteed in this life. You could be gone in the blink of an eye and miss out on experiencing the magic of falling in love. Like Tennyson said: It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. I can't promise you that you won't get hurt again, because you will, but I can promise you that you won't regret taking a chance. Imagine life as a mountain. Your goal is to reach the top, but you can't move forward if you're looking back. What do you do? I'll tell you. You learn from the past and move forward. You press through the hurt and keep going. You fake it till you make it. Every day won't be peaches and cream, but when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. Vincent may not be the one, but you go have fun finding out if he is."


Chapter 7




Sinister clouds suffused the sky, an omen of the treacherous rain to come. Vincent sat on his deck drinking beer, his mood as dark as the sky above. No matter how much he drank, the memory of the kiss refused to vanish. With every thought, Catherine's lips appeared, teasing him, tempting him, enticing him to taste them. The little minx had penetrated a chink in his armor and infiltrated his heart. Darn it if he wasn't screwed six ways to Sunday. Slap the stupid sticker across his forehead, because all roads led to Idiotville and yours truly had just been elected mayor. Two years of solitude, concealing his secrets and now one little green-eyed vixen could expose him for the fraud that he was. Teetering on the precipice of three sheets to the wind, he grabbed his bottle. Treacherous rain was inconsequential compared to the violent hurricane brewing within him. And with his last gulp of liquid courage, he looked up into the eye of the storm. There she stood, those hypnotic green eyes, ignorant to the monster staring back at them. Funny how courage was missing in action, yet his body was in full reaction. Flying full-mast, pressing against the denim barrier, his uninvited guest begged to join the party.

"Vincent, are you okay?"She asked, genuinely concerned.

He laughed. "Catherine, go home. Right now is not a good time."

"And when is a good time? From where I'm standing, looks like you're either running or hiding. Either way I didn't take you for a coward."

He slammed his bottle down causing Catherine to jump. "We share a past, albeit a short one, it is memorable. However, I am not that little Vinny anymore. If you've come looking for him, you might as well turn around now, because I am the polar opposite of him."

"That is quite obvious. I'm not the same Cat you knew either. People grow up. Circumstances change you. You don't give me enough credit, yet I know you won't find solace in a bottle, no matter how many or how long you drink."

"Thank you, Dr. Chandler for your unsolicited advice."

"Your sarcasm is cute, but I did get two out of three right."

"Excuse me?"

"You're running from your past, hiding from the present, and pretending you don't have a future. We have more in common than you think. We could help each other," she said confidently.

"Catherine, I have way too demons for a good girl like you. That's why kissing you was a mistake. You're a lost ball in high weeds, if you think I'm worth your time. Go live your life and forget about me," he said looking away.

Catherine was beyond livid and unable to hold her tongue. "The past can be a cold-hearted, sadistic stalker, if you let it. You have to face your demons and slay the pesky interlopers or you'll wake up one day facing regret and embracing sorrow. But what do I know? I'm just a simple country girl, rejected by her mother, who's scared to let people in, for fear of them leaving one day. No, I couldn't possibly understand how life can be a double-edged sword or how people you love the most, will hurt you the worst. Excuse me for impersonating a human. I'll just take take my unsolicited advice and leave you be. You can crawl your half drunk butt right back into Pandora's box and pretend this was all just a dream, especially the kiss. That's better than acknowledging you need help. You would rather live in solitude and suffer in silence. Well your wish has just been granted. Enjoy your lonely, miserable life, you and your demons," she said as she walked away.

Vincent sat stone-faced, his eyes unfocused. The pain in his leg was insignificant, compared to the hole piercing his heart. Catherine was deeply embedded in his heart and he was an unmitigated fool if he thought he could simply let her walk away. To add insult to injury, the clouds picked that inopportune moment to rain on his disaster of an evening. Swearing under his breath, he walked inside.


Thunder rumbled in the distance, accompanied by pelting rain hitting the window panes. Cat snuggled under the covers, unable to sleep with the storm becoming more aggressive. Her bedside lamp flickered off, a sign all power was out. Laying in the dark, she thought of her earlier encounter with Vincent. Who knew she would meet the male version of herself. Kenny Rogers said, "You've got to know when to hold 'em. Know when to fold 'em. Know when to walk away. Know when to run." After tonight, it was time to tie her shoelaces and run, do not pass go, do not collect $200, just run and never look back. Only Catherine knew it wouldn't be that simple, especially with Vincent living next door. Resigning herself to put her big girl panties on and suck it up, she turned over and attempted to go to sleep. Eventually she drifted off, only to be awaken by a loud noise in the kitchen. Jumping out of bed, she ran into the kitchen, devastated to discover the roof had fallen in and water was everywhere. Whoever said, when it rain it pours, hit the nail on the head. It was borderline flooding in her home as well as her life. If there was a calm before the storm it was barely a blip on her radar, because her whole life had been one flood after another. To make matters worse, she needed Vincent's help again. She put on her shoes and braced herself mentally for the battle that would most certainly ensue when she knocked on his door. Foregoing an umbrella, she grabbed her raincoat and walked out on the porch. Before she could change her mind, she took off on a dead run, enduring sheets of rain with lightning and thunder in the background. Disheveled and wet, she ran up to Vincent's door and knocked. She waited several seconds, and no answer. She knocked again, and still no answer. Frustrated, she walked toward the back of the house and knocked on the door, surprised it opened slightly as her fist hit the door. Walking through the door, complete darkness surrounded her. "Vincent, are you there? I need your help."

Fortunately the lights flickered on at that moment as Catherine heard a faint noise.

"Vincent, can you hear me. My roof collapsed in the kitchen and I need your help. Although it may be pointless, considering the current weather conditions, I thought maybe you could come up with a temporary fix until tomorrow."

Still no one responded. Catherine began to worry. Something had to be wrong if Vincent hadn't appeared by now. Spotting a light spilling into the hallway from a room, she moved cautiously in that direction. Upon reaching the door, she glanced inside, and to her horror, she found Vincent sprawled out on the floor convulsing.

Running to his side, she kneeled down. "Vincent, what happened?" He didn't answer as he continued moving uncontrollably. Just as she stood to go call 911, she spotted a pill bottle. She snatched the bottle off the sink and read the label, quickly theorizing what happened. If he had indeed mixed the pills and alcohol, he was most likely in the throes of an overdose. Catherine analyzed the situation as well as her available options. He could possibly die before help arrived and she wouldn't be able to live with herself, knowing there was a chance she could have saved him. Committing herself to the task at hand, she kneeled back down on the floor and turned Vincent's head sideways. Using her hands, she opened his mouth and stuck her index and middle finger on his tongue and moved slowly until she reached the back of his throat, triggering his gag reflex, inducing vomit to spew forth. Suddenly his breathing became faint and Catherine feared she was losing him. She tried not to panic.

"Breathe, Vincent. Don't you dare die on me, you hear me! You are a soldier. You fought for your country, now fight for your life and breathe."

She grabbed his head and held it down, causing his mouth to expel more vomit. Soon his breathing began to return to normal and Catherine relaxed a little.

"I need to call 911 so you can be checked out thoroughly."

Vincent looked at her and shook his head.

"Then you better be prepared to explain to me how and why you overdosed. First let's get you in the shower.

Vincent stood up, using the sink as leverage. He unbuttoned his pants, before turning around. "A little privacy please," he said in a hoarse voice.

"Screw your modesty. I'm driving this car tonight, so you might as well get comfortable. I control the speed, direction, and turns. You are a passenger and you will abide by my rules or I WILL call for an ambulance to come take you to the hospital. You may see me as a good girl, but if you try my already thin patience, you may wish you were in hell when I finish with you. Now, since we both understand the ground rules, let's get this show on the road. Get in the shower and I'll clean this mess up."

Catherine turned the shower on while Vincent stripped down to his birthday suit. She talked a good game and put up an even stronger front, but when her eyes feasted on Vincent's smoking hot body, she was sure Christmas had come early. If there was a heaven on earth, she was positive she was looking at it. He was carved, sculptured, cut, and chiseled to perfection. Even the scar on his leg was sexy. He stepped into the shower and her heart nearly stopped. Water cascaded down his pecs and muscles, glistening under the light, sending her raging libido into overdrive. With barely a modicum of restraint, she left the bathroom on weak legs. Vincent chuckled to himself, realizing her bark was certainly louder than her bite. She was ripe for the picking, but he was smart enough to know that dog wouldn't hunt.

Following his shower, Vincent found Catherine in the living room flipping through a magazine. He dreaded having to divulge his secrets, but she had saved his life and deserved to know the truth. He was a firm believer that things happened for a reason. Maybe it was time to leave purgatory and purge himself of his demons.

Sitting in the chair across from Catherine, he realized he was nervous. It wasn't very often that he let down his guard and removed his mask. He looked at her and began to talk. "First, I want to apologize for my behavior earlier. Although, I was trying to protect you, I could have been nicer. As you can see my demons finally caught up with me. I'll keep the story short as possible and give you the facts. During my tour of duty in Iraq three years ago, a bomb exploded near our convoy. Several pieces of shrapnel pierced my leg, barely missing my blood vessels and nerves. The doctors extracted most of it, but some minuscule pieces remain. Months after I was discharged, I began to experience chronic pain from the residual shrapnel. I was prescribed pain medication to alleviate the intense pain and shortly after I became addicted to it. I was told once the scar tissue grows around the residual shrapnel, I can elect to have it removed. This process prevents further damage occurring to my leg. I'm sure I am ready now, but I've become so dependent upon the pills, I guess I didn't want to lose my safety net. Tonight I drank too much and I was upset. I made a mistake and I'm sorry you had to not only witness me at my worst, but save my sorry behind as well."

Vincent got up and went over to the sofa and sat down beside Catherine. He reached for her hand and looked into her eyes. "Can we start over?"

"On one condition."

"Name it."

"You have to go to counseling and possibly rehab. I know you were taking the medicine for pain, but I also think you were using it to cope with the memory and flashbacks of war."

He smiled. "When did my pigtail wearing friend get so smart? I'll go because it's the right thing to do, and I want to get better. Knowing I also get to keep you as my friend makes it worth it."

"I'll be there for you every step of the way. As I told you earlier, I have my own demons too, but I'm a work in progress. I've been a spectator in my own life for far too long. I refuse to let the past continue to define how I live my life In the present. I am free of shackles, hurt, pain, and the need to be validated. Most of all I am free from needing the love of a mother who can't and won't ever love me. I am free to be plain old me. Take it or leave it."

"Well let's be free together. Tomorrow will be our first day of freedom together. Goodbye beer, pills, pain and flashbacks. I am free. Hopefully of bad weather as well."

Catherine jumped up. "My house! I came looking for you because my roof collapsed in the kitchen. I'm sure it's a disaster area by now. We may be free of many things, but evidently problems isn't one of them," she said looking worried.

Vincent hugged Catherine. "Don't worry I happen to know a very skilled contractor that will be more than happy to repair your roof. If I'm not mistaken, he owes you his life."



Chapter 8


In the aftermath of one storm, another of a different kind began. As night closed her eyes, day emerged with a spent Vincent tossing and turning on sweat soaked sheets. Withdrawal symptoms invaded his body, testing his willpower and soundness of mind. On the brink of throwing in the white flag, he thought of Catherine. More than anything, he wanted to show her he could overcome his addiction. For the first time in years, he wanted the American dream, right down to the apple pie. Drawing on his military training, he fortified his mind, and reached for his old friend tenacity. Detoxing cold turkey would either make him or break him, but he refused to give up, even if he had to die trying. He put his earbuds in and soon the sounds of "The Heavy" transported him to his last time in Iraq.

Dust saturated the air as the convoy traveled at a high rate of speed. Vincent sat in the back of the moving vehicle, struggling under the sweltering heat. He used his hand to wipe the sweat from his face, before taking a swig of water from his canteen. Taking his cap off, he poured a little water over his head, hoping to cool off. He told himself this would be his last tour of duty, because the heat and war was taking a toll on his mind and body. He glanced around at his fellow soldiers, weapons in their hands, paint on their face, ready for the mission ahead. Insurgents had attacked a nearby village and his unit was en route to render aid. Vincent being the the unit doctor, prepared himself mentally for the heartbreaking scene that most likely awaited them.

He looked over at his friend, Tanner.

"You okay, Buddy? You look a little green around the gills."

"I'm fine. I just received a letter from Amy telling me I'm going to be a father. I thought I had everything planned for the future, but now I'm not so sure," Tanner said, only half committed to the conversation.

"I can't say that I've been in your shoes before, but I can imagine the news putting everything in a different perspective for you. Take it one day at a time and enjoy the blessing," Vincent said.

Suddenly the truck came to an abrupt halt.

"Why are we stopping?"

"I don't know," Vincent said, looking around.

A soldier ran to the back of the truck. "Possible trap ahead. Take cover and stay alert."

Vincent jumped off the back of the truck along with the other soldiers. Seconds later an explosion was heard and Vincent was thrown back a few feet, knocking him unconscious.

Coming to a few minutes later, he used his right hand to shade his eyes from the glare of the sun, as he tried to remember where he was. He grabbed his ears, irritated by a ringing sound. "What is wrong with me?" He moved to get up, but quickly dropped back to the ground, gritting his teeth as an excruciating pain seized his leg. Becoming more agitated by the minute, he slowly perused the scene, taking in the debris that lay scattered on the road. Blinking his eyes, he realized what appeared to be debris was body parts. In that moment his heart dropped as the carnage that lay before him jogged his memory. Tanner! God, please not Tanner! Please let him be all right. Mustering enough strength, he turned over and crawled toward the road strewn with bodies. Pain sliced through his leg, slowing his movements, but his determination was greater. Nothing could have prepared him for the next thing he saw. He looked right into the eyes of his friend. Grief gripped his body as he lay on his stomach, unable to move. "No. No. No, please let this be a dream," Vincent yelled as he lost consciousness.


Catherine slumped into a chair, overwhelmed by the sight before her. The country kitchen with rooster decor was almost unrecognizable. Buckets of water, shingles, and mud covered the linoleum floor. She ran her fingers through her hair and let out a loud sigh. It felt like deja vu all over again. Before she could fall into a pit of sorrow, the doorbell rang. Ambling to the door, she opened it to find Luke on the porch.

"Good Morning, Catherine. My mom sent me to check on you. She said if you're still on the land of the living to come over for breakfast."

"That's an offer I can't refuse. Tell her I'll be over in twenty minutes." Luke nodded and took off running.


The smell of bacon penetrated Catherine's nose as she climbed the steps to visit Avery. A drop of water from the roof hit her in the face, causing her to stop and look up.

"Aren't you Lucy's great granddaughter?"

Catherine followed the sound of the voice to an elderly man sitting on the porch swing.

"I am."

Catherine walked over and extended her hand. "I'm Catherine, and you are?"

"I'm just plain old Charlie. No need to add gravy to it," he said giving her the once-over.

"Well, just plain old Charlie, it's nice to meet you," she said smiling.

He grabbed a cane from his side and used it to stand up. "When a man my age meets a woman as beautiful as you, the pleasure is all mine. If I was forty years younger, I'd give these little young bucks a run for their money."

"Charlie, are you out here flirting with Catherine?" Avery asked from the door.

Don't go stirring the pot. I'm just having a friendly conversation with our new neighbor. He looked over at Catherine. "I have to go, but it really was a pleasure meeting you. I live in the yellow house over there. If you ever need anything, just stop on by. Don't worry about an invitation. We don't stand on ceremony round here," he said as he turned to leave.

"See you in the morning, Charlie," Avery said to his retreating back.

She turned to Catherine. "His wife passed away last year, so he eats breakfast with us every morning and I send him dinner every evening by Luke. He's a smooth talker, but don't pay him no mind. He's completely harmless. Now come on in. Here I am being rude after inviting you to breakfast.," Avery said, gesturing.

Catherine followed her in the house. They passed through the living room. It reminded her of her grandmother's living room with floral-patterned furniture and curtains. Catching Catherine's eye was the Zenith TV paired with a record player, encased in wood. It had been years since she had seen furniture of that magnitude. Hurrying to keep instep with Avery, she briefly glimpsed a beautiful quilt on the back of the sofa before entering the kitchen. If she thought the living room took her back, she was sadly mistaken. The retro style kitchen captivated her from the first look, with black & white checkerboard floors and backsplash and red bar stools. The addition of the red retro stove, microwave, refrigerator and, coca cola artwork was ingenious and added exceptional authenticity to the diner theme. But it was the Chevie diner booths nestled by the bay window that awed and absolutely blew Catherine away. Her mouth hung open and she just stared, unable to believe her eyes.

"You better close your mouth unless you plan on catching some flies. Believe me they won't mind accommodating you if that's your intent."

"I'm sorry. I'm just awestruck at your kitchen theme. It's unique and totally awesome. I'm sure this isn't your first time hearing it," Catherine said, still a little taken aback.

"I get it all the time, but it doesn't hurt to hear it again. I have to say it was definitely a smart business decision. It does wonders for the B & B. Word of mouth brings people from thousands of miles away, just to see my retro style kitchen and take pictures. Of course the southern charm and food doesn't hurt either. And speaking of food, have a seat honey and I'll fix your plate."

Catherine slid into the Chevie booth and relaxed. This was a welcomed reprieve from the insurmountable problems facing her at home. Before she could drift into a daydream, Avery set a plate in front of her filled with bacon, eggs, and biscuits with gravy, and a glass of juice.

"Wow, and I get homemade biscuits. I must be in heaven," Catherine exclaimed.

Avery slid into the booth opposite Catherine. "No southern woman worth her salt would be caught without homemade biscuits in the morning and a pound cake on the table in the evening."

"Unless you have a kitchen that doubles as a disaster area," Catherine said smiling.

Avery gave her a puzzled look.

"The roof collapsed in my kitchen last night, right in the middle of the storm, and I had to run next door to ask Vincent for help. And when it was all said and done, he couldn't do too much last night anyway, so he is coming over today to repair it."

"Couldn't you have just called him?" Avery asked, still puzzled.

"We never exchanged numbers. I guess it just never came up. Now that you mention it, it would be wise."

"So what is the story with you two?"

"Not too much of a story. Vincent is actually from here. We were friends until he moved away. Although I didn't recognize him immediately when I first saw him, because he was in junior high when he moved and I knew him as Vinny. His face seemed so familiar and finally one morning it hit me why."

"Well isn't that a love story to end all love stories. Small town romance rekindled after years apart," Avery said with a dreamy look on her face.

Catherine put down her fork and looked at Avery. "Hold your horses now. We're just friends."

Avery patted her hand. "Bless your heart. If believing that makes you feel better, you go right ahead. I may not be that much older than you, but I've experienced enough to know that nothing about the way he looks at you says friend. Even if he says so. I'll believe that when pigs fly."

"Even if that is the case, it's just not a good time. Things are too complicated for both of us right now."

If he is the one, then this is the right time. Love matures as you grow together. The harder the circumstances, the stronger your love becomes. Trust me, you want a man who sticks around through good and bad. Take Luke's father for instance. I thought he hung the moon and lit the sun, but when I told him I was pregnant, I saw his true colors. He couldn't get away fast enough. Needless to say, I'm still trying to pick up the pieces of my heart. My pregnancy saved me in the sense that I didn't have time to focus on my wants and needs. I channeled my energy into delivering a healthy baby. After I took one look at my Luke, I let the past go. Now it's harder to meet someone, because I have a child to think of, but I wouldn't change a second of it.

"Did Luke's father ever come back?"

"Like all no good scoundrels, he did, when he realized the grass on the other side wasn't as green as he thought. And I told him he could go right back out there where the gravel meets the blacktop and keep on walking, because I wasn't going to live my life in reverse. I guess since he couldn't have me, he didn't want Luke either, being that he has never tried to see him."

A man and woman entered the kitchen, as Catherine took her last bite of food and wiped her mouth. Avery stood up and walked toward them.

"Good morning. I hope you slept well. Would you like some breakfast?"

"We would love some," the man answered.

Catherine stood and took her plate to the sink. "Leave it Catherine. I'll take care of it," Avery said turning toward the sink.

"Thank you for breakfast, Avery. It was delicious. I'd better get home if I want my roof fixed before sundown," she said heading toward the doorway.

"Good luck with that. I'll send Luke over to help when he gets back from the store."

Catherine nodded and left the room. She heard the faint sound of Avery's voice telling the couple to have a seat as she left through the front door.


The vague sound of hammering greeted Catherine as she neared her property. Shielding her eyes from the sun with her hand, she looked up to find Vincent hard at work on her roof. Completely startled, she took a moment to regroup. Obviously sensing her presence, Vincent looked down and waved. Seconds later he climbed down the ladder and walked over to where she stood.

"Hey, I hope it's okay that I started on the roof. I knocked and when I didn't get an answer, I assumed you were out."

"It's fine. Avery invited me over for breakfast, so I took advantage of the offer." She raised her brow. "I assumed you would be sleeping late."

"I tried, but detoxing cold turkey is my worst dream come true. Let's just say my clarity on past events is more vivid than ever. I've faced more demons in the last five hours than one faces in a lifetime."

"At least you persevered. I know it couldn't have been easy with the urge so great."

"I don't want to find myself in a situation like last night ever again. It was quite sobering in itself. That and you flushed my supply. I'm on the wagon whether I want to be or not," Vincent said smiling, trying to lighten the mood."

"Come in and I'll fix you a cup of coffee. That's the least I could do after you've rescued me again."

"Catherine, I hate to sound like a broken record, but it is I who must repay a debt. Besides, I had everything I needed to complete the repairs, so it's not a big deal," Vincent said, following her in the house.

They entered the kitchen and Catherine realized even making a cup of coffee was a hardship. Looking at the disastrous mess of a kitchen, everything hit her at once. The dam in her broke, bringing forth a flood of tears. Vincent looked at her, doing a double take before rushing to her side.

"Hey. Hey. What's wrong?" He asked, concerned about her.

"I'm sorry. I'm not normally a crybaby, but I've never had the luxury of expressing my feelings. No one was around besides my grandmother who would even care. I've always been a loner, but if it wasn't for you and Avery, today would have been devastating. And after all you've done, I can't even make a stupid cup of coffee."

Vincent embraced her, letting her head rest on his chest. He rubbed her hair, attempting to comfort her.

"You're not alone. I'm here and you have Avery as well. We'll get through our issues together."

He released her and looked into her eyes. "It's going to be okay. Trust me. I'm right next door if you ever need anything. My door is always open to you."

He found he couldn't look away. No reasoning could save him. They had reached the point of no return. And like a moth to a flame his lips found hers, touching lightly before transitioning into a passionate kiss. Her mouth opened, inviting him in and he obliged, joining her tongue in a stimulating dance. She leaned in, relaxing in his strong cocoon, fueling his desire for more. One of his hands moved to the back of her neck, while the other explored her body, finally resting on her butt. Heat radiated from their bodies, as their kissing became frantic. Their hunger compelled their movements. He began to rain kisses down her neck, eliciting a soft moan from her mouth, sending his mind into overdrive. His hands eased under her shirt, methodically unhooking her bra, before caressing her nipples. Raising her shirt, he took a nipple in his mouth, gently grazing it with his teeth, rendering her helpless to his touch. A moan barely escaped her mouth, before the sound of the doorbell froze them both in place. Catherine let out a sigh.

"Don't answer and maybe they'll go away," Vincent said, adjusting himself, hoping to continue their make out session.

"It could be Luke, and I can't do that to him."

Vincent nodded. He understood, even if he didn't want to. Catherine straightened her clothes and hurried to the door. Running her hands through her hair, she opened the door. And just when she thought she had survived one storm, there she stood, facing the mother of them all, Evelyn Chandler.

"Aren't you going to invite me in?" Evelyn asked, glancing behind Catherine at Vincent.

"You seemed to have made it this far without an invitation. Why bother asking now?"

"Now is that any way to greet your mother," Evelyn said, breezing by Catherine. "And honey be a dear and have your handyman grab my luggage out the trunk," she said over her shoulder.

Catherine looked at Vincent and shook her head. Silently, she was thinking; there goes the neighborhood and possibly the town too.


Chapter 9


"Turn down that gravel road and then take a right at the first opening," Catherine said, directing Vincent as he drove.

He looked at her, his brow raised. "You do realize that is a turnrow in a cotton field and not a road."

"I am fully aware of that fact," she responded, ignoring his skepticism.

"Why do I feel like I'm on the wrong side of a horror movie?" He asked, bringing the truck to a stop.

"Pull the reins on your horse, Cowboy. You may feel like you're in a scary movie, but believe me, fear will be the last thing on your mind when I'm finished," she said, jumping out of the truck, sporting a mischievous smile.

"I don't know if I should be relieved or intrigued," he said to himself, while debating if he should get out or put the pedal to the metal and never look back. Looking into the darkness, he decided on the former. Leaving the keys in the ignition, he exited the vehicle and headed toward the rear of the truck. Rounding the back of the vehicle, he stopped dead in his tracks at the sight that met him. Catherine scantily clad in bra and panties. Moonbeams illuminated her body, showcasing her beauty, took his body from zero to sixty in 2.5 seconds. She looked at him with come-hither eyes, while slowly beckoning him with her index finger and running her teeth across her bottom lip. It was a warm night, but that was an understatement compared to the inferno igniting inside his body.

"Are you trying to kill me?" He asked, his voice low and gravelly.

"No, but I am on the brink of incinerating if you don't extinguish this fire." She said unabashedly as she slowly unhooked her bra, causing Vincent to suck in a breath. She licked her finger and began to play with her nipples. Her seductive gesture catapulted his body to levels unknown, traumatizing him to the point of sexual stasis. As if sensing his inner turmoil, Catherine called his name, spurring him into action. Proceeding with great agility, his feet carried him swiftly to the gorgeous nymph sprawled out before him. He extended his hand cautiously, almost afraid her touch would sear his skin. Grasping his hand she pulled him on top of her. Not missing a beat, she quickly relieved him of his shirt. Tossing it aside, she licked her lips. Her moist and juicy lips. Memories of their prior kisses intensified his emotions. Those lips needed to be claimed and in one motion he did just that. Their tongues touched and he knew the die had been cast. This woman took him places he hadn't been before. She made him feel things that were foreign to him. He sucked, nibbled, and teased every inch of her mouth fervently. The feel of her nipples rubbing against his bare skin, begging for attention, stoked his fire. Easing out of the kiss, he slowly moved from her lips down to her breast. Using the tip of his tongue, he ran circles around her nipple, triggering her back to arch, followed by moans of pleasure. It had been years, but he hadn't forgotten how to please a woman, but for a brief moment the fear of finishing early crossed his mind, but he quickly banished the thought.

"Please, I need you now Vincent," she muttered, barely able to speak.

"Not until I taste you," he said, parting her thighs. By then he was fully invested and didn't care if they were in a cotton field or not. He was on a pleasure mission and his mind was focused on gratifying the gorgeous woman before him. Grabbing her thighs, he lifted her to meet his anxious tongue. Greedy and eagerly, he expertly licked her to the brink of euphoria, while she fingered his hair. By the time he took her engorged bulb in his mouth, running his teeth over it, her body detonated, skyrocketing to the best orgasm of her life. Convulsions consumed her body as Vincent made quick work of his clothes. She vaguely heard paper rattling in the distance. Minutes later, he returned with a ferocious sexual appetite, seeking fulfillment. He leaned over her and whispered, "Are you sure about this?" She nodded, before grabbing his hard member and guiding it to her wet center. Positioning her hips, she allowed him to fill her to capacity. A visceral desire arose, seizing his body, demanding more. The walls he had so carefully constructed around his heart, came crumbling down as he took his first stroke. He moved with urgency, thrusting until she was cresting towards nirvana. Soon he felt his own body climbing toward the highest peak.

"Look at me, baby," he said, needing to see those green gems. Their eyes met as they soared through the orgasmic wormhole, toward the apex of ecstasy. Vincent smiled as he looked up at the starry sky. The moment was absolutely perfect. Suddenly the idyllic picture began to fade. He woke up with a start. Looking around the room, he was crushed to learn he had been dreaming. Best sex of his life and it was in a freaking dream. To make matters worse, his throbbing rock hard erection was inflicting as much pain on his body as his aching leg. Throwing back the covers, exposing his naked body, he jumped out of bed and headed for the shower. He needed release and fast. Afterwards he was heading to the Veterans hospital to get a shot for the pain currently gripping his leg.


Blaring music reached Catherine's ears, jarring her awake. She grabbed a pillow and covered her head. Unfortunately by then, sleep was missing in action. She glanced over at the the clock. The red numbers displayed 7:30 a.m. Frustrated, she jumped out of the bed, and headed toward the kitchen. A strong cup of coffee was calling her name. With every step the loud music became suspiciously closer, causing Catherine to come to a sliding halt. It finally dawned on her who the culprit was. How could she have forgotten her mother was in her house? It wasn't a cup of coffee strong enough to get her through the train wreck awaiting her. Just great. Her mother couldn't have picked a more inopportune time to show up unannounced. Renovations were hectic enough and now she had to endure her mother's Texas-sized ego. If only she could go back to bed and pretend this was all a dream. She turned around and the bane of her existence stood right there facing her. Catherine took in her mom's appearance. Long black hair fell past her shoulders, and her face was covered in far too much make-up for a morning in the country. Who did she think would see her? Most of the neighbors were elderly and didn't care one way or the other. She adorned a pink robe trimmed with white fur and pink high heel slippers covered her feet. The only thing missing was a five star hotel or better yet, a mansion.

"Good morning, dear. I thought you were going to sleep all day. When will breakfast be ready? I'll take a sunny-side up egg and some turkey bacon," her mother said, oblivious to Catherine's distress. "Oh and some wheat toast."

Catherine rubbed her hand down her face, grabbing the bridge of her nose with her thumb and index finger. Silently she recited; Honor thy mother and father. Tamping down a smart reply she said, "Today's breakfast is cereal, but you're more than welcome to cook whatever you prefer."

The phone rang, putting a pause on the conversation. Catherine turned and headed toward the sound of the ringing. Locating the phone on the nightstand, she picked it up and was surprised to see Vincent's name. A smile crossed her face. His first call to her since they'd exchanged numbers. She quickly hit the answer button.


Vincent's deep voice infiltrated her ear. "Good morning, Catherine.

"Good morning, Vincent. How are you?" She asked, trying not to sound too giddy.

"Not good. My leg is bothering me today, so I'm going to run to the Veterans Hospital to see if I can get a shot for the pain. I can't promise you I'll be back in time to help with the renovations, because nothing is ever done expediently at the V.A. hospital."

"Hey, how about some company? Please take pity on me and say yes. You saw what I have to deal with," Catherine pleaded.

Vincent thought of his erotic dream, starring Catherine. This was a bad idea, but he found he couldn't say no."

"Sure. How soon can you be ready?"

"Give me fifteen minutes," she said, enthusiastically.

"Great. See you then."

"Honey are leaving? Surely you wouldn't leave your mother alone in this dump. It was enough you made me sleep on the sofa. Can't you do something to clean it up?"

Catherine counted to ten, hoping to quell the anger rising rapidly within her. "Mother," she paused, noting how weird that name sounded to her own ears. "I don't know if you've noticed, but I am in the middle of renovations. You are more than welcome to rent a room at the B & B at the corner, since my dump doesn't pass muster. Now if you'll excuse me, I have somewhere to go."

Catherine walked away wondering when her mother's little pit stop would end. Hopefully it would be sooner rather than later.


Vincent sat in a chair next to Catherine at the hospital waiting for his name to be called. He looked around at the crowded room of veterans. Every face represented a different story, with the same results. Injured and in need of care. He gave Catherine a furtive glance as she flipped through a magazine. Her soft, silky skin captivated his attention, and soon fragments of his dream invaded his mind and he knew he was in trouble. The tightening of his jeans compounded that fact. Without warning, she looked up, paralyzing him in place.

"You like what you see?" She asked, a teasing smile on her face.

Although she was smiling, she had no idea the level of restraint he was employing to keep from throwing her on the floor and making mad passionate love to her.

Somewhere along the way, he had fallen for her. Wait what! No! That can't be true. Sobering up rapidly, he jumped up.

"I need to run to the men's room. Knock on the door if they call my name before I get back."

He walked off chiding himself for agreeing to let Catherine tag along. It was a lesson learned much too late. He entered the bathroom and leaned on the counter. His little revelation was traumatizing in the sense that he had never been in love before. Way to go Vincent, he thought. He didn't know if she felt the same way and most importantly they were only friends. He pondered his predicament and all roads led to heartbreak. As a matter of fact, he might as well download the song, Hearbreak Hotel. It would be the theme of his life in the following months anyway. The door opened, interrupting his introspection. An older man with white hair, dressed in overalls hobbled in. Vincent thought of himself walking in the same manner if he was blessed to reach the same age.

"Soldier, you look like death warmed over. What's ailing you? The war or troubles on the home front?" The older man asked, looking at Vincent.

Vincent was offended at first, but he soon realized he needed to stop wearing his feelings on his sleeve. Civilian life was definitely changing him."

He smiled at the older gentleman. "It's more of the latter. I survived a bombing in Iraq, only to come home and lose my heart to a woman who sees me only as a friend."

"Well, Sonny Boy, it happens to the best of us. But if you're referring to the beautiful young lady out there, then your concerns are misplaced. She hasn't stopped looking at this door since you came through it. I suggest you pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get back out there. Quit acting like a whippersnapper and woo the woman. Just like she caught your attention, you can best believe she attracted the attention of other men. You have the upper hand, being that you also have her attention. Love can be scary, but it can also be fulfilling. It's going to be cold in a few months. A warm, soft woman sure beats a cold bed and your hand, if you get my drift," he said, raising his brow. "Now my bladder has my attention, so I bid you farewell and wish you good luck."

The older man shuffled off, leaving Vincent startled. He let out a chuckle and headed toward the door. He entered the waiting area and found Catherine in the same spot. As if sensing his arrival, she looked up at him.

"I thought I was going to have to come in after you. You know I'm not above it. It would have been the highlight of my day," Catherine said, totally serious.

"Looks like I came out in time then. We can't have you giving these poor old battered and bruised soldiers a heart attack," Vincent said laughing. He didn't want Catherine seeing no other man exposed in the bathroom, whether young or old.

"Vincent Keller," a nurse called from the door of the walk-in clinic.

He jumped up. "About time. I'll be back soon, I hope. Try to behave yourself," he said, winking at Catherine.

Twenty minutes later, Vincent emerged, looking much better.

"Are you ready to go home?" He asked. He didn't know if she was, but he sure was.

"I'm ready to leave here, but I'm not quite ready to go home." A look of sadness flit across her face. Vincent saw it and knew he had to do something. He knew her mom's unexpected visit was stressing her and more than anything he hated to see her down.

"You don't have to go home. I'll throw some steaks on the grill and we can relax on the deck. Sounds like a plan?"

"A man after my own heart. I say let's get going. I can taste the steak right now," Catherine said licking her lips.

Any replies Vincent had was lost at the sheer sight of her tongue jutting out. He wasn't normally a glutton for pain, but obviously around Catherine he was. Walking around practically all day with a semi hard-on was definitely painful. They headed toward the parking lot, glad to be leaving the hospital. Vincent knew without a doubt, tonight would end the same way his morning had began, finding release in the shower.


Catherine nursed a bottle of water, while Vincent manned the grill. The sun neared the horizon, providing a pale orange backdrop. She looked at Vincent, admiring the way his jeans hugged his butt. Her imagination begin to run wild. She wondered how it would feel to grab his butt during sex. Sipping her beer, she desperately tried to quench an unquenchable thirst. Without a doubt, she wanted Vincent. The memory of his touch heightened her arousal. She knew she was falling for him and she couldn't do one single thing to stop it.

"You like what you see?"

She looked up from fantasizing, to find Vincent looking over his shoulder at her. Her cheeks flamed red. She was beyond embarrassed to be caught staring at his butt, of all things. Thinking quick on her feet and trying to save face, she asked, "what if I do?"

Without hesitation, in a move too fast to register, Catherine was lifted up and kissed so thoroughly, she didn't know if she was going or coming. The proof of his arousal rubbed against her thigh, exciting her even more. Finally he released her lips and she slowly opened her eyes. After the haze of the kiss cleared, she looked up at Vincent. She startled briefly, before taking a couple of steps back.

"What's wrong Catherine?" Vincent asked, looking at her frightened eyes.

"Your eyes are glowing! Why are your eyes glowing?"


Chapter 10


Darkness blanketed the sky, providing the perfect cloak to the clandestine activity transpiring in the small town of Winston. But even in the quiet country municipality, secrets had a way of rising to the surface. This became abundantly clear to Catherine as she wrestled with the phenomenon before her. Sitting in a chair across from Vincent, she gripped the sides, bracing herself for the unknown.

"Catherine, talk to me."

"What do you want me to say? Your eyes changed colors and you want me to talk. Excuse me, if I defer that task to you."

Tension was so thick you could cut through it with a knife. In the grand scheme of things, Catherine realized Vincent wasn't obligated to provide an explanation, but no way was she stopping him from offering one.

Vincent ran a hand down his face, expelling a breath. "Catherine, you have to believe me. I've never had this happen before. I don't know what caused it."

"Let's say, I do believe you. You must have at least an inkling of what is happening to you. Obviously, your body is undergoing some type of change."

"When I went to the hospital today, I was given an experimental drug for pain, one that is less addictive than the meds I was prescribed before. Other than the pills, it's the only drug I've taken in the last two years," he said, clearly puzzled himself.

"Vincent, we've got to be missing something here. Human eyes don't just start glowing out of the blue. I'm trying to process what I saw, but even after seeing it, I find it unbelievable. We've crossed the line from what is considered normal and entered the realm of sci-fi."

Vincent hit the table. "Son of a..." He stood up, rubbing his hand down his face.

"What is it, Vincent?"

He looked at Catherine a long time before speaking. "After I was injured in the bombing, I stayed in the hospital for almost a year. During this time I was approached by a team of doctors, who offered me a pipe dream. Well, at least, at the time I thought it was. They were actively recruiting volunteers to become supersoldiers. Evidently, my DNA is a perfect match for the serum in order to become one of these supersoldiers. My answer was no from the beginning, but now I'm not so sure they respected my decision. Today the doctor offered me a shot of a drug that is in the experimental stages. Now I believe it may have been a ploy to introduce the serum into my system. His eyes found Catherine's. "I know we have chemistry, and we could have had something beyond our friendship, but if I am right, that possibility died the moment I was injected with the needle. Not to mention, my life just went from quiet to dangerous. No one can know about this. If the government is watching me, I have to convince them I wasn't affected. That's the only way I'll be able to stay in town and keep you safe as well," he said, his anger rising.

"Don't you think you're jumping to conclusions here? First of all, they didn't know you were going to be at the hospital today and secondly, don't try to dictate my life. I say we stick together and face whomever, or whatever, we're up against. And thirdly, calm down, because your eyes are glowing again," Catherine stated in an agitated tone.

Vincent looked at Catherine, knowing he would only fuel her anger if he tried to reason with her, so he surrendered. "Fine, we'll face it together. Just remember this was your choice."

"My choice. My life. So glad we agree. Now how do we find out if you've been injected with this mysterious serum?"

"I don't really need a test. My senses have become heightened in the past hour as well as my new ability to hear your heartbeat. But to confirm my suspicions, I have a plan. My friend J.T. is a scientist, but he lives in New York. This is where you come in at. If I'm right, then we're probably being watched right now or soon will be. At least, I will be. I'm going to go inside under the guise of fixing you a drink. I'll extract a blood sample from my arm and leave it in a vial on the counter along with my friend's address. When I return, you go inside and retrieve it. Send it to him, along with a note detailing the current events. Please advise him to send all correspondence for me through you. Are you sure you're in?" Vincent asked, raising his brow.

"You won't get rid of me that easily. And who just happens to have vial in their house?"

"I don't know. A doctor maybe," he said, sarcastically.

"Right, Dr. Keller. Sorry, I forgot. Well, I'm all in. Kiss me and make it good. If they're watching, might as well give them a show."

"Your wish is my command," he said, as he leaned over and claimed her lips.


"Catherine, can you hear me? Wake up, Dear."

A groggy Catherine opened her eyes to find her mother standing over her.

"What is it?" She asked, rubbing her eyes.

"You have a visitor. As a matter fact, it's the same little boy who showed up yesterday."

Catherine jumped up. Oh my God, I forgot about Luke. Tell him I'll be out in a minute."

"When are you going to make time for your poor mother?"

Catherine stopped getting dressed and looked at her mother. "Out of all the adjectives that I could use to describe you, poor is most certainly not one of them. While we're on the subject, when have you ever made time for me?"

"Look, I don't want to argue with you. I'm trying to make amends for my past mistakes with you."

Catherine smirked. "I was born at night, not last night. Why don't you tell me why you're really here?"

Evelyn gave her a sheepish smile. "Frank left me, so I don't have anywhere else to go.

"And you suddenly remembered you have a daughter you can sponge off of."

"I'm sure your grandmother left you well off. That's why I didn't come to the funeral. I figured she left you everything anyway."

Catherine saw red. "You are a serious piece of work. The best thing you ever did for me, was giving me to Grammy. It is that reason alone that's keeping me from turning my back on you totally. But we can't stay under the same roof right now. I'll put you up at the B & B, and we'll talk later. Get your bags and I'll take you there now," she said in a voice that brooked no argument.

Evelyn must have sensed she'd pushed Catherine too far, because she simply turned and walked away, without another word.

Catherine dressed quickly and hurried out to the porch. Luke sat on the steps, patiently waiting.

"Luke, I'm so sorry about yesterday. Something came up and I forgot to call you," Catherine said, taking a seat on the step beside him.

"It's okay. My mom let me go swimming with my cousin and his friends. I got to ride the bus to the pool with the teenagers and it was really cool." Catherine ruffled his hair. "That makes me feel a little better." A sudden noise from behind alerted her that Evelyn was ready. "I need to take my mom to your house real quick, but if you want, you can wait here for Vincent. He should be arriving pretty soon." Luke's eyes lit up at the mention of Vincent's name. It would seem Vincent had a fan.

Catherine turned around and just shook her head. Her mother was dressed in a black pantsuit with heels and enough jewelry for three people to wear. She quickly grabbed the suitcases and took them to her mother's car. Less than five minutes later, they pulled in front of the Victorian house, with Evelyn at the wheel. Avery was out front watering the flowers while chatting with Charlie. Upon hearing the sputtering gravel, she turned around to see Catherine exiting the vehicle.

"Good morning, Catherine," she said with a southern drawl.

"It's morning, but someone forgot to tell it to be good," Catherine replied, glancing in her mother's direction. Realizing she was being rude, she quickly made introductions.

Avery being very astute, picked up on the tension. "Charlie, would you be so kind as to regale Evelyn with one of your stories, while I speak with Catherine for a moment?"

A smile spread across Charlie's face so big, you would have thought he had just won a metal. "It would be my pleasure. It is nice to meet you, Evelyn. Join me on the swing and let me tell you about my days in the classroom," he said, pointing to the empty space beside him.

Evelyn was more than happy to accommodate his request. Attention from any man was always welcomed. Catherine followed Avery in the house. They made it to the kitchen before Avery turned and gave her a questioning look.

"What is going on, Catherine?"

"Looks like, Mommie Dearest was deserted by another husband, and since Grammy isn't here to pick up the pieces, she suddenly remembered she has a daughter who she could possibly fleece until the next sucker comes along. Although, the scales are tipping more in her direction, when it comes to being a sucker."

"I'll let her stay free of charge for two weeks, if you'll do me a favor."

"Sure. Just name it."

"I volunteer at the nursing home twice a month. It usually involves driving the residents to the movies or out to eat. I'm scheduled to drive Alberta and two other residents to Bingo today. The lady that helps me here had an emergency, so you see, you would be helping me out."

"I know Alberta. She was my grandmother's roommate. You don't have to comp me a room for transporting them. It would be my pleasure."

"Honey, you may sue me for my business, when the day is over. You haven't had the pleasure of being in the presence of all three ladies together. Mark my words, you'll be calling me everything but a child of God," Avery said, smiling.

"Okay. It's a deal, but my car is too small."

"Not a problem. The nursing home provides a mini van. Just be there in an hour and show them your drivers license."

"Oh, what about Luke? I already skipped out on him yesterday. I have him and Vincent waiting on me," Catherine asked, truly concerned.

"Luke will be fine. In case you haven't noticed, Vincent is his new best friend. He looks up to him. And I really appreciate both of you for caring enough to include him in the renovations. It's fun to him, because it's not his dear old mom making him do it. Besides, being around a real man doesn't hurt either."

Catherine walked home and informed Vincent and Luke of her impromptu plans, before heading to the nursing home.


Catherine was barely on the highway before Avery's words came true. Alberta and her friends, Helen and Lulu were a force to be reckoned with. All three women wore gingham dresses of different colors and sported long or curly gray hair and they all looked spry for their ages.

"I almost didn't make it. My arthritis is acting up and my left shoulder is bothering me," Helen said, grabbing her shoulder.

"Helen, hush up all that foolishness. You're blowing my high."

"Your high?" Helen asked, bewildered.

"Oh, not that kind of high. The high of being away from that wretched place impersonating a nursing home. I've had a double mastectomy, hysterectomy, appendectomy, and a cholecystectomy. I'm so hollow inside, my food echoes when it goes down. But do you hear me complaining? Now let me enjoy my outing without hearing about all your ailments."

Everyone chuckled at Alberta's candor. She gave new meaning to spirited.

"Besides, I may be an septuagenarian, but I don't need reminding. I got one foot in the grave and I'm busy trying to keep the other one away from banana peels. When I go, I want a man on top of me and a cigarette in my mouth. I've already signed a DNR order, so honey, just let me go with a smile on my face as I float on up to those pearly gates," Alberta said, laughing, followed by a coughing spell.

"Alberta, must you be so vulgar. And you already sound like you've smoked enough in your lifetime," Helen said.

"That I did. But I need one more for the road. Had plenty men after me too, but I had my eyes set on one fellow. I told those other imposters, five and four is nine, you go your road and I'll go mine. And honey, if you consider my words vulgar, you've got the wrong friend. I've lived long enough to tell it like it is, and not to care who it offends. Nobody wants to hear the watered down version of your life. Where's the fun in that?"

Catherine couldn't help laughing at the comedy hour unfolding in the vehicle.

"Do you want to grab lunch first?" Catherine asked.

"Sure," Lulu said, looking over Catherine's shoulder at the speedometer. "Dear, can't you go any faster?"

"Lulu, this vehicle has five wheels. Four to roll and one to hold. That means one driver," Alberta chimed in.

"Take the Gentilly exit. We can go to Picadilly," Helen said.

"That's a great idea," Lulu said, ignoring Alberta.

"We have an hour and a half before bingo starts, so we don't have to rush. I didn't forget my dentures this time, so I'm going to eat good," Helen said.

Shortly thereafter, Catherine found herself in a restaurant similar to a cafeteria. She got in line behind the three women and scanned the plethora of decadent dishes available.

"I can't believe Ms. Thang is eating in here. She must have fallen on hard times to stoop this low," said the voice behind Catherine.

The voices sounded eerily familiar, so she turned around.

The two women from the parade sneered at her. She didn't blink an eye. "Do you have a problem with me?" She asked.

"Yes, I have a problem with you trying to steal, Vincent. I saw him first, and then you drive into town in your fancy car like you're all that. You leave him alone," the dirty blond replied.

"Sweetie, let me school you real quick, since you seem to be a few cells short of a brain. Before you go rolling up on women getting all territorial, make sure the man is yours first. I doubt if he even knows you exist. I suggest you get over your infatuation with him and your jealousy of me. I've reached my quota for entertaining nitwits for the month, so go entertain someone else with your tomfoolery.

"Who do you think you are? I will have you banned from everything in town and the surrounding areas."

"Why stop there? Why not the whole state? But you keep in mind, wherever I go, Vincent will be right there with me. So, go right ahead with your kindergarten threat, Ms. If I can't have him, then I'll harass every woman he talks to. Grow up. You are a joke to women everywhere," Catherine said, laughing, knowing she was goading the other woman.

"Laugh now, but we'll see who's laughing last," the now seething woman said.

"Little girl, go find a playground to play on. You're so invisible in my life, I don't even know your name. As a matter of fact, I'm done with this fruitless conversation. Control-alt-delete; consider yourself shutdown. Now kick rocks, trick"

"Now back to the regularly scheduled program. We got a bingo game to go to," Alberta interjected.

Catherine turned around and realized they had an audience. She briskly grabbed a few items and moved to the end of the line and prepared to pay for her food. Alberta walked up behind her with her walker.

"Well, honey, if I didn't know you were Lucy's great granddaughter already, you just confirmed it. You got some serious heat under your engine. Rev you up and everybody better get out the way. Lucy is dancing a jig up there after hearing you tell that little tramp off. Before we go back to that lion's den, I've got an item that must be checked off my bucket list today. Take me to meet this Vincent. He must be quite a man to cause such an uproar.

Catherine just nodded. Her emotions were all over the place, but she knew one thing for sure, she was going to need some bail money if Blondie approached her one more time.

Catherine headed back to Winston, after bingo was over. The old girls were still going at it and she chuckled to herself. It was never a dull moment with them. She bypassed the nursing home and headed toward the outskirts of town to her house. Pulling up, she parked and got out. Before she could open the door for her passengers, the man of the hour stepped outside and utter chaos ensued.

"I ain't seen a man that fine looking since Kennedy was president. If he was water, my thirst would be endless. Thine eyes have seen the light and my heart is on the blitz. All I need is a cigarette now and my body can give up the ghost," Alberta said, fanning herself with her hand."

"Hello, ladies. How are you?" Vincent asked, sticking his head through the open door.

"After seeing you, if I wasn't fine, I am now," Alberta replied, her eyes roaming over Vincent's body.

"Vincent, this is Alberta, Helen and Lulu," she said, pointing at each lady.

"Hello, Vincent," Helen said.

"Hi, Vincent," Lulu said, smiling.

Luke came running out the house at that moment.

"There's my boy. Come give me a hug Lukey Luke," Alberta said.

Luke blushed as he ran to the passenger side of the vehicle and opened the door.

Tell your mom, thank you for asking Catherine to drive us today. We really enjoyed it," she said as she hugged him. Luke spoke to the other ladies before grabbing his bike.

"Luke, we're pretty much done for today. Here, give this to your mom to save for you," Vincent said, handing him a bill from his wallet.

"Ok, I will. Thank you," he replied, before pedaling off on his bike.

"Vincent, I thought we were going to have to post bail for Catherine today," Alberta said.

Vincent gave her a look of bewilderment. "What do you mean?"

"It seems a member of your fan club got confused on her place. She tried to intimidate Catherine, but my girl held her own. Did a right fine job of it too."

Vincent looked at Catherine, but he didn't say anything. He hoped his eyes said it all. They would definitely talk later.

"I know that look. These young folks need to talk. Catherine, take us home. We're having tapioca pudding tonight and I don't want to miss it," Lulu said, interpreting the exchange.

"It was really nice meeting you ladies. Don't be strangers."

"Believe me, the pleasure was ours," Alberta replied, looking him over one last time.

Helen just nodded her head. She was clearly quite taken with Vincent.

"Meet me on the deck when you get back," Vincent whispered, before walking off.

Catherine drove the trio back to the nursing home. The day had been quite eventful, but the only thing on her mind was seeing Vincent again.


Water streamed down Vincent's body as he leaned his head against the shower wall. He willed his body to relax, hoping the stress would follow the dirt and grit of the day down the drain. His mind drifted to Catherine and he felt his nether region come alive. He absently stroked himself, closing his eyes as he expanded more and more. His erotic dream with Catherine came to mind and he was so turned on, he could barely stand up straight. Thinking about it was too torturous, so he opened his eyes, hoping to clear his head. Out of his peripheral, he caught a slight movement. Was he that horny that he was seeing things? Sobering up, he opened the glass shower door. He was more than a little shocked to find Catherine standing there, looking like deer caught in headlights.

"Did you enjoy the show or would you prefer to join me?" He asked, still holding his tool.

She blushed, but he could see the wheels turning in her head. Her heart raced, and he smelled her arousal. His semi-hard state was quickly transitioning back to rock hard. He walked over and kissed her hungrily, running his fingers through her hair. Her body surrendered to him completely. He hastily divested her of her shirt, while hoping he wasn't dreaming. He sensed her fear, causing him to pause.

"Catherine, what's wrong? I can sense your fear."

She looked at him shyly. "I haven't had sex before."

He grasped her face with his hands, looking directly into her eyes. "It's okay. You don't have to do it. And if we do, it won't be having sex. I'll be making love to your beautiful body as well as your mind.

Transfixed on his eyes, all her fears vanished and any inhibitions flew out the window. Vincent felt her relax, spurring him into action. He removed the rest of her clothes and carried her to the shower. He washed her body between kisses, massaging her until she was on the edge of climaxing. His body was on fire, but he couldn't focus on himself. He had one goal tonight and that was pleasing Catherine. He understood the level of trust she was placing in him, and he refused to screw it up. He bent slightly, taking her nipple in his mouth. He stroked her wet center as his tongue danced over her nipple. Suddenly her hand found his erect penis and their hearts fell in sync. Their eyes closed as their bodies transcended. Catherine let out a moan as her body reached its peak. She thought she heard Vincent roar, but her ears were ringing and her body was convulsing, anything else was simply lost in the background. Finally she opened her eyes, taking notice of his amber eyes, but not really caring. He looked at her, unable to form a sentence. He didn't know or understand what had transpired between them, but he had just experienced the best orgasm of his life and they hadn't even had sex. If the sex was better than this he was a goner. She would have him hook, line and sinker, and he wouldn't put up a fight either. Drained and spent, he turned the water off and took Catherine's hand, leading her to his bedroom. She climbed in the bed and he followed, pulling her close to his body. No words were needed to convey the love so clearly felt between them. Sleep simply took over as their hearts continued to beat in sync.

Thank you for reading. 

Chapter 11




In the distance, a rooster crowed, the sound pierced Vincent's ears, jostling him awake. He opened his eyes, sensing a warm body beside him. Turning his head, his breath caught in his throat. Black hair fanned out on the pillow, exposing Catherine's beautiful porcelain face. Every feature, he committed to memory, hoping to recall the moment later in vivid detail. She slept quietly, her chest rising and falling. Remembering the events of the night before brought him fully awake. The tent his member created, proved the sun wasn't the only thing rising early. He wanted to touch her, but she looked so peaceful, it would be too cruel to wake her. As if sensing his stare, her eyes opened, and he knew mornings would never be the same again. And when she smiled, his heart left his chest and floated to her, never to be seen again. Not able to help himself, he pulled her atop his massive chiseled chest.

"Are you ready to go all the way?" He asked, kissing her lips, while his hands wandered over her body.

She nodded and his mouth went bone dry. It took all his restraint not to make love to her right then and there. Being that she was a virgin, he knew he had to take it slow. Her mind might be ready, but her body needed relaxing. He reached over and opened the drawer of the nightstand, grabbing a small bottle. Flipping her naked body to the other side of the bed, he poured oil all over her form. His big strong hands, touched her heated skin, rubbing and massaging until her muscles were slacken and ready for a round of love-making. Starting at her toes, he took possession of her heart, mind, body, and soul, by using his tantalizing tongue to drive her to the pinnacle of ecstasy. It was morning, but her eyes saw the stars and the moon, when his hot tongue greeted her swollen pearl. With each perfectly lavished lick came the promise of sexual elation. Within minutes she felt that familiar heat building until her muscles contracted and she exploded, nearly levitating off the bed. In the aftermath, her eyes hung low, begging to open, but her energy was short in supply and her breathing labored. Several times she wondered if she had bitten off more than she could chew. Vincent had rocked her world and she lay exposed, satisfied beyond comprehension, and still a virgin. If sex was better than this, she would need a drink and a cigarette. But she didn't have long to wait. Her eyes fluttered open at the sound of paper rattling, and her heart nearly stopped beating all together, when her eyes feasted on the magnificent work of art in his hand as he sheathed it. Sure she had stroked it in the shower, but now seeing it without the distraction of Vincent's hands over her body, elevated her arousal. One thing was perfectly clear, if she wasn't ready, Vincent definitely was.

He noticed her staring. "Have you changed your mind?" He asked, joining her in the bed, hovering over her body.

Wild horses couldn't keep her from letting this modern day Adonis make love to her.

"I've been ready."

And with those words, he slid in slowly, meeting resistance, but he forged ahead with care, causing her minimal pain. She sucked in a breath as the pain subsided, leaving only exquisite pleasure. He moved methodically, caressing her inner walls with every stroke, stimulating her erogenous zone. He stopped abruptly, leaving her wet cocoon, and placed her hands on the iron loops of the headboard. "Hold on and relax, okay." She nodded, half cognizant of his actions. Vincent stood up in the bed and raised her body up, gripping her butt, her hands still clutching the headboard, as if she was suspended in air. He plunged in and it was a miracle she was still able to hold on. Whatever pain she felt earlier was long gone. Vincent was hitting all the right spots and doing it exceptionally well.

Suddenly a force beyond his control gripped his body, triggering an unexpected transformation. Canine teeth protruded as claws extended from his fingertips. His need became voracious, driving him, controlling him. He found Catherine's eyes, feeling her body tense as his member began to expand even more. He lowered her down to the bed and in that moment, Catherine knew with absolute clarity, he was more than human with his glowing eyes and beastly appearance. Although shocked to her core, heart thundering in her chest, she told herself he was still the same person. With only seconds to decide, her body and mind succumbed to Vincent and his beast. Sensing her acceptance, he moved, picking up speed, clawing the wall as Catherine's nails found his back. His beast pleaded for more, demanding Vincent thrust harder, until he lost control. Unable to stop himself, he pushed further, deeper, filling her to the hilt. Her sweet, low moans were like music to his ears, amping him up, exciting his beast. And with one powerful stroke, Catherine took flight, soaring to the highest plane, letting the bonds of her past fall away. Her heart filled with love for a man who annihilated her emotional walls. Whatever obstacles the future held, she knew together, they could overcome anything. Moments later, Vincent joined the party, throwing his head back and growling, still thrusting until another orgasm tore through her, taking all she had to give, until she was limp and mentally spent. Sweat glistened on their skin as their beating hearts struggled to slow the rhythm down. Vincent knew they had flown higher than planes flew. They had entered a kingdom of sweet sexual bliss, a foreign paradise to a mere mortal man. It was undeniably, a mind-blowing experience. Catherine was it for him. There was only one thing left to do, but he couldn't do it just yet. He wiped a drop of sweat from his brow, as his body slowly returned to normal.

He looked at Catherine and smiled. "Of all the bathrooms, you had to walk into mine."

"Casablanca, huh. Are we role playing now?"

He smiled. "Casablanca just popped in my head, but I'm all in for role playing."

"You do remember, Rick let the girl go. Are you trying to tell me bye after that showstopping performance?"

Vincent fell back on the bed, pulling Catherine into his muscular arms. "I would go to the ends of the earth, move heaven and hell, before I let you go. You are mine and I love you."

The words were out before it registered he had even said them. He meant every word, but his heart skipped a beat, as he lay wondering if Catherine felt the same way. She stilled for a moment, hoping her ears didn't deceive her. Had she really heard those three powerful words?

Vincent began to grow nervous. "Catherine, I know I'm not what you signed up for, but I can't lose you now. My life was so empty before you moved next door. Now I'm some kind of beast. I know it's not fair to ask you to be with me, but I must be selfish and ask anyway.

She looked up with a smile brighter than the sun. "Oh, Vincent, I am so in love with you."

He pulled her closer. "Well that makes me the happiest man alive."


Catherine sat at the kitchen table, admiring the changes in the house. Vincent had done wonders inside every room. With only a few minor tasks to complete, she was ecstatic to see the light at the end of the tunnel. She stood up and walked over to the window. Still holding her piping hot cup of coffee, she took in the picturesque view. At least her eyes focused on the view, because her mind was next door on the man who had rocked her world only hours earlier. Butterflies took up residence in her stomach and chills ran down her spine, just thinking about the way he had made love to her. Jim Croce's song "Time in a Bottle" came to mind. If only she could put this morning in a bottle. Like the ships in a bottle, it would be her keepsake forever. So engrossed in her thoughts, it took a while for her to see Luke sitting on the ground with his back against the old oak tree. He had his head down, hitting the ground with a stick. Clearly something was bothering the kid. Catherine placed her cup on the kitchen table, readjusted her robe, and headed out the back door. A twig snapped under her shoe, causing Luke to look up. Catherine's heart dropped at the sight of his tear-streaked face. Immediately concerned, she asked, "Luke, what's wrong?"

He put his head down. "Nothing. You'll think I'm acting like a baby if I tell you."

"Luke, you can talk to me about anything. You have my word that I won't think you're acting like a baby.

He didn't say anything for a minute and Catherine thought he had decided not to share. In a low voice he said, "I wish I had a daddy."

She could identify with that statement all too well, but since it was Luke's dilemma, she cleared her mind and probed further. "You want to tell me why."

"I want to play Little League Baseball, but I don't have anyone to take me to practice every week."

Catherine thought about his words for a minute, wondering how she could help Luke. And then the aha moment hit her. "What if I ask Vincent to take you, if he's not busy?"

The reaction to her words were instant. His eyes sparkled like lights on a Christmas tree. "Really! You think he'll do it?"

"You leave that to me. You go on home and I'll go ask him. If he agrees, we'll come over to your house and speak with your mom."

He jumped up, sporting a big smile, he grabbed his bike. "Okay. Thank you, Catherine."

"That's what friends are for, right? You remember this day when you're my age and if you can, pay it forward by helping another little kid, who may need a father too."

Luke nodded and took off on his bike. Catherine hoped Vincent would agree to help Luke, but in case he didn't, she would take him herself. Like her grandmother always said,; It takes a village to raise a child."


Catherine knocked on Vincent's door and waited for him to answer. Several minutes later, he flung the door open, wearing only a towel, and all systems were a go. He wasted no time picking her up and kicking the door closed with his foot. She opened her mouth to protest, but whatever she intended to say was forgotten as his mouth descended upon on hers, claiming her lips in a hard kiss. By the time they reached the bedroom, he had divested her of her robe and was well on his way to removing her underwear. Turning her body around, he trailed kisses down her back as he finished undressing her. Standing upright proved to be almost impossible, with her body coming alive under the ministration of his tongue and lips. He reached around and grabbed her breast and flicked her nipples, taking her to the brink of ecstasy. When she saw the towel hit the floor, she let out a breath she didn't realize she was holding. He walked her over to the wall, placing her hands there for leverage. In the distance, she heard the familiar sound of the condom wrapper, and soon he was behind her again. Within seconds her body was his and he deftly took charge. His movements were fast and powerful, taking her over the edge with him close behind, followed by a faint growl upon reaching his destination.

Vincent wrapped her up in his arms and rested his head against hers. "Catherine, did I hurt you?"

It's a fine time to ask, she thought to herself.

"Are you kidding me?" She turned around and faced him. "I enjoyed myself immensely."

"I don't know what came over me. I saw you standing there in your robe and I couldn't control myself," he said, regret in his voice.

She placed a hand on either side of his face and looked him in the eyes. "It was good. But since you are intent on beating yourself up about it, then I have a way you can make it up to me."

"Okay, you got my attention."

"Luke is feeling down because he doesn't have a father to take him to Little League practice every week. I'm sure his mom would if she didn't have guests. One being my narcissistic mother. Are you game to helping to him out?"

"Yes. He should have asked me?"

"I don't know why he didn't, but when I told him I would ask you, pure joy was written all over his face. He looks up to you and I bet, in his eyes, you can do no wrong."

He pulled her closer. "What about in your eyes?"

"After that performance, my eyes are in total agreement," she said, smiling.

"Well, I'll have to keep it that way," he said, kissing her lips.

"You can start by joining me for a picnic this evening. Oh, I almost forgot, we need to go speak with Avery to get her permission for you to take Luke to practice."

He raised his brow. "You want me to go like this or can I get dressed."

She stepped out of his arms and bent over to retrieve her underwear. "That's for my eyes only," she said, before slapping him on the butt.

"Do that again and we'll be even later going to Avery's house," he said, hoping she would.

"Since Luke is waiting on us, I'll let you make it, but tonight you are mine."

"My Dear, I look forward to it," he said, letting his eyes roam down her body.


Luke sat on the steps, patiently waiting for Catherine and Vincent. One glance down the street and he was off like a shot. Excited was an understatement. He met them in the street, looking back and forth between the two. Catherine finally put him out of his misery. "Vincent has agreed to take you to practice, if your mom gives her permission.

Vincent saw it coming and braced himself, before Luke barreled into him. "Thank you , Vincent," Luke squealed.

"I'm happy to do it. Don't be scared to ask me for help in the future. Promise me you will."

"I promise," Luke said, looking down.

"Well let's shake on it, so we can go get the final word from your mom," Vincent said, extending his hand.

Luke shook his hand as they approached his house. His chest stuck out a little further and he had a huge smile that wouldn't be leaving any time soon. But Luke wasn't the only one smiling from ear to ear. Catherine couldn't love Vincent anymore than she did at that moment. He may not be perfect, but he was definitely one hell of a man. And he was hers.

Thank you for reading. 

Chapter 12



Vincent felt his grip slipping. Beads of sweat materialized, making a beeline for his eyes. He blinked rapidly, hoping to clear the blur from his vision. His hands itched to wipe away the wet distraction. His eyes looked upward, accessing the bleak scene above. Tanner was hanging by a thread with only minutes to go before he fell to his rocky grave. Vincent expelled a sigh. If he could just scale the wall, he could rescue his friend. Time dwindled away as his grasp on the rock became more unsteady. Only a few inches of granite stood between him and a fatal fall. He made the mistake of looking down and his life flashed before his eyes. The things he could have done. All his dreams would perish along with him. He was going to die! The realization hit like a ton of bricks almost forcing him to release his grip and end his agony. Life would go on and the church bell would toll for the fool of the worst kind. No family, few friends and no legacy to leave behind. A few raindrops and a light breeze and his imprint would disappear forever. The scene began to fade and he knew the light would soon shine its spotlight on him and guide him to his eternal home. He wasn't a man prone to crying or even one to display any form of emotions, but his traitorous eyes deceived him and opened the floodgates, freeing all the pain he had held inside for far too long. He cried for the little boy who had grown up to be lonely, bitter and cold. A heart fortified by ice, slowly warmed, melting the barrier of protection. He braced himself as his imminent demise drew closer. But as his resolve settled in, one name entered his mind and his world or what was left of it, tilted, shifted, and he knew the end would have to wait. His internal strength summoned for reinforcements while his courage arose from its languorous bed. With his league of formidable companions in place, his body had a fighting chance. He reached out, grasping for hope, wishing for a miracle, praying this wasn't the end of his story. He thought about Catherine and that was all he needed. He closed his eyes and strength manifested from out of the blue. His hands felt as if claws were attached as he gripped rock after rock, pulling himself up. He was going to make it. If Tanner could just hold on a little while longer he could save him. Sweat poured off him in buckets, but that was of little relevance and he couldn't let something so minute hinder him. With every move, his heart soared with triumph. 'I can do it' became his mantra and a mental image of Catherine's face was his motivation. Suddenly the atmosphere changed and he opened his eyes. Disoriented, he perused his surroundings. Everything became crystal clear when he looked at his bed. Claw marks with torn sheets left little to decipher. He had been dreaming, again.


Catherine entered the Winston Diner to pick up her order for the picnic. Almost immediately the familiar smells of burgers and fries permeated her nose. As a teenager, it had always been a treat to get a milkshake there on her way home from school. Many regrets came to mind, but the biggest of all was her lack of friends growing up. Now she had been given a second chance in her hometown and she promised herself she wouldn't make the same mistakes this time around.

"Catherine." Surprised at hearing her name, she looked around, wondering who could possibly know her in the diner. It had been years since she'd been there, but maybe one of her classmates were dining there and had recognized her. Looking around, she spotted a brunette waving from a booth in the middle of the establishment. Catherine walked over, realizing at the last minute it was Alicia. She hadn't seen her since the parade and was a little shocked Alicia remembered her at all. Being that it was a small town, she shouldn't be so surprised. After all, to most of the residents she was a new face, and certainly by now, the talk of the town.

"Hey, Catherine, how are you?" Alicia drawled.

"I'm fine. Just picking up my order," Catherine replied, hoping their encounter would be quick. She had a sexy man waiting on her, and she wouldn't be late. By her next words, obviously, Alicia had read her mind.

"I won't hold you up, but I want to remind you about my barbecue this weekend. I hope you can make it."

Before Catherine could respond, the bell over the door chimed, prompting her to glance in that direction. Her eyes locked with Vincent's gorgeous blue eyes, giving her excited heart a reason to speed up the tempo. He smiled before heading in her direction. Without preamble, he slid his arm around her waist, pulled her close and kissed her right in front of everyone in the diner. Catherine knew her face was beyond red, but she couldn't find it in herself to care. She ignored that nagging voice in her head, allowing her body to relax in his embrace and returned his kiss. All her life she'd been the good girl. And look where that had gotten her. Besides, who in their right mind would refuse a kiss from the most handsome man in town. No one. And she sure wouldn't be the first. But one thing was certain, the rooster could take a personal day off tomorrow, because the tongues would be wagging so early in the morning, even the rooster wouldn't dare rise up out of his slumber at such an ungodly hour.

Alicia looked on as if she were watching a movie on TV, while several people gasped, undoubtedly taken aback by the public display of affection. Vincent released her and walked over to the register. "I believe my girlfriend, Catherine, called in an order," he informed the wide-eyed cashier. Vincent knew he was causing quite a stir, but he remembered how upset Catherine had been at the parade and after today no one would have any doubts about their status. After finally collecting herself, the cashier brought the order out to Vincent. He paid the bill and turned around to face a still shell shocked Catherine.

"Baby, are you ready for that picnic you promised me?" He asked, extending his hand to her.

And in that moment every eye in the place rested on Catherine. Talk about being put on the spot. But like a true Southern belle, she rose to the occasion and responded accordingly. "Darling, I thought you would never ask," she said, taking his hand. He led her outside to an enormous Black Ford F-250 truck. Catherine paused for a moment, and as if he could read her mind, he opened the passenger side door, quickly placing the bag on the back seat before swooping her up in his arms and depositing her in the passenger seat. Unbeknownst to Catherine and Vincent, they were being watched by everyone in the diner. Women secretly coveted Vincent, while men secretly envied him. They weren't in Hollywood, but the gossip mill was just as bad in a small town. By tomorrow the sun would rise on a new "it" couple and possibly their own nickname.

Ten minutes later, Vincent pulled in a parking space at Turkey Creek Lake. Catherine looked around, wondering why they were at the lake instead of the park.

"I'll be right back," Vincent stated before jumping out of the truck. A few minutes later he returned. "You ready?" He asked as he grabbed the food from the backseat.

"Are you going to tell me why we're at the lake?" Catherine asked from the passenger seat.

"Not big on patience are you?" Vincent asked, stopping to look at her. "It's a surprise. Now move your butt, because you'll have to see for yourself."

Catherine bit back a smart reply, before jumping down out of the truck. She wasn't accustomed to relinquishing control to anyone. She knew a relationship was about compromise and being considerate of the other person's feelings, but this was her first relationship, so she was still a work in progress.

She followed Vincent to a launching area where a jon boat was moored near the bank. In the distance, moss covered cypress trees lined the lily pad filled water. Several boats filled with people sat idle with fishing lines cast in the water, waiting on a bite from the fish. The setting was peaceful and serene and Catherine soon found herself excited.

"I take it from your smile, you've guessed we're going fishing."

"That's correct, Mr. Keller," she said, shading her eyes with her hand, as she looked toward the sky. "The sun will be setting soon, so we better get a move on."

Vincent gestured toward the boat. "Your chariot awaits, My Lady."

Soon they found their own spot and prepared to cast their lines. Vincent produced three small buckets.

"I have minnows, worms, and rage toads. I prefer rage toads, because the bass tend to gravitate towards that particular lure."

"No worms. I despise snakes and worms remind of them. Yuck," Catherine said, frowning. "Let me try the toad."

Vincent didn't say anything, but he wasn't surprised at her choice. Very few women chose worms over other bait.

Vincent grabbed a rage toad from his supply. "I'll help you bait your hook the first time, because the legs on the toad are very temperamental."

After their lines were cast, a companionable silence ensued. Everything was perfect as the sun slowly made its descent toward the horizon, with its glint reflected in the dark waves, creating the most romantic backdrop. Catherine didn't care if she caught one fish, because the view was spectacular and sharing it with Vincent made it even better. And if the day couldn't get any better, she spotted some pelicans in the distance. Totally deserting her fishing pole, she retrieved her phone and began snapping pictures of the beautiful scenery. So engrossed in her photo session, she completely forgot about Vincent until she turned around. A frown creased his forehead, while his eyes conveyed his thoughts. She looked down sheepishly.

"Sorry. The scenery is so beautiful, I simply couldn't resist," she muttered. She berated herself silently. Men took fishing serious and here she was showing little regard for the kind gesture Vincent had made by sharing his world with her. She slowly raised her head, only to find a smile on Vincent's face. Unable to contain her own smile, she shook her head and grabbed her pole. Oh, but payback would be sweet and quite gratifying.

"You looked so adorable as your eyes and camera captured the view. Don't be upset with me. I couldn't help myself," Vincent stated apologetically. "Besides you don't have time to sulk, you're about to get a bite on your line. Remain calm and watch your bobber. If it moves or goes below the surface, it's time to pull it in. I'll be right behind you to guide you every step of the way."

"And let me guess, you know this because of your newly heightened senses."

He smirked. "Yes."

She turned around to face him. "Are we going to talk about your little show at the diner?"

"I don't think there's anything more to say."

"You marched into the diner, kissed me in front of half the town and then claimed me as your girlfriend. And you think there's nothing more to say."

"Are you my girlfriend?"

Catherine looked at him shyly. "Yes."

"Then that's all that matters." He raised his brow. "Are you trying to pick a fight with me, so we can have a reason to make up later? If so, there's no need. I was planning on ravishing you later anyway," he said confidently.

A smile spread across her face. "You are incorrigible."

"I may be, but you love me anyway." He smiled and she had to remind herself she was in a boat to keep from swooning.

"As much as I love making you blush, I must put a pause on it, since you have a bite. Let's see what you're made of, then we'll have our picnic."


Early Saturday morning, Catherine made her way to the B & B. Dread wrapped around her mind, but the time had come to face her mother. If she hoped to have a loving and happy relationship with Vincent, then she had to say her piece to her mother and let the past go for good. As she climbed the steps, her mind worked overtime compiling her thoughts on what she would say.

"Morning little lady. You look like someone with a lot on their mind."

Surprised, Catherine looked up to find Charlie in his usual spot. "Good morning, Charlie." She gave him a weak smile. "You've figured me out. I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders and I hope when I leave my load will be much lighter."

Charlie didn't respond immediately and Catherine had to look at him more than once to make sure he hadn't fallen asleep.

"Catherine, I hope I'm not overstepping my boundaries, but I would like to give you a bit of advice.

Catherine nodded her head and took a seat on the top step. Charlie didn't waste any time and got straight to the point.

"You can't teach an old dog new tricks. You think about that and the next time we talk, I'm sure you'll know what I mean."

"Good Morning, Catherine. I didn't realize you were out here," Avery said from the door.

"I haven't been here long. I came to see my mother and I was just having a friendly chat with Charlie before I came inside."

"I was just coming to get Charlie for breakfast. Can I get you anything?"

Avery sensed Catherine had a lot on her mind and would probably decline breakfast.

"No, thank you. I need to speak with my mother before I lose the willpower to do so," Catherine stated with a half smile."

"I'm sure everything will work out. Be honest about your feelings and you can't go wrong. I'll go get her for you. Come on and eat Charlie."

Charlie used his cane to raise up off the swing. He glanced over at Catherine before heading in the house. Her face said it all, but he knew there was nothing he could do. This was a lesson she had to learn on her own.

Catherine watched Avery and Charlie go in the house. Deep inside she felt like she was waiting on her last meal before being led to the electric chair. She didn't have any idea what she would said say to her mother. Well she had a few questions, but beyond that she was clueless.

Within minutes, her mother breezed out the door, her perfume reached Catherine's nose before the screen door closed.

"You finally remembered you had a mother," Evelyn said, taking a seat on the swing.

"I could say the same about you, but I didn't come here to argue." Catherine knew she couldn't build up to her question, so she just blurted it out. "What are your plans? You can't stay here forever and it's quite obvious we can't live under the same roof. And before you go there, I don't have any money. All my resources went into renovating Grammy's house. If it wasn't for Vincent, I would be in dire straits right now."

"Then why are you wasting your time and money in this one-horse town?" Evelyn asked, turning her nose up.

"Same reason you keep coming back. It's home. Grammy loved it here and she loved me. That alone endears the town to me."

"Well you can have your town and its people. I never liked it here. You will be going nowhere fast if you stay here. But If that's what you want, then it's your life."

"You're right. It's my life. It's not like you ever cared anyway. I can't even get you to tell me who my father is, so I'm not surprised you don't care about my life."

Catherine knew her eyes were on the verge of betraying her.

"Why would you want to know about a deadbeat anyway? Believe me, I'm doing you a favor. I'm done with this pointless conversation. You're just like your grandmother, too sentimental." And with her parting shot, Evelyn left Catherine with unanswered questions and a bruised heart. One thing was painfully clear and Catherine couldn't ignore it anymore. Her mom wasn't capable of loving anyone, but herself.

Sitting alone on the front steps of the B & B, Catherine's dam broke. Tears spilled out of her eyes, running down her face. She knew she looked a mess, but she couldn't move, couldn't think, she was trapped in a sea of emotions. She wasn't surprised by her circumstances, because from day one of her life, she was unloved and shipped off to Grammy.

Out of the blue a small hand touched her back. So engrossed in her pity party, she didn't see Luke take a seat beside her.

"Are you okay, Catherine?" He asked, concern written all over his little face.

That one simple question nearly did Catherine in. If only he could stay young and ignorant to the troubles of the world.

"I will be, Luke. I feel like you did the other day. I wish I had a father. But now I'm just glad I have a friend like you."

Luke studied her for moment, while the cogs rotated in his head.

"Stay here. I'll be right back. Don't leave, okay," he said, before making a hasty retreat in the house.

A few minutes later he returned, taking his previously vacated seat on the step. He handed Catherine an action figure along with a roll of toilet paper.

"That's Optimus Prime. I told him to take care of you until you feel better."

Catherine didn't stand a chance against Optimus Prime and Luke. She cried in earnest, because a nine-year little boy had more love for her than her own mother.

Through sobs and sniffles, she said, "I appreciate you trying to help me, but I can't take your toy."

"Please. I know he can make you feel better. He'll protect you too. You're my friend and I want to help you," Luke pleaded.

When Catherine looked over at Luke and saw the unshed tears in his eyes, she knew Optimus Prime would be going home with her.

Thank you for reading. 

Chapter 13





The sounds of Maroon 5, filled Catherine's bedroom, while she continued to add items to the growing pile of clothes on her bed. She'd lost count of the number of outfits discarded. Looking in the mirror, she concluded the current ensemble was less than impressive, quickly assigning it the same fate as its predecessors. Releasing a sigh, she effectively collapsed atop the heap of garments. Beyond frustrated, she closed her eyes, allowing Adam Levine's voice to soothe her frazzled nerves. He sang about how it was always you. The lyrics resonated deep within, inducing her to daydream. After the song ended, one glance at the clock had her jumping to her feet. If she was going to make it to Alicia's outing, she needed to find an outfit to wear ASAP. Vincent would be arriving soon and she was still in her underwear. He definitely didn't need to find her barely attired, because they most certainly wouldn't make it anywhere. Rummaging through the discarded heap of clothes, she reluctantly decided on a pair of jeans and a short sleeve blouse. Why was she stressing so much? It was a barbecue for crying out loud. She knew the answer had more to do with Vincent than the outing. Dating the town hunk, when you had been the town wallflower, was overwhelming, to say the least. At least her hair and makeup would look good. Dark, loose curls framed her face, accentuating her beautiful green eyes. She completed her look with a light touch of blush, eyeshadow, eyeliner, and lip gloss. Grabbing her sandals, she took one last look in the mirror. Twirling and posing, she decided she would pass muster. After five more minutes of debating on what purse to take, she grabbed a small hobo bag. As if on cue, the doorbell rang, announcing Vincent's arrival. She checked her outfit and makeup once more, before heading to the door. With every step, she attempted to tamp down the growing anxiety working in tandem with her backstabbing body, threatening to unravel her shaky composure. Discharging a breath, she opened the door and her jaw dropped. Vincent gave new meaning to wearing it well. And being equipped with the knowledge of what was under that henley and inside those jeans, darn near drove her to the brink of an orgasm. But she wasn't alone in her jaw-dropping moment. Vincent was just as taken with her or more. Mischief danced in his eyes as he pulled her against his hard body.

Catherine pushed against his chest in protest "Don't get any ideas."

"Then you shouldn't have worn that outfit."

"And I could say the same to you," she said, giving him a gentle push, so she could close and lock the door.

Vincent smirked. "Don't make me pull you onto my lap in front of everybody at the party."

"You wouldn't," Catherine said, shock registering on her face as she followed him to his truck.

He turned around and raised his brow. "I guess you'll have to see."

She gave him a naughty smile. "If you embarrass me, you won't get to find out later what I can do with my tongue and Pop Rocks."


Vincent stopped mid-stride, eyes wide, wondering if his ears were playing a cruel joke on him. Catherine leaned against the truck and looked at her watch, struggling to contain her smile.

"Time's a-wastin', Cowboy."

He stood rooted to the spot. "You deliver a blow like that and expect me to act normal."

She licked her lips seductively. "Look on the bright side. You'll have something to look forward to later."

"You little minx. You're trying to kill me."

Finally collecting himself, he walked over to Catherine and wrapped his arms around her. His lips collided with hers, hard and fast, demanding and taking, with the promise of sexual retribution later. When he'd had his fill, he stepped back and opened the door. Without a word, he picked her up and placed her in the passenger seat. Although, he had running boards, he enjoyed picking her up far too much to forego the task.

Catherine watched him walk around to the driver's side. He had kissed her so thoroughly, she wanted to say screw the barbecue. And if that wasn't enough, traces of his cologne permeated her nose, driving her insane. It was going to be a long night.

"What is the name of the cologne you're wearing?"


"You like it?"

"I do. Wearing it will get you laid every time," she said, attempting to goad him.

He gripped the steering wheel as he drew a shaky breath. "Seriously, Catherine, if you want to make it to your destination, please stop." He started the truck. "A man can only take so much."

"Okay, okay. Let's go. Avery gave me the address. We could have walked, since it's only three blocks away. Go straight and take a right at the second stop sign."

"I don't mind driving. Plus the mosquitoes will be out by the time we leave. I can't have your beautiful skin marred by insect bites." He gave her an appreciative glance, before backing out of the driveway. She smirked.

They had gone two blocks before she spoke again.

"Do you always maul your girlfriends?" She asked, thinking about the kiss.

He took his time answering, because he knew the answer would pique her curiosity further.

"You're my first girlfriend," he replied, while bracing himself for the onslaught of questions.

"That's the house," Catherine said, pointing to a yellow house with white shutters. "Back to you. What do you mean first girlfriend?"

Vincent found a parking space further down the street. He put the truck in park and cut the engine, before replying. "Catherine, I've dated in the past, but I've never asked anyone to be my girlfriend, until you."

Catherine was silent for a minute. "What's makes me so special?"

She tried to remain calm, but she was almost on the edge of her seat waiting for his answer.

He ran his fingers through his hair. "I think I fell in love with you a long time ago, but I was too young to understand what I was feeling. Then we moved and I thought I would never see you again. I dated plenty women, but they weren't you." He reached over and lifted her chin with his hand. "It's always been you."

Catherine became shy all of sudden.

"I don't mean to make you uncomfortable, but it's the truth. I'm still at a loss to why I didn't recognize you when I saw you again. One thing is for sure. You're not that little girl, the one I remember so vividly, anymore."

"I think we'd better go inside, before people start to talk," Catherine said, trying to change the subject.

"Sweetheart, they're already talking. But just in case, I'll be right by your side if you need me," he said, taking her hand.

He noticed a bashful look on her face. "Do I make you uncomfortable talking about my feelings?"

Catherine looked away. "It feels weird to have someone tell me they care. I knew Grammy loved me, but she never told me. She was on the other side of sixty when my mom dropped me off. I've never had anyone tell me they loved me, until you. Growing up, I very seldom experienced affection, so it's hard to accept it now," she said, the uneasiness showing on her face.

Vincent wasn't rendered speechless often, but he certainly was at a loss for words at that moment. It was difficult for him to comprehend her circumstances, yet he wished he could help her feel more comfortable hearing him express his feelings.

"How do you feel when someone hugs you?"

"I count the seconds in my head until it's over.I know this is going to sound crazy, but it's the truth. I feel nothing when people touch me. Well nothing other than awkwardness. You're the first person I've been able to be affectionate with and not silently wish for it to end quickly. Being a virgin didn't help my situation either.

Although, Vincent was grateful for the insight into Catherine's life, he wasn't prepared for the severity of it. His emotions were all over the place and to keep from having a reaction, he thought it best they table their discussion until later.

"I think we better head inside now. I don't mean to be rude, but right now I'm on the brink of transforming, so it's best we revisit this subject later."

She nodded.

In unison, they both got out of the truck. Catherine looked up to find Luke running toward her. He had barely come to a halt before he fired a string of questions. "Are you feeling better, Catherine? Did Optimus Primus help you?"

"He did. Thank you for sending him home with me."

He smiled. "I knew he would help you stop crying."

Vincent overhead the exchange and felt his ire rising again.

"Luke, can I speak with Catherine for a minute? We'll meet you inside."

"Sure. Everyone is behind the house."

"Okay. Thanks, Buddy. We won't be long," he said, ruffling Luke's hair.

Vincent watched Luke run away, before turning around to face Catherine. "You want to tell me why you were crying."

She hesitated for moment when she saw the glint of amber enter his eyes. "I went to visit my mother this morning and she made it abundantly clear she only cares about herself. And to top it off, she still refuses to tell me my father's name, after all this time. It was a bit overwhelming and I lost it on the steps of the B & B. Luke comforted me and requested I take his Optimus Prime action figure home to watch over me."

Vincent was beyond angry and was in the middle of transforming before he realized it. The last thing he wanted to do was scare Catherine with his beast, not to mention the whole neighborhood. He pulled her into his arms and held her, hoping the feel of her body would calm him down.

Failing miserably to control the pitch and volume of his voice, he said, "Don't you shed another tear over that woman. I'm here for you now. If she can't see how wonderful her daughter is, not to mention beautiful, then it's her loss."

He stepped back and looked at her. Unshed tears shone in her eyes, and his heart nearly shattered, but he held his composure, which was no small feat.

He took her hand. "We'd better join the party. I'm sure, Luke has told everyone we're here by now," he said, wondering if he could hold his anger in check. It probably was a good thing he was going to the barbecue, because he desperately wanted to speak with Catherine's mom, and with his current state of mind, that wasn't a good idea.

"Catherine, if you ever need to talk, I am always here. Although, I may need to discuss my issues with you as well. I'm a little skeptical about seeing a therapist now, because I don't know who I can trust."

"Are you still having withdrawal symptoms?"

"No. The serum eliminated my need to use them. I forgot to tell you, but the pain is gone in my leg as well. If there's an upside to my predicament, then that's it. Now we really are going to be late, if we don't get moving," he said, gently pulling her forward.

Vincent and Catherine approached the back of the house and immediately the pungent smell of meat cooking on the grill penetrated their noses. Catherine didn't know what she'd been expecting, but the picturesque scene that captivated her attention surely wasn't it. Over half a dozen picnic tables, covered in red gingham tablecloths, occupied the expansive backyard. Mason jars filled with magnolia flowers served as centerpieces and mini citronella torches burned at the end of every table. And if the decorations weren't impressive enough, the massive barbecue pit at the far end of the yard, discharging clouds of smoke, certainly was.

"Catherine and Vincent, you made it. Come on back," Alicia said in a raised voice, causing several people to look in their direction. And just like that, they were in the spotlight again. Vincent massaged the top of her hand with his thumb, with the intent to calm her nerves.

"I'm here, Sweetheart. Remember, I love you. Let my love be your courage and my hands your strength. Let the world meet the real Catherine. It's time to fly my little bird," he whispered in her ear. His words danced in her mind until she believed she could do anything. He was right. And like magic the final chain from her past snapped. She was free! An indescribable feeling washed over her body, renewing her spirit, rejuvenating her mind. She could do anything. It wasn't time to fly. It was time to soar.

Alicia met them halfway. "You can sit wherever you like. Food will be served shortly."

"Sit with us, Catherine and Vincent," Luke interjected from behind Alicia.

"We would love nothing more," Catherine replied and Luke rewarded her with a big smile.

Vincent ruffled his hair. "Lead the way, my friend."

Luke's little heart filled with immeasurable joy. In his mind, it was the best summer ever.

Catherine saw Avery and greeted her with a smile.

"Hey, Darlin'."


"Hi, Avery," Vincent said, waiting for Catherine to sit before he took a seat. Luke took a seat on the other side of Vincent. It wasn't lost on Vincent that Luke had inadvertently spilled the beans earlier. Although, he was still mildly upset, he felt the greatest gratitude towards Luke for doing what kids so innocently do, divulge secrets. He vowed to himself that, Evelyn Chandler, was done hurting Catherine. Anyone who dared harm a hair on her head would answer to him and considering his current state, it would be best to avoid him at all cost.

"Is this an annual thing?" Catherine asked.

"Yes. It wasn't at first, but it evolved into a highly anticipated summer event. You know since we don't have a lot happening around here during the summer. Alicia moved here five years ago to take care of her grandparents and it was her way of getting to know the townspeople. It also helps other newcomers get acclimated to the town. After we eat, we usually get a game of spades and dominoes going. Y'all are welcome to join in.

"I love spades. I just might do that," Catherine said.

"Sweetheart, I'm going to go get something to drink. Do you want anything?

"Water is fine."

"What about you, Avery?" Vincent asked.

"I'm good. Thank you."

"Luke, you want to show me where the drinks are located?"

"Sure," Luke said, beaming with pride.

Avery could barely wait until Vincent was out of hearing range, before she looked at Catherine and grinned like a Cheshire cat. "So, the diner incident really happened?"

"Catherine blushed. "Yes," she muttered.

Avery fanned herself. "Honey, I told you that man wanted to be more than friends. This is the most I've seen of him since you moved here. And my Luke thinks he's the best thing since sliced bread. I can't thank the two of you enough for everything you've done for him.

"It's the least we could do. Besides you're helping me out with my mother."

"Speaking of your mother, Luke was really concerned about you this morning. He said you were crying. I figured it had something to do with your mother."

"Yes, it was. It's been a long time coming, but it needed to happen. I had hoped one day she would accept me as her daughter, but looks like it will always be in name only. She's set in her ways and not likely to change them. Hopefully, she will be leaving soon and I can honestly say I finally feel free to move forward with my life.

"Hi, Catherine." Catherine looked up. A short woman with red hair stood at the end of the table. She knew instantly who she was.

"Hi, Shannon."

"I heard you were back in town. I know we didn't hang out a lot in high school, but you were always nice to me. You stood up to Ronica for me and now I hear she's been harassing you about Vincent Keller."

"You mean to tell me all this time, the dirty blonde I've been having words with is Ronica. Veronica Moore. I thought her hair was black and I didn't see anything familiar about her," Catherine said, shocked by the recent development.

"One and the same. Chalk it up to hair dye and plastic surgery. You name it and she's had it done. She's a walking advertisement," Shannon explained.

"Wow. I admit, her voice was vaguely familiar, but she was so rude, I didn't take the time to analyze why." Catherine stated, still finding it difficult to comprehend she'd been at odds with her old nemesis and hadn't discovered her true identity. But what baffled her even more was Ronica's failure to reveal her own name. It certainly wasn't her style. But with Catherine being away over ten years, it was pointless trying to understand Ronica's actions.

"I'm sorry, where are my manners? Have a seat, Shannon, if it's okay with you, Avery?"

"You're more than welcome to join us. How is your momma doing?"

"Her good days outweigh her bad days. Next week will be her last week of chemo."

"That's good. Tell her hello and that I'm praying for her."

"Thank you, Avery. It means a lot to us," Shannon replied with a forlorn look on her face.

"How are you holding up? Do you have someone to help you?" Avery asked.

"Yes, my brother drives her to her appointments, so I usually catch up on my sleep then."

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hijack you and Catherine's conversation."

"It's okay."

"Here you go, Sweetheart. Sorry it took so long. Luke and I got sidetracked," Vincent stated, handing Catherine a bottle of water.

"Thank you."

It didn't escape Vincent's notice how relaxed Catherine was. She seemed happy in the presence of her new friends, so he decided to make himself scarce."

"Enjoy your girl time. We're going to play flag football," he said, before kissing her on the forehead and walking off with Luke.

Catherine looked at Shannon and she couldn't stop herself from laughing. It appeared Vincent's fan club had a new member.

Shannon looked more than mortified to be caught staring at Vincent. "I'm sorry, Catherine. I promise you I'm not that woman. I heard about his good looks, but I wasn't prepared for the up close and in living color version. I feel like I should be asking for his autograph or something. I would like us to be friends, so please don't take it personal.

"It's okay, Shannon. I think the only woman actively trying to pursue Vincent is Ronica and he doesn't know she exists."

"Speak of the devil and she shall appear," Avery chimed in.

All heads turned toward the back porch and sure enough, Ronica was standing there with a smug look on her face.

Avery chuckled. "Well this should be good."

It was obvious, Vincent was deeply in love with Catherine, and Ronica would most certainly get her feelings hurt today, if she tried her usual antics.

Apparently, Ronica had heard about the diner incident, because she stayed away from Catherine and Vincent the whole evening. That wasn't done without a scowl permanently fixed on her face. By nightfall, everyone had eaten and participated in various games. When Vincent saw Catherine yawn, he stood up and announced to Shannon and Avery that they were leaving, so the three friends made plans to hang out soon. Vincent gave an exhausted looking Luke a high-five and turned to leave.

"Are you leaving?" Alicia asked, walking up to the table.

"Yes. We really enjoyed everything. Thank you for inviting us," Catherine said.

"You're welcome. And now you know where I live, don't be a stranger."

"I promise, I won't."


Catherine had barely made it in the house, before she found herself pulled into Vincent's arms.

"You don't know how hard it was for me to keep my hands off you earlier. He turned her body around and trailed kisses down the back of her neck. "You are loved and I'm going say it as well as show you until you're tired of hearing it," Vincent said between kisses.

Catherine closed her eyes and leaned into his firm body, helplessly lost in a sea of warm kisses.

"I believe you mentioned something about your mouth and Pop Rocks. You didn't think I would forget, did you?"

"Well, I sure wouldn't want to disappoint you. Lose the clothes, Cowboy, and take a seat in that wingback chair," Catherine ordered, pointing across the room.

Vincent sucked in a breath and did as he was told. He was so hard, he could barely walk. Catherine disappeared and returned a few seconds later with a bag in her hand. The anticipation had his heart thumping in his chest, sending his body into overdrive. And when she dropped to her knees, his penis jumped, and he nearly came apart. Grasping for anything to contain the fire threatening to engulf his body, he closed his eyes and endeavored to think of the last Super Bowl, but his mind denied access to every vision, but those of Catherine. When her soft hands grasped his member, stroking and working it, he knew it would be a miracle if he survived the caress of her hands. She paused briefly and he immediately felt bereft, but he didn't dare open his eyes.

"Are you ready?"

Unable to trust his voice, he simply nodded. Seeing his simple gesture, Catherine released a beast of her own when she took his tool deep into the warm confines of her mouth. Vincent made a hissing sound, desperately fighting for a modicum of control. She hummed while licking his length, and he was certain an asylum visit was in his future. And, if he had any doubts, they were confirmed, when she made a popping sound on his tip, as she slipped his rod in and out of her wet portal. The woman was driving him insane. Powerless to restrain his beast, his claws extended and sliced into the arms of the chair as shudders began to rack his body. Pleasure assaulted every fiber of his being. Who was she and what had she done with Catherine? His head fell back against the chair and he felt himself slipping. When she took his testicles in her hand, lightly massaging them, while working his tool, not an ounce of control was left in him. Yep, he would be lucky to see morning ever again. She stopped suddenly, popping some candy in her mouth, before resuming the task of licking, and he knew his destination was on the horizon. But nothing could have prepared him for the tingling and bursting sensation from the candy in her mouth or the tailspin his emotions fell victim to. With the graze of her teeth and one last swirl of her tongue, he felt himself falling. He was going to come. And when his penis breached the back of her throat, he exploded. He roared as she took every drop he had to give. It was beyond intense, with tingles dancing up and down his shaft, he didn't know if he would ever stop discharging. Nothing or no one had ever brought him pleasure of this magnitude before. If he didn't love her before, he sure did now. He would protect her at all costs, and anyone crazy enough to challenge him, would find themselves dead. Graveyard dead.

A/N: Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed and if so, leave me a review letting me know. Stay tuned for the next chapter, to find out how Catherine acquired the skills to bring a beast to his knees.



The smell of bacon filled Vincent's nostrils, instantly bringing him awake. A room bathed in natural light met his morning eyes. Still half asleep, he belatedly realized he was at Catherine's house. Pure happiness spread across his face, as images from the night before trickled into his mind. In the distance, he heard the continuous melody of Catherine's beating heart. His heart smiled in return and proceeded to dance a jig of its own. He laced his fingers behind his head, his eyes staring at the ceiling, basking in the joy of his memories.

"And what has you so happy this morning?"

Vincent turned his heard toward the doorway, and the sight that met him, brought his whole body to life. He was up in more ways than one.

"Just thinking about how you took charge last night," he answered, unable to tear his gaze away from her and how sexy she looked, standing there in only his white t-shirt.

"Last night was one for the history books. I think I like the new me," she said, giving him her best seductive smile.

"And where did you learn that thing you do with you mouth?" He asked. Just saying the words made him rock hard.

"My roommate in college worked as an escort to pay her tuition. She gave me some pointers and I listened. I may have watched a video or two." Catherine smiled at the effect of her words on Vincent. It motivated her to continue. "I've always wondered how it would feel to ride a man backwards. You know with my back to him," she said, trying to contain her smile.

Vincent could hardly swallow past the lump forming in his throat. Trouble was brewing on the horizon, and its name was Catherine. He had opened a door and released her alter ego.

Unwilling to let her out of his sight, he patted the empty spot beside him. "How about you join me in bed and ride me until your heart is content or your body is sexually spent."

A fluorescent smile illuminated her face. "I thought you'd never ask," she replied flirtatiously.

Catherine pulled his shirt over her head, as she walked toward the bed. Vincent sucked in some air, filling his lungs to capacity, and finding he still required more. She slid under the sheets, and into his arms, causing the gauge in his body's heat index to move toward danger. He looked into her eyes and those green pools held the promise of love, happiness, and ever after. And he wanted it all. He wanted everything she was offering and more. His lips gravitated toward hers, tasting bacon and sweetness, mixed with her own personal flavor. His light kiss transitioned into one of passion, his tongue hungrily sought out hers, their bodies so close, their mutual desire palpable, the intensity consumed his whole being, until he lost himself in all her splendor. A formidable power surged through his body and he felt himself infiltrate her mind, taking absolute control.

"Come with me, he mentally asked. Their hands intertwined, as he transported their minds to a stunningly beautiful beach with sparkling white sand. Picturesque and breathtaking, the electric blue waters nipped at the shore, while palm trees swayed from the perpetual breeze. For a moment it was just him and her, in their own sweet paradise, anchored by love, and sustained by passion. Vincent concentrated on her mind, on her happiness. He blocked out everything else. She needed this moment, this view, and he wanted to give it to her. He wanted to give her the world.

Suddenly his ears registered the peal of a doorbell, forcing him to relinquish mind control. Back from their mental paradise, neither said a word, for their eyes spoke and said it all. The doorbell rang again, completely severing their magical connection.

Vincent slid out of the bed and slipped on his jeans. "I'll get it," he grumbled.

He walked with purpose, cursing under his breath, readying his anger for the the person who dared to intrude on their quality time."

With more force than he intended, he flung the door open, nearly taking it off its hinges, but the door and its hinges didn't register on his radar, because the visitor standing in Catherine's doorway had him shocked and nearly speechless.

"It looks like I came to the right place after all."

"JT! What are you doing here?" Vincent asked, unable to mask his shock.

"Considering the correspondence I received from, Catherine, I think it would be wise to discuss the reason I'm here inside."

Suddenly aware of the situation, Vincent stepped aside. "Sorry. You took me by surprise is all."

"I thought it would be best that way. You want to finish getting dressed, so we can discuss why I'm actually here," JT said, teasingly.

Vincent smiled. "Good point. Have a seat and I'll be right back."

Vincent turned to find Catherine standing there in her robe. He blew out a breath. JT has horrible timing, he thought. He took Catherine's hand and turned around. "JT, this is, Catherine. Catherine, JT."

"Nice to meet you," JT said, before Vincent whisked Catherine away.

They entered the bedroom and Vincent noticed Catherine taking church clothes out of her closet.

"Are you going to church?"

"Yeah, what gave me away?" She asked, sarcastically.

Vincent advanced on her. "You got jokes? It's all fun and games, until I have you late for church," he said, backing her up against the wall."

"I can't be late. I'm taking the crew from the nursing home to church as a favor to Avery. Besides, your friend is in the living room, in case you forgot"

"Funny, I'm not that old. He came to discuss the correspondence you sent to him."

"You're welcome to stay at my house and catch up with your friend. I'll be home later this evening. I'm sure the girls will want to go out to eat after church, so I'll be busy most of the day."

Vincent leaned in and whispered in her ear. "Don't let the old men sweet talk you at church. These are my goodies," he said, trailing kisses down her neck."

Catherine ducked under his arm and tried to escape, but not fast enough. He reached out and caught her arm, encasing her against his naked rippled chest. She pretended to object until his lips descended on hers, effectively silencing any of her demands. His kiss was different. Deeper, as if speaking to her soul. His love wrapped around her heart, caressing it, promising to protect it forever. Moments later, he broke the kiss, leaving her drunk on love and high on passion. His arms anchored her, while her equilibrium fought to regain a fraction of control.

Barely able to focus, she slowly raised her head, making eye contact. "Vincent, what are you doing to my mind?" She asked, needing confirmation.

"Apparently, I have the power of mind control. I'm guessing by touch only. Does that bother you?" He asked warily.

"I wouldn't say it bothers me, but it's definitely going to take some getting use to."

"I know. It sort of just happened and I went with it. You know I would never use it in a negative way against you, don't you?"

She nodded. "I trust you implicitly."

He smiled. "That's good to know."

She stepped out of his embrace. "Now I need to get dressed and you're being rude to your friend. Oh, and breakfast is on the stove, if you're hungry. I intended to serve you breakfast in bed, but unfortunately someone had other ideas."

"Who? Where are they? I will make them pay, because I don't play about my food."

Catherine laughed and it felt good. At that moment, she was happier than she'd ever been in her life. "

Vincent reached over and ran his hand down her cheek. His face became serious. "I don't play about you either." He stepped closer. "You have revived my spirit, unthawed my heart, and renewed my happiness. You are the most important person in my life. I will always protect you or die trying."

Catherine's eyes watered and one lone tear slowly rolled down her rosy cheek.

Vincent immediately pulled her in his arms, engulfing her with his physical comfort. "It's okay, sweetheart. Don't cry." He ran his hand through her hair, and rested his chin atop her head.

Silence seeped in, hanging in the air like a cloud of smoke. Minutes ticked by, but for the couple, time stood still, as love silently cemented their bond. Finally, Vincent stepped back.

He kissed her forehead. "Go ahead and get dressed, my beautiful angel, we'll talk later," he said, retrieving his shirt from the nearby chair."

Vincent walked back into the living room and took a seat across from JT.

"Okay, JT, give me the bad news."

JT studied Vincent and he saw something in his countenance, he hadn't seen before. Although, he knew he must be consumed with worry, it was very obvious to him, he was undeniably, in love. A smile formed at the corners of his mouth. Vincent was in love! The one who'd adamantly said, when they were teenagers, that he would never give his heart to a woman. JT chuckled. It would seem cupid's arrow had managed to penetrate the long impenetrable heart of none other than, Vincent Keller. Imagine that.

Vincent creased his forehead at the sound of JT's chuckle. "JT, I assure you this is no..." He trailed off, realizing at the last minute why JT was wearing a smirk on his face. "Don't you say it. Don't you dare say it. I was a teenager for crying out loud. I thought I knew my own mind. I was battling raging hormones and it didn't help seeing my friends heartbroken. What can I say? I was an idiot. Besides, if I remember correctly, you agreed with me."

"Only because, I didn't want you to be an idiot by yourself."

Vincent gave him a look that would kill a man dead where he stood. "Since you've had your laugh for today, at my expense, nonetheless, can we get to the reason why you're here?"

"Sure," JT said, his face taking on a serious expression. "How much do you already know?"

Vincent stood up and paced. "Everything. I've transformed and transitioned through different phases. I'm assuming, I'm what they wanted me to be, a super-soldier, with bestial qualities.

"You're not just a super-soldier. You are the ultimate super-soldier. The army didn't ask you to be part of an experimental program by accident. When you joined the army, your blood was taken and processed through a system that looked for specific markers. I'm guessing at the time they discovered the mysterious markers present in your DNA. You have built-in genetic immunity to most diseases as well as eidetic memory."

"In layman's terms, please," Vincent said in an agitated voice.

"The serum injected into your system contained a drug, although still in its infancy, that gives humans superpowers. Basically, you have or will have a plethora of powers available to you. Since you are human and your DNA was altered, your powers are on an extended release system. Over time each power will manifest, until your arsenal is complete. In the simplest of terms, my friend, you are the ultimate weapon of mass destruction."

Vincent dropped in a chair and expelled a sigh. He leaned over and placed his elbows on his knees and ran his hands down his face.

"Is it possible the military knows this?" He asked, without looking up.

"No. The scope of their knowledge is limited to your last blood test. In order to confirm if the serum worked, new blood work must be done or they could trigger a reaction from you, causing you to transform. I suggest you try to appear as normal as possible, but just remember you are virtually invincible. I don't see you being taken against your will, because even alloy, steel and titanium cuffs aren't strong enough to restrain you. I don't think the military realized how powerful you would become. However, I don't think I need to remind you that Catherine isn't invincible and if the government can't get you to work for them voluntarily, they won't be above using Catherine as a pawn."

"This couldn't have happened at a more inopportune time. Finally, I meet someone that is perfect for me, and now this. Sometimes, I wonder why me. What could I have done to incur so much pain and heartache in my life? For the first time, in a very long time, the sun is shining, the rainbow is out, and I'm happy. I can't go back to the empty shell of a man that I was before. I just can't."

"There is another option."

Vincent looked up, pain evident in his eyes, reluctant to believe there was a light at the end of the tunnel, that hope hadn't forsaken him. "I have a feeling I'm not going to like it."

"Your instincts are right, but it's the only other alternative. You would be putting yourself in harm's way, but if you're successful, then at least you have a chance at a future. Not that you don't now. I mean without looking over your shoulder or worrying if Catherine is in danger."

He blew out breath."Which is?"

"Turn yourself in. They don't know the extent of your abilities. Find out why they want you so badly. But I must warn you. Do not let them test your blood. Prove to them the serum worked, so no blood test is requested.

Vincent stood and walked over to the window. Turning himself in was risky and if it didn't work, catastrophe would ensue, leaving disaster in its wake. On the other hand, he had promised he would protect Catherine or die trying. It was time to confront his problem or unfortunately, face his demise.

"I'll do it...I'll turn myself in." He turned around and looked at JT. "I hope you have a plan."


Catherine sat on pew bookended by Alberta, LuLu, Helen and Annie. They were at Annie's church and it was unlike anything she had ever experienced. She hadn't attended church in years and this was her first time at a African-American church. Her feet took on a life of their own, patting to the beat of the glorious music, her hands came together and clapped, and her body warmed inside from the spirit. After the marvelous sermon, she understood what spiritually fed meant.

She filed out of the sanctuary with the crowd, but in the midst of exiting the double doors, someone bumped her, causing her to stumble and hit the person in front of her. The lady turned around, her eyes were brimming with so much fire, Catherine looked around to see if she was still at church. But what surprised her above all else was the identity of the person. It was none other than Ronica!

"I'm sorry, Ronica. Someone pushed me and I bumped you by accident," Catherine stated, trying to be polite.

She gave a Catherine a scratching look. "Keep your apology. It's as empty as your head. And don't you dare use my name as if I know you. You are a nobody to me."

Catherine balled up her fist up and was seconds away from delivering a blow that would knock Ronica on her butt and hopefully out cold. Fortunately, she sensed her grandmother's presence and knew she would be disappointed in her. Regaining her composure, she delivered a verbal punch instead.

"You better drop to your knees and pray to the Heavenly Father above, that the next time I see you, it's on church grounds. Because next time, I won't be so nice or so forgiving. And I'll call you whatever I want. I can think of quite few other names that fit your ugly personality.

You've looked in the mirror every morning for nearly twenty-eight years, and every time you've hated what you saw. Every wrinkle, freckle or frown, you've tried to disguise. No matter how many surgeries you have or how many times you insult me, you will still go home and look in the same mirror, with the same hatred in your heart, and come to the same conclusion, you hate yourself. At first, I thought you really disliked me because of Vincent, but that's not entirely true, is it? You're jealous of me. Even back in high school, you bullied me, because you were jealous of me, because I was everything, even then, that you weren't. You may fool the people in this town, but I know your tongue hangs from the hinges of hell, dropping words laced with honey, intended to captivate and seduce. Your saccharine delivery may successfully deceive and mislead men, but I have two X-chromosomes, Sugar. And, I'm not impressed or wowed by your rudimentary verbal delivery," Catherine said in a syrupy tone. She walked past a traumatized, Ronica, and then turned around. "I've said all I'm going to say to you, forever. If you see me again, I suggest you walk the other way. I'm not the Catherine from high school, and if you believe I am, you are sadly mistaken. Consider yourself warned, threatened, or however your simple mind processes information. Good day." Catherine said and walked off, leaving Ronica standing where she stood, looking crazy.

"Wait up Catherine."

Catherine stopped and turned around. Alberta and the crew were right behind her.

Alberta grinned. "We were planning on going to the movies, but that scene with Ronica will suffice. Remind me not get on your bad side. After that verbal lashing you gave her, she should take the first thing smoking out of this town and never look back."

Catherine gave her a coy look. "I'm sorry you ladies had to hear that."

"Don't give me that. And honey, I may be just a lady now, but when I was younger, I was a lady in the streets, a freak under the sheets, and an usher on Sunday. And I've had to take the trash out a few times myself. I know you're all worked up now, but with with a little sexual healing, you'll feel brand new."

Catherine's eyes went wide. "Alberta!"

"Don't you Alberta me. A big strapping man like Vincent and you don't think I know you giving up the nooky. It's written all your face. Now let's go eat so we can get you back to your man."

Catherine laughed in spite of herself. She wanted to be just like Alberta when she grew up. Firing from all cylinders and not caring who was offended.


Catherine entered the house after dropping Alberta and the crew off at the nursing home. Music from down the hallway met her ears, so she headed in that direction to investigate, but stopped abruptly, covering her mouth, when she saw a row of burning candles on either side of the hallway, along with a trail of rose petals leading to the bathroom. Her heart pounded in her chest, her pulse quickened, and heat inflamed her cheeks. Her hands trembled as she slowly took a step and then another. Breathing was a chore, as she reached the doorway of the bathroom. The flickering flames from the candles danced across the wall, as if dancing to the enchanting music in the background. Her hand reached out for support, touching the wall, when she stepped into the room. With her heart going to battle in her chest, her eyes came to rest on the tub. Suddenly all the oxygen in the room, mysteriously disappeared. She closed her eyes and reopened them, afraid the work of art before her was a figment of her imagination. Candles surrounded the tub, and right in the middle was Vincent, with petals floating around him. She swallowed and swallowed, failing to secrete an ounce of saliva. Evidently, her salivary glands were malfunctioning along with the rest of her body. Vincent stood up, water streaming down his naked body, his muscles vaguely visible under the soft light, and she was sure her heart stopped beating for a second.

"Join me," he said in a deep and sexy voice.

With a man so picture perfect standing in a tub of water filled with rose petals, how could she say no. Why would she say no? Gathering her wits, she hastily discarded every article of clothing that covered her body. He extended his hand, not only offering his assistance, but offering all of himself. She took his hand and stepped into the tub, into his world. No words needed to be spoken. They both knew the tides would change tomorrow. For tonight, they were simply a man and woman in love, making love, satiated until they both fall asleep.


Check out my BATB fan page on Facebook. "Life at the BATB Lair"



Vincent closed the door softly, careful not to make a sound. He breathed a sigh of relief as he practically leaped over the steps in front of Catherine's house. Moving swiftly, he headed toward his house to speak with JT. He couldn't bring himself to broach the subject of turning himself in with Catherine, until he had a more concrete plan.

The morning dew shone on the grass and birds chirped in the trees nearby, but he failed to appreciate the morning symphony due to the enormous load weighing heavily on his mind. He had survived a bombing in Iraq, yet he found Catherine more intimidating. Perhaps it was his fear of the unknown, the chance of him not returning to her. The thought slithered down his body, refusing to dissipate. He halted suddenly. Standing between both houses, his inner turmoil latched on like a leech, baiting him, daring him, provoking him, until he came to a decision. He wasn't a coward and he wouldn't start being one today. Turning around, he shuffled back to Catherine's house. This was the woman he loved, the woman he pictured himself married to, and very soon. Drawing on his newfound courage, his steps sped up, until he was opening her front door.

"You ready to tell me what's bothering you?"

Her voice, her tone, stopped him dead in his tracks. Why was he making this so difficult? Just a conversation, right? All of sudden everything on the wall became interesting, a distraction to keep his eyes from facing Catherine's wrath.

"Vincent, I'm listening," she said, growing impatient with him.

Catherine scrutinized his features, sensing his struggle. She thought of the night before, the candles, roses, and oh so delightful bubble bath. Although, she appreciated and immensely enjoyed the bath, reality smacked her right in the face. He had been preparing her, relaxing her, for what could only be bad news. The more she thought about it, he hadn't been himself since JT arrived, meaning he had brought some news that obviously affected Vincent adversely.

"Do I need to go ask JT, since you refuse to talk to me?"

All at once, he raked his fingers through his hair, closed his eyes and let out a breath. When he opened his eyes, she grabbed the arms of the chair she was sitting in. There was no mistaking it, he had unshed tears in his eyes. Unable to rein in her own emotions, tears sprung forth, spilling out of her eyes. This was bad. Very bad. She felt it deep within her bones. Men didn't just cry and Vincent was a man through and through. But then she remembered how strong her grandmother had been, how strong Alberta was, and she came to her feet. He might be a real man, but he was still human, or at least most of him. He needed a lifeline. He needed her support. She took Vincent's hand and led him to the couch nearby.

"Spit it out, Vincent. Obviously, something is on your mind and you are reluctant to share it with me. You pretty much made a public service announcement to the entire town, stating I was your girlfriend. That alone, means I should be privy to whatever's going on in your life, good or bad. You got five minutes and then I'm going next door and force JT to tell me," a frustrated Catherine stated.

He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Fine, I'll tell you, but you're not going to like it." He paused, wondering why this conversation seemed harder than anything he had ever done in his life. Love was changing him. Unfortunately, he didn't have the luxury of evaluating the revelation further.


"I've decided to turn myself in," he muttered.

"Catherine jumped up. "What?"

With her face drained of color, arms akimbo, she bore a hole in his hung head. "I'm waiting for the just kidding part, because surely you can't be serious."

Bravely raising his head, he finally made eye contact. "Dead serious," he said, his face something akin to granite. Catherine paced back and forth, eventually stopping in front of the bay window. The sun was out and the day was going to be beautiful, but inside her house, her morning was anything but beautiful. If a bullet penetrated her heart, the pain wouldn't cut nearly as deep as those seven words dropped like a bomb by Vincent. To an outsider, it would seem she was overreacting, but the military had secretly injected him and made him into some type of beast. How was she supposed to act? She couldn't watch Vincent walk away, not knowing if he would ever return to her again. She gave up trying to calm her nerves and took her recently vacated seat.

Her face was stoic, a façade, hiding the seismic waves traveling through her core at warp speed, a mere signal, a warning, that her anger was minutes away from hitting like a earthquake.

Barely above a whisper, she said, "Start at the beginning and tell me what JT told you, all of it."

Vincent didn't bother stalling, he just opened the floodgates and let the story pour out. In for a penny, in for a pound. And then it hit him. That eureka moment. He knew what he needed to do. Knew what he had to do. In one fluid motion, he jumped up and bent down on one knee in front of Catherine. She was startled, but allowed him to take her hand.

"Catherine, I had planned to do this later, rather than sooner, but I feel right now, right here, is the perfect time. I know I've dropped a bombshell on you, and believe me, I have tormented myself and agonized over telling you since JT suggested it, but it must be done. It is a means to an end. It is the only solution to a potentially deadly problem. Trust me, when I say, my decision was made with you at the forefront of my mind, with you deeply embedded in my heart, and my need to protect you above all else. I need to know you're okay with this, because I can't leave you otherwise. Just know my heart is threatening to crack and shatter into a million pieces, if I don't make it back to you. With that information in mind, I want you to know, I'm coming back home to you. I need you to be reassured that once I make a promise, I don't break it." He raised her chin with his hand. "After the first time we made love, I knew my heart had always been yours and will forever be yours."

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small black box. "I've been carrying this box around in the hopes that the right time would present itself, and now it has." He opened the box, revealing a sparkling one carat diamond ring. "Will you wait for me? Will you have faith that our love for each other will bring me home? Will you wear my ring as a token of our love? Will you be my wife?"

A speechless Catherine came undone. Tears, trembling, and totally and utterly taken aback. Suffice it to say, she knew without looking, she was a complete mess. But she couldn't be bothered to care. Vincent had been the man of her dreams for too many years, her Prince Charming, but as she looked at him through teary eyes, the only thing that came to mind was Knight in shining Armor. He had come back to her, her Vinny, and now he wanted to marry her...he really did love her.

"I'm on my knee here," Vincent said, bringing her out of her musings.

"Sorry," she managed to get out, past the sniffling and crying, with her heart beating faster than the collective hearts of a platoon of soldiers, headed to war.

"Yes. Of course, I'll marry you," she said and he slipped the ring on her finger.

No words had ever sounded so good. So gratifying. His heart jumped for joy and high-fived his sternum. He stood up, bringing Catherine to her feet as well. He needed to feel her. To become one with her. Quickly disrobing her, and then himself, he pulled her close, needing to kiss her. Their lips impacted and the kiss was like a spark from two sticks rubbing together, a small ember that ignited within them, erupting, spreading throughout their bodies, until the flames were uncontrollable, the heat, almost too unbearable. She clung to him, needing his body closer, he obliged, wrapping her in his powerful cocoon, in his warmth, and his breath became her breath, as they became one, mentally and physically.


"You want to tell me why you look like somebody stole your lunch money," Alberta said, very aware Catherine had something on her mind.

"Vincent is going on a mission with the military. It's dangerous and I'm afraid he won't return. He asked me to marry him and I said yes, but I'm still terrified of the outcome. I can't lose him. After all these years, to finally see him again and connect, only to lose him again. I don't know if I would want to live. I don't know if I could live, knowing my soulmate was gone. It would be like living without half of my heart."

"Before, we go any further, let me ask you a question. Do you want to vent or do you actually want advice? There is a difference you know. I ask because at my age, my breaths are limited. I'm not overexerting myself just to hear myself talk. Very few people really want the advice they solicit. Either they're seeking attention or they just need to vent."

"I want advice."

And that was all Alberta needed to hear. She was in her element.

"First, let me say this, since you're planning to marry this man. It's okay to be independent and be in a relationship. Get your own hobbies, your own friends, but still spend time enjoying each other. At night you will have something to discuss with your man. Heed my warning on this though; do not try to be friends with every friend your man has or vice versa. You may share mutual friends, but you don't have to be friends with every friend he has. Have your own life, your own friends and for goodness sake, don't suffocate the man. It's okay to be away from each other. And please don't be that woman who can't talk on the phone when your man is around." Alberta paused and took a sip of water. "I'm also telling you this, because you are new, or somewhat new to this town. There's not a lot going on here, so it's very easy to lose yourself in a man, or in a relationship. The most important thing to remember, if you forget everything else I've said, is to keep other women out of your business and out of your relationship.

Now, if Vincent feels this is a mission he must go on, then support him. He is more apt to return to you uninjured or to return at all. A distracted soldier is a dead soldier. I want you to go home and eat some strawberries, then shower and shave, under your arms and between your legs. Leave a landing strip down there, it will drive him crazy. Light some candles, play some romantic music, and grab a couple of your scarfs. Put on a sexy red negligee. Make sure it's red. Men love red. It goes way back, but I'll save that story for another day. Now where was I? You know I'm old. Thoughts don't don't stay with me too long. Oh, yeah...invite him over and order, don't ask, order him to strip down to his birthday suit and get in the bed. When he does, tie his hands above his head or to the bedpost, or whatever is available. Now, I want you to listen to me and listen good. Lick him from head to toe until he is begging for mercy, and only then do you stop. Untie him and switch places with him. Spread your legs, and tell home the buffet is all you can eat, until the dam breaks. When you reach your peak, switch positions again. At this point, he will be primed and ready to detonate. Tie his hands up again and slide on top of that stallion. Place your hands flat on his chest and go for broke. Let that imaginary wind whip through your hair and roll your hips, until he is on the edge of euphoria and the brink of another galaxy. At that point, it's time to head for the finish line. Raise up and turn around. With your back to him, position your body like a frog and slide down that pole like you're a firefighter headed to a fire. Use his legs or thighs for leverage, arch your back, roll your hips, and ride him like he's a horse that needs taming. Break him in and break him down. Ride him like you're an outlaw and the Marshals are hot on your trail. Every once and awhile raise your body up to the tip of his tool and drop it down like its hot. When he erupts, because he will, disembark and go get a towel, because baby boy will certainly need to be put away wet. Tell him to leave your money on the nightstand in the morning," Alberta said, laughing.

"What does the strawberries do?"

"Your vajajay will taste just like them, and he'll give you thank you later. After being rode hard and put away wet, wherever he's going, whatever he's doing, I can guarantee you, he will move heaven and hell to get back to you."


"How do we know if the military is actually watching Vincent?" Catherine asked JT.

"Oh, they're watching. I spotted an unmarked SUV at the corner yesterday. Everything about it screamed government," JT stated, from the chair he occupied across from Catherine and Vincent.

"So, you think they're waiting to make their move?" Vincent asked.

"I do. If you go out and especially in more secluded areas, then you may not have to turn yourself in. They'll just grab you off the street," JT said.

Vincent stood up from his seat on the couch "Okay, if that happens, what is the plan?"

JT smiled. "I've come prepared, my friend. I didn't mention this before, because I didn't want to influence your final decision. Anyway, a couple of years ago, I created a tracking chip that is virtually undetectable, unless you also have access to the program I created to track it. It is the next generation of smart technology. I will be able to communicate with you as well as activate and deactivate the device remotely." JT looked a Vincent. "There is one minor detail you may not like."

Vincent shook his head and gave JT the side-eye. "Let me guess. You have to embed the chip under my skin."

JT chuckled. "Give the man a gold star."

Catherine frowned. "You're having a little too much fun, considering the situation."

Vincent took her hand. "I assure you he is at his best when he is like this. Just ignore his idiosyncrasies."

"I am in the room."

Vincent smiled. "So, you are."

JT cleared his throat. "As I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted by the scene from Love in a One Horse Town, my tracking chip has cloaking technology, meaning it is invisible to everyone, but me. With your permission, I will implant the chip behind your ear. It's basically a fail-safe, since you haven't acquired all your powers."

Vincent took his former seat by Catherine. "Let's get it over with then. I have a beautiful woman to take out on the town."

Catherine smiled and Vincent pulled her closer.

"JT, I asked Catherine to marry me and she said yes."

JT came to his feet and extended his hand to Vincent. "Congratulations. I look forward to attending your wedding."

"You better. After all, you're going to be my best man."

"I am honored. Nothing would make me happier," JT said, desperately hoping his glasses would conceal the tears forming in his eyes.

JT leaned over and gave Catherine a hug.

"Okay, back to our mission," Vincent stated.

"One chip implant coming right up," JT said.


"No peeking."

"Are we almost there?" A blindfolded Catherine asked.

"Patience, Sweetheart," Vincent said, guiding her up some stairs.

Several steps later, he took the blindfold off and Catherine was astonished. They were on a roof, with string lighting, cushioned chairs and gorgeous red roses.

"Vincent, I don't know what say. It is so beautiful up here and the view is breathtaking," she said, looking over the city skyline.

Vincent had driven her to Jackson, the closest city to Winston. Obviously, he had planned ahead, because she saw a picnic basket on a beautifully decorated table. Candles burned everywhere with one big celestial candle burning in the middle of the table.

"Where are we?"

"On the roof terrace of the Nylo Hotel."

"Did you rent the whole roof for the night, or something?"

"Or something."

"Mysterious are we?"

"Enough with the questions. I promised to feed you and I believe you'll enjoy my selections. We have wine, cheese, fruit, avocado and turkey sandwiches, and chocolate chip cookies."

Catherine slid her hand into Vincents'. "Let's eat then."

Vincent poured wine in two glasses and handed one to Catherine. He raised his glass. "To us, our second chance, our future together." He kissed her lips. "Don't worry, everything will work out," he whispered.

She nodded. Her emotions wouldn't permit her to do otherwise. Vincent fixed her plate, refusing to let her lift a finger. It was about her. He wanted to spoil her, and he did.

In the midst of them eating, a whirring noise filled the air. As if on cue, their eyes locked, just as a helicopter appeared. Vincent reached for her hand, but suddenly a net dropped and covered his body, before their hands touched. He pushed two fingers through the hole of the net, grasping her small fingers as his body ascended toward the sky. She held on as long as she could, even standing on the tip of her toes, but eventually their connection was broken. Their hearts separated. Catherine dropped to the ground, her back against the brick wall. Tears rolled down her face, inexplicable pain penetrated her chest, and her mind in a whirlwind. She hoped her love would be the guiding light to bring Vincent back home. Safely back to her.




I will smile and break bread with thine enemies, knowing their daggers are commissioned to pierce my flesh and halt the beat of my heart. For the poor fools imbibe in excess, gifting me with the element of surprise, as I lay and wait patiently, to execute my plan of attack. ~OMEGABEAST


"JT, what do you mean? Now is not the time for jokes," An incredulous Catherine asked
"I'm not joking. I can't lock on to his position due to your spotty internet service," he replied.
"Is there something you can do? He is depending on us to be his back-up plan, and you're telling me we can't, because I happen to live in the country where internet service sucks. Are you telling me I may lose the only man I've ever loved, because of our inability to wirelessly track him?" Catherine all but shouted.

JT stood up and pulled her into his arms. "I know you're scared, but we have to be strong for Vincent. He and I have been through a lot and we persevered. Vincent loves you and I have never known him to ever be in love, so believe me when I say, he did not give you his heart only to leave you heartbroken. He's coming back. How about you call your internet service provider and upgrade to the turbo package? I'll handle the rest. Agreed?"

Catherine nodded and JT released her. Her gave her a fist bump. "Team VINCAT."
"Excuse me?"
"You know Vin and Cat. VINCAT."
"Seriously, JT," Catherine said with a smile on her face.
"I think it's perfect. Besides, it's the only moniker I could think of on such short notice. You know all the "it" couples in Hollywood have their own name as well."
"I don't know if you've noticed, but we're not in Hollywood."
"I did, but I also got you to smile."
Catherine shook her head. "You are definitely Vincent's friend. Okay, I'll call my internet service provider and in the meantime, keep trying to lock on to the signal."
"See, now we're on the same page."

Catherine knew JT was right, but it was difficult to remain calm. Vincent was the best thing to happen in her life since Grammy passed away and she wasn't letting anyone or anything take him away.
The doorbell rang before she could drift into a daydream. She opened the door to Luke and a flushed face Avery.

"Hi Avery and Luke. Please, come in."
"I can't stay, but I need a favor. Charlie had a heart attack and I need to go to the hospital. I don't know how long I'll be, but I need someone to watch Luke," Avery stated.
"He is welcomed to stay here."
"Thank you so much. If he needs anything, your mother is at the B &B, but you know I couldn't leave him there."
"Yes, that's a fact I know all too well. Take your time and I'll take good care of him. Let me know if there is anything I can do. I have a bit of business I'm finishing up, but I'm sure I can go visit him tomorrow."
"Thanks again and I'll keep you posted. Be good, Luke."
Luke smiled. "Yes ma'am."


Vincent opened his eyes to a brightly lit room with sparse furnishings. He surreptitiously observed two men in lab coats standing nearby conversing. Quickly reclosing his eyes, he began to formulate a plan. His captors had used a tranq gun on him, effectively subduing him, so he would need to keep his eyes open for tranq guns in the future. Escape was possible, but futile without first completing the pre-planned mission. As he brainstormed ideas and options, his mind directed him to follow a mental path. Unsure of what was happening, he hesitated, but then he recalled JT's words about his powers manifesting slowly. He relaxed and his mind began to scan the structure serving as his prison. A total of seven humans registered on his sensors. He remotely infiltrated the computer system in the building, scanning files, seeking answers or even leverage. Considering the circumstances, he couldn't stop to appreciate his new ability, for he needed answers and a plan to end the military's interest in him. He would do whatever it took to ensure he and Catherine had a chance at a future.
Footsteps sounded on the tiled floor, each step coming closer and closer to him, until they stopped at the cage he lay in, feigning unconsciousness. Without warning a cylindrical hotshot slid between the bars and touched his arm, sending bolts of electricity through his body, triggering a reaction, the last thing he needed to happen. His beast was out before he could prevent the transformation and angry was an understatement. He growled at the short human before him, only seconds away from ripping the bars away and tearing him limb from limb, but Vincent reined him in at the last minute. Slowly, he retreated, allowing Vincent to return to his human form.

"I see the serum worked. I'm impressed. Actually it far exceeds my original expectations. It appears no further testing is needed. We can move forward to phase two."

"Who are you and what do you mean, phase two? I thought you wanted a super-soldier for covert missions."

"Where are my manners? I'm Dr. Zhao, and you're correct in your assumption about us needing a super-soldier for covert missions, but you're ignorant to some of the key elements. It's pretty simple, you see. You were born with a rare DNA, and when I say rare, you're the only one in the world, that we have knowledge of, to possess the distinctive markers we have been searching for. When you joined the Army, your blood drew our attention and after further testing was done, our suspicions were confirmed. Years of research and experimenting and one day the answer simply fell into our laps. That's what I call a nicely wrapped Christmas gift with a big bow."

"What are you planning to do with my DNA, if you don't need me for missions?"

"Mr. Keller, your DNA is only the tip of the iceberg. Your whole body is needed for our project. You see we're facing more opposition regarding the war, since so many soldiers are being killed daily, leaving families to seek answers we can't give. The details are complicated and the truth must remain classified. To eliminate lawsuits and future queries, we've assembled a team to change the face of the military."

"Okay, but I'm not understanding where I fit into to your plans."

"Patience. Although, I thought you would've figured it out by now. We're going to clone you and build an army of supersoldiers," he said smiling. "You're an asset to us and we want to replicate you for military purposes. The future armies would be invincible due to your small sacrifice. Isn't that what we all want. The sacrifice of a few can save the lives of many."

"How philosophical of you, but your plan is illogical and clearly illegal."

"Don't stifle yourself in the intricacies of what you don't understand. This is bigger than you."

"I never gave my consent to become a super-soldier."

"When you joined the military you gave your consent, the rest is just semantics. Although, we are a private sector, hired by the military. Don't worry, when we're done with you, we'll take you up in a plane and push you out mid-air. Without a parachute, you'll die on impact. And we'll promptly release a statement to the press explaining how it was a training exercise gone wrong and all your dreams of being an Army Ranger died with you. There'll be a 21-gun salute at your funeral and a flag will be given to your next of kin, in your honor. Such a shame, because you were a good soldier, but unfortunately expendable." He said smirking at Vincent.

"I won't do it."

"We're at the point of no return and let's just say we have a little female incentive to motivate you, should you lose focus and need a reminder of what is required of you."

"I won't let you hurt Catherine in your attempt to use me. I'll kill all of you first," Vincent said, his anger approaching a dangerous level.

"Save the theatrics, because you killed, Catherine, the day you decided to sleep with her. If you had kept it in your pants and not in her sweet little hole, she wouldn't have to die. She's collateral damage now. Too bad, because, I bet she's a tiger in bed. I may take advantage of the situation and slide into her little wet paradise myself, just to see how she snared you in her honey trap."

The last vestiges of Vincent's control dissipated and he snapped, unleashing the beast once again. A deadly roar rang out as he obliterated the bars, dramatically freeing himself. His eyes were red with fury as he zeroed in on his target. The human's fear flooded his senses, but his uncontrollable rage fueled his need to annihilate the enemy. With one big leap he grabbed Dr. Zhao and wrapped his beastly hands around his neck, squeezing until his eyes bulged, his pulse weakened and his heart thumped like the beating of a drum. With a precise blow, a final breath would expel, rendering Zhao dead, never to hurt anyone again. But even though Vincent had killed in Iraq, and his beast wanted to exsanguinate the evil man, he couldn't execute the coup de grâce. Catherine's face flashed in his mind, reminding him of his humanity, imploring him to control his beast. And in the end he couldn't let her down. Her love demanded he consider the ramifications of his actions. As he warred with himself, he remembered his power to control one's mind. With a possible solution to his problem, he tethered his beast. Just as he did a bullet grazed his ear.

He looked Zhao in the eyes and infiltrated his mind. Tell them to retreat now or I'll kill everyone in this building. All seven of you.

"I'm okay. Leave us be. Do not shoot or come back in his room," Zhao muttered, his voice devoid of the confidence it exuded earlier.
"Doctor, are you sure?" One really brave or completely foolish male asked.
"Yes, do it now!"

Vincent waited for the two male workers to exit the room before he took control of Zhao's mind again.

You will destroy every file, electronic and paper, on me. Afterwards, you will forget Vincent Keller ever existed. You will insure your staff understands this directive as well. Are we clear?

Zhao nodded and Vincent released him.


"Catherine, I picked up his signal. Wait a minute. This can't be right."

She rushed over to his chair. What can't be right?"
"It appears Vincent is..."
"Right here where I belong."

Catherine snapped her head around and looked right into Vincent's face. She immediately ran and jumped on him. He caught her as she wrapped her legs around his waist and gave him a welcome home kiss he wouldn't soon forget. Tears spilled from from her eyes, but he knew they were tears of joy.

"At the risk of sounding trite, I'm going to say it. Get a room."
"As a matter of fact, I think we will. You stay here and we'll go to my house."

Catherine looked up at him. "I have to take a rain check. Charlie had a heart attack and Avery went to the hospital to see him, so I'm watching Luke for her. He's in the guestroom watching TV.

"Is Charlie okay?"

"That's all I know right now. Avery will probably call later with an update or when she picks Luke up.

A brief silence followed while JT and Catherine stared at Vincent.

"What? Is something on my face?" He asked with a straight face.

Catherine stood with her arms akimbo. "You better start talking mister."

Vincent laughed. "Oh, you want to know how I managed to get away."

"No, we want to know if you enjoyed your vacation," JT chimed in.

Vincent rubbed his hands across his face. "I don't know if I'm comfortable sharing personal details of my life in this hostile environment."

"What did they give you, because you are in rare form today?" Catherine asked with a frown caressing her forehead.

"Sweetheart, I assure you I've never been better. I just hope you can live with me and my other half for the rest of our lives together, because you're stuck with us.

"Spare us of the speech and tell us what happened already," JT interjected.

Vincent laughed. "Okay. Okay. I'll put both you both out of your misery. Although, I can sum it up in two words. Mind control."

"You didn't," Catherine said.

"Oh, I did and I enjoyed it. And I get to keep my humanity intact. I'd say it's been a productive day."

JT stood up and gave Vincent a high-five. "You're my new best friend."

"Well, new best friend, let's go grill some steaks and I'll regale you with the details of my day."

"I thought you'd never ask."







Captain Keller has been traveling from planet to planet for years looking for his mate. One day his ship locates an injured lifeform on another planet. After a series of images infiltrates his mind, he knows he's found his mate, but unfortunately her situation is dire. His crew rescues her, but she isn't what he expected. Both are drawn to each other, but she fights him every step of the way, fear controlling her emotions about what he is. Can they overcome her misgivings and misfortunes, and be the mates they're destined to be?

It is often said when a body gives up the ghost, the spirit transitions to the afterlife, and thereafter, a torrent of rain is dispatched, with one single purpose, erase every imprint of the deceased from planet earth.

DARKNESS blanketed the sky followed by a downpour of rain. Each drop mixed in with the tears streaming down Catherine's face. It was of no consequence to her as grief seized her body and pierced her heart. Weariness consumed her until she mentally faded into oblivion. With the fight in her detracting, her knees buckled and she tumbled to the muddy ground. Forlorn, her body rested on the gravesite of the one person, whose love for her had never wavered, her mother. Reluctant to face the dire reality of her life, she cried until even her tears retreated, leaving her feeling bereft. Eventually the sun descended, signaling an end to her mourning. With night emerging, the graveyard was the last place she wanted or needed to be. Taking one last look at the pile of dirt housing her dearly beloved mother, she stood up. Drenched and muddy, she ran to her car and jumped in. On any other day, she would've never dared enter the vehicle in such a state, but this wasn't any other day or even a good day for that matter. 
Her body welcomed the feel of the cushioned seat. Closing her eyes and allowing her head to fall back against the headrest, her body succumbed to the exhaustion from the events of the past week. It was hard to believe how much her life had changed in almost a year. One day she had awakened to a beautiful sunny day and taken her mom to her annual checkup, and from there, everything went downhill, including her life. After a myriad of tests, her mom had been diagnosed with Cancer and given nine months to leave. Nine heartbreaking months. With each passing month, Catherine's heart broke even more. Almost a year to the day, her mom closed her eyes, never to open them again. And now she sat in her car wishing she was trapped in a dream instead of reality. 
A flash of lightning illuminated the car followed by a ferocious clap of thunder that brought her back to the present. She hastily inserted the key in the ignition and turned it. The car came to life and she shifted it into gear, praying she made it home safely. The storm had the roads nearly flooded and visibility was difficult, if not impossible. Squinting her eyes and forging ahead, her heart worked overtime in her chest. She recalled the numerous times she wished it had been her diagnosed with a terminal illness instead of her mother. Now traveling the treacherous, meandering road, her life contingent on surviving the journey home, her only thought was living and making her mother proud. 
Suddenly, her ears registered the sound of tires screeching and sliding, and shortly thereafter, a set of headlights headed straight for her vehicle, blinding her in the process. With barely a second to spare, her eyes closed, and she was certain death had come to claim her at last.


"Sir, we've received a distress signal from a planet called Earth," Commander Len stated, sliding his fingers across the screen in front of him.
"Are we able to ascertain a visual?" Captain Keller asked.
"Negative, sir. Our systems are unable to backdoor in on a signal, since we are approaching a solar storm. We need to change our course or exceed the hypersonic range, which would allow for entry to the planet.
"Sen, what data do you have on this planet?"
"The habitants are human. They speak a language called English."
"Captain, we have an unstable visual. It appears a lifeform has been injured, a human," Sen said, producing a weak holographic image.

"Why would we pick up..." Captain Keller trailed off. After so many years, it couldn't be. But it was the only explanation for his vessel detecting one single lifeform. He opened his mouth to inquire about the sex of the human, but his words came up short when his eyes locked on the visual. His hands tightly gripped the handles of his chair, while a series of sharp pains pierced his body. His eyes closed involuntarily, while he struggled to understand what in the world was happening to him. Images of a beautiful female penetrated his mind. He watched as the vessel she was traveling in, collided with a larger vessel, ejecting her from the conveyance. Her inert body lay on the passageway, her breathing labored, the end of her life tragically close. His heart nearly jumped out of his chest. Her pain hit him, weakening his composure, and a feeling, he had never experienced before, traveled throughout his body, seizing his heart and instantly he knew who the female was and what needed to be done.

Lem ran over to the Captain. "Sir, are you all right?"

He watched as his leader fought an unseen force. Finally, his glowing amber eyes opened, exhibiting a rarely seen emotion, fear. "We have a mate is in trouble. She is on the brink of death and I don't need to tell you what that means," he stammered.

Everyone in the control center were stunned and shocked speechless. For years, he had traveled from planet to planet in search of his mate, every trip producing the same results, no sign of his mate. He was almost at the point of relinquishing any hope of ever locating her. If this new development proved to be accurate, the captain's life would change as well as the people of Elam, for Captain Keller was not only their commanding officer, aboard the ship, he was their leader on the planet of Zion. 
Silence permeated the room waiting on the captain's next words. They would come with a risk, but every member of the crew were ready and willing to face the dangers ahead, knowing the outcome would benefit their leader.

"Raise the deflectors and prepare for entry. Set the speed for Mach 29 and everyone secure your harnesses."

""Affirmative, Captain. Prepare for impact," Len stated before the ship shook and their heads snapped back against their seats.
"Access successful."
"Sen, lock on to my brain computer interface and retrieve the exact location of the female. Time is of the essence, as she is minutes away from her demise."

The captain continued to hold on to the chair handles, his control almost nonexistent. With his heart breaking for his newly discovered mate and the brunt of her pain assaulting his body, his symbiote begged to be released. Due to the ship size and the intensity of his passenger, unleashing him would be next to impossible.

"I've triangulated her location and locked on. Permission to beam her aboard. We have the healers on standby."

He jumped up. "Yes...and please assume command of the ship, I'm heading to sick bay."

"Yes sir," Sen said to his retreating back.

The crew had never seen their captain display emotions before and were astounded. If his mate were truly on the ship now, they all knew Zion would be reigning in a new day as well as a new queen. It had been so many years since the death of their last queen, they had forgotten what it was like to have one.