Title: Heart-felt

Rating: T – with a bit of angst thrown in to go with the romance! LOL

Summary: yet ANOTHER sequel to One Special Night ...

Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters, might be Kaboom! that owns them, but I DO know that I make no money from this work of fiction. Sigh. Might make some 'points', though, if I make a certain person happy ...

When Catherine arrived home on Christmas Eve, she stood in the hallway of the empty, echoing house, feeling like a laboratory mouse choosing between competing drives. The bathroom? The kitchen? The bed? She needed them all at once. She trudged as far as the guest bathroom, washed her hands and splashed cool water on her face. HE HAD BEEN THERE!

She was so, so tired ... emotionally and physically. It had seemed, in the Shelby Hospice parking lot that afternoon, that she would never recover from Tom's death ... it had been a cruel blow to find that the room he had once occupied was no longer empty. For the past year she had taken refuge in that room, sat and dreamt that he was still alive ... lying in the bed teasing her mercilessly ... and listening to all her problems. Now she was even more alone than she had been before Thanksgiving ... when Robert had crashed into her life with all the subtlety of a bull in a china shop. The chemistry between them had been volatile from the very beginning ... and in that one night she had revealed more of herself and learned more about another person than ever before in such a short time. Their looks and their silences had been palpable ... desire had sizzled between them despite their best efforts to ignore it. Then it was over. He had promised to meet her for breakfast, and had never showed up. And yet ... he HAD been there!

Sitting in that parking lot this afternoon, feeling that her life was in ruins around her, had been one of the lowest times of Catherine's life. The hospital's call had seemed like a lifeline tossed to her ... until she had found Robert pacing anxiously in the hospital corridor. Then, after the drama of the birth of Robert's grand-daughter, she had hoped to speak to him briefly then escape ... but he had kept her talking. She had been CERTAIN he had to have been lying to her, saying he had been at Murray's that day ... but when Lori had told her that Mary Beth had died that Sunday, Catherine knew that Robert HAD been there. That knowledge had buoyed her up ... until now.

Yes, he had been there ... but she had not believed him, and had questioned him incredulously. What must he be thinking of her NOW? She looked around her house vaguely, feeling like a stranger in her own life. What was she to do? If only she could live the last month over again! If only she had phoned him to ask why he hadn't met her as promise ... if only she had heard of Mary Beth's death and had contacted him ... if only he had contacted HER and let her know!

She debated going to the kitchen for something to eat, but it seemed like too much effort. Instead, she went into the bedroom, dropped her clothes in a heap at her feet, pulled on some pyjamas, and crawled into bed. She wanted to sleep, not revisit her old, sad memories; not to think about anything. In spite of her exhaustion, however, she kept rolling around in the bed, trying to find a comfortable spot. Over and over in her mind ran the mocking words, 'he had been there!' ... mocking her because she had so obviously not believed him ... mocking her for driving him away with her disbelief and anger at his supposed lies ... mocking her and making her suddenly feel more lonely than she had ever felt before in her life.

"Stupid, stupid, STUPID!" she muttered, punching the pillow and squeezing her eyes shut.

Before long, she sank into a bottomless sleep, where, from deep recesses, dreams surfaced ... dreams of a strong man carrying her through a blizzard, laying her down in front of a roaring fire and making fierce love to her over and over and over until her longing and her pain and her loneliness at last melted away.

O o O o O o

The next morning, Catherine was convinced that her dream had miraculously come true when she allowed Robert to draw her closer as she said, "I'm a woman of science. I only believe in what I see."

Robert caught the door with one hand and closed it as he said, "Merry Christmas, Millie."

"Merry Christmas, Howard," she replied, and leaned into his kiss.

The cool cabin air heated up quickly. As Robert deepened the kiss, Catherine sighed in relief, in pleasure, in encouragement. She had been waiting for his kiss for a month, she realized with a sense of shock. Yet Robert wasn't demanding. His touch was gentle, testing shape and fit and intensity as if this simple kiss really mattered ... as if SHE really mattered. Catherine could feel the heat of Robert's body radiating into hers. Her breath shortened, quickened, trembled. Robert was a big enough man to make her, a relatively tall woman, feel small and feminine ... and perhaps even a little bit helpless. For the first time in her life, Catherine understood how desirable feeling helpless could be. Their kisses grew in intensity, they pressed closer to one another.

Catherine felt the room spin, then realized he had tightened his arms and turned them both so that her back was against the wall. Smiling against his mouth, she took advantage of the support to pull him closer, and the pleasure of wanting Robert and being wanted by him nearly overwhelmed her. Heat, urgency and desire flamed in her. In another minute, she would forget her own name.

But that minute never came. Suddenly he was drawing back, his fingers shaking as he touched her face, his breathing as ragged as hers. "Not here ..." he said. "Not like this, damn it. Not standing up against a WALL ... You deserve so much more, Catherine ... so much more ... I'm sorry. I didn't mean to fall on you and ravish you the minute we walked in the door ..."

Trying to calm her breathing, Catherine nodded. He was right ... damn. She wondered inwardly at her frustration. In spite of trying not to, she had been thinking about this man for the last month, even knowing that he was married and therefore nothing could come of her thoughts. Now that she knew he was free, she was practically throwing herself at him! "Robert ... again ... I WAS at Murray's that day ... and I'm sorry I never realized that ... that Mary Beth ..."

"Come, let's sit down ... I built up the fire this morning, but it's almost out. Just let me stoke it some more ..." Robert didn't seem to be paying attention to her words as he drew her over to the sofa and turned to the fire.

Catherine frowned and crossed her arms as she waited for him to finish. Her frown vanished when he looked back at her for a moment, and she saw that his eyes were suspiciously damp. Oh God, he was hurting! She bit her lip and averted her eyes. He poked at the fire again, then came and sat on the sofa beside her, his head down. "Robert ..." she leaned over and touched his shoulder.

"There are days I still can't believe it ..." he said slowly, still looking into the flames now leaping in the fireplace instead of at her.

Sliding over closer, Catherine put her arm around him and hugged him, leaning her cheek on his shoulder. "I know. And there will be days like that for a long time. Forever, for all I know."

"I tried to go to Shelby Hospice to see Mary Beth almost every day ... even when she no longer knew who I was. I ... I still remember what you told me on Thanksgiving ... that she would never forget the man who had occupied her heart for so many years."

Catherine rubbed her cheek lightly on his shoulder. "That's right. Besides, even though she did not know you, you still knew her. You knew her and loved her and what you both had together."

"It was the same for Tom and you." Robert's words were a statement, not a question.

"Mmmhmmm."

"I didn't mean to be unfaithful to her ..." Robert said hoarsely.

Catherine's arm tightened around him. "You weren't," she said softly. "Not even in your heart. Not on Thanksgiving ... not now. Mary Beth knew you loved her ... and she still knows you love her, I'm certain of it. But ... but there is always more love to be found ... it can sneak up on us, even when we're not aware of its approach, even when we're not looking for it ... even when we don't think we want or need it."

"Not only beautiful, but smart as well. I told you before that you were impressive ..." Robert turned to look at her again, his eyes searching hers. Then he leaned closer and his lips covered hers for another heart-stopping moment. "You're sure it's all right that you're here?" he asked finally, nuzzling her ear.

"For now ..." Catherine murmured, her hands stroking his back. "Is it all right with you? Your family ...?"

"They're at the hospital doing the Christmas thing with Lori and the baby. I won't be missed ..." He kissed her again.

Trying not to whimper with her need, Catherine gasped, "God, Robert, I've dreamt...!" and arched closer.

"So have I, Catherine. God forgive me, but so have I ..." Robert divided his kisses between her mouth and the sensitive skin of her throat and behind her ear. He carefully removed the necklace that had taken him hours to locate in the snow the day after Thanksgiving. "We'll keep it safe this adventure, shall we?"

"I need to thank you for that ..." Catherine whispered past the lump in her throat at his gentleness.

"You are ..." he returned, snatching another kiss.

"Mmmmm," she sighed, giving herself over to him completely.

They sat together on the sofa there in front of the fire for over an hour, talking, kissing, talking ... then more than kissing as their need swept through them. Her cardigan came off, next her turtleneck and her bra ... and then Robert's hands were on her skin and Catherine thought she would melt from the pleasure. She pulled his shirt out of his trousers to run her hands over his back and his broad, muscled shoulders.

"Mmm, you can tell you keep fit in the construction business, even if you ARE older and not doing all the hard cement work," she said huskily. "Pointing that finger must pay off ..."

He chuckled. "I'm finding this use for my fingers MUCH more interesting!" and he stroked the smooth skin of her shoulders and down her back, causing her heartbeat to race.

Catherine moaned, fighting a losing battle to keep her need under control. Then his shirt, too, was gone, and he was lying down and she was sprawled on top of him. He pressed hard and hot kisses along her throat. She felt the heat of his palm against her hipbone, the small of her back, the curve of her bottom, and with a sigh of pleasure, she pressed into him, asking silently for more.

Then Robert pulled back again. Catherine gritted her teeth, and fought against the urge to ask him why he was getting her so worked up if he didn't intend to follow through with his lovemaking. She opened her eyes ... and saw his face scrunched up as if he were in pain.

"Robert? Robert, what is it?" she asked, suddenly realized that his skin was cold and clammy against hers, and that he was sweating.

"Nothing ... nothing much ..." he gasped. "Just a crick in my neck, I think ... give me a minute ... and it'll go away ... damn, that hurts!"

Catherine disentangled herself from his arms and sat up. "Where does it hurt?" she demanded, suddenly sounding professional.

"Damn it, Catherine," he growled, still breathing heavily as if trying to suck more oxygen into his lungs than he was getting, "Don't go into your doctor mode ... I'm not sick, I'm just in love ... it's just a ... cramp ... Ooh, damn it!" A spasm seemed to go through him, and he clutched his left shoulder. "The pain goes right up my neck through my jaw! Oh, God!"

Alerted by something in his mannerisms, Catherine jumped out of the way just as Robert leaned over and vomited on the floor. He groaned and leaned back. "Murray ... must have poisoned me ... this morning! ... I'm sorry ..."

Catherine gripped his shoulders. "Robert! Take a deep breath!" Startled by her order, he obeyed instantly. "Now cough!" she commanded him. "A deep cough." Her hand slid down to cover his heart to check the rhythm. "Another deep breath! Now another cough ... as if you have to cough up your lungs! BREATHE! COUGH!"

"What the hell ...?" he gasped after a few minutes.

"You're having a heart attack," Catherine said.

"The hell I am! It's just indigestion! No, damn it, food poisoning! God, I'm going to be sick again!" After vomiting, he lay with his head hanging over the side of the sofa, groaning.

Catherine threw her sweater and his shirt over the mess on the floor, and rolled him onto his back. She put her ear on his chest for a moment, then sat up again. "This isn't food poisoning. Trust me." She grabbed some pillows and shoved them under his head and shoulders. "There, this should make it easier to breathe. Your lungs are starting to fill with fluid."

"Catherine? Catherine, I don't want to die!" Suddenly Robert was panic-stricken. "It hurts, Catherine ..."

"Damn it, Robert, do what I say! I do NOT want to lose you! I love you too much!" Catherine snapped ... and her words hung in the air.

"I hope that's not a metaphor," Robert sighed, and closed his eyes.

"ROBERT!" Catherine felt for his pulse, then tugged him onto the floor and started CPR. "Damn it, I will NOT lose you!" she muttered as she worked over him, vainly wishing she had brought her doctor's kit which was still in her vehicle at the hospital.

To be continued