You took my dreams from me
When I first found you
I kept them with me, babe
I put them with my own
Can't make it all alone

I've built my dreams around you
– One special Christmas Eve

The snow whirled in the air, built up pyramids of white crystals and destroyed them the next second. Always waving, always moving, always changing its destination. Snow storms were a bad habit of winter. She was aware of it but this was insane. Just as it had been last year at Thanksgiving. It had snowed then just like it was snowing now.

Only that today was Christmas Eve and she was on her way to a Christmas dinner. She had hesitated for a long time to accept Steven's invitation but then she realized that after last year's Christmas she couldn't stand to be alone this year. William and Marina weren't an option as they were on a trip to Hawaii to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. So she had told Steven she would spent Christmas Eve with him and his sister's family. Since he had joined the hospital as the new head of internal medicine five months ago they had developed a relationship that some of the nurses described as blossoming friendship and others as developing romance. Whatever the difference was, she still didn't know and for some reason she didn't care. For her it was most important that he was someone she could talk to when she was tired of the worried facial expressions of William and Marina. She couldn't stand the way they pitied her since Robert had broken up with her.

Robert… the most important factor was that Steven wasn't Robert. He looked different, smelled different, listened to different music and used to like her classic car. Gosh, the man was perfect and what she needed and yet…

"Don't," she told herself, "don't you even think of doing this!" She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. "He's out of your life. For good!" She opened her eyes again deciding to concentrate on getting to Steven. As soon as possible. She was starving for some good, real food. Her last glass of peanut butter had been found almost empty when she came home from the hospital to change her clothes and take a shower.

"What the hell…" A scream escaped her throat and despite knowing it was wrong she hit the brake, turned the steering wheel around to avoid the confused deer that was staring at her on the snowy street. Now everything was happening in slow motion.

The deer wasn't moving.

Her heartbeat increased and the steering wheel in her hands wasn't obeying her anymore. It just developed a dangerous life of its own. Her wheels didn't get a grip on the snow and her car slithered away from the street into a snowdrift…

*****

He had to escape. It didn't matter that hell was breaking lose here. He didn't care for the snow or the cold. His vehicle was a safe one. Not like certain other cars… damn, here it was again. Damn, damn, damn… how he hated the holidays. This holiday in particular. Holidays used to be peaceful and uneventful until he had met her. And now, again an insane snow storm.

If there was a God out there he certainly enjoyed to torture him endlessly for his stupidity.
He couldn't remember a time when all the Christmas stuff had made him gloomy. Worse, all his gloom had turned into aggression. The blinking trees, the green bows, the sweets, the joyful atmosphere, the smell of delicious food, but most of all the useless gifts everyone bought and received year after year after year – it all annoyed him badly. What a crap!

Jacky had even taken to call him "Scrooge" when he had complained about all the fuss Lori and she had made for Christmas.

"Who is Scrooge?" Michael had asked curiously and Jacky had bent down to her little nephew and had explained mischievously: "Scrooge was a mean old man who tried to take away people's joy over Christmas."

"Now, isn't that a bit too mean?" Lori had smirked before she had tasted the sauce she had been stirring.

"Don't ask me, big sister."

"Rubbish."

He couldn't understand what she added after he had left the busy kitchen but he was quite sure he had heard the words "Catherine" and "stupid old man" which had made him even grumpier. He didn't need his green-eared daughter to remind him how stupid he had been for sending Catherine away because of his own bad conscious.

He had hurt her over something that was his problem… why didn't he have enough spine to stand up for his decision and his love for her? How many men his age found themselves lucky to have a woman like Catherine at their side? A sensuous, beautiful, vibrant woman who actually loved him and wanted to stay with him, an old immovable object like Robert Woodward? He had screwed it up… he definitely had screwed it up… and now it was too late to get her back.

***

It had all started the day he came home from work for a quick lunch break and found his sister-in-law in his kitchen. Gone had the quick sandwich he had speculated on and there had been the pasta… and Maeve.

He had always liked his sister-in-law. She was a down to earth woman like Mary-Beth. She had been great with his girls when they were little and although her visits had become less frequent over the years she called every now and then and asked how things were going. They had never lost touch even after Mary-Beth's funeral over six months ago but this summer was her first real visit since then. He shouldn't mind having her in the house.

And yet… Maeve being in his kitchen cooking for him felt strange. She used to cook together with Mary during her earlier visits but it didn't feel right without Mary-Beth in the picture. And it didn't feel right with the thought of Catherine who would come back from a medical congress in the States this afternoon. What would she think about another woman cooking and living in his house? And the other way round? How would Maeve react when she saw Catherine?

Actually, he had always avoided to mention Catherine when Maeve and he had been talking on the phone. Not that he was hiding Catherine but he had no idea how his late wife's sister would take the news that he was in quite a serious relationship with another woman. A relationship that had lead him to move out of the bedroom he shared with Mary-Beth into the newly decorated spare room where he slept – with Catherine when they stayed in his house.

Unfortunately, his conversation hadn't gone well. Actually, it had become a heated argument before he actually had known what was going on. He had no other idea who had told her about Catherine, but that didn't mattered in the end.

To her Catherine was the other woman. An intruder. Someone who had taken advantage of the weakness of a new widower. Maeve had thrown one of Catherine's nightgowns – actually his favourite one - at him and had called him a cheater who was betraying Mary-Beth.

"Do you think Mary-Beth would approve of a strange woman sleeping with her husband in her house? Do you really think she would understand how you could turn to someone else so shortly after her death? Don't you think she would mind that you can't keep your pants zipped? You spit on my sister's memory for sex!"

She had thrown every accusation at him that he had come up with by himself before he had decided to buy Howard and Millie's cabin. He had buried the guilt and had decided to live – with Catherine.

***

He hadn't seen Catherine for five days since she had to leave for a congress in Washington D.C. She had wanted him to go with her and spend some days together, but because of a problem with his present project necessitating some urgent damage he had been forced to stay home. He missed her terribly and the nightly telephone calls had only increased the sense of distance. How he wished he had gone with her to Washington… he never would have met Maeve in his own kitchen, he never would have discussed his love life with her, he never would have been confronted with the possibility that Mary-Beth could actually hate him for moving on without her…

The thought hung above him like a black cloud and embosomed him with sadness. He had loved Mary-Beth and he loved Catherine. The two women couldn't have been more different and yet he loved them both. The mother of his beloved children and the woman who had brought him back to life at a time when he thought it was almost over.

Fact was Catherine could infuriate him in one minute and made him laugh out loud the next. They both had agreed on taking it slow with their relationship. The last thing they wanted was hurting his daughters or god forbid each other in the process of bonding and forming a relationship that would last for the rest of their lives. Both kept their houses, both kept their jobs and friends. A great plan that had been complicated by one thing – their physical attraction for each other. Their wish to share each other's nearness… knowing that the time they had together was precious and a rare gift at this stage of their life.

And now he was sitting here… in her house sitting on her staircase drinking the healthy tea she loved and he hated. He wasn't hungry after his argument with Maeve. Not that there was anything in Catherine's house one could consider real food. Only peanut butter and jam but since he had promised her to take her out after she came back it didn't matter.

What mattered was that he had decided to put a stop on them… not that he could actually face losing her but he couldn't help it. It drove him insane, but Maeve's words echoed in his head and made it spin faster and faster. Although he hadn't wanted to listen to Maeve and her Babbitt ideas of how a widower should behave, her words about Mary-Beth had gotten under his skin and were attacking him there right now.

The bad conscious he had fought during the weeks after Mary-Beth's death had slowly faded and had been replaced by something life saving. The love he was feeling for Catherine. It had filled his heart, but now the guilt was back. Undeniable and life threatening. And it hurt. He needed a break to come to terms with this sudden attack of self-blame. He couldn't burden Catherine with those feelings… she had asked him over and over if being with her was what he really wanted… and he had said yes time and again. He had spent every free minute with her, had gotten to know her better than he thought he ever could know her, he had slept with her, had gotten drunk on her bewitching nature and had fallen in love with her every morning she had awoken in his arms.

"I know men and their needs…," Maeve had said as if he was an animal. Why did he feel like one now?

"Robert?"

Unnoticed by him the front door had opened and she had appeared in the hallway. She had gotten some in Washington. Her eyes were widened in pleasant surprise at seeing him. It was still unbelievable that she actually looked at him like that every time her eyes fell on him.

"Hey." He rose from the stairs to greet her. Why was it that he couldn't take his eyes from her in return?

They kissed hello but he jumped pretending his cup to be in their way.

"Careful!"

"Oh!" She laughed and gave him a short kiss on the cheek. Then she looked inside the cup and made a face. "Is this… don't tell me… " She smelled and chuckled. "You must have missed me a lot if you've started drinking my tea! Aren't you afraid the herbs will kill you?"

"Oh well… my stomach, you know." He shrugged and put the cup on the staircase behind him.

"Are you ill?" she asked, immediately worried, and cupped his face with her hands to look him in the eyes. "No… it's nothing. Really. Just a nervous stomach."

"So how was your trip?" he asked trying to sound casual and backed off a bit. He wanted to put some physical distance between them. He had no idea how to act or what to say but she didn't seem to notice and simply wrapped her arms around his middle bringing their bodies closer together.

"Far too long… I was bored by the program. The hotel was fine though… the big bed I had to spend my lonely nights in really screamed for another person to fill it! But the shopping tour I made was quite successful! You'll love the pieces I found!" she told him with a meaningful smile and brushed his lips with hers.

He let it happen, closed his eyes and conceded defeat when he gave himself over to the kiss. She was so warm, felt so good in his arms. So perfect. He had missed her too. So much. And now he ached for her… a feeling that increased with every second their tongues danced their own tango. His hands roamed over her back up to her neck where he could touch her warm skin. Satisfied with their kiss she moaned into his mouth before she pulled back a bit.

"Mhhhhhhhh… you taste wild, do you know that?"

"Wild?" His lips ran over her cheeks up to her forehead. He was too absorbed by her scent and the magic she worked on him to realize what she was actually saying.

"Like wild herbs." She laughed tenderly and looked up to him. With her thumb she caressed his lower lip and wiped off the lipstick she had left on them.

"Isn't that a little paradox, Doctor Howard?"

"Noo…," she answered, a smile still playing around her lips. "I really missed you, do you know that? We haven't been apart for one day since Christmas…"

"I know." His voice was husky. He should simply talk to her… spill the beans, ask for some time to think and leave… escape from her. Escape from every temptation to hurt her.

"I have an idea," she said and played with the buttons of his shirt. "We order some good food… get some wine from my small but exquisite wine cellar and spend the evening here." She sneaked her arms around his neck and gave him a seductive glance. Her lips were close to his again, almost touching them, teasing them and waiting for him to kiss her. God, she was a tempting woman. She had let down all her defences for him and as time had moved on she had started to attack. She always aimed to please him, tease him and tempt him… and she never failed. Not even now that his heart was heavy and poisoned by sadness and relived grief. If he didn't stop her he would end up in bed with her. Maybe he was just what Maeve had called him – a man who had his needs and didn't think about who he was hurting in the process.

"Catherine…" He drew a deep breath to regain some strength and removed her arms from his neck. "Catherine… we have to talk."

Why for God's sake was she here? Catherine's eyes wandered around and caught every detail in the cabin. Of course, nothing had changed since she had been here the last time. Her instincts told her he hadn't been around much either. And why should he?

He had bought the cabin for them and he didn't want to be with her, so why should he spend any time in here?

But obviously he hadn't sold it either.

The key had been in the old secret place where he had placed it once "in case we ever get stranded again and need a place to warm up." What a joke! She cursed the day she had decided to offer him a lift through the snow. It hadn't been her responsibility. No matter how good looking he was and how lost he seemed. She should have stayed away… it could have spared her a broken heart.

She sighed. What could she do?

She had gotten stranded, lucky that she wasn't hurt after her car had run straight into the snowdrift, and had no other choice than coming here. Her clothes were wet and she was half-frozen, because her dress was hardly made for the weather outside. Thank god she had at least been intelligent enough to have a second pair of real shoes with her and not only her high heels.

Her cell didn't work and the phone in the cabin wasn't working either. Steven was waiting for her and she had no chance to reach him. She was alone in a cabin she hated because it was linked to a man she loved who had decided to drop her like a hot potato.

"Damn!" She yelled into the cold room. "Damn, damn, damn!"

***

"What on earth…?" Robert slammed his car door shut and pulled the collar of his jacket closer around his neck. Through the wild snowfall he could see smoke coming out from the chimney of his cabin. If he didn't know better he would say the ghost of Christmas past was visiting him tonight. Whether it was him and not some stranger who had broken into his cabin didn't matter. He would kick out both of them.

He sneaked around the cabin. No window was broken and through the frozen up glass he couldn't see much aside from a few burning candles. His surprise about the fact that someone had found the key and used it to get into the cabin turned quickly into shock when he marched into his vacation home. Her scent hit him like a fist in the stomach. Could it be that even after half a year Catherine's smell was still hanging in the air? Her sweet special scent mixed up with Chanel. Her favourite perfume. What a lousy idea to come here!

He looked around. The cabin had already warmed up and someone had started to make himself comfortable. He saw a cell phone lying on the table, a coat thrown over the new sleeping couch he had bought – actually the only thing he had replaced – and he could hear running water out of the bathroom. He had never really repaired the stupid door, which again had found a life of its own and had opened a bit all by itself.

"Hello?" he asked and waited. He sighed in annoyance when he didn't receive a response and moved closer to the bathroom door. He peeked into the steamy room and raised his eyebrows when he saw a bunch of clothes lying on the floor that looked strangely like expensive black silk… then he glimpsed the thin long nylon stockings and a smile appeared on his face. A lady in his bathroom. And no male partner around it seemed.

He cleared his throat: "Excuse me, please, but I'm the owner of this cabin."

***

Her heart stopped beating and the panic that rose in her was like a wave made of fire when she heard his voice through the sound of the running water. He was there. In the cabin. Only a few steps away while she stood naked under his shower. There was no escape and no help. It was the most awful, embarrassing situation she could think of… it even hurt to hear his voice. How would she feel when she had to face him?

She searched blindly for the faucet and turned the water off.

"Lady, please. I don't know why you're here but I would love to know…" He sounded amused and light-hearted. She could see the smile plastered on his face without standing in front of him. Bastard. Her panic turned into anger. With one quick movement she grabbed the shower curtain to cover herself and whirled around to face him over the edge of the curtain: "This Lady here could ask you the very same."

"Catherine!" He turned pale and for a second she feared he would faint. At least she had caught him completely off guard. "What the hell are you doing here?" His face went red and his eyebrows narrowed. A dangerous sign as far as she knew.

"Believe me, I'm not here of my own free will!"

"That doesn't answer my question!" he shouted helplessly trying to ignore the fact that she was naked behind the stupid white wet shower curtain.

"Would you care to move your behind out of this room so that I can dress myself?"

She hadn't changed at all.

"I'm waiting in the living room," he hissed between clenched teeth. Then his eyes fell on a towel that hung by the wall. He took it and threw it into her direction before he tore the door into the lock behind him.

"What a mess." He whispered and leaned against the door, the handle still in his fist while the other one lay flatly on the old wood. "Damn, Catherine."

Was this fate or rotten luck? Catherine under his shower out of the blue… as always no warning before she walked into his life to shake it up. Again nothing that warned him about the risk of losing it upon her mere sight.

Should he fight this like he had done before or should he try to make things up to her?

She caught the towel with one hand and nearly slipped in the wet tub. What a jerk. He knew she was lousy in catching things. Rubbing the towel over her wet face she cursed into the fabric. When he heard what had happened to her he would just laugh straight into her face and make fun of her.

Trembling she climbed out of the tub and dried herself as quickly as possible. When she picked up her clothes she realized that they were as wet as before. She couldn't wear them without risking a cold or worse. If she put them on though, he would notice how wet they were and call her stupid… Fighting for patience and composure she looked around. His bathrobe was hanging behind the door. The ugliest one she had ever seen on him and which she had thrown away once. He had found out about it and dug it out of the plastic bag she had hidden it in. If she weren't so pissed with her momentary situation she would laugh about it…

***

He took his jacket off and threw it on the couch. How the hell had she gotten in here? What was she doing here? Why today? Why at all?

He had no idea how to face her or what to say to her. The only time they had met since he had broken up with her had been at Murray's about two weeks after his painful exit out of her life. What a legendary disaster. He had been there with Maeve and Michael to eat chocolate chip pancakes.

He had known she had entered the restaurant before he had seen her. Sometimes he wished Murray didn't love to chit chat with his guests. Of course, Michael had recognized her voice and had started to search for her. The boy had become quite fond of her over the few months they had spent together and he knew Catherine loved him dearly.

So it hadn't been a miracle that he had run towards her to wrap his short arms around her. Joyfully, he had insisted on having breakfast with her. He could still remember the expression on her face, how much she hated to disappoint Michael and how embarrassed she felt when their eyes had met across the crowded restaurant. It had broken his heart to see how she had drawn wrong conclusions when her eyes had fallen on Maeve and him.

But brave as she was she had told Michael as gently as possible that she had to go back to the hospital, because she had to take care of a little baby girl like his sister. Reluctantly he had let her go and she had vanished without even taking with her the coffee she had ordered.

It would have been his chance to talk to her, but Maeve's presence stopped him. Now, there wasn't any Maeve… and no Michael. They were alone in the cabin caught in another snowstorm…

***

She had known he would dump her. The second she saw him sitting on her staircase moping into his tea she had known it was over between them. He had that certain look of someone who was burdened with guilt and shame. In one last desperate attempt to keep him she had made a fool of herself and had tried to seduce him. At first it had seemed to work and then he had retreated to tell her it was over between them.

Until today she couldn't remember his actual words. Her defensive shields had protected her… she could recall he had talked about abusing her… about Mary-Beth and his love for her… that it had been too early for him… that it had been more of a physical relationship than one formed on a emotional basis and that she wasn't the woman he wanted to burden with his insecurities.

Moments later she had thrown him out of her home because she had indeed felt abused… abused because they had spent all those wonderful months together. Abused because she had been deeply in love with him while he had reduced everything to the physical part.

"Here I am," she announced as she entered the living room wrapped in his ugly brown bathrobe.

He whirled around and narrowed his eyes when he recognised his robe. "Comfortable?"

"Actually not. But my clothes are wet and I don't want to risk catching a cold."

"I see… so… why are you here? Did you lose your way?"

"I had a small accident. I could choose whether to drive into a deer or into a snowdrift. I took the snowdrift and before you ask – the deer is fine."

"My god… are you sure you're alright?" he asked in alarm and studied her face closely. She seemed unhurt… but who knew… "Let me guess, your classic antique let you down again?!"

"It was my Jeep that let me down. I'm sorry to disappoint your prejudices."

He couldn't really expect from her to see him in him less than a macho and still it hurt to hear her saying it. Deep down inside he had hoped she knew him better.

He sighed. "Well, my car is fine. Just tell me where you want to go and I take you there… when your clothes are dry." He let his eyes roam over her robe forcing the blood into her cheeks.

"Well… I should hang them somewhere to dry… the faster I get out of here the better!"

"I think I still have this clotheshorse here… I'll get it for you." With a swift movement
he took his jacket from the couch and went to the door. He just needed to escape for some time… he needed to recover from their sudden meeting. He needed to recover from her and what she was still doing to him.

"It's outside?" she asked in disbelief.

"There's a little room in the backroom of the house. I store it there. I'll be right back. Make yourself useful and make us some tea… or tea for you and for me a coffee. I think I need one!"

"I see your stomach is better," she couldn't hide a mean grin.

"Some things are just a matter of peace, I guess." That hit home and he knew it. From one second to the other he saw her eyes breaking. He turned on his heels and escaped the cabin. Once outside he cursed loudly. "You darn, friggin idiot!" What was he doing?

Truth was he had no idea… being with her in one room had shown him without any doubt that he still loved her…. He loved her. Her wit, her sarcasm, her beauty…

He loved her, he wanted her and what was he doing? He kept hurting her. God, if he wanted to turn this around he needed a lot of luck and goodwill from the old man up there.

He burned his tongue when he sipped from the coffee. It was so strong that he feared a heart attack once he had finished only half of it.

"Ouch."

"Are you alright?" she asked provocatively.

"I'm fine."

With growing interest he observed her while she was adjusting her clothes on the small clotheshorse. He had even found some almost broken clothespins in an old sack. As he had figured out before the clothes were expensive and very appealing. Black silk… if he assumed correctly. A jacket underlining her soft curves. A top with small, tasteful silver ornaments and a skirt…. Not too short and not too long. He could visualize her wearing it… how it exposed her knees and a few inches of her thighs when she sat down… He swallowed and forced himself to look somewhere else.

Would she dress up like that for a dinner with friends? Even on Christmas Eve? She was always dressed elegantly but in general her clothing was less 'flashy' - more down to earth and yet tasteful.

"Where will you go tonight?" He tried to sound casual and sipped again from the rat poison she had prepared for him.

"A friend."

"A friend? Do I know her?"

"No. It's a he."

The hot coffee spilled over his shirt. "A he? A man?"

She turned her head. "Yes, you know one of your species. Just a little more civilized. You spilled coffee on your shirt."

She had finished to fix her clothes and stepped closer to the fireplace. She rubbed the palms of her hands over her arms.

"I see… you were going on a date."

"It's not a date," she explained a bit too short-tempered, "it's dinner with his family."

His heart dropped a little more. "Does that mean you and he have passed the stage of dating or did you simply skip the dating?"

She turned her head to him. She had a handful of insults and swear words stuck in her throat waiting to jump right into his face but they didn't feel good enough. What was he thinking? Wasn't he the one who skipped dating in the first place when he brought her into his damn cabin one year ago?

"Steven is a gentleman. He just thinks it's time to introduce me to his family."

"How nice. Where did you find him? Did you try to kill him as well?" Pretending to be uninterested he went into the kitchen. He turned the water on, dampened a cloth and tried to remove the coffee spot from his shirt.

"He works with me in the hospital. He's our new head of internal medicine."

"Another impressive doctor!" he spit out ironically and added a curse when he realized the useless rubbing of the coffee spot only made things worse. The spot grew bigger and bigger. He intended to keep himself busy enough to ignore that she wasn't be wearing much under his old robe. Unfortunately, it was easier said than done. He could imagine every inch of her body under the dark fabric. Her soft curves, her warm skin, her countless freckles… how it felt to hold her in his arms. How she tasted and how she had used to take his breath away when they kissed…

"What are you doing there?" She followed him into the kitchen. When she saw his useless effort to clean his shirt she smiled amusedly and leaned against the high board with her arms crossed over her chest. "Fascinating… are you sure you know what you are doing?"

"Of course!"

"Give me the shirt! I'll try to clean it. I don't want to watch you killing yourself. I still have a dinner to attend and I don't know where your car keys are."

Angrily he threw the cloth in the sink. "Thanks, but no!"

"It's no problem for me," she offered generously and gave him a wide smile.

"Since when are you the wifey type?"

"People have to live and survive somehow, Robert. Especially women have to do so since men have the tendency to run away when they feel bored… or stressed out."

"I won't give you my shirt." He decided calmly and dried his hands on a towel.

"Alright… well, I guess at home you have a real housewife waiting for you." She shrugged and walked back into the living room. "Besides, shouldn't you be home for Christmas instead of coming here?"

"Look, Catherine, I know I disturbed you in here but it's my cabin and my vacation home and if I want to spend Christmas Eve in here I do spend Christmas Eve in here!"

"It was just a question."

"I go out to get my cell phone!"

"You have a lot of things stored outside!"

He ignored her sarcastic comment and grabbed his jacket. "I'll be right back."

She sank onto the couch biting her tongue before another comment could slip out.

When he didn't come back after 10 minutes she rose from the couch and peeked out of the window. She could see him through the whirling snow flakes. At least he was still moving. The light in his jeep was switched on. The last thing she needed was him having a heart attack out there.

Before he could notice her checking on him she sneaked back to the couch. Her glance fell on her clothes in front of the fireplace. She got up again and touched the fabric of her top. The soft material was still a bit damp but thank god it seemed to dry faster than she had thought. A pity she wouldn't look as perfect for the dinner as she had intended… not that Steven would mind. He always said there wasn't no way she could ever look not beautiful to him. But what was it worth? Robert had told her the very same months ago…

"My cell doesn't work!" he announced when he returned into the cabin.

"And it took you over 15 minutes to find that out?"

"It had fallen behind my seat. I had to search for it. Besides I only wanted to help you to call your gigolo… he can keep the turkey in the oven for some time longer! The snow storm is getting worse!"

"Oh it is?" Stretching her head she tried to catch a glimpse out of the window. "By the way, Steven is no gigolo! He's a nice, decent man!"

"Whatever… if you want me to drive you anywhere we should go now! The last thing I want, is to spend the night here!"

"Very well then. My clothes are dry." She picked her clothes from the clotheshorse and went to the bathroom.

"Did you ever see "Psycho"?"

"Shut up!"

The door fell into the lock and he could hear that she saved it with the wooden chair. Some things never change.

***

"So, lets go!" She swung her scarf around her head and marched out of the front door. Robert followed her on her heels and opened the car door for her.

"Milady."

She gave him a look and climbed into the car.

"Thank you."

He closed the door and rushed around the car. He climbed in next to her, rubbed his cold hands and loosened the hand brake.

"Here we go," he said and turned the key to start to car.

The machine produced a strange sound that provoked Catherine's eyebrows to rise.

"What? Try again!"

He tried again and except another dying noise nothing happened.

"What the hell…" Robert tried to start the car over and over again but nothing happened. Annoyed with the world and herself Catherine rolled her eyes. "Are you telling me that this reliable vehicle of yours is dead?"

"Seems so. Damn!" He hit the steering wheel with his hands. "It must be the gasoline again! That damn petrol meter! It's broken. It's the second time in a row this happened!"

"We ran out of fuel?" she asked in utter disbelief. "We are here in the middle of a snowstorm without any fuel?"

"Yes. That's what I was implying." He leaned back in his seat and waited for the thunder to arrive. And of course he didn't end up disappointed.

"You're such an idiot! Don't you even have a jerrycan for emergencies?"

"Nope." He took a deep breath. "Look, I'm sorry…"

"Oh, just keep your mouth shut… you bloody… I don't know what you are!!" She stormed out of the car and back into the cabin while he followed her at a much slower pace.

***

Inside the cabin she threw her scarf and her coat onto the couch. "I need something to drink!" she declared frustrated and went into the kitchen to search the cupboards.

"Can I help you?" Robert asked while taking off his jacket.

"Where's the wine? I know we had more than enough wine in here!"

"It's not here anymore."

"Great." She slammed the doors of the cupboard and straightened up again.

"Well, try the coffee. It's strong enough."

"The coffee is cold," she answered dejectedly and leaned against the kitchen counter. "What a mess."

"I'm as unhappy about the situation as you are," he said and sat down on the couch. "But it seems we have stay here for the night."

She didn't move. She simply stared on the floor. He observed her profile and couldn't help but think how beautiful she looked. Those clothes exposed every detail of her body he would love to rediscover.

He had felt young with her. So darn loved and wanted. Mary-Beth hadn't desired him anymore in the last years of their marriage. But Catherine had wanted him with all her heart, and she had given herself to him. The idea of simply going to her and kiss her senseless crossed his mind.

His eyed glided over her body, from her legs, over her knees, her hips and finally her breasts. Every detail of her wonderful figure. Should it scare him that there was nothing he wouldn't do to touch her again? Every inch he was admiring right now? Every inch he already knew so well and ached to feel under his fingers again?

"Stephan will survive one evening without you! So come here and sit down with me!"

"I had better offers lately! And his name is Steven!"

"Okay, okay… you know I think I have some marshmallows left in here. Maybe even some hot chocolate… what about a game of scrabble?" He rose from the couch and passed her opening the doors she had just closed and seemingly searching for something.

"Marshmallows, hot chocolate and scrabble? Robert, it's not my intention to sit around here and spend a cosy evening with you!"

"Ah, there they are." With a wide smile he held the package with marshmallows in front of her nose. "Well, what other options do you have? It's cold and dark outside. Your car is dead, my car is dead… all we have in this lovely marshmallow world are some marshmallows and a lot of time!" He smirked and she grabbed the marshmallows out of his hands to check the package. "They're expired! If you want to poison me you have to come up with something else!"

"Spoilsport. You know they have to write something on the package!"

"Forget it!" She threw the package into the sink and turned on her heels.

"Okay! If you want to leave, leave but don't expect me to help you! I'm too old for nightmarish adventures in the snow!"

"True."

She drew a deep breath and faced him again. "I'm sorry, but I really expected my Christmas to be different."

"I can understand that," he responded more softly. As much as it was fun to argue with her it was also tiring.

"And I'm sure you had something else in mind as well when you came here."

"I was searching for some peace. The house was a bit too lively for me this year," he admitted.

He observed Catherine while she took the shoes off that really didn't fit with the rest of her wardrobe and sank down on the couch. Her facial expression revealed a sadness that cut straight through his heart and left a bleeding wound there. What if she really wanted to spend Christmas with that guy? What if she had really fallen in love with him? What if she had moved on?

Once again his eyes wandered over her body, but this time they got stuck at her neck… her throat. The delicious place he loved to kiss because he knew it drove her mad…

"Where's your necklace?"

"Hm?"

"The one I dug out of the snow for you! The one Tom gave to you. You don't wear it!"

"No, I don't," she said tiredly. "I haven't been wearing it for a long time."

"Why?" He knew he sounded like a disappointed child but that she had abandoned the necklace hurt him. Almost more than the thought she was in love with someone else.

"I've decided not to stick to the past any longer. It hurts."

"But what…" He didn't understand and maybe he didn't want to.

"No but, Robert! I'm not like you." She rubbed her forehead and turned her face away.

"What do you mean with that?"

"Nothing."

"Don't say nothing, because I know it's not nothing!" He closed the distance between them but before he reached her she had had risen from the couch. She crossed the room and with her arms crossed over her chest she stood at the window and stared out into the snow storm.

"Catherine… please, talk to me," he said calmly and followed her.

"About what do you want to talk? About you and me? About the way you decided to kick me out of your life? About your so-called bad conscious towards your wife?" She gave him a cold glance. She didn't like her outburst but it had been overdue.

"That I was good enough to warm your bed after all this time you didn't get any? That you dropped me like a hot potato when you replaced me with a woman who looks like your wife? I bet she even cooks Italian for you just like Mary-Beth in the good old times!"

"That's not true!" he said firmly, "you know it wasn't like that! Maybe, I told you so… but I was confused…"

"I bet you were!"

"I never exchanged you for anyone. I could never do such a thing!"

He stepped closer and touched her upper arms. He could feel her stiffen and squeezed them tenderly. "There was nothing between Maeve and me… you misjudged the situation when you saw us at Murray's!"

"She lives in your house! I've seen her cleaning your windows, picking up your mail and painting your fence! And don't touch me!" She freed herself from his grip and paced the room.

"She's just my sister-in-law!"

"How comfortable. It stays in the family then!"

"Do you really think I would do something like that?"

"I don't know what you would do!"

She was close to lose her composure. She was screaming at him. She almost hated him. The situation was slipping out of her hands and she feared that if they didn't stop to argue she would just break down and cry. She had to be stronger than that. She had a certain amount of pride left after all!

"Catherine… I say it one more time. There's nothing between Maeve and me… there never was anything between us. She has left my house two weeks ago. I admit she was the one who planted all those crazy ideas in my head but… but mostly it was my own fault. I was a fool… I felt guilty because I was too happy with you. I loved you too much… I wanted you too much. I couldn't understand how my love for you could just grow day by day while my memory of Mary-Beth was fading… I told you and myself it was just physical because I was scared to love you more than I ever loved her… does that make any sense?"

Against her better judgement she listened to him and the tears that had been stuck in her throat started to run over her cheeks. But she was still fighting them. She was fighting the pain inside her. His words were meant to be comforting and yet they hurt so much. Loving him – even now – hurt too much. She had buried all those feelings and now they were rushing over her like a Tsunami.

His words did make sense, but who guaranteed he didn't send her away once more when his bad conscious got the best of him again? She loved him with her whole being and she wouldn't survive if she lost him again.

"Catherine… are you listening to me?" Why was he so close all of a sudden? He stood right in front of her. She could smell his after shave and felt his hands on her face. He wiped her tears away, gently pulled her closer to him.

"I love you, Catherine. I do love so much. Come here." She let it happen that he wrapped his arms around her and pressed her to him. She let it happen that her tears fell unchecked over her face and wet his shoulder. How she had missed him and his embrace. His arms had once been the safest place she could imagine. "I'm so sorry. Just tell me you forgive me! I can't live without you, my darling. I don't want to live without you!"

Her tears dried out slowly and after a few moments she backed off. She was confused and tried drying her face with her hands. He pulled out his handkerchief and gave it to her. "Here."

She took it and stepped back, demanding space for herself. "Don't…. just let me," she said and blew her nose.

"Okay." He wanted to allow her to collect her thoughts. He sensed that putting pressure on her was the wrong thing to do. It would only scare her away. Aside from the flickering fire and the howling wind outside the house nothing could be heard. Time seemed to stand still while both tried to sort out their feelings.

"What you said makes sense," she said lowly after a while. Her hands clenched the handkerchief her eyes were fixed on. "But it doesn't erase any of the pain you put me through… I felt so low when you left me. You let me believe I was good enough for your bed but not worthy of your heart or your life."

"You know that isn't true… you know I respect you."

"Do I?"

"At least I hope so."

She shook her head. "I felt loved and respected by you. I really did. But now…" Her voice was breaking and she moved backwards step by step… away from him and the pain he brought over her. "You broke my heart, Robert… I can't stay with you. Not ever again."

Then everything happened faster than he realized it. His handkerchief dropped on the floor, she whirled around the room, grabbed her shoes from her floor, put them on and then rushed to pull her coat on and wrap her scarf around her neck. "I have to get out of here!" She only said and almost stumbled over her feet while she ran to the door.

"No, Catherine! You can't go out there!" He reached her, grabbed her arm but she merely hissed: "Don't you dare to touch me, and don't follow me!"

"But it's suicide to go out there! You'll get lost!"

"I'm already lost!" she snapped back

She slammed the door right into his face. He tore the door open and ran after her. Outside the harsh cold wind and even more snow welcomed him. "Catherine!" he screamed, but of course there was no answer. "Come back here! Catherine!"

He cursed loudly and went back into the cabin. Quickly he picked up his jacket and put it on. On his way outside he closed the zipper and ran almost into Catherine who stood in the door.

***

Her face was expressionless.

"Catherine." A smile broadened his face. She was back… she hadn't run away from him. She was there.

"Inside," she ordered briskly and he obeyed still dumbfounded upon her sudden reappearance.

She followed him with her arms crossed behind her back.

"What happened?" he asked almost happily about the turn of events.

"You egoistic, self-righteous, obnoxious bastard!"

His jaw dropped as she produced a jerrycan from behind the back and threw it in front of his feet.

"No gasoline? While you were outside to get your ridiculous cell phone you were filling the gasoline from your car into the can! It wasn't very clever to hide it behind the wood outside. I fell over it."

"Shit." He closed his eyes and turned his face.

"What were you thinking? Did you think repeating last year's events would bring me back into your bed? I can almost imagine the sick ideas that were running through your head! You make me ill!"

"Catherine… It wasn't my intention to insult you! All I wanted was more time with you!" He knew he sounded silly but he couldn't help himself.

"More time? For what?"

"To convince you that I still love you and that I want you back!"

"Great story!" Exhaustedly she pointed at the jerrican on the floor. "I can't stand this one minute longer. Just fill it back where it belongs and bring me away from here!"

He looked at her and shook his head. If they broke up here their last chance to get back would pass. He couldn't let that happen.

"No, I won't."

"Excuse me?"

"We won't go anywhere. We stay here until we have talked this out!"

She looked at him and for a second he feared she would start laughing. Instead she only whispered: "Why are you doing this to me? Can't you just leave me alone?"

"And let you go to someone you don't love, because you can't stand being alone on Christmas?"

"You have no idea what you're talking about! And you certainly have no idea about Steven and me!"

"I think I have an idea about the two of you… I've seen him in front of your house… he never stayed over night… and you never stayed in his house. I've seen your car in front of your house every morning when I drove by. If I didn't know any better I'd say he's just a ghost!"

"I won't listen to this! Just go outside and prepare your car because I'm going to see him tonight! Even if I have to go there all by myself!" Her yelling was inspired by helplessness. She knew he was right. She knew that he knew he was perfectly right, she couldn't admit it. She didn't want him to have this power over her.

She bent down to pick up the can but he was faster than her and took it away hiding it behind his back.

"Well, have a good walk, then."

"You…," she started but he only raised his free hand. "I won't drive you to him to let you screw him senseless into Christmas Day. That's not my idea of the spirit of Christmas! Sorry!"

The anger that boiled inside her was hard to control. Jumping at him to scratch his eyes out for playing her like that was the nicest idea to cross her mind. Well, at some point he would have to go home as well.

"You know what?" she asked in a trembling voice. "You want to stay here? Okay… we stay here… you stay right here!" She pointed at the couch. "And I stay up there!"

Now she pointed at the small bedroom over the living room.

"What?" he asked bewildered.

"You heard me." She took a cushion from the couch and went to the ladder. "I'll sleep upstairs. You can stay here. At least I'll be safe from you up there!"

"Catherine, don't be stupid… you're afraid of heights!"

"Who said that?"

"I know it. Catherine, please… don't do this. There isn't even a blanket up there! You'll freeze!"

"That's hardly a point of your concern!" she said and started to climb up the ladder. He sighed and looked away. By the second she realized what she was doing she would freeze and he wouldn't be able to make her climbing down because she would cling to the ladder scared to death… just like the day when she had wanted to help Michael to climb down a tree and had been more scared in the end than the boy.

"Catherine. Come down."

She wasn't listening and continued to climb up the ladder. With the useless cushion in her hand her long, heavy coat the mission wasn't that easy to accomplish.

He saw her falling before it actually happened. Her shoe got caught in the seam of her coat, she lost her balance and with a sharp scream she fell. The cushion flew across the room and almost hit him on his way to her. He couldn't catch her anymore and so she ended right on her back.

"Catherine!" He sank next to her on knees and bent over her. "Are you alright?"

Her mien turned into a painful grimace when she turned her head to him.

"Are you hurt?" He asked worriedly and she arched her back a bit. "No… it's just a… ouch… I think. Nothing broken," she said hoarsely and sat slowly up. With his hand he carefully supported her back. His eyes were dark with concern as he looked at her.

"Shall I bring you to a doctor?"

"I am a doctor," she reminded him while she stretched. "I'm alright."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes!"

He helped her to remove her coat.

"Let me help you to get up!"

She shook her head. "No, lets just sit here."

Suddenly, she realized his hands were on her shoulder and her back and moved aside to avoid him. He noticed and his concern turned into anger.

"Damn it, Catherine!" he shouted and dragged her close to him. "What do you want me to do to convince you of my love? Shall I climb onto the roof and yell it to the mountains? Do I have to cross the Atlantic to buy you some scraps of this disgusting tea you love so much?"

She was trembling in his clutch because he screamed straight into her face. His hands on her upper arms held her tight without hurting her. His eyes connected with hers and created a spell between them she couldn't escape. Wasn't him caring for her all she ever wanted? Was being close to him not what she had ached for the past few months?

When he felt her reluctance fading his right hand moved up to her face. He caressed her cheekbone tenderly with his thumb and whispered huskily: "Catherine… please… I love you."

After what seemed to be an eternity she closed the distance between them and brushed his lips with hers. Her eyes were still open, still fixed on his… still evaluating whether what she did was right.

"I love you," he whispered against her mouth and that was it. She bent forward and kissed him fully on the lips. His arms flew around her immediately, bringing her to him as closely as possible. Their mouths melded slowly, carefully and full of hesitation. Both kept their eyes open observing the other. Her lips parted under the gentle teasing of the tip of his tongue allowing him to deepen the kiss. Her hands sneaked up and came to rest on his neck guiding him as their kiss became hungrier.

God, they had used to spend hours with kissing. Slow and tender. Hard and duelling. They had kissed like teenagers through whole afternoons until their lips had been swollen.
They didn't need long to rekindle their old kissing rhythm. Connected in their embrace they sank to the floor without breaking their kiss.

***

His fingers were searching for hers, entangling them, squeezing them gently. She welcomed the pressure and sent it back. His lips nuzzled her neck and she arched against him as shivers ran up and down her spine.

After their bodies had started to protest about their kissing session on the cold, hard floor they settled down on the sleeping couch. Robert had started a new fire in the fireplace while Catherine had removed her winter shoes.

And now the room was filled with the sound of soft moans and whispered words of love and devotion. Legs were entangled, hands and mouths were busy with rediscovering and pampering each other's bodies.

Catherine sighed wholeheartedly when Robert's palm ran over her thigh to her bottom and from there to her breasts. She had always thought that his hands were meant to worship her body. He caressed her through the silk of her top sending new thrills of anticipation through her veins…

"I have to admit something," she mumbled against his mouth.

"Tell me…"

"This is physical… absolutely and utterly."

He grinned and nibbled at her lower lip. "And it's love. Say you love me too, Catherine."

"I do love you, Robert. With all my heart."

"And Steven?"

She cupped his face with her hands and gave him a loving glance. "He's just a friend. A good friend but nothing more. We didn't even kiss yet."

"Thank God. I'm the jealous type, you know."

She chuckled and caressed the coffee spot on his shirt. "Who would have guessed that?"

"You enjoyed teasing me about him, right?"

"Absolutely."

"And this stuff you're wearing here…" He played with the strap of her silk top. "One could think…"

She placed her index finger on his mouth and interrupted him. "His family owns tons and tons of money… I thought I should better dress up before I make a fool of myself in front of them. Besides… I bought it in Washington this summer. It was meant to please you."

"Oh, it certainly does please me," he grinned, pulled down the strap and kissed her naked shoulder. "All this time without you was a living hell."

"And why didn't you come to me?"

"I was scared… I treated you so badly. I thought I didn't deserve another chance."

"Oh, you don't… but since it's Christmas…I'll have mercy."

They kissed again and he answered her comment with a grin. "I like the kind of mercy you show me."

"I bet you do…. But you know… I'm missing something."

"What?" he asked already concerned what she was about to complain about.

"It's not actually like Christmas in here at all… no tree, no mistletoe…"

"You want mistletoe and a tree?" he asked in relief.

"Of course! A decorated tree… and candy. Lot's of candy!"

"Well, we have that at home. Jaclyn flooded the house with mistletoe since her new boy toy will arrive tomorrow afternoon."

"She has a new boyfriend?"

"Don't ask… I think he's an author… Fantasy literature for kids. Something weird!"

"Does that mean you intend to bring me home for Christmas?" she asked teasingly.

"Oh yes… you'll be home for Christmas."

"I have no presents for the kids."

"You're present enough… I can get some green bows we wrap around you. And for Michael and Mary we get a few candy canes." He kissed her forehead.

"You really thought of everything, did you?"

"I try to. The girls have missed you… Michael misses you. I missed you."

"And I'm sure Maeve missed me as well," she remarked dryly.

He sighed unhappily and shook his head. "I realized too late she was only trying to replace Mary-Beth. It took me some time to send her home, but I did."

"I'm sorry… maybe, I didn't fight enough for you… I shouldn't have accepted your decision so easily."

"Oh no… it wasn't your fault. I just had to find my inner peace. I just regret that you became the victim of my insecurity. I really never meant to hurt you on purpose… I just thought you would be better off without me."

"Well, you were wrong. Very wrong," she said teary eyed. "My life was so empty without you. I didn't have anyone to argue… I didn't have anyone to make up with. I didn't have anyone to love."

"You have me back, Honey, and since we've argued enough for today I would say we make peace until... at least tomorrow night!"

"Tomorrow… watch your time, man!" She took his wrist and pointed to the clock face. "It's after midnight!"

"Oh that means it's Christmas Day…" He smiled and kissed her. "Merry Christmas, Robin."

She closed her eyes and basked in the warmth of his presence she had missed for so long. But finally he was there. She returned the smile and the kiss.

"Merry Christmas, Howard."