Terrible noises were coming down the stairs... savage snarls mixed with children's shrill screams. Catherine dropped her purse on the hall table and climbed the stairs warily. As the sounds grew louder, they were punctuated by various thumps, bumps, and the scurry of small feet. The door to the study was open and she peered in cautiously.

Vincent was on all fours in the center of the room, teeth bared as he growled ferociously. His hair was wild, as if he'd run his fingers through it, standing it on end. He presented a savage picture as he stalked his delighted prey.

Scattered, hiding behind chairs and tables, the children took turns darting out to challenge Vincent, fleeing when he came too near. Their breathless squeals of pleasure were ear-shattering.

"The dragon! The dragon! Watch out!" Evan was slow to move and Charles dragged him out of the way.

Catherine leaned comfortably in the doorway, watching with enjoyment as the older boys grew braver, dancing just out of reach as the "dragon" made carefully judged lunges toward their legs.

Suddenly, Vincent's gaze fell on Vicky, crouched behind a chair, and he advanced on her slowly. Her eyes grew bigger and bigger and finally she bolted, squealing with laughter as she darted to the safety of Catherine's desk. From her new position inside the kneehole, she peered cautiously around the corner and Catherine laughed out loud.

The "dragon" had shifted his attention to the boys, who were trying to creep up behind him. As he made a quick feint toward them, they scattered. Evan sought refuge behind Catherine, peeking out from behind her legs.

"Save me, Mommy," he gasped, as Vincent started toward them. "The dragon will get me!"

"Oh, no," she laughed, pushing him back into the room. "I'm not saving anyone."

Evan didn't stop to argue, fleeing instead to a safe spot behind a table. The "dragon" changed course, bearing down on Charles, who stood his ground as long as he dared. At the last possible moment, he darted away, but he was a shade too slow. Vincent caught him around the waist, wrestling him to the carpet.As if at a signal, the other children launched an assault. Vincent went down in a flurry of small arms and legs and when the dust settled, the little ones had succeeded in pinning him to the floor. Although captured, the "dragon's" growls did not abate as he struggled to free himself.

Jacob was spread-eagled across Vincent's right arm, while Charles used all his weight to hold down the left. Looking at each other, they fought to maintain their positions.

"What do we do now?" shouted Jacob.

"Gotta break the spell," Charles yelled back.

"Yeah! We need a princess to kiss him and break the spell!"

The "dragon's" struggle grew more furious.

"Quick! Where's Vicky?" Charles shouted.

Jacob risked a quick look. Vicky had thrown herself across Vincent's legs and had both arms wrapped firmly around his knees as she gamely hung on. It was clear she couldn't be spared.

Jacob spied his mother, still observing from the doorway. "Kiss him, Mom!" he called. "Kiss him, quick!"

"Yeah! Kiss him, Mother!" Charles added his encouragement.

"Kiss, kiss!" yelled Evan, who was straddling Vincent's chest, bouncing enthusiastically with each shout.

Catherine came slowly, considering. "I don't know," she mused. "I've never kissed a dragon before." She came closer.The "dragon" in question snarled more loudly and nearly succeeded in escaping his determined captors.

"Quick, Mother!" Charles urged, renewing his hold. "He's getting away!"

Catherine couldn't be hurried. "What happens if I kiss him?" she inquired, bending over for a closer look. "What will he turn into?"

Amazed at her ignorance, Evan shouted, "Turn into Daddy!"

"Oh," said Catherine in mock relief. "Into Daddy! That's good. I don't need a prince or a frog."

The children shrieked as their captive nearly got away again. "Hurry, Mom!"

Catherine went to her knees, and bent slowly over the "dragon", smiling at the amused impatience in the upside-down blue eyes looking back at her. Vincent's teeth were still bared ferociously, but a hint of laughter had crept into his snarls.

Ever so slowly she brought her face closer to his, refusing to rush, even with the children's frantic shouts. Finally, though, her lips brushed the corner of his mouth and immediately the growls and struggles ceased.

As Charles released his hold, Vincent's arm swept up quickly, catching Catherine before she could straighten, pulling her down and across him. The children cheered.


* * * * *


"There's something I've been meaning to tell you, Vincent," Catherine said much later as she prepared for bed.

"What's that?" he inquired, propped up on pillows, watching her.

She came to slide in beside him, snuggling against his shoulder. "Dragons don't growl."

"How do you know?" he asked in amusement. "Have you ever seen one?"

She laughed. "No, I guess not. I've kissed one, though."

"Have you?" Turning on his side to face her, he growled softly. "Kiss one again."

She did.