Chapter 25 - Decisions
Catherine kissed Derrick briefly. He hesitated as their eyes met and held, his as frank as hers. He kissed her back.
When she finally paused, he gave her the space to decide for herself, and when she did, he knew she just settled for second best. The ache of such knowledge was a physical pain in his heart.
Derrick did not like the feeling, but then again, neither of them could have what they wanted in the way they wanted. Half an egg was better than an empty shell? Wasn’t it?
He chose to lose his fears along with his doubts in the wonder of her body and the shocking discovery of not being completely in control of the situation.
In the past, Derrick was the one in control. He played women like a violin, bent them to his will and his every whim. He charmed them into submission, disarmed them with his smile and Catherine did not comply.
She patiently waited for him to understand that he won’t get anywhere with her unless he stopped playing the game. It was the same tactic she employed when he tried to court her.
It took a while to sink in. It took a while longer before Derrick could make himself drop his defenses and just be Derrick the man, not Derrick the Casanova.
He was afraid of disappointing her and of being too human. He was afraid of not being man enough for her. When she shuddered in his arms, Derrick was so lost in his own release and his own sense of relief. He never even realized how he hadn’t stepped up to the plate.
Derrick was still a boy in many respects. He was still trying to find himself, still growing into the man he would become and Catherine could not fool herself, he would never be Dillon.
Even at this age, Dillon would not have allowed her to manage him, even as subtly as she just did with Derrick. His manly pride would not have allowed it. It would have been a delightful tug of war...
Catherine stared up into the darkness which was no darkness to her. She firmly buried the little voice in her mind that insidiously whispered painful little truths.
* * *
Dillon sensed it the minute he returned. Although it was in nothing either said or did. There was no telling glance or guilty stare, but he knew they were sleeping together.
The feeling of loss inside of him was shocking. It wasn’t until Derrick asked to speak to him that the anger came.
Dillon held himself tightly in check. He knew full well that he had no right to be angry. He wanted to give Derrick a fair chance, even as his blood boiled and betrayal burnt through his veins.
Seconds later his blood was cold as ice as Derrick informed him of their trespassers. He spared neither himself nor Catherine in detailing their actions.
It was a hard pill to swallow. The enemy had invaded silently, without their knowledge. Even as the master strategist worked on this idea in his brain, the man in Dillon conceded that he would rather see Catherine with Derrick, safe and sound, than within the grasp of Hellenic.
It didn’t hurt any less. The very fact that it hurt made Dillon see the truth. He wanted her, but by refusing to admit it because of whom he was and what she was, he lost her. This was better for them both. The words sounded hollow even as he thought them.
“Catherine,” he did not bother to raise his voice. He knew her well enough to understand how a whisper was just as good as a shout.
She heard the formal tone and knew he guessed at her relationship with Derrick. She felt as if she had betrayed him and disillusioned him.
Catherine could not read his expression, and she put the recriminations aside for when she would be alone with her thoughts.
“Your trappers have given us an advantage, something that might just save us. We will abandon this castle. We will hide our stores in the secret tunnels and allow our villagers to move deeper into the mountains where they will be safer. It would worry Hellenic a little.
You and Derrick will come with me. We’re going to form hunting parties. We’re going to find each and every Easterner we can, and kill them all.
We will warn the lords and their armies, quietly, one at a time. We’re going to rob the east of as many of its men as possible and try evening out the odds a little,” Dillon’s eyes held a light that was impressive in its intensity.
As Catherine admired Dillon, she felt a chill settle in her soul. It would take a lot to impede the Eastern army. She was afraid they would not have time enough to make a dent in their forces, even if it was half as big as they suspected.
* * *
They mounted in the pre-dawn dark, and they were almost down the mountain before the first rays of the sun touched the darkness under the trees.
The men were uneasy with the vampire in their presence, even as she rode between Dillon and Derrick, unarmed and without armor.
They rode almost relentlessly for four whole days before they camped. There were only forty men left. All the others were ordered to go fortify nearby Calibre castle.
It was a distraction. The rest sneaked off in the night to regroup again and ride on. The men pitched tents and all but the guards were asleep in minutes.
Dillon and Derrick revised their strategy and refined their plans till first light. Derrick shook his head, he was unable to focus any longer.
Catherine sat on a nearby bench. She didn’t look tired, just bored. Her insights were the main reason their plans were so radically altered. Her guidance and unique perspective helped them forge a plan of action, out of nothing.
“We need sleep,” Derrick reminded Dillon.
Dillon noted how tired his friend looked and how tired he must look. He could feel Catherine watching them, and he often wondered what she thought of them. How she actually saw them.
“The men are uneasy around Catherine,” Derrick said as he started to rise from the table, but his eyes never left Dillon’s face.
Dillon blinked and glanced at her. It was almost as if he forgot her presence and that stung. She could not know that he was all but unaware of her.
“There is only one way to end their discomfort, and neither of you will like it,” Catherine didn’t sound tired either, just edgy. Her inhumanity annoyed both men just a little. She was still as focused and concerned as when they started out.
“They will only accept me if they think I am your pet, your... toy. If they see me as harmless to them and completely submissive to you,” the word submissive did not sit right on Catherine’s tongue.
It took both men a little longer than it normally would have, to understand what she said and to accept it as true. They both felt reluctant to agree with her, but for very different reasons.
Derrick felt a flare of possessive jealousy rip through him. Dillon, who knew her past and her pride, didn’t want to humiliate her. He also didn’t want to entertain the idea of her physically belonging to him, not even as a ruse.
He dared not allow himself to think of her like that. It was too easy to picture her in his arms, naked. Her eyes would be half aroused and blazing blue.
Catherine’s teeth would show just a little. Her face would look just like the day she tasted his blood, sans the predator, just more intense.
Dillon stood abruptly and made himself march outside. He pictured her saying his name with a touch of need, added to the just fed whiskey tone of her voice as he teased her throat with his teeth... He obliterated the thought.
His abrupt exit had them scurrying in his wake. He was aware of Catherine as if a string attached his soul to hers. He could only hope she hadn’t caught on to the change in his scent.
“Call the men,” Dillon barked at a random man. Before he reached the main camp his men were there. They were uncomfortable under his hard glare.