Chapter 34 - Moving On
“I am sorry Catherine,” Derrick kept their gazes locked, only long enough for her to see he was sincere in offering his apology. He could not stand to see the distance Catherine placed between them, in her eyes.
Her gaze softened a little, but she did not relent. It was the one thing about her that sometimes annoyed Dillon. Once Catherine made a decision, it was final.
She did not hesitate or waver on the point of indecision. She chose, and in deciding, Catherine accepted her choice to live with the consequences.
By attacking her openly with his accusations, Derrick made a choice, and this was the result of his actions. He could have calmed his men, used the impartial observers to construct a barrier between the tent and the angry mob.
Derrick could discreetly have questioned Althea instead of assaulting her. He could have waited for Catherine, and spoken to her. It was Derrick’s job to quietly and firmly sort this out, and he elected to do none of those things, Dillon reasoned.
If he was uncertain of it before, Dillon knew now that Derrick was not ready to be a leader or to take Dillon’s place. If it were possible, Catherine would undoubtedly be the better choice.
Catherine was raised to lead, and she was both ready for it and good at it. Dillon saw the way she handled the men he placed under her command when they raided.
Dillon knew Catherine was not unforgiving, but by his actions, Derrick brought to light the things that separated him from Catherine.
The reasons why their relationship could not last. They were fooling themselves, hoping for the best and Dillon knew Catherine could no longer do that.
“Goodnight,” it was not a greeting from her, it was a dismissal. Even as Derrick resented the smirk he knew would grace Dillon’s face, he also knew he deserved it.
He had acted like a moron, and for the first time in Derrick’s life, he was the one being dumped. It hurt more than he could have imagined.
Derrick was not fool enough to think all of this was caused by his actions of this one day. He became less secure in his position with Catherine these last few weeks, although she did nothing to cause this feeling in him.
The more Catherine allowed him to see the real her, the more inferior Derrick felt. He became aware of how he was not in her league or even Dillon’s league. Just because Catherine was a slave in name, did not make her a slave.
Derrick could not touch her, not without arousing the suspicion of the men, after all, she was supposed to be Dillon’s woman, not his. He ended up feeling rejected, thwarted and discarded, childish as that was.
The tent offered them no privacy, not with Dillon constantly there, even when none of the men would dare enter without an invitation.
Dillon’s presence and Derrick’s knowledge of her hidden feelings for Dillon turned Derrick’s mood sour. It made him paranoid and prickly.
Derrick started to convince himself that Catherine regretted her decision and the only thing that stopped her from dumping him her odd moral code.
He turned the tide against himself. He could only acknowledge what he knew from the start after he managed to get his pointless jealousy in check. It was all in his head.
Catherine fought her feelings for Dillon because she felt she owed it to Derrick. Thankless and selfish, Derrick.
His brain kept asking... Why? Why did she have to fight her feelings and settle for second best? It was such a great idea at first, the two of them taking the only road open to them. It was so damn noble and stupid.
Derrick saw the real her. The warrior who fought alongside their men. The vampire she became in the moments when her nature ruled her. The lady that was present even when she didn’t know it.
In mock battle, Catherine held back and remained in control of any situation. At camp, she was more at ease with those around her, than they were with her. Alone with the two of them, she was finally just herself.
It was there for all to see, whether at her ease or in the company of others. It was in the way she walked, in her manner and her carriage. It screamed of breeding, class, and power. Part and parcel of her in a way Derrick never encountered in another female of rank.
Despite what Derrick knew, how far he came in life and her current station, the differences between them were glaringly apparent. Without even having to take her being a vampire into account... He wasn’t in her league, and he never would be.
Catherine was magnificent, a jewel meant for the crown of a king. She was singular, flawless, too human for her own good, but not meant for the likes of Derrick.
He could be her friend, and he could be her lover, but she would never be his. She was born for a man like Dillon. Someone strong and male enough not to be intimidated by her.
More than that, a man who would not be dominated by her and despite Derrick’s own strength of character, he was not as indomitable as Dillon.
Catherine needed a man she could respect on all levels. Whether she acknowledged it or not, she respected Derrick as a man, but a human man.
Somehow, in ways, Derrick could understand and respect, she saw Dillon as her equal. A man worthy of being her mate even though she would never admit to it, not even to herself.
Derrick reached out and touched her face briefly. She saw the struggle in his gaze and then the inevitable acceptance of her right to choose. The struggle in him was at more than one level.
Catherine understood the loss in his eyes, and despite herself, she could not comfort him. She dared not, but she felt the loss too. Not as keenly as him, she understood his loss was far deeper than hers...
The realist in her knew it could never last. It could only ever be an interlude which ended up hurting them both, him more than her.
Derrick was an anchor to her, one she desperately needed at the time. He embodied safe ground to her. Derrick made his choice to be with her, knowing she could never love him in the way he deserved.
The knowledge did not prevent him from hoping her feelings would change and perhaps Catherine was guilty of the same thing.
“Go to sleep, both of you,” Dillon’s voice held an air of command, neither of them dared challenge or wanted to.
There was nothing more to be said, and despite herself, Catherine felt guilty. She should have been stronger and not allowed this situation to develop, even though she was so desperately lonely and confused.
Catherine obeyed, and despite being immensely tired, she knew she would never sleep. Not after the events of the last few days and especially not with Dillon’s taste in her mouth and his presence in the room.
Catherine was foolish to think she could deny her feelings forever, but she would have tried for Derrick.
She felt guilty for writing him off so quickly. After all, she knew how deeply he felt for her, but he betrayed himself.
At the core of him was a deep distrust of her kind and it had to have an origin. It wasn’t something he could master, and his love was not deep enough to obliterate it.
Catherine must have sensed it on some level. She always held back, allowed only so much of herself to show, even in bed.
It was more involved than keeping the vampire in check, she concealed herself from Derrick and allowed him to see only what he wanted. She wasn’t prepared to do so again, not anymore.