Chapter 4 - Fall
Catherine’s senses were both sharp and dull, all at once. Her muscles burned with hurt and fatigue, as if she ran a hundred miles, maybe more.
With her heart hammering, fit to burst from her chest, and her headache growing into a thudding, thundering pain, she dared not allow her body to distract her. She had to concentrate on the words dictating the rules of her exile.
“Catherine, you will obey this human, and do everything he expects, even what he does not ask. You will not harm him or his people in the slightest,” Eduardo’s voice seemed to come from a long way off.
The loud, painful buzzing in her head made matters worse, making it almost impossible to concentrate on his words.
“You may never touch another weapon in your life. No sword, rapier, spear, or object designed to harm another, unless you peel a potato with it.” A snicker of mirth rippled through the vampire crowd.
Eduardo slowly, methodically stripped away the layers of her life and identity until nothing remained of the woman she was. The loss echoed through the empty chamber of her future.
“Your life of privilege is over. Defy me in this, and there will be no hole deep enough for you to crawl into and hide. You will pray for death, seek it, and never find it.” The intensity of his vow chilled her soul.
“You know what I can do to a man, and I will have no more pity for you,” it was her father’s voice, but this was the man their enemies feared.
Even the Lord Chancellor and his cohorts paid their respects to Eduardo. This side of him was not the man who taught her to ride a horse and catch a deer.
The vampire who was her father, mentor, and idol, no longer existed.
Hellenic and Regina killed him as surely as Eduardo just slew her spirit and left her alive to suffer its absence.
Eduardo would never accept or believe the truth about Hellenic and Regina. Not without evidence... and none existed. Regina saw to that.
Catherine understood more of his reasoning than Eduardo acknowledged.
He decided her fate not to lose face with the council of elders and because Dillon lived far enough away for him never see her again.
“Unbind her,” Eduardo ordered.
Hellenic responded before any other, and it took only a moment to understand the reason for his sudden over-eagerness.
Hellenic handled her more roughly than he should and fondled her breast on the sly, probably hoping she would explode into her usual, quickly roused temper.
He assumed she was near enough to the edge for him to goad her into losing her temper, and it took everything she had left not to oblige him.
Hellenic assumed that if she lost control, her father would go forward with the execution but since he already set the terms for her new life, she knew better. Eduardo would torture her in the way he promised and the idea terrified her more than death.
It stopped her from giving in to the maddening pain prodding her to rip at him with her teeth and her nails.
She hated Hellenic with all that she was, but he had manipulated her enough, and her former trust of him had cost her dearly...
Catherine silently vowed to herself, the universe, and fate itself that no man would again have the power to hurt, disillusion, or destroy her.
She refused to cower before them and straightened up. Slowly. Painfully. Some of the burnt flesh hadn’t recovered its flexibility and tore.
Catherine bit down on her teeth and bore the aching discomfort of her wounds. Tremors shook her body like a fever as reaction set in along with shock, and she tried to ignore it.
They saw her tremble with the effort of standing and snickered at her weakness.
She bravely ignored their disdain. Her hatred had long since spanned to include them all, the fathers that sired them and the mothers who spawned them.
Catherine should not be able to stand up straight, let alone walk on her own, and she saw it in their eyes.
The public face of their scorn hid their unease from the world and each other. Her strength surprised and concerned them.
After all these years, they still did not grasp the power of her father’s blood—the one thing not even Eduardo could take away from her.
They were fools, all of them.
Catherine’s soul-deep contempt for them gave birth to a promise that someday, somehow, she would show them the true mettle of her being.
There was no price she would not pay to see these arrogant men cower before her in fear.
Catherine refrained from looking at any of them in the eye. Life with servants taught her that her fate could be sealed by an inadvertent glance at one of these cowards.
They anxiously waited for her to make one false move to give them an excuse to end this, once and for all, but like Hellenic, didn’t grasp the king’s intent.
Eduardo decided her path, and she would swallow her pride to avoid that outcome.
If not for the threat from Eduardo, she might have unleashed her vampire upon them, but her father prevented that with his words.
Catherine would have attacked the nearest one of them and ended this on her own terms, taking out a few of them before the guards or Eduardo subdued her.
She knew all their flaws, weaknesses, and strengths from years of sparring with or fighting beside them.
Most of them were not half the warrior she was and would never measure up to her. It was the main reason most of them chose not to stand by her.
What man would admit, even to himself, that a woman was capable of equaling or besting him?
“Remove her from my presence and never bring her back,” Eduardo ordered Dillon as if the human was his to command.
Catherine held her head high, barely keeping the urge to cover her nudity in check, as she slowly walked over to Dillon.
It took all of her concentration to keep moving, and everything remaining inside her to stay upright without giving in to the weakness of her body.
Fortitude kept her from glancing back at the crowd and allowing them to see the venomous hatred in her eyes.
Catherine didn’t think Lord Dillon would have spoken up if he realized that he would be the first human in history to gain a pet vampire. Especially a purebred princess like herself.
If he could predict the outcome of this, he would definitely have kept his mouth firmly shut. Even as the thought crossed Catherine’s mind, she admitted that it was incorrect. Dillon was not that kind of man.
She avoided glancing at his eyes and face; humans were not as adept at hiding their feelings as vampires.
Catherine had no strength left for pity, disgust, arrogance, or even fear. Her mind rectified that last thought almost instantly.
Dillon was not a man who feared the enemy or even death itself.