Chapter 46 - Finesse
The deer was only half drained. Catherine felt sorry for it as she always felt for anything she had to kill. Her thirst bloomed to life at the smell of fresh blood. She hesitated only for an instant, and then she fed.
Emotions always had this effect on her of draining her more than mere physical exertion ever could. It also increased her hunger and her guilt.
Catherine gently snapped the neck and released the animal from its suffering. Not that it would have suffered pain. She was far too experienced for that.
Animals knew when they were going to die and they deserved the respect of a proper death. Catherine cut the throat because the humans were hungry too and she hated waste.
‘How do you do that?’ Priest asked curiously and yet with a certain reserve. She was aware of him watching her feed, and it was something she usually hated. Even so, she hadn’t felt uncomfortable with his eyes on her.
“Not hurt it?” Priest asked as she wiped her mouth with the small handkerchief in her pocket. It was tough to realize that he didn’t have someone to teach him to be gentle when he grew up. Most men did not teach that to their sons and Aldrich would not have seen the need.
“I can show you, but I can’t tell you and...” She started, and he sensed her discomfort. He might know her well enough, but even with the shared blood in their veins, he was still a stranger to her and feeding was an intensely personal thing.
“When we get to know each other better. No don’t feel guilty, there is no need,” Priest picked up the buck, and Catherine followed him back to camp.
There were so many thoughts in her head and so many questions, but there would be time enough to get to know him.
For now, she needed to work through it all in her head. It felt as if she lived a lifetime in two days. Her head still couldn’t accept it all as real and not some weird dream she would wake from.
Dillon only relaxed when Catherine returned. Their eyes met briefly, and she smiled at him to ease his worry, but Dillon’s eyes still followed her with concern.
He was also the one to skin the buck and without a word, Catherine cut it apart. Priest helped them, but it was Robert that cured the meat and cooked the stew.
“So Dillon, does your Princess know how to cook?′ Robert teased to lighten the slight tension in the air.
Dillon cocked his head to one side. He considered her with mock seriousness as she sat across from him on the other side of the fire.
“Surprisingly well,” Dillon acknowledged, and Catherine felt ridiculously pleased. She could feel the princess she once was, scoff with an arrogant sneer at the childishly human reaction.
“Helga is a great teacher,” Catherine answered to distract herself, and Robert laughed.
“Sounds like a woman after my own heart, if she can teach a vampire to cook. Priest can’t cook worth shit,” Robert teased.
Priest just shrugged, and a self-deprecating smile touched his lips. He’d not had the luxury of someone to teach him the finer points or even the basics. Why would he need to know such things?
“Sorry, Helga’s taken,” Dillon surprised Catherine by saying.
His fondness for his people perplexed her. Dillon knew them and knew their children, their little worries, and sorrows. He loved them, respected them, and they adored him.
Eduardo would think Dillon a fool if he ever knew. Eduardo thought slaves, servants, tradesmen and common folk were a faceless horde to be ignored.
“You can’t have them all,” Robert grouched, and Dillon smiled that devastatingly handsome smile of his. Sometimes she wondered if he knew what it did to people, especially women, no matter their age?
“I can’t have you breaking my Butler’s heart. Anyway, Helga is a lady, you need a more hearty woman,” Dillon ribbed, and that got everyone laughing. Even Priest smiled at that.
“Ladies like rough!” Robert mock complained, and Dillon shook his head. He liked these men, they felt familiar to him, like an old beloved shirt he hadn’t worn in years.
It saddened him though, this feeling of belonging and the knowledge that he shared a bond with them that was as strong as blood.
“Northern ladies might, but Southern dames tend to think that to go without their morning tea is rough, you would scare them shirtless,” Dillon teased, and Catherine found herself completely relaxed in their company.
Dillon belonged here she realized, and the thought made her frown. There were many things she didn’t know about this man she married. One thing she knew for certain was that he was different here with these men, more... Dillon.
“Well, our Princess hasn’t needed the smelling salts yet?” Robert felt the need to protest as the teasing increased, and he became comically flustered.
“Vampires come from the West. They are usually made of sterner stuff. Our Princess may be a warrior, but I think even she would run screaming if she ever had to see your hairy arse,” Priest teased, and this time Catherine could not entirely prevent herself from flushing.
It was odd that she too felt more like herself among these strange Northmen, perhaps because they accepted her for herself. Not for whom she was or out of duty, but out of respect and a kinship she never felt before.
Catherine fell asleep listening to their voices and woke being held tightly in Dillon’s arms. They slept under the stars, but they were well covered. The others moved off to give them some privacy, and it was still long before dawn, but she’d had her fill with sleep.
A sudden warmth enveloped her, and it was more than the heat of their bodies. She had never been held like this by a man. There was a chemistry between their bodies that could not be denied, and it scared her more than anything.
She belonged in his arms. This was the one man that could do what no other had managed before, and that was to touch her heart and break it too.
The knowledge drove the heat from her body and shook her to the core. Love was a dangerous emotion, and yet she would trade every moment at her father’s side, for this one moment in time.
“You like them, but do you trust them?” Dillon had perfected speaking just loud enough for her to hear, not that she had any idea of where Priest was. She preferred the distraction to the danger of her own thoughts.
“Yes,” Catherine could not say why she felt so certain of it, but she would trust her life and her future in the hands of these men. That said a lot, especially from someone that was taught little of trust in life and much of fear and pain.
“I have to leave you with them, and I would never be able to live with myself if you got hurt,” Dillon’s sentiment was sincere, and Catherine found it sweet.
She knew she was his responsibility and by now she knew just how serious he took his responsibilities. Her heart ached with the need for him to feel more than that, for him to love her even a little.
“I am safer with them than I am with your men,” it was the truth, and they both knew it. These men would never turn on Catherine, and she would stake her life on that.
“And you can be yourself,” he kissed her ear, and it made her shiver, but Catherine was too lazy to be aroused.
She wanted the moment to last forever, but she knew better. Fairy tales were for children. Reality meant living the moments and hoping against hope.
“I hate leaving you here,” Dillon admitted, and it shook her world, but she knew all the reasons he would feel like that.
Those reasons did not include love. He was a man of conscience, and she was his woman now. She knew how seriously he would take that responsibility.
“I’m not going to disappear,” Catherine assured him gently, and Dillon’s arms tightened around her. It was an odd gesture and yet soothing.
“You better not,” this time she could barely hear and her heart missed a beat, but already she sensed Dillon’s restlessness. He was concerned about his people, and she understood that. They had no idea of what was going on, and they needed him.
Dillon left at first light. When he looked back at Catherine, their eyes met and held. It was as if he wanted to say something and didn’t know how.
She found no words either, just a searing pain that made her frown. She had no idea of the love she could not hide and which shone in her eyes.
Priest watched them. He watched the fleeting pain in his sister’s eyes and the deep shadows that formed like thunder clouds in those of Dillon.
He finally didn’t feel uneasy about this union anymore. Some vampires could care, and not all humans were simply there to be used. These two, they would be fine. For a while...