Blood and War

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Chapter 5 - Servant

“Thomas, lend me your horse. It seems you get your wish after all. Go back to your wife,” Dillon’s voice betrayed no emotion that Catherine could read beyond a tight control and an understandable sense of caution.

She heard her father say more than once that “Dillon was no fool,” but now she understood the sentiment.

Thomas handed Dillon the reins with unsteady hands. Unlike his master, he was easy to read, and the musk of fear clung to him.

Thomas reacted to the situation like an animal unexpectedly caught in a trap, but his fear was not for himself. He worried about Dillon.

Dillon was sending Thomas home rather than risking both their lives. He did not trust her, Eduardo’s word, or that of Aldrich.

She could not blame him for his caution. Only a moron would trust this situation, and a palpable rise in tension permeated the air with unease.

Catherine didn’t look at either Lord Dillon or Thomas. Instead, she concentrated on keeping herself standing upright, tall, and proud.

It took an effort to ignore the enticing smell of warm, pulsing blood that emanated from the humans in waves, and her raging thirst almost overpowered the pain.

“This is not a road to travel alone, master...” Thomas whispered urgently.

He might just as well have shouted—since every ear heard.

Thomas wanted to say more, but a single glance from Dillon silenced him.

Catherine knew what he wanted to say as well as any other. This was no road to travel alone in the presence of an unknown vampire.

Especially not when the motives of the vampires in this castle remained unclear.

“Your master will be safe,” the Lord Chancellor coldly assured Thomas.

The comment may have been directed at the servant, but it was a warning to those who harbored ideas of vengeance or rescue... rather than an assurance.

It was a reminder that the council would not be crossed, and the consequences to any who disobeyed would be death, torture, or both.

“I will not be alone,” Dillon seemed to ignore the Lord Chancellor by answering Thomas, but he looked directly at Catherine.

She sensed his gaze on her and conceded, lifting her eyes to meet his glance.

The challenge in those gray depths was unmistakable.

Catherine nodded, letting go of the last shreds of her honor and dignity by aligning herself publically with the human, thus admitting defeat.

She took the reins that Lord Dillon offered, and her hands trembled with weakness.

Catherine carefully avoided touching him with her thirst raging on the very edge of her control.

It was to be expected, after everything she went through during this long, hellish week, and it became just one more torture to bear.

Catherine perceived their speculating eyes on her, but one pair burned into her back with more intensity than any other.

The gaze did not belong to her father, of that much, she was sure.

The menacing intent in that look made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end, and she did not have to turn around to know that it could only be Hellenic.

Catherine mounted the horse with less than her usual grace, almost not making it.

Pain lanced through her, robbing her of strength, but the power of will conquered her physical injuries.

To add insult to injury, the horse, unused to a vampire rider, shied.

Only years of riding experience and desperation allowed her to control it, while every muscle in her body felt as if it ripped apart with the effort.

She grit her teeth, fighting waves of dizziness and the threatening darkness.

Lord Dillon noted her distress, pain, and precarious grip on consciousness, but stopped himself from helping her.

His assistance would not be welcomed by Catherine or prudent while in full view of their audience.

Lord Dillon earned her respect for restraining his human urge to help a female in distress and thus sparing her the humiliation of highlighting her weakness.

He swung himself onto his saddle with such ease that it made her seem clumsy.

The memory of the screams, sharp sounds, and the pervasive tension made the horses skittish, but he kept his animal firmly under control.

Without saying another word, or even glancing at the gathered crowd, he made his way to the gate.

Catherine hesitated only briefly before following his lead.

Pain lanced through her at the slightest jolt, but she stoically bore the discomfort. It did not compare to the ache of riding from her home and knowing she would never see it again.

Catherine glanced back to find Hellenic staring right at her with a smirk and dark intent in his green eyes.

He winked at her, and a shudder of fear-filled revulsion skittered down her spine.

His gaze held a promise and a warning that this thing between them was far from over.

Catherine fought the urge to hasten her horse's pace.

Dillon did not glance back even once. Not at the castle or her, but she sensed his vigilance.

He was uncomfortable with her at his back, and in his place, she would probably have reacted the same way.

Catherine’s nakedness left her exposed and vulnerable. She needed distance from her tormentors and wanted desperately to hurry along, yet Dillon chose a slow and steady pace.

Deep down inside, she understood his decision.

He showed her mercy, although he would probably call it courtesy, and it was also the only way to demonstrate his defiance.

This sequence of events was as much against his will as it was against hers.

Catherine’s abused body appreciated the reprieve since her weakness made the wounds slow to heal and caused her terrible suffering.

Her tortured mind did not appreciate their pace.

One part of her wanted to ride back and beg her father for mercy, which would be useless. The other part of her could not get far enough away, fast enough.

For the first time in her life, Catherine felt uncomfortable under the familiar heat of the sun, and it would be a long time before her mind would accept the circumstances of this day.

The beautiful yellow rays of sunlight were almost the death of her, and her vampire feared it, despite the comforting presence of her disfigured ring.

Eduardo had scarred the once-proud gold Griffon, inlaid in the jade background, beyond recognition.

She still remembered vividly how honored she was the day her father replaced the plain gold band with this ring, which she earned with her prowess in battle and her conduct as his heir.

Her memories distracted her from her wounds.

She could not afford for this human to see how lost, ashamed, and hopeless this day left her.

Dillon stared straight ahead as the distance slowly stretched away from her birth home. The place where she met horror and fear at the hands of those she lovingly trusted with her life.

Humans never much concerned her before this morning, and she only dealt with them on the surface, something she suspected would change.

They reached a bend, and within ten paces of the side of the road, ran a small stream.

She knew every inch of this land intimately and wished for the gurgling stream with all of her heart.

Catherine wanted to wash this day from both body and mind. She was dirty, bloodied, and smelled nauseatingly of burnt flesh...

The stream would cool her burns and take the fever from her injuries—not that she expected the human to understand such things.

The workings of the vampire body were not common knowledge.

Humans thought that vampires healed almost magically and painlessly.

It didn’t exactly work that way. Not with damage this extensive.

Catherine’s concern with her discomfort almost caused her horse to bump into Dillon as he brought his animal to a standstill beside the stream.

His gaze restlessly took in their surroundings before he dismounted.

Catherine shared his unease. She didn’t trust Hellenic or his henchmen.

“Get off,” Dillon ordered quietly.

She missed the honor of, “your highness,” and the knowledge of her loss hurt, but her present concerns were more immediate.

Lord Dillon dismounted, and Catherine envied his ease of movement as he ignored her while rummaging through his saddlebags.

At least Lord Dillon could not kill her with any ease, not that he would.

Despite her previous lack of interest in his kind, Lord Dillon’s reputation preceded him as fair, but dangerous.

Catherine wondered what exactly that meant and how it would affect her.

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