Chapter 6 - Dignity
Catherine dismounted, carefully lowering herself down, rather than jumping down.
Both would be painful, but at least, this way, she was less likely to fall on her face.
She was acutely aware that Dillon was not staring directly at her, and yet he picked up on every move she made, almost as if he had some sixth sense—a weird instinct for danger.
He was not foolish enough to trust Catherine, and she respected him for that.
It was the underlying concern she picked up on that baffled her.
Why would Dillon care for her? She was a stranger, a vampire, and a potential threat. Even his concern did not ease his wariness.
There was a coiled tension in his manner which would have warned her that he was a warrior and a good one, even if they never met before.
Catherine had an eye for such things, a tool her father had found useful in his choice of soldiers and allies.
Catherine made her way slowly and painfully to his side, careful to avoid any small, sharp objects that would pierce the sensitive new skin of her right foot.
She waited to hear his orders, something she only ever did with her father, and it felt strange, wrong.
Until today, she owed her allegiance only to her Sire, but she fought her unease.
Catherine already recognized the familiar scent of what he held in his hand.
It was such a small thing, and yet it meant so much to her that Dillon would even think of it.
Soap. Not the fine soaps she was used to, but better than any a mere slave could ever expect.
Catherine lived rough before, and she was not unfamiliar with the stingy homemade soap soldiers used on the road. Even this sparked an ache of longing and loss in her chest.
Lord Dillon held out the bar of soap to her, along with a washcloth and a small towel.
He kept his expression carefully neutral, but she could tell from the way he held his breath that even he found the smell of burnt flesh, overpowering.
His eyes skimmed briefly over her healing burns, and the empathy in his eyes surprised her as much as his instant anger.
Lord Dillon did not like to see her hurt, and she frowned.
He took several long strides away from her, before sucking in a deep cleansing breath, and Catherine almost grinned.
The smell had to be bad to irritate his frail human senses to such an extent.
With any other man, she would have thought his primary reason for kindness would be his own comfort.
What hid in the shadow of his eyes was too close to compassion and understanding for her to credit him with such shallow motives.
It was difficult not to feel grateful and harder not to resent the situation.
Lord Dillon was a human and owed her nothing, not even soap or a towel, least of all pity or kindness.
He was not even family, yet he was the only person in the whole wide world to extend his mercy.
Lord Dillon saved her life, and now, with one insignificant gesture, he gave her back something of herself.
It made the hurt a thousand times worse, and the hatred of her people infinitely deeper.
Lord Dillon did not watch Catherine walk past him to the stream, offering her privacy and a measure of trust as he turned his back on her to fiddle with his nails.
He even waited patiently as she scrubbed herself.
She found it hard to hate someone that offered only courtesy, especially when one of her own people would not have bothered.
Catherine would have been a trophy to them. She saw it often enough and did nothing about it.
Her mouth set in a grim line.
It was tougher to accept his trust. Another might have tried to kill him and moved on, taking their chances.
She would have, too, had she not understood exactly what her father did to those he hated.
Her world had shifted off its axis, and it forced her to change with it or break.
If Catherine thought she could have escaped, she would not have killed him, though. She could not repay his generosity that way.
It took a while to get the smell off, and the blood was even worse.
The stream carried the swirls of red-brown muck downstream, and when her dark hair finally untangled, Catherine had glanced at Dillon about a hundred times.
The man perplexed her.
She kept expecting him to get impatient, at least peek, or hurry her along, but he seemed lost in thought.
Dillon was distant, and she found him impossible to read at that moment.
It made her uneasy.
Catherine disliked that she could not divine his thinking or predict his actions as she could with those familiar to her.
The wounds were healing but pink and still tender, and much scarring remained.
Catherine's weakness would remain until she could feed. Then the scars would disappear, along with the pain.
She knew their priority was distance, not her comfort. She suspected that Dillon understood that Aldrich and Eduardo’s promises might not keep others from acting.
Catherine walked up behind him and thought how easy it would be to snap his neck, then disappear.
It was a possibility that would have been feasible if her father was any other vampire or if Catherine was more honest... if she was...
She believed in honoring her debts, and she owed this man her life.
“Decided yet?” It startled her that she hadn’t noticed him turning.
Dillon’s eyes were so direct and almost inhumanly blue. A different blue from her own almost iridescent gaze, but nearly as unsettling.
One could think such eyes saw right past these fleshy barriers and into the soul.
“Decided what, my Lord?” Catherine played at innocence.
Humble did not feel very good or having to justify herself to a mere human.
Dillon seemed so tuned in to her every mood and thought. She found it disconcerting.
She spent an entire lifetime hiding her feelings, and yet she did not fool him for a second.
“Whether you’re going to kill me and how far you would get before your hounds found you?” Dillon clarified and rose to his feet with the grace of a tiger.
What he did next startled her.
In an instant, his indolence vanished, and the small dagger pressed hard against her flesh, just below her heart.
Only then did she notice how much of the weapon was wood and silver.
She had underestimated him.
Their eyes measured each other, and it was her place to lower her gaze first.
Catherine sank to her knees and bowed her head.
Her wet streaming hair almost covered her breasts, and most of her scarred back as she waited for the punishment for her insolence.
She could not help but admire the strength of Dillon’s personality—a value she honored.
“I can’t go riding along the countryside with a naked woman,” he murmured, striding back to his horse, and not meeting the punishment any vampire would have dealt without thought.
He didn’t give her permission to rise to her feet either, so Catherine stayed.
She expected him to return and deal her punishment with some tool, a whip, rod, or staff.
Her humiliation angered her.
Dillon’s power over her was complete, absolute, and she smarted with the understanding that she deserved whatever he did.
She had momentarily forgotten her new station.
Cathrine was no longer the princess entitled to her thoughts and opinions.
She needed to control herself even more firmly now, or punishment would become a constant companion.
Dillon took longer to return than she expected, and she wondered if she had overestimated him.
If perhaps he was into punishment. Some were, but instead, something hit her in the chest with a soft, familiar weight.
She caught the bundle to her, out of reflex and instinct.