A wave of sadness washed over Katherine. So he was here to visit a grave. He should have told me, she thought. I wouldn't have bothered him then. After all, she knew what it felt like to loose people dear to her. And it was obvious the earl liked the person very much, otherwise he wouldn't visit the grave even after twenty-one years had passed.
She deliberated if she should go back. She didn't want to interrupt his mourning. However, going back meant to go through the darkness alone when she knew there had been a murder case in here.
Suddenly, his voice sounded out again, and she stilled. Right, it might be shameless, but she was too curious what happened here. Who was this person to the earl? A friend? Family? A beloved?
"You have always been a kind, forgiving person. I... can't picture you angry. But can you really forgive your murderer? And even if you can, I can't! I can't forgive... " He sounded so lost and lonely that Katherine felt the wish to go over and comfort him. She wanted to stroke his white, fluffy hair and pull him in her embrace. Was this desolate puppy kneeling on the ground really the strong, decisive earl she knew? She couldn't believe it. Her heart was aching for him. Who was it that he lost? And why should the victim forgive the killer? Wasn't that too lighthearted?
In the light of the candle, she saw him reaching out with his hand, stroking the tombstone gently. "I'm sorry, aunt, I am sorry, I ... "
But Katherine couldn't hear the last few words. His voice was too low. Was he sorry that he didn't save her? Sorry to not have found her killer? At least she knew now who it was. His aunt. Somehow she would have expected that it was someone even closer to him. His father or his mother, a sister... but what did she knew about his family-constellation? Maybe his aunt was the one to raise him and his parents were dead. Who knows? Maybe she would find out if she stayed longer.
Although she felt guilty to listen in to his talk with the dead, it was one of the few chances to get to know more about him. Besides, she didn't want to go back alone.
Now that she thought about it, why did he ask her to come with him anyways? It was kind of strange, wasn't it? It was not like she had any use here. And if he wanted to show her the tomb, he wouldn't have told her to wait. Did he maybe just... not want to go alone? What was that? Why was her sight getting blurry? She wouldn't cry for the man who threatened to kill her, would she?
With gritted teeth, she rubbed her face. No, she wouldn't cry for him. He had worked together with her cousin. Most likely, he had killed a whole bunch of innocents already, like the woman in the snowstorm. Feeling pity for him was wasted afford. But still... he looked so lonely.
The hand on the tombstone ceased it's movement and the white head dropped even lower. Was he perhaps... crying? But no, he didn't sound like it when he spoke again. "Sam is still with me, you know. He's too old to climb this mountain, but he's sending his regards. Although he keeps telling me to select a day later in the year to visit. He said it's because of the weather, but we both know it's not."
A deep sigh followed. After a while, he stood up. Katherine tensed. Would he go back now and see her? He wouldn't be happy if he knew she watched him like this. Why hadn't she thought about that when she stayed? The fury of the earl or the darkness, which was worse? Her reaction was instinctive, taking a few steps backwards. Just when she wanted to turn and run, the earl swirled around, his terrifying red eyes searching the cave. Katherine didn't dare move. Did she make a sound?
Like a tiger who could see in the deepest night his eyes locked onto her. Her stomach felt like falling. Oh no! That's bad, really, really bad! She stumbled further backwards.
His lips curved up into a terrifying cold grin, then his silky voice whispered: "I thought a curious cat sneaked in here, but it looks like it was just a mouse this time. Come here, little mouse. Let me ... eat you alive!"
Suddenly he dashed forward like a bolt of lightning. Katherine could only shriek before her throat was grabbed and she was pushed against the rough wall of the cave.
Red eyes filled with murderous intent stared down at her and though she could feel his heart beat against her chest, he looked nothing like a human being anymore. His beautiful features were twisted into a grimace that was made out of pure rage, pain, and a bit insanity. The coldness was all gone, but Katherine feared even more what had hid beneath it. He looked like an evil god, prepared to do anything.
The grip tightened. "You... why didn't you do what I said?! You should have stayed outside!"
Struggling for air, Katherine's eyes started tearing up. She tried to pull his hand away, dug her nails into the leather, but he wouldn't bulge.
"Na... Nathan..." Filled with pain, her eyes pleaded for mercy. She knew she shouldn't have followed him! It was a big mistake! But did she deserve dying for it? Her legs wobbled.
Just when her sight started to blur, his hand loosened and he wrapped his other arm around her waist, steadying her. She panted heavily and leaned against him to prevent herself from falling. His hard chest moved up and down rapidly.
Just when she thought it was over, he again gripped her chin, forcing her to look into his eyes. They were burning red. The fire hadn't calmed down at all. "Tell me... what did I say? What did you hear?!"
"I... " It was hard to think. Her head was still buzzing with dizziness. Slowly, she moved her lips, but her throat hurt, making it hard to speak. "You... you said your aunt... was murdered. That you... couldn't avenge her."
She gulped and the pain sent tears to her eyes. Blinking them away, she dared to ask what was on her mind the whole time. "But why after that time... is her murderer still... not found?"
The tenseness in him lessened. His eyes were searching hers. "Is that really all you've heard?"
Tired, she closed her lids and nodded. She didn't know what he was afraid of. Being treated like this by him - as if she was an enemy, not worth any trust - didn't feel good. Though she know it was her own fault. She should have waited outside the cave.
What would he do now with her?, she wondered. What was it he didn't want her to hear? She couldn't think of anything important enough. Whatever. She felt so tired. Her throat hurt so much from his grip.
Forcing herself to endure the pain, she asked: "Can I go back now? I want to rest for a bit."
The fingers on her chin let go, and unexpectedly the grip on her waist turned into a warm embrace with one hand pulling her head down to his chest. To the fast beating of his heart, she heard him murmur words she never expected. "I'm sorry."
Her eyes shot open, but all she could see was the animal fur of his coat and the darkness beyond. His hand prevented her from raising her head. What did he say? Was it really what I thought? She wouldn't believe it until she could look at him and see him utter the words herself. Naturally, he wouldn't let her.
His fingers were woven into her hair, destroying her hair stile relentlessly. She couldn't care less. She really wanted to get a glance at his face, but as he didn't want her to, well... she still felt strangely contented to lean against his chest and listen to his heartbeat.
She bit her lower lip when thinking about his attack earlier. Why did she still not feel angry? She knew herself: she was the kind to get furious when cornered and normally wouldn't give in this easily after getting nearly strangled. She was reacting strangely today. Was something wrong with her because she didn't feel the urge to hit him?
Maybe it is because I feel guilty, she reasoned herself out. If it was me getting overheard while talking to my parents... I would get furious, too. The tears that didn't fall when she was choked tickled down her cheek now. Mom... Dad... are you good up there?