Chapter 16: Fear the Future

The shower wasn't worth it.

What Keel had neglected to mention when he'd granted me my wish was what I'd have to do later: take a humiliating underwear-clad roll in the kitchen's reeking stainless-steel garbage cart, complete with a dash of oil and grease for my hair.

I made him turn away while I did this, but I still caught his shoulders shaking from a poorly suppressed snicker. I tossed a wilty, cantaloupe-sized rotting head of lettuce at him, but missed - it bounced off the white cupboard behind him and fell to the floor with a dull, squelching thud. I regretted it almost immediately, when Keel looked over his shoulder and I had to dive back into the trash to avoid giving him a peepshow. This time when he averted his gaze, I knew he was laughing - he wasn't even trying to hide it anymore.

I jumped out of the mini-dumpster and yanked on my scuzzy clothes - if I didn't do this fast I was going to lose my nerve - then I marched over to where he was waiting and smooshed a squishy, browning tomato into the back of his head, twisting my hand so it soaked into his hair real good. Keel whirled around in a fury, and I jumped out of arm's reach, afraid he was about to slap me. I'd expected him to be stormy, but he was a hurricane.

"How dare y-" he roared, then he blanched. For a moment, he looked as if he was going to be sick, but he swallowed hard, turned away and began searching through the drawers and cupboards that lined three of the room's walls. The fourth was reserved for the ovens and oversized refrigerators, and the entrance to the walk-in freezer. While it resembled a standard restaurant kitchen, it would have never passed a health inspection. Chunks of old, dry, unidentifiable food clung to the edges of the countertops, which were still gleaming with the fresh grease and juices from the preparation of today's meal. Maybe the baby vamps had punched up immune systems, but didn't they worry the humans would get sick? Or were they that disposable? And what about me? Maybe my sorcerer's blood protected me from that too.

It still didn't make it any less disgusting, though, and I didn't know if I'd ever be able to eat again.

Keel pulled a dishtowel out of a drawer and bent over, attempting to mop up the mess I'd left in his hair. I barely dared breathe the entire time.

You've got to stop forgetting what he is.

Maybe I should have been mad at him for being mad after he was a jerk to begin with, but instead I was angry with myself. He'd done just enough right for me to hope, but he was what he was. And while there was no way I was going to give him blind obedience, as I did with the king - he'd made it clear he didn't want that anyway - I needed to choose my battles better.

Still, Keel shouldn't have been laughing. He should've been ... what you want him to be?

That was as stupid as the girls in school who thought they could tame a guy just by going out with him.

When he was done, he strolled back over to me, eyes cold but otherwise unreadable. "This is messed up," he said, circling me, looking me over, either getting an ogle in or making sure I hadn't missed any spots - or both. I kept my smartass comments to myself for a change. "I was furious when you did that. But then your fear - of me - drowned everything out."

"My fear?" My voice was small and cautious. It'd be harder, if not impossible, to deceive him now. Crap. Some people you just didn't want to be an open book around.

"Yes, your fear," he repeated. He'd come to a stop in front of me, his expression serious. "I don't think I could've hurt you if I tried. It would have been like hurting myself."

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