Chapter 30: Slide Away

They say the last moments of your life pass slowly, allowing all your deeds and misdeeds to flash before your eyes. That's exactly what it felt like after Ephraim's thunderous entrance. Slow-motion terror.

Keel, Bruce and I had all craned our heads at the front door when he'd burst in, but none of us had moved since.

"Don't make me repeat my question," he roared, and suddenly I understood what Fredrick meant when he'd described him as volatile, dangerous and more than a little frightening. Ephraim was easily the most lethal thing in the room. And everyone knew it, even Bruce, who kept glancing around nervously, as if looking for a discreet way to duck out. Monstrous intruders he expected, this not so much.

Keel reached out and squeezed my arm. "Keep your cool," he mouthed at me, sending it as an emotional directive as well. Then he turned to face my father, maintaining his protective stance in front of me the whole time. At that moment, Keel was the bravest person I had ever met. Through the bond, I told him that, and then I sent him love – if there was ever a time to fess up about it, it was now.

He deserved to know how I felt. To hell with the consequences.

He straightened, newly emboldened, and I stifled a smile. It was like that for me, too: with him, I could face anything, even my father's rage. But that didn't mean my knees weren't shaking and my heart wasn't pounding out panicked beats.

All the while, Ephraim was watching us with his eagle eyes, saying nothing.

"My name is Keel Argarast," Keel said, in a strong, unwavering voice, "and until three days ago I was heir to the Michigan throne. Now," he paused and made a sweeping motion at the house's interior, "it seems I'm more or less at your mercy."

"Is that so?" Ephraim said, as he clomped towards Keel, straight through worst of the grue, leaving a trail of red sole prints behind him. He didn't stop until he was right up in Keel's face, then he reached out, wrapped both hands around Keel's neck and slammed him into the wall as if he was nothing more than a child's rag doll. "And why should I show you any mercy, Nosferatu?"

A tiny anguished yelp escaped my lips. My head was churning with a chaotic, stomach-turning slideshow of memories of every single time the king had done this to me. And now my father... bile rose in my throat.

I'd worried the massacre at the compound had traumatized me, but that was not even remotely comparable to this. This I could not live with.

Screw the politics. Screw the laws. Screw keeping my cool. Screw this.

I didn't ask for any of it. Not from the vampires and not from my father. The only reason we were here was because no one ever let me make the decisions. If they had, Keel and I would be out on the open road and no one would be at each other's throats.

I stepped forward with fury-fuelled purpose, but Bruce's arm shot out to block me. "Wait," he said. "Don't make this worse."

I glared at him – how could this possibly get worse? – but Bruce just shook his head and kept blocking my path. Did he really expect me to stand here and watch my father strangle Keel to death, because that's exactly what he was doing – and Keel was letting him.

Ephraim had Keel pinned to the wall: his bare feet dangled uselessly beneath him, unable to reach the floor, and his face was starting to turn blue. Still, he wasn't fighting back. His eyes weren't even on Ephraim; they were staring over his shoulder at me – full of love and remorse and other things that left festering welts of regret on my heart – until his waning life began to dull them.

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