Everything I had felt, everything I had been dying to say, was all balled up inside me as we made the journey back home. Even when we were out of earshot from the rest of the world, I kept myself composed. Killian broke off the handle to a door I hadn’t been able to find the key for since I moved in. It led to the rest of the auto shop, which, quite conveniently, had an office with a fireplace inside it where we could cook our food. We sat in silence on the dirty carpeted floor, staring into the flames. Every so often, he flipped the meat in the pan that he had stolen from the butcher shop and I watched as it turned from red to brown. The smell made me salivate and elicited painful rumbles from my belly. I could tell he noticed when his mouth twitched up in the hint of a smile. I hugged my waist and willed it to stop growling, but not because I was embarrassed. It was because I found his amusement strangely unnerving.
If he were to laugh, cough, sneeze, or sigh, it would be enough to ignite the fuse burning inside me. Deep down, I wanted him to say something. I wanted a reason to scream at him—to tell him how I really felt. However, at the same time, I didn’t. Screaming was my least favorite thing to do, let alone fighting the way we do. Never in my entire life had I ever felt so hateful towards someone I had just met.
For the millionth time since we returned, I stole a glance at him, only this time, he caught me. That look alone stirred the anger that had been boiling inside my chest all this time. I gave him a dirty look before quickly looking away.
“I’ve quite had it with your attitude.” Don’t hit him…don’t hit him… “Considering my extraordinarily low tolerance level, I think I’ve done well with my patience. With anyone else as impossibly irritating as you, I would’ve killed them by now.”
I was straddling his legs before he could say anything else. Over and over again, I hit him as hard as I could, repeatedly aiming for his stupid face. He tried pulling back on the roots of my hair, but I wasn’t giving up so easily. Grunting through the pain in my scalp, I pushed through long enough to give him my last beating. With each hit, I felt all my anger ebb away into the now-red color of his skin. I felt his fingers release my dark locks as I delivered the final blow.
“Are you finished?” he said after catching his breath. I nodded. “Good.”
He hurled me off him and I landed on my back, the air rushing from my lungs before I could think twice about what the hell had happened. I didn’t have time to recover before he was hovering over me with one hand held menacingly at my neck, squeezing his fingers into my airway.
“Didn’t I tell you I would counter whatever violation of the deal you commit?”
“It was worth it,” I said with a sly grin.
“You won’t be saying that by the time I’m through with you.”
Fear pitted itself deep into the trench of my stomach, and what followed after gave me reason to be scared. My vision went haywire as a throbbing pain wavered on one side of my face. I tried to say something, but it came out in a mush of incomprehensible sounds. Before I could get a hold of myself, he backhanded me again, whipping my head to the other side.
“Killian,” I wanted to say, but I could barely force his name from my lips.
Then, his thumb pressed down on the pressure point in my neck, causing me to cry out. I whimpered as I gripped his wrist and tried pulling him off, which only made him dig deeper.
“Killian, please,” I squealed, desperately clawing at his skin.
Suddenly he stopped and leaned down to whisper in my ear, ”What did you say?”
I shuddered when his breath brushed against my skin.
“Please stop,” I replied more confidently.
He chuckled. “You think just because you beg I’ll have mercy on you?”
“How could I expect that from someone who left an innocent man to die in a freezer?”
His abnormally bright eyes suddenly turned a hundred shades darker.
“Is that what this is about?”
I swallowed, blinking away the tears that had formed in the corners of my eyes, and nodded. He sighed frustratedly, grabbing me roughly by the jaw and leaned in so close that I could feel his warm breath on my lips as he spoke.
“You’re an idiot for saving him,” he said. “If you would’ve used your head, you would’ve realized that he should have died there. The authorities would have assumed he fell and knocked his head against the corner of the table and died from hypothermia—otherwise known as an accident.”
“It doesn’t matter what they would’ve thought. The guilt would have eaten me alive.”
“Oh, you’re too soft. You couldn’t kill anyone even if your life depended on it.”
“I have killed people,” I snapped.
He frowned, pulling his brows together.
“Three, actually,” I added, my tone softening as I recalled the moment. “They were assassins sent by that same smuggling business I worked for three years ago. I was only sixteen at the time. I don’t know how I survived, but I did. I am a survivor, Killian, but I don’t need to kill innocent people in order to be one.”
His eyes grew timid. “Sometimes you have to.”
This was the first time I had seen him look like this. There was a hint of sadness, a slight hint of pain. He turned away to look at the fire and I had no choice but to stare at his long, lean neck and the strong, angled line of his jaw. To comfort him—for his sudden somber tone was almost as unnerving as his amusement—I slowly raised my hand to brush my fingertips down his neck to his collarbone. He inhaled sharply through his nose, immediately seizing my wrist. I flinched.
“What are you doing?”
“Comforting you,” I said softly. “Don’t you do that where you come from?”
He went silent for a moment before saying, “We have a different way of doing it. What you just did has an entirely different meaning.”
Something told me I shouldn’t ask, but I did anyway. His eyes flickered with an emotion I had seen only once with him before, and that had been when I said his name for the first time.
“Typically, that kind of touch is used only with your sexual partner,” he answered.
Was that gibberish?
“What is that? Your ‘sexual partner’?”
He gave me a strange look before replying, “You do know what sex is, don’t you?”
I shook my head.
“Hm,” he said, his expression now unreadable. “But you are aware of what rape is.”
My eyes widened, and before I could say anything, he stopped me.
“It’s similar, only both people are willing. What do you call that here?”
“A dalliance. But I wasn’t trying to—”
There was a long pause.
“It was a very dangerous thing for you to do,” he murmured.
With a comment like that, I didn’t need footnotes.
“You wouldn’t,” I said quietly. “You promised.”
“Don’t insult me,” he snapped. “Unlike you, I have enough decency to keep my promises. However, you should know that I have slept for nearly three centuries, and even though I do not have the hormone levels of an average human being, I still have very demanding primal instincts. That being said, I suggest that you keep your comforting ways to yourself.”
With that, he left me lying there on the ground to tend to the food, which was probably burnt by now. His words echoed in my head as I watched him stand to set the pan on the mantelpiece. Three hundred years of sleep? If he was telling the truth, then why had he slept so long last night? That was hardly the problem, though. How dangerous could he really be if one simple touch like that set him off so easily? Letting my thoughts ramble on about all the many incidents that could happen—a small brush of the arm while passing him, a light tap on the shoulder, or even touching his hand—I sat upright to stare at him daringly. I should be running by now. As far as I was concerned, Killian was a ticking time bomb just bound to explode at any moment.
Despite this, the next week was relatively peaceful. The occasional bickering was inevitable, but it was never as bad as the second day of our twisted relationship. He volunteered to steal and cook the food while I stole things of value, like jewelry, in exchange for clothes and other necessities. Every morning was the same. We would leave home, go our separate ways, then return. Talking was kept to a minimum, as well as physical contact. We avoided each other as much as possible, glancing away quickly when we made eye contact, and stayed on opposite sides of the room. When we did talk, it was usually him demanding something followed by a nod or a shake of my head.
For a while, our deal went smoothly. No rules were broken, and we were happy to cooperate. Or so I thought. One night, when my eyes were just starting to haze over from fatigue, Killian initiated our first real conversation in days.
“I wish to eliminate our deal.”
I peeked around my leg to see him already staring at me, then rested my head on the desk I was laying on again.
“Are you trying to tell me you want to leave?” I answered, turning over the dagger in my hands.
“No,” he said, “I just don’t think it’s necessary anymore.”
Still fiddling with the blade in my hands, I looked at him again and answered, “No.”
He narrowed his eyes at me, lifting his head off the wall.
“Why?” he shot back. “Are you afraid I’ll kill you?”
“Worse,” I reminded him.
“You know, believe it or not, there are worse things than rape.”
“Not to me.”
He chuckled humorlessly, “You’re very dramatic for a Skelt.”
“You’re very inhuman for a human.”
“Are we really going to do this right now? You were doing so well at playing the quiet game.”
“I don’t know what that is, but I’m assuming it was supposed to be an insult.”
“It always is to you, isn’t it?”
I gave him a dirty look before putting my head back down on the desk and stared up at the ceiling. Fighting like this never got us anywhere, which was always extremely frustrating because it never failed to give me headache. Why was he so keen on getting rid of our deal? What made him think I would be okay with that? Clearly, he didn’t want to break any of the conditions to prove that he was “better” than I was, so of course it would only make sense to get rid of it. He knew he needed my permission; a deal is made by two people, not one. It was unfortunate for him since I was most certainly not getting rid of the one thing that seemed to protect me.
“Yes, Killian, I am afraid you’ll do something to me,” I said quietly. “Do you blame me?”
He was silent for a minute, then he said, “No.”
His answer shocked me, seeing as this was the first time we had ever agreed on anything. I almost wanted to cry tears of joy.
“But I do think you should trust me after we’ve lived together for over a week now.”
There just had to be something to spoil the moment.
“You really think I trust you?” I said as I sat up and glared at him. “I never trusted you for a second. I will never trust you for as long as I live, no matter how many deals we make or how long you stay with me.”
“If it means anything to you, Jianna, I trust you.”
I gave him confused look before replying with, ”Why?”
“Because, despite what I’ve done to you, you’ve never once thought about going to law enforcement to arrest me. Which, mind you, would be a stupid thing to do on your part, but that at least accounts for some trustworthy traits. For that, you should be flattered. I do not compliment people.”
I made a face. “That was a compliment?”
“To a degree, yes.”
I bit the inside of my lip and looked away from him. To my surprise, I was slightly flattered. The truth was this: deep down, I knew he could somewhat be trusted. At least, that’s what my gut was saying. As far as I knew, Killian had done nothing but tell the truth, and though it was blunt, it was appreciated nonetheless. For some reason, he had also coaxed me into telling truths about my own life—things I would’ve never told anyone else, even if I had known them for years. I had told him my name, the most shameful thing about me, and trusted him with it for some strange, unknown reason. It was then that I realized I was only scared. I was scared of Killian. I was scared to trust him, scared to unbind him from our deal, only to have him prove me wrong. Fear was the only thing standing between us at this point, along with hate, but that was only a wall to protect myself from the unknown.
“So,” he said. “Will you change your mind?”
My heart was beating wildly against my chest. What would he do if I said yes? I guess I was about to find out. Hesitantly, I nodded my head.
“We no longer have a deal,” I said. “That means I no longer have to promise you my shelter.”
“Or bed,” he noted.
I tried to keep myself from grinning, but failed miserably.
“Yeah, I kinda miss my bed,” I admitted quietly.
His mouth twitched up in a smile.
“Well,” he said, standing from his seat on the floor. “I think we should go for a walk.”
My face fell abruptly.