“Yeah.” He smiled crookedly, and then leaned back a little, away from me.

Without any thought on my part, my body moved to correct the distance between us. I would’ve preferred that I stayed where I was, but my body insisted that I tilt closer to him.

“Why do you hate me?” The words came out of my mouth, but I couldn’t believe that I’d asked them.

Inside my mind, I screamed Shut up! Shut up! You can’t say that to him! But he’d managed to cut off the blood flow to the part of my brain that controlled my inhibitions. If I weren’t careful, I’d very quickly be confessing my innermost secrets to him.

“I don’t hate you.” He looked embarrassed and lowered his eyes.

I had an awful pain at not being able to see into his eyes, but it came with some relief, as I’d be able to think a bit more clearly.

“Then why do you act like you do?” I pressed.

What the hell was I doing? I was normally an absolute coward, and now at the worst possible moment, I suddenly decided to be brave and corner this amazingly stunning man into hating me. He had said he didn’t, but after I shamed and irritated him like this, I’m sure he would.

“I don’t know.” He looked up, staring straight ahead, but he wasn’t really looking at anything. His beautiful features stiffened to a painful mask.

“You want to hate me, though.” My voice was almost inaudible, but he’d heard me. I’d thought I hadn’t had the strength to speak, but the words kept relentlessly tumbling out.

“That’s not exactly true.” His face softened again, and he turned to look at me.

His eyes were smoldering through me, and I felt my heart pound loudly in my chest. Very gently, he placed his hand on top of mine, and I felt that same electrical surge that I had the day before, but more intense this time. Pleasure rippled through me and I closed my eyes.

Then suddenly, he pulled his hand back, and my eyes flew open. His face was a few inches from mine, and something in him looked completely ravenous. He never wavered or moved, but when he spoke, his voice had gone into a very low snarl.

“Go before I do something very bad to you.”

- 11 -

“You can do whatever you want to me,” I whispered, and he flinched at that.

“Go!” Peter growled.

His voice stung, but it managed to get me moving. Using all my strength, I looked away and stood up. He still hadn’t moved, but I could see the tendons in his neck and his arms standing out sharply.

It wasn’t until I had started down the stairs, and I had begun to breathe, that I understood why he’d gotten so tense. He was using all his might not to move.

When I got downstairs, I felt dazed and I was panting. There was a very real chance that I had just barely averted danger. And the worst part was part of me still wanted to rush back upstairs and let him do whatever he wanted with me as long as I could still be with him.

“Alice?” Milo asked. He and Jack were standing in the middle of the living room, holding plastic guitars, but I could barely even see them. The whole world felt hazy and I couldn’t tell if I was dreaming or not. “Are you okay?”

“You were with Peter?” Jack had stopped playing the game and turned to look at me. He eyed me over, and he saw something that made his face harden. “Come here.” I felt frozen in place, so he commanded more harshly, “Come here.”

This time I listened and walked over to him, moving like a zombie.

“Did something happen to her?” Milo’s voice got higher the more scared he got.

Jack didn’t answer him. Instead, he looked me over with this odd expression on his face, a cross between disturbed and jealous. He put two fingers underneath my chin and lifted it up, revealing my neck. He turned my head this way and that, inspecting me carefully.

When he was done, his expression had softened, and he looked satisfied.

“Come here,” he repeated, but this time, he looped an arm around my shoulders and pulled me closer to him. “You’re okay.”

I threw my arms around him, hugging him tightly and relishing the safety of his arms. I sobbed into his chest, unable to hold it back anymore, and he kissed the top of my head.

“What happened?” I heard Ezra’s melodic voice boom behind me, but I hadn’t seen him when I came in. He seemed to have materialized at the sound of my crying.

“I don’t know! She just came downstairs crying!” Milo explained plaintively. He was upset, and I wished somebody would just tell him that everything would be okay. Why wasn’t Mae here when I needed her?

“Did something happen?” Ezra demanded, and there was an edge to his voice.

“No,” Jack said softly, stroking my hair.

“Are you sure?” Ezra persisted.

“Yes, I’m sure,” Jack replied, growing irritated.

“I’m going to talk to Peter.” I didn’t hear Ezra leaving, but I knew he had anyway.

“What’s wrong with her?” Milo sounded panicked.

“Nothing.” I pulled away from Jack a little but made sure to keep his arm around me. I wouldn’t feel as safe or sturdy without it. Wiping at my tear stained cheeks, I forced a smile at Milo. “I’m fine.”

“You’re not fine!” Milo insisted with wide, worried eyes.

“It’s just… girl stuff.” I tried to shrug it off, and I couldn’t tell if he saw through it or not.

It was a perfectly reasonable explanation that while I was upstairs, alone with a very attractive guy, he had said or done something to offend me, and that’s what had upset me.