In fact, that would be much more plausible than what had actually happened, which was that I had become so entranced with somebody that I almost let him slaughter me.

And I was pretty sure that this attempted-murder had happened not because he hated me, but because he was attracted to me.

“Like what?” Milo narrowed his eyes.

“I don’t wanna talk about it.” I just shook my head and looked away.

“What’s going on?” Mae shouted suddenly, and my heart soared at the sight of her standing in the doorway. She rushed over to me, placing her hands her firmly on my shoulders to look in my eyes.

“She was upstairs with Peter,” Jack explained. Mae’s expression changed from one of worry to shock, and she turned to look at Jack sharply. “Nothing happened.”

She softened, looking sympathetically at me. Before she pulled me into a hug, it finally dawned on me.

Whatever had happened or almost happened with Peter, they knew it. Ezra had sent me upstairs, knowing exactly what would happen. Meaning, he had sent me to my probable death.

What the hell was going on here? And why didn’t I feel as terrified as I should? In fact, as Mae stroked my hair and murmured words of comfort in her soft British accent, I felt nothing but safe. What was wrong with me?

“I’m okay, really,” I insisted, and she finally released me.

“I hope you mean that.” She smiled sadly and pushed strands of hair back from my face, and then straightened up.

“I do.” I nodded firmly, and Jack playfully ruffled my hair, as if to reaffirm that everything was okay.

“And who is this?” Mae turned her attention to Milo. Just looking at her made his anxiety disappear, and he returned her open smile.

“I’m Milo, Alice’s brother.” He looked a little embarrassed by the look she was giving him, and I knew the feeling. She reached out and touched his face gently (his chubby cheeks were hard to resist) and grinned warmly.

“I’m Mae, Ezra’s wife. You’re so much cuter than I’d thought you’d be.”

“Thanks?” Milo replied unsurely.

“Have you had a tour of the house yet?” Mae had already started looping her arm through his, and she’d missed her calling as a real estate agent. Milo shook his head no, and she laughed a little. With that, she led him away on a tour.

As soon as they were out of earshot, I turned to Jack and hissed, “What the hell happened?”

“You tell me,” Jack countered evenly, and I might have overestimated how much he knew.

“You have an idea of what happened, don’t you?” I asked. He didn’t answer me, so I continued, “You have suspicions. There was something that you were afraid happened.”

“I wasn’t afraid,” he answered quietly, but the fog of Peter was wearing off and I could feel how unnerved he really was.

“Jack, I trust you,” I whispered fiercely. “Don’t betray that trust.” An amused but pained expression flitted across his face, and he shook his head.

“He’s not gonna hurt you, Alice.” Then he turned to look at me. “None of us are.”

“Then…” I trailed off, trying to understand what was happening. “But Peter told me to go before he did something very bad to me.” Jack let out a long breath through his teeth and stared off at some point above my head.

“Well… I guess we all just have different definitions of what hurting you means.”

“Was that meant to be comforting? Cause it wasn’t,” I snapped, crossing my arms on my chest.

“Let me put it this way: You are a top priority for my family.” Jack said, but he’d finished the conversation.

He still had the plastic guitar hanging over his shoulder, and he unpaused the game and clicked out of the two-player level he’d been playing with Milo. He started playing a song, and when I asked him what that meant, he ignored me.

I flopped back on the couch next to Matilda and stroked her long, white fur. Everything with Peter had exhausted me. My skin flushed with embarrassment at the thought of running into him. I had made a fool of myself, and he was in trouble with Ezra.

But even with that, I still really wanted to see him. My very being wanted to be near him again, and it would be worth anything.

As predicted, Mae completely enchanted Milo. They seemed made for each other. She was all motherly love, and he was all motherless child.

When they made their way into the living room, Milo went back to playing video games with Jack. I curled up on the couch with Mae, resting my head on her lap, and let her play with my hair.

“I know you’re hurting now, but things will make sense, love,” Mae murmured, pushing my hair from my eyes. “Everything happens for a reason.”

The nights of barely sleeping had caught up with me, and the soothing comfort of Mae was too much. I drifted off to a sleep filled with dreams of Peter. They were probably the best dreams I’d ever had.

When I woke up, I felt good, but incredibly disoriented. The living room was dark, and I was alone, except for Matilda, who snored loudly on the floor next to me.

I moved a little on the couch, preparing to start calling for Jack or Milo, but then I heard voices talking softly nearby. And then I heard my name, so I stopped moving and strained to hear.

“Well, we obviously can’t leave Alice alone with him anymore.” That was Jack, trying to protect me from Peter.

“No, I agree.” Ezra’s deep voice sounded like a lullaby when he kept it low. I imagined that it would be tranquil to have him sing me to sleep. “But they’ll have to eventually.”