“Branding them? You mean like cattle?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Oh he can’t do that,” Olivia said disdainfully. “You can’t brand girls unless they’re in your harem.”
“I don’t know if they’re in his harem or not,” Violet shrugged. “I just thought it seemed like suspicious behavior.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I don’t know.” She took another drink, but this time it was to buy herself some time to think about what she meant. “I asked the bloodwhore why the vampire did it, and he’d told her, ‘I want everyone to know that you belong to a vampire.’ Something about that just sounded off to me. Like everyone would know she belongs to a vampire.”
“Huh,” I said, but a chill shot down my spine.
“Anyway, I just thought I’d let you know since you were asking about that girl’s murder,” Violet said off-handedly and went back to finishing her beverage.
I felt Milo’s eyes on me as soon as she said it, and I decided that we better get out of there before Violet or Olivia let it slip exactly how interested I was in looking for Jane’s killer.
I thanked both Olivia and Violet for their help as nonchalantly as possible, but Milo noticed my hasty exit. He waited until we were the elevator, trapped in the long ride to the basement, before bringing it up.
“What exactly did Violet mean that you were asking about that girl’s murder?” Milo asked, his eyes locked on me. Bobby hid next to him, hoping Milo wouldn’t realize that he’d been helping me too.
“She was my best friend, Milo.” I stared up at the ceiling. “You think I’m not gonna ask at all?”
“No, but you better not be really looking into this,” Milo warned me. “The police have it under control.”
“I’m not looking into it, but if the police have it under control, what would it matter if I did? If they can handle it, I definitely can,” I countered.
“Alice, you don’t have the tools or equipment to really solve this,” Milo said wearily. “You’d just end up getting yourself in trouble. And what would you do if you did find the killer? You couldn’t prove that it was him, and you would never know for sure so you wouldn’t want to kill him. What good would it do to track him down?”
“It wouldn’t,” I said. “That’s why I’m not. I just asked a few questions. It’s not like I launched an investigation or something.”
“Good. That’s all it better be.”
“Why?” I looked over at him. “What happens if it’s not?”
“I’ll tell Jack about all those longing gazes you shared with Peter when we were in Australia.” Milo said evenly and my jaw dropped.
“We- I- ugh!” I groaned and looked away from him. “That’s not even fair!”
“I’m sick of you almost getting yourself killed, Alice!” Milo yelled. “And if you won’t wise up on your own, then I’ll force you into it! Stay away from this, okay?”
“Fine!” I hit the elevator button, hoping to make the ride speed up somehow.
I didn’t need Milo narcing on me for something that didn’t even happen, or… barely happened. I mean, it was innocent, but I didn’t need another big fight. I promised Jack I wouldn’t do anything to hurt him anymore, and I meant it.
At the same time, I wasn’t about to let Jane’s killer go free. Especially not when I had something new to go on. It may not be a big lead, but Violet’s tip had been more than I had yesterday.
“Promise me you’ll leave this alone,” Milo insisted.
“I promise,” I said, knowing I would break that promise as soon as I got the chance.
Every day when I woke up, I found more books added to the stack of my studies. When I saw how few books Milo brought home compared to my workload, I regretted letting Ezra homeschool me instead of going to actual school.
I’d finished To Kill a Mockingbird and my chapters in the history book, but I skipped out on anatomy. Turns out, I didn’t have much of an interest in becoming a doctor.
Even with all that, I managed to sneak in a moment alone with Bobby. We both thought something was going on with the vampire branding girls. I wanted to check into it more, but we definitely couldn’t do anything in front of Milo. He’d made it perfectly clear that he didn’t want us involved with this.
Since I’d finished To Kill a Mockingbird, I woke up to find On the Road by Jack Kerouac and A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway along with a law book added to the growing stack of textbooks Ezra left for me by the couch. On the Road wasn’t as horrible as I’d envisioned it being, and I sprawled out on the couch to read it.
“How are you finding the book?” Ezra asked when he came into the living room to check on my progress.
“It’s okay.” I shrugged and sat up more, setting the book aside so I could talk to him. “How do you decide which books you want me to read?”
“I’m picking at random from the most critically acclaimed books of the last century.” He picked up the worn copy of A Farewell to Arms, flipping through it absently. “This is one of my favorites. I was hoping you’d pick that one first.”
“I read Old Man and the Sea in high school and almost died of boredom. I’m holding off on Hemingway, if I can.”
“Well, you’re going to read it.” He set the book back down on the couch and crossed the room to sit down on a chair.
“What about the law book? How did you decide on that?” I asked, gesturing to the new textbook.
“You didn’t seem that interested in anatomy. I thought law might suit you better.”
“So what’s your plan? Try everything until you find something that interests me?”
“My plan is to educate you.” He smiled. “It’s up to you to find out what interests you and what you’re passionate about.”
“Law might interest me.” I leaned forward, resting my elbows on my knees.
“How so?” Ezra asked, sounding hesitant to know why it would interest me.
“The thing is…” I shifted, trying to think how I wanted to phrase it. “There’s word going around the clubs that a vampire is branding girls, human girls.”
“What reputable source did you hear this from?”
“You know I’ve been hanging around Olivia’s, and I hear things,” I said. “What does it matter where I hear it from?”