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       Wisdom, p.18

         Part #4 of My Blood Approves series by Amanda Hocking
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“You always said you’re a lover, not a fighter,” I said.

  I stood up and held the painting out in front of me. It had a tear down the center, but maybe I could salvage it with some creativity and glue.

  “What are you doing?” Jack asked, standing behind me.

  “I’m trying to see if I can fix this. ”

  “Why?” Jack asked.

  “Cause you destroyed an expensive painting,” I shot him a look.

  “It’s not expensive,” he shook his head. “That’s a reprint from Target. It cost like twenty bucks. ”

  “Well…” I floundered for a minute. “You still shouldn’t destroy stuff. ”

  “What happened in here?” Ezra asked. His voice always boomed, so it made me nervous, even though he sounded more perplexed than he did angry.

  “They were screwing around,” Bobby answered quickly and pointed at Milo and Jack.

  “Way to throw us under the bus,” Jack said.

  “Sorry. ” Bobby lowered his head as he cheeks reddened. “Ezra scares me. ”

  “We were just playing around,” Milo told Ezra. “We’ll clean up the mess. ”

  “I see. ” Ezra surveyed the damage and nodded once, then his russet eyes landed on me. “Alice, may I speak to you for a moment?”

  “What?” I exchanged a look with Jack, who just shrugged. “Uh, yeah. Sure. Of course. ”

  Page 52

  Ezra turned and walked back to his den. I handed the painting to Jack and stepped over the rubble. Tucking my hair behind my ears, my mind scrambled to think of what I had done wrong. I had fallen a bit behind in the schoolwork Ezra assigned me, but I’d been really busy lately.

  Well, maybe not really busy. But Peter and Mae had thrown everything off, and I was still training and trying to find Jane’s killer, and I’d been hassled by those vampire hunters tonight. So, Ezra couldn’t blame me for being ten pages behind in a law textbook meant for college students.

  Maybe he was angry at me for not keeping the boys in line. Mae had always done that, or at least tried to. Since she’d been gone, I’d tried to step up and do my part, but it was hard being the only girl in a house filled with adolescent males. Even if they weren’t really adolescent, they sure acted like it most of the time.

  By the time I reached Ezra’s den, I’d thought of a million apologies and excuses I could give him.  

  “So… you wanted to see me?” I said, barely stepping into the office. I hid by the door, my hands folded behind my back.

  “Would you close the door behind you?” Ezra gestured to the door and sat down at his chair behind his desk.

  “Uh… yeah. ” I shut the door and swallowed hard.

  “I’m assuming you don’t want Jack to know you’re tracking that serial killer?” Ezra asked. He looked up at me with a bemused expression, noticing my anxiety.

  “No. Why?” I narrowed my eyes at him.

  “Well, I’ve been doing some digging around, like you asked,” Ezra said.

  “Really?” I hurried the few steps forward so I was right in front of desk. “What’d you do?”

  “I found out this. ” He typed something on the keyboard in front of him, then turned the monitor around so I could see it.

  The screen showed a red mark, so swollen it was hard to decipher. I leaned in closer, squinting at it. It was shaped in a U, just like Violet had said. I could tell there were more details in the marking, even if I couldn’t make out what they were.

  “Is that a horseshoe?” I asked.

  “Not exactly. ” He clicked the screen and a different picture appeared.

  This one was the same as the first, expect it had healed up more. The U had some kind of design on it, like a crosshatch pattern. The left side of the U was thinner than the right, and the right had some kind of disfigured knob at the end.

  “Is it a serpent?” I tilted my head, hoping viewing it from a different angle would help.

  “It’s a dragon. ” Ezra pointed to the screen, touching on the underbelly of the U. “The wings are tucked into the sides there. ” The crosshatch pattern I saw were scales, and the disfigured knob was the head. “The design doesn’t hold up well when it’s been seared into flesh, but whatever made the brand was quite detailed. ”

  “This is the brand?” I leaned in even closer, as if getting nearer would solve anything.

  “Yes. This one here-” he nodded to the second picture that was displayed, “- is a picture taken from a girl that was picked up downtown for prostitution. ”

  “The police know about bloodwhores?” I stood up straighter and walked around the desk, so I could sit on the edge of it next to Ezra. He turned the screen back to face himself more and leaned back in his chair.

  “Most of them, no,” he shook his head. “She was picked up for the old fashioned kind of prostitution, but she’s definitely a bloodwhore. ”

  “Did she say anything about the guy who branded her?” I asked.

  “Not that I could find out, but I doubt she said anything. Bloodwhores are loyal to a fault. ” He exhaled deeply and stared at the screen. “The first picture I showed you, that was from a body of one of the slain girls. ”

  “Jane?” I whispered, a lump swelling in my throat.

  “No. I wouldn’t show you that. ” His dark eyes met mine, and I nodded my gratitude.

  “But this is good, right?” I pushed any sadness I had about Jane out of my mind. “This is the link I wanted. Whoever is branding the girls is the killer. ”

  “It seems that way,” Ezra agreed. “It could be a coincidence, but the reason the marks are so hard to see on the dead body is because they were fresh. He did it right before he killed them, so they didn’t have a chance to heal. ”

  “Do you know that it’s a ‘him’ for sure?” I asked.

  “No,” he shook his head. “But I do think it’s a vampire. ”


  “For one thing, they all had scar tissue from repeated bites. ”

  “How do you know that?” I asked.

  “I saw the autopsy report,” Ezra said offhandedly.

  “How did you manage that?”

  “I know people,” he shrugged and leaned more to the screen. “But the big clue is this symbol. ”

  “A dragon?”

  “It was long believed to be a symbol for Dracula. ‘Dracul’ means dragon. ” Ezra nodded at the dragon brand on the screen.

  “Wait. You’re saying Dracula killed Jane?” I scoffed.

  “Of course not. ” Ezra shot me a look like I was a moron. “I’m saying that whoever did is marking his girls with the symbol of a vampire. They want people to know a vampire did this. ”

  “Is that how they died, then? By vampire bite, I mean?”

  “No. They were all stabbed. ” His brow furrowed.

  “Wouldn’t it make more sense for him to kill them like a vampire if he wants people to know that is a vampire?” I asked.

  “One would think so, at first. But it’s a clean death. ” He looked back at me. “No blood. No nothing. If he wanted to make an impact, he needed a violent death. ”

  My mind flashed back to the crime scene photo I’d seen in the newspaper. All the blood staining the sidewalk from Jane’s body, and my stomach twisted.

  “Why?” I stared down at the oriental rug on the floor and swallowed. “Why would he want to do that? Why would anybody want to do that?”

  “I honestly have no idea. ” Ezra watched me, and he put his hand gently on my leg. “Are you alright? I didn’t tell you this to upset you. Maybe I-”

  “No, thank you. ” I shook my head and smiled wanly at him. “I needed to know. I’ll be fine. ”

  “I shouldn’t have told you that. I looked into this a few days ago, but I’ve been debating telling you. ” He chewed the inside of his cheek, his dark eyes going far away. The pressure from his hand on my leg intensified. “You can’t go after
him alone, do you understand me?”

  Page 53

  “Yeah, of course not,” I said. In the back of my mind I wondered if Ezra would count Bobby as back up.

  “Search all you want, but if you get close, call me. ” His dark eyes never left mine, and the severe expression on his face made me too nervous to do anything but nod. “You cannot take him on your own. He is a vampire without a conscience, and we have no idea what his motivations are. That makes him a very dangerous adversary. ”

  “I understand,” I nodded. When he looked away and his hand loosened on my leg, I let out a deep breath.

  “I shouldn’t even have looked this up for you. ” He leaned back in his chair, his head resting on the back, and he swiveled the chair slow from side to side.

  “Why did you?” I asked. “I mean, thank you. I appreciate it. But I didn’t think you would. ”

  “I don’t know. ” He fell silent for minute. “I wanted a reason to be away from here, and helping you on your goose chase seemed like a viable option. ”

  “Oh. ” I realized I hadn’t talked to him that much lately, and not at all since Mae came back. “How are you holding up with everything?”

  “I’ve been through worse. ” He smirked, but it didn’t hide the pain in his eyes. He must’ve known that because he turned and faced the monitor.

  “Have you talked to her since the first night she got here?” I asked, and Ezra shook his head. “Why not?”

  “Alice, you know why not,” he sighed. To avoid the conversation, he began clicking things on the computer, zooming in and out on the dragon brand on the girl’s arm. “I didn’t have anything to say to her while she was gone, and I don’t have anything to say to her now. ”

  “She’s your wife, Ezra. ”

  “I am fully aware of who she is. ” His words were clipped, and when the mouse didn’t move the way he wanted, he slammed it on the desk. “Damn thing is never working. ”

  “Don’t take it out on the computer because you’re mad at her,” I said.

  “I’m not mad at her. Right now, I’m rather annoyed with this conversation. ” He glanced over at me, but I wouldn’t be deterred.

  “Why don’t you go with her?”

  “And live in a sewer?” Ezra scoffed. “No. She and the child can live happily after like a sewer rat. They don’t need me. ”

  “Don’t get bitter. ” I wanted to reach out and touch his shoulder, but I wasn’t sure how he’d react. “I get you’re angry and hurt and sad and you still love her, but… don’t get bitter over this. ”

  His shoulders slacked a bit, and his expression softened. Turning his head toward me, he didn’t lift his head or look at me.

  “I wasn’t lying, Alice. I have been through worse, and I’ll make it through this. I appreciate your concern, though. ”

  “No problem. ”

  Ezra had gone back to staring at the computer screen, so the conversation seemed to be over. I thought of telling him about the vampire hunters we’d run into at the blood bank, but he didn’t need to worry about that now. The drawn look on his face let me know he already had too much on his mind.

  I’d made it over to the door and opened it when he stopped me.

  “Alice, remember what I said. Don’t go this alone. ”

  “I won’t. ” I smiled, and even I wasn’t sure if I was lying.


  Jack stood in front of the full-length mirror, holding his tee shirt bunched up in his hands. With his back to the mirror, he kept twisting and turning, trying to get a good view of his back. After watching him for a few seconds from the hallway, I went into our bedroom.

  “What are you doing?”

  “Something hurts. ” He craned his neck around, stretching it so far it looked uncomfortable. “In my lower back. But I can’t see what. ”

  “What do you mean something hurts?” I walked over to him. Vampires feel pain, but it usually only lasts a few seconds, unless it’s a major injury that takes a long time to heal, or we’re really low on blood, which slows the healing time.

  “I don’t know. But it hurts. ” He kept moving around, so I put my hand on his back.

  “Stop. Let me look. ”

  When he finally quit moving, I saw it. In his lower back, just above the waistband of his pants, he had a large bump. A wooden splinter from the broken chair downstairs had gotten lodged in his smooth muscles, and it looked angled like it was digging in is spine. Only a bit of the end was sticking out, but I grabbed it with my fingers and yanked it out.

  “Ow!” Jack winced. I held the splinter up to him. It was about half an inch thick and three inches long. “That was in my back?”

  “Sure was. ”

  “That sucks. ” He inspected it for a minute, then set it down the dresser behind him. When he started pulling on his shirt, I stopped him.

  “What are you doing putting on your shirt?”

  “What are you doing?” Jack grinned, raising an eyebrow.

  “I don’t know. After I saw the way my kid brother whooped you tonight, I thought I’d see if you wanted to try your luck against me. ”

  “Sorry. I can’t fight you. ” He bit his lip when he smiled, his blue eyes appraising me.

  “Cause you know I’ll win?”

  “I don’t hit girls. ” Jack shrugged helplessly.

  “That’s probably a good policy. ” I stepped towards him, and he laughed. “Too bad that won’t stop me. ”

  I put my hands on his chest. He reached up to wrap his arms around me, but I pushed him back. Not hard, but he stumbled back and fell onto the bed. I climbed on top of him, straddling him between my legs, and he put one hand on my hips. My hair fell into my face, and using his other hand, he tucked it behind my ears.

  “What’s all this then?” Jack asked, smiling up at me.

  “I don’t know. I feel like I haven’t seen you much lately. ”

  “You haven’t,” he agreed. “You’re gone all the time. ” He tilted his head, his expression growing more serious. “What have you been doing, Alice?”

  “Training a lot,” I said. I didn’t want to talk about this, not now. This wasn’t the time when I wanted to lie to him. “I don’t know. I’ve been around. ”

  To silence anymore questions, I leaned down and kissed him. His lips felt hesitant on mine, so I pushed against him, but his skin remained cool.

  Page 54

  “What?” I stopped kissing him.

  “Are we okay?” Jack asked.

  “Why wouldn’t we be?”

  “I don’t know. ” His forehead crinkled with confusion. “I feel like we’ve been fighting a lot lately, and I don’t know where you go. ” He swallowed. “I feel like… something’s wrong. ”

  “Nothing’s wrong,” I reassured him. “I love you, remember? I chose this life to spend eternity with you, and it’s only just begun. You can’t start questioning it already. ”

  “No, I’m not questioning it. ” His smile came more easily now. “And yeah. I know you love me. I just… you’d tell me if something was going on, wouldn’t you?”

  “I tell you everything, Jack,” I lied, and it hurt a little to say that. It used to be true, and it would be again, but right now, I just couldn’t tell him everything.

  “Good. ”

  He reached up, burying his fingers in my hair, then pulled himself up to kiss me. This time, his kisses felt like they always did. I loved the desperate way he kissed me, like he was afraid to stop. Hot tingles spread over my skin, and my stomach fluttered.

  When he sat up, he kept his hand on the small of my back, holding me to him. Barely taking his lips from mine, he slipped off my shirt, pulling it over my head. With surprising dexterity, he unhooked my bra, and pressed my bare skin against his. My flesh seared against him.

  His heart pounded hard and fast, echoing over my own. He flipped me on the bed, so I lay on my back, and somehow, he slippe
d my pants and panties off in the process. He struggled to undo his own, and my fingers worked quickly to unfasten the button.

  He laughed, sending fresh tingles through me, and then his lips were all over me. Kissing my belly, my chest, my shoulders, my neck. I raised my chin, allowing him to bite me if he wanted, but he didn’t. He hovered over me, his faded blue eyes meeting mine.

  “Not this time. ” Something in his smile looked sad, and his regret came off faintly, buried underneath his excitement. “For once, I want to love you the way you were meant to be loved. Without all the… vampire stuff. ”

  “I don’t understand. ” I reached up, running my fingers through his hair and my thumb on his temple.

  “I know. ” He laughed, but it had a strange hollow sound to it that broke my heart. He looked at a spot above me instead of at me. “I turned you into a vampire without giving you a chance to learn what it really meant. And I said I did it to protect you, and I did, but maybe…”

  “I know you did it because you loved me and you wanted me with you always. ”

  “Yeah. ” He lowered his eyes and swallowed hard. “You regret it. I know you do, and… I did this to you. ”

  “Jack, no,” I shook my head. He had has arms on either of side of me, holding himself up, and I ran my hand over his arms, trying to comfort him.

  “You rushed into something you didn’t understand because it was what I wanted, and you can’t take it back. ”

  “I don’t want to take it back,” I insisted, but I wasn’t sure of that anymore.

  “Come on, Alice. ” He shook his head. “That’s why we’ve been fighting so much. Everything we’ve been arguing about, it all boils down to the fact that you don’t want to change. You don’t want to be this thing that drinks blood. I made you into a monster. ”

  “No, Jack! You did not! I’m not-” I stumbled, trying to think of what I meant. “We’re not monsters. Okay? You just gave me forever with you. I want to be with you. I love you. ”

  “I know you do. That’s what makes this so much worse. ” When he looked at me, he had tears swimming in his eyes, and I gaped at him.

  “I’ll never regret being with you,” I told him honestly.

  “And I’ll never stop regretting doing this to you. ”

  Lying there naked, as close as two people could be, I had never felt such distance between us. The problem was that Jack was right. While I loved him and I did want to be with him for as long as I was alive, I didn’t want to be a vampire. I didn’t want to be a monster that hunted and hurt people, that lived an endless life without purpose, wandering the earth without ever contributing anything.

  But I didn’t blame him for that. I had made a choice, and even if I’d rushed into it, that had been my fault, not his.

  I couldn’t say anything to ease his guilt, so I leaned into him and kissed him again, this time hungrier and more intense. I wanted to make his pain go away, I wanted him to feel how much I loved him, how desperately I needed him, and how I never, ever wanted to live without him.

  He slid inside of me, and I buried my fingers in his back, pressing him close to me. His love surged through me, but it was tinged with something else. His own regret held it back, and even when he kissed me, the closeness I desired escaped us.

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