I spoke, this time. “He was standing at my window when he took this one.” The words, the thought, filled my veins with ice. How long had Jude been standing there? Watching me?
Noah opened my bedroom door. He pointed at one of the sets of French doors in our hallway, just five feet away. “That’s probably where he—Mara?”
I looked up at him. His eyes were dark with concern. “Are you all right?” he asked.
It was only then that I realized I wasn’t quite breathing. A fist squeezed my lungs.
Noah drew me back into my room and closed the door. He settled me against it, placing his strong hands on my waist. “Breathe,” he whispered.
I tried to. But with the pressure of his fingers against my skin, with his storm-gray eyes staring into mine, with his warmth and nearness just inches away, I was finding it difficult for other reasons. I nodded anyway, though.
And then Noah pulled away. “I called the security firm after I left yesterday, but the person I wanted for you was on assignment until tomorrow. I didn’t think—” He closed his eyes, quietly furious. “I should never have left.”
“It’s not your fault,” I said, because it wasn’t. “But I’m glad you’re staying tonight.”
He looked at me, and there was something hard about his stare. “Did you really think I wouldn’t? After what you just told me?”
“I’m a bit bothered by your uncertainty,” Noah said. “I said I wouldn’t let Jude hurt you, and I meant it. If you didn’t want me in the house, I’d be sleeping in my car.”
His words drew a smile from my lips. “How did you manage to convince my parents to let you stay?”
“I’m taking Joseph fishing tomorrow. It’s all been arranged.”
“That’s it?” I asked.
“At five-thirty in the morning.”
“Still,” I said, giving him a long look. “I’m impressed.”
“You have my mom wrapped around your little finger—”
“I do well with older women, it’s true.”
“And everyone else adores you,” I said.
At this, Noah paused. “I think your father actually likes me less with each passing day.”
“He doesn’t know you saved his life.”
Noah didn’t respond; he went back to studying the pictures instead. “Your eyes in this one . . .”
Ah. Phoebe’s handiwork. “That wasn’t Jude,” I said. “There’s this girl at Horizons—she’s seriously crazy, Noah, not just, like, neurotic or manic or whatever—she said the picture fell out of my bag, and then handed it to me just like that.”
He held the photograph up against the light of my grandmother’s white chandelier. “You’re certain she’s the one who scratched them out?”
I nodded. “She admitted it. She said she ‘fixed’ them.”
“That is rather disturbing,” he said and paused. “Is it awful there?”
I shrugged. “Jamie helps.”
“Wait—Jamie . . . Roth?”
“Yup. He was banished there post-expulsion.”
“Intriguing,” Noah said, before I continued recounting everything that had happened. I watched him intently as I told him about the dead cat, the writing on my mirror, the near-accident, and the doll. But after his initial reaction to the pictures, he now seemed . . . impassive.
And by the time I relayed my conversation with Daniel, including the fact that my brother thought I was possessed, Noah seemed light.
“Possessed with . . . emotion?” he asked slowly.
I narrowed my eyes at him. “Possessed, possessed.”
“And he believes this, why, exactly?” He turned to my bathroom. “May I get a towel?”
“Sure,” I said, dropping down onto my bed as Noah disappeared. “I told him what’s happening to me.”
He emerged with his head bent, rubbing a towel through his hair. When he stood up straight, I saw that he was shirtless.
The architecture of him drew my eyes like a magnet. Noah was built with clean lines and strong ones; his jeans hung low, exposing fine hip bones that made me want to touch.
I’d seen this much of him before, but not in my room, not like this. It brought a rush of heat to my skin.
“I thought we decided against that to avoid a lockdown scenario?” He hung the towel on the knob of my bathroom door. “May I borrow a shirt?”
It took a few seconds to collect myself before I could answer. “I don’t think mine would fit you,” I said, my eyes still lingering on his lean frame. “Ask Daniel?”
Noah’s gaze slid to my bedroom door. “I would, but I don’t think it would be wise to leave your room like this.”
Right. “Right,” I said. I left, came back, and tossed Noah one of Daniel’s shirts. He stretched it over his head and his slender muscles moved beneath his skin and I was riveted.
“So,” he finally said, unfortunately clothed and leaning back against my desk. “You told your brother what’s been happening?”
“Kind of . . . I said Horizons gave us a stupid assignment to fictionalize our problems and then described what was happening to my fake protagonist.”
“Oh, good,” Noah said, nodding seriously. “I was afraid you’d be obvious about it.”
I rolled my eyes. “He bought it because it’s obvious. Fictionalizing my problems for therapeutic purposes is believable. Me having the ability to kill people with my mind, less so.”
Noah inclined his head. “Fair point.”
“Anyway,” I went on, “his conclusion is that I’m possessed and I think there’s something to it, Noah.”
He ran his fingers through his chaotic hair once again. “Mara, you’re not possessed.”
“But I’m losing time and I played with a Ouija board.”
“I never played with a Ouija board,” Noah said.
“But I did. And it predicted Rachel’s death.”
It predicted I would kill her.
Noah slid into my desk chair and listened.
“Rachel asked it how she was going to die six months before the asylum collapsed,” I explained. “And it spelled out my name. I didn’t even think about it then.”
I narrowed my eyes at him.
“Mara,” he said lazily. “There are a million explanations for the scenario you just described.”