“I want to be here.”
“I can’t let anything happen to you.”
I closed my eyes in frustration. Either Noah didn’t understand what I was trying to say, or he was ignoring it. “Should I go?” I asked.
His hand was still on my face, and his touch was impossibly soft. “You should.”
I wasn’t about to beg. I broke away from him and reached for the door.
“But don’t,” he said, right when I touched it.
I faced him and stepped back into the room. He pushed the door closed behind me. My back was against the wood and Noah was almost against me.
I went in search of Noah with every intention of just sleeping when I found him. But now the beat of my blood, of my wanting, transformed the air around us.
I was consumed by the slow lift of the corner of his mouth and the need to taste his smile. I wanted to dip my fingers under the hem of his shirt and explore the soft line of hair that disappeared into his jeans. To feel his skin under my teeth, his shadowed jaw on my neck.
But here, now, with him only inches from me, and nothing to stop us, I didn’t move.
“I want to kiss you,” I whispered instead.
He angled his face closer, lower down to mine. But not to my mouth. To my ear. “I’ll allow it.”
His lips brushed my skin and suddenly it was too much. I grabbed a fistful of his shirt and pulled him against me as close as I could but he was still not close enough. My hands were trapped between the hard ridges of his stomach and my softness and I was almost breathless with wanting, trembling with it.
But Noah was still.
Until his name fell from my lips in a soft, desperate groan. And then his hands were on my hips and his mouth was on my skin and he lifted me and I wrapped myself around him. I was backed against the door and the copper buttons on Noah’s jeans pressed against me and the ache was delicious and not enough, not at all. His rough cheek electrified the curve between my neck and shoulder and I leaned back, completely senseless. He gripped my waist and he shifted me up and then his lips brushed against mine. Soft. Tentative. Waiting for me to kiss them.
A memory flickered of us together in his bed, a tangle of limbs and tongues and hair. Noah wrapped around me as he unwrapped me with his mouth. Our mouths were fluent in the language of each other and we moved with one mind and shared the same breath. Until Noah stopped breathing. Until he almost died.
Like Jude should have.
Like I wished he had.
I shuddered against Noah’s mouth and my heart thundered against his chest. I did not imagine him almost dying. I remembered it. And I was afraid it would happen again.
Noah slid me down.
I was breathless and unsteady on my feet. “What?”
“You’re not ready,” he said as he backed away.
I swallowed. “I was thinking about it. But then you just—stopped.”
“Your heartbeat was out of control.”
“Maybe because I liked it.”
“Maybe because you’re not ready,” Noah said. “And I’m not going to push you.”
After a minute passed in silence, I finally said, “I’m scared.”
Noah was quiet.
“I’m scared to kiss you.” I’m scared I’ll hurt you.
Noah gently smoothed my hair from my face. “Then you don’t have to.”
“But I want to.” It had never been more true.
His eyes were soft. “Do you want to tell me what you’re afraid of?”
My voice was clear. “That I’ll hurt you. Kill you.”
“If you kiss me.”
“Because of that dream.”
I closed my eyes. “It wasn’t a dream,” I said.
I felt Noah’s fingers on my waist. “If it wasn’t a dream, then what do you think happened?”
“I told you already.”
“How would that work?”
I studied his face, searching for any trace of amusement. I didn’t find it. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s part of . . . me,” I said, and I knew that he knew what I meant.
“I’ve never had sex.”
“I’m aware. But if I recall correctly, you didn’t seem to be worried about it that night in my room.” The tiniest hint of a smile lifted the corner of his mouth.
I knew exactly which night he meant. It was the night he finally realized what I could do, when I killed every living thing in the insect house at the zoo, everything but us.
I thought I should leave him then, to keep him safe. I thought I should leave everyone I loved. But Noah wouldn’t let me and I was grateful because I didn’t want to let him go. I wanted him close, as close as he could possibly get. I wasn’t thinking clearly. I wasn’t thinking much at all.
“I don’t know,” I said, backing down onto the bed. “How am I supposed to know?”
Noah followed my steps and unfurled on the mattress, drawing me down with him. My spine was pressed up against his chest; the silver pendant he always wore was cold against my skin, exposed in my tank top. The beat of his heart steadied mine.
Noah traced the length of my arm and held my hand. “We don’t have to do anything, Mara,” he said softly as my eyes began to close. I wanted to curl up in his voice and live there. “This truly is enough.”
I had one final thought before I slipped into sleep.
Not for me.
India. Unknown Province.
THE MAN IN BLUE LOOKED DOWN AT ME AS THE horses drew the carriage away, kicking up dust. “What is your name?”
I stared at him.
“Do you understand me?”
“I do not know what your guardian has told you, but you are in my care for now. We will have to give you a name.”
I was silent.
He let out a small sigh. “We have a journey ahead of us. Are you feeling well?”
I nodded again, and our journey began.
I was sad to leave the ships. We traveled by foot and by elephant back into the forest and still it was nearly sunset when we reached the village. The earth beneath my feet was dry and the air was quiet and still. I smelled smoke; there were many small huts that stretched out over the land, but there were no people.
“Come inside,” the Man in Blue said, and waved me into one of the huts. My eyes wrestled with the dark.
Something moved near me; a figure emerged out of the dimness. I could see only smooth, brown, flawless skin attached to a slight slip of a girl. She was taller than I, but I could not see her face. Ribbons of black hair fell limply below her shoulders.