This kiss was nothing like that one. When we kissed before, I didn’t know enough to even be afraid. Of myself. Of what I could do to him. I didn’t know enough to hold myself back.
Now I was too aware, hyperaware, and so the fear chained me.
And Noah could tell. “When you’re frightened, your pulse changes,” he said. “Your breath. Your heartbeat. Your sound. I can’t ignore that and I won’t, even if you think you want me to.”
It was excruciating, the wanting and the fear, and I felt hopeless. “What if I’m afraid forever?”
“You won’t be.” His voice was soft, but certain.
“What if I am?”
“Then I’ll wait forever.”
I shook my head fiercely. “No. You won’t.”
Noah smoothed the hair from my face. Made me look at him before he spoke. “There will come a moment when there’s nothing you want more than us. Together. When you’re free of every fear and there is nothing in our way.” Noah’s voice was sincere, his expression serious. I wanted to believe him.
“And then I’ll make you scream my name.”
I broke into a smile. “Maybe I’ll make you scream mine.”
A SLOW, ARROGANT SMILE FORMED ON NOAH’S lips. “Gauntlet thrown.” He drew away and unlocked his door. “I do so love a challenge.”
“Shame it isn’t the only one.”
“Agreed.” He tipped his head toward the hallway. “Come on.”
I rose, but before leaving his room, I grabbed the book. “Can I borrow this?”
“You can,” he said, holding his door open for me. “But I should warn you that I fell asleep on page thirty-four.”
Noah led me down the long hall, our footsteps muffled by the plush Oriental rugs beneath our feet. We turned several corners before he finally stopped in front of a door, withdrew something long and thin from his back pocket, and then proceeded to pick at an old-looking lock.
“That’s handy,” I said as it clicked.
Noah pushed the door open. “I have my uses.”
We stood before a small room that actually seemed more like an enormous closet. There were stacks of temporary shelving and boxes that lined the walls.
My gaze slid over the piles. “What is this stuff?”
“My mother’s things,” Noah said, pulling a cord that hung from the ceiling. An antique milk-glass light fixture lit up the space. “Everything she owned is somewhere in this room.”
“What are we looking for?”
“I’m not sure. But she left the pendant for me, and your grandmother left the same one for you—maybe we’ll find something about it in a letter or a picture or something. And if there’s a connection between your ability and your grandmother then perhaps . . .”
Noah’s voice trailed off, but he didn’t need to finish his sentence because I understood.
There might be a connection between his mother and him. I could tell he hoped it was true.
Noah opened a box and handed me a sheaf of papers. I began to read.
“What are you doing in here?”
I was startled by the unfamiliar English-accented voice. The papers fluttered to the floor.
“Katie,” Noah said, smiling at the girl. “You remember Mara.”
I certainly remembered Katie. She was equally as gorgeous as her brother—with the same dark mane, shot through with gold, and Noah’s fine boned, elegant features. Lashes and legs for days. Arresting was the word that came to mind.
Katie gave me a slow once-over, and then said to Noah, “So that’s where you’ve been spending your nights.”
His expression hardened. “What is wrong with you?”
Katie ignored him. “Aren’t you in a mental hospital or something?” she asked me.
I was speechless.
“Why are you being like this?” Noah asked sharply.
“What are you doing in here?” she volleyed back.
“What does it look like?”
“It looks like you’re digging through Mom’s shit. Dad’s going to kill you.”
“He’d have to come home to do that, though, wouldn’t he?” Noah said, his tone disgusted. “Go eat something, we’ll talk later.”
She rolled her eyes. Then waved at me. “Lovely to see you again.”
“Wow,” I said once she was gone. “That was . . .”
Noah ran his hand roughly through his hair, twisting the strands up. “I’m sorry. She’s always been a bit snotty, but she’s been insufferable these past few weeks.”
So that’s where you’ve been spending your nights.
“You’ve been away a lot these past few weeks,” I said. Maybe I wasn’t the only one who needed Noah around.
He ignored the implication. “She’s been spending a lot of time with your best friend Anna these past few weeks. It’s not a coincidence,” Noah said tonelessly. “She’s not acting out because I’ve been with you.”
But I felt a twinge of guilt anyway.
“My family . . . isn’t the same as yours,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
He paused, measuring his words before he spoke. “We’re strangers who happen to live in the same house.”
Noah’s voice was smooth, but there was an ache behind the words that I could feel, if not hear. However he felt about his family situation, it couldn’t be helping that he was gone so much. And no matter what he said, we both knew that I was the reason.
“You should stay at your house tonight,” I said.
He shook his head. “Not because of that.”
“You should stay here for a few days.” It cost me, but I didn’t want to admit it.
Noah closed his eyes. “Your mother won’t allow me to stay over during the week once Croyden starts up again.”
“We’ll figure something out,” I said, though I didn’t quite believe it.
And then I heard an all-too-familiar voice call me from downstairs.
“Ready to go, Mara?” my mom shouted.
I wasn’t, but I had no choice.
My mother was quiet on the ride home, which was immensely frustrating because for the first time in a long time, I actually wanted to talk to her. But each question I asked earned me the briefest of answers, verbal and otherwise:
“Did Grandma ever leave me anything besides that doll?”
A head shake.