Her head dropped, and she shook it. “That girl, I swear.”
She lolled her head back, like this was some kind of giant inconvenience. “He paid me, okay?”
The hair rose on the back of my neck. Noah and I exchanged a glance.
“Who paid you?” I asked.
She shrugged. “Some guy.”
“What did he look like?” Noah pushed.
“Tall. Dark. Handsome.” She smiled, and tried to take another puff. Noah plucked the joint from her fingers and held it in front of him, just out of her reach.
“Be specific,” he said.
She shrugged lazily. “He had an accident.”
“An accident?” Noah asked. “A limp? A prosthetic limb? What?”
Noah rolled his eyes. “An accent. Right. What sort of accent?”
“Foreign,” she said thickly, and began to giggle.
“This is useless,” I said. But at least she hadn’t described Jude. A small relief, but still.
“We’re not leaving until she tells us exactly what happened,” Noah insisted. “Was his accent like mine?” he asked her.
She shook her head.
“What did he say to you?”
She sighed. “He told me to bring you into my tent,” she said to me. “He told me what to say to you.” Then she lifted her face up to Noah. “And he said you’d offer me money and that I couldn’t take it.”
“When was this?” I asked her.
“About ten minutes before I saw you.”
Noah ran his hand over his jaw. “I don’t suppose he gave you a name?”
She shook her head.
“Are you sure?” he pressed. “There’s no amount of money I could offer you to tell us?”
A sad, brittle smile appeared on her lips. “God knows I could use it, sweetheart, but I can’t take money from either of you.”
Her gaze drifted off into the darkness. “He told me I couldn’t.”
“So what?” Noah asked. “Why listen?”
Her voice grew quiet. “Because he’s the real deal.” Then she reached out her hand. Noah gave back her joint, and she stood.
“I’m truly sorry,” she said to me as she passed by, leaving Noah and me alone. The tower above us was just about to fall; but even though everyone in it knew what was coming, when it dropped, they still screamed.
Noah fit his hands to the curve of my waist. “Tell me,” he said.
He looked inhumanly beautiful under the lights. It almost hurt to look at him, but it would have hurt more to look away.
“Tell me,” he said again. There was need in his voice, and I didn’t have the strength to refuse.
“She said I have to let you go.”
He drew me closer. Brushed a strand of hair from my face, trailed his fingers along the curve of my neck. “Why?”
I closed my eyes. The words ached as they left my throat. “Because you’ll die by my side if I don’t.”
Noah slid his arms around me and fitted me against him. “It isn’t real,” he whispered into my hair.
Maybe it wasn’t. But even if it was . . . “I’m too selfish to leave you,” I said.
Noah pulled back so I could see his smile. “I’m too selfish to let you.”
WHEN WE MET BACK UP WITH MY FAMILY, I put on my happy face. I was still haunted by what Roslyn had said and the idea that someone paid her to say it, but when I managed to sneak a minute alone with Noah after we got home, he said he’d have Investigator Guy look into it, kissed my forehead, and left it at that. My face fell, but Noah didn’t see it.
Or he ignored it.
Noah would try to find out who paid her off, I knew. I trusted him. But I wasn’t sure he trusted me.
I was suggestible, he said, and Noah was the opposite. Eternally skeptical and arrogant about it. Yes, he went along with anything I wanted, no matter how strange—the Santeria stuff, burning that doll. And tonight, with the fortune business; he gave in to me too, even though he thought Roslyn was just high, that her words had no more weight than a horoscope. Noah indulged my every whim, but they were more than that to me.
Which made me wish I had the freedom to look for answers myself.
I knew I should be grateful not to be locked up in a mental hospital already and I was, but it was hard not to feel like a prisoner in my own house instead. And I wasn’t just under my parents’ observation—I was under John’s, too. I wanted him watching me and the house, absolutely. But even though I felt safer now, I didn’t feel free. That wasn’t his fault, and it wasn’t Noah’s.
It was Jude’s.
Noah did ask me to come to his room after everyone fell asleep that night, and even though I was frustrated and tired and still thinking about my crappy fortune, I went. Obviously.
When I opened the guest room door, Noah was in bed—still clothed and reading.
“What book?” I asked, closing the door and leaning against it.
He showed me the title: Invitation to a Beheading.
I smiled, but it didn’t reach my eyes. “I recommended that to you.”
“It’s sad,” he said, placing the book on the bed.
My brows knitted together. “I thought it was funny.”
“Cincinnatus is in a prison of his own making. I find it sad.” He tilted his head at me. “You’re still upset.”
It wasn’t a question, but I nodded anyway.
“In that case, I have a proposal.”
“You’ve been doing exposure therapy at Horizons, yes?”
“Yes . . .”
“To overcome your fears.”
I nodded again.
“And one of the things you’re afraid of is hurting me.”
“Killing you,” I said quietly.
“If we kiss.”
If I lose control. “If we stay together,” I said, thinking of Roslyn’s words.
“You want to do both?” Noah asked evenly.
So much. “Yes.”
“Then my proposal is this: that we approach it the way you would any other fear. First, you’ll imagine an encounter with the source of the phobia.” A half-smile appeared on his lips.
I saw where he was going with this. “You want me to imagine kissing you?”
“I’ll guide you through it.”