I felt him nearer, his words close to my ear. “To the part where I lean back and pull you down with me?”
“Over me,” he said.
“The part where I tell you that I want to feel the softness of the curls at the nape of your neck? To know what your hipbone would feel like against my mouth?” he murmured against my skin. “To memorize the slope of your navel and the arch of your neck and the swell of your—hey.”
I felt his warm hands on my shoulders. I opened my eyes. I must have been moving toward him while my eyes were closed, because I was almost in his lap.
“You should stay on your pillow,” he said.
But I don’t want to. “I don’t want to,” I said back. My fingertips ached with the need to touch.
“We shouldn’t rush this.”
But I want to. “Why not?” I asked.
He stared at me. At my mouth. “Because I want to kiss you again,” he said. “But not if any part of you is still afraid. Is any part of you still afraid?”
That I might hurt him? Kill him? If we kissed? If we stayed together?
“I’m not afraid of you, Noah,” I said out loud.
“Not at all,” I said, shifting back and crossing my legs.
He tilted his head. He didn’t speak.
“I’m afraid of . . . myself,” I clarified. “I don’t—I don’t feel like I’m in control with you.”
His brow creased. I could see the gears turning in his mind.
“What are you thinking?” I asked.
“Liar. You’re never thinking nothing.”
“I’m wondering what would make you feel as though you’re in control. What could make you trust yourself with me.”
“I’ll let you know.”
“Well.” I glanced at the clock. “We have a few hours before we have to be up again.”
“We should sleep,” he said, but didn’t move back to his bed.
I grinned. “We should go back to my room.”
That was when he stood. “Which is right between Joseph’s room and your parents’. And I thought I just told you I didn’t think we should rush anything?”
I rolled my eyes. “I meant my old bedroom.”
I stood and wove my fingers into his. “Noah,” I said, my voice soft.
He turned and looked down at me. The shadow of a smile touched his mouth. “Tomorrow,” he said.
I must have been unable to hide my disappointment, because he placed his finger beneath my chin and tipped it up. “Tomorrow,” he said again, and I could hear the promise in the word.
I nodded. As the adrenaline dissolved in my blood, Noah pressed his lips to my forehead and led me to his bed. I wished with everything in me that I could sink into the feeling of Noah wrapped around me as I slept. But despite his words tonight, all I heard were Roslyn’s as I lay in his arms, awake in the dark.
You will love him to ruins.
If I did, it would ruin us both.
MY EYES FLUTTERED OPEN. THEY WERE unfocused, my vision hazy as I stared at the ceiling. Not the guest room ceiling.
I was in Noah’s house. I was in his bed.
I was dreaming, I realized. And then the mattress shifted beside me.
The word nightmare came to mind unbidden, and suddenly, I was afraid.
But it was only Noah, facing away from me, staring at the rows of books that spanned the length of his room. What little light filtered in through the curtains shaded his beautiful face in sharp angles.
He could never be a nightmare.
I knelt up gingerly, afraid that the wrong movement would make the dream dissolve. I reached out and cautiously pushed his hair back. It felt so real, even though he didn’t move, didn’t respond, to my touch. I ran my fingers through his hair because when I was awake, I was scared I would do it too much.
But this wasn’t real, so there was nothing to be scared of. I ran my finger, my hand, along his jaw, enjoying the scrape against my skin. Touching him felt natural but possessive, and I wasn’t sure how far he would let me go.
Not far, apparently. Noah looked down at me with translucent eyes. His stare was desolate and hopeless.
“What’s wrong?” I whispered, but he didn’t answer. His expression frightened me. Looking at his face and into his eyes, all I wanted was to make him feel something else.
With a boldness my waking self didn’t have, I took his face in my hands, tilted him toward me, and kissed him. Not deeply. Light. Fresh. Soft.
He didn’t move toward me, not at first. He closed his eyes, shut them tight like I had hurt him. I blushed, stung, and backed away.
But then. He pulled my hair back from my face, brushed it behind my shoulders. With the flat of his palm, he pushed me down against the mattress very softly. He moved over me, pressed soft kisses against my skin, teased me with his mouth. I heard him whisper in my ear but I couldn’t hear his words—my own breath was too loud. He slid his hands into mine then, and kissed my lips lightly, one last time. Then he withdrew, leaving something behind in my open palm.
It was heavy but soft and fit perfectly in my hand. I couldn’t see what it was in the dark, so I cradled it to my chest. Followed him out onto the balcony, out of his room.
But when I stepped outside my feet touched nothing. I was weightless. I turned back to look at Noah’s house, but dark vines crawled over it. Trees burst from the ground and cracked through his roof.
I didn’t want to see this. I closed my eyes. Wake up, I told myself. Wake up.
But I opened them just in time to watch the bay soak into the ground. Buildings were crushed and crumpled in seconds beneath the weight of the forest. The jungle had been let in, and now there was nothing I could do.
I closed my eyes and twisted inside myself. I willed the nightmare to end.
But then I heard voices. Footsteps. They were approaching, but my eyelids were filled with lead; they wouldn’t open. Not until I felt the brush of a feather on my cheek. My lungs filled with breath and my eyes opened, drenching my world in color. When I woke, I was not myself.
A man knelt before me; he looked familiar but I did not know his name. He withdrew the feather from my cheek and placed it in one of my hands. My thumb caressed the edges. It was so soft.
“Show me what is in the other,” he said kindly.
I obeyed him. Uncurled my fingers to reveal what was inside.
It was Noah’s heart.