The way she sounded, the way he smiled, set my nerves on fire. “What?”
Jude looked up at me, and his grin grew wider. “Tell them,” he said to Stella. When she didn’t speak, he tugged on her hair. “Tell them.”
“She—” Stella screwed up her face, and her eyes flicked to Jude as he crouched beside her. “She knew,” Stella whispered, looking straight at him. “Jude’s part of it. She knew—oh my God, she knew, about all of us, the whole time—he’s part of it, she promised him you’d bring Claire back if he brought you here, she told him how to make you do it, and she left the rest of us here to see what you would do, oh God—”
“She?” Jamie whispered.
“Kells,” Noah said.
“Jude’s part of it?” I asked, my voice brittle and breaking. “He’s part of what?”
What was he? What were we?
“I can’t hear,” Stella wailed, “there are too many voices!” Then Stella whispered and mumbled; I could only catch one word. It sounded like “insurance.”
“How do we get out?” I asked quickly. That was what I needed to know, before Stella lost it. How to get out.
“You can’t,” Stella moaned.
“I was let in,” Jude said calmly.
I felt like I’d been kicked in the chest.
Dr. Kells had let Jude in. The adults were all gone. There was no one to help us, no one who would come.
“He killed Phoebe,” Stella said, her shoulders shaking. “But it looks like you did it, Mara—that’s what they’re going to say. They need you—”
Jude slapped her cheek. Stella sucked her full lips into her mouth and looked down at the sand. She wasn’t going to say anything else.
I couldn’t make sense of most of what she had said, but one thing I caught was this: Dr. Kells promised Jude I would bring Claire back if he brought me here tonight. And she was lying.
She wanted me here for some other reason and I couldn’t begin to fathom what it was. I couldn’t play along with Jude’s delusion, but maybe if I could show him that he was just a piece, a pawn in whatever twisted thing was happening here, there might be a chance, however small, that he would let us go.
I didn’t see another way. So I said, “Dr. Kells is lying to you.”
“No,” Jude said to me, “you are.”
Then he grabbed Stella’s wrist and broke it. We all heard it snap.
Megan screamed like an animal. Jamie swore. Adam smirked. I churned with rage.
But Noah. Noah didn’t make a sound. He didn’t step forward. He didn’t even tense. After a minute, he said, “You might want to let her go,” as if he were pointing Jude in the direction of the nearest gas station.
The muscles in Jude’s face twitched. He didn’t understand why Noah wasn’t reacting, why he didn’t seem to care, and until that second, neither did I.
Jude wanted us off balance. He wanted us afraid. He needed those things from me most of all, and I thought he was hurting Stella to try and scare me even more.
But it wasn’t working. I wasn’t scared. I was angry, and Jude saw it. Which is why he wasn’t trying to use Stella to provoke me—he was using her to try and provoke Noah. Thinking he couldn’t resist a damsel in distress.
He wanted Noah to take her place.
But it wasn’t working. Noah didn’t move.
Jude dropped Stella’s wrist, then. She fell back against the bloody sand and I felt a split second of relief—
Until Jude pinched the back of Jamie’s neck.
Everything changed. My stomach curdled with fear.
“I’ll let this one go,” Jude said with a wholesome smile, “if Mara takes his place.”
I let out the breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding. Jude had me before, at the marina, and didn’t kill me then. He came into my room and ruined my life but I was still here. I was still alive.
Jude couldn’t kill me, Stella had said—he thought he needed me to get his sister back. If I took Jamie’s place it wouldn’t matter that it wasn’t possible; Jude would be busy with me, giving the rest of them a chance to get all of us out.
I let go of Noah’s arm.
NOAH FLASHED ME A LOOK THAT FROZE MY blood. “Don’t you dare.”
Then Jamie spoke. His voice was like the edge of a diamond, brutally sharp and compelling. “Let me go,” he said to Jude.
And to my enormous shock, Jude did.
I watched Jamie drop to in slow motion, but just before he hit the ground, Jude gripped his neck again, pulling him up.
Then landed a brutal kick to Jamie’s stomach. Jamie curled in the sand.
“Don’t speak again,” Jude said.
I shook with rage and hatred. Jude looked at me with clinical interest. “Here’s how this is going to work,” he said, against the background of Megan’s now-constant sobs. “The longer you make me wait, Mara, the more you will make them suffer.”
“This has nothing to do with them,” I spat.
Jude nodded. “Exactly,” he said. “So are you going to make them pay for what you did? All you have to do is take their place.” He smiled like a reptile and looked at me like I was a rat. “Otherwise you’ll kill them slowly, and I will make you watch.”
Noah placed a hand on my stomach very softly, keeping me back. “You aren’t killing anyone, Mara,” he said to me. Noah looked straight at Jude. “He is.”
That shadow had crept back into Noah’s voice, into his face. I had never, ever seen him lose it, but I had a feeling I was about to.
It was frightening.
Jude trailed his finger along the crown of Megan’s sweat-damp blond head. The sand beneath her darkened with urine. “Who will you choose first?” he asked me.
I was mute. Transfixed. Jude knelt down to Megan slowly.
Then Noah shifted me gently, subtly behind him.
Jude took Megan’s face in his large hand and as he did, Noah moved so silently and fast I almost missed it.
Noah was in the garden. His fist met Jude’s face with a sickening crack.
Megan and Adam let out a double, inharmonious gasp, but I didn’t turn to look. I was riveted, spellbound by what I saw: Jude used his size like a wrecking ball, inflicting carnage with heavy hands and feet. But Noah was incisive and swift, lithe and fierce. He knew instinctively what would hurt most, and that’s what he did. Noah hit Jude again and again and again and I couldn’t look away.