But then I heard my name—in Megan’s voice. Just before she and Adam slumped forward at exactly the same time.
A memory flashed—Jude stabbing himself, dropping to his knees on a wooden dock.
I was assaulted with memories then. The man at the marina who died when he tried to rescue me from torture. John, my bodyguard, who died in his car from a stroke. I remembered dead fish beneath the dock and dead birds that fell from the sky.
Not my fault. But not random, either.
“Noah,” I whispered, looking back and forth between Megan and Adam and Jude. I finally, finally understood.
Jude could heal himself like Noah—by killing things, like me.
He didn’t have to touch anyone to kill them. He didn’t even have to think it. He just had to be hurt himself, and if he was, anything and anyone around him would die.
Like John. Like the off-duty cop. Like the fish.
I was lethal, but Jude was worse. And animals could sense it—our neighbors’ pets disappeared the day I came home from the psych ward—the same day Jude began haunting my house.
Noah had Jude prone and locked to the sand. He pressed his forearm to Jude’s throat and leaned over his face. “I will murder you,” he said calmly. “And before you die you will beg for her forgiveness.”
Jude might have made a noise but I couldn’t hear it because Megan and Adam groaned in anguish.
Insurance, Stella had said.
Jude’s chest heaved and his shoulders shook. He was laughing.
“He’ll kill them,” I said, my voice rough and miserable. “If you hurt him, they’ll die.”
“If you don’t kill me,” Jude said, his voice hoarse, “I’ll slice Mara into pieces so small you won’t—”
Noah released Jude’s throat. And shattered his kneecap in one brutal move.
There was a scream—from Jude, this time. It fractured the air. Jude twisted onto his side, but after a minute, he was laughing again. Still.
His laughter and my heartbeat were the only sounds I could hear. “You want revenge?” Jude asked. His words echoed in the quiet space. He nodded his head at Megan and Adam. “Take it.”
My eyes darted toward them—they were unconscious now, but still breathing. Her hair was mixed in with the sand—almost exactly the same color, too. Bits of it stuck to Adam’s buzzed head.
Jamie and Stella, however, were both awake. They were silent, but their eyes glittered with awareness. Taking it in, just like me.
Just like me.
I was unaffected. They were unaffected. Which meant that if Noah could keep Jude engaged—maybe I could get them free. I looked around frantically for a weapon, a tool, something sharp—
“She’s right,” Jude said, nodding at Stella. “I don’t want to kill Mara.” His voice was raw, but laced with delight. “Torturing her is too fun.”
Noah kicked him again; flattened him onto his back. Knelt. Pressed his forearm against his throat again.
Which was what Jude wanted. Adam made a wet-sounding noise; the tattoos on his arms stood out against his now-pallid skin. Megan didn’t make any sound at all.
“You’re killing them,” Stella said loudly.
Noah looked deceptively, chillingly calm but I knew he was out of control. He could only think of Jude dead and me safe, not the price he or anyone else would pay for it. If Jude had threatened anyone else, Noah could hold himself back. But he couldn’t not react when Jude threatened me.
I was his weakness.
Noah would never forgive himself if he gave in.
I said his name.
Noah’s expression had been viciously hollow as he waited for the oxygen to leave Jude’s lungs, but at the sound of my voice something changed. He leaned back, just slightly, releasing some of the pressure on Jude’s throat, enough so he could breathe.
I looked around the space hoping to find something, anything, to help us. But the garden was in the center of the compound and the walls around it were bare and sparse. No furniture, just a scrolled pedestal in the corner holding a green porcelain urn.
The object triggered a memory—of Phoebe smashing a vase to the ground.
And then I had an idea. “Hold him,” I called to Noah as I rushed to the far corner of the room. I tipped the pedestal forward and the urn smashed on the stone tile. I snatched one of the shards—maybe I could cut them loose with it? Was it big enough?
But then Stella screamed, shattering the scene in the garden, scattering my thoughts.
Jude was standing. Noah’s side darkened with blood.
A slow, lacerating smile appeared on Noah’s lips.
The two of them were locked in a silent stalemate and those of us who were still conscious watched. I was hypnotized in my private hell. Even knowing Noah could heal, even seeing his savage smile and knowing the pain didn’t bother him, that it electrified him—seeing him hurt still dipped me in acid. My hands curled into claws and I felt a sharp pain in my palm—
The shard. I was still holding it.
I forced myself to tear my eyes away from the boy I loved and darted forward to help my friends. Jamie was closest.
“This is so fucked,” he said under his breath as I began sawing at the zip-tie that bound his wrists. The jagged piece of porcelain was cutting my skin but I kept sawing until Stella shouted Noah’s name and then I had to look up.
Jude had repositioned himself so that he was now nearer to me than Noah was; he moved when I moved to try and cut Jamie loose.
“Run,” Noah said to me, his voice almost a whisper. It was soft and desperate.
I couldn’t leave him. It would have been smart, maybe, but I couldn’t do it.
And I couldn’t leave Jamie and Stella trapped either. So I ignored Noah’s plea and attacked the tie on Jamie’s wrists and feet with an even greater fervor.
They came free. Jamie sprang up on startlingly quick feet and Jude dove forward, toward me, just as Noah lunged for him.
Jude knocked me down. The shard fell from my hands.
“Get them out!” I screamed to Noah as Jude’s arms snaked around my body. As a steel blade pressed against my skin. It would take nothing to break the flesh. To plunge it into my neck and bleed me out like an animal in front of Noah.
Noah, who watched me with an expression that others would take for rage. But I knew better.
It was terror.
A hot tear slid down my cheek as Jude lifted me up and held me tightly against him, my back against his broad, awful chest. I stared at Noah, his perfect face frozen, his limbs radiating tension as he stared back at us, motionless.