After she finished ticking off a list of Mabel’s ailments, Noah’s mother looked at me expectantly. Guess I couldn’t delay the payment discussion any further.
“Umm, Dr. Shaw?” I hated the sound of my voice. “I’m sorry, I don’t—I don’t have any money with me, but if the receptionist can give me an estimate, I can get to the bank and—”
Dr. Shaw cut me off with a smile. “That won’t be necessary, Mara. Thank you for … catching her, did you say?”
I swallowed and my eyes flicked to my shoes before I met her gaze. “Yes. I found her.”
Dr. Shaw looked skeptical, but she smiled. “Thank you for bringing her in. She wouldn’t have lasted much longer.”
If she only knew. An image of her owner’s body lying on blood-darkened mud flickered in my mind again, and I tried not to let it show in my face. I thanked Noah’s mother profusely and then he and I headed back to the car. Noah’s stride was twice as long as mine and he got there first, opening the passenger door for me.
“Thanks,” I said, before glancing at his smug, self-satisfied expression. “For everything.”
“You’re welcome,” he said, his voice laced with obnoxious triumph. As expected. “Now, are you going to tell me how you really found the dog?”
I turned away from his stare. “What are you talking about?” I hoped he wouldn’t notice that I couldn’t look him in the eye.
“You were walking Mabel on a slip lead when I saw you. There’s no way she was wearing that, from the wounds on her neck. Where’d you get it?”
Being trapped, I did what any self-respecting liar would do. I changed the subject. My eyes fell on his clothes.
“Why do you always look like you just rolled out of bed?”
“Because usually I have.” And the way he raised his eyebrow at me made me blush.
“Classy,” I said.
Noah leaned back and laughed. The sound was raucous. I loved it immediately, then mentally flogged myself for the thought. But his eyes crinkled at the corners and his smile illuminated his entire face. The light changed, and Noah, still smiling, took his hands off the steering wheel and reached into his pocket, withdrawing the cigarettes. He drove with his knee as he tapped one out in his hand, flicked open a small silver lighter and lit up in one fluid movement.
I tried to ignore the way his lips curved around the cigarette, how he held it pinched between thumb and third finger, and drew it almost reverently to his mouth.
That mouth. Smoking was a bad habit, yes. But he looked so good doing it.
“I hate uncomfortable silences,” Noah said, interrupting my less-than-clean thoughts. He tilted his head back slightly and a few strands of his spiking, curling hair caught a shaft of sunlight that filtered through his car window. “They make me nervous,” he said.
That comment warranted an eye-roll. “I have a hard time believing anything makes you nervous.” The words rang true. It was impossible to imagine that Noah was anything but comfortable, all the time. And not just comfortable—bored. Bored. And gorgeous. And I was sitting next to him. Close.
My pulse raced to catch up with my thoughts. There was some villainy afoot, absolutely.
“It’s true,” he continued. “I totally freak out when people look at me, as well.”
“I call shenanigans,” I said, as the sounds of Miami floated in through the window.
“What?” Noah looked at me, all innocence.
“You’re not shy.”
“No,” I said, narrowing my eyes. “And pretending to be makes you look like a jackass.”
Noah feigned offense. “You’ve wounded me to the core with your profane characterization.”
“Pass the tissues.”
Noah broke into an easy smile as the cars in front of us lurched forward. “All right. Maybe ‘shy’ isn’t the right word,” he said. “But I do get—anxious—when there are too many people around. I don’t really like attention.” He then studied me carefully. “A vestige of my dark and mysterious past.”
It was a struggle not to laugh in his face. “Really.”
He took another long drag on his cigarette. “No. I was just an awkward kid. I remember being, like, twelve or thirteen and all my friends had little girlfriends. And I’d go to sleep and feel like a loser, wishing that one day I could grow up and just be fit.”
“Yeah. Fit. Hot. Anyway, I did.”
“I woke up one morning, went to school, and the girls noticed me back. Rather unnerving, actually.”
His candor caught me a little off guard. I tried not to let it show. “Poor Noah,” I said, and sighed.
He smirked and stared straight ahead. “I figured out what to do with it eventually, but not until we moved here. Unfortunately.”
“I’m sure you worked it out just fine.”
He turned to me and arched an eyebrow. “The girls here are boring.”
And the arrogance was back. “We Americans are so uncouth,” I said.
“Not Americans. Just the girls here, at Croyden.”
I noticed then that we were back in the parking lot. And parked. How did that happen?
“Most of them, anyway,” Noah finished.
“You seem to be managing.”
“I was, but things are looking up this week in particular.”
So awful. I shook my head slowly, not even bothering to hide my grin.
“You’re not like other girls.”
I snorted. “Seriously?” And Jamie said he was smooth.
“Seriously,” he replied, missing my sarcasm. Or ignoring it. Noah took a final drag on his stub of a cigarette, breathed the smoke out of his flared nostrils and flicked the remains of the cancer stick out the window.
My mouth fell open. “Did I just see you litter?”
“I’m driving a hybrid. It cancels out.”
“You’re horrible,” I said, without conviction.
“I know,” Noah said, with it. He smiled, then reached over my lap to open my door, brushing my arm with his as he leaned across my body. He cracked my door open but didn’t move away. His face was inches from mine, and I could see hints of gold in his perpetual five o’ clock shadow. He smelled like sandalwood and ocean, but only faintly of smoke. My breath caught in my throat.
When my cell phone rang, I jumped so forcefully that my head hit the roof of Noah’s car. “Whatthef—!”