“I didn’t know you had company,” she said to Noah, suppressing a smile.
He shot her a look, then turned to me. “Mara, my sister Katie.”
“Kate,” she corrected him, then gave me a knowing glance. “Morning.”
I couldn’t manage much more than a nod. At that moment, a perky, blond cheerleader was doing cartwheels in my vena cava. His sister. His sister!
“It’s almost noon, now, actually,” Noah said.
Kate shrugged and yawned. “Well, nice meeting you, Mara,” she said, and winked at me before heading down the stairs.
“You too,” I managed to breathe. My heart rioted in my chest.
Noah opened the door all the way and I tried to compose myself. This changed nothing. Nothing at all. Noah Shaw was still a whore, still an asshole, and still painfully out of my league. This was my inner mantra, the one I repeated on a loop until Noah tilted his head and spoke.
“Are you coming in?”
Yes. Yes I was.
nOAH’S ROOM WAS STARTLING. A LOW, MODERN platform bed dominated the center of it but otherwise, there was no furniture except for a long desk that blended inconspicuously into an alcove. There were no posters. No laundry. Just a guitar leaning against the side of the bed. And the books.
Rows upon rows of books, lining built-in shelves that stretched from the floor to the ceiling. Sunlight spilled through the enormous windows that overlooked Biscayne Bay.
I never imagined what Noah’s room would look like, but if I had, I wouldn’t have imagined this. It was gorgeous, definitely. But so … bare. Unlived in. I circled the room, trailing my fingers along some of the spines as I went.
“Welcome to the private collection of Noah Shaw,” he said. I stared at all of the titles. “You have not read all of these.” “Not yet.”
I cracked a smile. “So it’s a tail-chasing tactic.”
“Pardon?” I could hear the amusement in his voice.
“Vanity books,” I said without looking at him. “You don’t actually read them, they’re just here to impress your … guests.”
“You’re a mean girl, Mara Dyer,” he said, standing in the middle of his room. I felt his eyes on me, and I liked it.
“I’m wrong?” I asked.
“You are wrong.”
“All right,” I said, and pulled a random book from the shelf. “Maurice, by E.M. Forster. What’s it about? Go.”
Noah told me about the gay protagonist who attended Cambridge in turn-of-the-century Britain. I didn’t believe him, but I hadn’t read it so I moved on.
“A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man?”
Noah belly-flopped on to his bed, affecting a bored tone as he rattled off another synopsis. My eyes followed the thousand-mile stretch of his back and my feet itched with the confusing impulse to walk over and join him. Instead, I pulled out another book without reading the spine first.
“Ulysses,” I called out.
Noah shook his head, his face buried in the pillow.
Satisfied, I smiled to myself, put the book back on the shelf and reached for another. The dust jacket was missing, so I read the title from the cover. “The Joy of … crap.” I read the rest of the full title of the thick, nondescript volume to myself and felt myself redden.
Noah turned over on to his side and said with mock seriousness, “I have never read The Joy of Crap. Sounds disgusting.” I blushed deeper. “I have, however, read The Joy of Sex,” he continued, a mischievous smile transforming his face. “Not in a while, but I think it’s one of those classics you can come back to again … and again.”
“I don’t like this game anymore,” I said as I placed the book back on its shelf.
Noah reached over to the floor next to his bed, near the acoustic guitar that was propped up against a sticker-covered case. He jangled the keys. “Well, we can go now. You can come back and grill me on the library’s contents later,” he said, his grin still in place. “You hungry?”
I was, actually, and nodded. Noah walked to a well-disguised intercom and pressed his finger on the call button.
“If you order some servant to bring food, I’m leaving.”
“I was going to make sure Albert hadn’t moved the car.”
“Oh, right. Albert the butler.”
“He’s a valet, actually.”
“You are not helping yourself.”
Noah ignored me and glanced at the clock by his bed. “We really ought to have been there by now; I want you to have time to get the full experience. But we can stop at Mireya’s on the way.”
“A restaurant. Cuban. The best.”
When we reached the car, Albert smiled as Noah opened my door for me. After the mansion was out of sight, I screwed up the courage to attack Noah with the questions that plagued me since learning of his assets. The financial sort.
“So who are you people?” I asked.
“You people?” He slipped on his sunglasses.
“Cute. Your family. Supposedly, the only people who live here are basketball players and has-been pop singers.”
“My father owns a company.”
“Okaaay,” I said. “What kind of company?”
“So where was Daddy Warbucks this morning?”
Noah’s face was curiously blank. “Don’t know, don’t care,” he said easily. He stared straight ahead. “We’re not … close,” Noah added.
“Clearly.” I waited for him to elaborate, but he lifted his sunglasses and hid his eyes instead. Time to change the subject. “So why doesn’t your mother have a British accent?”
“She doesn’t have an English accent because she’s American.”
“Oh my God, really?” I mocked. I saw Noah’s smile in profile. He paused before continuing.
“She’s from Massachusetts. And she is not actually my biological mother.” He looked at me sideways, gauging my reaction. I kept my face even. I didn’t know much about Noah, aside from his rumored extracurricular activities. But I realized then that I wanted to. I had no idea what to expect this morning when he picked me up, and to an extent, I still didn’t. But I no longer thought it would be some nefarious plot, and that made me curious.
“My mother died when I was five and Katie was almost four.”
The revelation knocked me out of my thoughts. And made me feel like a jackass, after picking not one but two unpleasant topics of conversation. “I’m sorry,” I said lamely.