“I missed your birthday.” And that made me sad, for some reason.
“What do you think you’ll do with the money?”
Noah flashed a grin. “Convert it to gold coins and swim in it. But first,” he said, taking my hand, “lunch.”
MY BODY WARMED AT THE CONTACT AS Noah led the way into the bustling restaurant. I watched him in profile, talking to the host. Somehow, he didn’t look like the same person I’d met two weeks ago. He didn’t look like the same person who picked me up this morning. Noah—sarcastic, distant, untouchable Noah—cared. And that made him real.
I wondered if anyone else knew, but enjoyed a fleeting moment thinking that I might be the only one as we were led to a table by the window. But then Noah’s grip tightened on my hand. I looked up at him. The color had drained from his face.
“Noah?” His eyes were tightly shut, and I began to feel scared without knowing why. “Are you okay?”
“Give me a minute,” he said, not opening his eyes. He dropped my hand. “I’ll be right back.”
Noah threaded back the way we’d come in and disappeared out of the restaurant. A bit dazed, I sat down at the table and perused the menu. I was thirsty, though, and lifted my head to scan the restaurant for a waiter when I saw him.
Staring at me from under the brim of his hat. In the middle of a throng of people waiting for a seat.
He started walking toward me.
I squeezed my eyes shut. He wasn’t real.
“How does it feel to be the most beautiful girl in the room?”
I jumped at the accented voice. Not Noah’s. And definitely not Jude’s. When I opened my eyes, a fair-skinned guy with blond hair and hazel eyes was standing next to the table with an earnest expression. He was cute.
“Mind if I join you?” he asked as he slipped into the seat across from me. Apparently he had no intention of waiting for my answer.
I narrowed my eyes at him. “Actually, I’m here with someone,” I said. Where was Noah?
“Oh? A boyfriend?”
I paused before answering, “A friend.”
His grin widened. “He’s a fool.”
“If he’s just a friend, he’s a fool. I don’t think I could stand being just your friend. I’m Alain, by the way.”
I snorted. Who was this guy? “Luckily, Alain,” I said, mispronouncing his name on purpose, “I don’t foresee that being a problem.”
“You don’t? Why’s that?”
“Because you were just leaving,” Noah said from behind me. I half-turned and looked up. Noah stood inches away, leaning over me just slightly. The tension was evident in the set of his shoulders.
Alain stood, and fished for something in the pocket of his jeans, withdrawing a pen. “In case you get tired of friends,” he said, scrawling something on a napkin, “here’s my number.” He slid it over the surface of the table in my direction. Noah’s hand reached over my shoulder and took it.
Alain’s eyes narrowed at Noah. “She can make her own decisions.”
Noah stood still for a second, staring at him. Then he relaxed, and a spark of amusement lit his eyes. “Of course she can,” he said, and raised an eyebrow at me. “Well?”
I stared at Alain. “That seat’s taken.”
Alain grinned. “It certainly is.”
Noah turned to him too casually and said something in French—I watched Alain’s expression grow increasingly anxious. “Still care to join us?” Noah asked him, but Alain was already leaving.
Noah slipped into the now-empty seat and smiled. “Tourists,” he said, shrugging lazily.
I glared at him, even though I wasn’t mad. I was calm, actually. Unusually so, for my post-hallucinatory state. I was glad Noah was back. But I couldn’t let him off so easily. “What did you say to him?”
Noah picked up the menu and spoke while studying it. “Enough.”
But I wasn’t having it. “If you’re not going to tell me, then give me his number.”
“I told him you were in high school,” he said, without looking up.
“That’s it?” I was skeptical.
A hint of a smile appeared on Noah’s lips. “Mostly. You look too old for your own good.”
My eyebrows shot up. “You’re one to talk.”
He grinned and placed the menu on the table. Then stared out the window. Distracted.
He glanced up at me and gave me a tight smile. “Nothing.”
I didn’t believe him.
The waiter appeared then, and Noah plucked the menu from my hands and handed it over, rushing off our order in Spanish. The waiter departed for the kitchen.
I shot him a dark look. “I hadn’t decided yet.”
“Guess I don’t have much of a choice.” A devious smile formed on his lips. I took a deep breath and, for the sake of peace, let it go. “So, Spanish and French?”
Noah answered with a slow, arrogant grin. I had to concentrate to prevent myself from melting in the plastic-covered seat.
“Do you speak anything else?” I asked.
“Well, what level of fluency are we talking about here?”
The waiter returned, and brought two empty, frosted glasses along with dark bottles of something. He poured the caramel-colored drinks for us, then left.
Noah took a sip before answering. Then said, “German, Spanish, Dutch, Mandarin, and, of course, French.”
Impressive. “Say something in German,” I said, and took a sip of the drink. It was sweet with a spicy, sharp finish. I wasn’t sure I liked it.
“Scheide,” Noah said.
I decided to give the drink another shot. “What does that mean?” I asked, then sipped.
I almost choked, and covered my mouth with my hand. After I composed myself, I spoke. “Lovely. Is that all you know?”
“In German, Dutch, and Mandarin, yes.”
I shook my head. “Why, Noah, do you know the word for vagina in every language?”
“Because I’m European, and therefore more cultured than you,” he said, taking another swig and trying not to smile. Before I could smack him, the waiter then brought a basket of what looked like banana chips accompanied by a viscous, pale yellow sauce.
“Mariquitas,” Noah said. “Try one, you’ll thank me.”