In Noah’s room.
Without any clothes on.
I wrapped the flat sheet tighter around my chest. Lightning flashed, illuminating the roiling surface of the bay outside the window.
“Noah?” I asked, my voice shaky and hoarse with sleep. My last memory was the taste of that rank concoction Mr. Lukumi gave me to drink. The warm feel of it dribbling down my chin. The smell. And then I remembered cold, being cold. But nothing else. Nothing else. My sleep was dreamless.
“You’re up,” Noah said as he padded into view. He was limned in the light from his desk, his drawstring pants hanging low on his hips and his T-shirt hugging his lean frame. The light cast his elegant profile into relief; sharp and gorgeous, as if he’d been cut from glass. He moved to sit on the edge of his bed, about a foot away from my feet.
“What time is it?” I asked him. My voice was thick with sleep.
I blinked. “It was almost two when the seminar ended, wasn’t it?” Noah nodded. “What happened?”
He shot me a loaded glance. “You don’t remember?”
I shook my head. Noah said nothing and looked away. His expression was even, but I saw the muscles working in his jaw. I grew increasingly uncomfortable. What was so bad he couldn’t—oh. Oh, no. My eyes flicked down to the sheet I’d wrapped around myself. “Did we—”
In an instant, Noah’s face was full of mischief. “No. You tore your clothes off and then ran through the house screaming ‘It burns! Take it off us!’”
My face flushed hot.
“Kidding,” Noah said, grinning wickedly.
He was too far away to smack.
“But you did jump in the pool with your clothes on.”
“I was just glad you didn’t choose the bay. Not in this storm.”
“What happened to them?” I asked. Noah looked bemused. “My clothes, I mean?”
“They’re in the wash.”
“How did I—” I blushed deeper. Did I take them off in front of him?
Did he take them off?
“Nothing I haven’t seen before.”
I buried my face in my hands. God help me.
A soft chuckle escaped from Noah’s lips. “Fret not, you were actually very modest in your intoxicated state. You undressed in the bathroom, wrapped yourself in a towel, crawled between my sheets, and slept.” Noah shifted on the bed, and the oddest crunching came from underneath him. I looked, really looked, at the bed for the first time.
“What,” I asked slowly, as I eyed the animal crackers strewn all over it, “the hell?”
“You were convinced they were your pets,” Noah said, not even trying to suppress his laughter. “You wouldn’t let me touch them.”
Noah raised the light quilt, careful not to disturb my sheet, and folded it so none of my pets would spill onto the floor. He walked over to his closet and retrieved one of his plaid shirts and a pair of boxer briefs and held them out to me casually. I gripped the bed sheet covering my skin with one hand and took his clothes with the other as Noah walked back to the alcove. I slipped the shirt over my head and the boxers over my legs but I was acutely, keenly aware of his presence.
In point of fact, I was acutely, keenly aware of everything. The places where Noah’s flannel shirt billowed and curved against my body. The cool cotton sheets beneath my legs, which really felt like silk. The smell of old paper and leather mingled with the rumor of Noah’s scent. I saw, felt, smelled everything in his room. I felt alive. Vital. Incredible. For the first time in forever.
“Wait,” I said as Noah slipped a book from a shelf and headed toward the door. “Where are you going?”
But I don’t want you to.
“But I need to go home,” I said, my eyes meeting his. “My parents are going to kill me.”
“Taken care of. You’re at Sophie’s house.”
I loved Sophie.
“So I’m … staying here?”
“Daniel’s covering for you.”
I loved Daniel.
“Where’s Katie?” I asked, trying to sound casual.
I loved Eliza.
“And your parents?” I asked.
“Some charity thing.”
I loved charity.
“So why are you going to read when I’m right here?” My voice was a challenge and a tease and I was shocked at the sound of it. I didn’t think, I wasn’t thinking—about what had happened last night or today or what would happen tomorrow. It didn’t even register. All I knew was that I was there, in Noah’s bed, wearing his clothes, and he was too far away.
Noah tensed. I could feel his eyes travel over every inch of my bare skin as he stared at me.
“It’s my birthday,” I said.
“I know.” His voice was low and rough and I wanted to swallow it.
Noah took a measured step toward the bed.
Another step. He was there. I was waist high, wearing his clothes and tangled in his sheets. I looked up at him.
He ran his hand through my still-wet hair, and his thumb drew a semicircle from my brow to my temple to my cheekbone, moving over my neck. He fixed his gaze on me. It was hard.
“Mara, I need to—”
“Shut up,” I whispered as I grabbed his hand and tugged, and he half-kneeled, half-fell into bed. I didn’t care what he was going to say. I just wanted him close. I twisted my arm to curl him behind me and he unfolded there, the two of us snuggled like quotation marks in his room full of words. He laced his fingers in mine and I felt his breath on my skin. We lay there in silence for some time before he spoke.
“You smell good,” he whispered into my neck. He was warm against me. Instinctively, I arched back into him and smiled.
“Mmm-hmm. Delicious. Like bacon.”
I laughed as I twisted to face him and raised my arm to hit in one move. He caught my wrist and my laugh caught in my throat. A mischievous grin curved my mouth as I raised my other hand to hit him. He reached over me and caught that wrist too, gently pinning my arms above my head as he straddled my hips. The space between us boiled my blood.
He leaned forward slightly, still touching me nowhere and smelling like need and I thought I would die. His voice was low when he spoke.
“What would you do if I kissed you right now?”