“You didn’t kill everything in that room.”
“With the exception of us, I did.”
Noah laughed without amusement. “That’s it. You could have killed me. I tormented you, and you could have ended it by ending me. But you didn’t,” he said, and brushed my hair away from my face.
“You’re stronger than you know.”
His hand lingered on my cheek and I closed my eyes in anguish.
“I know we don’t know how or why this is happening to you—to us,” he said. “But we will figure it out.”
I opened my eyes and stared at him. “It’s not your responsibility.”
“I fucking know it’s not my responsibility. I want to help you.”
I inhaled sharply. “What about tomorrow? Someone’s going to wonder what killed hundreds of endangered species.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll—”
“Fix it? You’ll fix it, Noah?”
As I spoke the words, I knew that that was exactly what he thought. That despite all rationality, he did think he could fix me, like he could fix everything else.
“Is that how you see this working? I’ll screw up and you’ll take care of it, right?” I was just another problem that could be solved if only we threw enough time or practice or money at it. At me. And when the experiment failed—when I failed—and people died, Noah would blame himself, hate himself for not being able to stop it. For not being able to stop me. I wouldn’t do that to him. So I said the only thing I could.
“I don’t want your help. I don’t want you.” The words felt mutinous on my tongue. And they hit him like a slap in the face.
“You’re lying,” Noah said, his voice low and quiet.
Mine was cold and distant. “I think it would be better if I didn’t see you again.” I didn’t know where the strength to say such a thing came from, but I was grateful for it.
“Why are you doing this?” Noah said, piercing me with an icy stare.
I began to lose my composure. “You’re really asking me that question? I murdered five people.”
“I wanted it.”
“God, Mara. You think you’re the only person to want bad things to happen to bad people?”
“No, but I am the only person who gets what she wants,” I said. “And Rachel, by the way, wasn’t a bad person. I loved her, and she did nothing to me, and she’s dead anyway and it’s my fault.”
I whipped around. “What? What did you just say?”
“You still don’t know if the asylum was an accident.”
“Are we back there again? Really?”
“Listen to me. Even if it wasn’t—”
“It wasn’t,” I said through clenched teeth.
“Even if it wasn’t an accident,” Noah continued, “I can warn you the next time you get close.”
My voice went low. “Just like you warned me before I killed Morales.”
“That’s not fair, and you know it. I didn’t know what was happening then. I do now. I’ll warn you the next time it happens, and you’ll stop.”
“You mean, you’ll make me stop.”
“No. It’s your choice. It’s always your choice. But maybe if you lose your focus, I can help bring you back.”
“And what if something happens and you’re not there?” I asked.
“I’ll be there.”
“But what if you’re not?”
“Then it would be my fault.”
His expression went carefully blank.
“I want a boyfriend, not a babysitter, Noah. But let’s say I agree to this plan, and you’re there but can’t stop me. You’ll blame yourself. You want that on my conscience too? Stop being so selfish.”
Noah’s jaw tensed. “No.”
“All right. Don’t. But I’m leaving.”
I stood to leave but felt Noah’s fingers on my thighs. The pressure of his grasp was feather-light on my jeans, but I was frozen.
“I’ll follow you,” he said.
I looked down at him, at his hand-stirred hair above his grave face; his lids were half-closed and heavy. Sitting on his bed, he was level with my waist. A thrill traveled along the length of my spine.
“Get off,” I said, without conviction.
The ghost of a smile touched his mouth. “You first.”
I blinked and stared at him carefully. “Well. Isn’t this a dangerous game.”
“I’m not playing.”
My nostrils flared. Noah was provoking me. On purpose, to see what I’d do. I wanted at once to smack him, and to rake my fingers through his hair and pull.
“I won’t let you do this,” I said.
“You won’t stop me.” His voice was low, now. Indescribably sexy.
My eyes fluttered closed. “Like hell I won’t,” I whispered. “I could kill you.”
“Then I’d die happy.”
I opened my eyes and focused on his. “I’d be happier without you,” I lied as convincingly as I could.
“Too bad.” Noah’s mouth curved into the half-smile I loved and hated so much, just inches from my navel.
My head was foggy. “You’re supposed to say, ‘All I want is your happiness. I’ll do whatever it takes, even if it means being without you.’ “
“Sorry,” Noah said. “I’m just not that big of a person.” His hands traveled up the side of my jeans, up to my waist. The pads of his fingertips grazed the skin just underneath the fabric of my shirt. I tried to steady my pulse and failed.
“You want me,” Noah said simply, definitively. “Don’t lie to me. I can hear it.”
“Irrelevant,” I breathed.
“No, it isn’t irrelevant. You want me as much as I want you. And all I want is you.”
My tongue warred with my mind. “Today,” I whispered.
Noah stood slowly, his body skimming mine as he rose. “Today. Tonight. Tomorrow. Forever.” Noah’s eyes held mine. His stare was infinite. “I was made for you, Mara.”
And at that moment, even though I didn’t know how it was possible or what it meant, I believed him.
“And you know it. So tell the truth. Do you want me?” His voice was strong, confident as he voiced the question that sounded more like a statement.