I WRAPPED MY ARMS AROUND NOAH’S NECK AND buried myself in him.
“Yes,” I whispered into his hair as he held me.
“What’s that?” I could hear the smile in his voice. “I want you,” I said, smiling back.
“Then who cares about anything else?”
Noah’s hands on my waist, on my face, felt so familiar, like they belonged there. Like they were home. I pulled back to look at him and see if he felt it, but when I did, I shattered into a million pieces.
Noah believed in me. I didn’t understand until then, right then, how much I needed to see it.
I shivered at the lovely scrape of his jaw on my skin. His lips skimmed my collarbone and when he shifted his hips into mine, I became senseless. I knotted my fingers in his warm hair and crashed my mouth into his. When I tasted his tongue, the world fell away.
But then the bitter air of the asylum stung my nostrils. Jude’s face flickered behind my eyelids and I pulled away, gasping.
“Mara, what’s wrong?”
I didn’t answer him. I didn’t know how. We’d come so close to kissing a thousand times before, but something almost always stopped us—myself, Noah, the universe. Before now, the only time we’d succeeded, I was sure, positive that he almost died. My heart rebelled at the idea, even though I knew I was right. What was happening to me? To him, when we kissed?
“What is it?” he asked.
I needed to say something, but that’s not the kind of thing you can just bust out with.
“I’m—I don’t want you to die,” I stammered.
Noah looked appropriately confused. “All right,” he said, and pushed back my hair. “I won’t die.”
I looked at the floor, but Noah ducked his head and caught my eyes. “Listen, Mara. There’s no pressure.” His hands brushed down my face. “This,” he said, as they trailed down my neck. “You.” My arms. “Are enough.” He laced his fingers into mine and held my stare. I knew he meant it.
“Just knowing you’re mine.” He released my hand and lifted his to my face, glancing his fingers over my lips. “Knowing that no one else gets to touch you like this,” he said. “Seeing the way you look at me when I do.
“And hearing the way you sound when I do, “A slight, uneven smile played on his lips. Just looking at them was not enough.
Seized by boldness and frustration, I grasped Noah’s hand and pulled him to his bed. I pushed him until he was sitting and climbed into his lap, ignoring his raised eyebrows as I straddled him. My hands furiously worked the buttons on his plaid shirt but fumbled. My dexterity had vanished along with my decorum.
Noah placed one of his fingers under my chin and tilted my head. “What are you doing?”
“We can do other things,” I breathed, as I slipped his shirt off his shoulders. I wasn’t completely sure if that was true but I was completely sure that at that moment, I didn’t care. I was desperate to feel his skin against mine. I was desperate to try. I gripped the hem of my T-shirt and started to pull it up.
Noah reached down and clasped my wrists gently. “You want to sleep with me, but you won’t kiss me?”
Well, yeah. I opened my mouth to speak, then closed it, because I thought that might not fly.
Noah lifted me off of his lap. “No,” he said, and shrugged his shirt back on.
“No?” I asked.
I narrowed my eyes at him. “Why not? You’ve done it before.”
Noah looked away. “For fun.”
“I can be fun,” I said quietly.
“I know.” Noah’s expression leveled me.
“You don’t trust me,” I said quietly.
Noah measured his words before he spoke. “You don’t trust yourself, Mara. I am not going to die if you kiss me; I told you that already. But you still think I’m going to. So, no.”
“You’re kidding me,” I said, incredulous. Noah, Noah Shaw, was slamming on the brakes.
“Does this look like my kidding face?” Noah composed his expression into one of mock seriousness.
I ignored it and stood up. “You don’t want me.”
Noah threw his head back and laughed, rich and loose. A blush crept up into my cheeks. I wanted to punch him in the throat.
“You have no idea what you do to me,” he said as he stood. “I could barely keep my hands off you last night, even after seeing what you’d been through this week. Even after knowing how wrecked you were when you told me. And I’m going to spend an eternity in hell for that dream I had about you on your birthday. But if I could call it up again, I’d spend it twice.”
He took my hand and turned it over in his, studying it. “Mara, I have never felt about anyone the way I feel about you. And when you’re ready for me to show you,” he said, brushing my hair to the side, “I’m going to kiss you.” His thumb grazed my ear and his hand curved around my neck. He leaned me backward and my eyes fluttered closed. I breathed in the scent of him as he leaned in and kissed the hollow under my ear. My pulse raced under his lips.
“And I won’t settle for anything less.”
Noah pulled away and drew me up with him. I was disoriented, but not enough to ignore the cocky grin he was wearing.
“I hate you,” I muttered.
Noah smiled wider. “I know.”