I stared down at the phone in my hand, feeling disconnected from my body, like I was in some kind of dream state. I’d only ever felt that way once before – when I was watching my father die, when I was standing by his bedside while his body rattled as he took his last breaths, the smell of antiseptic and chicken soup heavy in the room.
But this was much more intense. With my father, it was like I’d been watching a movie or a scene in a snow globe. Now it felt like I was in the movie, like I was part of the scene. And even though none of it felt grounded in reality, I knew I couldn’t escape.
“Charlotte,” Noah demanded again. “Who was it?”
He took my phone from my hand and looked at the call log, his brow furrowing when he saw “Unknown” written on the screen. He took in a long measured breath. “That was him? The man who sent you to Audi?”
“What did he say?”
The room was slowly coming back into focus, the colors and angles sharpening. I flexed my fingers experimentally, wondering if I was going to have another panic attack like I’d had the other day. But instead of feeling weak and numb, I began to feel strong.
I was sick of being on the defensive, sick of waiting for things to happen. I was sick of being scared, sick of waiting for Noah to allow me into his world, sick of just sitting on the sidelines while everyone else swept me up in their decisions.
I was under attack. And I wanted to fight back.
“Charlotte!” Noah demanded. “Look at me.”
I looked at him, my heart clenching at the worry on his face. “He said he was going to kill me.”
Noah’s eyes blackened and his complexion became ruddy as two spots of color darkened his cheeks. “He said what?”
“He said he was going to kill me. He said he was going to strangle me just like he strangled Katie. He asked me if I was going scream like she did.”
“Jesus, Charlotte.” He ran his hand through his dark hair and his jaw tightened. The expression on his face was steady, even, but I could sense his rage boiling beneath the surface. He was furious at me for defying him, for sending that email to Ryan Ramos, for putting myself in danger.
He took a step toward me, and his temple throbbed. I met his eyes, and we stood there for a moment in my living room, just staring at each other, a heightened intensity hanging in the air between us. I knew he wanted to punish me. I’d been defying him repeatedly over the past twenty-four hours, and he didn’t like it. He didn’t like me not trusting him, didn’t like me threatening his control. He was resisting the urge to spank me and fuck me and tie me – I could see the desire searing in his eyes and I wondered how long he’d be able to fight it.
His emotions around the fact that I’d put myself in danger had transformed into a dark and twisted need to control my body, and I could see him wrestling with it, trying his best to keep it at bay for now.
He seemed to be successful as the intense look in his eyes diminished just the tiniest bit. My heart rate began slowing, but I knew it wasn’t over. Noah may have been successful in tamping his urges for now, but they would be back, and when they came they would be stronger than ever.
“We’re calling the police.”
“No,” I said. I’d expected my voice to be shrieky and shrill, but instead it sounded strong and determined. For a second I had that same flash of being disconnected from my body, but a second later it was gone and I was firmly grounded back in reality.
“Yes,” Noah said, beginning to dial the number on my phone.
“Noah!” I said. “No!” I grabbed for the phone, but he held it just out of my reach. I lunged for it again, but his body was made of stone, expertly conditioned by hours of running and weights.
“Charlotte, this is not up for negotiation,” he said, like I was a child being told I couldn’t play with a favorite toy.
“What are you going to say to them, Noah?” I demanded. “That some random person called and threatened my life?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m going to say.” He’d finished dialing, and he put the phone to his ear, waiting for the call to be picked up.
“Are you serious?” I asked, crossing my arms over my chest. “Are you even thinking this through? What do you think the police are going to think, Noah? Do you think they’re going to believe you?”
“It’s inconsequential whether they believe me or not. They will be forced to take action.”
“Really, Noah? They’ve charged you with first degree murder. They’ve started the trial process. They’re not going to be jumping at the chance to start looking at other suspects. They’re going to accuse you of lying, they’re going to say that you’re interfering with their justice process.”