Following Noah’s pointing finger, she saw the tiny figure of a lone hiker waving up at them before the man continued on his journey and they flew on. Noah was right—it was stunningly peaceful and freeing up here.
“I heard about your cosmetics deal. Congratulations.”
Fisting a hand against the impact of his voice so intimately close, her pulse rapid, she said, “It’s not a sure thing yet. Papers still to sign.”
“You know they won’t back out. They’d be idiots if they did.”
“I feel like such a fraud.” It was the first time she’d admitted her fears aloud. “I’m no model.” All of Adreina’s closest friends were fellow supermodels, so Kit had grown up around inhumanly perfect people, knew without a doubt that she wasn’t one of them.
“But,” she added, “it’s such an amazing opportunity that I couldn’t turn it down. Harper says it’ll grow my brand, and the money will be welcome.” Kit had earned a good amount with Last Flight, thanks to the profit sharing deal she’d signed in lieu of payment in advance; at the time, no one had expected the movie to turn into a blockbuster, so the contract had been generous.
Unfortunately, being forced into a premature property purchase by the combined efforts of her stalker and the paparazzi had put her in a deep financial hole. She now had a monster of a mortgage; her security team didn’t come cheap either. Neither did the gardening team she’d had to hire to maintain the property. The instant she let things go, rumors would start, and right now she needed to fake it until she made it.
“The cosmetics deal will get me mostly out of my mortgage hole unless something goes horribly wrong—like if I break out in a sudden case of acne.”
Noah snorted. “That’s what airbrushing is for.”
Laughing, she shook her head. “I’m not kidding, it’s in the contract.”
He shot her a disbelieving look. “Acne?”
“Not that specifically—any facial injury or outbreak or general hideousness,” Kit said, her shoulders shaking. “They can airbrush the ads, sure, but if a paparazzo gets a real-life shot of me looking unacceptably rough, there goes my value as a promotional asset.”
If Kit hoped for a renewal after the initial one-year term, she had to make sure she looked good even if she was heading to the gym or popping out to grab groceries. “There’s also an ‘unacceptable weight gain’ clause, but hey, at least my lawyer got the ‘moral turpitude’ one struck out.”
Noah scowled. “You should’ve told the assholes to shove it where the sun don’t shine.”
“Giant mortgage, remember?” She shrugged. “It’s almost like another acting gig for me, and to be honest, the cosmetics people treat me nicer than most directors.”
“You’re fielding movie offers left and right.” Noah angled the plane east in the crystalline blue sky. “You don’t have to do anything that makes you unhappy.”
He was so protective of her, always had been. He’d come to her town house in the middle of the night when she’d freaked out after catching a photographer peering through the window; he’d also made the police take the stalking seriously from the very start. That protectiveness was part of the reason why his betrayal had hurt her so badly. It was as if he’d become a different person that night, a person who didn’t care about her at all.
“That’s just it.” Chest hurting, she looked out the window. “The cosmetics deal will give me the freedom to sign more movies like Last Flight. Not that I didn’t have fun doing the superhero movie, but my heart tends to sway toward script-driven dramas.”
“You’re an amazing actress.” Noah loved watching her on-screen. “Whatever you choose, you make it better.”
“Some scripts can’t be saved, Noah.” An unexpected laugh.
His lungs began to work again. He’d caught Kit hesitating and choosing her words several times during the flight, and her body language… there was distance there. Distance he’d created, so he couldn’t fucking cry about it now.
“Harper got this one offer for a movie about erotic insect-women who wanted to sex men to death.” She was no longer staring out the window, her smile like sunshine. “I was meant to be the insect empress, and oh, I got to wear the ‘diamond’ string bikini.”
Noah tried very hard not to imagine Kit in a string bikini; the last thing he needed was a hard-on. Kit was flat out the sexiest woman he knew. “Tell me you still have the script,” he said, managing to pull off a light response.
“I might have saved it.”
He smiled. “Was that the worst one?” Talking to her this way, it felt like having his Kit back again. “No wait, I want to know something else more.”
“Did Hugh make an offer yet?” he said, referring to the owner of the most well-known adult magazine in the world.
“Yep. Hundred grand.”
“Pfft. Total lowball. Hold out for at least nine figures.”
Open laughter. “I don’t think they paid that much even for Abigail Rutledge, and she’s the reigning queen of the A-list.”
Noah was suddenly sorry he’d brought up the topic. The idea of random men jacking off to Kit’s naked body made him want to punch out the lights of every other male in the fucking world. “Would you do it?” he forced himself to ask. “Pose nude for the right money or the right photographer?”
“Nope. And I won’t do nude scenes either—it’s in all my contracts. If the director wants a flash of breasts or whatever, they bring in a body double. No exceptions, and I don’t care if the stance loses me roles.”
Noah unclenched his jaw. “You feel strongly about it.” Good. So did he.
She took a long time to reply, her face pensive when he glanced over. “I love my mom, and I think she has the right to showcase her body any way she chooses.” The last words were soft and fierce both. “But… when I was in junior high, boys in my grade were ogling the nude spread she did at forty-five. It was the ‘Mrs. Robinson’ issue, and it spread through the male population of the school like wildfire.”
Noah suddenly realized he’d seen that spread; every man of a certain age probably had. He was fairly certain one of the boys in his class had tacked it up on the back of the door to the gym locker room.
Feeling a little ill, he shook his head. “Hell, Katie.” The affectionate term just slipped out, but lost in her memories, Kit didn’t seem to notice.
“It wasn’t the first time—she’d done spreads when she was younger, but I wasn’t old enough to be bothered by it then.” She reached up to fix her headphones. “I wasn’t ashamed of her. I think she’s the most astonishingly gorgeous woman I know, and I admire her confidence.” Love and pride entwined. “It was just weird and uncomfortable to know that the boy I sat next to in math class, or the boy who was my crush, would probably go home to jerk off to pictures of my mom.”
“They use it against you?” Noah asked, furious at the thought of her being bullied.
Hugging herself, she rubbed her hands up and down her arms. “A few snotty remarks, the odd snigger, one dipwad plastering my locker with the spread, but that was it. My classmates were all from prominent entertainment or sports families, so my mom was hardly the first parent to be in the media.
“Drugs, cheating, white-collar crime, public drunkenness, you name it, one of the parents had been busted for it.” She blew out a breath. “But it mattered to me. I want to have children, Noah, and I don’t want any child of mine to ever be put in the position of knowing other kids are passing around naked photos of Mom.”
“I get it,” Noah said, awed by her strength. If that had been him he’d probably have spent his entire school life bloodying noses and breaking jaws. “Good thing you weren’t a boy.”
“I should call you a sexist pig for saying that, but in this case you’re right. Can you imagine going over to a friend’s house and finding nude photos of your mom pinned to the walls?”
Noah shuddered, skin crawling. “Thank God I’m never going to be a father—some of the shit I’ve pulled is insane.” He’d been photographed in bed with three half-naked women for Christ’s sake. It had been for a magazine editorial, but still. “How the hell would I ever explain any of it to a son or a daughter?”
Kit shifted in her seat to face him. “What do you mean you’re never going to be a father?” A pause. “I’m sorry—that was insensitive.”
“No, it’s all right—it’s not medical. I just know I won’t make a good father, so I’m not going to saddle some poor kid with Noah St. John as a dad.”
Regardless of his mood or the demons in his head, he was always very, very careful. The one time he’d had a scare, it hadn’t been because he’d fallen down on the job but because the condom had torn. Thankfully, the groupie he’d been screwing at the time had been on the pill, so he’d dodged that bullet.
He’d put a private eye on her to make damn certain, because if he had fucked up and fathered a kid, he’d have taken responsibility—financially at least. “I’m actually thinking of getting it taken care of permanently.”
“What?” Open shock. “Noah, you can’t do that. What if you change your mind?”
“I’m not a good bet as a father, Kit. You know that.” He met her dismayed gaze. “Would you want me as the father of your child?”
Her face froze. Not saying a word, she turned to stare out the window.
It felt like a punch to the solar plexus. “Exactly,” he said quietly.
But Kit didn’t stay silent. “You could be a great father,” she said without warning. “It’d involve trying and working hard and being accountable rather than burying yourself in whatever hell it is that makes you so angry.” Her words vibrated with emotion.
The bones in his jaw grinding against one another, he didn’t respond.
“You have to make a choice, Noah.” Harsh words. “I made a choice as a child to not let my parents’ lifestyle damage me to the extent that I ended up a druggie or a self-destructive waste of space. Whatever it is that’s behind your behavior, you made the opposite choice.”
How could he tell her that he was surviving, that it was all he was capable of doing? He could’ve been dead a hundred times over by now. It would’ve been so easy to give in, to surrender to the pain, but he’d refused. “I didn’t,” he gritted out. “I made the choice to live.”
He could feel Kit’s eyes on him, incisive and penetrating… and he realized what he’d said, what he’d nearly betrayed. “Look down,” he said, slamming the door shut on the memories that made him feel soiled and desperate and used up. “I’m pretty sure that’s a mountain lion. You can use the binoculars over on your side.”
Kit didn’t reach for the binoculars. “Noah,” she said, her voice soft, private. “What happened?”
“Nothing original.” He tried a cynical smile. “Drugs and all that—I was addicted as a teen, decided to get clean.” It was a lie, but one he had to tell. It was far better that she think him weak in that respect than that she know the truth. Kit couldn’t know. He’d die before allowing that to happen.
Kit knew Noah was lying.
It was as obvious to her as a flashing neon sign. And given that he knew her low opinion of drug addicts, the fact he’d confessed to that to get her to stop asking questions made her blood run cold. She wanted to take back her earlier harsh words, wanted to start all over again. Because she was beginning to understand that whatever had scarred Noah, it had nothing to do with the usual small tragedies of life, the things she’d seen growing up.
It had been something bad enough to make a boy want to end his life.
Shaken and not knowing where to go from here, she folded her arms and stared out at the view. It was far greener than immediately around Los Angeles. “Where are we?”
“Near a private landing field I know.” A short pause. “Actually, it’s mine.”
He’d given her so many surprises today that she took this one in her stride. “So you’d have a place to land where no one knew you?”
“Yeah.” A lopsided smile. “There’s nothing else around for miles.”
She could see it now, a cleared strip surrounded by what looked like acres of trees. “How much land did you buy?”
He just laughed and took the plane down, and as her stomach dived, she allowed herself a moment of weakness and let that rough, masculine sound wrap around her.
A few minutes later, Kit stepped out of the plane and, stretching her legs, took deep drafts of the air. Grass and trees, birdsong and the gentle rustle of leaves in the wind, there was nothing of civilization within sight but the plane Noah had just landed. “Do you plan to build here?”
“I have a small cabin a little bit farther in. Other than that, I think I’ll leave it.” A shrug. “Don’t need anything bigger.” He hesitated before saying, “I was planning for us to picnic nearby, but do you want to go see the cabin?”
Kit knew she should say no, put a stop to the increasing emotional intimacy between them. But this was the first, the only time Noah had invited her to a place that could be thought of as his home. “Yes,” she said. “I’d like to see it.”
His smile, it wrecked her.
“Let me grab the food.”
Taking the smaller bag since he had a picnic blanket as well, she walked toward the trees with him, spied an overgrown path. “You haven’t been here for a while?”
“Not since before the tour—but the cabin should be fine. Unless the squirrels decided to stage an attack. Probably banged the door down with hammers shaped from acorns.”
She couldn’t not smile. “You should write children’s books.” The visuals he occasionally came up with were brilliant.
He erupted into gales of laughter, the warmth in his eyes contagious. “Can you imagine a parent buying a kid’s book penned by Noah St. John?” Not waiting for her answer, he pointed with his chin. “There it is.”
Wrenching her attention from him, she saw a log cabin beside a stream kissed by sunshine. “Noah,” she breathed. “It’s perfect.” The clearing in which the cabin stood was all lush green grass and wildflowers, like an image from a fairy tale.
“The cabin’s not very well put together,” he told her. “I did it and it won’t fall down on us, but it wouldn’t pass any inspections.” Smile fading, eyes shadowed, he looked at the small building. “I guess I just wanted a secret, private place where no one expects anything from me.”
“Thank you for sharing it with me.” It was hard to keep her voice steady when he’d just told her this wasn’t his home.
It was a piece of his heart.