Kit crawled into a cold bed and stared up at the ceiling. She’d had fun with Terrence, but when he’d kissed her good night, all she’d felt was a keening, horrible pain. Because it wasn’t Noah, wouldn’t ever be Noah.
I fuck everything female that moves. I don’t want that with you.
Those words were important, she knew that, but they also hurt. So much. It would’ve been easy to say yes to the invitation in Terrence’s eyes, to ask him in, to lose herself in his body. He was handsome and kind and her friend.
And she couldn’t use him that way.
“I’m not ready,” she’d admitted to him. “I… I’m getting over someone.”
To his credit, he’d cupped her face with slender writer’s hands that felt too smooth against her skin, kissed her on the forehead. “I was starting to get that vibe.” A warm smile. “Feel free to rebound on me. Anytime you need a date or a plus one¸ I’m here for you.”
Throat thick with emotion, she’d hugged him tight. “Thank you,” she’d whispered, drawing in his scent—and that scent, it wasn’t right, wasn’t of the man she should’ve been hugging.
It was all so frustrating and stupid.
“And,” Terrence had added, “I’d like to keep seeing you if you don’t mind. We can go as slow as you like. I don’t want to stop and try to start all over again now that we’ve discovered we can have a good time together, just the two of us.”
Kit’s heart had hurt, but she’d nodded. “Yes, I’d like that.” Then she’d remembered her one prior engagement. “I promised Noah I’d go with him to a charity gala next Saturday, but we’re not dating or anything.”
Terrence’s smile had been open, his hazel eyes clear. “I know that, Kit. Everyone knows you and the Schoolboy Choir guys are tight—if you’d intended to date one of them, you’d have done it by now.” A deeper smile. “I won’t throw a jealous fit if the tabloids report it as a clandestine love affair.”
“Clandestine love affair?” Kit had laughed. “Careful, or people will start to think you’re a writer or something.” At his chuckle, she’d hugged him again. “You’re a good man.”
“Yes, I am.” A kiss on the cheek as they drew apart. “I can also be an amazing boyfriend.”
Yes, Kit thought, Terrence would be a great boyfriend. He was intelligent with a warm personality, and beautifully creative. Over dinner, they’d talked not only about the industry, but about the deep history of storytelling as well as about travel and how it changed a person. Terrence was also as passionate an advocate of Kit’s talent as an actress as she was of his as a writer.
They were perfect for one another. If only she could forget Noah.
She shoved off the comforter after an hour of tossing and turning, then padded into the kitchen and made herself a cup of herbal tea. She didn’t particularly like the taste, but oddly enough, it did usually put her to sleep. Not tonight.
Going out into the cool but comfortable air of the garden with the half-finished drink in her hands, she took a seat on one of the picnic-table benches and thought about how Noah’s eyes had a way of becoming a silvered gray when he truly laughed. One of her favorite memories of him was from this garden: he’d been lying on his back on a blanket, all lazy and relaxed as they played Worst Rumor while she tidied up the area, tugging out a weed here, clearing up leaf detritus there.
It was a game he’d made up. They had to one-up each other with false celebrity rumors. Of course, half the time they ended up debating whether something was false or not.
Okay, I have a good one, his voice said in her head. G&V is reporting that Bleu Flavell killed and ate his pet pig Pigiligi during a drug-fueled rampage and is now in therapy to get over the trauma.
Lies. Kit remembered rolling her eyes at the ridiculous claim. That pig has its own room in Bleu’s house, complete with a bed and a personal groomer and chef. No way Bleu’s touching a hair on its body.
Yeah? So why hasn’t Pigiligi Flavell been spotted for the past week, huh? And Bleu did have that blowout party last weekend.
Eyes burning at the memory of their ensuing hilarious attempts to uncover the truth, she stared at the spot where he’d lain. “Stop haunting me.” It was a whisper.
Music sounded, soft and gentle.
She’d brought her cell phone outside with her, had been debating whether to text Molly or Becca on the off chance they’d be awake and available to talk. But the name displayed on the screen wasn’t of either of her two closest women friends. It was of the man she’d come out here to forget.
She knew she should ignore the call. It would be the sensible, the healthy thing to do. But then she thought of the way he’d asked her to be his friend, of how he’d exposed his need when he never allowed anyone to see his vulnerability, and felt her resolve break. “It’s two a.m.,” she said into the receiver.
“I was passing by your place, figured I’d try my luck.”
Noah had no cause to pass by her place. “Go home.”
“I tried.” A quiet pause. “Molly made me a bed at her and Fox’s place. I snuck out.”
He was fine, Kit thought. He wasn’t drunk or in trouble. He was just… “Go home,” she said again. “There’s nothing for you here.”
“How about my friend?” It was a rough question.
Kit pressed a hand over her heart, pushing into the ache within. “She’s sitting here thinking about the shopping she has to do tomorrow for her mother’s annual luncheon.” Adreina organized a group mother-and-daughter luncheon for her and her friends every year, and no matter what, Kit would never hurt her by refusing to attend.
Unfortunately, it meant a new outfit head to toe. Her mother insisted. “Make an effort, Kathleen,” she’d say in a throaty voice that still carried faint hints of a Venezuelan accent. “If you don’t wear the latest styles, people will think your career’s sliding and you’re pinching pennies.”
The worst thing was that she was right. With Kit’s career on the rise, the media, the industry, the audience, they were all watching her like hawks. She might worry about her mortgage, but everyone else was interested only in whether she gave the impression of a financially secure A-list actress.
“That come around again already?” Noah’s voice sank into her bones, into her blood, into every part of her.
She wanted to scream at him to get out, to leave her be, but he kept on haunting her, kept on becoming part of her. “Yep,” she said and rose to her feet. “I better go to bed so I’ll be bright and shiny for the shopping trip tomorrow.”
“Good night, Kit.”
“Good night, Noah.” Why can’t you see me like I see you?
Kit was both surprised and not when her phone rang at ten the next day. “Want some company for that shopping trip?” was Noah’s response to her hello. “I’m about to reach the gates to your house.”
Her fingers clenched into her palm. “You really want us plastered all over the tabloids?”
“Nobody believes we’re a couple, not after we so totally debunked the last lot of rumors.”
Those rumors had begun when a very smart reporter picked up on the edgy chemistry between Noah and the soap actress Kit had been at the time. However, when Noah made it clear he was dating everyone but Kit and Kit started dating a costar, the rumors had died a quick death. Their demise had been helped along by the fact she and Noah had both laughed it off, as had the other members of the band.
In one memorable quote, Noah had said, “Date Kathleen? It’d be like dating my sister.”
So yes, he was probably right about the tabloids not making a big deal of it. “Since when do you like shopping?”
“I’ve been watching that show with the designers. I can make it work.”
Her lips twitched at the well-known catchphrase. That was the thing with Noah—he could charm, but he also had a great sense of humor. Sometimes it was wicked, other times sarcastic, occasionally quiet, but the only people who ever saw it were those he trusted. That list was very short.
Stop it, Kit. Stop trying to make yourself special to him.
Only she knew she was special to him. He might not want her as a lover, but he valued her friendship. Maybe what she needed to do was desensitize herself to his presence, really beat it into her head that all he wanted was to be friends—if she didn’t avoid him, if she repeatedly exposed herself to his indifference to her as a woman, sooner or later, her heart and her body would get with the program.
“Fine,” she said on that pragmatic and painful decision. “I’ll tell Butch to buzz you in.”
Having been about to head out anyway, she was waiting for him when he rolled up in that black Mustang that was all grunt and swagger. “Do you know how much gas this car guzzles?” she asked when she slipped in, not waiting for him to come around to open her door. “I thought you were going to sell it?”
“Turns out I can’t part with her.” Turning the car around after giving the steering wheel an affectionate pat, he drove back toward the gate. “I happen to know that you buy perfume that costs as much per spritz as a tank of gasoline.”
Damn it, he knew too many of her vices. “My taste in expensive perfume is all my mom’s fault.” Adreina had given her the specially blended perfume on her eighteenth birthday with the instruction that she was now a woman and should have a signature scent.
Kit hadn’t expected to like it—her mother’s taste in perfume ran to the sultry and voluptuous—but Adreina had surprised her with a clean scent that carried just a touch of the earth. It fit Kit perfectly. “And anyway,” she added, “I’ve never actually had to buy it. Mom gives me a bottle every birthday.” It delighted Adreina that even after all these years, Kit preferred that perfume to all others.
“Talking about your mom, does she know you’re not rolling in it after your house purchase?” Noah zipped through a yellow light that changed to red halfway through. “Since she’s asking you to spend up for her luncheon.”
“Neither of my parents have any idea, or they’d throw so much money at me I’d drown in it.” Undependable Parker and Adreina might be, but loyal and protective they most certainly were; it was a duality Kit had accepted long ago.
Noah’s glance was perceptive. “You won’t tell them though, will you?”
“I won’t be in such a tight spot as soon as the cosmetics deal is finalized. Another big movie or two, and I’ll be home free, no pun intended.”
“Would you have gone to your folks anyway?”
“You know I wouldn’t.” Noah came from money, as did Abe, but Kit knew the two men hadn’t used any family money to build Schoolboy Choir. No, Fox, Abe, David, and Noah had done it on their own from the ground up. All four men equal and all four men proud of what they’d achieved.
Kit had always been envious of their since-childhood friendship. She’d had friends in school, of course, but no one with whom she’d bonded deeply enough that they’d stayed in touch after graduation. Not anyone’s fault, just the roll of the dice. Becca was her longest-standing friend. They’d clicked at their very first meeting on the set of Primrose Avenue, been close ever since.
And now she had Molly too. She could already tell that friendship would last.
“Hey.” Noah’s voice, a curious smile. “Where did you go?”
“Just thinking about a coffee date I have with Molly.” They planned to go to a little place Thea had recommended.
“Anyway,” she said, “my folks both earned their wealth.” Parker’s parents had ensured that he had the best tennis coaches and could attend the most elite training camps, but he was the one who’d put in the court time; he was the one who’d begged off from nights out and vacations away.
Kit was pretty sure her father had never gone on a spring break blowout, gotten drunk and partied. He’d been too driven, too dedicated to his goal of achieving a Grand Slam—which he’d done not once, but twice. As for Adreina, she’d been born dirt-poor, clawed her way out through sheer grit and determination. It was partly why she lived so flamboyantly now.
“I want to stand on my own feet too,” Kit said, remembering the pleasure of her first paycheck, of how good it had felt to know she’d earned it through her own hard work. “I bet you’ve never taken money from your mother or father either.”
Noah’s expression turned grim. “I have a trust fund that’s been gathering interest and dust for decades. I should donate it or something, but…” He shook his head, his golden hair catching the sunlight and making him appear a young god. “Let’s not talk about my nonrelationship with my folks—I heard your dad’s going to be organizing one of the big tennis tournaments, right?”
“Yes.” Despite his pleasure-seeking lifestyle, her father had never lost his interest in, and passion for, the game. “Mom’s really excited and already making plans for the parties she’ll throw the players and their teams post-match.”
Noah shot her a dark look before returning his attention to the road. “It kind of weirds me out that your parents actually still like each other. Like, for real.”
Kit laughed, unsurprised. Celebrity marriages did not, as a rule, last, especially when you were talking two giant egos. “It occasionally surprises me too.” Her mother could appear so shallow, her father so self-involved, but while they were flaky parents, they were devoted lovers.
“The thing is,” she said to Noah, “Mom and Dad always back each other. They argue in private like the two passionate personalities they are, but in public, say a single bad thing about one to the other, and you’re persona non grata.” Kit loved that aspect of her parents’ marriage.
“And though it makes me squirm to even think about it, my parents continue to find each other hot.” She shuddered. “While I was still in high school, I once walked into the conservatory at our family home to find my naked mother straddling my clothed father.” She scrubbed the heels of her hands over her eyes as Noah’s laughter, deep and unrestrained, filled the car. “I’m pretty sure she was undoing his belt at the time.”
Cheeks creased in a huge grin, Noah said, “What did they do?”
“Mom looked over and said, ‘Kit, dear, not now. Your father and I are discussing something.’”
Shoving at his arm when he snorted with laughter again, she giggled. “Well, I guess they might’ve been, but I just backed out and shut the door. Then I went and found a sock and put it on the door to warn the staff and my grandparents, who’d just arrived. It was Christmas—which might explain the red ribbon tied into a big bow below my mom’s breasts.” She shuddered again. “Mom was holding another ribbon. I do not want to imagine where that was intended to go.”
“Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas to Parker.”
She was the one who snorted this time. “Shut up.”
Noah was still grinning when he pulled into a parking garage off Rodeo Drive, the open, unshadowed pleasure on his face threatening to undo all her resolve.
Careful, Kit. He’s not for you.
She had to repeat that until it sank in, until she could look at Noah and not feel that hole inside her tear open all over again.