Walking out of the garage, they made their way to the street. A skinny, black-haired photographer with an improbable handlebar moustache popped out from seemingly nowhere seconds later and began to click away. “Come on, Kathleen! Give us a smile, love!”
Kit complied because it was the easiest way to get rid of this particular pest. “Enough, Basil,” she said when he continued to back down the sidewalk, camera pointed at her and Noah. “There’re only so many places that want photos of me dressed down in jeans and a white T-shirt.” She was well put together, her hair brushed back in a sleek tail and her face lightly made up, heels on her feet and the T-shirt fitted, but it was hardly tabloid gold.
That was on purpose. Kit had studied actors and actresses who managed to land big deals without being constant paparazzi fodder, intended to follow their lead: be classy, be elegant, don’t hang out at the celebrity hot spots, and don’t wear things that shouted for photographers to take snaps.
“Why do you do this to me?” Basil put a hand on his heart, his English accent incongruously posh. “I don’t suppose you two will hold hands? I can sell it as a secret romance. It’ll be great for both your profiles.”
Noah, dressed in ripped black jeans and a black T-shirt featuring a band he loved, paired with his usual scuffed boots, gave the photographer the finger instead, careful to time it so it was between shutter clicks.
Basil swore but walked off to stalk more financially rewarding targets. Forgetting him because, in truth, Basil was one of the more reasonable paps Kit ran into on a regular basis, she nodded at an upcoming boutique. “In here.”
There were four other women inside already, including a glossily put-together clerk. Every single one—from the eighty-something matriarch with a face kept youthful by an excellent surgeon, to the ten-year-old in sparkly sneakers—took a deep breath when Noah walked in behind Kit, having held the door open for her.
Kit couldn’t blame them. He was impossibly beautiful, but he wasn’t pretty. No, he had that hard edge that said he’d break hearts and beds too. Women gravitated toward him. Was it any wonder that he took advantage?
Hand fisting at her side, she forced herself to smile as the clerk came over.
“Ms. Devigny,” the clerk said, her curly hair ruthlessly tamed into a neat knot and her body clad in a black tunic-style dress. “It’s so good to see you. I have a lovely dress I think you might like.”
“Thank you, Hailey.” Accompanying the rail-thin part-time model to the back wall of the boutique, she examined the jewel-green sheath dress with a gorgeous design element on the right side of the lower half.
“The beading is hand-stitched,” Hailey told her. “Just a touch, so it’s light enough for daytime but can be dressed up for the night if you’re going day to night.”
“I like it,” Noah said from behind her, her body prickling with a primal awareness of his masculine presence. “It’s too long for you though.”
He was right. The dress looked as if it would hit her at the wrong part of the calf, and it couldn’t be brought up without ruining the beading. “I’ll try it anyway, just in case.”
When she did, she found her and Noah’s doubts were justified.
“Hey, Kit,” he said from outside the large changing room. “Fashion show.”
Opening the door, she stepped out to twirl with a hand on her hip. “Definitely too long but I wish it wasn’t.”
“You make it look gorgeous,” Noah said, and for a moment, as their eyes caught and held, it was too much, too painful, too beautiful.
Thankfully, Hailey hurried over right then to exclaim over the dress, though she, too, had to admit it was the wrong length. She showed Kit three other pieces, but nothing worked.
“Next stop is on the other side of those traffic lights,” she said to Noah after they left the boutique.
“What’s with that dress?” He was pointing toward a designer piece in red leather in the window of an exclusive salon. “It looks like a deranged serial killer took a shredder to it.”
“Fashion, darling,” Kit said in her best fashionista voice. “You clearly have no taste, no je ne sais quoi.”
“Nope,” said the gorgeous man who constantly wore disreputable jeans and whatever T-shirt he could find, and looked hotter than any other man on the planet. Right now he had a thick metal chain going from the front left pocket of his jeans to the back. That was dressing up for Noah.
Dropping the phony accent as her traitorous, addicted-to-Noah body threatened to focus on the way his butt looked in those jeans, she said, “The dress is a monstrosity. Want to go ask the price?”
“They let you ask the price?”
Kit shrugged, they looked at each other, then went in. Keeping a straight face at the five-figure price tag was difficult, but they managed it until they were outside and past the shop.
“What are you wearing to the gala?” Kit asked once she’d caught her breath and they were safely across the street. “I assumed it was black tie.” Thea had already lined up a couple of designers who wanted to put Kit in one of their gowns.
“Yeah, it is.” A sigh. “I’ll put on a fucking penguin suit because it’s my aunt’s deal.”
“I’ve never seen you in a tux.”
“And you probably never will again,” he muttered as he pulled open the door to the boutique that was their destination.
She saw the dress at once: a dark, dark pink that was almost red, it was sleeveless and had a classic A-line set off with a thin black belt. The neckline was almost straight across with the barest curve while the back zipped up all the way. It had a 50s vibe to it that appealed to Kit. Paired with the discreet diamond earrings her paternal grandparents had given her on her twenty-first birthday, it would be perfect for the luncheon.
This time she didn’t come out and show Noah the dress. Because if he complimented her again while looking at her as he’d done in the other boutique, the anger and frustration and love inside her might erupt into a scream, her fists pounding at him as her fury spilled over.
Shaking, she took a deep breath and put on the mask again.
Noah was smiling when she stepped out, but it faded almost immediately and she knew he’d seen the mask. Too damn bad. “Got it,” she said, and took the dress to the counter before the clerk could come over.
The two of them left the boutique in silence after she paid.
“Noah!” The call came from two excited female voices.
Figuring they were fans of the band, Kit waited a few steps away so Noah could sign autographs. Except these women didn’t want autographs. The top-heavy brunette threw herself into Noah’s arms. “Tuesday night was a-mazing!” she squealed.
Even as Kit’s stomach lurched, bile burning her throat, the other brunette stroked a hand down Noah’s arm. “We haven’t been able to stop talking about it.” Giggles as Noah extricated himself. “If you want us to come over tonight, we’re so ready.”
Noah managed to peel them off, his charming expression never changing—but Kit knew that look. It was the one he used with people he didn’t particularly want to talk to, and yet he’d obviously slept with both these women. What did that make him if not a user? Of course, the women appeared to have gone to his bed with open eyes, but it just seemed wrong that he could dismiss them so easily.
Feeling sick about the whole situation, she avoided his gaze and was about to walk away on her own when she realized Basil was lurking in a doorway not far in the distance. If she did what she wanted to do, the shots would be all over the tabloids tomorrow, telling a story she didn’t want anyone to know.
So instead, she maintained her bored waiting face and the next time Noah looked over, pointed at her watch. As if she was nothing more than a friend annoyed by the delay. Grinning, he took his leave of the women, who both pouted in disappointment.
He didn’t say anything about the incident and neither did she. Good. Because the humiliating thing was that while Noah had been fucking not one but two women, she’d been lying alone in bed, trying to get over him.
Part of her heart finally, finally turned to stone.
Noah knew the mood was broken. For a few wonderful hours, he and Kit had managed to recapture the friendship that had made him understand joy, but it was now as out of reach as the moon, the atmosphere in the car tense enough to snap.
“Noah,” Kit said into the silence. “Do you like women?”
“What kind of question is that? You know I like women.”
“No, you use women. But do you actually like them?”
He scowled. “Sure. I like you and Thea, Molly and my sister, for starters.”
“Then why do you treat your lovers that way?” Turning in her seat, she looked at him with eyes he couldn’t read, the shutters down and locked. “As if they’re worth nothing?”
Noah couldn’t believe she wanted to talk about this. “Jesus, Kit, they weren’t my lovers. They were just women I—” He cut himself off before he spoke words even he knew would make him appear an asshole. “We weren’t lovers.”
“Have you ever had one? A lover?”
Yeah. You. They might’ve never so much as kissed, but during their friendship Kit had known him better than any of the women he’d fucked ever would. He’d given her his heart in the songs he wrote that weren’t the hard rock for which Schoolboy Choir was known, and she’d held that heart cupped safely in her hands.
“No,” he said aloud. “Why settle for just one?” It came out a brittle question.
Kit shifted to stare out the window.
They didn’t speak again until she got out of the car at her house. “Thanks for the company,” she said and was gone.
Entering the house, Kit went to her room and hung up the dress so it wouldn’t wrinkle. Then she sat on the edge of her bed and, for the last time, faced all of her most secret dreams when it came to Noah and accepted that none of them were going to come true. The end. Run credits.
No tears this time, just a quiet and soul-deep grief.
Not only for her lost dreams, but for Noah and the terrible thing that haunted him. If he ever shared the cause of his demons with her, she’d be his friend, attempt to help him, but she couldn’t live her life trying to protect his. He had to take responsibility for his choices… as she had to for hers.
When her phone rang, she stared at the screen for long seconds before picking it up. “Terrence,” she said, putting a smile in her voice.
Noah would’ve realized it was false, but Terrence didn’t know her that well yet. He would though, she thought as she agreed to meet him for dinner at his place. She’d go into this with her heart wide open, give him a chance to truly know her, this good, smart man who wanted her.
Noah woke with gritty eyes and an aching body. He hadn’t gone out and picked up a girl last night. Instead, he’d gone running on the beach, the world silvery white under a bright moon, the waves crashing to shore inches from where his sports shoe-clad feet hit the sand.
He hadn’t bothered with a T-shirt, just pulled on running shorts and shoes, and then he’d run and run and run and run until it seemed he’d left the entire world behind, locked up tight in sleep.
It wasn’t true, of course. He was awake and so were the flotsam and jetsam of the world. Including the gangbangers and drug pushers who only came out after the sun set—and who left Noah alone because they were fans. An odd perk of fame, and one he appreciated. His favorite Venice night person was a familiar homeless guy who, night after night, managed to sneak onto the beach to sleep under the stars.
“Hey!” he called out as Noah passed him on the way back to his place.
When Noah stopped, the other man struggled up into a sitting position in his sleeping bag, his deeply tanned face seamed with life and all but covered by a sprawling white beard and mustache and the messy white of his hair. “Why you so crazy? Out here at night all the time, disturbing a man’s sleep.”
Breath rough, Noah bent over with his hands on his knees. “Just a bad seed, I guess.”
“Since you woke me up, you got a dollar?”
“For you, Marshall, I got twenty.” Taking the bill from his sock where he’d put it for exactly this purpose, he handed it over. “What’s happening, my man?”
“I was creating a symphony inspired by the waves.” Marshall tucked away the money. “Now I’m thinking I’ll be inspired tomorrow morning by bacon and eggs and sausage. Symphony of Cholesterol.”
Noah grinned, knowing that for the truth. Marshall never drank away what money he had, had even turned down a bottle of bourbon last Christmas. “A full breakfast sounds good. I might join you.”
The homeless man grunted. “You’re not invited. Last time you came into the diner, you had all the waitresses going so crazy they burned my sausages and made my eggs sunny-side up when I specifically said scrambled.”
Noah took a seat on the sand, his eyes on the waves rolling in to shore. “Body’s gotta eat.”
“You got that right.” Marshall held out a stick of gum, slid it back when Noah shook his head. “Why do you run so much?”
“Same reason you sit on the beach playing your harmonica long after the world’s gone to sleep.”
The other man nodded solemnly, rubbing his thumb over the small instrument. “Where’s your guitar?”
“Back home. Want to come up so we can jam?” Noah had offered Marshall a place to crash—not in his house, because he couldn’t have anyone in his house while he slept, while he was vulnerable—but in the guesthouse. The homeless man kept turning him down because he hated walls, hated not being able to taste the wind and breathe the open air.
The only time he’d ever accepted shelter had been during a rare torrential rainstorm.
“Naw,” Marshall said to his invite. “I want to work on my symphony. But I’ll see you at the diner for breakfast. Seven a.m. sharp. And if those waitresses get my order wrong, I’m eating yours.”
Saluting the older man, Noah rose and jogged back to his place. He was so tired by the time he arrived that he slept, though he was still awake in plenty of time to make his date with Marshall and looking forward to it. Whatever path had led Marshall to this life, he had music in his blood—and Noah knew that if not for Fox, Abe, and David, he could’ve ended up much the same. Lost and without roots and tormented by nightmares until he couldn’t bear walls around himself.
Not shaving, he pulled on an old Lakers cap in an effort to shadow his face, then made his way down to the diner on the boardwalk. Marshall was already sitting at a table, having tidied himself up so that he looked respectable. The olive-green weatherproof coat Noah had given him last year was clean, his beard neatly trimmed, and his backpack set beside him. No shopping cart for Marshall, just that ragged backpack.
After getting their food—unburned—they spoke about music and about all the changes Marshall had seen in this area over the years, until the other man got up to use the restroom. Noah picked up the newspaper lying on a nearby table to occupy himself while Marshall was away, seeing too late that it was one of the tabloids. About to throw it back, he caught Kit’s name in the sidebar.
Figuring Basil had gotten a payday after all, he turned to the page indicated—to see a full-color shot of Kit standing with her hands in Terrence’s, her face glowing. They were beside Kit’s car, as if she’d just arrived or was about to leave, and she was wearing a pretty, soft dress in a cool tangerine orange that he knew turned her amber eyes even more striking.
The text read:
It looks like rising star Kathleen Devigny is following in the footsteps of her Last Flight costar, JJ Hughes, in dating not one of her fellow actors but a member of the crew. While JJ is now pregnant with her first child with her cameraman boyfriend, sources tell us that Kathleen’s romance with scriptwriter Terrence Gates is only beginning.
This exclusive shot shows her arriving at Gates’s home around seven last night. Sadly for Gates, she left at eleven. However, from the rumored smile on his face as he walked her back to her car, the night was a promising one for the talented scriptwriter who already has a Golden Globe under his belt.
Watch this space for more on this developing Tinseltown romance.