Water thrown on face and teeth quickly brushed for good measure, Kit pulled on her kimono-style blue silk robe over the thigh-length slip she wore as nightwear, stuffed her feet into her favorite slippers, and made her way to the kitchen. It was already light outside, and despite her late night, she didn’t feel too ragged.
Maybe because the hours with Noah had felt like a dream, as haunting and as insubstantial as mist—you couldn’t capture it, except in your memories, no matter how hard you tried.
Trying not to sink back into the fragile and fleeting perfection of it, she’d just reached the counter when the phone rang again. She picked it up at once. “Thea, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” the other woman said. “Something could be very right if we manage it correctly.”
Exhaling, Kit took a shaky breath. “Next time, tell me that.”
“Hey, I called you at six. If it was a problem, you’d get a call at three.” Thea sounded chipper as a bird. “So, last night’s gala was good?”
“It was wonderful.” A beautiful, heartbreaking pretense. “We didn’t steal any of Tierney’s artwork, and Noah didn’t punch any reporters, so the gala can’t be the issue.”
“Are you kidding?” Thea laughed. “You got amazing coverage everywhere. Which is what we need to talk about.”
Coffee having finished brewing, Kit poured herself a cup and spooned in a teaspoon of sugar. That was her one indulgence, the single thing she’d never given up, not even for a costume of body paint and Lycra. Life wouldn’t have been worth living without her once-a-day treat of sweet coffee.
Drawing in the aroma and moaning silently, she said, “Did we get some exciting interview requests?” It must be prime time if Thea was so buzzed. Kit’s own adrenaline kicked in at the thought, her cells jumping.
“Something like that—it’ll be easier if I show you. Hold on.” Sounds in the background. “Looks like our favorite channel’s cycling the story after the ad break. Switch on the television.”
Padding into the living room, coffee in hand, Kit brought up the well-known entertainment channel and settled into her sofa to wait as the ads played. “I met a couple of big movers and shakers last night,” she told Thea in the interim. “Noah did me a big favor taking me to this shindig.”
Thea’s words had just cleared the air when the early morning host came on.
And in today’s breaking exclusive, it looks like things are finally getting hot and heavy between bad-boy rocker Noah St. John and Oscar-nominated actress Kathleen Devigny. The two have been friends for years, but last night, they stepped out as a couple for the first time, and boy, did they look good together.
Just between you and me, our sources tell us they’ve been a couple since the band’s sellout tour. We don’t blame these two lovebirds for being so secretive, because talk about chemistry! This may be the Tinseltown romance of the year. Stay tuned for more.
Kit stared at the screen, coffee forgotten. It filled with a shot of her laughing up at Noah while he looked down at her. She swallowed, not able to blame the media for jumping to conclusions… because right then, in that moment caught by the cameras, they looked like they adored one another.
Then came a playful image of her blowing him a kiss. Another of the two of them climbing the steps, Noah’s hand on her lower back, a final shot of Noah grinning as he took photos of her. The montage made them appear a couple so comfortable with one another that neither the cameras nor the lights caused any anxiety.
Chest hurting, she muted the TV. “We’ve been to other things together,” she said to Thea. “Why is everyone jumping on this?”
“Did you see that first photograph?” Thea asked. “It’s like you set it up for maximum impact.”
“I’m not saying you did, but Noah’s wearing an impeccably fitted tuxedo. Noah never wears anything but ripped jeans and T-shirts. Everyone is gushing about how romantic it is that he cleaned himself up for your first big night out together as a couple.”
Kit groaned, dropping her head back on the sofa and pinching the bridge of her nose between forefinger and thumb. “He did that for his aunt, not for me.”
“Details, details.” Brushing off Kit’s comment, Thea continued. “However it happened, it’s happened. Now we ride the wave of publicity.”
“You know why—you’re a contender for a number of big roles, but you’re being pushed aside by actresses who know how to work the media.”
“I know how to work the media.” Kit glared at the television. “I just don’t want to live my life in front of the paparazzi. And there’s Terrence.”
“He’ll have to cool his heels.”
“There’s no reason—”
Kit sat up at that single word, her throat dry. “But the casting director told Harper I wasn’t big enough for the role.” She’d read for it, was certain she’d impressed the director, so the rebuff had come as a big disappointment.
“Yeah, well, my spies are telling me that you might be back in with a shot. Apparently, you impressed the right people at the gala last night, and this morning’s positive publicity has been the cherry on top.”
Kit could barely breathe.
Redemption was one of the most incredible scripts she’d ever read, and it was being directed by a multiple-Oscar-winning director who’d made icons out of previously little-known actors and actresses. Even though Kit had earned her stripes in Last Flight, the ex-soap-actress tag was a hard one to totally shake off. One hit wasn’t enough; everyone was waiting to see if she’d fly high or fall flat on her face.
If she was cast in Redemption, even in the secondary role for which she’d read, that was it. She’d be recognized as a legitimate actress, would no longer have to fight so damn hard for every role. “How can your spies know that?” she whispered, barely able to believe what Thea was telling her. “It’s six in the morning.”
“Do you know why I’m so freaking expensive? It’s because I don’t sleep and I have spies everywhere.” Thea’s words were dry. “Just trust me on this—last night was very, very good for your career. Now all you have to do is keep the romance going for another month or so—”
“Wait, wait!” Kit got jerkily to her feet. “There is no romance, not between me and Noah. You know that.”
“Of course I know that,” Thea muttered. “But for the next month, or at least until they finish casting Redemption, there has to be—the money people have to see that you can hold the public’s attention in a positive way. If the media’s lapping you up, it makes you the next hot thing, and that equals free promotion for the movie.”
Pacing from one end of the room to the other, Kit shoved a trembling hand through her hair. “But Esra Dali doesn’t care about promotion,” she said, naming the difficult but brilliant director. “He chooses who he chooses.”
“Esra is one of the sharpest operators in the business,” Thea retorted. “He’s an artist, no doubt about it, and he won’t choose a vacuous ‘it’ girl for his movie, but if it’s a contest between two equally talented, equally charismatic actors, he’ll inevitably choose the one with the stronger media profile.”
A small pause as Thea sipped from what was probably her third coffee of the morning. “He knows he’ll lose his backers if he can’t make them money—and without those backers and their financing he can’t tell the sweeping stories he likes to tell, because those stories require serious budgets.”
Shaking all over, Kit put a hand over her mouth and tried to think. “You know Noah, Thea,” she said at last, her stomach a lump of ice. “He isn’t a one-woman guy.” It hurt her to say that, hurt her to remember all the women he’d slept with. Broken glass thrust directly into her veins couldn’t have hurt that much.
“Then you have to convince him to behave for a few weeks,” Thea ordered. “Because while this publicity could make you, it could also tank you. If he’s caught with a groupie, you go from being one half of Hollywood’s hottest couple to the woman scorned.”
The brutally pragmatic words sent Kit to her knees, but Thea wasn’t finished. “You’ll get pity while he’ll come out the stud. Because the world’s not fair, and a woman who ‘can’t keep her man’—as I promise you the story will be spun by the tabloids—is not someone people want to emulate or to follow. You’ll become toxic until I can clean up your image, and that’ll take time.”
Kit’s head felt stuffy, her eyes hot. She wanted to argue with Thea, but she knew the other woman was right: the world wasn’t fair. Everyone wanted their silver screen idols to be winners in real life too. Even her superhero movie might tank if people began to pity her. Kickass superheroes didn’t get dumped.
And still… “No, Thea,” she whispered, her throat raw. “I won’t use Noah that way.” It wasn’t his fault this had spun out of control.
“He’s your friend—”
“No,” Kit said again, conscious Thea was operating with a handicap. She didn’t know Kit and Noah’s history, didn’t know that not only would Kit not force Noah into an untenable position, she wasn’t sure her heart could take the charade. She was too afraid it’d start to believe the illusion was real.
“Kit, this is serious.”
“I know. I’ll take my chances.” She’d started out in the movies in a low-budget film—she’d do that again. No matter how much damage this did to her image, she was still an Oscar-nominated actress. Someone would hire her, and even if her career trajectory took a dip, it wouldn’t be forever. She’d make it back out.
Strong thoughts, but as she hung up, her mind raced like a rabbit, her skin hot. She’d worked so hard for her career, and it was all about to go up in smoke. Heat suddenly turned to ice. The cosmetics contract she was relying on to get her out of a huge financial hole wasn’t yet final… and there was every likelihood Noah would pick up a woman again tonight.
Kit pressed her fists to her closed eyes but couldn’t stop her mind from thundering ahead, couldn’t stop her gut from roiling.
The blowback would begin the instant Noah’s latest sexual conquest hit the tabloids. Chances were high she’d lose that contract. Nobody wanted to buy anything from a loser.
Eyes gritty, she wondered how it had all gone so wrong.
Noah was out by the pool listening to music, hoarding the memories from last night, and fixing a broken string on his oldest Breedlove guitar, when his phone chimed. Seeing Thea’s name on the screen, he put it on speaker so he could continue to work while he spoke with her.
“Hey, doll,” he said, grinning as he used a term that was so not Thea. “David want something?”
“No, I want something.”
“Yeah? What can the PR goddess want with a mere mortal?” Frowning in concentration, he checked the tension. “I already did my quota of publicity.”
“It’s about Kit.”
All at once, she had his absolute attention. Propping the guitar against the table on which his phone sat, he took the phone off speaker and put it to his ear. “What about Kit?”
As Thea spoke, he felt his lips curve. “That’s fucking great,” he said after she told him about Kit being in the running for Redemption.
“Only if you can keep it in your pants.”
Hand clenching on the phone at the razor-sharp words, he said, “You’d better explain that.”
When she did, he just stared out at the cold, clear water of the pool. “You’re serious? If we don’t pull off the happy-couple routine, it could crash her career?”
“The damage potential is high.” Thea spelled it out for him.
Elbows braced on his thighs, Noah wondered exactly how pissed Kit was at him right then. “What does Kit say?”
“She’ll probably fire me for going over her head, but I’m not a publicist because I’m a quivering lily. This could hurt her badly, Noah.” The sound of messages coming in on what might’ve been Thea’s computer. “She says she doesn’t want to use you, but it would be mutual. Schoolboy Choir fans are just as excited about the hookup—I’ve been watching it trend across social media since the news hit.”
“I don’t care about my profile or the band’s.” Noah fisted his free hand, bones pushing white against skin. “If Kit needs me, I’m there.”
“Can you keep it in your pants while you’re officially together?” Blunt as an ax, Thea kept going. “Because if you can’t, then I have to start putting out denials and you two have to laugh off any relationship rumors. We can mitigate the damage at least. If only you and Kit hadn’t looked so cozy—Oh fuck!”
Noah sat up. Thea rarely swore. Whatever the situation, she handled it. “What?” he asked. “Goddammit, Thea, what?”
“Did you two sneak off for your own little picnic last night?” Thea sounded like she was gnashing her teeth. “It looks like a waitress followed you, got a photograph. It’s not the best shot, but added to the red carpet photos and the waitress’s story of how ‘adorable’ you two were being, this makes damage control a pipe dream. No one’s going to believe a denial, and it’ll all turn to shit the instant you’re seen with another woman.”
“I’ll do it,” Noah snarled. “I won’t have Kit exposed to the fucking vipers.”
“You have to be sure, Noah,” Thea said. “You have to be dead certain you can stay faithful to her for the entire time you’re together. At least three and a half weeks to a month—Redemption might be cast earlier, but whatever happens, you have to keep it going long enough that it looks real.”
She took a breath before continuing. “At that point, I can extricate you both with a little fancy footwork. You and Kit will decide you were more suited to being friends after all, and as long as you keep everything friendly and you both start dating new people around the same time, it’ll all blow over.”
“Yes, I’m sure.” If he had to, he’d take the sleeping pills he hated. Given the bile-inducing side effect, he’d long ago decided he’d rather anaesthetize himself with random fucks since he got about the same amount of sleep either way. But if it would protect Kit, he’d take the pills.
“All right, I’ll talk to her,” Thea said at last.
“No.” Noah knew Kit, knew this had to come from him. “I’m going to drive over to her place. We’ll call you once we’ve sorted things out between ourselves.”