They’d kicked off the festival with a fucking boom, Noah thought as he came backstage after the final set. Not thinking about his actions, he hauled Kit close and pressed the side of his face to hers. “I’m starving.”
She laughed. “You’re also sweaty.”
Her hands landed on his bare skin, his T-shirt now the property of whoever it was who’d caught it when he’d thrown it out into the crowd. The intimate contact burned, sending a shock of sexual need through his body.
He pulled back with a jerk that had Kit’s eyes going wide before she blinded him with a Kathleen Devigny smile. “The cameras are still on,” she said without ever losing that smile. “Take my hand if you can’t stand for me to touch anything else.”
She could’ve kicked him and done less damage. Grabbing her hand, he squeezed. “It’s not what you think.”
Her smile remained high-voltage, but her eyes, they were hard and hurt at the same time. “You’ve been very clear, Noah. Don’t worry, I’m not getting the wrong idea. I know you don’t want me.”
He almost laughed because wanting Kit was so much a part of him, there was no Noah without it. But his laughter twisted inside him. Holding Kit’s hand tight, he said, “We’re all having pizza together. I just need to quickly shower off the sweat.”
Kit nodded and they walked to the bus. Soon as he pulled the door shut behind them, she released his hand—or tried to.
He held on. “Don’t.”
She shook her head. “It’s fine.” A tight smile. “I really am not getting any ideas.” Sliding out her phone, she waved it at him. “Van messaged. We dated last year, remember? He’s asking if you and I are serious.”
Noah winced as his fantasy shattered. Kit wasn’t his. He had no right to stop her seeing other men. Releasing her hand, he said, “What’re you going to tell him?”
“Nothing.” She looked down at her phone, fingers moving across the screen. “You and I are officially a couple, and I have to keep up the fiction or this is all for nothing.” A quick look up, a quicker smile. “Won’t be forever.”
Noah’s body grew rigid. “Two minutes,” he said and ducked into the shower.
Kit braced a trembling hand against the counter of the kitchenette, trying to breathe past the pain in the center of her chest, an agony of knives stabbing at her from the inside out, stabbing so hard they were punching through rib and muscle to make her bleed.
Every time she thought Noah couldn’t hurt her any more, he did it again.
She swallowed convulsively, squeezing her eyes shut to hold back the tears that threatened to choke off her air. She could hear the shower turning on, knew it wouldn’t last long. Noah had to be starving after that show.
Breathing through her nose, she forced down all the emotions tearing at her, as she’d learned to do while filming the traumatic scenes in Last Flight. Her character had undergone torture, loss, agonizing emotional suffering, and sometimes the crushing power of living those emotions had threatened to take Kit under. She’d had to learn to compartmentalize, to shift from a wrenching scene to a joyful one, the shooting schedule not always cohesive or chronological.
Now she used every skill she had to bring herself back under control.
Hearing the shower cut off, she released a quiet, deep breath, was waiting with a slight smile on her face when Noah stepped out… and almost doubled over from the punch to the stomach that was his damp body. He’d wrapped a white towel around his hips, but water trickled from his hair down his pectoral muscles to kiss its way over his ribs and past his ridged abs to disappear into the softness of the towel.
When he turned to head into the bedroom, she saw the phoenix, stunning because it was on the masculine architecture of Noah’s body.
Wrenching away her gaze with a harsh reminder that he couldn’t bear her touch, she slid her phone out of her pocket and skimmed through her e-mails. There were a couple from Harper telling her there was no news on Redemption, but that no one else—namely Abigail—had been signed either. The race was still on.
Right then a message popped in from Thea’s intern, copied to Noah and Thea. It was a roundup of all of Kit’s and Noah’s media mentions today. The efficient young woman had included a file of clippings of the main articles, even screenshots of tweets and other posts online.
#NoKat was trending worldwide, thanks to the “money shot” Noah had engineered.
Kit knew she shouldn’t; she’d been in the business too long not to know the Internet could wound, but she couldn’t stop herself from doing a search on that hashtag. She didn’t know what she was expecting, but it wasn’t what she got.
Did you see that?! I TOLD you he was into her! #NoKat #Forever
OMG, so romantic! Why can’t my boyfriend look at me that way? #NoKat #Romance #SCFans
Okay, I was bummed when Noah hooked up with her, but yeah, he looks happy, so #NoKat, I’m on board.
Even my cold and bitter heart is melted. #NoKat #SCFans
That is the most romantic thing I’ve ever seen. #NoKat #Happy #Staytogetherforeverplease
The sentiments were repeated over and over and over again. A lot of women were crushed that Noah was taken, but most found it romantic that the bad boy had apparently reformed for his girl. Meanwhile, the band’s male fans were chest-poundingly proud that “their” Noah had hooked up with such a “hottie.”
Kit wanted to scream and laugh at the same time. Yeah, she was hot. So hot that Noah was physically repulsed by the idea of any sexual contact with her.
“Hey.” Noah stepped out of the bedroom. “Just let me pull on my boots.”
She watched him do exactly that. He’d changed into a fresh pair of black jeans that were just as disreputable as the ones he’d been wearing earlier and a plain black T-shirt. As far as she could see, he’d just run his hands through his hair after rubbing it dry with a towel and left it at that. And he was flat-out gorgeous.
Noah put his arm around Kit’s shoulders after they left the bus. She didn’t resist, sliding her own arm around his waist and acting the smitten girlfriend, but he was conscious of her tension. No one else would be able to tell, but he could sense it through his skin, feel it in his gut. He’d hurt Kit because he couldn’t handle his own reaction to her, and he didn’t know how to fix that.
How could he tell her about his fucked-up psyche without betraying everything?
All he could do was try to be the best friend he could be in his own messed-up way. Putting his lips to her ear, he said, “I’m sorry,” then took a breath and slit open a vein. “I’m so damn happy you’re here, with me.”
Fuck, it was hard to just lay himself out there. “I like having you in my space, near me.” Loved the smell of her soft skin and hair, the way she felt against him, her smile. “I don’t want to push you away, but there’s stuff inside me that”—another harsh breath—“that just screws me up sometimes.”
Her hand clenched on his T-shirt. He wondered if she remembered she’d given him this tee. It was plain, but it had a tiny guitar stitched at the bottom on the right. The guitar was in black, hardly visible, but he’d always liked that tiny, secret detail.
She didn’t say anything in answer, but her hand opened and she kind of… petted his side. It was just a small motion, but it spoke louder than any words she could’ve said. Unable to fight the need, he took advantage of the situation to cuddle her closer.
If it could always be this way, if he never had to think about sex, if he could fix his brain so it didn’t hunger for the same thing that destroyed him, he’d beg her forgiveness on his hands and knees and find a way to put a ring on her finger that would never ever come off.
Only that was such an impossible dream that he might as well wish for wings.
“You hungry?” he asked as they reached the marquee set up to one side of the “behind-the-scenes” part of the festival grounds. The scent of hot cheese and all the other good stuff that equaled pizza made his stomach rumble.
“I actually am—I danced the entire concert.”
Seeing Thea tug David into a kiss not far from the marquee, Noah wolf-whistled. David grinned and didn’t stop the kiss, one hand cupping the back of Thea’s head, the other on her ass. She wasn’t in one of her professional outfits but in a tiny sparkling dress that left her long legs bare from high up on her thighs, her straight black hair out of its usual twist.
No question that Thea was hot, but all Noah saw when he looked at her was a highly competent publicist who could chew up and spit out most of the paparazzi before she had her first cup of coffee in the morning.
“I’m happy for them,” Kit whispered as they neared the marquee. “They fit.”
“Yeah, they do.” Noah nodded at Abe as the keyboard player appeared from the other side of the tent. “There was a good chance David would’ve ended up a sad, lonely old man if she hadn’t taken pity on him.”
Close enough to hear, Abe snorted. “I need a hella sexy woman to take that kind of pity on me,” he muttered. “I think David’s the one laughing now.”
“I don’t know who’s more smitten, David or Thea.”
Noah heard a tone in Kit’s voice that he’d never expected—mingled want and envy. The latter wasn’t sharp, hard. It was soft, poignant, and it made him want to give her things, make her happy. “You know he sent her a pink teddy bear when we were on tour?”
Kit’s smile was huge. “Really? How do you know?” Utter delight in her tone.
“I caught him walking back into the hotel with it tucked under his arm,” Noah said, wondering if Kit would like that kind of a gift. He’d never have thought so before this conversation—she was so put together, so stylish.
Except now she sighed and hugged herself. “That is ridiculously adorable and romantic.”
Abe had wandered off toward the table where piping hot pizzas were being set out, cooked courtesy of some kind of a portable oven, but Noah turned to Kit. “You don’t have teddy bears in your house.” He paused. “Do you?”
“No, but no one’s ever given me one.”
Noah had had a fucked-up childhood, but he remembered a teddy bear that his nanny, Josefina, had given him before he was packed off to boarding school.
“To keep you safe,” she’d said in the Spanish she’d taught him, her eyes wet and dark. “He will be your friend.”
Josefina never knew that the bear didn’t make it to boarding school. Noah’s father had taken one look at it as Noah climbed into the car that was taking him to the school and pulled it out of his hands. No son of his, he’d said, was going to go to school clutching “an infantile toy.”
Noah had tried to hold on to the only piece of certainty he had, that soft brown bear representing love and safety, but he’d been a small boy against a much bigger man. His father had thrown the bear onto the driveway, then told the driver to go. The bear had been crushed under the wheels of the glossy black Rolls-Royce.
Shaking off the memory and wondering what Josefina would make of him now, he glanced at Kit. “I thought your parents did the ‘throw money and toys at the child’ kind of parenting?”
Kit bit down on the plump softness of her lower lip. “I didn’t mean I didn’t have soft toys. I did… but no one ever picked one out for me especially—Mom or Dad wrote the check on my birthday or Christmas, and the store employees came in and set up the toy display.” She shook her head, mouth twisting up at one corner. “I sound so spoiled.”
“No, I get it.” His nanny’s inexpensive gift had meant more to Noah than anything his parents had given him after it all came out. Josefina had still cared about Noah even though he wasn’t perfect anymore, and that had made all the difference.
“You two gonna eat?” Having navigated his way back to them, Abe held out a plate with a whole giant pizza.
“Oh, that looks like heaven.” Kit took a slice, managed three bites in the time it took Noah to wolf down a whole piece.
Seeing a table clear up, he grabbed it for them and the three of them took a seat, the plate of pizza in the middle and fresh bottles of beer and water dropped off by one of the catering staff. Nudging aside the beer without a word, Abe stuck to water, and Noah and Kit kept him company.
Noah knew Kit’d had a lot of trouble with Abe’s drug issues, but she’d never not been supportive when Abe tried to stay sober. She’d been partially responsible for convincing him to enter rehab the second time, but Abe hadn’t been ready, had relapsed. This time though, there was a sense of intense resolve about the other man.
“Fuck, this is good,” Abe groaned, picking up another slice.
Noah nodded as around them, the marquee pulsed with the voices of musicians and crew, the throb of music from the closest stage pumping through the earth.
Rising at the call from Genevieve’s husband, Abe finished off his slice and went over to catch up with the bass player and her artist spouse.
“Perfect timing.” Fox put a plate full of miniature desserts on the table and, swinging around Abe’s chair, sat with one of his arms on the back while he used the other to pick up a chocolate tart.
Noah took a piece of cake while Kit decided on a cookie.
“Where’s Molly?” Noah asked his bandmate.
Fox was very protective of his fiancée—she was getting more used to the limelight, but she still wasn’t as comfortable in it as they were, probably never would be.
“With Maxwell’s Kim.” The lead singer used his thumb to point behind him to the left. “They’re talking about an old archaeological site Molly’s researching for one of her work contracts.”
Still hungry, Noah got up. “You want more pizza?” he asked Kit and Fox both.
When they shook their heads, he went to grab a couple more slices. It was on the way back that a woman put a hand on his forearm. Her fingernails were hot pink and tapered, her hand slender. When he looked up, he didn’t recognize the face, but he recognized the look. The petite blonde was giving him an invitation bright and clear.
“Hi,” she said, twisting a lock of her hair around her finger. “You want to party?”
Kit’s gaze met his as he closed the distance to their table. There was a pinched look to her eyes that didn’t fit her, wasn’t her. As he watched, it smoothed out, her expression settling once more into that of Kathleen Devigny, the A-list actress dating a rock star, not Kit, the woman who was friends with Noah.