Kit had never been so glad to get away from a crowd. The strain of pretending had turned into a throbbing pulse in her left temple, her skin stretched thin and tight over her bones. But the flip side was that she was now alone with Noah in a very small space.
“I think I’ll go to bed,” she said as soon as Noah pulled the door shut. “Been a long day.”
“I’ll just grab the airbed and the sleeping bag.”
She went into the tiny bathroom to clean off her makeup so they wouldn’t be in the bedroom together, and when she came out, it was to see Noah in the living area pumping up the airbed. He was down on one knee, his T-shirt stretched over his back and his hair falling over his forehead.
“Good night,” she said, her heart bruise growing darker at the sight of this man who could’ve been hers forever. Only of course that wasn’t true. Noah had never given himself to her, never asked her to be his.
I don’t want to push you away, but there’s stuff inside me that just screws me up sometimes.
Yet other women put their hands on him without concern. He allowed it, would do so again as soon as this charade was over. Kit had tried so hard to understand, to move past the way he’d flinched from her, but she wasn’t superhuman. Rejection hurt. And watching another woman so casually touch him? It eviscerated.
He looked up, storm-gray eyes holding her own, all those words forever unspoken between them. “Good night, Kit. Dream sweet dreams.”
“Always,” she said, but when she got into bed after changing into a camisole and pajama pants, she twisted and turned and slept in snatches. The dreams she had were filled with music and with a man whose smile she couldn’t forget.
She woke at six a.m. Rubbing at gritty eyes, she walked out into the living area to see the airbed deflated and folded up in a corner, the sleeping bag neatly rolled up beside it. No sign of Noah. In the bathroom, she threw cold water on her face, came fully awake with a jolt.
She’d just stepped out of the bathroom when the bus door was pulled open and Noah jumped inside. His hair was plastered to his head, his T-shirt and running shorts to his body. Water ran down his face.
That was when Kit realized the fine drumming she could hear was rain hitting the bus roof. “You’ll freeze,” she said, grabbing a towel from the little built-in cupboard next to the bathroom. “Get those shoes and socks off.”
He obeyed, bending his head so she could rub the towel over the blond strands of his hair. “This’ll wreck the festival if it doesn’t stop,” he said, the words muffled by the towel.
“What’s the weather report say?” She knew he’d have checked; Noah did things like that.
“Forecast to clear by eight. Cross your fingers they’re right.”
Having dried his hair so it was no longer dripping, she ordered him to strip off his T-shirt, then went around and dried his back. It wasn’t until she came around to his front, his eyes looking down into hers that she realized what she was doing. Her camisole was thin and he was bare to the waist, all golden skin and ridged muscle and ink. He didn’t want her, but that didn’t matter to her body.
Her nipples tightened.
Shoving the towel at him, she turned away. “Dry off. I’m going to grab a change of clothes for you.” She barely resisted the urge to wrap her arms protectively around herself.
Kathleen Devigny did not hide.
It took her only a couple of minutes to find him some clothes, the closet was so small. After putting them outside the bedroom, she shut the door and got changed herself. She’d intended to wear a dress, but with the rain, she hesitated. In the end, she decided to hope for the best and pulled on the summery yellow strapless sundress that had a cute blue print. She’d pair it with her ankle boots and a hip-length leather jacket she left on the bed for now.
A deep breath, the mask firmly back on, she opened the bedroom door.
Noah was at the kitchenette, damp hair roughly finger-combed and body clad in the old blue jeans and black T-shirt with a faded silver print on the back that she’d found in the closet. Looking up, he smiled. “You want some cereal?”
God, that smile. “Yes,” she said as her stomach dipped despite all her admonitions to the contrary.
Picking up a large box, he poured a multicolored waterfall of sugary rings into a bowl.
“Really?” She raised an eyebrow. “Why don’t you just give me a candy bar and be done with it?”
A wink. “That’s for me.” He put a smaller, unopened box on the counter. “This is for you.”
It was her favorite kind.
Gripping the butterflies in a tight fist lest they escape and forget all the painful lessons she’d already learned at Noah’s hands, she opened the box and poured the flakes into a bowl. He poured milk over it, and the two of them ate in silence. Pretending there wasn’t this great pulsing thing between them, this unfinished promise that hurt so much. Pretending they were normal.
“What time did you go for your run?”
A shrug. “Around five maybe.”
“It must’ve still been dark.”
“Best time to run. Everything’s quiet and most of the vultures are asleep.”
Fox’s warning vivid in her mind, Kit said, “How much sleep did you get?”
“A few hours.” Nonchalant words.
She put down her bowl. “Now you’re lying to me?”
His jaw got that hard line that never augured anything good. “Leave it, Kit. I told you I have bad nights sometimes.”
“Leave it? Noah—”
Noah had never yelled at Kit. Never. He still hadn’t. But the cold whip of his voice made her flinch. She’d heard him use a similar tone against people he didn’t like or those who were getting in his face, but he’d never used it on her.
At first she was hurt—and then she got mad.
Coming around the counter, she stood half a foot from him, arms folded. “You think you can do that to me?” she asked, her fury as hot as his was cold. “Just freeze me out with the famous Noah St. John temper?” So angry it felt as if her skin glowed red-hot, she shook her head. “It doesn’t work that way. Friends care. I care.” He knew that; what use was hiding it? “You’re running on a razor-thin edge.”
His eyes glittered, unrelenting stone and icy mists. “What’re you going to do? Hug me and make it better? Wave a magic wand to make the insomnia disappear?”
Kit gritted her teeth, but she couldn’t quite control the scream that wanted to erupt from her throat. “I sure as hell don’t intend for you to give yourself a heart attack from sleep deprivation or endless running just so I can get a part!”
She slashed out a hand. “We’re done. We’ll break up in a big dramatic deal, and you can pick up one of those women who allow you to get some sleep.” Yes, that hurt, that fucking hurt, but this was Noah’s life they were talking about.
“No.” He grabbed her upper arms, hauled her close. “I promised you I would do this.”
Shoving at his chest, Kit tried to pull away, but all she succeeded in doing was taunting herself with the muscled heat of him under her palms. “I’m releasing you from the promise.”
Noah wanted to shake her, but he’d never chance hurting Kit. “I won’t release myself. I need to do this.”
“This isn’t your redemption, Noah,” she said, her eyes so passionate with emotion that they seemed to glow. “You don’t need to do this to save our friendship. I’m being your friend now.”
“If you’re my friend, then you let me do this.” Even if I can’t give you anything else, I can give you this. “You damn well let me do this, Kit.”
“I won’t watch you drive yourself into the ground!”
“I won’t. I’ll take a pill tonight. I’ll sleep.” The nightmares would ravage his drugged mind, but it’d be worth it. “I’ll sleep. I promise.”
Her expression altered, the anger suddenly intermingled with so many other emotions that he couldn’t separate them out. “Why won’t you talk to me, Noah?” she whispered, placing one hand against his cheek.
The touch was hesitant and he hated that, hated that he’d made her afraid of touching him in friendship, in affection. Raising one of his own hands, he held hers against the stubbled roughness of his cheek. “You know me better than anyone else in this world.” Fox knew the details of one thing Kit didn’t, but Fox didn’t know his heart, not like Kit.
“I don’t know why you hurt.” A harsh whisper. “Why you hurt so much that you do things that make you deeply unhappy.”
Sliding his hand into her hair, he tugged her against him, held her stiff, angry body close. And didn’t want to let her go. Not today. Not tomorrow. Never. “Be with me,” he whispered, knowing it was the most selfish thing he’d ever asked of anyone in his entire life. “Be with me.”
Kit froze against him, a flesh and blood statue.
“I can’t be what you need,” he whispered against the side of her head. “But be with me anyway.”
Kit’s body stayed rigid, her breathing so quiet he wasn’t sure she was breathing. Noah knew he should release her, call back the words he should’ve never spoken. But he stayed silent and he held her tight, right against the twisted, scarred, selfish heart that beat only for her.
Fifteen minutes later, and Kit didn’t know what she was going to do. Being with Noah, having him for her own, it was all she’d ever wanted, but not this way, not when he couldn’t even sleep from the strain of being faithful. It sounded so stupid to put it that way, but how else could she explain it? Noah seemed to get a kind of peace—fleeting though it was—from his random hookups that she couldn’t give him.
Glancing up from where she was sitting on the edge of the bed, having just put on her boots, she saw him in the doorway. He’d thrown on a leather jacket over his black tee, and it just intensified the rock-star vibe. But his eyes… his eyes were vulnerable.
“Rain’s stopped,” he said.
Unable to bear looking into those eyes that asked her for things that might break her, she got up and tugged at her own leather jacket. “We’ll look like those twin couples.”
“Yours is brown and sleek, mine is black with buckles and zippers everywhere. Totally different.” He shifted out of the doorway, angled his head toward the front of the bus in a silent invitation.
“Where are we going?” she asked as they stepped outside and he wrapped one arm around her shoulders. Around them, the festival grounds were damp and still sleepy. The first show wouldn’t kick off till nine, and Schoolboy Choir wasn’t on until four that afternoon.
“Just for a walk.”
He’d gone running and now he wanted to go for a walk. If she was with him, she wouldn’t need Macho Steve, the Evil Personal Trainer, Kit thought wryly. But walking with Noah in the cool morning light was fun. They went out back, behind the buses and the other vehicles. The fields seemed to stretch out endlessly, but once you got over a little rise about a ten-minute walk away, it turned into woods.
Into those woods they walked, just the two of them and the birds and the bodyguards who hung back enough that Noah and Kit had privacy. “Why are Butch and Casey following us?” Noah was more than tough enough to take on the coward who got his rocks off by stalking her.
“I’m not taking any chances with your safety,” Noah said, his body suddenly all hard edges. “I don’t ever want you in a situation where you feel helpless and alone.”
His words, his care, dealt another smashing blow to her already shaky defenses. No, she told herself, he’s not good for you. Yes, said her heart. Just yes. “My Spidey senses haven’t gone off lately,” she said aloud. “I don’t think he made it to Zenith.”
“Yeah, well, better safe than sorry.” He glanced back, lifted a hand in a wave of acknowledgment. “Butch and Casey are good guys—and they know not to get too close.”
Kit went to make a joke about getting caught in flagrante delicto, but then the reality of her and Noah stabbed at her and she couldn’t.
Be with me, he’d said.
There was no mistaking what he’d meant. He was asking her to make the pretense real, asking her to be his.
I fuck everything female that moves. I don’t want that with you.
He’d meant that too. He did not want to sleep with her. That continued to hurt, but she knew it wasn’t as simple as a lack of sexual attraction—their chemistry was as real as the brutal pain he’d caused. There was something else, the same something that kept him awake at night, that made him do self-destructive things like pick up women who cared nothing for him and about whom he didn’t care.
Be with me.
The memory of the raw words made her breath catch, her heart ache. “You looking forward to the show today?” she asked, needing time to understand him, understand herself, understand this.
In a way, there was only one answer. But that answer might destroy them both.
“Always.” Noah grinned. “I like performing—I’m a peacock at heart.”
Kit felt her eyebrows draw together over her eyes. “And that’s why you once hung out with me in my garden for an entire week, without the least desire to go show off?” That had been the best week of her life… though Noah hadn’t spent the nights at her place. He’d gone home, probably picked up groupie after groupie while she was building cotton candy romantic dreams.
Another stab of pain, another reminder that if she agreed to be with him, she’d live in constant fear that he’d break, go back to his promiscuous ways. But then he nuzzled at her with a smile lighting up his face, and her stupid, irrational heart melted again.
“Yeah well, even a peacock needs the occasional break.” He pointed out an eagle overhead, its wings majestic. “Seriously though, I like the rush of performing, but it’s good to have the downtime. That’s when the music comes.”
Kit nodded. “It’s the same with me and acting.” She loved being in front of the camera, putting on another skin, but then she needed to be herself, to be “quiet,” to recharge and find her center.
That morning they talked about music, about drama, about so many things except the three words Noah had spoken that changed everything.
Be with me.