Things were hopping in the backstage area by the time Kit and Noah returned. After grabbing coffees from the catering truck parked outside the marquee where the festival organizers had put on a breakfast spread, they headed toward Molly and Fox’s bus, figuring the other couple would be up.
Kit froze, that sultry female voice with its faint trace of a Venezuelan accent intimately familiar. “Mom?” Turning, she stared at the leggy woman with masses of expertly tousled black hair striding toward her.
Adreina Ordaz-Castille was dressed in black leather pants that appeared painted on, spike heels that left sharp little divots in the rain-wet earth, and a designer black shirt that hugged her body and was unbuttoned enough to expose the upper curves of her breasts. Her jewelry was chunky silver and turquoise. She was exquisite and sexy both.
A trail of slack-jawed men gazed after her in hopeless want.
Kit couldn’t quite keep herself from glancing at Noah to gauge his reaction to seeing her mom in the flesh. Males tended to forget themselves in the orbit of the magnetic sexual allure that was Adreina Ordaz-Castille.
Noah’s eyes were wide, his muscles bunched, but not with worship.
Kit blinked. “Why are you freaking out?”
“It’s your mom,” he said under his breath. “I’m pretty sure she’s going to shoot me.”
A silly, turbulent twisting in Kit’s stomach at the realization that he looked at Adreina and saw only her mom, she said, “No, my mother loves rock stars.” Adreina had dated plenty of them before settling down with Kit’s dad.
“Mom, what are you doing here?” she said when Adreina reached her.
Her mother kissed her on both cheeks before answering, the scent of Adreina’s perfume a familiar embrace. “Your father and I are here for the festival.”
“Oh, right.” Kit didn’t know why she was surprised; her parents were very active on the celebrity circuit, and this edgy festival was starting to gain serious media cred. And Adreina did still love rock stars, even if only to watch them perform. “Where’s Dad?”
A familiar silver head appeared around the corner a second later. Parker Ordaz-Castille had two cups of coffee in hand from one of the festival trucks. “Hello, honey,” he said, drawing Kit into a hug after giving Adreina her coffee. “Noah, good to see you again.”
The two men shook hands. Following that, Kit’s mother put one hand on Noah’s shoulder and leaned in to brush her lips over his cheek. Adreina touched easily. The boys Kit had dated in high school and college had often taken it the wrong way, believing it a come-on. It wasn’t.
Noah, however, still had that wary look on his face, clearly braced for parental disapproval.
“How did you get backstage?” Kit asked her parents, the funny, twisty feeling inside her refusing to subside.
“We know people.” Parker winked.
“Oh, look!” Adreina waved at someone. “There’s Naomi. We’ll see you later, darling.”
“Sure, Mom.” Relieved it was over, Kit turned to Noah. “See, no biggie.”
He was scowling. “What the hell? If I had a daughter and she was dating a guy like me, I’d take him out back and threaten him with a shotgun to make sure he treated her right.”
Kit’s mouth fell open. “You?”
“Yeah.” He folded his arms, his scowl growing heavier. “Jeez, Kit, he didn’t even tell me to be good to you. That’s bullshit.”
Realizing he was dead serious, she bit the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling. “Where did you pick up this chivalrous instinct?”
“My father,” he said, the sneer that usually accompanied any mention of Robert St. John missing from his voice. “He’s a son of a bitch, but he brought me up to look after any women under my care.”
“Under your care?” Kit raised an eyebrow. “Chauvinistic much?”
He shrugged. “Yeah, well, maybe it is, but I’m not changing. My imaginary daughters are never dating musicians. Ever.”
Stomach somersaulting at the idea of little girls with Noah’s features and talent, she shook her head. “Noah St. John, bad boy of rock and concerned father of imaginary daughters. Hell hath frozen over and become an ice rink.”
“Come on, smart-ass.” He slung an arm around her shoulders again. “Let’s go find a seat out front so we can watch Esteban. Maxwell has rug things we can use since the grass won’t have dried out yet.”
Kit fell in with his plan. Not only did she like Esteban’s music, she knew he was a good friend of Noah’s. She had a feeling Schoolboy Choir and Thea had had a great deal to do with getting him on the bill at the festival. Yes, he had a morning slot, a time when people were still getting themselves together after a late night, but he had a slot. His performance would be reported on by the bloggers and other media here, clips would be posted on social media, and so on.
Grabbing a spot beside a wild-haired guy sitting up in his sleeping bag, Noah pulled her down between his legs. She settled with her back to his chest and tried not to sink into his warmth, his scent, him. Whispers and camera clicks sounded from around them, but no one tried to intrude into their space.
Part of the draw of Zenith was that the musicians blended into the crowd, hung out and danced like regular people. It was an unspoken rule that they weren’t to be mobbed. Kit didn’t know how long that would last with the festival getting bigger and bigger, but it held today.
Then Esteban walked onstage. Just a dark-eyed singer and his guitar and his voice. Listening to the smooth, heart-tugging cadence of it, Kit felt herself becoming boneless against Noah. “He’s a real musician, like you guys. No tricks.”
“Yep.” Noah’s lips brushed her ear as he spoke. “I was thinking—that song I wrote. Esteban would do it justice.”
She knew he was talking about “Sparrow.” “No.” Scowling at the idea that he’d even consider giving it to anyone else, she twisted around to look at him. “That’s meant for you.”
“It’s not a Schoolboy Choir type of song,” he said again.
“Have you even talked to the others?”
Hauling her back against his chest, Noah wrapped her up in his arms. “Stop fighting with me and listen to the music.”
She did, but she wasn’t finished. She didn’t know why Noah was being so stubborn about “Sparrow” when he and the other guys messed around with all kinds of stuff as they put together an album. Maybe, another part of her whispered, because the song was so close to his heart. If it didn’t make it onto the next album, or if the other guys didn’t like it, he’d be devastated.
Kit knew Abe, Fox, and David would like it; she just had to convince Noah to sing it for them.
“I like this one a lot.” Noah’s lips brushed her ear again, his breath warm and his body so strong and powerfully male around her own.
Breasts swelling against her bra, Kit fought off a responsive shiver as her battered heart begged her to stand firm on one beat… and to give in on the next.
Be with me.
Schoolboy Choir’s afternoon performance went off with a bang. Dressed in rock-appropriate knee-high boots and a strapless dress in glittering gold that barely covered her butt and had caused Noah to suck in an audible breath when she walked out of the bedroom, Kit had just as much fun this time around as she’d had the night before.
Beside her, Molly cried when Fox sang the song he’d written for her, the one with which he’d proposed onstage during the tour.
Kit couldn’t help but feel a stab of envy.
Molly and Thea were so lucky. Their guys were theirs—no questions or doubt. Totally devoted. Fox saw no one else when Molly was in the room, and David’s face just lit up when he found Thea in the crowd.
Kit wanted that for herself. And she wanted it with the gorgeous man onstage who wanted to be with her… without being with her.
“Hey.” Molly, her curvy body clad in a sexy halter-neck dress, wrapped an arm around Kit’s back as the band segued into another song. “What’s the matter?” Gentle words, a tone that held infinite care. “The situation with Noah?”
Kit nodded and left it at that. The rest was too painful, too private, to share. “Noah said there was going to be a party tonight.”
“Yeah.” Molly spoke against her ear to be heard over the thumping pulse of the music. “Plan is to party with the crowd a bit, then move on back to the marquee.”
That was exactly what they did when night fell. Kit laughed and danced with the concertgoers and her friends… and Noah, his hands possessively on her hips as he danced behind her. Heart in her throat and skin so sensitive the tiniest brush of his arm against her own made her inner muscles clench, Kit was barely aware of Butch and Casey’s watchful presence.
When their group did finally make it to the backstage marquee, the party continued on.
Noah’s quiet but vehement exclamation had her looking up at him. They were standing against one “wall” of the marquee, her back to his chest and his arm around her waist as she nibbled on the hot, salty fries she hadn’t been able to resist—dancing was exercise, right?—and he drank a beer.
“What is it?”
A nod. “Sarah.”
Her eyes widened. The only Sarah she knew who’d get that kind of a reaction from Noah was Abe’s ex-wife. From whom Abe had parted in a very, very messy divorce. She’d come after him with the kind of anger a woman only showed when she was either a vindictive money-grubbing bitch or she’d been terribly hurt.
Kit’s bet was on the latter. Because while Sarah had always been a little standoffish, Kit had also seen the other woman looking at Abe with a hopeless, painful longing in her eyes. That didn’t explain why she’d hooked up with some other guy only months after their separation. To hurt Abe? Or maybe to try to get over a man Kit would bet Sarah hadn’t truly wanted to divorce. Then again, you never knew what went on inside another couple’s relationship.
Following Noah’s line of sight, she spotted the tall woman with lush brown skin speaking to Esteban. Of mixed Puerto Rican and African American descent with a Japanese ancestor thrown into the mix, Sarah had highly distinctive features. Kit had always found her to be one of the most beautiful women she’d ever seen—it wasn’t cookie-cutter beauty, but striking. You remembered Sarah.
Her hair was all wicked curls that Kit loved, but Sarah often wore it straightened, as it was tonight. As for her body, it was a knockout. She had both serious curves and serious tone to her. In modeling terms, she’d be a plus size. In real-world terms, she was the kind of woman who, in another time, would’ve been a pinup.
The last photo Kit had seen of Sarah had featured her with a baby belly, but then had come the sad news of a stillbirth. Hurting for her, Kit had sent a condolence card and flowers. She hadn’t been sure Sarah would welcome a visit since they’d never been as close as Kit already was to Molly, despite the fact she’d known Molly for a shorter period. It was as if Sarah had always had a wall around her, a cool, remote distance that made getting to know her difficult.
“Where’s Abe?” she asked, putting the rest of her fries aside on a nearby table.
Noah swept the room with his eyes. “On the other side.” He looked down at her.
She nodded. “You go make sure he stays there, and I’ll talk to Sarah.” She would’ve gone over to say hello anyway, but now she’d be running double duty. No one wanted Abe and Sarah to meet up. The last time that had happened, it had been in divorce court, and from what she’d heard, the atmosphere had been both volcanic and glacial.
Noah swigged back his beer. “If you see the others, give them a heads-up.”
“I will.” She left with a brush of her fingers against his.
Making her way to Sarah’s statuesque form, the other woman dressed in a gorgeous red dress that hugged her curves, she smiled at Esteban when he spotted her first. “Your set was wonderful,” she said to the darkly handsome man.
“Thank you.” A glance from her to Sarah and back. “You know one another?”
“Of course.” Kit held out her hands. “It’s good to see you, Sarah.”
Esteban was pulled away by Thea at that moment, the other woman smiling at Sarah and Kit both before she led the singer toward a group of people Kit recognized as industry heavyweights.
Sarah returned Kit’s squeeze of her hands. “I kept meaning to call you,” she said in her lovely contralto. “Thank you for the flowers, the card. It meant a lot.”
“I was so sorry to hear about the baby.” Giving in to instinct, Kit hugged the taller woman.
Sarah stiffened for only a second before hugging her back. “Sorry,” she whispered hoarsely when they drew apart, her dark brown eyes wet, haunted. “I’m still raw about it.”
Kit just squeezed her hand again.
“They did too, you know.” Quiet words. “David, Noah, and Fox. They sent me flowers.” She shook her head. “I didn’t expect it, those four are so tight. I know they think I’m a bitch after the divorce and everything, but they still…”
“They knew you for a long time.” Sarah and Abe had been married for two years before their separation and eventual divorce.
A smile that wasn’t a smile. “I don’t think we ever really knew one another. My fault, but none of that matters now. Please thank them for me when you see them. And… thank Abe too.”
Accurately reading Kit’s surprise, Sarah said, “No, I wasn’t expecting it, either.”
“I’ll tell them,” Kit said when Sarah didn’t continue, obviously done with the topic. “Sarah, I have to ask—what are you doing here?” Schoolboy Choir was the headlining band, no way to miss that piece of information.
Sarah wrapped her arms around herself, rubbing at her bare forearms. “My fiancé, Jeremy Vance, is backing Stir Crazy.”
A band that wasn’t as big as Schoolboy Choir but that was starting to make its mark. “Oh.” It hadn’t been a surprise to Kit that Sarah had ended up with someone else in the industry. After so long with Abe, she must’ve formed deep friendships of her own. “Well, I guess you and Abe can’t avoid each other forever.”
Sarah’s smile was tight. Lowering her head and the volume of her voice, she said, “I heard about Abe’s drug overdose on tour.” Lines fanned out from the corners of her mouth, her shoulder muscles stiff. “Is he back on them?”
Kit shook her head. That “drug overdose” had actually been extreme alcohol intoxication, but she didn’t know if she had the right to tell Sarah that since the band had kept it out of the media. Abe’s problems with drugs were old news and no one paid it much mind. “He’s clean,” she told Abe’s ex-wife. “You know how I am about drugs—I wouldn’t tell you that if it wasn’t true.”
A visible relaxation in Sarah’s features. “I’m glad. I—” She cut herself off. “I tried to be there for him for so long, Kit.”
“I know.” Kit touched Sarah’s forearm. “No one thinks you gave up.” Sarah had gone through the wringer with Abe, had helped him through relapse after relapse. Kit didn’t know what had finally caused Sarah to walk away, but she knew it had to have been brutal to break the will of a woman so strong.
Taking a deep breath, Sarah said, “You were incredible in Last Flight. I read online that you might be making another movie with the same team?”
Kit nodded, and they spoke about the movie business for a bit. Sarah wasn’t involved in it except on the periphery, since Jeremy dabbled as a producer of teen-oriented movies when he wasn’t backing bands, but she had a keen interest in all aspects of the entertainment industry. Kit was just starting to think disaster had been averted when she felt the hairs rise on the back of her neck.
Turning, she saw Abe coming toward them with Noah behind him. Catching her eye, Noah shook his head. Abe, it seemed, was hell-bent on seeing Sarah.