Late afternoon the next day, Kit smiled and flirted with the cameras as she and Noah drove through the gates of her home in Noah’s convertible. He’d be returning to his place later to grab clothes and other things, but given the situation with Abe and Sarah—and since this media circus was inevitable—they’d decided to handle it together.
The funny thing, Kit thought as Noah laughed at something one of the photographers had yelled out, was that she no longer cared about either the movie or the cosmetics deal. Her career was important to her, but the most important thing in her life was in the driver’s seat, and he was badly, badly hurt inside. Kit didn’t think she was a magician, didn’t believe she could heal him, but she could love him.
Maybe it would help a little.
Maybe it might even be enough to stop him from continuing on the self-destructive path he’d been walking to this point.
“Kathleen! Give us a smile!”
She gave the photographer what he wanted, wondering why anyone cared what she was doing and who she was doing it with. She knew it was good that they did, that it helped her make a living doing the work she loved, but today she just wanted to be alone with Noah.
However, it took them another five minutes to get through the gates. Reaching the house not long afterward, the two of them got out in silence. Kit glanced reflexively into the backseat of the convertible. “Noah, did you leave that gift in there?”
“No.” Frowning, he went to pick up the card stuck to the package, which was wrapped in gold paper.
“Wait.” She took off the thin, colorful silk scarf she was wearing and passed it to him. “In case there are fingerprints.” She was probably being paranoid, the gift something a fan had managed to drop in during the media fracas outside, but she had to be sure.
Using the scarf to pick up the card, Noah opened it with care. The dangerous ice in his expression answered her silent question. When she went around to his side, he wrapped his arm around her while holding the card out of reach. “You don’t need to see this. It’s the same ugly bullshit.”
“I have to see it. I have to know what’s in his sick head so I can protect myself.”
A muscle jumped in Noah’s jaw, but he brought the card close enough that she could read it. As usual, the message wasn’t handwritten but made up of words and letters cut out of magazines and newspapers.
You slut. I bought these chocolates for you, but now I hope you choke on them. How dare you cheat on me with that asshole rocker? Wait until I get my hands on you.
A shudder going through her, she closed her eyes. But only for a second. “Come on. Fox made me invest in full security coverage at the gate after that pap tried to get him arrested.” At the time, she’d whimpered at the further cost, but now it might give them their first glimpse of her stalker. “Butch is an expert at the system.”
Noah made the call to the bodyguard, who’d remained by the gate.
After updating Butch once he arrived, Kit led both men to the security room inside the house. First, however, she ducked into the kitchen and found a paper bag into which Noah could drop the card and gift-wrapped package.
“I’ll pass that on to the cops,” Butch said.
Placing the bag beside him in front of the security screens, he quickly brought up the relevant footage. But no matter how carefully they examined it, no one appeared to drop anything into the backseat.
“It could’ve been done as you slowed down to turn into the gate, where the cameras don’t reach, or anywhere else you stopped—even at the traffic lights,” Butch said. “Remember that group of fans that congregated against the car to take photos? Plus you picked up coffee from a drive-through.” Butch’s expression was dark. “I clearly wasn’t watching closely enough.”
“It’s not your fault.” Kit touched his arm. “You were watching for physical threats, not this kind of cowardice.”
Noah looked at the video again, eyes narrowed. “I am never again driving the Mustang with the top down when I have you in the passenger seat.”
“Yes, you are.” Kit scowled at him. “Don’t let the creep get to you—that’s what he does.” Already he’d forced Kit into crushing debt. That, she hadn’t been able to avoid, but she wasn’t about to allow him to steal such small pleasures from her or Noah’s life.
“I’ll go help Casey with the sweep, make sure the bastard didn’t get in.” Butch picked up the paper bag. “And I’ll get this to the cops ASAP.”
Tugging her close after the bodyguard left, Noah held her with one arm, burying the fingers of his other hand in her hair. “That’s it. I’m never moving out.”
Kit smiled despite the circumstances. “Wait until I want you to watch Dancing with the Stars with me.”
“Oh Jesus, Dancing with the Stars? Really? I thought you were a football kind of woman.”
“I can like both.” Laughing at his expression, she said, “You hungry?”
“No.” She tapped a finger on her lower lip. “Why don’t you go grab the rest of your stuff? It’s not like the paps are going to leave when it gets dark.”
Reaching out to tangle his fingers with her own, Noah said, “Want to come with?”
Kit’s pulse kicked. She had to fight to keep her voice from betraying what his invitation did to her. “Yes.”
Thanks to a traffic jam caused by a Mercedes that had rear-ended an Aston Martin, with both drivers deciding to be assholes about it, it took Noah forty minutes to get to his place. He’d already had stuff on the bus, as well as his instruments, and they’d all been shipped to Kit’s, but there were a few other things he needed.
“Sorry about the mess,” he said to the one woman who mattered. He still didn’t understand why it was so hard for him to have Kit here, but it was. Even now, after he’d specifically invited her to accompany him, his muscles were tight, his chest aching.
“It’s not as bad as I expected.” She stepped around a bunch of autobiographies he’d left stacked on the carpet beside the sofa, which faced the entertainment area. “I do think the mold in that takeout box is probably growing legs by now though.”
Picking up the box, he threw it at her. She caught it reflexively. “Ew!” But then she looked down, eyes going wide. “Hey! This is fake.”
“Abe gave it to me for my birthday. Since I live on takeout, he figured I should have an appropriate piece of art.”
“This is art?” Appearing dubious, she looked at it carefully from every angle before placing it on the coffee table. “I didn’t know Abe hated you.”
Grinning, he headed to the other end of the house to grab what he needed. His place was spread out all on one level, but it wasn’t open plan. He liked doors and walls, which was fucked-up, because he didn’t like being locked in. But if he had to be inside, he wanted it to be in small spaces where he could see everything at a glance.
His room in his parents’ home had been huge, a suite far too big for a small boy. Unlike Kit’s toy store of a room, his had been filled with educational items, charts, and books. He’d had his own desk and computer and a rotation of tutors who were on twenty-four-hour call should he have a question about the homework they’d assigned.
His father had him studying toward the SATs before he was five years old—and since study questions were the one time his father had all the time in the world for him, Noah had liked it. If things hadn’t gone to hell just over a year later, he’d probably have turned into a suit-and-tie-wearing robot like his old man. Christ.
As he chucked things into a duffel, he was aware of Kit moving around in the living area—and also aware that she hadn’t gone any deeper into the house. Respecting the boundaries he’d set… and that just felt weird. He’d never brought her here, but now that he had, he wanted her to feel at home. “Hey, Kit!”
“Go left, then out through the first door on your right, before the wall of glass. You’ll like it.”
Following Noah’s instructions, Kit finally ventured out of the living area. She hadn’t wanted to intrude, conscious Noah wasn’t sure about having her here. That hurt, but it was a small enough thing and one she couldn’t cling to if she wanted to give them a real second chance. Instead, she concentrated on the fact he’d invited her to come with him today, went through a narrow door… and into someone’s attempt at a Japanese garden.
She laughed, so delighted she couldn’t hold it inside. “This is terrible!” The plants were all wrong, the placements having none of the peaceful elegance of a garden meant to promote serenity.
Following the insulted sound of Noah’s voice, she found he’d stepped out onto a balcony farther down the house. “I did my best!”
Kit grinned and leaned down to tug up a few weeds. He kept confusing her. He didn’t want her here, but this garden? It was an attempt at creating a piece of her inside his home—because his garden was walled in by wings of the house. As if he was holding her heart inside his protection.
Her chest filled with emotion.
“Who looks after this while you’re on tour?” she asked him when he came over. “They haven’t been doing a good job.” Nothing had been trimmed, the weeds rampant.
“No one. It’s set up with sprinklers, but after a tour, it tends to be a bit of a jungle.” He ran his hand over her hair.
Startled at the unexpected contact, she looked up into those eyes of darkest gray. “What?”
“It’s nice, seeing you here.”
She was still trying to process the words when he turned on his heel to return to his bedroom. As if he’d shown her too much and needed walls between them.
Rubbing a fisted hand over her breastbone, she watched him until he disappeared, and she told herself to have patience and hope. If she didn’t have both, she might as well give up now.
But even as she told herself that, a small, secret part of her remained curled up in a self-protective ball. Because Noah had hurt her once already. So much. And that self-protective part of her wasn’t sure he wouldn’t hurt her again, wouldn’t betray her again.
Noah had stayed over at Kit’s before, but it felt different now. Awkward. He wasn’t sure what they were doing, what he should be doing, but he knew he didn’t intend to mess it up. “Hey,” he said, walking into the kitchen about twenty minutes after they’d arrived back at her place, having once more navigated the paparazzi gauntlet.
There’d been a few loitering at his place too, but most had made the right call and parked out at Kit’s. They were still out there, even though it was now after eight and there was little chance either he or Kit would venture out, given that they’d just returned from Zenith.
“Hey.” Kit’s smile was like goddamn sunshine, going straight through his skin to own him. “Want to help me cook?”
“Sure.” At least it’d keep him busy so he didn’t fuck up. “What do you want me to do?”
“I’m your man.” He was even pretty good at the grilling thing. “Where’s the meat?”
He tried to control his face, but she laughed. “You are so transparent. I thawed a steak for you. Fish for me.” She held up a thin bamboo spike. “I’m putting together some vegetable skewers to grill too.”
Having helped her carry the small bowls of vegetables and a cutting board out to the patio area off the back of her kitchen, he put everything on the small wrought iron table she had out there, then pushed up the lid on the grill. Her Japanese garden was off to the left, but she’d planted plenty of lush greenery here too, cocooning the space in whispering quiet.
As he got the grill going, she sat at the table and put the skewers together. They were colorful with bell peppers and things, and he was actually looking forward to eating them.
“I made a marinade for the vegetables,” she said conversationally as she worked. “With honey and spices and my secret ingredient.”
Noah’s lips tugged up at the corners. “Did David teach you?”
“Busted!” Her laughter filled the air, filled the hollow spaces inside him.
There was more laughter as they finished making the meal, more smiles, until nothing was awkward. He felt like he was home. The food was good, but the best thing was sitting out here under the early evening sky with Kit across from him.
Too bad the simple pleasure of it couldn’t last. His mind began to race as they finished clearing up, a rat on a wheel. What the hell was he going to do when it was time to sleep? He wasn’t about to take the pills, and his other “drug” of choice was now permanently off the menu. The only thing he could do was run, but he wasn’t going to leave Kit alone in the house when her stalker was back.
So do push-ups or sit-ups until you exhaust yourself enough to catch some shut-eye, he ordered himself. Do not screw this up.
“You know there’s a Dancing with the Stars special on tonight, right?”
He groaned, his worry about sleep momentarily erased. “You’re really going to make me watch?”
She bumped him with her shoulder. “I’m inviting. If you’d rather do something else, I don’t care.”
Laughing at her fake-insulted tone, he said, “Since when are you passive-aggressive?”
A wink as she grabbed a packet of frozen blueberries from the freezer and poured a handful into a bowl. “This is war.” She held up the bag. “You want some?”
The invitation made his breath get all hard and jagged inside him. He’d never eaten frozen blueberries before Kit introduced him to what was one of her favorite desserts. And now here he was again, being given a second chance. “No, I’m good.” Trying to breathe normally, he followed her to the lounge, sprawling beside her as she took a seat on the sofa with her legs curled under her.
Since she hadn’t told him to stop doing it, he stretched out his arm along the back of the sofa and played with her hair.
Reaching back, she tugged off her hair tie so that the fall of silken strands cascaded over his hand. “You sure you don’t want a blueberry or three?”
“You twisted my arm.” He twined her hair around his fingers. “Gimme.”
She popped a couple into his mouth. Their eyes connected.
The intro to the show came on a second later, breaking the incipient tension of the sweetly intimate moment.
Noah had never had so much fun watching random famous and semi-famous people try to dance. He had to admit he had a new and serious respect for a few of them for putting themselves out there, but mostly he was horrified. “Spandex? Wasn’t that made illegal like two decades ago?”
Elbowing him, Kit spluttered with laughter. “Stop it.”
“Fuck me, he’s wearing sequins.”
“Rock stars have been known to wear sequins.”
“No rock star in his right mind has ever worn sequins in that—” His mouth fell open. “Is that a codpiece? For real?” Snorting, he said, “No way except in his dreams is his dick that big. He’s probably got two bananas in there.”
Face going red as she tried to hold in laughter, Kit ended up against him. He curled his arm around her, realizing he didn’t have to fight his need. She’d said they could try, and he liked having Kit’s warm, laughing body next to his.
She stayed against him, and every so often when he made a particularly deplorable comment, she’d lightly hit his thigh and tell him to behave. Every other time a woman had touched his thigh, it had been about sex. The first couple of times Kit did it, he tensed, but then it was okay. It was Kit and they were watching a silly show on television that she inexplicably liked. It was normal.
He hadn’t been normal for a long time.