Kit groaned at the sound of her phone. Reaching out blindly toward the nightstand, she hurled mental curses upon herself for forgetting to turn it off so she could catch some uninterrupted sleep before her four-a.m. makeup call.
It’d be fun and great for her career, her agent had said when recommending Kit take the superhero flick. Coming off two serious and emotionally wrenching projects, Kit had taken Harper’s advice and jumped on board the high-budget, high-octane venture. Unfortunately, Harper had forgotten to mention the four hours it would take to put her into the head-to-toe makeup required for the role. Daily.
“What?” she snarled into the phone without checking to see who it was.
Every cell in her body snapped wide awake. Lifting her eyelids, she just stared at the ceiling through gritty eyes. Her heart thumped, her throat moving convulsively as she swallowed. She hated that he could still do this to her, hated it, but her visceral response to Noah wasn’t something she could stop. She knew because she’d tried for the past two years and three months.
“Noah,” she said flatly. “Do you know what time it is?”
“Two fifteen,” he answered.
Kit should’ve hung up. God, he’d hurt her. So much. But there was something in his voice that had her sitting up. “Are you drunk?” One thing she knew about Noah: no matter his bad-boy rep, he was never wasted. He might give a good indication of it, but look closely and those dark gray eyes were always sober.
“Probably.” A silence, followed by, “I just wanted to hear your voice. Sorry for waking you.”
“Wait,” she said when he would’ve hung up. “Where are you?”
“Some dive.” He took a deep breath, released it in a harsh exhale. “I’m sorry for being an asshole. I wanted to tell you that. I don’t want to go without saying that.”
“Noah,” she said, a horrible feeling in her stomach. “Where exactly are you?”
“The Blue Flamingo Inn off Hollywood Boulevard. Far, far, far off.” He laughed, and it held no humor. “It has a neon sign of a blue—surprise!—flamingo that’s flashing right through my window. Looks like someone stole the curtains.”
Having already grabbed her laptop, which she’d left beside the bed after answering some e-mails before sleep claimed her, she found the Blue Flamingo Inn. But Noah was already gone, having said, “I love your voice, Kit,” in an oddly raw tone before hanging up.
He didn’t pick up when she called back.
“Damn it! Damn it!” She shoved aside the blanket under which she’d been buried, having turned the AC to ice-cold as she usually did at night. Shivering, she tugged on a pair of jeans and an old sweatshirt over the panties and tank top in which she’d gone to sleep.
Pulling her black hair into a rough ponytail to keep it out of her eyes, she ran through the house, phone in one pocket, credit card and driver’s license in the other. In the kitchen, she grabbed her keys off the counter and shoved her feet into the tennis shoes by the door that led to the garage.
She was in her car and on the way to the motel three minutes after Noah had hung up, mouth dry and an ugliness in her gut. “Please be okay, please be okay, please be okay,” she kept saying, the mantra doing nothing to calm her down, but at least it kept her mind focused.
She wanted to call Molly and Fox, or the others in the band, but no one was currently in the city. Schoolboy Choir had completed the final show in the band’s hugely successful tour just over two weeks earlier. Day after that, they’d all gone their separate ways to recharge and regroup.
“Much as I love these guys,” David had said with a grin that reached the dark gold of his eyes, “I’ve been looking at their ugly mugs daily for months. We need to go blow off some steam separately before we start snarling at each other.”
At the time, Kit had nodded in understanding, having had that same experience while working on location for long periods. Tonight, however, she wished the others were all here, not scattered across the country, because something was very wrong with Noah.
“Noah doesn’t do drugs,” she told herself as she drove as fast as she dared, not wanting to risk getting pulled over and further delayed. “He isn’t the kind to—” She couldn’t say it, couldn’t even think of Noah ending his life. “No,” she said firmly, her hands white-knuckled on the steering wheel. “Noah isn’t like that.”
He might be a bastard, but he’d never hurt his friends and family by committing suicide. His sister was only twenty-one, and Noah adored her. If nothing else, his need to protect Emily from their overbearing parents should keep him from doing anything stupid… anything irreversible.
Her phone began to beep. Reaching out, she pressed the button to activate the Bluetooth speaker and microphone. “I’m fine,” she said to her security service.
“Casey’s in the car behind you.”
Kit’s eyes flicked to the lights in her rearview mirror, unsurprised the bodyguard had caught up to her even though she’d taken off like a bat out of hell. She’d hired Casey and Butch and their team because they were damn good, but tonight she needed to be alone; whatever happened, Noah would shut down if a stranger walked in beside her.
“Tell Casey to go to this location and wait.” She read off an address about five minutes from the Blue Flamingo. “I’ll call him if I need him.”
“Don’t turn off the GPS tracker on your car. That’s not the best part of town.”
“I know. I won’t.” Kit wanted privacy for this, but she wasn’t stupid, not with a stalker who’d been frighteningly persistent in his efforts to get to her. “But make sure Casey doesn’t follow me, Butch. I need privacy for this, and if you breach that, even to protect me, I can’t trust you anymore.”
“Any hint of trouble and you hit the panic button,” Butch ordered. “Understood?”
“Understood.” Kit was officially their boss, but the two men had become friends to her, they’d been watching over her for so long. Icy and dangerous as they were in public, they treated her like a younger sister in private. It was part of the reason she liked the two ex-Marines so much. The men who worked under them were younger but just as dedicated and professional.
Ending the call, she followed her GPS’s prompts as to the shortest route to the motel. Butch’s call had kept her mind busy for a couple of minutes, but now the fear came rushing back. Using the Bluetooth system, she called Noah again.
Should she alert the paramedics or the cops? What if she was wrong? What if Noah was just passed out, drunk? It would end up all over the media. Noah would never forgive her.
That risk Kit would’ve taken, but the idea of exposing Noah to strangers while he was vulnerable… No, she couldn’t do that. “You’d better not have done anything stupid, Noah.”
Trying not to panic, she drove past run-down businesses and anemic palm trees, the street corners host to small groups of working girls and boys, their pimps hovering in the background. Noah wasn’t just off Hollywood Boulevard—he’d managed to find a hidden pit of darkness in amongst the sleek and shine. It was a damn good thing her car didn’t draw attention.
She’d jumped into the trusty brown sedan that was the first car she’d ever bought on her own. It was old enough and dusty enough—she’d been meaning to take it to the carwash—that she was probably being visually tagged as another middle-aged husband searching for a cheap thrill.
A possible customer for the pros, but not worth carjacking.
Thanking the car that had gotten her to more casting calls than she could count, she ignored the sideshow and carried on. The Blue Flamingo Inn appeared out of the darkness in a screaming blue blaze. Turning into the lot, she found that the neon sign was the brightest lighting in the place.
A bulb flickered on an upstairs landing of the U-shaped building, and there was a yellow-tinged bulb inside what looked like the manager’s office, but that was it. The entire place was dark and grimy and a great location to get mugged—except the thieves had probably given up on this place, it was so sad and dilapidated. Parking the car in the nearest spot, she went to get out and realized she had no idea of Noah’s room.
Remembering what he’d said about the flamingo flashing through his uncurtained windows, she looked around and zeroed in on three upstairs rooms from where the sign had to be brightly visible. She’d try those three first before waking up the manager and blowing Noah’s cover.
Grabbing the pepper spray she kept in the cup holder, she got out after making sure there was no one else around and locked her car. Then she ran quickly to the stairs that led up to those three rooms. All three were dark, but two of them had some limp-looking curtains. Cupping her hands over the sides of her eyes as she pressed her face to the window of the third, she felt her breath leave her in a painful rush.
Noah sat on the edge of the bed, bare-chested and with his eyes on his hands. His shoulders were slumped, but he was very much alive.
Pulling away from the window, she bent over, braced her hands on her knees, and tried to breathe. The air hurt going in, coming out. At least two minutes later, she gripped the skinny metal railing, pulled herself up and, breath still a little ragged, went to knock. Then something made her try the door. It turned easily in her hand.
“Wrong room,” Noah said without looking up. “Unless you’re looking for a quick fuck. Then I can oblige you.”
It was a kick to the gut. As was the sight of the condom wrappers on the floor and that of the obviously used bed. She almost stepped back, almost left. He’d never know, never realize how desperately worried she’d been tonight… and then her eyes fell on the nightstand and the syringe that lay on it.
Ice formed in her gut again.
Striding across the carpet, she picked it up. “What the hell is this, Noah?”
“Kit?” He looked up, his pupils hugely dilated. “I can smell you. You always smell so good.” Reaching out, he touched her thigh. “I guess I must be really drunk if I’m imagining you here.” With that, he grabbed the bottle she hadn’t seen at his feet and took a swig.
Holding the syringe with one hand, Kit pulled away the bottle with the other and slammed it on the nightstand. “What,” she said again, gripping his jaw to force him to meet her gaze, “is this?”
An unconcerned shrug. “Something to make me high as a kite according to the dealer.”
“Jesus, Noah, you don’t even know what it is and you were going to shoot up with it?”
“Couldn’t do it,” he said on a harsh laugh. “Kept hearing your voice in my head telling me you have no fucking respect for people who fucking space out on drugs. And now I’m hallucinating you.” He swiped out at the bottle, missed when she grabbed it first. “Gimme back my whiskey, Hallucination Kit.”
“I’ll give you your whiskey.” Taking the bottle, she went into the tiny bathroom and poured the liquid into the cracked and stained sink.
Noah got up and followed her. His face fell. “Don’t do that, Hallucination Kit. Now what will we drink?”
Ignoring him, she finished with the bottle and depressed the plunger of the syringe while holding it over the sink. Once it was empty, she put it on the narrow back ledge of the sink so the maid would see it straightaway. Hopefully the cleaning staff had a process for disposing of needles. “Where’s the vial?” she asked Noah after dumping the bottle in the garbage.
Noah just looked at her, his jaw bristly and dark. It had always fascinated her that he could be so blond and yet have such dark stubble, eyebrows, and eyelashes. She’d always had to fight the temptation to bite at his jaw, taste him. Today, however, all she wanted to do was hit him. “Where. Is. The. Vial?” she repeated deliberately. “Noah!”
When he still didn’t answer, she pushed past him, his muscled chest warm under her touch, and began to open the drawers in the nightstand. They proved empty, and there was no other furniture in the room aside from the bed. Going to her knees, she looked under the bed, caught the glint of glass. The vial had rolled underneath, likely after Noah knocked it off the nightstand.
It was empty and unlabeled.
Throwing it in the trash in the bathroom, conscious of Noah watching her with an intensity that felt like a touch, she began to search the bed for his T-shirt, careful to touch things only with the tips of her fingers. She couldn’t think about the fact that he’d been fucking some other woman in this bed not long ago or she’d throw up.
“You want to fuck, Hallucination Kit?”
She’d jerked up her head, intending to flay him for the question, when he said, “I don’t want to. Not with you.”
And the bastard kept kicking her, kept hurting her. “I wouldn’t sleep with you if you were the last man on the planet.” Having found the tee, she threw it at him. “Put that on.”
He did so, oddly compliant.
“Noah,” she said, worried again. “Did you take anything else? Pills?”
“No, because Kit hates drug addicts. I drank. And then I ran out of booze so I went and bought some more and drank again.”
Since she could smell the booze, she had to believe him on that point. “When was the last time you ate something?”
Kit could’ve left then, but she couldn’t abandon him here. Regardless of how much he’d hurt her, he’d once been her friend. Her best friend. “Come on, let’s go get a burger.” When he didn’t move, she held out a hand despite how deeply she wanted to maintain distance between them for her own sake. “I’m hungry.”
His eyes went to her hand and he moved at last, coming over to close one big hand around her own. His fingertips were callused from playing the guitar, his skin tougher than her own, his temperature hotter. The contact was a shock to her system, anger and pain and hurt entwined.
Swallowing it all down, she tugged him out of the room and to the car. “I’ll go pay the manager,” she said once she’d unlocked the car.
Noah laughed as if she’d told a crazy joke. “I might be drunk and hallucinating, but I know this place is prepay.”
Right, of course it was. “Then get in.”
The smell of alcohol and of Noah filled the car as she drove them out of the seedy area. “What are you doing back in LA? I thought you were in Hawaii?” Fox had mentioned that fact in passing when she’d had dinner with the lead singer and Molly the night before the couple left for their road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway.
No answer from Noah.
When she glanced over at the passenger seat, it was to find that he’d either fallen asleep or passed out, his head leaning against the window. Stopping at the lights, she reached out to check his pulse to make sure it was a natural sleep. He mumbled something at the touch of her fingertips, his pulse strong.
Relieved, she alerted Casey she was on her way back, then drove straight home. Once there and parked inside the garage, she went around to open Noah’s door and was faced with the prospect of either leaving him in the car or trying to haul him inside.
“Noah,” she said, forcing herself to grab one of his muscled shoulders and shake. “Wake up if you want to sleep in a bed.”
“Not your bed,” he mumbled.
Kit tried not to let his words draw blood. “Yeah, you’ve made that clear. Now get up.”
Eyes opening, though his lashes were heavy, he stumbled out and wrapped one arm around her shoulders. “Hi, Katie.” He nuzzled at her hair. “I missed you.”
Tears so close to the surface that they were about half a minute away at most, she managed to bully, push, and lead him to one of the spare bedrooms—where he flopped facedown on the bed and went immediately back to sleep. Realizing he was wearing his boots as well as his belt with its heavy silver buckle, along with old black jeans, she thought she should do something to make him more comfortable, but she’d hit her limit.
She paused only long enough to put a blanket over him because she knew how much he hated her liking for cold temperatures at night. Leaving the guest bedroom, she went into her own, stripped off, stepped into the attached shower, and cried until she had no more tears in her.
Her chest hurt by the end, her throat was raw, her nose stuffy. But she was an actress, knew all the tricks. Grabbing a cold pack from the fridge, she lay down on the bed with it over her eyes. She still had forty-five minutes before she had to leave for the studio. Plenty of time for her to become Kathleen Devigny again, sophisticated, talented, and far too intelligent to have her heart broken a second time by a rock star who had never loved her like she’d loved him.