Noah put the top firmly on his convertible before he and Kit left for the screen test. He said it was to protect her hair, but Kit’s expression told him she knew that was a load of BS. Noah waited for her to argue, but his mind was made up: no way was he permitting the stalker to ruin a day that could mark a watershed moment in her career.
Though she shook her head at him, she didn’t try to make him change his mind, and they rolled out of the drive a couple of minutes later to the flash of cameras. The vultures were all hoping for some kind of an exclusive to fuel the current media feeding frenzy.
“What the fuck do they think we’ll do?” he said to Kit once they’d made it out. “Strip naked and dance together in front of the gate?”
Noah groaned. “He doesn’t count.” The country music star hadn’t only been caught with his pants down while he fucked his mistress during an island getaway, he’d then been photographed standing stark-naked in front of a hotel window while a different woman gave him a blowjob. Turned out he’d thought the window was reflective. “In fact, you can never use Will to score points in any conversation. It’s too easy.”
“At least he was wearing his cowboy hat,” Kit said with a laugh. “It would’ve been seriously embarrassing if he was caught bareheaded.”
“Stop right there. I don’t want to think about what another guy was wearing while a groupie sucked him off.”
A sudden silence from the passenger seat, no riposte. And he realized what he’d said. He’d never been photographed, but how many groupies had sucked him off? He couldn’t remember their names, probably hadn’t ever known them, their faces a blur and their mouths doing things to him that made his body respond though his heart remained frozen.
Most of the time, it had felt as if he was standing outside his body, watching someone else be touched. The times when he was present, that was when the rage came out, when he turned brutal. He’d never hurt a woman, but on the rage nights, he made sure to pick a woman who made it clear she could take it. Then he used her, shoving her out after he was done. That was who he’d been for a long time: a bastard who didn’t really see women as anything other than objects he could use to drown out the nightmares.
Then had come Kit.
“Sorry.” It was a blindingly inadequate apology, but he didn’t know what else to say. He couldn’t erase his past. If he could, he’d have done it as a child, wiped the memories from his mind so he could have a chance to grow up normal.
“Don’t say that.” Kit’s soft response was unexpectedly fierce. “This won’t work if you feel like you have to keep apologizing.” Her hands were white-knuckled fists on her thighs. “We have to start fresh, start now.”
Noah knew it wasn’t going to be that simple—their history was what tied them together. He also knew that part of the problem was that he’d given those women something he wouldn’t give Kit.
His hands flexed on the steering wheel, his entire body tense.
If he slept with Kit, he’d end up either in the cold or in the grip of rage. Those were his only choices, and he didn’t want to stain their relationship with that ugliness. But… would it be so bad if it would make Kit happy? He always knew when the rage times were coming, so he’d just pick a cold time.
She’d never know—he was apparently decent at sex. Not the long, lazy act he’d seen in on-screen romances or read about. The hard, fast stuff. It was mechanical on his part, but none of the women had ever complained.
Muscles locked tight, he decided he’d do it tonight.
It’d be worth it to strengthen the bond between him and Kit.
“Turn here.” Her voice broke into his thoughts, chipped away at the ice. “Security should have our names.”
Following her directions to the right parking area after they were cleared through the studio gates, he slid the car into an empty spot. As he went around to meet her by her side of the car, it was with his own emotions under lock and key. “You’ll knock ’em dead.”
A shaky smile. “Now that we’re here, I’m scared,” she whispered. “This is the biggest opportunity of my career.”
“No one else could do justice to this role.” He’d read the script on the flight back from the music festival, knew it was made for Kit. “Just remember that. And if all else fails, imagine Abigail Rutledge lording it over you at the premiere.”
Kit’s eyebrows drew together. “Not happening.”
“That’s my Katie,” Noah said and drew her into a hug. He wasn’t really a hugger, but Kit was, and truth be told, now that he’d started the hugging thing with her, he kinda liked it.
Taking a deep breath after he released her, she smiled and gave him two thumbs-up. “See you when they set me free. Probably be an hour at least.”
“You fine going in there alone?” She’d asked Butch and Casey to stay at the house today.
“Yes. Esra’s got a couple of stalkers of his own—harmless types who keep trying to get in, steal his stuff as souvenirs, rather than anyone who wants to hurt him, but it means his area is always secure.” She nodded toward the security guard on the door that was her destination. “Okay, better go.”
“Break a leg.” He watched her walk through the door.
Rather than waiting in the car, he went for a walk and managed to find a small coffee stand. Grabbing a plain black coffee, he made his way back toward the area where he’d parked and saw that the mock street to the left was now swarming with crew. He was leaning against a wall watching them set up a rain scene when he felt someone’s eyes boring holes into the side of his face.
Hackles up, he turned his head. Aw, shit. It wasn’t the stalker. It was the guy Kit had been dating before she and Noah got together: Terrence Gates. “Hey.” Noah straightened away from the wall. “I guess you want to punch my face.”
“For starters.” Arms folded, Terrence glared at him through the clear lenses of his metal-framed glasses. “You don’t deserve her.”
“No, I don’t.” That was simple fact. “But she’s mine, and I’m not about to give her up.”
Terrence’s already hard expression turned stony, his hazel eyes like chips of granite. “Yeah, well, I’ll be there to catch her when you let her down. Losers like you always do.”
Noah’s blood boiled, but he grabbed the fury in an iron fist, squeezed. Kit wouldn’t thank him for making a scene at her place of work. “You’ll be waiting one hell of a long time,” he said lightly, unable to stop himself from adding a cocky smile designed to piss Terrence off.
The other man stepped forward, arms unfolding as if he was going to take a swing. Noah wasn’t about to allow that to happen. “You want to take me on?” he said in a frigid tone. “Fine. Choose your time and place, but it sure as hell won’t be at the studio.” They were surrounded by people with phones, many of whom would love to make a few extra bucks by selling a shot to the tabloids. “Someone’s probably already gotten a snap of you approaching me.”
Terrence stared at Noah for a minute longer before turning and walking away. He’d unfisted his hand, but his shoulders remained bunched up. Though Noah tried to stay pissed off at the guy, it proved impossible—Terrence had a right to be angry. Yeah, the scriptwriter had apparently been a dick after the gala photos came out, but jealousy could do that to a man. All indications were that prior to the gala, Terrence had treated Kit with utmost care.
He crushed his paper coffee cup and threw it in a nearby trash can, then walked back to the car. There was a small yellow flyer on the windshield. Probably a sneaky promotional attempt by a small-time movie company hoping to catch the eye of a studio bigwig. Everyone had to hustle.
Not against such self-starting behavior, he pulled the flyer out from under the wiper blade and turned it over. “Fuck.”
Printed on the yellow paper was a black-and-white photograph of him and Kit. It had been taken at the festival and had the look of a professional shot. If he had to guess, he’d say it had been printed off a news or magazine site. From what he could tell, it had originally been a shot of Kit sitting in the circle of his arms on the Zenith grounds, a smile on her face and his head bent toward her own.
On this copy, however, the stalker had scrubbed out most of Noah’s face with a black marker until he’d torn a hole in the paper. He’d then switched to red ink to write the word “WHORE” across Kit’s face.
About to crush the fucking thing into a ball, he remembered what Kit had done and dug around in his glove box, found a plastic bag he’d stuffed in there. He placed the flyer inside, then put the whole thing in the glove box. He didn’t want to tell Kit about it and ruin her hopefully amazing day, but he had to so she’d know the creep did in fact have access to the studio lot.
He wanted to demand he come along with her every day she needed to be here, but knew she’d never stand for that. At least she’d have Butch and Casey with her. Damn it, how had the fucker known she and Noah had left the guards at home today? The most likely explanation was that the stalker had made it a point to learn the faces of Kit’s security staff, been confident no one was watching the car.
Glancing around, Noah saw crew from the outdoor shoot walking this way and that. A lantern-jawed action star was standing talking to a bearded director. The actor and Kit had dated just over a year ago, and according to what Noah had picked up, the breakup had been anything but amicable. Kit and Action Dude had barely had two dates when the fuckwit leaked their “hot and heavy relationship” to the media. Apparently, it had all been pure fantasy—and Kit had broken things off at once.
Terrence stood not far off, arguing with a short, plump woman over something.
Those two were hardly the sole or even the best suspects. Action Dude was banging a centerfold-turned-reality-star now—and lapping up the attendant media coverage. As for Terrence, the jealousy-laced venom had continued to pour forth even when Kit had been dating the writer.
Still, stalkers were mentally unstable, so that didn’t automatically take Terrence off the suspect list. He could’ve thought to scare Kit to force her to rely on him. And the action star could be banging one woman while obsessed with another. Noah would make sure the bodyguards knew to keep an eye on both men if they were nearby.
But there were so many others around, any one of whom could’ve become obsessed with Kit after she smiled at him politely, or maybe said “thank you” for a cup of coffee. That’s all it took for the deluded to create a whole life, a whole relationship inside their head. That gaffer or that set-construction guy, or even that overweight character actor, it could be any of them.
Frustrated, he turned to face the door through which Kit had disappeared. It opened at the same instant to reveal the woman at the center of his thoughts. Her face was expressionless. Noah knew that could mean either very good news or very bad news. Taking his cue from her, he stayed silent as they got in the car and drove away.
“So?” he said once they were safely out of the lot and away from prying eyes.
A squeal erupted from the passenger seat. “Esra loved me! He was trying to pretend he was cool and not really into me, but I could see the fireworks going off in his head. He told me he’s seeing Abigail this afternoon, but I think he just wants negotiating power when it comes to the contract. I nailed it, and we both know it!”
Kit finally stopped to take a breath. “We spoke for twenty-five minutes afterward, and it was serious, in-depth script talk. He asked me if I could work with Garrison given the politics if Abigail doesn’t get the job, and I said I’m a professional.”
Another gulped breath. “I can feel it, Noah. Only reason it won’t be mine is if he plays politics, and I don’t think he will. Esra might be an arrogant SOB, but he’s a brilliant one who won’t put his name on anything about which he isn’t passionate.” She blew kisses over to Noah. “And thanks to you, Abigail and I are even on the publicity stakes, so that’s become a nonissue.”
“You’re the best, Kit. Period.” He loved seeing her like this, so happy and excited and confident. “Let’s pick up a bottle of champagne on the way home, have it chilled for when the news comes.”
“No.” A severe sound. “There’s being confident, and then there’s jinxing things.”
“Right.” Laughing at her adorable scowl, he guided the Mustang into a turn. “I keep forgetting how superstitious actors can be.”
“Don’t knock it. I was once in a small live performance of the Scottish play.” Shivering, she hugged herself. “Never again. That play is genuinely haunted.”
Reaching out, he flicked her nose. “And you, Katie, are genuinely cute.”
“Say that again and I’ll bite you.”
Much as he wanted to keep the upbeat mood, he knew he had to tell her about the flyer. As she’d said, she had to know to protect herself. Jaw and neck muscles tense, he said, “Your stalker has access to the lot.”
Silence from the passenger seat, then an exhale. “What did he do?”
He told her. “You don’t need to look at it,” he said when she would’ve reached for the glove box. “I haven’t hidden anything.”
Nodding in a trust that made him feel like he’d won the lottery, she leaned back in the seat. Her voice, when it came, was more focused than angry or scared. “It makes sense that he’s in the business.”
“When my place was broken into? It was while I was at a small party at the house of a camerawoman from my Primrose Avenue days. Not a lot of people knew I was gone. I guess he could’ve just been watching my place, but that wasn’t the only suspicious incident.” She tapped her finger on her knee.
“Once, I came back to my trailer on set and it felt as if someone had rifled through my purse. Nothing was missing, so I figured I was just being paranoid, but I changed the locks on the gate, the house, and the car anyway, despite the cost. A few days later, I found scratches on my car lock, as if someone had tried to use a key.”
Noah gripped the steering wheel with bruising force. “You tell the cops this?”
“Sure—and studio security at the time. But you know how many people there are on a lot at any one time.” Pragmatic words. “It’s a miniature city. And since I didn’t get any threatening notes or anything stalker specific, I figured it must’ve just been an opportunistic thief.”
“You’re taking this a lot better than I am.” He wanted to strangle the creep.
Patting his arm, she said, “I’ve had a lot longer to get past the angry stage. These days I concentrate on being smart, on not giving him any opportunities, or my emotional energy.” She relaxed into her seat. “Have you spoken to Abe since we got back?”
“This morning after breakfast.” The keyboard player was not in a good headspace, and Noah had intended to bully him into coming over so he wouldn’t be alone with his demons, but someone had beaten him to it. “He’s staying with David and Thea.”
“She wanted to go home, but Fox and Molly convinced her to stay with them. Her face needs to heal so she can go out, and they’re worried because her ex has keys to her place.” After the way Jeremy Vance had hurt Sarah, no one wanted to take any chances by leaving her alone in a space he could access.
“I’ve met guys like him before,” Kit said, tone grim. “They’re cowards who wait till they get their victims alone.”
Noah nodded, in full agreement with her about the spinelessness of any man who’d hit a woman. “Thea went in quietly with a security guy and collected clothing and other personal stuff for Sarah, and she’s arranging for the locks to be changed. It has to be done under the radar, so it’ll take a few days.”
In the meantime, Sarah would stay out of public view and Abe would stay with friends who understood his triggers and how to defuse them. “One piece of bad news—Thea had a couple of calls from reporters who heard Abe and Sarah and Vance came face-to-face at the festival. They’re sniffing around for a story.”
“Damn, that’s the last thing either Sarah or Abe need.” Kit shot him a determined look. “Let’s distract the paparazzi with the promise of a money shot, have them too busy salivating over us to worry about an ex-couple.”