When her phone beeped, Kit gratefully abandoned the script she’d been trying to read since throwing Noah out. It was a message from Becca: Hey, I know it’s late, but I’m out with some girlfriends not far from your place. Want to join us?
Kit didn’t usually go out so late, but that was because she’d been on back-to-back early-morning shooting schedules. She had no reason to be up early tomorrow. And what else was she going to do but stomp angrily around the house?
Sounds fun, she messaged. Where exactly are you?
Becca texted back the name of an upscale bar located a short fifteen-minute drive from Kit’s place. After stripping off her clothes, Kit slipped into a short and shimmery dress in beaten gold, let down her hair, and slid her feet into sky-high heels. Five minutes in front of the mirror and her face was done.
Becca would probably play with it in the bar’s bathroom anyway. The makeup artist couldn’t help herself—she constantly tweaked all her friends’ looks, but since she was so damn good at it, no one minded.
Turning, Kit checked the back of the dress in the mirror—there wasn’t much, the two sides held together by chains of tiny pearls that just asked for a man to break them. Below that, the fabric hugged her hips without being so tight as to look ridiculous. Sweeping her hair down her back again, she made sure the front was sitting well. The shoulders merged into a kind of a cowl-neck that softened the otherwise clean lines of the dress.
It didn’t need jewelry.
Since Casey was back from his delayed break, she asked him to drive her while Butch sat in the passenger seat. Another two guards remained behind to watch the house. Thank God she could now actually afford them—but much as she liked all the men, she wished she didn’t need the entourage of security.
Damn her stalker.
“Thanks, guys,” she said as Casey opened her door in front of the bar. “I’ll be fine inside. It’s pretty busy.”
Neither guard looked happy, but they nodded. The three of them had long ago come to an understanding that while she’d take their advice, she’d call the final shots. Right now, she just wanted to hang out with women who weren’t close enough friends to pick up on her mood. Becca usually would of course, but if she’d been at the bar for a while, she was probably happily buzzed by now.
Walking in, she immediately found Becca’s group. A pretty, bubbly foursome, they were ensconced in a relaxed seating area around which circled several hopeful men. At least one had made some headway, was whispering sweet nothings into the ear of a blonde Kit couldn’t recall meeting before. Becca, meanwhile—dressed in a short black dress paired with black boots striped in blue—was firmly rebuffing all advances.
Seeing Kit, the makeup artist jumped up and hugged her tight. “Congratulations again, babe! I’ve been waiting all day to hug you.” Another squeeze. “Redemption! What a coup!”
It was impossible not to smile. “To say I’m happy about that is an understatement.” She tugged gently on a strand of Becca’s hair—gone was the pink bob, replaced by a vibrant blue one. “I like this. And”—frowning, she leaned in—“are those tiny feathers on your eyelashes?”
Laughing, Becca closed her eyes so Kit could check out the falsies. “I bought them at that place we went to before the superhero movie sucked up our lives.” She hauled Kit down into a seat beside her, her dark eyes sparkling. “Tell me all about your meeting with Esra Dali! I’ve heard he’s a bit of a smoldering dish!”
Partway through Kit’s recap, Becca ordered a celebratory bottle of champagne. Since Kit had already had champagne with Noah, she only drank half a glass, just enough so that Becca wasn’t disappointed.
Then she danced with her friend and the others, steadfastly ignoring the men who tried to put the moves on her. She was happily physically exhausted when she and Becca finally left the bar arm in arm. They were the only two left of the original group. The other women had all hooked up with men from the bar.
Of course a few of the paparazzi had gotten wind of Kit’s location and were camped outside, including her personal English pest.
“Ditched Noah already?” Basil called out.
“You ever hear of a girls’ night out, Basil?” That explanation ought to keep a lid on the breakup for another day or so. Not much breathing room, but enough for her to find her footing and armor herself before she had to face the jackals.
“Don’t suppose you’d give your friend a kiss, love?” Basil asked, ever hopeful. “Secret lesbian love affairs sell, you know.”
Feeling Becca tense up, Kit smiled at her friend before turning to Basil—she knew how to deal with him, while Becca didn’t usually come face to face with the paparazzi. “Sure, Basil,” she said, pausing just long enough that the photographer all but stopped breathing in anticipation. “I’ll do naked yoga for you while I’m at it.”
All the photographers cracked up, a number needling Basil, who was like a cockroach. He just kept going.
“A flash of your knickers, then. While you’re getting into the car.”
Rolling her eyes, Kit walked over to the car with Becca. Casey was already out, with the door open. “Hop in,” she said to her friend. “Make sure you don’t accidentally flash the cameras. They’ll find a way to use it.”
Yawning and leaning against her, Becca said, “You really don’t mind giving me a ride?”
“You’re my friend—what kind of question is that?” Ushering the shorter woman into the car, Kit told Casey where Becca lived and they drove off.
“Did you break up with him?” Becca asked sotto voce, proving she wasn’t as drunk as she appeared to be—or that even drunk, she knew Kit far too well.
Kit couldn’t bring herself to say it. “It’s complicated,” she replied.
Becca patted her on the arm, her nails beautifully polished in blue with black stripes. “Trust me, honey, you deserve better than some manwhore out to nail as many groupies as he can.”
Kit’s spine went stiff. “Don’t talk about him that way.”
Pulling back, Becca said, “Oh, wow, sorry.” A tight smile. “I was just doing the girlfriend thing. You know, the ‘all men are dicks and the ex is the biggest dick of all’ post-breakup talk?”
Exhaling, Kit dropped her head back against her seat. “I know. I’m sorry for snapping at you.” Becca had commiserated with her in much the same way after the action-star debacle—it was Kit who was behaving oddly, so mixed up that she didn’t know what she was saying or doing. “I just…”
Becca touched her hand. “You can talk to me, you know. Makeup artists are like priests—the seal of the confessional, only it’s of the makeup chair.”
Trying to laugh but failing, Kit dropped her head on the other woman’s shoulder. “I’m not ready yet.” She wasn’t sure she’d ever be ready to talk to anyone about Noah.
“One thing I know,” Becca said, “you’ll be fine. You’re beautiful and talented, and any man would be lucky to have you.”
Too bad the only man she wanted didn’t want anything to do with her.
Kit didn’t voice the painful thought aloud, and when her friend waved good-bye to Kit from the doorstep of her apartment, Kit smiled and waved back. Then Becca was gone, and Kit was once again alone in the car with Casey and Butch.
None of them spoke the entire drive home.
Once there, she let the two guards do a thorough sweep of the house before she locked the door behind her and stripped off. Sweaty from the dancing, she had a shower, then put on a slip in midnight blue. The decadent sleepwear was courtesy of her pre-stalker and pre-debt days.
The sheets into which she slid were a much more prosaic cotton.
But though she was tired, she couldn’t switch off her brain; she kept going over what had happened in the hours before Noah pulled his hurtful stunt. It had started so well. Then Noah’s mood had just turned. Yes, he was moody, but he’d never before been so erratic. Frowning, she tried to figure out if she’d said something that had hit him wrong, but she hadn’t even been speaking when he’d gotten up from the sofa.
The television had been on, Blue Force running as she—Blue Force.
Sitting up, Kit tried to remember the scene that had been on right before he got up and walked away, but her memories were all jumbled up. She could barely remember her own part.
Shoving aside the comforter, she ran into the kitchen where she’d left her laptop. She flipped up the lid, navigated to the website of the television station that featured Blue Force. “Come on, come on,” she said, hoping the site had been updated with the episode they’d played tonight.
When it asked for her password, it took her two tries to get it right, her heart was racing so hard. Then she was in and there it was, the episode of Blue Force she and Noah had been watching. Skipping ahead to what she thought was roughly five minutes before Noah had walked off, she watched carefully. The scene was a flashback to the first time Kit’s character had tasted cocaine. Nothing unexpected, nothing that could’ve triggered Noah’s anger or drinking.
She was chewing her lower lip in frustration when that scene cut to another one. She hadn’t paid too much attention to it at the time because it linked to a background plotline unconnected to the crime in this episode. Two well-dressed people were talking about their child, hoping he was all right. The woman cried, said, “I can’t bear knowing he’s out there with God knows who. My sweet baby.”
The scene cut away again to a bleak-faced and exhausted-appearing detective staring at a bulging folder. Pinned on the front of it was a photograph of a little boy with shining blond hair and a gap-toothed smile.
A younger colleague interrupted the detective, and it was back to the Ivy Leaguer-turned-junkie storyline. Blood chilled, Kit clicked away from the site and to a major search engine. She started to search for anything on Noah’s childhood. Had he been kidnapped? Held for ransom?
Kit’s stomach lurched. Because from what she’d seen, the Blue Force storyline hinted at far more than a simple kidnapping. The mother was worried about what was being done to her little boy.
“No, no,” Kit whispered and continued to search. She knew it was futile—if there was anything to find, the tabloids would’ve found it long ago. But she couldn’t help herself.
She even tried using his mother’s maiden name to widen the search. Nothing.
Hand trembling, she put it to her forehead and forced herself to take deep breath after deep breath before she hyperventilated. But her mind, it raced. How could the kidnapping of the scion of a powerful family be erased from existence? Sure, Robert St. John would’ve been a high-powered lawyer even when Noah was younger, but you couldn’t just wipe out media attention.
Unless the police had never been called, the ransom quietly paid.
She found a bottle of water in the fridge and guzzled a third of it before trying to think through the whole thing. Usually if a ransom was paid and the child returned, it was because the kidnapping was a businesslike transaction. No way would Robert St. John have allowed his son to be missing for days without putting every possible agency on the trail of the kidnappers.
Something was wrong with her theory.
Jumping, she answered the gate-to-house intercom. “Butch?”
“Hey, Kit. I don’t know what’s up with you and Noah, but he’s at the gate. You want me to let him in?”
Gut in knots, she said, “Yes.” She wasn’t sure she was in any shape to speak to him, but it seemed like a big mistake to send him away. Whether she let him stay depended on what happened next. Because what she’d said still applied: his pain didn’t give him permission to deliberately hurt her. No matter how much she loved him, she wasn’t getting back on that particular roller coaster.
Shrugging on her robe, she closed the browser on her laptop and went to open the front door. The night was cool and starlit—and quiet. When she failed to hear the sound of the Mustang’s powerful engine after more than half a minute, she got back in touch with Butch. “He’s not here yet.”
“Walking,” the bodyguard told her. “Fox dropped him off.”
Kit returned to the doorway. Noah finally appeared in the drive a few minutes later, tall and making her heart ache… and with a face that looked like it had gone a few too many rounds with a fist. Temper flaring, she ran out to him and grabbed his jaw in her hand.
She softened her hold but not her glare. “Come inside so I can see what you’ve done to your face.”
“I was heading that way.” One of his hands landed on her hip, that familiar cocky smile back on his face. “You gonna throw me out again?”
“We’ll see.” She led him into the house and shut the door. Examining his face in the hallway light, she saw he’d taken quite a beating. “Fox look like this too?”
She made a dubious sound in her throat, conscious Fox would probably tell Molly exactly the same thing when he arrived home. “What is it with guys and fists?”
A shrug as Noah dropped his duffel on the floor. “I put frozen peas on it.”
“You want me to applaud?”
“Yeah.” A grin, followed by a wince. “That bastard hit me in the mouth.”
She could see the split upper lip, the slightly swollen lower one. “Yes, well, I wanted to do that myself today, so he did me a favor.”
“I fucked up.” Raising his hands, he cupped her face, his smile fading as his throat moved. “It had nothing to do with you. I just took it out on you because… Because I knew you’d forgive me.”
Her eyes burned. “I love you,” she whispered and pressed her fingers to his lips when he would’ve spoken again. “I love you, but I won’t be an emotional punching bag.”