Noah couldn’t help keeping a wary eye on Kit over the next few days. He kept expecting her to turn around and give him a look of disgust—and though he knew Kit would never be so cruel, he couldn’t stop the demon voices. Those same demons sent him running into the darkness night after night so that he wouldn’t have to deal with his failure as a man with her.
He made sure not to wake her, and he stayed on the property, running countless laps. No matter how fucked-up he was, he wasn’t going to leave Kit vulnerable again. If she called out for him in the night, he’d be within reach. Protecting her was the one thing he could do.
On the fourth day after the massage, the two of them having barely been in the same room since, he returned home from a songwriting session with the guys to find a furniture truck parked outside the front door. Casey and Butch were standing watch as two hulking men unloaded the truck.
Scowling, he headed over to where Kit stood in the doorway, dressed in a green tank top and black shorts, old tennis shoes on her feet. “You didn’t tell me you were getting a delivery.” He’d have made sure to be nearby. Her stalker might have gone quiet, but he hadn’t given up; Kit’s agent had received a letter meant for Kit only two days earlier.
“Nothing you haven’t seen before,” Harper had muttered over the call Kit had put on speaker. “Usual poison and delusion. I’m adding it to the file.”
Now Kit skewered him to the spot with her eyes. “Did you want me to put on my running shoes and hunt you down?”
He winced. “Shit. Sorry.”
“You can make it up to me by helping to move this inside. I told the truck guys to leave it here—don’t want strangers in the house.”
“Yeah, sure.” He realized she’d ordered a bed—the frame was in three parts as far as he could tell, the mattress a good one, but there were other parts he couldn’t quite understand. “Where are you going to put this?” She did have spare rooms but kept them closed off unless she had a guest over.
Kit didn’t immediately answer, instead waving off Butch and Casey when the bodyguards offered to help after they’d escorted the truck to the gate. “Noah and I will take care of it. Thanks, guys.”
Once everyone was gone, she said, “We’re taking it into the garden.”
Figuring he might as well indulge her, he began to carry through the pieces. She helped with a few odd-shaped ones, but he was able to handle most of it on his own. “Years of shifting gear,” he told her when she made a comment about how much weight he could lift. “I tend to get antsy day before a show, so I help the crew.” It kept the thoughts from circling in his head.
“Well, I approve,” she said with a slightly wicked smile. “I’ve always liked your arms.”
“My arms?” Having brought in the last piece, he put it down, then held out his left arm. “It’s an arm.”
Kit danced her fingers over it. “A sexy arm. All muscle and sinew.”
“Huh.” He shrugged—if Kit had a thing for his arms, he could live with that. “So, we putting this bed together or what?”
He ended up stripping off his T-shirt a half hour into it since manhandling the pieces under the sunny sky had gotten him sweaty pretty quick. He was aware of Kit’s eyes on him, but she didn’t initiate contact of any kind. Gut tight, he tried not to let that bother him, but it did. He’d seen her with other men she’d dated—she liked to touch.
“You take a vow of chastity or something?” he finally said, trying to make light of his need for contact… for reassurance that she still wanted him.
She looked up from where she was sitting on the ground, screwing in a bolt to keep the fancy iron frame of the bed in place. “I want to talk about that.” Her teeth sank into her lower lip as she tried to tighten the bolt.
“Scoot.” Crouching down, he took over the task. “You have really girly muscles, Katie.”
“Thank you very much.” Sitting with her hands behind her, she said, “You okay to talk?”
No, he was never okay to talk about that.
Kit passed him a second bolt. “I won’t push you,” she said gently. “But Noah, we have to communicate at some point.”
“Damn it,” he said, twisting the bolt too hard and almost snapping it off. “Why can’t we just leave it? I don’t particularly want to keep going over a time I’d rather forget.” Not that the nightmares would permit that.
“I don’t want to talk about the past but about the future.”
He frowned. “Yeah, what?”
“The reason I haven’t touched you today is because I don’t want to screw up,” Kit said frankly. “You’re the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen, but the idea of you flinching from my touch hurts so much.”
His jawbones ached, he’d clenched his teeth with such strength. “I’m sor—”
“I didn’t say that to make you feel bad.” Moving with none of her usual grace, she went around to the other side of the bed and began to loosely fit in the bolts so he could do the final tightening. “I’m trying to be honest, and I need you to be too—neither one of us wants to hurt the other.” A look across the bed, a question in the amber of her eyes.
“Hell, Kit, hurting you makes me feel like a bastard.” He shoved a hand through his hair. “I don’t want to be that guy.” Never again wanted her to feel like an emotional punching bag. Even the thought of those words made nausea roil in his gut.
“And I don’t want to be the woman who makes you feel trapped or broken.” She shifted to slot in the bolts needed on the next part of the bed while he came around to tighten the ones she’d already fitted. “So we have to talk.”
Noah didn’t talk about stuff like this. Even before the incident with the gun, his father had never talked about feelings or any of that shit; Noah had always believed that to be the right way. Men were men and they shut up and dealt with things. Still, Kit was a woman, and women liked to talk. So maybe he could meet her halfway. “What do you want to know?”
“Does it weird you out if I admire your body?” Her cheeks pinked, her gaze brushing over his pecs.
He started to grin because hell, he was a man and the woman blushing while she surreptitiously scoped out his body was the seriously smokin’ Kit Devigny. “I like the way you look at me.”
That part was easy to say, but he had to force out the rest. “You’re a woman. You’re Kit.” Smile fading, he twisted the wrench. “I got a bit of a rep as a homophobe a few years ago because I punched a guy who hit on me, but I don’t give a fuck who anyone fucks or if they like to do a three-way every Thursday. I’m just—I can’t handle male attention if it’s directed at me.” The reaction was visceral and violent.
“I get it,” Kit said, her tone normal. No whispers, no tiptoeing. Just blissfully normal.
His shoulder muscles began to unknot. “So yeah, since you’re a hot chick, your lechery doesn’t weird me out.”
“A hot chick?” Laughter. “Smooth, St. John.”
“I try.” No longer nauseated, he found his grin again. “You do realize this is equal-opportunity leering? I get to check you out too.”
“Do your worst.” The final bolt sliding in at that blushing challenge, she went to the leftover pieces and said, “This is a canopy.”
He tightened the bolt. “Like to go over the top?”
Grabbing the instructions, he read them through quickly, nodded. “Got it.” They spent the next couple of minutes unwrapping all the pieces and making sure nothing was missing. “So is that all you wanted to know?”
“No, the touch thing,” Kit said as she held up a piece so he could bolt it into place. “I need to know what’s always okay with you.”
“Shit, Kit, I don’t think about stuff like that.” Moving behind her, he went to put his hands on her hips, hesitated… then did it. He grabbed her hips tight, nuzzled a kiss to her neck.
She shivered. “Hey, no fair. I can’t move while I’m holding up this thing.”
“I know. Makes it more fun.” Running his jaw along her shoulder, he tugged playfully at her earlobe before breaking away to put the piece in place so she wouldn’t get tired arms. “You don’t”—he coughed—“mind if I touch you?”
If the ugliness in his past wasn’t enough, he’d covered himself in dirt over the years. He had no idea how many women he’d screwed, and he couldn’t remember the majority of their faces. No way to paint that into a pretty picture. “I’m clean,” he blurted out before she could reply. “That’s the one thing I didn’t mess up.”
Kit’s response was quiet. “I’m glad.”
A concrete block fell on his chest. “I should’ve kept my mouth shut, huh?”
“No.” Kit held up a bracing piece so he could lock it into place. “If I’m asking you to be honest, I have to be honest too.” She ran a hand through her hair, her other hand still holding up the piece. “I know those women didn’t mean anything to you, but I don’t like thinking about them.”
Noah thought of how he’d feel if he saw Kit fucking some other guy; his head pulsed red-hot with rage. “Yeah, I get it.” He wanted to push her on the touch question but couldn’t bring himself to repeat it.
“And I love your touch, Noah.” She went to pick up a small piece, came back. “You and I, we’re starting from scratch, from the moment we decided to be us.” Her eyes held his, beautiful and haunted. “I will walk anywhere with you, but the one thing I ask is fidelity. Don’t cheat on me. That’s my line in the sand.”
Stark and painfully honest, her words sank into his bones, branding him. “I won’t,” he vowed. “I’ve got plenty of other self-destructive behaviors I can indulge in instead.”
It was meant to be a joke. It fell flat.
“Don’t be flip.” Kit scowled. “And you didn’t answer my original question about what touches are always okay.”
He got another piece of the canopy into place. “I don’t know.” Shrugging, he went to elaborate before his brain kicked in and ordered him to keep his mouth shut.
“Just say it. I might not like hearing some of it, but I need to know.”
Fuck, she was killing him. “I didn’t really do much touching,” he admitted. “It was mostly slam my cock in, get off, and that was it.” Even with a blowjob, he’d rarely done more than just unzip his jeans. And the stupid-ass hotel-room stunt he’d engineered? He’d braced himself on his arms so he barely touched the woman anywhere else on her body. “No foreplay, no wasting time.”
“Wow, and women still kept flocking to you?”
“Go figure.” Noah had never called himself the greatest lover on the planet, but some groupies got off on the hard, cold fuck that was his specialty.
“What about kisses?”
“Romantic bullshit,” he muttered, then paused. “But you know, since you’re my girl and all, I guess I could get into it.”
Kit’s eyes were sparkling when she looked up, and he knew she’d forgiven him for the cruel mockery of their first kiss. “Be still my heart.”
“Smart-ass.” Grabbing her with an arm around her neck, he pulled her close. Her hands landed on his bare chest, and when he lowered his head, her lips were still parted in the beginnings of a laugh.
The kiss was romantic bullshit… and he found he liked it. Liked the way he could feel her smile, the way her fingers curled into his chest, the softness of her. Shifting until he’d backed her up against the house, he braced one arm over her head, put his other hand on her jaw, and kissed her. He knew he was probably not doing it right, but it felt good and Kit didn’t seem to mind his lack of skill.
When their lips parted, his heart was thumping and her pupils were dilated, her breathing shallow. “I vote for more romantic bullshit.”
He grinned at the husky comment. “Meet you on the couch after dinner.”
Pushing playfully at his chest, she said, “Let’s get this bed up first.”
They did finally complete the bed. Turned out Kit had bought some kind of fancy waterproof canopy cover that looked like fabric.
“Mostly we can keep it like this,” she said, tying off the curtains to each of the four poles. “On the rare occasions it rains, we can close the curtains.”
“What about the stars?” What was the point in sleeping outside if you couldn’t see the stars?
“The top peels back.” She showed him how, and suddenly, the bed had a direct view of the sky, that sky bordered by a frame of curlicued metal.
Throwing himself down on the mattress, he put his hands behind his head and nodded. “I dig it.”
Kit came down on the bed beside him, but when she would’ve lain down, he unfolded an arm so she could put her head on it. He curled it back around her, and they lay there in the sunshine for a while until it got too hot.
“It’ll be great at night,” he said after they went inside, having closed the canopy to protect the mattress from the heat.
“Glad you think so. I got it for you.”
He paused in the act of lifting a juice bottle to his lips. “What?”
“You seem to sleep better in the garden.”
It was true, but he’d figured that was a fluke. Not wanting to disappoint her though, he decided to try it out that night.
Six uninterrupted hours after he’d put down his head, he lifted it up. It was the longest stretch of nightmare-free sleep he’d had in years. Even once he shrugged off the grogginess of such a long sleep, he had no particular desire to get out of bed. Yawning, he lay there and listened to the birds that lived in Kit’s garden and wished she was nearby so he could try some of that romantic bullshit again.
When he asked her to sleep with him on the bed in the garden the next night, she agreed, and yeah, there was some messing around. Kisses mostly. It was normal and romantic, and he actually felt like a goddamn man when he made her moan in the back of her throat.
Maybe this would work, he dared think. Maybe they could make it.