Noah was talking to the older guy from whom he’d bought the mint-condition blond Gibson when his eye caught on the magazines on the man’s coffee table. “You into makeup as well as guitars?”
The bearded and tattooed biker and musician stroked his white beard. “Yeah, right. Those are my granddaughter’s—girl wants to work in the movies creating aliens or something.” He threw up his hands. “I tell her she should do beautiful women, but she just says Grandpa, then starts talking about brow ridges and facial prosthetics and…”
The other man was still talking, but Noah had tuned him out. Something about the topmost magazine was bugging him. Picking it up, he scanned the cover. Nothing he was interested in; it looked like a small trade magazine for those in the makeup industry. It didn’t even feature anyone he knew, so why was he—
The letters. The fucking letters.
The magazine used a distinctive font on the cover, the same as in several of the letters used in the card the stalker had attached to the box of chocolates left in the backseat of Noah’s Mustang.
He shook his head to dislodge the thought. Just because he didn’t get along with Kit’s friend was no reason to suspect her—and anyway, the stalker was a man. Still, it might point them in the right direction.
“…so I said, sure honey, whatever you want.”
Tuning back into the other man’s monologue, Noah grinned and nodded. “Women, huh?”
“Can’t live without ’em.” Winking, the bearded male held out a hand. “Pleasure doing business with you.”
Getting into his car for the drive back home, Noah decided to call Kit, tell her his idea about her stalker’s likely connection to Becca’s side of the industry. Maybe it was a guy who’d worked on Kit at some point. When she didn’t answer her home line or the cell, he figured she must be out in the garden. Speaking of which, he’d intended to pick her up a plant… but he had a sudden compulsion to get home, that damn magazine nagging at him.
He’d surprise her with the plant later, he decided and drove on, going as fast as he dared.
Arriving at the gates, he rolled through after activating them using the remote Kit had given him. He saw Butch keeping an eye on things, stopped to say hello. “Any problems?”
“Nah. Kit’s got her colorful friend with her though, so you might want to make yourself scarce. I don’t think that one likes you too much.”
“Becca?” Noah’s muscles tensed. “How long’s she been here?”
“Couple of hours.” Butch frowned. “What’s wrong? Did I screw up?”
“We might all have screwed up.” Noah thrust a hand through his hair. “Kit wasn’t answering her phone when I called a half hour ago.” The garden theory still applied; they could be out there talking, but Noah didn’t want to take the chance.
Getting out of the car, he said, “Let’s go up quietly. If they’re in the garden chatting, no harm, no foul and Becca never has to know I suspected her.”
Butch nodded. “I’ll radio Casey, tell him to keep an eye on the gate while we go in.”
It felt as if it took them forever to reach the house. Splitting up, they went around on either side, careful to avoid the windows, though Noah made sure to take a quick glimpse inside as he crouched by each. He wanted to think he was being an idiot, but his heart was thumping, adrenaline flowing, and then he looked through the living room window and rage roared through his blood.
Kit was sitting stiffly in a chair while Becca sat across from her in an identical chair. Nothing wrong with that except for the fear on Kit’s face. Becca had to have a weapon.
Continuing around the house, he met Butch on the patio, told him what he’d seen. “It has to be a gun or Kit would’ve tried to overpower her.” Kit was taller, had more muscle.
Face grim, Butch said, “Our one advantage is that we know the situation and there are two of us, three if I pull Casey in—or we can alert the cops, have them bring in an extraction team.”
“No, we do it quickly. She’s clearly unstable, might decide to shoot Kit while we set things up.” He would not leave Kit in danger and afraid. “Wait,” he said, a sudden thought blazing in his head. “Why is she still here?” If Becca’s intent had been to hurt Kit, she could’ve done that as soon as she arrived, then taken off.
“Probably waiting for you.”
Their eyes met on the heels of Butch’s flippant mutter.
The bodyguard swore softly.
“So,” Noah said, “she wants to shoot me.” They could use that. “Is your marksmanship good enough to get her through a window?”
“Were any of the windows open?”
“Can’t take the risk the glass will slow down or skew the bullet enough to give her a warning—even a split second could change everything.” Butch slid out his weapon. “You go through the front door and I’ll go through the back,” the bodyguard said. “I can get behind her and disarm her while she’s distracted by you.”
That sounded fine except for one thing. “Kit won’t just sit there and do nothing.” Because Kit fucking loved Noah. “She’s going to get in the way when Becca tries to shoot me, could get hurt.” An unacceptable risk.
“Find a way to alert her that you know what’s happening.”
Noah rubbed his forehead, trying to think clearly. The next few minutes were going to be the most important of his entire life. Because if anything happened to Kit…
Kit jerked as her cell phone rang again. “You should check that. If it’s one of the guards and I don’t answer this time, they’ll get suspicious.”
Grabbing the phone, Becca swiped to answer. “Hi, Butch,” she said, her voice bubbly and cheerful. “Kit’s in the ladies’ room, but she told me to answer if you or Casey called. Is someone at the gate?”
A short pause.
“Oh, okay, I’ll tell her. Do you want her to call you back?” Another pause. “All right. Bye.” Hanging up with a smug smile, Becca said, “I could’ve been an actress, you know. A really good one. But I make other people pretty instead. I made you the prettiest of all.”
“You did.” Kit had managed to keep Becca calm over the past two hours by reminiscing over their friendship, though all the memories were now forever tainted. “What did Butch want?”
“Oh.” Becca waved her gun. “He said the exterminator you called to take care of the sparrow’s nest in your rain gutter came by to say he’d forgotten his ladder extension thingie or something like that, so he’d be back in three hours after another job.” Becca made a face. “You gonna kill the birds? That’s kinda cold, Kit.”
Kit’s heart thumped, her face threatening to flush. Because no sparrow had made a nest in the rain gutter of the house, and if one had, Kit certainly wouldn’t exterminate it. She did, however, have a lover who’d written what was her favorite song of all time, despite its haunting sadness.
A car engine sounded on the drive not long afterward, drawing steadily closer. It stopped, a door was shut. The front door opened within seconds. “Kit!”
“Answer him.” Becca pointed the gun at Kit’s face on that low-voiced command. “Or I’ll mess you up until you won’t need makeup to play a horror villain.”
Kit didn’t care about her face. She cared about Noah’s life. Hoping that she’d read things right, that Noah wasn’t about to walk into an ambush, she said, “In here!”
“I’m going around the back!” Noah called out. “I got you some plants. I’ll off-load them in the garden.”
Kit rubbed her hands on her thighs, realizing Noah was trying to get her out of this room with its limited access routes. “I should go back there to meet him.”
“You’re with your friend. No reason for him to get suspicious.”
Kit thought fast. “I never sit in here with anyone who visits. I’m always either in the kitchen or in the garden.”
“You could be showing me stuff from your closet, or I could be doing your makeup.”
Shrugging, Kit went for another Oscar nomination. “Sure, I guess. Only, the bedroom’s before this room, so when he doesn’t see us in there and he sees the broken bowl in the kitchen…”
That seemed to decide Becca. “Get up.” She nudged at Kit with her gun. “Stay in front. Do or say anything stupid and I’ll blow your brains out.”
“I thought we were friends.”
“We are, but you need to prove your loyalty to me by not warning that piece of shit who thought he could take you from me.”
Kit’s hands fisted, the urge to plant one in Becca’s face increasingly strong. “I won’t. We’ve talked. You know you mean too much to me, my career means too much to me, for me to throw it all away.”
“Good. Now we just have to finish—”
Kit dropped to the floor the instant she was outside the doorway. She heard a scream, heard the thunder of the gun going off, smelled gunpowder in the air as something slammed to the ground.
Terrified Becca had made good on her threats and shot Noah, she turned to find Noah and Butch had pinned the other woman to the floor. They must’ve both been in the corridor, on opposite sides of the door.
“Are you hurt?” she asked, looking from one to the other. “Noah, Butch!”
Taking a zip tie from his inner coat pocket, Butch put it around a screaming Becca’s wrists while Noah held her down.
“We’re good,” Noah said at the same time. “Your ceiling will need a little repair work though.”
She looked up, saw the hole. Relief was a cool river crashing over her. “Hope the sparrow is safe.”
Noah grinned. “Tough things, sparrows. They can survive just about anything.” Releasing Becca once she was contained, he came over and tugged Kit up and into his arms.
“You were fucking amazing.” He squeezed her tight. “The plan was for me to haul you out of the way so Butch could take her down, but then you did that drop and we could both focus on her.”
Holding on to him with all her strength, she said, “My character’s best friend in Primrose Avenue was taken hostage by a deranged ex once. I got to save her and she had to fall to the floor to give me the chance to shoot him.”
Noah’s chest rumbled against her as he laughed. “And they say you can’t learn anything from soap operas.”
Crying and laughing, Kit didn’t look as a screaming, ranting Becca was taken outside by Butch to wait for the cops. She knew the other woman was disturbed, needed help, but she couldn’t be generous right now—she was too angry and chilled by the remnants of the fear Becca had created in her. She just needed to hold on to Noah, and he clearly needed to hold on to her.
That’s how they stayed until the cops came.
The rest of the band, as well as Molly and Thea—Sarah having returned to her home now that the locks had been changed—descended on the house in the next hour. Thea was already handling the media calls so Kit didn’t have to, while Molly and David made a late lunch for everyone as the rest of them sat at the kitchen table talking over the shocking turn of events.
“That’s serious premeditation,” a grim-faced Abe said when Kit explained the disgusting incident with the semen on her bed.
“Scary fucking premeditation.” Noah’s voice was without mercy. “I hope they lock her up for a long time.”
“Not much doubt of that,” Fox said, his eyes glittering with barely withheld fury. “She had Kit at gunpoint.”
“And she’s got a record.” Thea, who’d been in the garden, talking on the phone, came back inside. “That last call was from one of my police contacts—Becca stalked someone before, back in high school.”
The publicist went to David, leaning into him as he slid his arm around her. “No charges filed, so it didn’t come up in a background check, but the victim called in once news of Becca’s arrest hit the media. Becca went at her with a broken bottle.”
Kit put both hands over her face for a second to get her breathing in order. “No charges?”
“The victim and Becca used to be best friends, and Becca had lost her dad not long before the incident.” Thea’s phone buzzed again. “Since Becca didn’t actually manage to hurt her and was leaving town anyway, the friend decided not to pile on the hurt.” Pressing a kiss to David’s cheek before she put the phone to her ear, Thea walked back out into the garden.
Noah held Kit close to him, as he had since it happened. “Thank God she’s off the streets and out of your life.”
Feeling sad for her friend but also angry and relieved it was all over, Kit just soaked in Noah’s warmth and listened to the others talk. Thea’s phone was going nonstop, the publicist popping in and out to keep them updated as comforting food smells filled the kitchen. One of Noah’s guitars inevitably ended up in his arms while David made do with a couple of utensils against various surfaces, and Abe clapped a rhythm as Fox sang one of their older hits.
It was just what she needed. Blissful normality.