She slept that night in Noah’s arms under the starlit sky and woke to find him awake. “Did you sleep?” He’d held her in his arms through the night, made her feel so deeply safe, but she could tell his demons had been at him again. “Be honest with me.”
“Four hours,” he said with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “Pretty good for me.”
Rising up on her elbow, she brushed his hair off his face. “Hey,” she whispered. “There was a time when spending a night in your arms was a pipe dream for me. We’re doing it, making it.”
Noah flexed then fisted the hand of the arm he had under his head. “I just feel so goddamn pathetic sometimes.” The words were spit out. “I’m a grown man who wakes up shivering after a nightmare. What the fuck?”
Kit had that sense of flying without a chute again, stumbling her way through this. So many things she didn’t know, but one thing she did: she loved this man and he loved her. “I didn’t have nightmares,” she told him. “Thank you for keeping the monsters at bay.”
Some of the tension leached out of his body, the steely gray of his eyes softening. “You’re kinda cuddly in bed, Katie.” A hint of a smile. “I can’t move an inch without you following.”
She made a face at him. “You complaining?”
Squeezing her hip, he grinned. “Never. Cuddle up to me all you like. I can take it.”
Kit laughed and knew they’d survived this hurdle. “Come on. I’m starving.” She’d barely eaten last night, her nerves still jangling. “What do you say to waffles again?” Movie diet be damned.
“I say I make better waffles than you.”
“I say you’re right, so get moving.”
Falling back a little on purpose just so she could watch Noah’s ass in the white boxer briefs that were all he wore, Kit smiled. For the first time since the stalking began, there was no weight of fear on her, no edginess. She felt light and free. And the fact Noah was with her, that he trusted her with his secrets? Yeah, that made everything better.
“We’re doing this,” she whispered again. “We’re making it.”
The next three nights were wonderful. The fourth was so bad Noah pushed her away and went inside to grab his guitar. She heard him plucking at the strands as she lay in bed alone—and she decided that would never work.
Getting up, she made them both coffee, then left him to his brooding—though not until after she’d kissed his sullen face. “I love you,” she said with another kiss. “Even when you’re a bad-tempered, surly rock star.”
Scowling, he didn’t say a word, but when she returned home around six that night after a shoot with the cosmetics company, it was to find an iPod waiting on her pillow. When she slotted it into her music system, Noah’s voice singing the haunting words of “Sparrow” filled the air. It made her cry and then smile, because she recognized the gentle beat in the background, the gritty voice that joined Noah’s on the chorus, the expert piano playing.
He’d finally shared the song with the guys. Not just shared it but recorded it.
Listening to it five more times in a row, Kit messaged him: It’s my favorite. I’m crying, it’s so beautiful.
His response came seconds later: Was doing weights with David. I keep forgetting how fucking fit he is and then he wipes the floor with me. Damn smug drummers. And yeah, I figured “Sparrow” deserved to be recorded after it helped us defeat the psycho bitch. I’ll be home soon. Stop crying.
Sliding away her phone, Kit allowed herself to think of Becca. Part of her would always mourn the loss of their friendship, and one day she might even find it in herself to visit Becca in the facility where she was being held, but she’d never be able to forgive the other woman for the terror she’d caused.
However, that was over and done with, and Kit didn’t intend to allow it to further steal her time or emotional energy. She just wanted to treasure her true friends, and most of all, she wanted to be with Noah, to create a life with him. With that thought in mind, she pushed up her sleeves and decided to surprise him with a homemade dinner.
Noah felt good. He’d felt like shit this morning, but then Kit had told him she loved him even when he was a bad-tempered, surly rock star and his mood had started to lift. Part of him couldn’t help but worry that she’d decide he was too much work—her affectionate scowl this morning had been just what the doctor ordered.
Then he’d gone to see the guys and finally fessed up about “Sparrow.” He’d had a serious fucking case of nerves before he started to sing it for them, but all three had loved it. In Fox’s eyes, he’d seen an understanding of the hidden meaning of the song, but there had also been a quiet pride.
Fox understood what it meant for him to release “Sparrow” into the world.
David and Abe, who didn’t know about his childhood, had blown out their breaths almost in sync.
“Goddamn. That’s powerful, man,” Abe had said quietly, then added something Noah would’ve never expected the keyboard player to say. “It made me think of Tessie, like she’s flying free just like that bird in the song.”
Noah’s heart had clenched in visceral pain. “Yeah.” It was all he’d been able to say; he knew how deeply the death of Abe’s baby sister had scarred Abe, and to think his song had given the keyboard player a measure of peace was a priceless gift.
David had just nodded and picked up his sticks to beat out a deep, gentle rhythm that fit the song. Fox had grabbed his guitar, and Abe, in whose house they’d been sitting, had taken the dust covers off the grand piano he hadn’t touched since the day Tessie died.
They’d recorded it raw using Abe’s equipment, and Noah had driven back home to leave the song for Kit before hooking up with David. Feeling pumped and as if he’d released all the toxic stuff that had built up inside him, he dumped his gym gear in the back of his car and thrust a hand through his shower-damp hair. “You and Thea want to swing by for dinner?” he asked David, who was parked right next to him.
“Nah, I have to go play trophy husband at a big dinner meeting Thea has with some too-stylish-for-you magazine people.” David’s grin belied his words.
“Watch that goofy fucking smile. You have an image to maintain,” Noah said, but he was happy for his friend; David had been crazy about Thea forever.
Just like Noah had been about Kit.
David pointed a finger at him. “I don’t have the bad-boy image. What are you going to do about that now you’ve shacked up with Kit?”
“Tell everyone to bite it.” He had no intention of giving the media bad-boy fodder ever again—not unless it involved being caught making out with Kit in scandalous locations. That, he was definitely up for.
Laughing, David bumped fists with him, and they got into their cars to head off in opposite directions. Noah was listening to Esteban’s latest LP when he stopped at a crosswalk to let an older couple get across.
He was tapping a beat on the steering wheel and smiling at the thought of going home to Kit when his eye was caught by the man and the golden-blond child who’d just stepped onto the crosswalk from the other side. The man was holding the boy’s hand, the boy dragging his feet. It was a familiar scene that Noah had probably witnessed a thousand times over his lifetime, but today, it made nausea churn in his gut, his hands clamping tight on the steering wheel as a haze of red filmed his vision.
Unclipping his seat belt, he began to open the car door, convinced the child needed to be rescued… but then the man said something and the child’s face lit up. Bouncing on his feet now, he spoke excitedly, and then the two were on the other side of the crosswalk and walking away.
Noah’s heart still thumped, his throat dry.
It was only when an impatient horn sounded from behind him that he pulled his door shut and started driving again. He didn’t know where he was going, but it wasn’t home. He felt too fucked-up to go home. Ending up on a sea-facing outlook, he stared at the Pacific Ocean crashing to shore until gray turned to dark and all he could see were the headlights and fading taillights of cars along the Pacific Coast Highway.
Sweat pasted his T-shirt to his skin, his hands still clamped on the steering wheel. Finally peeling them off, he shoved open his door and got out. Nausea cramped his gut again without warning. Bending down instinctively, his hands on his knees, he threw up. There wasn’t much in his stomach, just a bottle of the electrolyte-laden sports water David had given him.
After that, it was just harsh, dry retching that felt as if it went on forever. He was half aware of a phone ringing in the distance, but he couldn’t focus on that, his entire concentration on getting his spasming muscles under control.
It seemed to take forever.
Grabbing a fresh bottle of water from the pack he had in the back, he rinsed out his mouth and threw some water on his face, then stood facing the warm wind until it had dried him off. His phone, when he checked it after getting back in the car, showed him Kit’s name on multiple missed calls and text messages. She had to be worried since he should’ve been home hours ago.
Feeling like a shit, he sent her a text message: I’m fine. Don’t wait up.
He switched off the phone after sending it so she couldn’t call him. He couldn’t talk to Kit right now. He felt filthy, dirty, ugly, just as he’d felt when he’d been a boy the same age as the boy he’d seen on the crosswalk. That wasn’t what had set him off, however. No, he’d finally realized the reason for his insanity—the man’s shirt.
It was the exact same shirt the bastard had worn the day it began.
He hadn’t realized the pattern was burned into his memory, not until today.
After drinking the rest of the water, he threw the empty bottle on the passenger seat and started up the engine.
Once again, he didn’t know where he was going; he just needed to drive. But when he ended up in the parking lot of a strip joint splattered with graffiti, the garish neon lights flashing on his windshield, it wasn’t a surprise. This was where he fit, a place where no one would expect him to be a better man.
He had no right to someone like Kit, no right to touch her, hold her. He’d ruin her. Better he stay in the darkness.
Switching off his engine, he opened the car door.