Noah sat across from Kit at the little picnic table she did still have at one end of her garden. It was illuminated by beautiful paper lanterns that bathed everything in a soft light that probably flattered most people. It only hid the purity of Kit’s beauty, the mobile curve of her lips, the sparkle in her eye.
Neither was in evidence tonight, he knew that, but he liked to imagine them, liked to imagine her smiling at him as if she couldn’t wait to tell him about her day and to ask about his.
And her laughter when he pointed out something ridiculous; he’d never heard better music. What he wouldn’t do to hear her laugh again.
Yeah, you’ll do anything except stop being an asshole.
He didn’t know what they were doing here tonight. He didn’t know if Kit had understood what he’d said to her. He adored her, and because he did, he would never touch her. The instant he did, he’d ruin her, ruin everything. He didn’t want their relationship tainted by sex—if they even had any kind of a relationship.
Most probably she was just making sure he didn’t end up in another dive about to shoot up. Kit had always had a soft heart, and Noah was bastard enough that he was going to take advantage of that to have her in his life, even if only for a day or two.
“It’s not too bad, right?” he said, having inhaled his own serving of spaghetti. “Probably not in your diet though.” Kit loved food, loved trying new dishes, but she had to maintain a strict dietary regime to stay in shape for her newest role.
Noah knew that because he followed every tidbit about her in the media.
“Body paint and Lycra hide zero sins,” she’d said with a grin in a recent television interview. “I’m eating a burger with all the fixings and having two bowls of ice cream the day we finish filming. Oh, and I’m ordering a full-fat creamy latte every morning for a week!”
Noah had downloaded the clip of her laughing onto his phone, watched it so many times that he’d lost count. Eyes dancing in self-deprecating humor, she’d been the Kit who meant everything to him, the one who’d once dropped ice cubes down his back after he refused to stop calling her Katie.
Tonight she shrugged. “It’s only two more days till we wrap. A little spaghetti won’t kill me.” Finishing off the last bite of her small portion, the rest of her plate having been filled with salad, she drank from the glass of chilled water into which she’d squeezed some fresh lemon juice. “And it was delicious, way better than anything I can cook.”
“In that case, I admit I ate the fish salad thing you had in your fridge.”
Kit’s lips didn’t curve at his confession. “I’m seriously jonesing for a burger. With extra pickle and jalapeño relish and a big pile of french fries.”
His memory of her interview collided with the reality of their conversation, of the fact he was here with her and she was talking to him like he was a friend. Hope flickered, bright and anxious as a puppy. “That food truck you like?”
A small nod as she reached for a slice of the orange he’d peeled and cut up for dessert. He knew all about Kit’s sweet tooth, had learned during their friendship that the fruit would give her a sugar hit while not compromising her film diet. During the course of Last Flight, she’d had to become a gaunt shadow of herself; he’d hated seeing her that way, but Kit’s body was part of her art, an instrument she used as necessary.
About to offer to take her out to the food truck soon as the movie wrapped, he took in her face as she rubbed absently at her forehead and frowned at the purplish bruises under the gorgeous amber of her eyes. “You need to get to sleep,” he said, realizing she must’ve only had four or five hours last night what with having to come rescue his useless ass.
“Not with spaghetti sitting in my stomach.” She reached for another piece of fruit, the deep golden bronze of her skin shadowed by the delicate leaves of the tree that rustled above the picnic table. “I’ll stay up for another hour, have a bath, wash off the stress of the day.”
“You’ve already showered.” He’d caught her damp hair when she came in.
“Best way to get rid of the last of the body makeup. Not as relaxing as a bath.” She stood. “Stay the night.”
He looked up, held her gaze. “I won’t go there again.” He’d hit rock bottom last night, but he still hadn’t used that hypodermic. “You don’t have to watch over me.” Even he wasn’t enough of a bastard to keep her on the hook worrying about him.
Kit wrapped her arms around herself. “What would you do if you found me drunk and alone with a needle full of poison? Would you trust me when I said I was fine?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “Stay the night, drive home tomorrow. I’ll sleep better if you stay.”
The last words were so quiet he barely heard them, but they shredded him. He wouldn’t have left now if his life depended on it.
Watching Kit walk away after picking up the plates, he wanted to say something, anything, to make her stay. But Fox and David were the ones who had the words. Noah wrote songs sometimes, but words didn’t come as easily to him as the music, and he didn’t have his guitar tonight.
Getting up, he decided to go for a walk. Kit’s home had extensive grounds, not because she was particularly acquisitive, but because it had been the most secure property on the market when her stalker kicked into high gear. The fucking creep had broken into her previous home and ejaculated on her bed, then left her an “I love you” card and flowers.
She’d thrown out the bed the instant the cops were done processing the scene, but the incident had haunted her, making it impossible for her to remain in her cozy and inexpensive-to-rent town house. Add in the rising media pressure—photographers had started camping out on her damn doorstep and trying to peer through her windows—and it had made sense for her to get a place with enough land that her home was isolated in the center, far from the prying lenses of both paparazzi cameras and that of the stalker.
The cops, studio security, her friends, everyone was taking the threat dead seriously, but the fucker was still out there. According to news Fox had passed on to Noah, the disturbed man had shipped Kit a box containing a wedding gown and a ring two months ago—so they could “renew their vows.” It had been followed a week later by a letter naming her a “slut” and a “whore” because she’d been snapped while out to dinner with one of her costars.
Noah wanted to get his hands around the coward’s neck, wring it until the pathetic man could no longer terrorize Kit. The only good news was that Kit’s security measures seemed to be working. She’d had no unpleasant surprises in her new home.
He’d been walking for about ten minutes when he saw movement in the shadows in front of him. “Butch,” he said, recognizing one of Kit’s bodyguards.
The broad-shouldered and heavily muscled man, his dark blond hair worn in a military crew cut, was dressed in black cargo pants and a black T-shirt rather than the suit he wore when out and about with Kit.
“Hey, Noah.” He held out a hand and they shook.
Butch rubbed his jaw rather than responding to Noah’s question.
“I know you don’t talk about your clients’ business,” Noah said, appreciating that about the man. “But you know I care about Kit.”
“Yeah, I know. All you guys do.” Falling into step beside Noah, he said, “I’m glad you’re staying with her, to be honest. I’ve had a bad feeling lately—I think the nutjob’s back, and he’s watching her. I brought in two extra men to cover her and the house around the clock, but then she took off last night. I can’t protect her if she won’t let me.”
Noah wanted to kick himself for having put Kit at risk. “Won’t happen again.” He made a vow then and there not to get falling-down drunk ever again. It was a vow he’d broken before, but then it had only been about him—now it was about Kit. And Kit was everything. “Any physical signs of the stalker?”
“No. But I know he’s out there. Years of instinct, man.”
“I believe you.” It was Noah who’d recommended Butch and his team for this job, though Kit didn’t know that. Fox had passed on the information without mentioning where the rec came from. “You have my number, right?”
“Call me if you don’t want Kit to be alone.” He’d come, even if he had to bed down in the garage.
“Will do,” Butch promised. “If she fires me for talking to you, you owe me a job.”
Noah slapped him on the shoulder. “How about a starlet who’s currently falling out of limos and into cocaine?”
The burly ex-Marine snorted. “Hell no. Not after Kit.”
Noah understood that. Kit was extraordinary. She’d come through the ranks to the bright glare of fame without losing sight of what was important: at the top stood her friends and family. For them, she’d do anything.
As a struggling actress when she’d been cast in the soap for what was originally meant to be a bit part, she’d barely had two extra cents to rub together. Nevertheless, she’d opened her tiny apartment to the junior makeup artist on the show when the other woman was evicted after falling behind on her own rent.
Becca and Kit were close friends to this day.
Kit had helped so many people in similar ways. Her nature was all the more extraordinary given how she’d grown up—as the only daughter of a supermodel and a tennis ace. He had no idea how she’d turned out so normal. He just knew she had.
Far more normal than Noah.
Kit had expected to spend the night tossing and turning, but she slept more soundly than she had since the day the stalker broke into her previous home. It didn’t take a genius to figure out the reason why. Apparently she could hire the best security in the world, but all she needed to feel safe was to have Noah in the house.
Annoyed with herself, she got out of bed in the dark and stumbled to the bathroom to have a quick shower to wake up. That done, she dressed and grabbed her purse. When she stepped out of the bedroom, she was startled to see a light in the kitchen. Her heart thudded until she saw Noah’s half-naked body moving about in there.
“What are you doing up?” Nobody should be up at this hour; if the studio wasn’t paying her, she certainly wouldn’t be.
“I know you don’t like to eat this early,” he said with that old crooked smile, “but I made up one of those healthy seaweed things you like and put it in this.” He held out a travel mug, drawing her eyes to his chest. The ink there was relatively simple—the biggest work was on his back. “So you can drink while they’re slathering you in makeup.”
“You didn’t have to do that,” she said, feeling awkward and not at her best. She couldn’t deal with a bare-chested Noah this early in the morning. Especially when he was all mussed up and yawning and lazy-looking. It made her want to walk into his arms and snuggle against him while he rubbed his bristly jaw against her hair.
Grabbing the drink, she headed to the garage entrance instead—to find he’d opened it for her.
He leaned against the entrance as she got into the black sports car she’d bought before the stalker forced her to pour all her money into this property and hiring security. She put the drink in the cup holder and pushed the garage-door opener.
“Still not a morning person, I see.”
“Shut up,” she muttered. “It’s not morning. It’s the middle of the night.” With that, she closed her door and backed out of the garage. The last thing she saw as she left was Noah standing in the doorway haloed in light, and she thought about how wonderful it would be to wake up to him every morning.
“Enough, Kit.” Slamming her hand on the steering wheel, she focused on the road, conscious of Casey behind her. When she had to stop at a red light, she sipped from the drink Noah had made her, all the while asking herself why she didn’t just run the light. It wasn’t as if anyone else was on the road.
The answer, of course, was that she was too much of a goody-two shoes. Kit didn’t need a shrink to tell her that she’d overcompensated for her crazy upbringing. When your parents partied till five in the morning every weeknight, you either joined them, or you put on noise-canceling headphones and locked your bedroom door so drunk party guests looking for the bathroom wouldn’t wake you.
Kit had chosen the second option.
Pulling into the studio lot, she picked up the travel mug and made her way to Makeup. Casey fell in with her, but neither one of them spoke, the bodyguard concerned with keeping an eye out for threats. Nothing had happened on the studio lot as yet, but no one was taking any chances.
“Only one more torturous morning wake-up to go!” she said to Becca when she entered the brightly lit glare of the Makeup trailer. “Only two more days of being an avocado-green superhero!”
Her currently pink-haired friend held up a pot of body paint, her nails black with tiny pink hearts. “Aw, shucks, and I thought you liked being slathered in this goo.” Becca fluttered her eyelashes, her mascara dark against the cream of her skin. “Green is such a flattering shade on your skin, and those tiny horns. Oh, baby.”
As Kit laughed and went to change into the high-cut Lycra leotard that provided a base for her transformation, she tried not to think about the fact that the house would be empty when she got home.