Noah took Kit’s old sedan, leaving soon after she did.
It didn’t take him long to drive from Kit’s Pacific Palisades home to his place overlooking Venice Beach. Fox and David had places out in the Palisades too, but Noah liked the vibrant energy of Venice, and he didn’t mind driving over when they decided to jam at Fox’s place—as they’d been doing more and more since the lead singer hooked up with Molly. Fox’s girl had a way of making everyone feel welcome.
His place was exactly as he’d left it, including the mess in the bedroom. He’d thrown things at the walls, punched a hole in one, torn off the blinds, and generally had one hell of a pity party. No more, he thought, no more. He’d put Kit’s life at risk with his actions, and that wasn’t going to happen again. Not even if he had to stay awake for the rest of his fucking life to escape the nightmares.
Flicking on every light in the place, he began to clean up. First he picked up everything he could, then he tried to see if he could fix the blinds. It took a while and two of the slats were cracked, but the blinds opened and closed. Not that it mattered. He’d taken Fox’s advice and had the builders put in reflective glass for the windows. No fucking pap was going to be sneaking photos of him with a long lens.
He didn’t care what they did while he was out in public, but this was his space.
Heading into the kitchen afterward, he got himself a glass of orange juice and sat at the counter, the sunshine hitting his back. It poured in through the doors he’d slid open, the pool sparkling under the dawn sunlight. He had trees and other greenery around the pool to cut down the heat, spent a lot of time out there working on his music.
He thought Kit would like his pool, but he didn’t know because he’d never brought her to his house. They’d always ended up at her place; he’d crashed in her guest bedroom any number of times. He’d just never been able to take the next step, invite her here even as part of a group, and that just showed how fucked-up he was.
He probably had no chance in hell of ever winning back her trust.
His phone rang even as the bleak thought passed through his head. He glanced at the caller ID, ready to ignore it. But it was one of the few people he could stand to speak to today. “Hey, Foxie,” he said, ribbing the lead singer with the hated moniker so often used by groupies. “Where are you?”
“Molly and I got back last night,” Fox said. “Want to come over for breakfast? I’ve been working on something, could do with your input.”
“On my way.” He wasn’t in any shape to be alone, and the drive would help clear his head, especially if he got on the Pacific Coast Highway, had the salt air and crashing blue of the ocean on one side as he drove.
Leaving Kit’s car in the garage, he got into the gleaming black of his fully restored 1967 Mustang convertible and headed out. Since the roads were no longer clear, he popped in a demo CD a hopeful group of musicians had sent the band through the mail. Might as well use the travel time for good. He, Fox, Abe, and David didn’t advertise it, but Schoolboy Choir had a policy of not simply blowing off the hopeful and the desperate. They divided up any demos that came in and reported back to the others.
Most of the stuff was, unfortunately, enthusiastic but uninspired. This one, however, had potential. Schoolboy Choir had been moving slowly into backing some up-and-coming talent, and he decided the four of them might have to listen to more from this band. The next demo made him wince and pull it out after a minute, and so it went.
Good or bad, the music was better than the madness in his skull.
Pulling into Fox’s drive after using the remote gate opener Fox had given him, he roared up to park in Fox’s garage, which his bandmate had left open. He slipped the Mustang behind the hot red Lamborghini Aventador the lead singer and his fiancée had taken on their road trip. Given its gleaming state, Noah had a feeling Fox had spent the morning cleaning and polishing his pride and joy.
The man had millions, but he trusted no one else to care for the Aventador.
The sheer normality of that had Noah grinning as he got out and walked through the open front door. “Hey, you two decent?”
“Damn it, Noah, your timing sucks!” Fox called out.
“Don’t listen to him, Noah,” countered a laughing female voice with a naturally warm timbre that reflected Molly’s personality. “He just ignored me for an hour while he fussed over Red.”
Noah walked upstairs and into the open-plan kitchen/living area to find Fox squeezing Molly from behind while she laughed, her brown eyes lit from within.
“Red, huh?” He took a seat at the counter, the couple on the other side. “I always knew your love for that car was unnatural.”
“Molly’s the one who named her,” Fox pointed out, pressing a kiss to Molly’s neck before releasing her and reaching out to bump his fist against Noah’s. “She and Red have a close personal relationship.”
“It’s true.” Molly moved around the kitchen as she grabbed the ingredients for what looked like blueberry pancakes, her pretty yellow-and-white sundress skimming her curves. “She’s a gorgeous beast, and it was incredible exploring the PCH in her.”
When she returned to the counter to place some eggs on it, he saw that her skin carried a faint hint of sunburn. Unlike Kit’s naturally bronzed complexion, Molly’s hated the sun. “You forgot your hat,” he said, thinking of his meal with Kit, of how her skin had glowed in the soft light from the paper lanterns.
“No, she didn’t,” Fox growled, dark green eyes focused on the woman he loved so much he’d had her name and claim to him tattooed across his heart. “She just kept whipping it off to sunbathe.”
“Worth it.” Molly’s expression was unrepentant as she blew Fox a kiss before returning to her breakfast preparations. “We’re going all out today,” she told Noah after using a hair tie she’d had around her wrist to pull back her silky tumble of black hair. “Fox and I stopped off at an all-night grocery store on our way home.”
“Blueberry pancakes.” The lead singer put a fresh mug under the spout of the coffee machine Noah still hadn’t figured out. “With fucking bacon.” He hauled Molly in for a kiss, his free hand sliding down to rest possessively on her hip. “Damn, but I love you.”
A little breathless, Molly scrunched up her nose. “Be still my heart.”
Fox’s grin exposed the lean dimple in his left cheek. Whatever he murmured to Molly had her blushing and standing on tiptoe to press a sweet kiss to that dimple.
Noah thought of the small, stark-faced boy he’d met the first day of boarding school, so alone and determined not to cry. He could see no trace of that grieving child in the strong, happy man in front of him, a man who was a brother to him in everything but blood. There were relatives, and then there was family. Fox was family.
Noah would celebrate Fox’s joy, would never let his friend know how much it hurt him to see Fox have the one thing that was forever out of Noah’s reach. At least one of them had made it. “Get a room,” he ordered. “After you feed me.”
Laughing, Molly pushed Fox away. “Go sit with Noah. This breakfast is on me.” A glance at Noah. “He’s earned it—he stopped at every single antique shop along the way.”
“You have no idea how many there are.” Coming around with two steaming mugs of coffee, the lead singer passed one to Noah, then grabbed a stool beside him at the counter. “And I swear the staff and customers have their own secret language. They say things like provenance and patina and upcycle like they’re words actual people use.”
Grinning as Molly stuck out her tongue at Fox, Noah said, “So when are you two doing the wedding deal?”
“We were thinking six to eight weeks.” Molly mixed up the pancake batter with quick, competent hands. “I want to do it at home, so we don’t have to worry about finding a venue, and everything else we can organize on short notice.”
“What about the dress?” Noah asked. “Isn’t that like a big deal?”
“What the fuck do you know about wedding dresses?” Fox scowled. “You have a secret addiction to reality TV I don’t know about?”
“Yeah, I’m all ‘say yes to the dress already, lady.’”
Molly snorted with laughter at Noah’s deadpan response.
“My cousin got married last year,” he said after taking a sip of his coffee. “You know, Keira.”
“Yeah, she lived up to her name. Serious bridezilla, and apparently she was psycho about the dress. Emily told me Keira threw a full-on tantrum in the bridal salon because the pearls on her dress were a size too small or something.” His smart, sweet, funny sister had considered recording the incident for Noah but had been scared off by the wrath of the bridezilla.
Fox looked at Molly, his expression softening in a way it only ever did when he looked at the woman he adored. “You planning to go nuts on me, baby?”
“Maybe a little.” Molly winked. “But not about the dress. Once Charlie arrives from New Zealand, she and Thea and I are doing a girls’ trip to that vintage wedding-dress shop I saw.”
Charlie, Noah remembered, was Molly’s best friend, Charlotte. As for Thea, she wasn’t only the band’s publicist, but Molly’s sister through their shared father, a hypocrite of a man who’d died while Molly was a teen. In Thea’s case, the paternal relationship had been merely biological—she considered her stepdad to be her true father.
“I’m going to ask Kit too if she’s not on location,” Molly added.
“We all still heading to Bali for David and Thea’s wedding?” Noah asked as the simple sound of Kit’s name made his entire body ache with a need that wasn’t ever going to go away.
“Yes!” Molly beamed. “It’ll take longer to put together though—her parents and David’s parents both want a big ceremony.” She flicked on the cooktop. “Food coming up pronto.”
It was over an hour and a half later, after a breakfast from the heavens, that Noah and Fox walked out to take seats around the metal table beside the infinity pool. Molly was inside, on the phone with Charlotte; her laughter occasionally drifted outside.
“You’re a lucky man,” Noah said to Fox, his hands hanging between his knees as he leaned forward with his forearms braced on his thighs, staring out over the clear blue waters of the pool to Santa Monica Bay in the distance.
“I know.” Fox strummed the acoustic guitar he’d picked up on their way outside. “What do you think of this?”
Noah listened, made a suggestion, the music easing the scars on his soul as it always did. Didn’t matter what kind. As long as it was music. Listening to Fox’s strumming, he watched the sunshine glitter on the water and tried to let his mind drift, go empty.
It proved impossible.
He kept seeing snapshots of the past twenty-four… no, it was closer to twenty-nine, thirty hours: Kit’s scared face as she asked him what was in the syringe, waking up on soft white sheets with tiny blue flowers, watching Kit drive off with a scowl on her face.
“You going to tell me what happened?” Fox said about ten minutes later. “And don’t bullshit me, Noah. I’ve known you too long.”
The fact was Fox knew more about Noah’s demons than anyone else in the world. They’d been assigned as roommates at boarding school, both only seven years old at the time. Fox had heard him scream at night, had found him huddled, shivering in the corner, more than once, a stolen kitchen knife in hand.
Fox hadn’t told on him then, and in all these years, he’d never once betrayed Noah’s secret. Not even to Molly. Noah had worried about that when the two first became serious, but Fox had been blunt: It’s not mine to tell, and Molly understands that—just like I understand there are things she can’t tell me about Charlie.
Certain in his trust in Fox, Noah said, “I hit rock bottom.” He had to admit it, had to get the pathetic, dangerous nature of his actions burned into his brain cells. “Ended up in a no-tell motel with a fifty-dollar hooker and a vial full of poison to pump into my veins. I thought it would make the noise in my head go quiet.”
Fox stopped strumming the guitar. “Fuck.” His voice was like gravel, his hand fisted on the polished wood of the guitar. “Why didn’t you call me?”
“I called Kit.”
A long silence. “And?”
“And she came, saw me at my worst again.” He gave a harsh laugh. “I’m such a prince I dragged her out of her house at half-past-who-the-fuck-knows o’clock in the morning.”
Starting the music again, Fox didn’t speak for another five minutes. “I know you don’t want to hear this, but I’m going to say it anyway—you need to talk to someone. It’s getting worse, not better.”
Noah clenched his jaw, his teeth grinding against one another. “I can’t talk about it. Not to a stranger.” He had enough trouble talking about it to Fox, and they never actually talked about what lay at the root of all his problems. He’d told Fox when he’d been a child, alone and scared, but that boy was long gone. “Fuck man, I don’t even want to think about it.”
“But you are thinking about it. Every night,” Fox pointed out. “If you’re serious about Kit—”
“No.” Noah sliced out a hand. “No, Fox. I want her in my life, but I won’t pull her into the hellhole that’s my messed up head. She doesn’t need to know.” He held his friend’s eyes. “She never needs to know.” He couldn’t bear it.
“You know I won’t say a word.” The other man thrust a hand through the dark brown of his hair. “But it’s eating you up from the inside. You sleep even less now than you did when you were a kid, and you’re drinking so much it’s worse than with Abe.”
Noah couldn’t dispute either charge. He might not have ended up in a near-coma like Abe, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. “I poured all the liquor at my place down the drain.” He’d done it in the middle of fixing the blinds.
“You know it’s not that easy.”
“Then I’ll do it hard.” Because no way was he ever checking into rehab or any other place where they could fuck with his head.
“Damn, you’re a stubborn asshole.” Fox passed him the guitar. “Play something while I get us more coffee.”
Losing himself in the music, Noah stayed at Fox and Molly’s until almost five in the afternoon. At which point he got in his car and drove not to his own home but to the studio lot where he knew Kit was filming the superhero flick. Thanks to Noah’s own contacts, he had no problem getting past security or finding his way to a park outside the right sound stage.
He waited for an hour by her car before he saw her walk out with Casey. Kit sometimes rode with the slender black bodyguard and driver, but she generally preferred to live her life as normally as possible. And in a stalker-free world, Kit wasn’t the kind of woman to have guards and chauffeurs.
She froze for a second when she saw him.
Shaking off her surprise as Casey nodded to him and peeled off to get into his own car, she walked over, her glorious hair damp and plaited into a loose braid. “What’re you doing here?” No expression on her face.
It wasn’t Kit standing in front of him, he realized, but cool, sophisticated Kathleen Devigny.
His gut clenched. “I was hoping I could take you out to dinner to say thanks.”
Opening the car door, she dumped in her purse. “I’m exhausted. I need to get to bed.”
Gripping the top of her door as she got into the driver’s seat, he drew in the fresh scent of her. “Tomorrow?”
“Wrap party’s right after we shoot the final scene. Will probably go late.”
Noah knew he shouldn’t keep pushing when she was giving him a large, flashing “go away” signal, but he couldn’t make himself leave. “What about the day after?” he said. “We’ll go someplace where you don’t have to think about green superheroes or four-a.m. makeup calls.”
When she pulled at her door, he released his grip on it, well aware he’d already pushed far beyond the point where he should’ve stopped. He couldn’t blame her for her response; he was a bad bet even as a friend. He’d only stuck with Fox, David, and Abe this long because the three were as stubborn as he was… and in different ways, they needed him as much as he needed them. Kit didn’t need him, and so he didn’t know what to offer her to make her come back into his life.