Throat dry, Kit waited for Noah to knock before she padded to the front door. Pride wouldn’t allow her to stand there waiting for him. Never again would she wait for Noah St. John.
The impact of him hit her all over again the instant she opened the door. He was wearing another pair of faded blue jeans and his favorite scuffed boots with the metal rivets, but his short-sleeved shirt was crisp black with a black-and-red design on one side. His hair was damp, his jaw freshly shaven. She knew if she leaned in close, he’d smell of the sea breeze of his aftershave and of the raw masculine heat that was Noah.
Hand tightening on the door, she stepped back and called on all her theatrical training to sound normal, unruffled. “Come in. I made pizza.”
“I picked up dessert.”
It was only then that she realized he was holding an insulated bag from her favorite ice cream place.
“Peanut butter fudge.” That heartbreaking smile, the song lyrics tattooed on the inside of his right wrist catching her eye as he lifted the bag. “No more superhero body paint, right?”
Kit’s calm facade nearly cracked. Noah had talked her into dessert more times than she could count during their earlier… whatever it had been. “Thanks.”
Taking the bag, she carried it into the kitchen and put the tub of ice cream in the freezer. She was putting the insulated bag on one side of the counter and trying not to be hyperconscious of Noah’s presence when the oven timer went off.
Grabbing at the distraction, she put on oven mitts and pulled out the two pizzas.
“Planning to indulge?” Noah asked, his gray eyes solemn though his lips smiled.
“I know you inhale pizza.” She’d wonder where it went except that she knew he ran for miles at night, long after the rest of the world was asleep. It was a truth she’d discovered when he’d crashed in her guest bedroom once. She’d woken and gone to the kitchen to grab a glass of water, caught him coming back in, damp with sweat and breathless.
He’d shrugged and grinned that off too, saying he ran after midnight because of the peace and privacy afforded by the darkness. She’d accepted the explanation, but like so much about Noah, it didn’t make sense in hindsight. Except for one notorious incident where he’d lost his temper with a frankly aggravating photographer, he didn’t seem to care about the paparazzi or the public snapping photos of him.
“This looks like seriously fancy pizza,” he said now, picking up a piece that dripped with cheese.
“Careful. It’s hot.”
He bit in anyway, groaned in pleasure, the strong column of his throat moving as he swallowed.
Kit’s breath caught. Stifling the visceral response, she jerked away her gaze and passed him a plate before getting one for herself. She grabbed a slice, some salad, and took a seat at the table.
“Is that iced tea?” Having taken the opposite seat, Noah got up and brought over the pitcher she’d forgotten on the counter, its sides frosty with condensation.
“Thanks,” she said when he poured her a glass.
They sat, ate. In silence.
It was excruciating. Awkward beyond bearing.
“I miss you.”
Throat choking up at the roughly uttered words, Kit poked a fork at her salad.
“Kit.” Noah reached across with a careful hand, closing it over her own. “I’m sorry.” It came out gritty. “I fucked up. Bad.”
A punch of anger had her snapping up her head. “You did it on purpose.”
“Yeah, I did.”
His admission brutalized her all over again, but he held on when she would’ve pulled away her hand. “I didn’t know how else to show you how bad of a bet I was,” he said, curling his fingers into her palm.
“So you had me walk in on you with another woman?” Kit demanded, ripping away her hand because he had no damn right to touch her; he’d thrown away that right. “You didn’t have enough respect for me as a friend to just tell me you weren’t interested?”
“I’m messed up,” Noah said flatly. “Seriously messed up.” It was all he could say; he couldn’t tell her the why of it, couldn’t bear for her to know.
“That’s not an excuse.” Her eyes, those passionate amber eyes, blazed at him. “We’re all a little messed up.”
“Not a little.” Getting up, he strode to the other end of the kitchen and back. “Not even a lot. I’m messed up on a level nothing will ever fix.” He’d accepted that a long time ago. “I’ll never be someone who deserves you… but I need you.” It was so fucking hard to say that, to admit vulnerability and lay himself open to her rejection.
Kit was the only woman who could make him bleed, make him beg. “Be my friend, Kit. Please.”
Kit’s eyes shimmered. Ducking her head, she pressed her face into her hands, her fingers trembling.
Noah hated himself for what he’d done to her, hated that he hadn’t just let her go, but he couldn’t. Going to her, he hunkered down beside her chair and gripped the back of it so he wouldn’t give in to the urge to touch her again without her permission. “I’m sorry.” The words were inadequate, but they were all he had. “I’m so sorry, Kit.”
Seeing her like this, Noah wanted to punch himself, kick himself. If anyone else had hurt Kit this way, it was exactly what Noah would’ve done. “I don’t expect you to forgive me, but please don’t shut me out.” His blood roared in his ears, his face flushing burning hot then going ice-cold when she didn’t raise her head. “I can’t breathe knowing you hate me.”
Kit looked at him at last, her face ravaged by tears. Then she was in his arms, that stunning tear-wet face buried against his neck. He held her as she cried, and he called himself a selfish bastard, and it was true, but one other thing was also true: “Day or night, rain or shine, I’ll be there for you,” he whispered against her ear, his hand cupping the back of her head, and his arms around her.
His hand was the one that trembled this time. “Just be my friend.” Laugh again with him, remind him that life wasn’t only nightmares and pain, make him feel as if he could be a better man if he tried hard enough. “Don’t give up on me. Please don’t.”
“I want a promise,” she said after too long, her tears having soaked the shoulder of his shirt.
Wary, he looked at her as she sat back up, her eyes puffy and her cheeks shining with the remnants of her tears. There were some promises he simply couldn’t make, some promises he was too broken to keep.
Taking a shuddering breath, she said, “Promise me that you’ll never again even think of doing what you almost did in that motel room.” A harsh demand. “You promise me, Noah, because I can’t go through that again.”
“I promise,” he said without hesitation. “Never again.”
Kit grabbed one of the pretty napkins she’d put on the table and wiped her face before dropping her hand to her thigh, her fingers clenched around the napkin.
He waited, his pulse a huge, loud thing that drowned out his breathing.
“Okay,” she said, so softly it was less than a whisper. “We’ll be friends.”
Kit didn’t know what she was doing agreeing to be Noah’s friend, didn’t even know if they could salvage that relationship from the wreckage. But ten minutes later, as she watched him pull the ice cream from the freezer, she couldn’t deny the need inside her.
As she’d confessed to Molly, she’d missed him too. So much.
She wished she didn’t, would do everything in her power to bury that need going forward. It wasn’t the right way to enter into a friendship, but it was the only way she might survive it. “One scoop for me,” she said, when he began to dish out the dessert.
“You sure?” A sinful, tempting smile. “You love this stuff.”
Butterflies in her stomach, an acute pain in her heart. “I’ll get sick if I start eating too much rich food at once—and I already had pizza.”
“Right, I never thought about that.” Putting a couple more scoops in his bowl, he placed both bowls on the table before returning the tub to the freezer.
The light caught on the gold of his hair, the strands silky and bright and just long enough to slide forward until he shoved them back with a thrust of his hand. She’d always loved Noah’s hair, always wanted to touch it. Taking a quiet breath that hurt going in, she forced herself to look away.
Noah wasn’t for her, would never be for her.
“So,” he said, sliding into his chair, “are you excited about your full-fat latte tomorrow morning?”
She’d made that laughing comment in an interview. It messed her up to know he’d watched it, remembered. “I decided to save the lattes for next week, when my stomach’s had time to recover from the movie diet.” It was all but impossible to sound natural when her emotions were a black turbulence inside her.
“You know who to call if you want company.” Noah’s voice was easy, but the renewed awkwardness between them was a living, breathing entity.
Kit didn’t know what to say, so she just ate a spoonful of ice cream to cover her nonresponse. “What are you and the rest of the guys planning to do now the tour’s over?”
“Work on a new album. We’ve got some material and ideas already, but it’s time to sit down, start putting the pieces together.” He shrugged. “Fact is, we could put out an album next week if we wanted to, but it wouldn’t be us.”
Kit understood what he meant. Schoolboy Choir was so successful not because they released album after album, but because the albums they did put out were stellar. “That song,” she said. “About the sparrow. Will it be on this album?” Noah had sung it to her when they’d been friends but had said it wasn’t ready for recording.
“No. It’s not exactly Schoolboy Choir material.”
“What are you talking about? It’s amazing.” A harsh, beautiful ballad of such heartbreaking vulnerability that it had made her cry.
Noah just shrugged.
Before, she would’ve pushed, but she didn’t have that right anymore. Couldn’t have it for her own emotional health. “Well,” she said, “if you don’t release it, record it for me. I’d love to hear it again.”
“You’ll just have to put up with me.” A devastating smile. “I’ll sing it to you anytime you want.”
There was a time when Noah’s offer would’ve made her go all melty inside. Now it just hurt.
“Sorry,” she said with another forced smile. “I think I’m beginning to fade. Had an early start.” It wasn’t a total lie; she’d been at the studio at four a.m. as usual, but she wouldn’t be going to sleep so soon after eating.
Which, she belatedly realized, Noah knew after her comment the night he’d made her spaghetti. Instead of calling her on it, however, he got up. “I’ll help you clean up.”
“Don’t worry about it.” A yawn cracked her mouth. “Drat, sorry again.”
This time, his smile reached his eyes. “You really are beat.” Leaving the dishes, he walked to the front door, her by his side. “Do you think you’ll be up early again tomorrow?”
She made a face. “Three twenty on the dot, I’m guessing.” It would take at least a week to break out of that rhythm.
“Want to come do something with me?” Shoving his hands into the back pockets of his jeans, he wouldn’t quite meet her eyes. “Since we’ll both be awake at that hour.”
Kit frowned. “What would we do in the middle of the night?” It wasn’t until the words were out that she realized how suggestive they sounded.
Thankfully, Noah didn’t seem to notice. Rubbing the back of his neck, he said, “I was thinking I’d pick you up at four thirty, and it’d be just before six and getting light by the time we got there.”
Kit wasn’t certain she was reading him right—Noah was never hesitant or nervous… but he was sure giving that impression right now. “Where?”
Shoving both hands back into his pockets, he finally met her gaze, a slight flush on his cheekbones that floored her, smashing right through her defenses. Noah never blushed. It was simply not in the Noah St. John repertoire. Except he was rocking on his heels and that color hadn’t receded.
He was impossibly gorgeous.
“To go for a flight.”
Kit felt like a parrot, but all she could say was, “A flight?”
“Yeah, I, um, got my pilot’s license, bought a small two-seater plane.”
Her mouth fell open. “Since when have you been taking flying lessons? Do the guys know?” No one had ever mentioned it.
“A while.” He ran a hand through his hair, gave her that lopsided grin, only this time it held a piercing edge of vulnerability.
At that instant, he looked younger than she’d ever seen him.
“You’re the only one who knows. I didn’t want to say anything until I actually did it,” he added. “Had the license, I mean.”
Wonderfully astonished and fighting the urge to kiss him, he was so beautiful right then—so her Noah—Kit just stood there.
His smile began to fade at the edges, daylight swallowed by night. “You don’t have to. I just thought—”
“Yes,” she interrupted. “Yes, I’d like to.” She couldn’t kick the gift of trust back in his face… and she’d promised to be his friend.
As she’d already admitted, no matter how much he’d hurt her, her heart would break forever if Noah was no longer in the world. That didn’t mean she was going to fall back into the trap of loving him. It was time she said good-bye to a dream that had held her hostage even when she’d believed herself free: beautiful, gifted, broken Noah St. John was simply never going to love Kathleen “Kit” Devigny.
Sliding to the floor with her back to the door after Noah left, Kit stared at the hands that always wanted to touch Noah when he was near and shook her head. Her tears were silent this time, the hot droplets erasing the last traces of the dream.