Noah managed to sleep that night, thanks to a trick he’d discovered on the Internet. He’d put in a search term in desperation one night and hit on a video of rain falling in someone’s backyard, and before he knew it, he was asleep in his chair. He’d woken five hours later with a stiff neck and the video still playing in a loop.
He’d immediately bought the download.
The rain sounds didn’t work every time or even mostly, but they did that night. Thank God. He’d never have risked taking Kit up otherwise. He had an excellent reaction time, but fatigue could dull even the best instincts.
Awake in plenty of time, he showered and shaved, then pulled on his favorite old jeans and a dark gray T-shirt, wondering what Kit would think of his little Cessna. White with blue markings, it was parked in a hangar beside a small private airfield. As far as the sixty-something owners of the airfield and hangar were concerned, Noah was simply another weekend warrior who worked in the city and came to play with his toy in his off time.
He’d deliberately chosen a place that was out of the way, but he’d lucked out with the owners being uninterested in any music but country. Blissful anonymity was the result.
He grabbed his wallet and the keys he needed to access the hangar and plane, then got into the black SUV he kept beside his Mustang—no sense screwing up his anonymity by driving a distinctive car. This early, traffic was light enough that he’d make it to Kit’s with time to spare.
His heart beat a little too fast, his fingers tapping on the steering wheel.
When he glimpsed the lights of an all-night grocery store up ahead, he made a snap decision and swung into the parking lot. He grabbed a cart and got a few things for brunch as well as the one snack Kit could never resist. He wanted this to be a good day for her; to do that, he couldn’t allow himself to imagine it wouldn’t work, that he’d lost her forever the night he’d done the unforgiveable.
“Wow.” The pimply-faced teenage cashier’s mouth fell open. “Are you really you?”
Noah didn’t perform for the fame, but he also didn’t disdain his fans. They were the reason he could be free to live the music inside him; without that music, he’d be dead or huddled in some damn psychiatric ward. “Depends who you think I am.”
The teenager gulped. “I recognize that voice and that tattoo on your wrist.” Hand trembling, he put down the drink he’d been about to scan. “Wow. C-can I…” He just held up his phone in a wordless question.
“Sure.” Taking the phone since he was taller, Noah snapped a photo of himself with his arm around the kid’s shoulders, the teenager giving two thumbs-up and grinning so hard his face was about to crack.
The photo-taking attracted the attention of the night manager and the only other clerk on duty. By the time Noah finally left, traffic had thickened as early commuters tried to beat the chaos of LA traffic, but it was still manageable and he arrived right on time.
Kit came out of the house as he stepped out of the car. Dressed in jeans that hugged her legs, flats, and a kind of floaty tunic top in white with three-quarter-length sleeves, her hair in a ponytail, she looked fresh and pretty and like his Kit. Not Kathleen Devigny, Oscar-nominated actress on the way to superstardom. Just Kit.
“I wasn’t sure what to bring,” she said. “I have my phone and some money. Anything else?”
“No, we’re good.” He didn’t fight the happiness that was sunshine in his blood; Kit alone could make him feel that way, as if he was an ordinary man out with a woman he adored.
“Let me set the alarm. I’ve already alerted security we’re heading out.” A glance over her shoulder. “I told them not to follow today.”
Noah braced his arm against the top of the SUV, shaken by her trust. “I’ll park the SUV in the hangar so no one can get to it while we’re in the air.” Up there, she’d be safe in his hands.
Five minutes later, she was snug in the SUV.
After grabbing coffee from a drive-through, they drove in silence for over twenty minutes. It wasn’t as awkward as dinner had been, but neither was it as comfortable as they’d once been together. Noah had destroyed that. He’d done it deliberately with his eyes wide open. He’d hurt the one person he never wanted to hurt… and he knew without a doubt that it was the best thing he could’ve ever done for Kit.
No matter what happened from now on, she’d never forget or forgive the cruelty of his actions. It would keep her at a safe distance, where he couldn’t hurt her in far more vicious and irrevocable ways. Where he couldn’t stain her with his ugliness.
His hand tightened on the steering wheel. “Do you like the superhero movie?” he asked, needing to hear her voice, to have that much of her at least. “I mean, I know the green gunk and early starts got old, but do you have a good feeling about the final product?”
She shifted in her seat, the movement sending her scent his way, the freshness of soap and water licked with a faint trace of her perfume. It was subtle and elegant but with a hint of the earth, exactly like Kit.
“It’s good fun, has amazing stunts, and the plot makes sense, wonder of wonders,” she said after a thoughtful pause. “There was even some actual emotional acting required.” Her tone was a little too nonchalant.
“The script was phenomenal, wasn’t it?”
“Yep.” She laughed at being caught out. “Great cast too. Even if Cody did keep hitting on me.”
“Maybe you should hit back, make him uncomfortable.”
“Hah, nothing makes Cody uncomfortable.” Sounding more at ease, more like herself, she told him about the stunts she’d done herself. “The best was sliding off a motorcycle. Worth all the time it took me to learn it.”
“Jesus, Kit.” His fingers squeezed the steering wheel. “That’s dangerous.”
“That’s why it’s called a stunt. I ended up with a scraped elbow but no other bruises.”
Fighting his instinctive protective response, he said, “I’ll be first in line to see the movie.”
She didn’t ask him to go with her. No surprise. Kit had never asked him to accompany her to an event. He understood why: at first, there’d been too much chemistry between them, the sparks hot enough to burn. Then… then it had become too important.
Noah would give anything to stand next to her while she shone bright, but he didn’t trust himself to be able to keep his emotions hidden when she glowed in front of him. He was fucking proud of her, and he wanted to tell the whole world. Especially the assholes who turned up their noses and belittled her accomplishments by insinuating that her parents had bankrolled her.
He’d seen her work double shifts at the diner, watched her schlep to audition after audition and come back disappointed but determined to try again. Not once had she fallen back on the Ordaz-Castille name—and since she’d made no attempt to court publicity during her teens, no one had recognized her. She’d simply been another young, hopeful actress.
Kit had earned her place in the limelight, and she’d done it on her own terms.
“Did you like New Zealand?” she said before the lengthening silence became painful, full of all the words they couldn’t say to one another. “I never asked.”
Because she’d refused to talk to him then. “Lots of water and sunshine, and the South Island’s crazy beautiful. Me and Abe, we took off for a week to one of the national parks, did white-water rafting, bungee jumped, even walked on a glacier.”
“It sounds incredible.” She sighed. “I’ve always wanted to go down there, never had the chance.”
It was on the tip of his tongue to say he’d go with her, that they could hike through the sprawling parks full of snowcapped mountains and pristine rivers, camp under skies so clear you could nearly touch the Milky Way at night. No photographers, no stalkers, nothing but a wild beauty that would suit Kit’s grounded nature.
He bit back the offer just in time; she’d agreed to come with him today, but he was under no illusion that their new relationship was anything other than brittle. “You’d love it,” he said through the renewed tension in his gut. “If you can swim it, climb it, ride it, jump off it, or hike it, New Zealand’s got things covered.”
Kit had so many questions about the small country that the rest of the drive passed by without further silences. The sky was beginning to lighten in the east when he punched in the code to open the gates to the isolated, no-frills airfield and drove through to the hangar.
“Here she is,” he said once they were inside and by the plane. He patted the side of the Cessna, his nerves in a knot.
It mattered what Kit thought. Always had. Always would.
“She’s not what I expected.” Kit ran her hand along the buffed-clean paintwork. “I mean that in a good way.” A smile. “I expected a new, glossy plane, but she’s got age, character.”
Noah took a breath. “Yeah, she’s got a few miles on her.” Her imperfections were part of why he’d fallen in love with the machine. “I like to think she’s seen the world and now she’s showing it to me.”
Kit felt her heart hitch at the evocative beauty of his words. It was at times like these that it was so difficult to keep her distance from Noah, fleeting moments when he showed her a piece of himself. A real piece, part of the heart he kept hidden so deep that most people never knew it existed. To the rest of the world, he was simply a bad-boy rocker, the most scandalous member of Schoolboy Choir, the one who provided the best photo ops and led the most hard rock lifestyle.
Abe’s former drug use had been tabloid fodder, of course—the paparazzi had hounded him when he was discharged from the hospital after his overdose, but Noah’s liaisons with endless women made for much prettier pictures, especially when he was snapped with a leggy model, actress, or other woman famous in her own right. If he’d kept a little black book, it would’ve been overflowing with A-list names, but Kit knew Noah didn’t keep any records—a man only did that when he wanted to see a woman again.
“Ready to go up?” he asked, the light in his eyes almost boyish. “Wait, hold on a sec. I bought some stuff for brunch.”
As he went to the car to grab the bags, she found herself hesitating. It was early now. If he planned on having brunch with her, that meant they’d be together for hours. She wasn’t sure she could handle that, but the light in his eyes, she hadn’t ever seen that. Not even their first time around.
She was such a sucker. She had to say no, had to back off before she placed herself in harm’s way again.
“Done.” He put the grocery bags in the plane, turned. “We can catch the sunrise if we take off now.”
Kit inhaled, held the breath before releasing it in a slow exhale. “Noah, I’m—”
Smile fading, he met her gaze, the dark gray of his eyes empty of that bright, unexpected light. However, instead of offering to take her back to the city, he braced a palm against the plane and said, “I’m not giving you up, Kit.” His jaw was granite. “You’re too important to me.”
Not important enough.
She barely bit back the angry words. They’d been through that, and if she kept dwelling on it, it would only make her bitter and broken, and poison whatever relationship remained between them. “What are we doing, Noah?” she said quietly. “You know this won’t work.” They’d never been meant to be just friends: they could be either passionate lovers or sworn enemies.
There was no middle ground.
“It can work,” Noah said, as if he could will a simple, uncomplicated friendship into being. “But only if you give it a shot.” He stepped closer, close enough that she could feel the heat of his body. “Don’t throw in the towel on me, on us.” A pause that held like a dewdrop on a spider web, caught between sparkle and shatter. “I need you.”
Her chest ached.
She apparently still had a mile-wide weak spot when it came to Noah exposing his need. He showed it so rarely, asked for something even less. And she had promised to be his friend. She owed it to who they’d once been to give the attempt this one chance at least. “Let’s go watch the sunrise.”
That sunrise was spectacular, coming over the San Gabriel Mountains and bathing the world in a deep gold kissed with pink, but it didn’t hold her attention, not with Noah beside her. He was competent and efficient at the controls, a haunting lightness to him.
“You really love this,” she said, her voice soft with realization.
“Up here, it doesn’t matter who you are, what your sins.” His gorgeous voice poured into her ears through the headphones, made her stomach flutter, her thighs clench. “It’s total freedom. No expectations. No judgments. Just endless sky.”
Kit had never understood why Noah was so deeply unhappy. On paper, his life seemed picture-perfect. Born to a wealthy couple, his father a powerhouse lawyer and his mother a political lobbyist, he’d had the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth since the day he was born. He also openly adored his younger sister, Emily, had invited her along as his plus one to the music awards last year.
Even if it was about shitty parents, that was no cause for such deep anger at life.
Kit knew countless people with parents who couldn’t care less. Some grew up and dealt with it, others were constantly badly behaving teenagers trying to get their parents’ attention, but no one she’d ever met had been this angry—least of all anyone who’d found a passion in life and followed it. Her acting had been her lifeline, but while Noah lived for his music, it didn’t seem to penetrate the hard shell of his anger.