Authors: Nalini Singh
Tags: #Romance, #New adult, #music
By Nalini Singh
New York Times Bestselling Author
it smiled when the
elevator doors opened as soon as she pressed the button. Stepping in with a thudding heart, she fought the urge to flat out grin. She was going to see Noah again! She hadn’t made the concert despite her best efforts, but she knew he wouldn’t mind. Noah had been her biggest supporter during her struggle to move from daytime-soap actress to the big screen.
Now she’d won a part in
, a movie based on a heartrending book set in the war-torn Congo. It had such a small budget that the wardrobe department was made up of clothes the actors and crew had brought in, but she could already tell the movie was going to be a stunning emotional journey. Though the
team hadn’t been able to get permission to shoot at the location itself, they’d all soon be departing for another part of Africa that would stand in for the Congo in the location shots.
That trip would swallow up the majority of the budget.
Before that, the filmmakers were trying to shoot as many of the interior scenes as possible in as short a time as possible. The schedule was grueling, but Kit was in it for the long haul. Not only did she love the script, this movie might finally earn her the title of serious actress. For a woman who’d spent her entire career fighting not to be dismissed as a rich girl dabbling in the art, that meant everything.
After cleaning off the on-set makeup she’d worn today to affect a gaunt, ill look, she’d put on her moisturizer, then added just a touch of mascara and a light lip gloss. Noah had seen her without her “face” on many times, and he liked her just fine. With him, she could be herself, no shield of glamour required.
In return, rock star Noah St. John was just Noah with her, that smile he saved for her lighting up the dark gray of his eyes as he teased her by calling her Katie. It was a little crooked, his private smile, and more than a bit wicked. Gorgeous already, that smile made him irresistible. And it was for her, just for her.
She hugged that knowledge to her heart.
The elevator doors opened on the VIP floor.
She wouldn’t have been able to get up here without a special key card, but Noah had cleared her with the hotel staff as he always did. The man at the desk tonight had been very discreet, slipping her the card and the number of Noah’s room in an envelope. Kit knew she and Noah would be found out one day soon—someone would sell a story to the press or just trust the wrong person with the information. But for now, the two of them could be private, could learn one another without the glare of intrusion that was the eye of the paparazzi lens.
It helped that she didn’t have much of a profile. Noah’s was in the stratosphere, of course, but he was also known to like women, so even if the paps scented the news, they likely wouldn’t rush to hunt down the story. She was just another woman in a long line to be linked to Noah.
Kit’s stomach dipped, smile fading as she walked down the corridor.
She’d known the members of Schoolboy Choir since the first week the band—young and broke and in stubborn pursuit of their dream—arrived in Los Angeles. She’d been waitressing at the time, determined to support herself and to break into the business on her own. Her folks had thought she was taking independence too far, but it had been important to Kit that she not ride on their coattails. She’d even taken the stage name of Devigny rather than using the well-known and distinctive Ordaz-Castille moniker.
Noah, Fox, Abe, and David had come into the diner late one night while she was the only one on duty. At first she’d been wary: fresh off a construction job, they’d been dirty and dusty and frankly rough-looking. But then she’d realized the four were composing a song together, one of them drumming his fingertips on top of the table while another one sang softly, with interruptions from the others about cadence and rhythm.
Smiling as she realized they were just like her, striving to make it, she’d told the group they didn’t have to be quiet since it was only the five of them in the diner. They’d grinned and asked her to be their audience, and she’d found herself listening to what would eventually become the group’s second number one single.
Fox, Abe, and David she’d gotten along with from the start.
Everything was too intense between her and Noah, too bright and sharp and demanding. She might’ve given in to the raw heat that shimmered in the air whenever they were close to one another except that Noah changed women like other men changed T-shirts. In for a night, gone the next.
Five months ago, things had… changed. Kit and Noah had become friends, and though they’d never so much as kissed, their relationship was the most intimate one she’d ever had. Her heart ached with missing him when they were apart. He knew her dreams and she was starting to glimpse his, and they were slowly, beautifully, making their way from friendship to love.
Maybe tonight they would finally share their first kiss.
Her blood pounded at the memory of how close they’d come last time. She’d been able to count each one of his eyelashes, feel his breath against her skin, see the staccato beat of the pulse in his neck. A single inch and their lips would’ve touched.
She might explode when that happened, she was so ready.
Taking a deep breath as she reached his door, she didn’t knock. He’d told her to just walk in; the last time she’d knocked, he’d still been in the shower, cleaning up after the show, and she’d ended up going in on her own anyway. Kit felt her silly, goofy smile break through her self-control as she tapped the key card on the doorknob to open it.
When the door stayed locked, she looked down.
“Idiot,” she muttered, realizing she had to insert the card at this hotel. “You’d think you were fifteen and about to meet your crush alone for the first time.”
Except that was exactly how she felt. Happy and excited and bubbling with love. Never had she felt this way about a man. She could see the promise of forever in Noah’s eyes, and it captured her heart, her soul, held it prisoner.
Chest tight with the emotions inside her, she pushed the door open. Music filtered out, low and lazy. Her smile grew deeper. There was always music around Noah. Even when he was reading a book, he’d told her he had music on in the background.
“It’s like another heartbeat,” he’d said to her once. “I miss it when it’s not there, even though I might not consciously notice it when it’s present.”
That made so much sense to her, gave her another insight into his mind.
About to call out his name as she stepped into the living area of the suite, something made her stop, dread coalescing into a dark and viscous intruder in her gut. The lights were on, the music was on, and she could see the remnants of a room service tray, so Noah was around, but…
That was when she saw what her subconscious had already noted and processed.
A high-heeled shoe lay on the carpet by the room service tray. The shoe glittered under the lights, sparkly gold with a four-inch stiletto heel.
At that instant, it felt as if that heel were embedded in Kit’s chest, the pain of it burning and burning. She knew she should turn around and leave, but she couldn’t. She had to know, had to be sure. Noah meant too much for her to make a mistake or to have doubts.
Heart squeezing and lungs barely drawing in enough air to keep her from passing out, she made herself walk across the floor to the open bedroom door. And as she walked, she saw the other shoe by that door, along with a knot of black cotton that was a T-shirt flung off without care to where it landed.
Fingers curling into a fist, she brought it to her mouth, trying to plug the agony that was churning inside her, keep it from erupting into a scream that would never end.
Then her eyes landed on the glittery pile of sequined fabric that might have been a dress, and the agony twisted.
Keeping her gorge down only because she refused to crumple, not here, not where he could see her, she took the final step to the door.
Her heart just… broke.
Noah was on the bed, beautiful as always, his golden-blond hair falling over his forehead and his back muscles bunched beneath his tattoos as he braced himself on his arms above a woman whose face Kit couldn’t see but whose breasts sat large and high on her chest.
The sheet hid Noah’s lower body, but there was no mistaking what he was doing, his hips moving in a distinctive, unmistakable motion. He was beautiful even in that, a part of her noted, like music given physical form.
The thought made her want to laugh, and she knew she was a second away from hysteria.
Noah looked up at that instant, his eyes meeting hers across the room, and everything in her froze, went numb, the shards of her splintered heart stabbing her from the inside out.
it groaned at the
sound of her phone. Reaching out blindly toward the nightstand, she hurled mental curses upon herself for forgetting to turn it off so she could catch some uninterrupted sleep before her four-a.m. makeup call.
It’d be fun and great for her career, her agent had said when recommending Kit take the superhero flick. Coming off two serious and emotionally wrenching projects, Kit had taken Harper’s advice and jumped on board the high-budget, high-octane venture. Unfortunately, Harper had forgotten to mention the four hours it would take to put her into the head-to-toe makeup required for the role. Daily.
“What?” she snarled into the phone without checking to see who it was.
Every cell in her body snapped wide awake. Lifting her eyelids, she just stared at the ceiling through gritty eyes. Her heart thumped, her throat moving convulsively as she swallowed. She hated that he could still do this to her,
, but her visceral response to Noah wasn’t something she could stop. She knew because she’d tried for the past two years and three months.
“Noah,” she said flatly. “Do you know what time it is?”
“Two fifteen,” he answered.
Kit should’ve hung up. God, he’d
her. So much. But there was something in his voice that had her sitting up. “Are you drunk?” One thing she knew about Noah: no matter his bad-boy rep, he was
wasted. He might give a good indication of it, but look closely and those dark gray eyes were always sober.
“Probably.” A silence, followed by, “I just wanted to hear your voice. Sorry for waking you.”
“Wait,” she said when he would’ve hung up. “Where are you?”
“Some dive.” He took a deep breath, released it in a harsh exhale. “I’m sorry for being an asshole. I wanted to tell you that. I don’t want to go without saying that.”
“Noah,” she said, a horrible feeling in her stomach. “Where exactly are you?”
“The Blue Flamingo Inn off Hollywood Boulevard. Far, far,
off.” He laughed, and it held no humor. “It has a neon sign of a blue—surprise!—flamingo that’s flashing right through my window. Looks like someone stole the curtains.”
Having already grabbed her laptop, which she’d left beside the bed after answering some e-mails before sleep claimed her, she found the Blue Flamingo Inn. But Noah was already gone, having said, “I love your voice, Kit,” in an oddly raw tone before hanging up.
He didn’t pick up when she called back.
“Damn it! Damn it!” She shoved aside the blanket under which she’d been buried, having turned the AC to ice-cold as she usually did at night. Shivering, she tugged on a pair of jeans and an old sweatshirt over the panties and tank top in which she’d gone to sleep.
Pulling her black hair into a rough ponytail to keep it out of her eyes, she ran through the house, phone in one pocket, credit card and driver’s license in the other. In the kitchen, she grabbed her keys off the counter and shoved her feet into the tennis shoes by the door that led to the garage.
She was in her car and on the way to the motel three minutes after Noah had hung up, mouth dry and an ugliness in her gut. “Please be okay, please be okay, please be okay,” she kept saying, the mantra doing nothing to calm her down, but at least it kept her mind focused.
She wanted to call Molly and Fox, or the others in the band, but no one was currently in the city. Schoolboy Choir had completed the final show in the band’s hugely successful tour just over two weeks earlier. Day after that, they’d all gone their separate ways to recharge and regroup.
“Much as I love these guys,” David had said with a grin that reached the dark gold of his eyes, “I’ve been looking at their ugly mugs daily for months. We need to go blow off some steam separately before we start snarling at each other.”
At the time, Kit had nodded in understanding, having had that same experience while working on location for long periods. Tonight, however, she wished the others were all here, not scattered across the country, because something was very wrong with Noah.
“Noah doesn’t do drugs,” she told herself as she drove as fast as she dared, not wanting to risk getting pulled over and further delayed. “He isn’t the kind to—” She couldn’t say it, couldn’t even think of Noah ending his life. “
,” she said firmly, her hands white-knuckled on the steering wheel. “Noah isn’t like that.”
He might be a bastard, but he’d never hurt his friends and family by committing suicide. His sister was only twenty-one, and Noah adored her. If nothing else, his need to protect Emily from their overbearing parents should keep him from doing anything stupid… anything irreversible.
Her phone began to beep. Reaching out, she pressed the button to activate the Bluetooth speaker and microphone. “I’m fine,” she said to her security service.
“Casey’s in the car behind you.”
Kit’s eyes flicked to the lights in her rearview mirror, unsurprised the bodyguard had caught up to her even though she’d taken off like a bat out of hell. She’d hired Casey and Butch and their team because they were damn good, but tonight she needed to be alone; whatever happened, Noah would shut down if a stranger walked in beside her.
“Tell Casey to go to this location and wait.” She read off an address about five minutes from the Blue Flamingo. “I’ll call him if I need him.”
“Don’t turn off the GPS tracker on your car. That’s not the best part of town.”
“I know. I won’t.” Kit wanted privacy for this, but she wasn’t stupid, not with a stalker who’d been frighteningly persistent in his efforts to get to her. “But make sure Casey doesn’t follow me, Butch. I need privacy for this, and if you breach that, even to protect me, I can’t trust you anymore.”
“Any hint of trouble and you hit the panic button,” Butch ordered. “Understood?”
“Understood.” Kit was officially their boss, but the two men had become friends to her, they’d been watching over her for so long. Icy and dangerous as they were in public, they treated her like a younger sister in private. It was part of the reason she liked the two ex-Marines so much. The men who worked under them were younger but just as dedicated and professional.
Ending the call, she followed her GPS’s prompts as to the shortest route to the motel. Butch’s call had kept her mind busy for a couple of minutes, but now the fear came rushing back. Using the Bluetooth system, she called Noah again.
Should she alert the paramedics or the cops? What if she was wrong? What if Noah was just passed out, drunk? It would end up all over the media. Noah would never forgive her.
That risk Kit would’ve taken, but the idea of exposing Noah to strangers while he was vulnerable… No, she couldn’t do that. “You’d better not have done anything stupid, Noah.”
Trying not to panic, she drove past run-down businesses and anemic palm trees, the street corners host to small groups of working girls and boys, their pimps hovering in the background. Noah wasn’t just off Hollywood Boulevard—he’d managed to find a hidden pit of darkness in amongst the sleek and shine. It was a damn good thing her car didn’t draw attention.
She’d jumped into the trusty brown sedan that was the first car she’d ever bought on her own. It was old enough and dusty enough—she’d been meaning to take it to the carwash—that she was probably being visually tagged as another middle-aged husband searching for a cheap thrill.
A possible customer for the pros, but not worth carjacking.
Thanking the car that had gotten her to more casting calls than she could count, she ignored the sideshow and carried on. The Blue Flamingo Inn appeared out of the darkness in a screaming blue blaze. Turning into the lot, she found that the neon sign was the brightest lighting in the place.
A bulb flickered on an upstairs landing of the U-shaped building, and there was a yellow-tinged bulb inside what looked like the manager’s office, but that was it. The entire place was dark and grimy and a great location to get mugged—except the thieves had probably given up on this place, it was so sad and dilapidated. Parking the car in the nearest spot, she went to get out and realized she had no idea of Noah’s room.
Remembering what he’d said about the flamingo flashing through his uncurtained windows, she looked around and zeroed in on three upstairs rooms from where the sign had to be brightly visible. She’d try those three first before waking up the manager and blowing Noah’s cover.
Grabbing the pepper spray she kept in the cup holder, she got out after making sure there was no one else around and locked her car. Then she ran quickly to the stairs that led up to those three rooms. All three were dark, but two of them had some limp-looking curtains. Cupping her hands over the sides of her eyes as she pressed her face to the window of the third, she felt her breath leave her in a painful rush.
Noah sat on the edge of the bed, bare-chested and with his eyes on his hands. His shoulders were slumped, but he was very much alive.
Pulling away from the window, she bent over, braced her hands on her knees, and tried to breathe. The air hurt going in, coming out. At least two minutes later, she gripped the skinny metal railing, pulled herself up and, breath still a little ragged, went to knock. Then something made her try the door. It turned easily in her hand.
“Wrong room,” Noah said without looking up. “Unless you’re looking for a quick fuck. Then I can oblige you.”
It was a kick to the gut. As was the sight of the condom wrappers on the floor and that of the obviously used bed. She almost stepped back, almost left. He’d never know, never realize how desperately worried she’d been tonight… and then her eyes fell on the nightstand and the syringe that lay on it.
Ice formed in her gut again.
Striding across the carpet, she picked it up. “What the hell is this, Noah?”
“Kit?” He looked up, his pupils hugely dilated. “I can smell you. You always smell so good.” Reaching out, he touched her thigh. “I guess I must be really drunk if I’m imagining you here.” With that, he grabbed the bottle she hadn’t seen at his feet and took a swig.
Holding the syringe with one hand, Kit pulled away the bottle with the other and slammed it on the nightstand. “What,” she said again, gripping his jaw to force him to meet her gaze, “
An unconcerned shrug. “Something to make me high as a kite according to the dealer.”
“Jesus, Noah, you don’t even know what it is and you were going to shoot up with it?”
“Couldn’t do it,” he said on a harsh laugh. “Kept hearing your voice in my head telling me you have no fucking respect for people who fucking space out on drugs. And now I’m hallucinating you.” He swiped out at the bottle, missed when she grabbed it first. “Gimme back my whiskey, Hallucination Kit.”
“I’ll give you your whiskey.” Taking the bottle, she went into the tiny bathroom and poured the liquid into the cracked and stained sink.
Noah got up and followed her. His face fell. “Don’t do that, Hallucination Kit. Now what will we drink?”
Ignoring him, she finished with the bottle and depressed the plunger of the syringe while holding it over the sink. Once it was empty, she put it on the narrow back ledge of the sink so the maid would see it straightaway. Hopefully the cleaning staff had a process for disposing of needles. “Where’s the vial?” she asked Noah after dumping the bottle in the garbage.
Noah just looked at her, his jaw bristly and dark. It had always fascinated her that he could be so blond and yet have such dark stubble, eyebrows, and eyelashes. She’d always had to fight the temptation to bite at his jaw, taste him. Today, however, all she wanted to do was hit him. “Where. Is. The. Vial?” she repeated deliberately. “Noah!”
When he still didn’t answer, she pushed past him, his muscled chest warm under her touch, and began to open the drawers in the nightstand. They proved empty, and there was no other furniture in the room aside from the bed. Going to her knees, she looked under the bed, caught the glint of glass. The vial had rolled underneath, likely after Noah knocked it off the nightstand.
It was empty and unlabeled.
Throwing it in the trash in the bathroom, conscious of Noah watching her with an intensity that felt like a touch, she began to search the bed for his T-shirt, careful to touch things only with the tips of her fingers. She couldn’t think about the fact that he’d been fucking some other woman in this bed not long ago or she’d throw up.
“You want to fuck, Hallucination Kit?”
She’d jerked up her head, intending to flay him for the question, when he said, “I don’t want to. Not with you.”
And the bastard kept kicking her, kept hurting her. “I wouldn’t sleep with you if you were the last man on the planet.” Having found the tee, she threw it at him. “Put that on.”
He did so, oddly compliant.
“Noah,” she said, worried again. “Did you take anything else? Pills?”
“No, because Kit hates drug addicts. I drank. And then I ran out of booze so I went and bought some more and drank again.”
Since she could smell the booze, she had to believe him on that point. “When was the last time you ate something?”
Kit could’ve left then, but she couldn’t abandon him here. Regardless of how much he’d hurt her, he’d once been her friend. Her
friend. “Come on, let’s go get a burger.” When he didn’t move, she held out a hand despite how deeply she wanted to maintain distance between them for her own sake. “I’m hungry.”
His eyes went to her hand and he moved at last, coming over to close one big hand around her own. His fingertips were callused from playing the guitar, his skin tougher than her own, his temperature hotter. The contact was a shock to her system, anger and pain and hurt entwined.
Swallowing it all down, she tugged him out of the room and to the car. “I’ll go pay the manager,” she said once she’d unlocked the car.
Noah laughed as if she’d told a crazy joke. “I might be drunk and hallucinating, but I know this place is prepay.”
Right, of course it was. “Then get in.”