How could he tell her that he was surviving, that it was all he was capable of doing? He could’ve been dead a hundred times over by now. It would’ve been so easy to give in, to surrender to the pain, but he’d refused. “I didn’t,” he gritted out. “I made the choice to live.”
He could feel Kit’s eyes on him, incisive and penetrating… and he realized what he’d said, what he’d nearly betrayed. “Look down,” he said, slamming the door shut on the memories that made him feel soiled and desperate and used up. “I’m pretty sure that’s a mountain lion. You can use the binoculars over on your side.”
Kit didn’t reach for the binoculars. “Noah,” she said, her voice soft, private. “What happened?”
“Nothing original.” He tried a cynical smile. “Drugs and all that—I was addicted as a teen, decided to get clean.” It was a lie, but one he had to tell. It was far better that she think him weak in that respect than that she know the truth. Kit couldn’t know. He’d die before allowing that to happen.
Kit knew Noah was lying.
It was as obvious to her as a flashing neon sign. And given that he knew her low opinion of drug addicts, the fact he’d confessed to that to get her to stop asking questions made her blood run cold. She wanted to take back her earlier harsh words, wanted to start all over again. Because she was beginning to understand that whatever had scarred Noah, it had nothing to do with the usual small tragedies of life, the things she’d seen growing up.
It had been something bad enough to make a boy want to end his life.
Shaken and not knowing where to go from here, she folded her arms and stared out at the view. It was far greener than immediately around Los Angeles. “Where are we?”
“Near a private landing field I know.” A short pause. “Actually, it’s mine.”
He’d given her so many surprises today that she took this one in her stride. “So you’d have a place to land where no one knew you?”
“Yeah.” A lopsided smile. “There’s nothing else around for miles.”
She could see it now, a cleared strip surrounded by what looked like acres of trees. “How much land did you buy?”
He just laughed and took the plane down, and as her stomach dived, she allowed herself a moment of weakness and let that rough, masculine sound wrap around her.
A few minutes later, Kit stepped out of the plane and, stretching her legs, took deep drafts of the air. Grass and trees, birdsong and the gentle rustle of leaves in the wind, there was nothing of civilization within sight but the plane Noah had just landed. “Do you plan to build here?”
“I have a small cabin a little bit farther in. Other than that, I think I’ll leave it.” A shrug. “Don’t need anything bigger.” He hesitated before saying, “I was planning for us to picnic nearby, but do you want to go see the cabin?”
Kit knew she should say no, put a stop to the increasing emotional intimacy between them. But this was the first, the only time Noah had invited her to a place that could be thought of as his home. “Yes,” she said. “I’d like to see it.”
His smile, it wrecked her.
“Let me grab the food.”
Taking the smaller bag since he had a picnic blanket as well, she walked toward the trees with him, spied an overgrown path. “You haven’t been here for a while?”
“Not since before the tour—but the cabin should be fine. Unless the squirrels decided to stage an attack. Probably banged the door down with hammers shaped from acorns.”
She couldn’t not smile. “You should write children’s books.” The visuals he occasionally came up with were brilliant.
He erupted into gales of laughter, the warmth in his eyes contagious. “Can you imagine a parent buying a kid’s book penned by Noah St. John?” Not waiting for her answer, he pointed with his chin. “There it is.”
Wrenching her attention from him, she saw a log cabin beside a stream kissed by sunshine. “Noah,” she breathed. “It’s perfect.” The clearing in which the cabin stood was all lush green grass and wildflowers, like an image from a fairy tale.
“The cabin’s not very well put together,” he told her. “I did it and it won’t fall down on us, but it wouldn’t pass any inspections.” Smile fading, eyes shadowed, he looked at the small building. “I guess I just wanted a secret, private place where no one expects anything from me.”
“Thank you for sharing it with me.” It was hard to keep her voice steady when he’d just told her this wasn’t his home.