Kit put light pressure on Noah’s arm when his muscles bunched again. “Yes,” she said with her most dazzling smile, happy to see the male of the pair blink. “It was fun.”
“If you’ll excuse us,” Noah said coolly before his aunt could speak again. “I think I see my mother.” As they moved off, he slid away his arm to put his hand on her lower back again. “I’m sorry about that.”
Kit felt her eyes threaten to burn at the protective way he was trying to surround her, subtly angling his big shoulders to cut off those who might interrupt them. “Dear Aunt Althea looks like she walks around with a permanent bug up her butt—I’m not about to take anything she says to heart.”
Not seeing Virginia St. John, she said, “Where’s your mom?”
“Who knows? I just wanted to get away from old Turnip Face.”
Kit’s shoulders shook. “That’s awful.”
“Every time I came home from boarding school, she’d visit and she’d look me up and down like a piece of disappointing meat.”
“I hate her on your behalf.”
His smile reached his eyes. “Can I drink the rest of my champagne?”
“No. You need to keep a clear head so you can outbid everyone without ending up with a hideous souvenir,” she whispered as they reached the long table that held the items up for auction. “Look at that piece. Who thinks that’s art?”
“I think that plate’s worse.” He moved his hand slightly on her back. “Looks like a drunk threw up and decided to capture it in porcelain and paint.”
“Should I help you drive up the bids?” she said mischievously. “Bet we could get this up to at least ten thousand.”
“Aunt Margaret will love you for it.”
Noah’s spine stiffened at that patrician male voice. Forcing himself to keep his face expressionless, he turned toward a man who looked like an older version of him—except that Robert St. John had shorter hair that had turned a pure white and his face was set in hard lines. Noah’s face could look like that too, but it wasn’t his default face. This was his father’s default—if it wasn’t, Noah didn’t know it, since it was the only face he ever saw.
“Dad,” he said, keeping it civil because Kit was with him. “Where’s Mom?”
“Virginia is speaking to Althea.” Robert turned the glacial gray of his eyes to Kit. “Ms. Devigny, I’m happy to see you here. I know you and Noah have been friends for a long time.”
“I’m delighted to be here with him.”
Robert faced Noah again—except of course, he never quite faced Noah. His gaze was always a little to the left or the right. Robert St. John couldn’t bear to look at the son he’d once proudly called his heir.
“I heard your concert tour was a success.”
Kit covered the strained silence that followed his curt response. “I attended the New York show, and it was incredible. They blew the roof off.”
“Yes, I hear the band is powerful in concert.” A faint smile. “I wanted Noah to practice law, but as usual, he’s gone his own way.”
“Noah, darling.” His mother, skinny and sharp and fashionable, appeared around the side of his father. Unlike Robert, she didn’t even attempt to look at him, her gaze blank and deliberately unfocused as she rose toward him.
Noah turned his face so her attempt at getting a cheek kiss from him turned into an air-kiss against his own cheek. It was the best he could do for the woman who’d abandoned him when he’d needed her most.
Robert had been a distant figure throughout Noah’s childhood, always at court or at his office, but Virginia had been an involved mother. She’d taken Noah to nursery school, picked him up afterward, driven him to swimming lessons, then helped him study so he’d be smart going into elementary school. She’d been the quintessential soccer mom whose world revolved around her son.
Until that son wasn’t perfect anymore.
“Introduce me to your date,” Virginia said now, her social mask in place.
Noah made the introductions. Kit’s gracious warmth softened his own coldness, coldness he couldn’t hide. The ice inside him made him feel brittle, as if he’d crack with even the finest pressure.
“I’m so sorry,” Kit said just when Noah couldn’t take it anymore. “I see a studio exec Noah promised to introduce me to—do you mind if I steal him away?”