“You are not pacifying me with tea.”
Shrugging, he sat down with his legs stretched out in front of him and drank it himself—or tried to. “Ugh. Still just as disgusting.”
“It is not disgusting. It’s the best sencha you can get.” She grabbed the cup from him and took several sips of the hot liquid. “What was that? By the gate?”
“That was me being your friend.”
Putting the cup back in his hand, she continued to weed. “That was you being a troublemaker.” She went to pull something out, seemed to realize it wasn’t a weed, and patted the soil back in place. “Now everyone’s going to expect us to be a couple.”
“They already did.”
“Thea might have been able to defuse that.”
“Not fast enough.” He offered her more tea.
She emptied the cup, then sat on the earth, her eyes no longer on the garden. “You can’t keep it up, Noah.” It was a strained statement. “Playing the adoring boyfriend.”
He’d never had any fucking trouble adoring Kit. “I will. I promise you that.” When she looked away, he continued to speak. “I’ve never promised you anything before, Kit—that’s because when I make a promise, I don’t break it.” And he’d known he couldn’t give her what she needed. Not then. Nothing much had changed. He was still an asshole, but he would protect Kit. That was his motivation, and fuck if he’d mess it up. “I won’t let you down.”
Her gaze was raw with emotion when she finally looked at him again. “I don’t know if I can do it.”
Her pain was like knives plunging into him, slicing through his gut to leave him open and bleeding. “I can’t give you what you need in so many ways,” he said, ripping his heart open for her, “but I can help your career. I can do that. Let me, Kit. Please.” He’d never begged for anything, but he’d crawl on his hands and knees for this small chance at redemption.
Eyes stark, Kit shook her head. “How can I accept that?” A rasped whisper. “How can I use my friend?”
“You’re not using me.” He dared lay one hand against her cheek, his fingers brushing the rich silk of her hair. “I’m offering to help. That’s what friends do, right? Support each other. Let me support you in public. Let me be that guy.” Even if I can never be good enough to be your guy.
Kit’s throat moved. Not saying a word, she dusted off her hands and got up, went to the table. “Come and drink some tea.”
He took a seat, allowed her to refill his cup. Pouring another one for herself, she sat on the other side of the table. “Harper called ten minutes ago.”
“Yeah?” Not about to drink the tea but holding the cup for its warmth, his own skin chilled, he said, “What did she say?”
“Same thing Thea did. I’m apparently on everyone’s radar all at once. She’s had multiple ‘feeling things out’ calls—no one ready to commit, but people letting her know they’re watching to see how I conduct myself in the spotlight.”
Noah put aside the tea and took a cookie. It was sugar spice and it was delicious. “Pisses you off doesn’t it?”
Renewed fire in her eyes. “Hell yes. I’m a good actress who busts her balls and barely gets a little grudging recognition, but then I go out with a random musician and boom, I’m hot property?”
“You deserved it.” She bit into a cookie, chewed. “Will you humiliate me?”
The quiet question erased the laughter, made his blood go cold. “No,” he said. “Never. I promise you that.”
He knew why she was having trouble believing his promises; he might’ve never said the words out loud when they’d been friends the first time around, but it had been implied. A promise not to hurt. A promise to care. A promise to love.
“Kit.” He wanted to reach for her hand, but she’d curled it into a fist in a silent rejection. “What I did? I’ll regret it for the rest of my life. Never again will I hurt you on purpose. You have my word.”
“The groupies? Can you resist them?”
“I’ve never had a problem resisting them.” He didn’t pick up women because he was attracted to them or because he had a giant ego he needed to massage.
At Kit’s open disbelief, he thrust both hands through his hair. “Whether you want to trust me or not, you have to. There’s no other option unless you want to destroy everything you’ve spent years building.”