“You were just a child!” Open rage in Kit’s voice as she sat up beside him, her knees brushing his side. “They didn’t report the man, did they?”

“No. I spent my first year at boarding school having nightmares about him hunting me down.” It was after a screaming nightmare that Fox had tried to comfort him and he’d spilled the whole truth. His best friend had responded by putting a chair under the doorknob so no one could get into their room, and together they’d rigged up a noisemaker across the window.

“Tell me they didn’t just let that monster walk free,” Kit pleaded.

“On my eighth birthday, my father gave me a cutting from a newspaper. It was the man’s obituary.” Putting one arm under his head, he chanced looking up at the stars again, Kit in his peripheral vision. “It wasn’t until I was older that I searched online and discovered the man had been found in his study at home, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.”

“Suicide. He did the world a favor.”

Noah wanted to laugh. “He did nothing. My father used to defend small-time mobsters, did you know that? The kind of men who’d do him a solid, no questions asked.”

“You think he had the bastard killed?”

“I know he did.” Noah was certain Robert St. John had done it because that man had dared shame the family name, not because he’d hurt Robert’s son. “When I turned eighteen, after a big-ass party my mother threw because that’s what she does, my father found me fucking some random debutante. Later that night, he slapped me on the back and said, ‘Good to know that asswipe didn’t ruin you, boy. I hear the pussy begged for his life.’”

Chapter 33

If Noah’s parents had been in front of Kit right then, she’d have slapped them both sideways. They’d sent away a traumatized, scared boy without offering him any help. What must he have thought when he was shoved out of the family home? When he was abandoned?

Just like the monster had predicted.

“It wasn’t your fault,” she said softly, conscious those beautiful gray eyes hadn’t met hers since he began speaking. “You know that, don’t you?”

“That night? The one of my eighteenth birthday party?” Noah said instead of answering. “It was the first time in eleven years my father asked me if I’d like to go on a hunting trip with him and the rest of the males in the extended family. Every other boy had been going since he could hold a weapon.”

Kit had never hated anyone as much as she hated Robert St. John right then. “That makes him an asshole. It doesn’t make any of what happened your fault.”

He still wouldn’t look at her, but he moved one hand to touch her lower back, the contact hesitant. “I don’t like sex,” he said, the words blunt and hard. “I fuck women because it makes me feel like a man, and for a short time afterward, I can forget that I had my manhood taken from me.”

Kit didn’t know how to deal with this—Noah’s pain wasn’t something that could be fixed with kisses and hugs or love. This was a down-to-the-soul wound, one that was still bleeding. But she knew one thing, and that was that she loved Noah. “Bullshit.”

His eyes finally flicked to her, the dark gray unreadable. “You never say bullshit.”

“I’m saying it now.” She held his gaze. “You’re one hell of a man—that bastard hurt you, but he did not make you any less a man.”

Jaw tight, he broke the eye contact. “Yeah, okay.”

Gripping his jaw, she made him face her. “What if it was me?” she asked him. “What if it had been a child Kit in that room instead of you? Would you consider me any less a woman?”

“No, of course not.” His fingers dug into the flesh of her hip. “But I’m a man, Kit. I was brought up to be the man of the fucking house. To take care of the people who were my own and to gut anyone who dared hurt any of them, and I couldn’t even protect myself.”

“Noah, you were six years old.” Kit was speaking, but she knew her words were hitting a stone wall of rage and self-recrimination and indoctrination. “Girl or boy, no six-year-old can protect themselves against an adult. The hurt is the same, regardless of the gender, and deserving of the same care.”

That held true no matter the age of the abused, but right now, she had to focus on the fact Noah had been a child—she might actually stand a chance of getting through to him if she made him consciously think about the fact he was pitting a small boy against a full-grown adult.

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