“Watch that goofy fucking smile. You have an image to maintain,” Noah said, but he was happy for his friend; David had been crazy about Thea forever.

Just like Noah had been about Kit.

David pointed a finger at him. “I don’t have the bad-boy image. What are you going to do about that now you’ve shacked up with Kit?”

“Tell everyone to bite it.” He had no intention of giving the media bad-boy fodder ever again—not unless it involved being caught making out with Kit in scandalous locations. That, he was definitely up for.

Laughing, David bumped fists with him, and they got into their cars to head off in opposite directions. Noah was listening to Esteban’s latest LP when he stopped at a crosswalk to let an older couple get across.

He was tapping a beat on the steering wheel and smiling at the thought of going home to Kit when his eye was caught by the man and the golden-blond child who’d just stepped onto the crosswalk from the other side. The man was holding the boy’s hand, the boy dragging his feet. It was a familiar scene that Noah had probably witnessed a thousand times over his lifetime, but today, it made nausea churn in his gut, his hands clamping tight on the steering wheel as a haze of red filmed his vision.

Unclipping his seat belt, he began to open the car door, convinced the child needed to be rescued… but then the man said something and the child’s face lit up. Bouncing on his feet now, he spoke excitedly, and then the two were on the other side of the crosswalk and walking away.

Noah’s heart still thumped, his throat dry.

It was only when an impatient horn sounded from behind him that he pulled his door shut and started driving again. He didn’t know where he was going, but it wasn’t home. He felt too fucked-up to go home. Ending up on a sea-facing outlook, he stared at the Pacific Ocean crashing to shore until gray turned to dark and all he could see were the headlights and fading taillights of cars along the Pacific Coast Highway.

Sweat pasted his T-shirt to his skin, his hands still clamped on the steering wheel. Finally peeling them off, he shoved open his door and got out. Nausea cramped his gut again without warning. Bending down instinctively, his hands on his knees, he threw up. There wasn’t much in his stomach, just a bottle of the electrolyte-laden sports water David had given him.

After that, it was just harsh, dry retching that felt as if it went on forever. He was half aware of a phone ringing in the distance, but he couldn’t focus on that, his entire concentration on getting his spasming muscles under control.

It seemed to take forever.

Grabbing a fresh bottle of water from the pack he had in the back, he rinsed out his mouth and threw some water on his face, then stood facing the warm wind until it had dried him off. His phone, when he checked it after getting back in the car, showed him Kit’s name on multiple missed calls and text messages. She had to be worried since he should’ve been home hours ago.

Feeling like a shit, he sent her a text message: I’m fine. Don’t wait up.

He switched off the phone after sending it so she couldn’t call him. He couldn’t talk to Kit right now. He felt filthy, dirty, ugly, just as he’d felt when he’d been a boy the same age as the boy he’d seen on the crosswalk. That wasn’t what had set him off, however. No, he’d finally realized the reason for his insanity—the man’s shirt.

It was the exact same shirt the bastard had worn the day it began.

He hadn’t realized the pattern was burned into his memory, not until today.

After drinking the rest of the water, he threw the empty bottle on the passenger seat and started up the engine.

Once again, he didn’t know where he was going; he just needed to drive. But when he ended up in the parking lot of a strip joint splattered with graffiti, the garish neon lights flashing on his windshield, it wasn’t a surprise. This was where he fit, a place where no one would expect him to be a better man.

He had no right to someone like Kit, no right to touch her, hold her. He’d ruin her. Better he stay in the darkness.

Switching off his engine, he opened the car door.

Chapter 40

Kit had gone from worry to panic to fury in the space of the past few hours. When Noah didn’t make it home by the time he should have, she’d figured he and David must’ve ended up hanging out. She hadn’t started to really worry until he was an hour late. That’s when she’d sent the first text message, to no response.

Feeling fear walk cold fingers up her spine, the memory of the incident with Becca yet fresh in her mind, she’d called David, discovered that Noah had left the gym long ago. She’d tried to be logical, to not panic as she called and messaged him, but had just started thinking she needed to check the hospitals when she received his response.

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