Noah unclenched his jaw. “You feel strongly about it.” Good. So did he.

She took a long time to reply, her face pensive when he glanced over. “I love my mom, and I think she has the right to showcase her body any way she chooses.” The last words were soft and fierce both. “But… when I was in junior high, boys in my grade were ogling the nude spread she did at forty-five. It was the ‘Mrs. Robinson’ issue, and it spread through the male population of the school like wildfire.”

Noah suddenly realized he’d seen that spread; every man of a certain age probably had. He was fairly certain one of the boys in his class had tacked it up on the back of the door to the gym locker room.

Feeling a little ill, he shook his head. “Hell, Katie.” The affectionate term just slipped out, but lost in her memories, Kit didn’t seem to notice.

“It wasn’t the first time—she’d done spreads when she was younger, but I wasn’t old enough to be bothered by it then.” She reached up to fix her headphones. “I wasn’t ashamed of her. I think she’s the most astonishingly gorgeous woman I know, and I admire her confidence.” Love and pride entwined. “It was just weird and uncomfortable to know that the boy I sat next to in math class, or the boy who was my crush, would probably go home to jerk off to pictures of my mom.”

“They use it against you?” Noah asked, furious at the thought of her being bullied.

Hugging herself, she rubbed her hands up and down her arms. “A few snotty remarks, the odd snigger, one dipwad plastering my locker with the spread, but that was it. My classmates were all from prominent entertainment or sports families, so my mom was hardly the first parent to be in the media.

“Drugs, cheating, white-collar crime, public drunkenness, you name it, one of the parents had been busted for it.” She blew out a breath. “But it mattered to me. I want to have children, Noah, and I don’t want any child of mine to ever be put in the position of knowing other kids are passing around naked photos of Mom.”

“I get it,” Noah said, awed by her strength. If that had been him he’d probably have spent his entire school life bloodying noses and breaking jaws. “Good thing you weren’t a boy.”

“I should call you a sexist pig for saying that, but in this case you’re right. Can you imagine going over to a friend’s house and finding nude photos of your mom pinned to the walls?”

Noah shuddered, skin crawling. “Thank God I’m never going to be a father—some of the shit I’ve pulled is insane.” He’d been photographed in bed with three half-naked women for Christ’s sake. It had been for a magazine editorial, but still. “How the hell would I ever explain any of it to a son or a daughter?”

Kit shifted in her seat to face him. “What do you mean you’re never going to be a father?” A pause. “I’m sorry—that was insensitive.”

“No, it’s all right—it’s not medical. I just know I won’t make a good father, so I’m not going to saddle some poor kid with Noah St. John as a dad.”

Regardless of his mood or the demons in his head, he was always very, very careful. The one time he’d had a scare, it hadn’t been because he’d fallen down on the job but because the condom had torn. Thankfully, the groupie he’d been screwing at the time had been on the pill, so he’d dodged that bullet.

He’d put a private eye on her to make damn certain, because if he had fucked up and fathered a kid, he’d have taken responsibility—financially at least. “I’m actually thinking of getting it taken care of permanently.”

“What?” Open shock. “Noah, you can’t do that. What if you change your mind?”

“I’m not a good bet as a father, Kit. You know that.” He met her dismayed gaze. “Would you want me as the father of your child?”

Her face froze. Not saying a word, she turned to stare out the window.

It felt like a punch to the solar plexus. “Exactly,” he said quietly.

But Kit didn’t stay silent. “You could be a great father,” she said without warning. “It’d involve trying and working hard and being accountable rather than burying yourself in whatever hell it is that makes you so angry.” Her words vibrated with emotion.

The bones in his jaw grinding against one another, he didn’t respond.

“You have to make a choice, Noah.” Harsh words. “I made a choice as a child to not let my parents’ lifestyle damage me to the extent that I ended up a druggie or a self-destructive waste of space. Whatever it is that’s behind your behavior, you made the opposite choice.”

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