“Can’t blame her after the way Carina flirted with Fox in that interview. But man, the woman has a voice.”

“Do I get any of those cupcakes?” he asked when she reached for a third one after eating the second one with infinite care. He loved that habit of hers—she’d inhale the first one, then nibble at the rest.

“Hmm.” She counted the remaining cupcakes with an ostentatious concentration that made him want to kiss her.

Fuck. He could not be having those thoughts about Kit.

“Well, since you were smart enough to get a twelve-pack,” she said, her tone serious, “I suppose I can spare a couple.”

Ripping off the wrapper after she handed him one, he ate the whole thing in a single bite. “Cheapest gift I ever bought.” He tried to stare at the stream, but it was impossible not to look at her when her absence had been a hole inside him nothing could fill.

“So cheap yet so delish.” Licking at the frosting, she picked up her coffee and took a cautious sip. “Not bad for something that’s been in the cottage for so long.”

“Makes you wonder what chemicals are in it, doesn’t it?” He took a second cupcake. “Just like I wonder what’s in these cupcakes—you know they don’t expire for months, right?”

“I don’t care. Not when they taste this good.” Fourth cupcake finished, she rested by drinking more coffee. “So, the tour was successful?”

“Yeah, it was good.” Schoolboy Choir had sold out shows across the country, added extra dates. “Glad to be home though.”

Hands cupped around her coffee mug, Kit said, “You have any specific plans for the new album, or are you just going to jam and figure it out?”

“We want to stretch ourselves.” It was time to go back to their roots, dig for the music that made their souls burn.

Frowning in concentration, Kit turned her body toward him. “A change in direction?”

“No, just… growing.” It was the one way in which Noah could grow. Music had always been his freedom, perhaps because he’d found it afterward. There was no taint to it. “Did you know Fox and I started to learn music together?”

Pure delight in Kit’s smile. “At boarding school?”

“Yeah. It was the one class in which we always behaved. Mr. Denison was convinced the other teachers were making up lies about us being troublemakers.” He chuckled. “We send him tickets to our concerts when we pass through Houston—that’s where he lives now—and damn if he doesn’t always attend.”

Sitting cross-legged on the picnic blanket, Kit peeled the wrapper off a cupcake and gave it to him before taking one for herself. “He must be proud of you.”

“I think he is.” Far prouder than either one of Noah’s parents. “Last time he came backstage, he brought his wife and told her how Fox and I were the only two students he’d had who wanted to learn to read music so much that we used to haunt his office.”

“You didn’t meet Abe and David till later, right? When you were thirteen? I think I remember David saying something like that once.”

Noah nodded. “Yep.” Unlike Fox and Noah, David and Abe had families who loved them. They hadn’t been shipped off and forgotten… or hidden.

In Abe’s family, boarding school was a proud tradition; his folks had come to see him every visitation weekend, had taken him home each vacation.

David’s folks hadn’t been able to visit that often—Alicia and Vicente Rivera hadn’t had the funds for it. But David had received the best care packages, full of home-baked goodies, a letter, and articles his family had clipped for him from neighborhood papers. Those care packages had grown bigger after the four of them became friends, Mrs. Rivera including enough for Noah, Abe, and Fox as well.

She’d even written them all.

If Noah’d had a choice, he’d have gone home with Abe or David come vacation time. Either one of his friends’ families would’ve opened their doors to him and Fox. But he hadn’t had a choice. Noah’s father couldn’t stand to look at him, but he wasn’t about to be accused of neglect. So Noah had to go home.

The only thing that had made it bearable was having Fox with him—his friend would’ve rather gone to David’s or Abe’s too, but he’d always said he wanted to go home with Noah.

Noah would never forget that act of loyalty.

“Did you like boarding school?” Kit’s husky voice cut through the memories.

“It was better than home.” Kit knew he had a dysfunctional relationship with his mother and father. “That was how I thought of it at first, but after a while, yeah, I did enjoy it. Mostly because of the friendships.” Quite frankly, he wouldn’t have made it the first month, much less the first year, without Fox.

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