Kit frowned. “Why are you always so hard on your mom?” He didn’t get along with his father, but he always seemed far angrier at his mother.
A faint smile that wasn’t a smile at all. “Because I’m an entitled brat.”
“Katie,” he said in the same tone. “Forget about my fucked-up relationship with my parents—it’s a hellhole of no return.”
“What about Emily? Will she be there?”
“No, she’s away at school.” A real smile at the mention of his sister. “My aunt Margaret, the one who’s spearheading this gala, is my father’s much younger sister. She lived with us when I was a child.” Shadows darkened his eyes. “Margaret didn’t want them to send me to boarding school, but she was only a kid then, still in high school, so she couldn’t stop them.”
The smile returned before she could say anything.
“But that worked out all right—met Fox my first day at the school.” He ran his hand through his hair, messing up the neat strands and exposing a hint of the song lyrics tattooed on his inner wrist. “Aunt Margaret used to visit me once she was in college and could come down without my parents knowing. After she went to Europe for her postgrad, she sent me postcards and letters, presents for no reason.”
A pause, his next words quiet. “She got sick soon after that, was in the hospital for a long time. My parents wouldn’t let me visit except during official school vacations, so we didn’t have as much contact when I was a teenager, but she never forgot me.”
As his parents had forgotten him, Kit completed silently, hurting for the gifted, lonely boy become a rebellious teenager. Making the conscious decision to follow a happier thread, she said, “How did you and Fox end up roommates?”
“The school was full of rich kids,” he told her, not seeming to realize he was brushing his fingers over her nape.
Kit let it go rather than turning it into a big deal, though it was causing goose bumps up and down her body.
“It was exclusive and out in the middle of nowhere,” Noah continued, “lots of trees and playing fields. But they had this policy that no matter who your parents or grandparents were, you had to share a room.”
“Some parents must’ve complained.”
“Sure, but the school wouldn’t budge, and it had serious high-powered parental support. In the end, most people came around, because the school pitched it as networking from an early age.”
Laughing, he shook his head. “I used to say bullshit until Abe pointed out how many of our schoolmates are now in politics, law, other positions of power. I kid you not, one of the kids I used to get into trouble with doing illegal experiments in chemistry is now a head honcho at the NSA—we had a drink last time he was in town.”
“Talk about contacts!” Kit said with a shake of her head.
Noah’s fingers slid across her sensitive skin again, and at last he seemed to notice what he was doing. His eyes locked with hers, her breath held in her lungs, the moment full of so many words unspoken that it was a crushing pressure in the air. “Fox and you,” she prompted softly, because those words had to remain unspoken.
For her own sanity. For the friendship Noah needed.
Jaw a harsh line, he said, “I’d never shared with anyone, and Fox grew up with his grandparents, without any brothers and sisters, so we walk in and sit on our beds, staring at each other.” Noah could remember the knot in his stomach, the sour taste in his mouth, the cold fingers crawling down his back.
The idea of having to sleep in a room with a stranger, even if that stranger was a boy as small as him, a boy with green eyes and dark brown hair, had almost been enough to thrust Noah into panicked shock. “Then,” he continued, “Fox says, ‘Did you see we have a pet spider?’”
Kit’s shudder was so girlish he smiled. “A pet spider?”
“It was this huge black thing with skinny legs in one corner of the room. We spent an hour watching it spin its web, and we were cool after that.” It had been that simple, and yet not. Because that night Noah had a nightmare that left him huddled in another corner, shivering so hard his teeth had clattered against each other; Fox had come over and sat with him, bringing a blanket to cover them both.
That was the moment that had bonded them forever.
It wasn’t until he was much older that Noah understood Fox’s courage in making the first move by speaking about the spider. Unlike Noah, Fox didn’t come from wealth. He’d been dumped at the school because no one wanted him, the school’s wealthy environs unfamiliar and scary.