Parker stepped to the side as she did, staying between her and the door. Exasperation spiked, but so did a little burst of panic. They’d been in this situation before.

This was just what she needed to end her first week here. Obnoxious, and unfortunately, the friendlier Harrington sibling.

“When Sabrina mentioned you were now working for the de Vincents, I almost didn’t believe it.” He smiled, flashing ultra-bright and ultra-straight white teeth. “But here you are.”

She sighed heavily. “Yes. Here I am. And I’m pretty busy—”

“Come on, Nikki. It’s been forever since we’ve seen each other.” He dropped a heavy hand on her shoulder. “Let’s reconnect.”

Her lips turned down at the corners as she stepped back, out of his reach. “We never connected to reconnect.”

Parker let out a low laugh. “That’s not exactly true.”

She sucked in a shrill breath, somewhat shocked that he would even think about bringing up what he surely was. “That was not a connection. That was you being—”

“Being what? Trying to be nice and friendly when you were always a bit of a stuck-up bitch?”

Nikki’s eyebrows practically landed in her hairline. “I was the stuck-up bitch?” Had he met his sister? Looked in the mirror recently?

“Yeah.” He was still smiling, but his eyes weren’t warm. They were just like his sister’s. “I remember trying to get to know you better when you were here, waiting for that housekeeper to get off.”

“That housekeeper is my mom,” she retorted. “And I don’t think we have the same idea of getting to know one another.”

They definitely didn’t. He’d cornered her once, when she was seventeen. It had been one particularly hot July afternoon. The boys, namely Devlin, were home and they’d had friends with them. She’d headed inside the pool house to change since she’d been wading around the shallow end and Parker had walked in on her while she had nothing on but a towel. Instead of immediately running from the pool house like any decent guy would, he’d gotten close to her, too close.

And he . . .

Nikki’s mouth dried.

Parker had scared her, and if it hadn’t been for Lucian coming in to grab a towel, Nikki knew she would’ve been more than scared. Of course, Parker had played the whole thing off. That he hadn’t known Nikki was in there, and why wouldn’t Lucian believe him? Nikki hadn’t said anything, even though she wanted to badly.

And Parker knew why she hadn’t.

“Oh, I’m sure we have the same idea of getting to know each other better.” He blocked her again, but this time he stepped forward. “Same way you wanted to get to know Gabe.”

Nikki’s back hit the pool table. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Really?” Parker laughed as he leaned in, placing one hand on the pool table next to her. Every muscle in her body locked up. Gabe had done a similar thing in the kitchen on Monday, but it was nothing like this. “You were like a cat in heat whenever Gabe came around. I doubt that’s changed.”

Her mouth dropped open. Her tongue burned to let loose on him, but she held back. Ha. A total adult move that she thought she deserved a beignet for later. It didn’t matter if what he said was true or not. Denying it or arguing with him would only prolong this conversation. “I have work to do, Parker.”

“I know.” He shifted his hips, placing his other hand on the pool table. “What are you doing later?”

Now her jaw hit the floor. “Are you serious?”

“What do you think?”

“You’re asking me out?”

Parker dipped his chin, forcing her to lean back as far as her spine would allow her. His hair didn’t even move. Just like his sister’s. “You can come check out my place. Got a new penthouse over at Woodward. I think you’ll like it.”

For several seconds, Nikki couldn’t even think, but then she let out a loud laugh. “You’re not asking me out to dinner, but to go ‘check out’ your penthouse?”

“Yeah.” The smile started to fade from his face. “Why would I ask you out to dinner?”

“Oh my God.” She laughed again, out of shock. He couldn’t be real. Wow. His offer was so dumb and trashy, she couldn’t even be offended.

A throat cleared. “Am I interrupting?”

Oh God.

Nikki snapped her mouth shut as Parker briefly closed his eyes. A weird tremor coursed through him. Pushing away from the pool table, away from her, he turned around. “Hey, Gabe.” His tone was light. “I didn’t know you were home. Would’ve swung upstairs and said hi.”

Her gaze collided with Gabe’s. He was looking at them like he was ten seconds away from throwing one or both of them out of the house.

“What are you doing in here, Parker?” Gabe’s jaw was so hard it could crack granite.

Parker grinned. “I was going to see Devlin, but then I saw Nikki and had to say hi. Hell, I haven’t seen this girl in four years. Crazy.”

Drawing in a deep breath through her nose, she crossed her arms. “He was just leaving,” she said.

“Good to hear,” Gabe replied, widening his stance. Her gaze dropped, and yep, his bare feet poked out from the hem of his jeans.

Parker looked over his shoulder at her. “Don’t forget about my offer. It’s always open.”

Nikki didn’t get the chance to tell him that she was about as interested in seeing his penthouse as she would be in swimming in one of the swamps nearby. He was already walking past Gabe.

He nodded at the de Vincent brother. “I’ll see myself out.”

Detecting a bit of tension there, Nikki remained quiet and then Gabe and she were alone for the first time since he bandaged up her arm.

Was he going to ask her to get water?

A giggle tickled its way up her throat, but the look on Gabe’s face as he eyed her from where he stood by the bar told her that would not be wise.

Oh boy.

Stepping away from the pool table, she said, “I need to get started on dinner.”

“What you need to do is stay away from Parker Harrington.”

Disbelief thundered through Nikki. She stopped and turned to Gabe. “I wasn’t planning to be near him.”

His eyes were sharp. “That’s not what it looked like to me.”

“I don’t know what it looked like to you, but he came in here while I was cleaning up. I didn’t search him out.”

“Looked like to me, you two were getting reacquainted with one another.”

Nikki’s head was about to explode. “Then you were seeing wrong.”

He didn’t appear to believe her. “Parker’s only going to want one thing from you, Nic. And it isn’t going to be a relationship.”

“No shit,” she said, and then laughed again, because this conversation was ridiculous for several reasons. If he knew what Parker really was like, he wouldn’t be even suggesting that.

Then again, maybe he wouldn’t care, all things considered.

He stared at her as he stepped forward. She held her ground. “And that’s good enough for you? To be a quick fuck to be thrown away, because people like Parker only get with people like the Harrington family. Everyone else is disposal to them.”

Several seconds passed before she could even work out what he was saying and when she did, she all but exploded. She didn’t care that Gabe hated her, but she wasn’t going to stand here and be lectured over Parker Harrington. “First off, let me make this clear. I have absolutely no interest in Parker and let me explain this again to you, Gabe. I was in here doing my job and he came in here. I cannot stand him. Trust me.”

Nothing about Gabe’s face softened.

“Secondly, I don’t know if you don’t realize this or not, but when I think of ‘people like the Harringtons,’ I think of the de Vincents.”

“We are nothing like them,” he growled. “And you damn well know that.”

“Devlin is marrying one of them,” she pointed out.

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