Hands suddenly grabbed her arms. An arm circled her waist. There was a powerful pushing motion and then she shot straight up. Her head broke the surface. Rain pelted her face as she opened her mouth anyway, trying to get air, but all she could do was cough and spit up water.

Someone dragged her through the pool to the side and then another pair of hands was there, grabbing her and lifting her up out of the water. She fell to her knees, gagging as water splashed up beside her. Arms went around her waist again, lifting her. The world spun as she felt herself being carried under the veranda. Laid down gently, she was immediately rolled onto her side.

A strong whack hit along her back. “Come on, Nic. Spit it up. Come on. Get the water out, Nic.”

She recognized the voice—knew who it belonged to because only one person called her Nic, but the water was coming up and out as she wheezed and spit out what felt like an ocean’s worth of water.

“There you go.” The hand on her back was rubbing her now, no longer single-handedly beating the water out of her lungs. “That’s it.”

Finally able to breathe without choking, Nikki rolled onto her back and found herself staring up into eyes that were the color of the sea off the coast, an endless blue-green.

Gabe.

“You okay?” he asked, concern filling those beautiful eyes with every passing second she was quiet. “You’re starting to worry me, sweetheart.”

Sweetheart?

He’d never called her sweetheart before.

Over his shoulder, Lucian leaned in. “Did she hit her head?”

Someone cussed, causing her to flinch.

“Dev,” Lucian sighed, looking behind him at where she guessed Devlin loomed.

Gabe was still staring at her, his hand on her shoulder, and she knew she needed to say something before they went and got her parents. “I . . . I didn’t hit my head.”

Relief filled Gabe’s face. “Thank God.” His shoulders lowered, and it was then when she realized his white shirt was soaked and plastered to his skin. There were all kinds of interesting dips and planes under that shirt. “You scared the hell out of me, Nic.”

Then the reality of what just happened struck her.

Gabe saved her.

Oh my God, he actually saved her from drowning!

He smiled down at her as he shook his head, sending wet strands of hair into his face. “You’re okay, right?”

She nodded, thinking she should probably sit up. “You saved me.”

That smile grew. “Does that make me your hero?”

“Yes,” she whispered and then nodded just in case he doubted her. It totally made him her hero.

Gabe chuckled.

“Jesus,” Devlin grunted, crossing his arms as he moved into her line of sight. “That would be the last thing we need. Her drowning herself in the damn pool. What are you even doing in here? This isn’t your pool or your house to use as a damn playground.”

Her eyes widened. Tears burned the back of her throat as she shrunk back against the hot stone. He would say something to her parents—to his father. Then her parents would get yelled at.

Gabe’s head whipped around. “Devlin.”

“The little idiot can’t even swim,” Devlin shot back, and against her will, she felt tears crawling up her throat. She wasn’t an idiot, but he was right. She couldn’t even swim. “Christ,” he muttered. “Livie and Richard know better than to let her run around like a brat when Father—”

“That’s enough. Seriously.” Gabe let go of her shoulder as he twisted toward his older brother. “It was an accident. It’s over. Nic’s fine. So shut up or go somewhere. I don’t care where as long as it’s anywhere but here.”

Lucian’s brows flew up and he looked like he was seconds away from bursting into laughter as Nikki sucked in a gasp. She’d never, ever heard Gabe speak to Devlin like that.

No one spoke to Devlin like that.

Gabe turned back to her, his shoulders tense. “I guess I’m going to have to teach you how to swim, aren’t I?”

It happened.

Right then and there, it happened.

Nicolette Besson fell head over heels in love and she knew, just knew in her heart of hearts, that one day she’d marry Gabriel de Vincent and they’d live happily ever after.

She would be his.

Because he was already hers.

Chapter 1

Six years later . . .

It took every ounce of self-control for Gabriel de Vincent to stand back and do nothing. Just stand there and watch him being led away, but that’s what he had to do, because that’s what he’d promised and Gabe tried to be a man of his word.

Sometimes he failed at that. Failed at that in ways that haunted him late at night, but he wouldn’t go back on this.

He’d promised them three uninterrupted months.

That’s what he was going to give them.

His jaw ached from how hard he was clenching it as the Rothchilds walked back into the restaurant. He didn’t take his eyes off them, not until he couldn’t see them anymore. Only then did he look at the slip of paper.

Looking down at the drawing of a puppy on a piece of blue construction paper, he felt the worst mix of emotions. Sadness. Pride. Helplessness. Hope. Fury that he’d never tasted before. He had no idea how one person could feel all of that at once, but he did.

A wry smile tugged at his lips. There was definitely talent in the drawing. Real skill. The de Vincent knack for the arts was still kicking around, it seemed.

His gaze flickered over what was written in a blockish handwriting. He’d already read it three times, but couldn’t bear to read it a fourth time. Not right now. He didn’t want to fold the paper and create creases in it, so he was careful as he carried it back to where he was parked.

“Gabriel de Vincent.”

Frowning at the vaguely familiar voice, he turned around. A man stepped out from behind a truck. Dark, square sunglasses shielded half the man’s face, but Gabe recognized him.

He sighed. “Ross Haid. To what do I owe the honor of seeing you in Baton Rouge?”

The reporter for the Advocate gave one of what Gabe assumed was a trademark half grin, the kind that probably got him into places and events he sure as hell didn’t belong in. “Headquarters are here. You know that.”

“Yeah, but you work out of the New Orleans office, Ross.”

He shrugged a shoulder as he neared Gabe. “I had to come up to headquarters. Heard through the grapevine that a de Vincent was in town.”

“Uh-huh.” Not for one second did Gabe believe that. “And you just happened to hear that I was at this restaurant?”

The smile kicked up a notch as he ran a hand over his blond hair. “Nah. Seeing you here was just luck.”

Bullshit. Ross had been sniffing after his family for about two months now, trying to get to one of them when they were out at dinner or at an event, showing up at nearly every damn function one of them was attending. But back home, in New Orleans, Ross had trouble getting near them. Well, he had trouble getting to the one he really wanted to talk to, which was Gabe’s older brother.

Didn’t require any leap of logic to figure out what was going on. Somehow Ross had heard that Gabe was here, and that’s why Ross conveniently ended up here. Normally he could tolerate Ross’s incessant questioning. Hell, he sort of liked the guy, appreciated his determination, but not when Ross was here and something he didn’t want a reporter finding out mere feet away.

Lowering his sunglasses, Ross eyed Gabe’s ride. “Nice car. Is it one of the new Porsche 911s?”

Gabe raised his brows.

“Family business must be going well. Then again, the family business is always going strong, isn’t it? The de Vincents are old money. The one percent of the one percent.”

Gabe’s family was one of the oldest, linked all the way back to the days the great state of Louisiana was being created. Now they owned the most profitable oil refineries in the Gulf, coveted real estate all around the world, tech firms, and once his older brother married, they’d be in control of one of the largest shipping industries in the world. So, yeah, the de Vincents were wealthy, but the car and nearly everything Gabe owned, he bought it with the money he worked for. Not the money he was born with.

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