“I see some things never change.” The senator’s tone was dry. “You’re still incapable of not making noise.”

Sharp tingles spread across her neck as her head whipped around toward him. That was something Lawrence always said to her. Not the senator. She’d only ever been able to tell them apart when they’d been together. The senator never paid any mind to her while Lawrence was pretty much always scowling at her.

Senator de Vincent arched a brow. “Can I help you?”

“No.” She blinked. “Sorry.” She straightened and backed off. “And I’m sorry to hear about your brother.”

A faint, tight smile crossed the senator’s face. “Thank you.”

She glanced back at Devlin who was staring at her curiously. “Is there anything else you need?”

“No,” Devlin said quickly. “Thank you, Nikki.”

Nodding, she got out of there as fast as possible, her thoughts racing. The Harrington family was having financial issues? Parker had an allowance? That made her want to laugh. And what the hell was up with the whole chief of police thing? She had no idea, but she’d heard about the missing intern, because there’d been no escaping that news. It had been plastered everywhere about a year or so ago.

Her disappearance had been super suspicious and mysterious. From what Nikki could remember, it was like the intern vanished into thin air. Her purse, along with her car keys and ID, had been found in her apartment. Her car was in the driveway. No prints. No leads. Nothing except the rumored relationship between her and Stefan de Vincent.

The curse strikes yet again.

Lord help her, but the de Vincents were bananas. All of them. Back out in the hallway, she started for the outdoor stairway. Nikki had just made it to the porch, about to round a corner, when a woman suddenly appeared in front of her.

Startled, Nikki gasped and stepped back, nearly dropping the tray. It was then when she realized that she was supposed to leave the tray behind to clean once Devlin was done with his meeting. She really sucked at this, but none of that mattered at the moment.

A tall and curvy brunette stood there, wearing a pretty dress that flowed to the straps on her flats and had super-cute fluttery sleeves. Her dark brown hair was loose, falling around a gorgeous face.

“Oh!” the woman exclaimed. “I’m sorry. I scared you!” She laughed, her warm brown eyes dancing. “And in this house, you don’t need any additional reasons to be startled.”

It clicked who she was. “Julia?”

“That’s me.” A wide, welcoming smile graced her lips. “And you must be Nikki? Well, I know you’re Nikki. I just saw your father and he said you were upstairs, so I planned on waiting in the hall, but here you are.”

Nikki lowered the tray, finding herself grinning. So this was Lucian’s girlfriend? She looked nothing like Sabrina nor did she act like her, so she already got a ton of bonus points just for that reason.

“It’s nice to finally meet you.” Nikki stuck out her hand.

Julia shook it. “You heading back to the kitchen? I’ll walk with you.”

They fell into step. “So, did you guys just get back? I haven’t seen Lucian yet.”

“We got back Saturday evening, but Lucian is around here somewhere. This house is crazy,” Julia said. “An entire family of five could live here and you’d never cross paths with them.”

Nikki laughed. “It is. When I was little, I used to get lost in here.” As soon as she said it, she realized that Julia might not know exactly who she was. “My parents are—”

“Livie and Richard.” She tucked her hair back from her face. “I know. Lucian told me who you were. You kind of grew up in this house.”

Relieved that she wasn’t going to have to give a complete rundown, she nodded. “I was here mostly during the summers and sometimes after school in the afternoons. Childcare was just too expensive.”

“Isn’t it, though? I don’t have kids. Never have, but when I used to work back home, some of the parents would spend at least half of their paycheck on childcare. It’s insane.” There was a pause. “It’s nice that you were allowed to come here.”

They reached the main-floor entrance. Julia opened the door, waiting for her.

“Yeah, I think even my parents were surprised that Mr. de Vincent was okay with it, but he was.” Nikki pursed her lips as a rush of cool air greeted them. “As long as I was quiet.”

Julia giggled. “I never met him, but . . .”

“He was not . . . the nicest man,” Nikki said quietly, thinking of the senator upstairs.

“That’s what I figured. Lucian doesn’t . . .” Her expression darkened, and Nikki recalled what her mom had told her about Daniel, the de Vincents’ cousin. “Well, these boys didn’t seem to have much of a mother or a father.”

They’d stopped in the back hallway. “They didn’t.”

“Which reminds me.” Her expression smoothed out. “How is your mother doing?”

“Good. She’s a little worn down, but she’s doing great.”

They started walking again, toward the kitchen. “I’m glad to hear that. Your mother is great.”

“She really is.”

“I heard about what happened yesterday with you and Gabe,” Julia said. “Thank God neither of you were hurt. It’s just all so bizarre when you think about it.”

“Bizarre things happen whenever you’re around them . . .” Nikki trailed off when they entered the kitchen through the back entrance. It wasn’t empty.

The remaining de Vincent brothers were at the island. Lucian had his back to her, but Gabe was facing the entrance. His hair was loose, hanging forward and brushing the chiseled line of his jaw as he grinned at whatever Lucian was saying or doing.

Her stomach clenched when Gabe looked up. It was like he sensed her or something, because his gaze immediately found her. She hadn’t seen him since yesterday, and she had no idea what to expect from him.

One side of his lips kicked up as he straightened from where he was leaning on the island. He smiled—wasn’t a big one, but it was a real one, and her heart threw itself against her ribs in elation.

Nikki let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding and smiled back.

“Hey . . .” Lucian turned at the waist. He only had eyes for Julia as he rose from the barstool and crossed the room. He picked up Julia, causing her to squeak as he spun her around. “I missed you, woman.”

Nikki felt her mouth drop as she watched them. There was a part of her that thrilled that they were so obviously in love, but the other half was shocked that it was Lucian.

The man had a reputation. . . .

Julia laughed as he buried his head in her hair. “You literally saw me about thirty minutes ago.”

“Still missed you.” Setting her down, he kissed her cheek and then smacked her rear before turning to Nikki. “Well, isn’t it Little Nikki, back from college, and all grown up.”

She rolled her eyes as she placed the tray on the counter. “Hi, Lucian.”

He chuckled as he walked over to her, giving her a less enthused greeting, but a nice one nonetheless. “How have you been?”

“Good. You?” She peeked around Lucian at Gabe, who was watching them.

“You know, nothing’s really changed. Just living a life of leisure with my woman.” Lucian turned, winking when Julia made a noise. “Do I detect a sarcastic snort from you?”

Julia sat on the stool, tucking her feet on the bottom rail. “Possibly.”

“My heart.” He placed a hand on his chest. “You wound me.”

“Whatever.” Julia grinned across the island at Gabe. “I don’t know how you’ve managed to deal with him all these years. He’s so needy.”

Gabe smirked. “I’ve learned to block him out. It’s a skill you’re going to need to work on if you want to make this long term.”

His brother flipped him off. “That’s rude.”

Lifting a shrug, Gabe walked away from the island. Those sea-green eyes focused on her. “How’s your Monday been?”


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