“Some say that your family has so much money that the de Vincents are above the law.” Ross straightened his sunglasses. “Seems that way.”

Gabe really didn’t have time for this. “Whatever you want to say, can you stop beating around the damn bush and get to it? I’m planning to head home sometime in the next year.”

The reporter’s smile faded. “Since you’re here and I’m here, and it’s damn hard to talk to you all any other time. I want to chat about your father’s death.”

“I’m sure you do.”

“I don’t believe it was a suicide,” Ross continued. “And I find it also convenient that Chief Cobbs, who openly and publicly wanted your father’s death investigated as a homicide, ended up dead in a freak car accident.”

“Is that right?”

Frustration hummed off Ross about as loud as the damn locusts. “Is that all you got to say to me about this?”

“Pretty much.” Gabe grinned then. “That and you have an overactive imagination, but I’m sure you’ve heard that before.”

“I don’t think my imagination is nearly vast enough to compete with all the things the de Vincents have had their hands in.”

Probably not.

“Okay, I won’t ask you about your father or the chief.” Ross shifted his weight as Gabe opened his driver’s door. “Also heard some interesting rumors about some of the staff at the de Vincent compound.”

“I’m starting to feel like you might be stalking us.” Gabe placed the drawing facedown on the passenger’s seat. “If you want to talk about staffing, then you need to have a chat with Dev.”

“Devlin won’t make time to talk to me.”

“That doesn’t sound like my problem.”

“It seems like it is now.”

Gabe laughed, but the sound was without humor as he reached inside, grabbing his sunglasses off the visor. “Trust me, Ross, this isn’t my problem.”

“You may not think so now, but that’ll change.” A muscle twitched along the man’s jaw. “I plan to blow the roof off every single damn secret the de Vincents have been keeping for years. I’m going to do a story that not even your family can pay to keep quiet.”

Shaking his head, Gabe slipped his sunglasses on. “I like you, Ross. You know I’ve never had a problem with you. So, I just want to get that out of the way. But you have got to come up with some better material, because that was cliché as shit.” He rested his hand on the frame of the car door. “You’ve got to know you’re not the first reporter to come around thinking they’re somehow going to dig some skeletons out of our closets and expose us for whatever the hell you think we are. You’re not going to be the last to fail.”

“I don’t fail,” Ross said. “Not ever.”

“Everyone fails.” Gabe climbed in behind the wheel.

“Except the de Vincents?”

“You said it, not me.” Gabe looked up at the reporter. “Some unasked-for advice? I’d find another story to investigate.”

“Is this where you’re going to tell me to be careful?” He sounded oddly gleeful by the prospect. “Warn me off? Because people who mess with the de Vincents end up missing or worse?”

Gabe smirked as he hit the ignition key. “Doesn’t sound like I need to tell you that. Seems like you already know what happens.”

Nikki stood in the center of the quiet and sterile kitchen of the de Vincent mansion, telling herself that she was not the same little idiot that almost drowned herself out in the pool six years ago.

She sure as hell wasn’t the same idiot who had spent years making an utter fool out of herself, chasing after a grown man. An act, which resulted in one of the worst ideas she’d ever had in the history of bad ideas.

And Nikki had a remarkable history of making not the brightest of all decisions. Her dad said she had a bit of a wild streak in her, taking after Pappy, but Nikki liked to blame the de Vincents for the recklessness. They had this really bizarre talent of making everyone around them stick one toe into Recklessville.

Her mother claimed that most of Nikki’s bad decisions came from having a good heart.

Nikki had the habit of picking up strays—stray cats, dogs, a lizard here and there, even a snake, and humans, too. She was a bleeding heart, hating to see anyone she cared about in pain, and she was oftentimes a bit overly affected by the troubles of strangers.

It was why she avoided the TV around the holidays, because they always played those heart-wrenching videos of freezing animals or children left to starve in war-torn countries. She hated everything about New Year’s Eve because of that and spent the week between Christmas and the first of January moping around.

There was a lot of Nikki that was the same as she was the last time she walked through this house. She still got emotionally invested in animals that didn’t belong to her—that was why she volunteered at the local animal shelter. She still couldn’t turn away from someone who needed help, and she still found herself in weird situations, but reckless? Wild?

Not anymore.

Not since the last time she’d been in the house, right before she left for college. That had been four years ago and now she was back, and nothing and everything had changed.

“You okay, hon?” her father asked.

Turning to find her father standing just inside the large kitchen, she pulled herself out of her thoughts and smiled widely for him. Goodness, her dad was starting to look his age, and that scared her—truly terrified her. Her parents had her late in life, but she was only twenty-two, and she wanted another fifty years or so with them.

Nikki knew that wasn’t going to happen.

Especially now.

She forced those thoughts from her head. “Yes. I’m just . . . it’s weird being in here after being gone so long. The kitchen is different.”

“It was remodeled a few years back,” he replied. The mansion was constantly being remodeled, it seemed. After all, how many times had this place caught fire since it was built? Nikki had lost count. Her father drew in a deep breath, and the lines around his mouth became more pronounced. He looked so tired. “I don’t know if I’ve said this to you or not, but thank you.”

She waved him off. “You don’t need to thank me, Dad.”

“Yeah, I do.” He walked over to where she stood. “You went away to college to do something better than this—better than cooking dinners and running a household. To become something better.”

Offended on his behalf, she crossed her arms and met his weary gaze. “There’s nothing wrong with cooking dinners and running a household. It’s good, honest work. Work that put me through college. Right, Dad?”

“We take great pride in our job. Don’t get me wrong, but what your mother and I did all these years was so you could do something else.” He sighed. “So, it means a lot that you would come home to help us out, Nicolette.”

Only her dad and mom called her by her full name. Everyone else called her Nikki. Everyone except a certain de Vincent who shall remain nameless. He and only he called her Nic.

Her parents had worked for the de Vincents, one of the wealthiest families in the States and possibly the world, since long before she was born. It was weird growing up in this house, being privy to a lot of strange stuff—things the public had no idea about and would probably pay a large sum of money to learn. And personally? It was like she had a foot in two different worlds, one absurdly wealthy and the other middle working class.

Her father was basically a butler, except she always had a small suspicion that her father had . . . taken care of things for the de Vincents that no normal butler did. Her mother ran the day-to-day functions of the house and prepared the dinners. Both her parents loved working for the family and she knew both had planned to continue to the day they died, but her mom . . .

Nikki’s chest squeezed painfully. Her mom was not well and it had happened so fast, coming out of nowhere. The dreaded C word.

“Honestly, this is perfect. I got my degree and this will give me time to figure things out.” In other words, figure out what the hell she wanted to really do with her life. Get to work or go for her master’s? She wasn’t sure yet. “And I want to be here while Mom is going through everything.”

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