Okay.

That sounded stupid.

But then something flickered over Nic’s face before she quickly looked away, but he knew what she was thinking about. Hell, he knew what he was thinking about now.

Or whom, to be more exact.

Emma.

Dinner had been . . . enlightening.

That was all Nikki could think as she grabbed her purse from the staff office. She couldn’t even process what Lucian had told her about their sister and father. The de Vincents had some crazy drama in their background, but that was beyond anything she could’ve imagined.

And she had no idea how Gabe was dealing with it. She’d always had the impression that Lucian had never been close to Lawrence, but Gabe and Dev had been. Well, they had been as close to him as anyone could be to that man.

To learn that the man you thought was always your father wasn’t? And who was their dad? God.

Digging her keys out of her purse, she started to head out the back door but stopped.

Nikki remembered how bad it had been after their mother had died. They’d grown up thinking she’d killed herself, and this whole time, she’d been taken away from them by their sister.

How did one even begin to get over that?

As she stood in the small ten-by-ten room, she suddenly thought about the de Vincent curse.

What was it? Women never lasted long here. Yeah, that was it. They either lost their minds . . . or died.

Nikki never really believed in the curse and the brothers had always been so blasé about it, but now she was beginning to think it was onto something and that the brothers weren’t so dismissive of it, because sweet Jesus. Wow.

She looked over her shoulder, toward the back hallway. How would she feel if she found her dad wasn’t her father? It would kill her in a way. He’d always be her father, because he was who raised her and that was all that mattered, but still. And then to find out their own sister killed their mother because their sister was screwing her cousin and their mother objected?

Sorrow wrapped its way around her heart, and she was moving without telling her legs where to go.

In the back of her mind she could hear Rosie saying, Don’t listen to your bleeding heart. . . .

Unfortunately, she was listening, and it wasn’t that big of a deal. Not like she was in search of Gabe to throw herself at him. She just wanted—God help her—to make sure he was okay, really okay.

Because that’s what friends did.

She cut down the back hallway, making her way to the rec room. Some kind of bizarre sixth sense guided her down the long hallway and to the door that was cracked open. Placing her fingers on the engraved wood panel—the panel that Gabe himself had carved the vines into—she pushed.

He was alone.

Gabe was behind one of the pool tables, lining up a shot. The cue stick jutted out, smacking into the ball. It shot across the table, knocking into a red solid, sending it to spin into a corner pocket.

Her gaze dropped.

Gabe was barefoot.

Straightening, he looked up. “Nic?”

“Hey.” She stepped into the room, wondering what the hell she was doing. It was already dark outside, and Lord knows she didn’t have a track record of being smart once the night fell here, so she should be well on her way out of here, but here she was. “You’re playing pool by yourself?”

“Lucian wanted some alone time with Julia.” He placed the stick against the pool table. “So here I am, playing pool by myself.”

“That’s kind of . . . sad.”

One side of his lips kicked up. “Is it?”

“Yeah.” Dropping her keys back into her purse, she draped the strap over her shoulder. “I mean, pool is a game for more than one person.”

“Some consider it a sport,” he corrected, leaning a hip against the table.

She rolled her eyes. “I truly feel like for something to be considered a sport, you have to break a sweat.”

“You aren’t playing pool right if you’re not breaking a sweat.”

A smile pulled at her lips. “I’ll have to take your word on that.”

Gabe cocked his head, and a strand of hair fell forward, brushing his cheek. “I thought you had left.”

“I was going, but . . .”

Everything about Gabe appeared to go on alert. “But?”

What was she doing? She wasn’t so sure. Okay, she wasn’t being honest with herself. She was now wasting time and being stupid. “I wanted to check on your car.”

“Check on my car?”

“Yeah. The window?”

“It’s been fixed. My car is whole and happy.”

“That’s . . . good,” she said lamely.

A knowing look settled on his features. “That’s not why you’re still here.”

Hating that he could read her so well, Nikki took a deep breath. “I just wanted to say that I’m sorry about everything that happened with your sister, your mom . . . and your dad.”

He stared at her for a moment and then looked away. “It’s no big deal.”

“No big deal?” she repeated, stunned. “Dude, that’s a huge deal. All of it. Every last piece of it.”

He let out a soft laugh. “And you only know half of it.”

“Half of what?”

A muscle flexed in his jaw as he turned back to her and a long moment passed. Long enough that Nikki began to really worry. “Thank you, though. For saying that.”

She didn’t miss that he hadn’t answered her question.

“But you don’t have to apologize.”

“I know.” She inched closer. “But I can’t imagine what you guys must’ve gone through—are going through.”

Lifting a hand, he brushed the hair out of his face. “What can we do, though? We can’t change what our sister did or the stuff with our mother and father. No point in dwelling on any of it.”

Fidgeting with the strap on her purse, she inched a little closer. “Do you and Devlin have any idea of who your father could be?”

He shook his head, but Nikki didn’t miss the way his jaw tightened. He may be standing there acting like everything was a nothing burger, but Nikki knew better. Maybe someone like Devlin would be wholly unaffected by the events but not the Gabe she knew.

Before she gave herself time to think about what she was doing, she sprang forward and all but tackle-hugged Gabe. Wrapping her arms around his waist, she squeezed him and said, “I really am sorry for everything that has happened.”

Gabe was utterly frozen. His entire body was so stiff she wasn’t even sure if he breathed or not, and for a really tense moment, she feared that she’d let her heart guide her into making another bad decision.

But then she felt Gabe’s chest rise under her cheek and his arms swept around her, folding across her back. He held her, and she couldn’t even remember the last time they’d hugged or been this close.

Actually, she did.

That night she’d gone to him they’d hugged and obviously that hug had turned into a hell of a lot more. Four years was a long time between hugs, and being this close to him again did crazy strange things to her senses. The entire front of her body tingled sharply and when she inhaled, she was surrounded by the crisp scent of his cologne.

It was just a hug.

That’s what she kept telling herself even as she knew she needed to pull away. It was just a hug—one that probably had little to no impact on Gabe while it was absolutely destroying her best of intentions.

Gabe’s arms tightened around her and she bit down on her lip when she felt his chin brush the top of her head. One of his hands moved, dragging down the line of her spine. His palm flatted at the small of her back.

Just a hug. Just a hug.

Her body wasn’t on the same wavelength as her brain. Heat flashed through her, intense and wanting. The feel of his chest against her and—

Oh my God.

Nikki’s eyes flew open. She felt him, hard and thick, pressing against her stomach.

Gabe suddenly let go and stepped back, putting distance between them as her wide-eyed gaze swung to his. “You should leave.” His voice was rough, deep. Abrasive. Nikki shivered. “Now.”

Resisting the idiotic voice that always got her into a world of trouble and wanted her to ignore what he was saying, she turned and got the hell out of there.

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