Chapter 14

Nikki didn’t see Gabe for two whole days after the hug apocalypse in the rec room, but then he’d brought her a banana-strawberry smoothie on Thursday, and from there, a routine began. For the next week, Gabe brought her a smoothie from D’Juice just after lunch, and he chatted with her while she prepped for dinner.

He’d asked her again about why she hadn’t found time to create the jewelry she used to be so obsessed with doing. She’d given him the same answer, mainly because she’d been too embarrassed to tell the truth.

What she used to enjoy had been tainted after that night.

Not that she’d ever tell him that, not when they were becoming friends.

He’d asked her about college. She’d asked him about how much his woodworking business had grown. She told him about her plans to find an apartment, and he offered to help her move when that day came.

A de Vincent moving her stuff?

She’d laughed then when he suggested it and could laugh now even thinking about it.

They didn’t talk about what happened with his sister or about his father and there was definitely no mention of what had happened during the impromptu hug.

Nikki was even beginning to think that she possibly imagined what she’d felt pressed against her. She hadn’t even told Rosie about that, and if she hadn’t imagined it, then she chalked it up to him just having a physical reaction to being close to a woman’s body.

Because Nikki seriously believed that some guys could get hard if the wind blew across their pelvic area.

After all, that was all it had to be, because Gabe showed no outward interest in her beyond what he’d said he wanted, which was to be friends.

It was Wednesday evening, right before dinnertime, when Gabe appeared in the kitchen. “Heads up,” he said, strolling past her. He picked up her braid and flipped it over her shoulder. “Ms. Harrington is in the house.”

“Ugh,” she muttered, already knowing that Devlin was planning to have dinner with her tonight. “Is her brother with her?”

“Unfortunately. Make it four for dinner,” he said, drawing her gaze to him. “No way am I leaving you to fend for yourself with them.”

Oh, that was . . . sweet, and sounded like the Gabe she knew. “Thanks.”

“And I have another purpose for being here other than watching you check the roast beef, which, by the way, smells amazing.”

She smiled at that and ignored the way her belly jumped around. “I think it’s going to turn out pretty good.” Closing the oven door, she faced him and got a little tongue-tied. Why, oh why, did he have to be so . . . freaking hot. “Why else are you here? I don’t see a smoothie.”

“No smoothie. Yet.”

“Oh.” She didn’t know what to say to that.

A half smile appeared. “What are you doing after you get off?”

Oh.

Oh my.

That was not a question she was expecting. “Uh, nothing. I was heading home.”

“So, no plans?” When she nodded, he said, “That works out perfect, because now you do.”

“I do?” she squeaked. Like a mouse. Ugh.

His grin kicked up a notch. “Yep.”

Now her heart was jumping along with her stomach. “What am I doing?”

“It’s a surprise.”

She stilled, barely breathing. “I don’t like surprises.”

“Whatever,” he laughed. “Yes, you do.”

“Not anymore.”

Pushing away from the counter, he slid her a knowing look. “You’ll like this one. Trust me.”

“But—”

Gabe was already strolling out of the kitchen, leaving her standing there with her mouth hanging open.

That was how Parker found her.

Because she had the worst luck known to man.

He walked through the main doorway. “Nikki.”

Her spine stiffened. “What are you doing in here?”

“Getting a drink.” He swaggered into the kitchen like he belonged in there.

Nikki knew damn well he knew to ask her father if he wanted a drink, which meant he snuck around her dad somehow.

“But now that I see you in here, I’ll let you do your job.” He flashed those bright teeth. “I would like a scotch on the rocks.”

Resisting the urge to tell him to help himself, she pivoted around and headed for the pantry where the liquor was stored off the kitchen.

“Make sure you get the good stuff.”

Nikki jumped at the closeness of his voice. She should’ve known he’d follow her. “You didn’t need to come in here.”

“Thought I’d keep you company,” he replied. “Just like Gabe was keeping you company.”

Climbing up the small ladder, she looked down at where he stood, blocking the damn door like the jerk-face he was. How long had he been waiting out in the hall to come in? She grabbed a top-shelf bottle.

“Gabe doesn’t like me,” he said, sounding indifferent.

Well, guess that answered her question.

What a creeper.

“I really wouldn’t know.” She came down the ladder. “Excuse me.”

He didn’t move. “He’s going to have to get used to me. His brother is marrying my sister.”

“Has Devlin picked a date yet?” The question came out of her mouth before she could stop herself.

His lips thinned slightly. “He will. Soon.”

“Hmm.” She stepped to the side. “If you want me to make you this drink, you’re going to have to move.”

“What if I don’t want to move?”

Irritated, she squared her shoulders. “Look, I’m just trying to do my job. Can you please move?”

He bent at the waist, lowering his head so they were eye level. “Say it nicely and maybe I will.”

She drew back, seconds from slamming her foot on his. “Can you please move aside, Parker?”

“That wasn’t really that nice, but I do want that drink.” He stepped back. “And I want you to make it for me.”

Swallowing a load of curses that would make a truck driver pleased, she went back into the kitchen and grabbed a tumbler.

“You don’t like me either.” He’d followed her back into the kitchen. “Don’t even deny it. I know you don’t.”

Well, he said not to deny it, so she kept her mouth shut as she filled his glass with ice.

“I don’t get it,” he continued. “You should be thrilled that I even notice you.”

Okay. Now she was unable to keep her mouth closed. “Perhaps that is why I don’t like you.” She poured the scotch and then picked up the glass, offering it to him. “Besides the fact you have no sense of personal boundaries? You’re arrogant because you’re rich and you’re used to getting whatever you want. That’s why I don’t like you.”

Parker laughed.

She wasn’t sure how she expected him to respond, but laughing wasn’t one of them.

Taking his glass, he stared down at her with what her mom would say were airs. Like he was a million leagues better than her. “I have some advice for you, Nikki.”

“Can’t wait to hear it.”

His nostrils flared. “You better improve that attitude of yours before my sister does marry Dev.” He reached out, placing a cool finger on her cheek as he said, “Actually, you should start right now.”

Nikki jerked back. “Don’t touch me.”

“You’re not listening to me.” He smirked, lowering his hand. “You should be nicer to me, because even if you’re gone by the time Sabrina marries Dev, she can make damn sure that your parents no longer have a job here.”

Sucking in a shocked gasp, she stared up at Parker. A wicked sense of déjà vu swept over her. “You’re threatening my parents’ employment? Again?”

“You know it’s not a threat. It’s a piece of advice. Drop the bitch act and maybe when your mom is feeling better, she’ll still have a job.” He paused. “And considering her health, her and her husband losing their jobs because their daughter is a little bitch is the last thing they need.”

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