Her stomach dropped. “About what?”

“About you making some kind of comment to her brother about their lack of a wedding date.”

Fucking Parker. Her hands balled into fists. “I hate him.”

Gabe watched closely. “Hate’s a pretty strong feeling.”

“Yeah, well, I hate him. He’s arrogant and when I said that to him, I wasn’t saying it to be an ass.” She stopped herself. “Okay. I was being an ass, but whatever.”

His lips twitched at the last part. “When did you see Parker?”

“On Wednesday, when he was there for dinner. He came into the kitchen for a drink.”

Understanding crept in his face. “What happened on Wednesday?”

The urge to tell him what Parker had said to her was strong, but she knew if she did, Gabe would say something to him and then Parker would complain to Sabrina. Based on what Gabe was now telling her about Devlin, Sabrina would go to Devlin, and she couldn’t jeopardize her parents’ employment.

“Nothing happened.”

“Doesn’t sound like nothing.”

“He was just being his normal jerk self.” She drew in a shallow breath. “I’ll be on my best behavior.”

“Not sure you have a best behavior.” He grinned.

It took her a moment to realize he was teasing her. “I do. Sometimes. But promise me you won’t say anything to Parker. You know if you do, it will just make the situation worse.”

“Is there a situation that can be made worse?” His voice turned so cold that she shivered.

“No. There’s not, but if you say something to him, then there will be a situation. Promise me you won’t say anything.”

“I promise I won’t, but I also want you to promise me that if there is a situation, you’ll be honest with me.”

“I promise—wait.” Disappointment sparked to life in her. She remembered the conversation in the car the day he tried to go to the shelter with her. “Is that why you asked me to lunch? To talk about me being nicer or whatever to Sabrina?”

“No.” He frowned. “I asked you to lunch because I wanted to have lunch with you. I could’ve waited to talk to you about Sabrina tomorrow.”

“Oh.” He had a point.

“So, did you do anything exciting with your weekend?” he asked, changing the subject.

“Not really.” She toyed with the edge of the menu. “I met with Rosie yesterday at du Monde and ate my weight in beignets. How about you?”

He grinned. “Just spent time at home.” He paused. “I’m surprised you didn’t go out or something.”

“Why?” She smiled when the waitress appeared with their drinks. They placed an order for wings, her earning a look of disapproval when she asked for hers to be naked while Gabe went with some flavor guaranteed to burn the roof of his mouth off.

“I just remember what it was like when I was in my twenties,” he said after the waitress left. “This city was like one giant playground.”

She laughed. “You make it sound like that was ages ago.”

“It was.”

“Did you also walk to school in one foot of snow, barefoot?” she teased, and he chuckled. “I haven’t really been going out since I’ve been home.”

Interest sparked in his eyes. “Did you go out a lot when you were up at UA?”

Nikki shook her head, unsure of how to explain that she didn’t have the stereotypical college experience. “You know, I actually didn’t go out a lot there either.”

“You were a dedicated student?” he teased.

She laughed. “Not quite. I just . . .”


Looking out the window, she watched a woman walk by pushing a stroller. Instead of answering, she shrugged.

A moment passed, and she could feel his intense gaze on her. “Can I ask you a question and you be real with me?”

Her heart turned over heavily as she looked at him. “Sure.”

Gabe had leaned forward, resting his arms on the table. “You weren’t holding back on doing things because of what happened between us, were you?”

Damn. He’d connected those dots way too quickly for her comfort. Granted, they talked about her life at college before and she’d always skated around the whole dating and partying scene.

“Fuck,” he muttered, sitting back. He looked out the fingerprint-smudged window. A muscle ticked along his jaw. “I hate knowing that’s the case. I always figured you’d go buck wild at college, probably burn a building down or two.”

She didn’t know what to say at first. “It wasn’t just that. I’m serious. You know I was a weird, awkward kid. I was still weird and awkward in college. So what? I didn’t date a lot—”

“But you had a boyfriend?”

“Yeah. And he was a good guy.”

“Then what happened?” His gaze had swung back to her, and his eyes were more blue than green today. “If he was a good guy, why aren’t you still with him?”

This wasn’t exactly the conversation she planned on having with him, like, ever. “I wasn’t . . . the easiest girlfriend to have.”

“Do tell?”

She rolled her eyes. “I just wasn’t really . . . open. Like he really tried and he was patient, but I wasn’t there for it.”

“I’m not following.”

Of course he wasn’t. “Okay, so like we’d make plans, and I’d always forget about them. It wasn’t on purpose. I was just not thinking about it. He’d want to go out—like to the movies and do dinner, and I wasn’t really interested. I used to think it was because I was a homebody, but I just didn’t want to go out with him—with anyone really. Because when he would come chill with me at my dorm, I was just annoyed with him being there. No matter what he did.”

“Damn.” He tapped a finger on the table. “That’s kind of harsh.”

She shifted in the booth, uncomfortable. “Yeah. Pretty much. He ended up calling me out on it, after I kind of forgot our anniversary. One year. And I forgot.”

“Shit, that’s got to be awkward.”

“It was. Especially when he asked me if I loved him, and I couldn’t answer him. I mean, I could, but it wasn’t what he wanted to hear. That’s when he broke up with me.”

He seemed to mull that over. “Sounds like you didn’t really want to be with him.”

“I don’t think I did.”

“Then why were you?”

“Honest? God. This is embarrassing to admit, but I didn’t want to be alone and I wanted to be . . . normal. Like everyone else was hooking up or in a relationship and there I was, sitting around like a dork.”

“And you didn’t go out with other people?” he asked and when she shook her head, disbelief crept into his face. “Hooked up?”

This conversation just kept getting worse and worse. How could she explain that she had been scared to go out and experiment? To let loose and have fun? Or that it was more than that and even hard for her to understand? Nikki couldn’t just hook up. God, she wished she could. It sounded fun and freeing and normal by societal standards, but she had to be into someone on a deeper level to want to have sex with them. Hookups usually didn’t allow for that. “This is such an awkward conversation. Seriously.”

“If you can’t talk about it, you shouldn’t be doing it.”

“Shut up.”

He was leaning forward again. “You guys—”

“Are you seriously asking if Calvin and I had sex?” she asked, voice low.

He tilted his head. “Yes. I was going to say fuck, but having sex sounds more . . . tame.”

Nikki flushed to the roots of her hair. “Not like that’s any of your business, but yeah, we did.”

His eyes latched onto hers. “Was he the only person besides me?”

“Oh my God.” She pressed back against the booth. “I can’t believe you’re asking me this question. I honestly cannot believe it.”


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