Nikki had read that one of the many side effects of chemo was feeling cold. Not everyone felt that. Some only experienced it when they were receiving chemo, but her mom seemed to get this side effect, among others.

She looked away as she sat back in the old recliner, pulling her legs up so her knees pressed into her chest.

Emma was dead.

That had been a shock to Nikki. She’d always assumed that Emma was still alive. And when he said Baton Rouge, she automatically and understandably assumed that was why he was looking for a place there.

Because Emma was there.

But Emma was . . . she was dead.

Wrapping her arms around her legs, she rested her chin on her knees and closed her eyes. Gabe and Emma reconnected five years ago. A year before she left for college, and if she really thought hard about it, Gabe had definitely been moodier during that time, staying home and drinking more. The only time he’d seemed to be like his old self was when he was working.

And the morning after she’d come to him, before he’d been fully awake, he’d called her Emma. He’d been in love with Emma then and there was still a part of him that was in love with her now.

Nikki was . . . she was happy that he’d confided in her. It was obvious that Gabe needed to talk to someone, and she almost couldn’t believe it was her. That was a huge deal. A big one, and God help her, she couldn’t stop the sorrow rising and she couldn’t stop the feeling of disappointment.

And she knew that the latter signaled something in her that was just like Gabe. He’d spent how many years thinking he and Emma would find their way back to one another? She really was no different than Gabe. Even as foolish and pointless and utterly hopeless as it was, there was still a part of her that . . . that cared for him more than she should.

That wasn’t breaking news, though.

But if the conversation today proved anything to her, she needed to do exactly what Rosie had said, which was to proceed with caution.

Gabe wasn’t still in love with a woman who didn’t want him. He was in love with a ghost, and no one could compete with that.

Chapter 18

Gabe was watching Nic.

Again.

He was doing that a lot lately. So much so, he was beginning to wonder if he had a problem. It was Thursday night and it was getting late. She should be on her way home soon since it wasn’t like she lived around the corner.

Maybe he’d start bringing her here after work and then dropping her off on the way home. It would be safer that way. Smarter. He should definitely offer that to her.

He thought about what her father would think of that, and instead of cringing, he grinned at the thought.

Something . . . something had changed in Gabe after talking to Nic about Emma. As fucking cliché as it sounded, he felt lighter.

Lucian was right when he said that maybe Gabe needed to talk about Emma. The last couple of nights he actually slept the whole way through. Freaking miracle right there.

Nic was looking around, the corners of her lips turned down. Then her gaze swept up to the shelving against the back wall. Setting the bead and chisel aside, she rose, dusting her hands off.

“Is that the saw up there?” She pointed at the top shelf.

“Yeah. You need it?”

She crossed the room. “I can get it.”

Swallowing a laugh, he rose from where he sat. There was no way she was going to reach that shelf. Not when she was compact size basically.

But there she was, stretching up on the tips of her toes, straining for the handle of the saw as she gripped one of the lower shelves.

“You’re going to end up pulling that whole shelf down on you.” He walked over to her. “Here.” He reached around her at the same time she settled back on her feet.

Gabe didn’t know what happened.

One second he was reaching for the saw and then the next, his front was against her back as she stumbled into him.

“Whoa,” he said, his hand landing on her hip.

In an instant, the air around them seemed to spit fire. For what felt like an eternity, neither of them moved, and then Nic shifted, pressing her rear against him.

Sweet Jesus.

His jaw clenched as pure primal lust pounded through his veins. Did she do that on purpose? Hell if it mattered. He looked down at her, seeing her chest rise and fall heavily, straining against the front of her shirt. His head dipped and he inhaled deeply, catching the strawberry scent of hers.

Christ.

His body practically surrounded hers, but her mere closeness overpowered him. He should back off. He should definitely get his hand off her damn hip.

He didn’t do either of those things.

His thoughts clouded as the smallest shudder coursed through her. Gabe’s brain clicked off. His hand tightened on her hip as his arm flexed, tugged her back with just the slightest amount of pressure. Fuck. His blood caught fire. She fit perfectly against him. Better yet, she felt perfect against him.

Took no effort to picture himself spinning her around and bending her over the bench. Except nothing would be between them as he slipped his hand between her thighs and pounded into—

Holy fuck, that line of thought was not helping. At all. But could she feel him? How fucking hard he was against the cleft of her ass?

Then he felt her shiver. Full-bodied shiver. Her head turned to the side, and he waited for her to pull away or push him away. To do something. She didn’t. Nic stood there while her ass practically cradled his dick, letting him . . .

Letting him do what exactly?

Dry-hump her ass? Gabe swallowed a groan, because right about now that sounded amazing. And when was the last time he dry-humped a woman? Shit. When he was a teen? Hell, he knew there was a good chance he could come doing just that.

He felt her take her next breath. “Have you . . . got the saw yet?”

His eyes drifted shut. So, they were going to pretend like his dick wasn’t pressing against her ass? All right. He could do that. He could pretend. “Not yet.”

She placed her hands on the lower shelf, and yeah, he realized right then, he wouldn’t need to turn her around. He could make this work just as well. “Do you need help?”

Yeah, he needed help.

Primal instinct told him that she would let him do just about anything right then, and that instinct had nothing to do with their past. Not a damn thing.

Nic’s hips moved again, this time in the smallest damn circle, and he had to wonder if she was even aware she was doing it or what it was doing to him.

He needed to stop this before he fucking came in his jeans.

His hand tightened on her hip as he reached up, grabbing the saw off the top shelf. He let himself have one more moment, one more breath of the air she breathed, and then he started to act like he had at least an ounce of common decency left in him.

“Sorry,” he bit out, voice gruff as he backed off. “Lost my balance there.”

“It’s okay.” Her face was ten different shades of pink as she faced him. She lifted her hand. It trembled. “Thank you.”

He nodded as he turned and made his way back to the workbench. Sitting wasn’t exactly what he wanted to be doing, but that’s what he did.

Fuck.

He couldn’t even pretend anymore—couldn’t lie to himself.

It wasn’t his dry spell that had him rocking a hard-on every time he was near Nic. It was her.

His gaze found its way to her.

Brushing a strand of hair out of her face, she glanced over and sent him a small, tentative smile as her fingers around the saw remained steady.

The little smile went straight to his cock.

He didn’t smile back. He was beyond that. His entire body was taut and strained. He wanted her. Under him. On him. In front of him. On her knees. And with his head between her thighs. He wanted her every which way he could think and damn, he had an active imagination.

Lust, pure and simple, was a powerful drug.

He watched her go back to carving the tiny piece of wood. Would he go down that road with her?

Gabe didn’t need to really ask himself that.

He already knew the answer.

Later that night, Nikki lay in bed and stared at the ceiling, unable to sleep. Her body and mind were traitorous bitches, replaying the evening over and over again in her head.

My God, what had happened between them?

Something had. There was no denying what she felt pressed against her rear.

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