Her stomach twisted and lower, much lower, she clenched as she drew her legs up, bending at the knees.

Hours later and Nikki could still feel his hand on her hip. It was like he’d branded her with his touch. And the way his hand tightened and pulled her back?

“God,” she whispered, pressing her thighs together. That did nothing to alleviate the ache building between her thighs. It actually made it worse. So much worse.

Gabe had to have known what he was doing. There was no way. Just like she’d known what she had been allowing by standing there, letting him press into her.

They both pretended like nothing was happening, but he’d wanted her. She could feel that. And oh Lordy Lord, as reckless and dumb as it made her, she wanted him still.

Badly.

Except now she at least had a working knowledge of what wanting him entailed. She might’ve only had sex with him and Calvin, but she knew what it could feel like.

The tips of her breasts hardened as she closed her eyes. Her thoughts got away from her, and she was back in that workshop with Gabe, all big and strong, standing behind her, pressing into her.

What if he’d pushed on her back, bending her over? Nikki sucked in a shallow breath. Would she have stopped him? She knew the answer as her hand slipped between the covers tangled at her waist. She wouldn’t have stopped him. She would’ve spread her legs, just as she was doing now, giving him more access to do . . . to do whatever he wanted.

Her fingers inched under the band of her bottoms. She was wet. She already knew that as she touched herself. She’d been so wet just standing in front of him tonight, letting him . . .

Nikki’s jaw clenched as she slipped a finger inside and pressed her palm against her most sensitive part.

Just a fantasy.

What she was doing meant nothing and she knew that there wasn’t anything real between them, not when he was in love with a woman who was no longer here.

Just a fantasy.

In her mind, it was Gabe’s hand replacing hers. It was his hand she was thrusting against, his fingers she was clenching around as he stood behind her, pressing his hardness into her as he worked her with his hand.

It didn’t take long.

Muscles tightened and tension coiled deep in her core. Her legs locked as her fingers pumped faster and faster. She twisted, pressing her face into her pillow as she came.

Panting, she fell back against the mattress and opened her eyes. Moments passed as she pulled her hand away. Her legs were limp, but she still felt . . . empty.

She exhaled slowly. A part of her couldn’t believe she just did that. Not like it was her first time, but she never let herself picture Gabe. Not after that night.

But it was just a fantasy and fantasies were okay. They were safe. Healthy even. Fantasies weren’t real.

Chapter 19

It was Friday afternoon when Gabe entered the kitchen, his arrival like clockwork. In his hand, he carried what appeared to be a straight strawberry smoothie.

“Hey.” Tossing the thick braid over her shoulder, she closed the fridge door and placed the pack of meat on the counter. “That for me?”

“Of course.” He met her at the island, handing it over. “It’s your favorite. Boring. But whatever.”

“Boring is good.” She grinned as she took the smoothie from him. Their fingers brushed. His were rough and sent a jolt up her arm. Nikki stepped back. She’d been careful not to touch him since the . . . incident at his workshop. “Thank you.”

“No problem.” He lowered his hand and backed off, hopping up on one of the stools. “So, what’s for dinner?”

“You’re actually joining Devlin?”

He lifted a shoulder. “Maybe.”

She tugged the paper off the straw, tossing it into the trash. Gabe hadn’t been attending dinner since the first week she’d been here. Lucian and Julia sporadically joined, but when they did, they got their own food. There hadn’t been any more dinners that Nikki had been invited to.

“Lamb is on the menu.” Glancing over her shoulder at the meat, she curled her lip. “Ew.”

“Lamb is tasty.” He spread his thighs, hooking his bare feet on the bottom of the stool.

She shook her head. “Lambs are too cute to eat.”

A grin appeared as he pulled his phone out of his pocket, placing it on the island. “And I’m guessing you don’t find cows cute, because you have no problem eating them. Or chickens.”

“Cows and chickens are cute, but I choose to not think about them while I’m eating them.” When he arched a brow, she grinned. “Don’t question my logic.”

“Would never dare to do so.” He trailed a finger along the edge of the island. “So, you got any big plans this weekend?”

Actually she did.

And it wasn’t finishing the beads for her mother’s bracelet, either. Shocker. Her belly flipped and then flopped. “I’m going to look at an apartment later.”

“You found one?” Genuine interest filled his tone.

She nodded, having kept him up to date on her apartment search. “It’s nice and in a good area, just outside of the city. I hope it’s the one. Don’t get me wrong. I love being back with my parents, but living with them is not exactly what I thought I’d be doing when I’m about to turn twenty-three.”

He grinned. “Well, I’m not going to judge. All of us are still living here, at the family home.”

“That’s different. This place is so big, a whole family could move in and you guys would never know,” she reasoned, taking a sip of her smoothie. “Besides, you all have your own apartments. You don’t have to see anyone unless you want to, where if I stay out past eleven I feel like I’m sixteen sneaking back into my parents’ house.”

Gabe laughed. “I’m crossing my fingers for you.”

“Thanks.”

“Got anything else planned?”

She did. Turning from Gabe, she took her smoothie back to the counter. “I . . . I have a date tomorrow night.”

Silence.

Telling herself not to, she didn’t listen and looked over her shoulder at Gabe. His expression—yikes. His face was harsh. It kind of scared her. “Um, my friend Rosie set me up on a date.”

His hand stilled along the kitchen island. “So, it’s a blind date?”

“Yeah.” She turned away and moved down a foot. Bending, she opened the cabinet and pulled out a large roasting pan.

“Is that safe?”

She kind of thought that was a weird question. “Rosie knows him, and I trust her. She wouldn’t fix me up on a date with a creep.”

“What’s his name?” His tone was flat, like he didn’t believe what she said, which was ridiculous, because he’d never met Rosie.

Though the idea of Rosie meeting any of the de Vincents made her grin. Especially Devlin.

“His name is Gerald.” She placed the pan on the counter. “I doubt you know him.”

“Gerald?” He laughed loudly. “What kind of name is that?”

She twisted at the waist, her brows lifting. “It’s a name.”

He smirked. “Sounds like an old man’s name.”

“You’re an old man,” she retorted.

“Not old enough to be named Gerald.”

“Whatever.” She rolled her eyes. “We’re going to Crescent City.”

“Crescent City?”

“There is nothing wrong with Crescent City. They have amazing steaks and I love their French fries.”

“I’d at least take you to Morton’s. You’d love their fries.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Sorry. Morton’s is not on most people’s budget. Anyway, we’re just grabbing dinner. So, whatever.”

He was silent for the moment. “You don’t sound very excited about your date with Gerald.”

“I’m excited.” That was the truth. Kind of. She was excited to go out and have a nice dinner and she was excited because she was meeting someone new. And after what happened between them at the shop, she really needed to meet someone.

Anyone other than him.

“Uh-huh.”

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