“We were . . . kind of arguing. I guess? About him wanting to ruin my date without knowing who Gerald really was, which, looking back, is a ridiculous argument, but whatever. He said something about me still being into him, and I said I wasn’t.” She rubbed at her eyes. “Then he sort of proved that I was lying.”

“Okay. I’m going to need more detail,” Rosie said. “How did he prove you were lying?”

Feeling her cheeks heat, she shook her head. “We sort of, kind of made out.”

There was a stretch of silence. “How does one sort of, kind of make out?”

She sighed heavily. “Imagine making out, but not kissing and fingers were involved.”

“Holy shit,” Rosie breathed.

“Yeah.”

“Fingers? As in plural?”

Nikki laughed as she rolled onto her side. “Yeah.”

“Holy shit,” she repeated.

“I know. Things kind of escalated pretty quickly and . . .” And he’d given her the best damn orgasm of her life. “And I don’t know. It happened. Afterward, we grabbed a smoothie.”

“Wait. What?”

“You heard me correctly. We grabbed a smoothie.”

“I don’t even know how to respond to that, Nikki.” There was a pause. “Did you guys talk about what happened?”

“Yeah. We did. I asked him what was going on, and he said he didn’t know. He also said he didn’t regret it.” Nikki pressed her lips together as she flopped onto her back again. “I believe him. I don’t think he planned on that happening and I don’t think he regretted it.”

“Nikki,” sighed Rosie.

“Look, I know it was crazy. Given our history that was the last thing we should’ve done, but—”

“But you still care for him.”

“I wasn’t going to say that, but yeah, I care about him. Obviously.”

“You know what type of caring I’m talking about,” she replied. “What were you going to say?”

Nikki frowned. “I was going to say that I’m not reading into what happened. I don’t have expectations.”

“Girl.” Rosie’s tone was heading upward again. “Like I told you last time, you need to start reading into his actions. I’m also going to tell you something new. You also need to stop lying to yourself.”

“I’m not lying to myself.”

“Yes. You are. Look, I’m not judging you. Obviously. I don’t know Gabe or what type of guy he is, but there’s something between you two. There has been, and I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but what I do know is bad is you pretending like this is no big deal. It is.”

She opened her mouth to deny it, but Rosie was right. Nikki was totally lying to herself. Well, she hadn’t really given herself a chance to even fully process everything, but what happened between them was a big deal. It was either a step toward a future or a step toward a disaster, but it was a step she damn well knew she’d be taking.

“I hate you,” Nikki muttered.

Rosie laughed. “Can I ask you something and you be real honest?”

Oh God. “Go for it.”

“Did you ever stop loving him?” she asked.

Nikki’s breath caught, not mistaking what Rosie asked. She didn’t ask if Nikki was in love with Gabe. She’d asked if Nikki had ever stopped, and that question tore through her. A cyclone of emotions whirled. Fear. Anticipation. Dread. Excitement. Just for a tiny second, she let herself feel it all, everything, and it was wonderful and terrifying.

Could it be possible that she’d actually been in love with Gabe when she was younger? That it hadn’t been a silly infatuation, and that what she was feeling again, what she’d felt last night in his arms, wasn’t an infatuation? That it wasn’t just lust?

She couldn’t answer Rosie’s question.

Rosie sighed. “That’s what I thought.”

Chapter 22

It took one phone call for Gabe to find what he needed Sunday morning and that was why he was standing in front of the chocolate-brown door of one of the newer shotgun-style homes over on Pritchard Place.

He banged the side of his fist on the door and then waited and he didn’t have to wait that long. Footsteps neared the other side and then the door cracked open, revealing half of Ross Haid’s face.

“What the hell?” Ross blinked rapidly as he opened the door to reveal he was wearing nothing more than a white undershirt and flannel bottoms.

Without saying a word, Gabe pushed forward, forcing Ross to take a step back as he walked into his house. Gabe caught the door and closed it shut behind him.

A healthy dose of fear filled Ross’s wide eyes. “What are you doing, man? You know who I am and who I work for—”

Cocking back his arm, he slammed his fist into Ross’s jaw, knocking his head back. Ross dropped like a sack of potatoes, landing on his ass as he palmed his jaw.

“I wanted to do that last night.” Gabe opened his fist as he bent over Ross. “Took every bit of my self-control to not lay you flat on your back right then and there.”

“Fuck.” Ross spit out a mouthful of blood. “I think you cracked one of my teeth. Are you out of your mind?”

“You should be asking yourself that question,” Gabe replied, straightening. “You can sniff around my brothers and me all you want, but you stay the fuck away from Nic.”

“Shit.” Ross rolled onto his back. “Pretty sure you made that clear last night.”

“I’m making damn sure it’s clear right now.” Punching Ross had given him a moment of satisfaction, but he wanted to rip the man apart for embarrassing Nic and trying to use her. “Because next time will be your last time.”

“You’re seriously going to walk into my house, punch me, and then threaten me?”

“I know you’re going to keep your mouth shut about this. Want to know why? Because you’re not that fucking stupid. You report this, and then I make sure the whole damn world knows exactly why I about knocked your ass out. Sure your bosses over at the Advocate want that kind of press? Using a woman?” Gabe asked. “I’ll give them a story and it won’t be the one you were hoping to report.”

“Damn.” Ross coughed out a wet-sounding laugh. “And here I’ve heard you’re the calm and levelheaded de Vincent. Got to think people have that wrong.”

“They do when it comes to people I care about.”

“And you care about Nikki? A twenty-some-year-old daughter of your house staff?” Ross laughed again, and Gabe thought there might be a good chance that he’d punch the son of a bitch again. Ross lowered his hand as he rose onto his elbow. “What is she to you?”

Gabe knew where he was going with this. “If I see one thing written about her anywhere, I’m going to hold you personally responsible.”

“I’m not going to write about her. I actually like her.”

“That last part was the wrong thing to say,” Gabe warned him.

“Was it?” He curled one leg up. “I’m beginning to think my theory about your family is correct.”

“I don’t give a fuck about what you think.”

“You should.” Ross sat up, wiping away a trail of blood leaking from the corner of his mouth. “I don’t think your father committed suicide. I think he did something and one of you—one of you killed him for it.”

Nikki was so nervous come Monday morning that she walked by the deep freezer twice before realizing she’d gone into the pantry to take out the steaks for dinner.

She hadn’t heard from Gabe since he dropped her off at home Saturday night and she’d hadn’t seen him yet. Having no idea if that meant anything or not, she tried to gather her scattered thoughts and get to work.

It was Monday, so that meant endless dusting of things that were never used and she doubted that the de Vincents even knew they had.

Pulling her hair up, she threw herself into work. The downside of doing something so monotonous was that her brain was given free rein to obsess over every little thing that had happened between her and Gabe on Saturday night.

***

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