And the fact that several men dressed for what appeared to be a business dinner were blatantly leering at her didn’t help quell the primitive urge to secret her away.

He’d wanted to pick her up tonight, but she’d insisted on meeting him at the restaurant. He’d only relented because it would be hard to explain to Richard and Livie why he was taking Nic out to dinner.

And what would he say to them?

That was a good question. One that had been plaguing him all day. Hell, one he’d been asking himself over and over during the last week or so. If they found out what he was doing with their daughter? He didn’t like that he was hiding this from them.

That Nic was also doing the same.

And here he was, also lying to his family. Lucian had asked him what he was doing tonight, if he wanted to join Julia and him for dinner. Gabe refused and then brushed off an explanation of why. Truth was, he knew that any number of people here could recognize him, but they wouldn’t know who Nic was.

Felt like he was hiding her because, well, he was. He was hiding her from all that mattered. None of it sat well on his chest.

None of that changed what he was doing.

Or what he wanted.

Now they were sitting in a booth that was the closest thing to private. Their dinner was drawing to a close. The check had already been paid, and he was thinking about all the hotels nearby. Would she accept an offer to spend the night at one of them?

God, he hoped so.

“You’re staring at me again,” she said, putting the glass aside.

“I am.”

She grinned as she ducked her chin. “It’s a little unnerving.”

“Is it?”

Nic nodded.

“Why is that?”

She lifted one shoulder. Her skin seemed to gleam. “I’m pretty sure anyone is unnerved when they’re being stared at.”

“But I like it when you stare at me.”

Her gaze flew to his. “Well, you’re not just anyone.”

Gabe chuckled. “That is true.”

She looked away, biting down on her lip. This was the first lull in conversation since dinner began. They’d talked about everything from the upcoming holidays to what their favorite classes in college had been. For him, that felt like a lifetime ago, but it had been easy to recall, talking to her.

Which reminded him of something they hadn’t discussed. “Have you given any more thought to going back to grad school?”

“I have.” She toyed with the stem of her glass. “If everything works out with Mom’s treatment, she thinks she’ll be able to return to work at the beginning of next year. It will be part-time at first, until she gets back into the swing of things, but I won’t be needed.”

Gabe was happy to hear that Livie was planning on returning to work, but he wasn’t exactly thrilled that it meant he wouldn’t have the virtually unlimited access to Nic.

Wait.

He was thinking that far in advance? That was months from now. Months.

“So, with getting the apartment, I’m thinking it will be smart for me to get started working in my field. That way I’m making money and getting experience. Then once I’m settled in, I’ll look at getting my master’s. I can do both.”

“I think that’s a wise choice.”

“You do?” she asked, her question genuine.

He nodded. “Getting out there and getting to work is probably going to do a hell of a lot more for you right now than taking more classes. Not that furthering your education is bad, but I think . . . I think you’ll be happier working.”

A brief grin appeared. “That is true.”

“It’ll be a lot of hard work, doing both, though.”

“I know.” She sighed. “Not exactly looking forward to that, but you do what you have to do.”

“Right.” He sat back. “At the risk of sounding like the old man you think I am, I’m incredibly proud of you.”

Nic smiled. “You are an old man.”

He huffed. “Seriously, though. You were the first in your family to go to college and graduate. You did this while working a part-time job. That’s not easy, and you did that while making the dean’s list.”

“How did you—?” She cut herself off. “Mom or Dad tell you about that?”

“Both. They were proud. You should be proud.”

“Flattery will get you everywhere,” she teased.

Gabe grinned. “And when your family needed you, you were here, without a moment of hesitation.”

“Well, that’s not something to be proud of,” she said, placing the napkin that had been in her lap onto her plate. “That’s what you do for family.”

“Not everyone.” He glanced at his watch. “There’s something I want to show you. That is unless you have other plans?”

“I don’t have another dinner planned immediately after this.”

“I would hope not.” Rising, he walked around the table and offered his hand. “Come with me?”

Nic didn’t hesitate.

Picking up her clutch, she placed her hand into his. He guided her out of the booth, toward the door marked employees only. “Have you ever been to the rooftop of Firestones?”

“No.” She laughed when he pushed open the door, leading her into the busy kitchen.

He winked at her when her eyes widened. The moment reminded him of when he and Lucian had brought Julia back here.

“I’m assuming no one has a problem with us being back here?” she whispered, folding her other hand over his arm.

“No.” He pulled Nic out of the way of a waiter carrying a tray of steaming food above his head. “The entrance to the rooftops is private. Only a handful of people have keys to the elevator.”

Nic eyed the ancient-looking elevator they were approaching. “So is this one of those hidden New Orleans gems? How in the world have I not heard about this?”

“It’s very hidden.” Letting go of her hand, he reached for his wallet and pulled out the card used to activate the elevator.

“Aren’t you just special,” she said as the doors creaked open.

Taking her hand once more, he pulled her into the elevator. “It’s a little shaky, just a heads-up.”

An eyebrow rose as the doors rattled shut and the elevator jerked into motion. “I really do not want to die in this elevator,” she said, looking around.

Chuckling, he pulled her into his side as he finally, finally allowed himself to touch her. He did so by dropping her hand and letting his fall to her hip, running it up the flare of her hip and the curve of her waist. He felt the fine tremble course through her as his hand stopped just below the swell of her breast.

“I really like this dress, by the way.”

One side of her lips curved up. “I thought you might.”

The elevator stopped. Cold air flowed in as the doors opened. Folding his hand around hers once more, he led her out on the dimly lit rooftop.

Walking past several rippling curtained enclosures, he guided her over to the ledge. She slipped her hand free and walked ahead. “Wow,” she breathed, placing her hands on the ledge as she stared out over the twinkling lights of buildings and cars down below.

“You like it?” He joined her, propping his hip against the ledge.

“I do.” Her smile about stopped his damn heart. “As long as I’ve lived here, I’ve never seen the city from up here.”

“Really?” That surprised him. The view up here was unique, giving the viewer a look at the Quarter from one side and Mid City from the other, but he figured at some point she’d gotten to see the city at night.

She nodded. “As many times as I’ve been down here at night, I’ve never been high enough to see something like this. It’s really beautiful.”

“Yeah.” He watched a wisp of hair graze her cheek. “It is.”

Nic glanced over at him. “I imagine you’ve brought a lot of women up here.”

“Only one other,” he admitted. “And that was Julia.”

She angled her body toward his. “I feel like I need a further explanation of this.”

***

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