She turned and left, heading in the direction Gabe had told her, wondering what the hell they were doing.

What was she thinking?

Chapter 25

Cursing his brother and himself, he watched Nic slip out between the curtains and disappear. What in the hell was Dev doing here?

He adjusted himself, because the last thing he needed to do was to meet his brother with a raging, evident hard-on, and then parted the curtains. Stepping out under the night sky, he scanned the rooftop, finding his brother by one of the tall plants. He had a drink in his hand.

“What are you doing up here?” he asked, striding across the rooftop.

“There you are.” Dev turned to him. “I was told you headed up here with a very pretty lady.” He frowned, looking around. “I was curious.”

“You heard wrong.”

Dev’s gaze slid back to his. “What a strange thing to have heard wrong.”

He didn’t respond to that, because there was a good chance he was going to coldcock his brother for interrupting what had been turning out to be one of the best moments of his life.

“If you weren’t with someone, what were you doing?”

Gabe exhaled through his nose. “Just enjoying the solitude. Obviously that didn’t work out for me.”

“Really?” His brother’s response was dry. “Seems counterproductive to come to a restaurant to seek solitude.”

“I did have dinner,” Gabe replied, “and then I thought I’d come up here.”

His brother smirked as he took a drink. “Interesting.”

Nothing about the way he said that made Gabe think for one second he believed a single thing coming out of his mouth.

Dev confirmed his suspicions a moment later. “The waiter who mentioned you said you were with a young lady.”

Gabe stiffened, and not in a good way.

“Said she was very beautiful with big brown eyes,” Dev continued. “Reminded me of someone we both know.”

“You know a lot of pretty ladies.”

“I do.” He glanced over at Gabe. “But not many you’d bring up here. I can only think of one.”

Gabe said nothing.

Silence fell between them and then Dev asked, “What are you doing, Gabe? I’d expect something like this from Lucian—well, before he met Julia. I never worried that you would be spending your evenings with a—”

“Careful how you finish that sentence,” Gabe warned.

“So, it’s true?” Dev faced him. “Don’t even bother lying. You’ve had this ridiculous habit of defending Nikki since she was a girl, getting herself in trouble.”

Gabe said nothing.

“What are you thinking?” Dev demanded once more. “Wait. I get it. She’s twenty-two and she’s beautiful. What man wouldn’t be interested? But you of all people should know better. Getting off can’t mean—”

“Enough,” snarled Gabe, stepping toward his brother. “Nic is not up for discussion with you. Not now. Not ever.”

His brother tilted his head. A moment passed. “I’m here with a few of the board members. Since it appears I’m no longer interrupting anything, why don’t you join us. At least for a drink or two?”

Gabe’s jaw locked down. Joining his brother was the last thing he wanted to do. He’d rather find Nic. He felt like shit for running her off like that, but she did not need Dev finding them like that.

Dev waited.

“I’ll be down in a moment,” he said.

“We’ll be waiting.”

Gabe watched his brother disappear as he pulled his phone out of his pocket, opening up his messages. After debating on what the hell to say, he sent a quick text to Nic.

Sorry about that. Text me when you can.

Gabe stared at the message for a moment and then cursed. He got his feet moving and then he was heading down to join his damn brother.

She hadn’t responded by the time he found his brother at his table, practically holding fucking court, and as minutes ticked into hours, she didn’t respond.

Nikki felt . . . gross.

Not sick gross, but like she’d-done-something-bad-and-needed-to-shower kind of gross. She’d felt that way before, four years ago, and after Friday night, she was feeling that way again.

And if that wasn’t a wake-up call, she didn’t know what was.

When that stupid reporter had talked about good people like her getting hurt, she was sure he hadn’t meant in this way, but he’d been right.

Her heart hurt.

That angered her, because she’d brought this on herself. She really had, because what in the hell had she been thinking messing around with Gabe?

Why in the world did she think her heart wasn’t going to get involved?

She didn’t even know why she was surprised or disappointed by the fact he hadn’t wanted Dev to see him with her. Even though he’d claimed not to care, he did.

And she cared about people finding out, because she . . . she didn’t want to feel like she had to hide this thing with Gabe. But the truth was, she was being hidden.

So Nikki ignored Gabe’s text on Saturday, holing up in her room and focusing on packing what few belongings she had that weren’t in storage. Then she finished the bracelet, painting it red to match the bag Rosie had given her. She placed it on a piece of ripped cardboard and left it out to dry.

After taking a quick shower, she picked up her purse and headed downstairs. Her mom was in the living room, thumbing through a magazine. The color was already starting to return to her cheeks.

“I’m heading out to grab some extra boxes. Do you need anything?”

Her mom looked up, shaking her head. “No, but thank you.”

She walked over to her, kissing her cheek. “You look good today.”

“I feel good.” Her mom smiled as Nikki straightened. “Thinking about getting out in the backyard and doing some weeding.”

“And what will Dad say about that?”

Her mother snorted. “If he knows what’s good for him, he won’t say anything other than Get them weeds, honey.”

Nikki laughed, knowing that was not what her father was going to say. “I’ll see you guys later.”

The skies were overcast as Nikki walked out front to her old Ford. She hoped that her mom wasn’t outside if it started to rain. Colds could turn into pneumonia when your immune system had been all but obliterated from chemo.

Backing out of the driveway, Nikki knew of one place that had a lot of empty boxes and that was Gabe’s workshop. She seriously doubted he’d be there at this time, so close to dinner. Not that she was avoiding him, because seriously, she was going to have to see him on Monday. She just didn’t know what to say to him at this point.

Traffic made the drive to his shop take longer than necessary, but she was relieved to find a parking spot on the same block.

Unlocking the front door, she took a deep breath and peeked in. The main floor was dark. Relief coursed through her. Quickly closing the door behind her, she locked it and hurried toward the back hall, to a small room where she knew Gabe had broken-down boxes stored.

She crossed the main floor, not hesitating. All she wanted to do was get the boxes and get out. Reaching the hall, she glanced at the closed door a few feet down the hall, the one she knew led to Gabe’s office.

Shaking her head, she reached for the other door and opened it. Nikki took one step when her heart lurched into her throat as the office door swung open.

Gabe stepped out into the narrow hall.

Shit.

That was all she could think. Shit.

Several seconds passed as they stared at each other. “Why have you been ignoring my texts?” he asked—no, he demanded.

Her spine straightened. “Why are you here?”

One eyebrow lifted. “It’s my workshop.”

“Yeah, but all the lights were turned off, and you’re in your office, door closed, and . . . and stuff.” That last part sounded lame to her own ears.

“I’m in my office, because I needed to find an order someone called about. The lights aren’t on, because I hadn’t planned on working,” he replied. “And you haven’t answered my question. Why have you been ignoring my texts?”

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