“I haven’t been ignoring your texts,” she lied. “I’ve been busy. I’m actually still pretty busy. Packing. I came here to grab some extra boxes I saw.”

“Bullshit.” He stepped forward, and since the hall wasn’t that big, he was right there, looming over her. “I’ve texted five times.”

“No,” she said. “You texted—”

“Three times today and twice last night, and the last time I checked, three plus two equals five.”

Her eyes narrowed. “I thought you meant today, smartass.”

“No one is too busy to return a damn text.”

That was true. “Whatever. I just need to grab some boxes—” She started to turn, but he caught her hand. Her eyes flew to his. “Seriously. I just want to grab boxes and get out of here.”

His shoulders tensed. “You’re pissed.”

Nikki was about to deny that, but then, she just let it out. All those ugly feelings she had been stewing in since last night erupted from her. “Last night made me feel like shit,” she said, yanking her hand free from his. “Like I was something to be hidden, to be ashamed of—”

“I’m not ashamed of you, Nic.” His eyes widened. “How could you think that?”

“Really?” She laughed. “You literally lifted me off you and told me to run away before Devlin found us. How was that supposed to make me feel?”

“You really wanted Dev to find us like that?” he asked. “Dev?”

“Obviously I didn’t want to be found with my breasts all out there for the world to see—”

“Glad we’re on the same page when it comes to that.”

She ignored that. “But I also don’t like being made to feel like I have to hide, and that’s what I had to do.”

His eyes searched hers. “I didn’t mean for you to feel that way.”

“Well, I did.” She crossed her arms, shaking her head as frustration rose. “What in the hell are we doing, Gabe?”

He fell silent.

Her chest rose with a painful breath. “Do either of your brothers know about this? Whatever this is? They don’t. Neither do my parents. I guess that’s because we’re not in a relationship, right?”

Gabe looked away, a muscle flexing in his jaw.

“So, I don’t even know why I’m pissed or disappointed, because it’s not like we’ve even talked about what the hell we’re doing.”

“We’re talking now.”

Nikki’s laugh was harsh. “Yeah, well, it’s a little late for that.”

“Is it?” His gaze swung back to hers. “How is it too late when we are now just talking about this?”

“Because we’re now just talking about this!” She drew in a slow, even breath. “Like last night wasn’t even a date. It was a dinner to celebrate me getting an apartment, but—”

“How is that not a date?” he fired back. “We went out. We had dinner. I would’ve picked you up, but it was you that was dead set against that.”

She opened her mouth. Well, shit. He had a point there.

“And we were getting to the part of the night that really felt like a date before we were interrupted.”

“You mean when you asked me to run away before your brother found us?”

His nostrils flared. “Look, I get that I handled that wrong, and yeah, I felt like shit afterward. I was trying to protect you.”

“Really? Or were you trying to protect yourself?”

Gabe’s jaw hardened. A moment passed. “I guess I was trying to protect both of us.”

She stared at him, unsure of how to feel about that.

“I didn’t want you to have to deal with Dev. You know him. He would’ve said something incredibly offensive, because that’s how he is,” Gabe went on. “But I shouldn’t have had you leave. That was wrong, because I’m not trying to hide you.”

“You’re not?” The knot was back in her throat.

“This situation isn’t easy, Nic. You know that.” He dragged a hand through his hair as he gave a little shake of his head. “All I know is that—fuck, I can’t stop thinking about you. When you’re not right in front of me, I’m wondering where you are and what you’re doing. And when you are near me, it takes literally everything in me to keep my hands off you. I know that I want you more than I ever wanted anyone in my life.”

He drew back like his own words shocked him.

What he said . . . wow. More than anyone in his life? More than Emma? Because if that was the case, that was huge, but that . . . that was all lust. It was sex. It wasn’t romance. It sure as hell wasn’t love.

Love?

Where did love come into play?

Her shoulders squared. She wasn’t kidding herself any longer. Love was involved, because if last night had hurt her heart it was because her heart was open to him.

“You say all of that,” she said. “But you haven’t even kissed me, Gabe.”

“What?” He looked confused.

“Kissed me. On the lips with your lips,” she explained, rolling her eyes. “So don’t stand there and tell me you—”

He moved so fast she wondered if he had special powers. Before she could even take her next breath, his hands were on her cheeks and he was tilting her head back.

And then his mouth was on hers.

Chapter 26

It was just a kiss—their first kiss—but Nikki knew the moment his mouth touched hers, she’d never been kissed like this.

His lips were on hers and there was nothing soft and sweet about this kiss. Oh no, this kiss branded her within seconds. His mouth moved along hers as his fingers played out across her cheeks.

Everything they’d been arguing about seconds before slipped away, and it was just him finally, finally kissing her. Nikki’s body, her heart, and every part of her took over. Rising onto the tips of her flats, she wrapped her arms around his neck as she kissed him back.

Gabe shuddered, and Nikki thought that she might’ve stopped breathing right then and there. Mind reeling and senses spinning, she trembled as the kiss deepened, and when the tip of his tongue rolled over hers, she was lost.

And she’d been right. She’d never been kissed like this—like he was tasting her and owning her. A near-primitive sound rumbled from within him.

He lifted his head, breathing heavy. “You’re right. I haven’t kissed you. Shouldn’t have waited this long.”

And then he was kissing her again.

There was a brief second where Nikki worried that this wasn’t smart. Her heart, oh God, her heart was in this and she knew what that meant. She . . . she loved him, and everything he said about her didn’t mean he felt the same, but she couldn’t stop herself.

Nikki wanted this too badly.

She always wanted this.

Gabe slid his hands off her cheeks, down her arms, and to her hips. He lifted her up, and instinct took over. Wrapping her legs around his waist, she held on as Gabe turned, pressing her into the wall behind them. Her stomach dipped like she was at the highest hill of a roller coaster.

His head tilted, deepening the kiss once more as he rocked his hips into hers. Her fingers tangled into the soft edges of his hair as she moaned into his mouth. Her heart was racing, her pulse pounding as her legs tightened around him.

He moved them to the side, knocking into something that was propped up there. A broom? She wasn’t sure. It clattered to the floor, and Gabe laughed into the kiss as he pulled her away from the wall. His hands dropped to her rear and squeezed as he started walking. A maddening riot of sensations shot through her as he held her there, devouring her as he took them into the office.

She’d only seen inside it once, knew that there was a table, a few chairs, and a couch. She had a feeling that was where he was taking her, and she was so onboard with that idea.

They fell backward, onto the couch, their lips not breaking contact as they sunk into the soft cushions. Reaching down, he gripped her thighs, his hand opening and closing, and then he lifted her leg up, hooking it around his waist. His mouth was still claiming hers as he rolled his hips, pressing into where she throbbed for him. She tilted her hips, seeking what they both wanted. He answered with a ragged groan.

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