“Their names don’t give that impression,” he commented.

Ned snorted as he picked up a file off his desk, but he kept his mouth shut. Nikki curled her arm around Gabe’s and pulled him back out the front door of the office.

“I don’t think the guy likes me,” Gabe said as they rounded the outside of the building, drawing closer to the sound of barking dogs.

“He doesn’t know you.” Nikki slipped her arm free as they neared the high chain-link fence that surrounded the kennel. If the de Vincents weren’t so infamous around the country, he would’ve passed as any normal volunteer dressed down in a pair of loose, gray sweats and a plain shirt.

Goodness, he looked good dressed like that. Silver sunglasses on, hair pulled back at the nape of his neck in a neat bun. Then again, he pretty much just always looked good.

“Thank you for coming,” she said, stopping in front of the gate. One of the workers hurried over to unlock it.

“No problem. I was up and don’t have much planned.”

Nikki smiled at the worker who did a double-take in Gabe’s direction. “Not heading into the workshop?”

“Later.” He placed a hand on her lower back as they walked through the open gate. “You?”

She lifted a shoulder. “Maybe.”

“You should.” His hand trailed over her hip, causing her to shiver.

Nikki bit down on her lip as she wandered over to the kennels. “Is there a reason why you think I should?”

“Multitude of reasons.”

Stopping to pet a golden retriever, she looked over her shoulder at Gabe. “Does one of those reasons involve a couch?”

Those sunglasses shielded his eyes, but she could feel his heated stare. “It can. But there’s also a desk I think was feeling lonely last night.”

She laughed as she scratched the retriever under the chin. After a few moments, she pulled her hand free, and the retriever whined. “You’ve already had your walk, baby. I’m sorry.”

The twinge in her heart as she walked away from the poor dog wasn’t anything new. She met the worker at the last two kennels, and within a few moments Diesel and Fusion were on their leads, tails and butts wiggling as they sniffed Gabe’s shoes.

“I hope that means they like me.” He stared down at them.

“They pretty much like everyone. Pits are friendly dogs,” she said, leading them over to the large stretch of grassy area. “They get a bad rap, though.”

Gabe was grinning at his black-and-white spotted pit. “Which one is this?”

“That’s Diesel.”

“He’s freaking strong.”

Diesel was excitedly pulling at the leash, sniffing every blade of grass, it seemed, while Fusion did his hopping thing, which was how he walked when he was excited.

“I imagine volunteering here has to be hard for you,” Gabe commented, drawing her gaze. “I figure you’d adopt all the dogs.”

“I wish I could.” She brushed a strand of hair back from her face. “If I had a ton of money, I’d love to have my own rescue.”

Gabe chuckled. “You sound like Julia. She said the same thing.”

“That’s because Julia is good people.” She grinned. “I want to get a dog, but with an apartment, I’d have to get a small, lazy one. These guys would go nuts inside one.”

Gabe was quiet for a moment. “Lucian always wanted one of these when he was growing up.”

“Your dad would’ve had a shit fit—” Her eyes widened. “Sorry. Lawrence would’ve had a fit.”

“It’s okay.” He grinned. “Lawrence was my father even if it wasn’t by DNA. He’s the only father I knew. And you’re right. There was no way he’d allow any of us to have a pet.”

“Because it would make noise,” she commented, thinking back to the day the senator was in the house. “And leave dog hair everywhere.”

“We almost had our mother convinced once, though. Actually, it was Madeline. She wanted one of those little dogs. The kind that bites ankles.” He knelt beside Diesel and patted him. The dog immediately flopped onto its sides, panting for belly rubs. Gabe obliged. “I think it was a Yorkie or something like that.”

From what Nikki remembered of Madeline, she could picture the often-sullen girl carting around that type of dog. She watched Gabe scratch Diesel’s belly. “Why did your mom end up not getting her one?”

“Don’t know. She and Mom had a weird relationship. Went from her doing everything and anything for Madeline, and then it was like they weren’t even speaking to one another.” He dragged his fingers to the dog’s chest, and Diesel thumped his tail off the grass. “But you know how all of that ended.”

She did, and she still couldn’t believe it. “I really am sorry that any of you had to go through that.”

He tipped his chin up and a faint smile tugged at his lips. “Makes you wonder if the de Vincent curse is real, doesn’t it?”

The curse had a thing for women.

It was said that the land the house was built on was tainted. Apparently it was used as a quarantine area during the many deadly flu outbreaks that plagued New Orleans. Legend went that the patriarch of the de Vincents was warned not to build a house there, but he hadn’t listened, which angered the spirits of all who’d died on the land. The strange thing about the curse, if one believed in those kinds of things, was that it seemed to really hate women. Two things happened to the de Vincent women. They either ended up . . . unstable.

Or dead.

And there was a long, very verifiable history of those two things.

“Do you believe in the curse?” she asked, scratching the pit behind its ear as she glanced over at him.

Gabe’s hand stilled along the dog’s hip and a long moment passed before he answered. “I used to think it was just an interesting story my grandmother would tell us, but sometimes I do wonder if there is some truth in it. Not even counting all the bizarre deaths in our family that span centuries? Just look at what has happened in the last couple of years. Our mother. Emma. Our sister. Julia could’ve died that night on the rooftop. So maybe the curse is real. Seems like everything—everyone we touch ends up tainted.”

“Not everything.” She reached over and touched his arm, her chest heavy for him—for his family. “Not me.”

He studied her a moment and then smiled. “Not you.”

Nikki was probably the biggest fool alive, but she couldn’t keep the grin off her face as she picked up the stack of towels Monday afternoon and started to carry them upstairs.

Devlin had given her Friday off to focus on her move, telling her this before he’d left for Houston. So not only could she get an early start on her move, she didn’t have to cook dinner for the rest of the week as he wouldn’t be returning until Saturday afternoon.

That also meant that since Devlin wasn’t here, there’d be no reason for Sabrina or Parker to be either.

Win. Win.

The goofy grin she’d been rocking since Saturday night wasn’t completely due to Devlin’s actual thoughtfulness or his absence. A lot of it was due to what went down between her and Gabe. That played a big role in it.

Goodness.

Gabe was . . . he really was insatiable.

Her cheeks flushed as the weekend replayed itself for about the hundredth time. Saturday night had been . . . amazing, but Sunday afternoon and evening? They were a repeat of Saturday and then some. He’d made sure that desk hadn’t been lonely, setting her on the edge and feasting on her before he stood her up and turned her around, bending her over. When he’d taken her from behind, she’d never been more turned on in her life nor had she ever been . . . taken that hard before.

She found that she really, really liked it.

Gabe hadn’t stopped there. He’d ordered lunch from the diner down the street, like he’d done Saturday night, and picked it up for them, and afterward, he’d pulled her into his lap and they’d had sex again.

The last time . . . it had felt different.

It had been slower, and somehow it was so much more intense. It had felt like they were making love.

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