And they’d talked—just talked about everything. Her upcoming move and Gabe told her once more she needed to get a dog, which brought up the whole armadillo thing again. Nikki wasn’t against getting a dog, but she knew she needed to hold off on that. She didn’t want to get a dog and then never be home because she was working and going to school.

And they talked about Lucian moving out, and how it was going to be weird with him not being in the house. Gabe talked more about his sister—what she’d done and what it had meant to him and his brothers. They even talked about who his father could’ve been, but Gabe really had no clue. After dinner and the last time they’d had sex, they’d just lain together, and it felt so normal, so right.

It felt like something real, something deep. It felt like love.

Stopping in the hallway, she closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. She shouldn’t let herself think that, but she couldn’t help it. Her heart was like a jumping bean in her chest every time she thought about the way he’d kissed her goodbye, like he didn’t want to let her go.

And she didn’t want to go.

A little niggle of warning squirmed in the pit of her stomach like a snake waking up from slumber. They talked about everything but what they were. And while the sex had been amazing, it didn’t solve anything.

It didn’t answer any of her lingering questions.

Opening her eyes, she wondered where Gabe was. She hadn’t seen him. He was probably at the shop, but she’d figured he’d be back soon. He’d always brought her a smoothie around this time.

She hurried down the hall before her arms gave out. Rounding the corner, she almost ran into Julia.

“Hey.” The woman immediately reached for the towels. “Let me help you with that.”

“You don’t have to.”

“I know.” She took half off the top, smiling. “But I hate seeing people doing things when I’m more than capable of helping. Where are you going with these?”

Yet again, Nikki was reminded of how much Julia was not like Sabrina. “These are actually going to Lucian’s apartment.”

“Then this worked out perfectly,” she replied, walking with Nikki. “How is your mother doing?”

“Really good. She’s nearing the end of her treatment, so we’re crossing fingers that when they do the scans, it’ll show that the cancer is gone.”

“I really hope so.”

“How’re the renovations on the house going?” Nikki asked as they neared Lucian’s rooms.

“We’re almost done. I think we’ll be in there before the holidays, so I’m looking forward to that,” she said. “You know, having my parents down and everything. I really do not want them coming here for dinner—” Her eyes widened. “I probably shouldn’t have said that.”

Nikki laughed. “It’s okay. I totally understand why you wouldn’t want your parents to spend Thanksgiving at the de Vincent table. It would probably be the most awkward and strained dinner of all time. Trust me. I’ve seen some of them while the parents were alive.”

“I keep forgetting that you know how this family is,” Julia said, looking at the closed door to Lucian’s rooms. “I don’t think people on the outside would understand how they are.”

“They wouldn’t,” she agreed, thinking of Ross. She hadn’t told Gabe about running into him, figuring he really didn’t need to know that. But people like Ross wouldn’t understand the de Vincents. They’d always think and assume the worst.

“And my parents wouldn’t. Lucian and Gabe? Sure.” Julia shifted the towels. “But Devlin and Sabrina? The senator? No. They’d be like What in the hell is wrong with these people?”

Nikki grinned. “I think that’s a question many ask themselves daily.”

Laughing softly, Julia’s gaze made her way back to her. “But you’re like family to them, so you understand all of this. You know how the boys seem to always fight for what’s best for them, what they really want. That fight makes them do and say stupid things.” She paused. “And I’m sure you know that, too. You seem to be really close to Gabe.”

Nikki stilled, unsure of how to respond to that. “Gabe has always been . . . kind to me.” She promptly thought about the weekend and flushed. He hadn’t exactly been kind then. “We both like to work with wood.”

“I bet you do,” Julia said, grinning.

Her eyes widened. “I didn’t mean it like—”

“I know.” Julia laughed. “Anyway, so yeah, I hope to be out of here by the holidays. I can’t wait for my parents to see the new house. I think Lucian is planning on taking them on weird city tours or something.”

Relieved at first that the conversation moved back to safer topics, Nikki let her smile fade a little as envy sprung to life. Tours with the parents. Holidays with them. A happy future that included the people you cared about. No matter how she felt for Gabe, she wasn’t naive enough to see that in their future.

And that was . . . well, it was just sad.

Nikki dropped off the towels and started back downstairs after leaving Julia, but she stopped in the hallway. Her legs just refused to move as the reality of the situation swept over her.

She was in love with Gabe.

That was no surprise. She’d been in love with him since the day he saved her in the pool. That love had driven her to do idiotic things—things that Gabe had taken part in.

But she hadn’t chased after him when she returned. She’d steered clear and it was he who came to her, claiming he wanted to be friends. It was he who ruined her date and made the first move. It was Gabe chasing after her.

That had to mean something.

What Julia had just said rose to the surface. You know how the boys seem to always fight for what’s best for them, what they really want.

Gabe wanted her. He’d proved that time and time again, but it wasn’t easy. There were his brothers. Their history. Her parents. Their age gap. None of that mattered to her. She loved him and a little piece of her heart told her that it was quite possible that Gabe felt the same.

After all, it wasn’t like he was hurting for female companionship. He could easily go out there and find someone if it was just about sex, and it would be easier for him to do that. There wouldn’t be all these complications. He had access to a metric crap-ton of no-strings, stress-free sex.

There was a reason why he’d gone for her, and Nikki couldn’t help but think of what Rosie had said when she’d told her about the little room Gabe had set up for her in the shop. What had Rosie said? That maybe Gabe had spent the last four years hating himself, because he’d wanted her back then, just like he wanted her now.

You didn’t want someone that long without having strong feelings for them.

Nikki knew what she needed to do.

She needed to tell Gabe how she felt.

Her legs started moving. She didn’t go downstairs. Since her father had left for the day, she gave in to the impulse. She hurried outside, taking the quickest route to the other wing, walking along the porch. She shivered as the wind blew the rain in. Climbing the stairs on the right wing, she made her way to the third floor, to the outside entrance of Gabe’s suite.

She hesitated at the doors and then knocked. The door cracked open. It had been left unlocked and unlatched. Her stomach dipped. Gabe had to be home then. She stepped inside the living area part of his apartment. The lights were off and the door to his bedroom was open. She could hear the shower running.

Inching toward the bedroom, she stepped inside the spacious room.

She thought about surprising him by stripping naked and jumping in, but then she rolled her eyes. She didn’t exactly have the nerve to do that yet, and besides, if she did that, they’d get nothing discussed.

Nikki looked around his bedroom instead. She actually hadn’t been in his apartment since that night. Not once had she cleaned his rooms and he hadn’t mentioned it to her since the day in the gym.

Now that she was here she found that very little had changed from what she remembered. It was sparse. A huge bed in the middle. One end table. There was a worn book on the stand, next to what appeared to be a picture frame. The room was too dark for her to see who the picture was of. There was one large dresser across from the bed, one that Gabe had made himself. The intricate ivy ran the length of the beautiful piece of furniture. Nikki inhaled, catching the fresh, clean scent of his cologne.

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