“Why was he grabbing you, Nic?” Gabe asked in the same flat tone.

She glanced between them, perversely satisfied by the pleading look Parker shot her. “I told him that if he didn’t leave, I was going to call the cops.”

“And why wouldn’t he leave?”

“I don’t know. You’d have to ask him.”

“I’m sure he’ll have an answer I don’t want to hear. What was he doing here?”

Nikki crossed her arms. “He said he was here to see Devlin.”

He cocked his head to the side. “Bullshit, Parker. You know Dev isn’t back in town until Saturday. So why are you really here and how the hell did you get in?”

Parker couldn’t really respond, not with Gabe choking him. The man’s face had gone from red to a purplish color. Nikki decided to speak up. “I think he came here to tell me to keep my mouth shut about what I saw on Monday.”

“Really?” Gabe let go of Parker.

Parker slumped against the wall, coughing as he dragged in air. “Jesus,” he bit out, voice hoarse as he rubbed at his throat. “You were choking me.”

“No shit.” Gabe bent at the waist, getting his face right in his. “Did Sabrina send you to threaten Nic? You’re probably not going to answer that question honestly, so don’t even bother.”

Parker started to look away, but Gabe grabbed a fistful of hair and forced the man to look him dead in the eye. “I want both you and your sister to understand some things—I thought I’d made it perfectly clear to Sabrina on Monday, but I’ll say it again. Stay away from Nic. Don’t look at her. Don’t even breathe in her direction. If you or your sister do, that will be it. Do you feel me?”

Parker didn’t respond.

Jerking his hand back, Gabe slammed Parker’s head into the wall. “One more time. Do you feel me?”

“I feel you,” Parker gasped.

“Good. The next thing is a message for Sabrina. Let her know that I will be talking to Dev. That’s going to happen the moment he comes home on Saturday. Sabrina fucked up and she’s going to live with that. Just like you’re going to.”

Parker swallowed hard. “If Devlin doesn’t marry—”

“I don’t give a fuck. At all. Not one single fuck,” Gabe said, and when he smiled it was the scariest damn smile Nikki ever saw. “Do you understand me?”

“Yes,” Parker groaned.

“Perfect.” Gabe let go of Parker’s hair and the man leaned against the wall, his chest heaving. “Just one more thing.”

Parker lifted his chin.

Smiling, Gabe cocked his arm back. He moved as fast as lightning striking. His fist connected with Parker’s jaw and down the man went, folding like a paper sack.

“Oh my.” Nikki placed her hand over her mouth.

Gabe towered over Parker. “Get up and get the fuck out of this house before I do worse.”

Parker didn’t protest. He got up and he ran—the man ran down the hall and then he all but tore at the front door to get it open. He didn’t look back.

And that just left Gabe and her in the hallway.

“There’s something wrong with the Harrington family,” she murmured.

“That there is.” He sighed, working the knuckles of his hand. “That’s the second time I punched a man because of you.”

Nikki slowly turned to Gabe. “What?”

“Are you okay?” he asked instead of answering.

“Yeah.” She folded her arms across her chest. “I don’t know how he got in here. I locked the doors.”

“I hate to tell you this, but I just came in through the mudroom. That door wasn’t locked.”

“What?” Disbelief filled her. “I locked that. I know I did.”

Gabe shook his head as he walked ahead. “Did Parker do anything to you?” He went to the front door and threw the lock. “Are you sure he didn’t hurt you?”

“No. He scared me, but he didn’t hurt me.” Now that the adrenaline was fading, a whole different kind of anxiety was rising.

Gabe faced her and then looked down at his hand. “I told him once to stay away from you. He obviously has a problem listening.”

“You did?”

“Let me see your arm.” He started toward her.

Nikki backed up. “Nothing is wrong with my arm.”

“I’d feel better if you’d let me check it.”

“Why do you care?” The question burst out of her as she backed up.

“Why do I care?” he repeated slowly. He looked away, biting down on his lip. “Nic, we need to talk—”

“No, we don’t, because you’re going to say ‘Of course I care about you,’ and things are going to get really awkward and really painful.” She unfolded her arms. “Because you obviously don’t care about me in that way.”

He turned his head back to her. “Nic . . .”

“You know the way. The one that makes you share actual important details about your life.” That knot was back in her throat. “Like that you have a son. And you can’t deny that. You really can’t.” Squeezing her eyes shut, she exhaled raggedly as she struggled not to break down. “Thank you for talking to Parker. Punching him. Whatever. But I still don’t want to talk to you.” She opened her eyes and hated that his face blurred. “I don’t want to see you.”

Nikki had never been more grateful to have something like a move to occupy her thoughts. She wasn’t thinking about Gabe all day or worrying with residual dread every time she thought about Parker or Sabrina.

Today was the first day she hadn’t felt like staying in bed and crying like she was eighteen all over again. Unpacking boxes and putting away utensils had a strange way of emptying her head of all thoughts.

It had helped that her parents spent part of the day with her, as did Rosie, who’d just unloaded the last of the towels, leaving them on her bed.

As Rosie came out of the short, narrow hallway, Nikki’s gaze fell to the little island that separated the kitchen and living room. Off to the right was a space for a kitchen table.

She hadn’t gotten one of those yet.

Her gaze got snagged on the chisel kit Gabe had given her. It lay open from when Rosie was poking around in it, looking for something sharp to open a box with.

She’d brought it with her to the apartment, because she refused to let what happened with Gabe ruin something she enjoyed doing once more.

Seeing the kit hurt, but she’d be damned if she let that stop her.

“You doing okay?” Rosie asked, wiping her palm on her forehead.

“Yeah.” She lifted her hands above her head and stretched her back. “Just a little lost in my head.”

“Remember what I told you.” She adjusted the scarf that was holding her curls out of her face. “Fuck him.”

“I remember.” Nikki had filled Rosie in on what had happened days ago. She trusted that Rosie wouldn’t say a word about Gabe having a kid, but she had left out what Sabrina had said about the man who’d hurt Emma. That was something Nikki would never repeat, ever. “Fuck him.”

Fuck him had become Rosie’s new motto.

Rosie draped an arm over Nikki’s shoulders. “It’ll get easier.”

“I know.” She swallowed and then smiled. “Been down this road with him before.”

Her friend kissed her cheek and then leaned against the island. “I still think there’s more to why he never told you about his son. I’m sure that he’ll probably explain himself eventually.”

“It doesn’t matter if he does.” Nikki sucked air through the pain piercing her through her chest. “To not tell me something that huge that impacts his future—that would’ve impacted our future together—tells me that he wasn’t even thinking that far ahead.”

Rosie said nothing.

“At the end of the day, I was just . . . someone he was passing the time with. He said it himself, Rosie. He’s going to leave here.”

“Men say stupid things they don’t mean all the time.”

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