“I labored under the false belief that I could handle her.” He swished his drink around. “That I would be able to keep an eye on her more easily if I was married to her.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

Dev lifted a shoulder. “There were things she knew. Things I haven’t exactly been honest with you about.”

Understanding flared. “You’re talking about Christopher Fitzpatrick. You said—”

“I never told her what had happened to him,” Dev interceded. “She knew. Whether it was Emma who told her or not, I don’t know. Keeping her close so she didn’t jeopardize my family was paramount.”

“Holy shit.” Gabe was shocked and awed as he stared at his brother, seeing him for what felt like the first time in years. “You were with her to protect—”

“I was with her because I chose to be. And I choose not to be with her anymore. It’s as simple as that.”

Gabe slowly shook his head. When they were younger, Dev always . . . he always took the brunt of the punishment when the brothers got in trouble. Hell, sometimes it was almost like he volunteered for it. He was always with their father, always, and often Gabe wondered why, because the man was not kind to Dev, but it wasn’t until Gabe grew older that he realized why Dev willingly stayed by Lawrence’s side.

It kept the man from paying too much attention to Gabe, to Lucian, to Madeline. Dev had protected them back then.

And he was still doing it.


Gabe cleared his throat. “Is it really over, though? You think Sabrina is going to take the breakup even moderately well?”

“She will.” He stared into his glass. “I can be very convincing.”

He studied his brother. “Sometimes you scare me.”

A rare, real smile appeared. “Sometimes I scare myself.”

Gabe’s brows lifted.

“By the way,” Dev said, taking a drink. “What are you going to do about Nikki?”

The change of subject was swift. “What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean. You’ve been with her.”

Gabe’s eyes narrowed. “Like I told you last time, she’s not up for discussion.”

He lifted a shoulder. “I hope you’re thinking about the . . . long-reaching complications of progressing forward with Nikki. She’s nearly ten years your junior, just out of college, and she works for our family.”

“I’ve thought about it, Dev.”

“I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. What do you think will happen if the Rothchilds decide to take you to court for custody?” he asked. “You and your twenty-two-year-old girlfriend. I’m sure that wouldn’t look ideal to a judge.”

“Nic may be ten years younger, but she’s responsible, mature, and a better fucking adult than half of us,” he said, his chest squeezing because what he said was true and he still shit all over her. “William is my son. I would like to see any judge rule against me if it comes to it.”

Dev dragged a finger along the rim of his glass. “Then we should make sure that it doesn’t come to that.”

He shot Dev a look. “Nic would be . . . I would trust her with William. No questions asked.” The moment the words left his mouth he knew he spoke the truth. That was a bitter pill to swallow, considering that realization was about a day late and a dollar short.

He’d hurt her again, but this time he knew the wounds of his words and lack thereof cut far deeper than anything that happened four years ago.

“Should’ve figured she’d eventually get her little claws in you.” A faint, humorless smile appeared on Dev’s face. “If only Lawrence was alive to see this.”

“I’m not quite sure what to say to that.”

“He would’ve had a lot of things to say.”

“I’m sure he would.”

“Except he wouldn’t have stopped at just thinking those things,” Dev continued. “Why do you think I didn’t like Nikki running around in those fucking bathing suits? Wasn’t because of you.” A muscle throbbed along his jaw. “It was because of Father.”

Nothing could’ve stunned him more. “What?”

“You never noticed the way he’d watch her?” His lip curled in disgust. “I did. I saw it.”

Gabe blinked slowly. “What are you talking about?”

He didn’t answer for a long moment. “You didn’t know him, Gabe. Not like I did. Only I knew what that fucking bastard was capable of. What he got away with.”

Everything inside him froze as he stared at his brother. His insides turned cold. “Did he—?” He cut himself off. No. Nic would’ve mentioned something, especially after he talked to her about Emma. But that knowledge did nothing to assuage him, especially considering she never told him about Parker in the pool house, not until he asked. “What did he do?”

“What didn’t he do would be the better question.” He threw back the rest of the drink, his lips thinning as he bared his teeth. “I don’t think I’ve ever been happier than I was when I learned he wasn’t my father. That his fucking blood didn’t course inside of me.” His gaze drifted from Gabe. “Trust me, Gabe, you and I are the lucky ones.”

He gripped the arms of the chair. What did Dev know? One question clambered to the surface. One that he couldn’t stop himself from asking. “Did you do it? Did you kill him?”

Dev’s gaze slid back to Gabe. He didn’t answer.

A long moment passed, and then Gabe leaned back in his chair. Pinching the bridge of his nose, he cursed under his breath. Truth be told, he didn’t want Dev to answer that question. Wasn’t even sure why he asked it.

Gabe dropped his hand to the arm of the chair. “You know, Sabrina said something else. She said she was doing my dirty work again. I have no idea what she meant by that, but it sounded like she’d done something else before.”

Dev’s gaze sharpened. “I don’t think—”

The office door swung open. Gabe looked over his shoulder as Lucian charged in. The fact Lucian did this without knocking set off warning bells. His pale face didn’t help either.

Dev’s instinct must’ve been screaming the same thing as Gabe’s, because he leaned forward and asked, “Do I even want to know?”

Their younger brother looked at Gabe, slowly shaking his head as he clenched his phone. “It’s Nikki.”

Ice drenched Gabe’s skin. He was moving before he knew it, reaching into his pocket and pulling out his cellphone. He saw a missed call, and his heart stopped. It hadn’t been Nic calling him again. It had been from Troy. His head whipped in Lucian’s direction. He was standing, but he couldn’t feel the floor underneath his feet.

“Care to elaborate?” Dev asked, sounding calm—too calm when it felt like the entire room was shifting under Gabe’s feet.

“I just got off the phone with Troy. He said Nikki was attacked at her apartment—”

That was all Gabe heard—all he needed to hear in that moment. “Is she okay?”

Lucian opened his mouth. “I don’t . . . I don’t know.”

His entire word stopped as a horrible sense of déjà vu washed over Gabe, rocking him straight to the core. No way. Not Nic. He couldn’t lose—

He cut himself off, not even giving that horrific thought a chance to breathe and take on a life. “Where is she?”

“At University Hospital,” Lucian answered.

Gabe started for the door.

“Wait. You haven’t heard it all.” Lucian turned to Dev. “It was Parker Harrington.”

Nikki winced as the young doctor shone the light into her left eye.

“Sorry about that.” He tilted his head and then sat back, snapping off the light. “You’re definitely going to be bruised and swollen in this eye, but there doesn’t appear to be any serious damage to the eye or the socket.”

She started to nod, but then wisely decided against it since it felt like her entire body was one giant throbbing bruise.


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