Nikki gingerly sat down on the couch. “The couch will be fine.” She tugged at the hospital wristband, sighing when the thing wouldn’t budge. What did they seal these things with? Gorilla Glue? “Thank you for picking me up.”

“If you say thank you one more time, I’ll scream.” Rosie sat beside her, concern etched into her face. She glanced at Nikki’s cell phone. “You really need to call your parents.”

“I will.” She sighed, pushing a strand of hair back from her face. “I have time. I mean, I doubt they’re going to say my name when this hits the news.”

“Hon, it’s already hit the news,” Rosie told her. “It was all over the local news this morning. Parker Harrington? That’s a big deal.”

Her stomach twisted. “But they didn’t say my name, right?”

“No. Bizarrely, they were speculating it was a domestic situation between him and a woman he was seeing.”

“God.” She leaned back in hopes it took the weight off her ribs. “I just don’t want my parents to freak out.”

“They’re going to freak out. Not trying to stress you out, but their daughter was almost murdered and looks like she went toe-to-toe in a cage match.”

Nikki flinched. “That’s not helping.”

“I know it’s not, but it’s not like you’re going to take a nap and wake up looking like nothing happened. Your parents are going to be upset when they realize you’ve waited this long to see them.”

She knew this. “I’ll call them in a little bit.”

“Okay.” Rosie rose, walking to where the curtains were letting the morning light stream in from the glass doors of the balcony. Nikki’s phone rang just then. From where she sat, she saw who it was and Rosie guessed it. “Is that Gabe?”

“Yeah,” she whispered. That was the third time Gabe had called. “I texted him and told him I was coming here.”

“But he wanted you to go home with him?” She closed the curtains, and the room darkened.

When Gabe had finally left her side in the early morning hours to check in with his brothers, Nikki had put her escape plan in motion. Luck had finally been on her side. Rosie answered her call and she was released from the hospital all before Gabe returned.

“He did, but that wouldn’t be the smartest decision.” Nikki smoothed her hand over her knees, concentrating on taking deep breaths.

“I’m sure he took all of that into consideration when he made the offer.”

Nikki couldn’t help but think about how he’d held her hand, kissing it. The way his eyes had appeared damp and how he’d been so reluctant to leave her side. He’d said they needed to talk, but she knew that whatever he was feeling or thinking was greatly skewed by what just happened.

“It doesn’t matter.” She closed her one good eye. “I just want to sleep. Okay?”

“All right. I’ll leave it alone if you get your ass in my bed and sleep there.” When Nikki opened her mouth to protest, Rosie lifted a hand. “I’m already awake and if you sleep out here, you’re not going to get any rest. I’m also not a shitty friend. You’re taking the bed. So get up and get your ass in there.”

A weak smile tugged at her lips. “You’re not a shitty friend.” Pushing herself up, she ignored the spike of pain. “I’ll get in bed.”

And that’s what she did. Not only that, she was able to change into a pair of sleep shorts and a loose tee shirt that fit well enough to be comfortable. At this point, she’d wear anything to not be in the clothing she was in.

She didn’t want to see the leggings or shirt ever again, and Rosie apparently sensed that because as Nikki got comfortable, she removed the clothes from the bedroom.

It took a while for her to settle in, finally giving up and lying prone on her back. The room was so quiet she wondered if Rosie was still in the apartment. The silence, though, it dragged on her nerves, and when she closed her eyes, she heard Parker’s ragged breathing, she felt him on her, and she saw those shocked eyes.

Nikki pressed her lips together, ignoring the ache it caused. Emotion crawled up her throat. Tears burned the back of her eyes. She didn’t want to cry. Besides the fact it was going to sting the hell out of her swollen eye, she feared that if she started she wouldn’t stop. Not anytime soon. Too much had happened. Too much and she didn’t know how she was going to deal with this.

With any of this.

“Are you sure her friend lives here?” Dev asked as they walked up metal stairs to a second-floor apartment over what appeared to be a voodoo shop. “Or a priestess ready to raise the dead?”

Gabe ignored the comment. “You didn’t have to come.”

“Yes, I do.” Dev adjusted the black sunglasses he was wearing. “Nikki got hurt because of my relationship with Sabrina.”

The responsibility fell on both of them. Gabe should’ve said something about Sabrina earlier, and Dev should’ve shut that shit down with her years ago.

None of that mattered at that point.

Gabe stopped in front of the door that had what appeared to be some kind of wooden Celtic cross hanging from it. The craftsmanship caught his eye, but that was weird as shit, so whatever.

He hoped this was the right place. It had taken some investigating, requiring him to call Bev, because he knew Nic was friends with her daughter. It was Bree who told him where Rosie lived.

He knocked on the door while Dev joined him on the landing. A second later the door inched open. Jackpot. It had to be Rosie since she fit Bree’s description to a tee. She peeked out, her hair held back with a purple scarf with . . . skulls all over it?

Yep, they were skulls.

“Figured you’d find your way here.” She looked over his shoulder and frowned. “Surprised to see that one here.”

Dev stepped to the side. “Excuse me?”

The woman ignored him. “You here for Nikki?”

“Yes. You going to let me in?”

She blocked the door. “Depends. Are you finally going to do right by my friend?”

“Who is this woman?” Dev demanded.

“First name Nonya, last name Your Business,” she snapped, her gaze not leaving Gabe’s face.

Despite everything, Gabe was fighting a laugh. “I’m going to try to.”

“Trying isn’t good enough, bud. Not anymore,” Rosie shot back, surprising Gabe. “You trying is pretty much like me trying not to eat the last cupcake in the fridge. It’s not real successful.”

“Okay. I’m going to do right by her. That’s why I’m here,” Gabe said again. “You going to let me in?”

She appeared to think it over and then she stepped back, opening the door. “She’s in the bedroom.”

Gabe walked in. “Thank you.”

“Don’t make me regret this,” she said, voice low. “Because you will not like it if I regret this.”

He smiled then, unable to help himself. “I won’t.”

“Good.”

Gabe stepped around the somewhat scary woman when he heard Dev ask, “Is that really a beaded curtain?”

“You got a problem with that?” she fired back. “Are they not up to your taste or class?”

“I’m pretty sure that most people over the age of twelve find them to be tasteless.”

“Behave,” he said to Dev, leaving him in the room with Nikki’s friend.

He parted the beads and stepped into the dark room. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust, but he found her lying in the center of the bed.

When he got back to the hospital room and saw that she was gone, he was caught between wanting to curse and laugh. If she was putting effort into doing exactly the opposite of what he wanted, then that was a good sign.

Walking over to the bed, he sat down. Even in the darkness of the room, he could see that the bruises looked worse than before. His jaw locked down as he reached out, carefully catching a strand of her hair. He brushed it back from her face.

“Nikki,” he said.

Her brows knitted and then her right eye opened. She focused on him, and he saw the sleep clearing from her face.

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