Surprise flickered across Richard’s face and then he picked up the glass, finishing off the scotch. “You’re ten years older than her.”

“Doesn’t feel that way. Maybe one day it will, when I’m your age, but not now. And correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you eight years older than Livie?”

“When we got together, things were different.”

“When you two got together, she was barely eighteen, right?”

“As I said, things were—”

“You loved each other,” Gabe corrected. “That’s all that mattered. And now look at you two, married for how long?”

Richard arched a brow. “And what about William?”

“I will take her to meet him, when she’s ready, and we’ll go from there,” he explained. “Look, I don’t have everything figured out. I haven’t even told Nic how I feel yet, but I’m telling you. I love her. I’m in love with her, so all I can tell you is that we’ll figure everything out.”

“You haven’t told my daughter that you love her?”

“Not yet.” He glanced at the closed door. “My timing has been off.”

“There’s no wrong time to tell someone you love them.”

Gabe felt his heart lodge in his throat as he stared at the man he considered more like a father than a butler. He knew that when her parents came to see her, he was going to have this conversation with her father. The man wasn’t going to not question why Nic was in his bed. The thing was, he wasn’t sure how Richard would take to the news.

He’d actually prepared himself to stand there and let Richard take a swing at him, if Nic’s father felt like he needed that.

“What are you saying?” he heard himself ask.

“What I’m saying is that I suppose my girl could do worse than a de Vincent falling in love with her.”

A slow grin tugged at his lips. “You think Livie will feel the same, with the curse and all?”

“You’re not the brother I worry about when it comes to the curse,” Richard replied. “You’re the brother I worry about least.”

Nikki sat in the chair out on the porch that overlooked the pool. A soft, thin blanket was draped over her legs, warding off the cool breeze rolling over the land and lifting the wisps of hair off her neck.

Beside her sat a glass of sweet tea and an untouched book Julia had lent her. Nikki wanted nothing more than to lose herself in a good read, but the last few days consumed her thoughts.

Seeing her parents react to how she looked was something that was going to stay with her for a long time. Hell, not like she was going to forget the attack anytime soon, but for some reason, seeing her father nearly break down when he got a look at her absolutely destroyed her.

Her parents were the strongest people she knew.

Nikki was glad she did see them. It wasn’t until her mom wrapped her arms around her that she realized just how badly she’d needed her momma in that moment. Nothing made you feel like everything was going to be okay like a hug from your mom.

What didn’t make her feel all that okay was her mom asking her why she was in Gabe’s bed. That had been awkward to say the least, because she wasn’t sure how to answer it. She wasn’t even sure what was going on between them.

Gabe had worked with the landlord and her apartment was currently being restored. It wasn’t just a quick cleanup job. The subfloors had to be pulled up because the blood had . . .

Nikki reached for her glass of tea. Her hand trembled, causing the ice to shake as she took a drink.

In other words, it was going to be a couple of days before she could get back into her apartment. Gabe, along with Rosie, had grabbed several days’ worth of clothing for her.

She would’ve loved to have been a fly on the wall for that trip.

Setting the tea aside, she tugged the blanket up to her shoulders and closed her eyes. The swelling had started to go down in her left eye, so it was beginning to function like a normal eyeball, thank God. Her rib still ached, usually when standing up or lying down at first, but it was getting better.

Life was trucking along even though no one had a clue where Sabrina was, and it wasn’t because the brothers had helped her disappear in that creepy, not-really-missing kind of way.

Sabrina had bailed.

That meant she was still out there, and that was terrifying. The woman wasn’t working with all the appropriate tools in the shed. And that made Nikki think of the rumored de Vincent curse. Women died, went missing, or lost their minds.

When she thought about Sabrina, about the de Vincents’ sister, and their mother, it really made her begin to wonder if there was some truth behind it.

Or if they really just had mega bad luck.

Nikki should probably be worried since she was a woman living temporarily in the de Vincent house, but so was Julia. Then again, Julia was almost murdered by Daniel.

And Nikki was almost killed by Parker.

Maybe she should be worried.

She still had a hard time thinking about what Sabrina and Parker had been capable of. The fact that they’d been following her—following Gabe this entire time left her more than just a little disturbed. She no longer doubted for a second that Sabrina had been responsible for her fall down the stairs or the broken-out window. The latter had probably been Parker, and all those times she felt like she was being watched she had most likely been right. She had no idea what they thought to accomplish with the whole breaking-out-the-car-window thing, but maybe they just wanted to scare her or maybe it was just an act of jealous rage. She didn’t know.

What they had done to her, tried to do to her, had been horrible, but what they’d done to Emma and her son had been a million times worse.

Nikki simply could not understand how someone could be so evil—how whatever Sabrina had felt for Gabe had twisted into something so dark and ugly.

It was likely that she’d never understand.

Opening her eyes to the sound of approaching footsteps, she wasn’t surprised when she saw Gabe round the corner of the porch.

Barefoot.

“Hey,” he said, coming near but stopping about a foot from her. “You need a refill?”

“No, but thanks.”

Gabe had been waiting on her hand and foot since she’d been sequestered away in his rooms. Admittedly, she kind of liked it. Who wouldn’t?

“It’s getting kind of chilly out here,” he said, looking over the railing. The breeze caught the loose strands of his hair, tossing them across his face. “You want to head inside?”

That’s not what Nikki wanted to do.

She was ready for this talk he’d promised, beyond ready, because she had to know where they stood. Over the last couple of days, Gabe had acted like the doting boyfriend, caring for her, sleeping beside her, and waking up along with her if she had a nightmare. He’d been perfect.

But they hadn’t kissed. There’d been no touching of the naughty and fun kind. There’d been no further talks. They were in a holding pattern.

Nikki had already lost her heart to Gabe. Twice now. She needed to know if there was going to be a third time, because Nikki was done chasing Gabe.

“What I want is for us to talk,” she said, staring up at him. “You said we would, and I think it’s time we do.”

Gabe was so still for a moment that a kernel of dread took root in her chest. “Yeah, it’s time to have that conversation.”

She drew in a shallow breath. “Then talk.”

“I’ve been playing this conversation over and over in my head, wanting to get it perfect, you know? Because I think you deserve that.” He leaned back against the railing, his hands folding over the vines. “So I mentally tallied up all the times I fucked up, starting back at that morning when I woke up and called you by the wrong name.”

Nothing used to hurt Nikki more than remembering that moment, but over the last couple of weeks, she’d come to realize that was a blip on the radar of things that could send you careening headfirst into years of intensive therapy.

“And I discovered that my list was rather lengthy,” he said, his tone wry and self-deprecating. “So much so that I don’t even know how we’ve made it to this point.”

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