“An order from overseas,” he answered, tone bland as his gaze found Nikki the moment she appeared. He tracked her around the room, and there was no stopping the faint flush creeping up her throat as she leaned in, placing the salad and then the main dish down.
Sabrina lowered her flute. Her plate was virtually untouched. “Oh, what kind of order?”
He didn’t answer Sabrina, which Nikki thought was kind of rude. As Nikki stepped back, Gabe caught her wrist, startling her. Her entire body jolted at the contact of his fingers pressing over her wildly beating pulse. “Can you get me a glass of water?” He paused. “Please?”
Swallowing hard, she nodded, but Gabe still held onto her wrist. The grip was soft but unyielding and it felt like a brand on her skin. Her gaze shot to his. What was he doing? Touching her? After he’d told her that he wanted her to stay the hell away from him?
His brows lifted, obviously waiting for something. . . .
The she realized what he was waiting for. Irritation spiked as she bit out, “Yes, I can.”
“Good.” A small smile appeared as he let go of her wrist. Not a real smile. It was about as fake as the one Sabrina had given her earlier.
Curling her wrist to her chest, she turned away. Her gaze connected with Sabrina’s. Her expression was pinched, like the champagne had soured. Having no idea what her problem was now, Nikki went to do what Gabe had asked, retrieving a glass of water.
“Gabe, dear,” Sabrina tried again. “What are you working on?”
Nikki didn’t hear his response and she had no idea if he even did.
The conversation at the table was just as stilted when she returned. Good news was that Devlin’s plate was cleared and most of Gabe’s salad was gone. She placed the glass of water down.
“I just think you have such an amazing talent,” Sabrina was prattling on. “I know you’re busy, but I’d love for—”
Gabe’s elbow caught the knife on the table, knocking it onto the floor. Their gazes connected, and that one-sided smile was back. He watched her. “Sorry,” he murmured. “I’ll need a new knife.”
You’ve got to be kidding me, she thought, bending down and snatching up the knife. She returned with a new one, and by then, Gabe had finished off the water, wanted another, and then he wanted fresh salad, and even Devlin was staring at him with a flicker of inquisitiveness. At that point, Nikki knew he was doing this on purpose.
He wanted to be a jerk. Have at it.
Truth be told, she deserved worse, but if this was the best punishment he could dish out, she could easily take it. So she brought him another glass and more salad.
“My glass is empty yet again,” Sabrina said just as Nikki was placing another full glass of water in front of Gabe.
How much liquid did these people drink? Lord.
Swallowing a sigh, she straightened and muttered under her breath, “Fuck my life.”
Gabe made this noise that sounded an awful lot like a laugh.
Sabrina’s eyes widened. “Excuse me?”
Oh crap. Nikki smiled brightly. “I said, ‘I’m so bad at this.’”
The woman studied her. “I’m sure that’s what you said.”
Glancing back at Gabe, she was surprised to see an actual real grin on his lips as he lifted the glass of scotch to his mouth. Nikki grabbed the champagne.
“When do you think the other one is coming back?” Sabrina was asking this of Devlin, who just shrugged in response. “I do hope it’s soon. This one seems ill equipped for the job. Actually—” she glanced up at Nikki “—that’s pretty sad. This isn’t hard.”
Nikki’s hand tightened on the bottle.
Sabrina tilted her head to the side, and Nikki would swear the blond bob barely moved. What kind of hair spray did this woman use? “Devlin was telling me you just graduated college? I’m finding that difficult to believe. I think whatever your employment or educational history is, it should’ve been vetted.”
“She went to college,” Gabe answered, shocking the hell out of several people in the room. Namely Nikki. “Majored in social work. Right? Graduated with honors.”
Nikki stood beside an equally frozen Sabrina. How in the world did he know that? Well, the answer was obvious. Her parents most likely kept him and all the brothers up to date, whether they wanted to be or not.
But was he actually trying to defend her? After everything?
“Well—” Sabrina lifted her flute higher “—then I have no idea why she can’t figure out how to fill a glass correctly.”
Nikki had no idea why she did what she did. It was probably that wild streak her Pappy had left her, but she acted without thought, something she of all people should’ve known better than to do.
Planting the biggest and brightest smile on her face, she poured the champagne into the glass and just kept on pouring.
Sabrina shrieked as the god-awful-expensive champagne coursed down her slim fingers and splattered off her white pants. She launched from the seat like a rocket, knocking the heavy chair over. “Oh my God!” Sabrina stared down at her legs. “I cannot believe you did that!”
“I’m so sorry,” Nikki said, blinking slowly. “Let me get you a napkin.” She reached for the pale-blue napkin that had been barely touched. “I’m just so unskilled at this. I wish there was training, but . . .”
There was a strange huffing or choking sound coming from one of the brothers, but Nikki didn’t dare look at them, because they’d know if she did. They’d take one look at her face and know.
“Don’t!” Sabrina’s voice was shrill. “Don’t you touch it. You’ll just make it worse.”
“Sabrina,” Devlin sighed. “Sit down.”
Her head jerked up in disbelief. “I can’t sit down. I need to get these to the dry cleaners immediately before they’re ruined.”
Devlin placed an arm on the table as he stared back at his fiancée. “They are just pants. I will buy you three new pairs to replace this one. Sit down.”
Sabrina sat down, but she glared up at Nikki. “The cost to clean these pants should be taken out your paycheck.”
“Dev already said he’d buy you a new pair,” Gabe interjected. “They’re just pants.”
Sabrina gasped. “They’re not just pants. They’re Armani. They don’t even make these pants any longer.”
Across the table, Devlin sighed once more. “I will buy you an entire closet’s worth of Armani pants if you will stop talking about those pants.”
Sabrina’s lips thinned, but she was quiet as she picked up her napkin and blotted at the wet spot.
Because Nikki couldn’t help herself, she asked, “Would you like me to get you another glass?”
“No,” snapped Sabrina, her pale cheeks flushing pink.
“As you wish.” A quick glance across the table told Nikki that the brothers did, in fact, know what had happened was no accident.
Apologizing once more, Nikki crept back from the table, fighting the laugh bubbling up in her throat. As she left the room, she couldn’t help but notice that Gabe wasn’t grinning as he watched her from under his thick lashes.
Oh, no, the man was smiling that smile that had gotten her in trouble all those years ago, and her stupid, stupid reckless heart jumped in her chest.
After the worst first day on a job, Nikki couldn’t get out of the de Vincent compound fast enough. Slipping out the back entrance, she hurried to where her nearly decade-old Ford Focus was parked next to the garage that housed who knew how many cars.
Turning on the car, she immediately cranked up the music and an old eighties song blared out of the speakers. Immediately, she recognized the song. It was “Jesse’s Girl.”
Man, she loved that song.
For some reason, she loved songs from the eighties. Maybe it had to do with her parents listening to it as she grew up, but she hated most of the music of today, preferring to sing along to David Bowie or Talking Heads than whoever was currently popular.
Though, she did go through a One Direction phase at one point in her younger years.