Gabe had just opened the porch doors when he heard a scream break the silence. Birds scattered from the nearby trees as he shot out onto the porch. Where had the sound come from? His left?
He took off, rounding the corner of the porch. He didn’t see anything. Maybe he was hearing stuff? With this house, it was anyone’s guess. Passing the entry to the third-floor hallway, he hung a left, his steps slowing as he neared the top of the stairs.
One thick, long vine had broken free of the railing and had found its way across the floor, curling along the side of the house. He frowned as he stared down at it.
Now that was some shit.
Hadn’t he just thought about the vines making their way over the floors? Just yesterday? His gaze flickered down the steps.
That’s when he saw her.
“Holy shit.” His heart about stopped in his chest and then sped up. He shot down the steps, taking them two at a time. “Nic.”
She was lying on her side in the landing, a bouquet larger than her head cradled in her arms.
“Nic!” Was she moving? Didn’t look like it. Pressure clamped down on his chest as he dropped onto his knees beside her. He reached for her. “God damn it, Nic, say something.”
“Ow,” she muttered, pulling one leg up.
Oh, thank Jesus. His hands were frozen just above her hip. “Are you okay?”
“I think so?” She rose onto her elbow.
If she fell down those stairs, he didn’t see how she could be okay. It was at least ten damn steps. Shit. Her hair shielded her face, and that was why he reached out and touched her.
Her entire body jolted as his fingers brushed her cheek and she sucked in a sharp gasp. “Did that hurt?” he asked, scooping her hair back from her face.
His gaze flickered over her face. She was pale, but he didn’t see any obvious wounds. At least to her face. “Does anything hurt?”
She stared at the flowers. She shook her head. “Not really.” Her shoulders rose with a deep breath, the kind of breath that had to mean she hadn’t hurt her ribs. “I t-think the flowers are okay.”
What the hell? “I don’t give a damn about the flowers. Are you okay?”
Nic looked at him, those big eyes somehow even bigger. She stared at him like she wasn’t sure she heard him right. Now Gabe was starting to get worried. He thought about that time Julia—Lucian’s girl—had fallen in the shower and knocked her head real good. She’d been disorientated as hell, too, and there’d been a lot of blood. Nic wasn’t bleeding, but she didn’t seem all there.
She didn’t seem right at all.
“You can let go of the flowers now,” he suggested.
She glanced down at them. “I didn’t . . . want to ruin them.”
“You didn’t.” Gabe reached for them, and her grip tightened. He lifted a brow. “You can let go of them, Nic.”
Nic held on for a moment longer and then she finally let go. Taking the vase, he set it aside. His heart was finally starting to settle down. “Do you think you can sit up?” When she nodded, he gently took ahold of her arm. She jerked again, and his gaze flew to her face. “You still feeling okay?”
“Yeah.” She straightened, exhaling heavily as she lifted her left arm, turning it to the side. A streak of bright red coursed down her arm. “Ew.”
Ew? That was all she had to say? “Let me see that.”
“It’s not bad.”
He ignored her as he took her wrist in his hands and gently turned her arm. Some pretty gnarly scratches ran from her elbow up under the sleeve. Her shirt was torn. “I don’t think this needs stitches.” He peeled back the little sleeve on her shirt and leaned in. As he checked her out, he tried to ignore how damn . . . good she smelled. Like jasmine. “But we should probably call Doc. Have him—”
“I’m fine. Really,” she said, leaning away. “You don’t need to call a doctor.”
“These stairs are no joke. You could’ve hurt yourself and not realized it yet, Nic. You need to let a doc look at you.”
“I didn’t hit my head.” Nic pushed the hair back out of her face. “I’m okay.”
He wasn’t so sure about that. “Nic—”
“Seriously. I’m okay. It’s just a cut. I don’t know how, but I didn’t really hurt myself.”
Frustration rose. “You fell down a flight of stairs and you’re bleeding. Why are you being so difficult about this?”
“I’m not,” she snapped, as she pulled her arm free. “Why do you care anyway?”
He drew back. “Why do I care?”
“Figured you’d throw a party if I broke my neck.”
Gabe stared at her a moment, shocked at first. Then he thought about what he’d said to her the day before and he kind of couldn’t blame her for thinking that. “I wouldn’t be happy if you were hurt. Jesus.” He lowered his hands to his knees and started to rise. “At least let me get your father—”
“No.” She grabbed his arm, and his gaze shot back to her. She stared up at him. “Please don’t say a thing to my father. I don’t want him to worry and get upset over nothing.”
“Over nothing? Nic, you could’ve—”
“He has enough to worry about right now. He doesn’t need to freak out about this for no reason,” she said, her gaze pleading. “Please, Gabe. Don’t say anything.”
Her concern for her father touched a part of him he’d rather not have her dig her fingers into. Reaching down, he placed his hand over where she gripped him. Despite what had happened between them that night four years ago, he always, always had a hard time telling her no.
“I won’t say anything,” he said, voice gruff as he pulled her hand away. “As long as you’re not hurt. I’m going to get something for your arm and then I’m going to sit here with you for a few minutes and make sure that’s the case.”
She looked like she wanted to argue, but after a moment, she nodded.
Wary of leaving her, he hesitated for a moment and then went up the stairs, stopping at the top to grab the damn vine she obviously tripped over. He ripped it free and tossed it over the railing. Then he went to his apartment. He quickly grabbed an array of items before making his way back to her. He found her sitting next to the vase, her feet resting on the step below. He had a sudden memory of her, when she was younger, sitting in that very spot, waiting for him to come home, her hair pulled into a high ponytail, her knobby knees knocking together.
Shaking the image from his thoughts, he stepped around her and sat on the step her feet rested on. “Let me see your arm.”
“I can take care of it.” She reached for the damp cloth he held.
Gabe lifted his brows. “Give me your arm, Nic.”
She stared at him a moment and then rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”
Biting back a grin as she shoved her arm out, he carefully began wiping up the blood. He glanced down at her shoes. They were flats with some kind of thin, useless sole. “You need to start wearing shoes with better tread on them. Then you won’t be tripping over vines and falling down steps.”
“I didn’t trip over a vine or slip down the steps,” she protested as he tossed the towel up on the landing and reached for the peroxide and cotton balls he’d grabbed.
He coated the cotton in peroxide. “Sure looks like you did to me. Probably didn’t even see the vine, but it was lying on the floor, right at the top of the steps.” The skin above her elbow was angry and raw. “You’re so damn lucky,” he muttered, shaking his head. “Could’ve been so much worse. This might sting.”
“I know I’m lucky.” She sucked in a sharp breath as he pressed the cotton to the scratches. “But I didn’t trip or slip. Someone pushed me.”
His hand stilled as his gaze found hers. “What?”
“Someone pushed me. I mean, that’s what it felt like.” The corners of her mouth pursed as the peroxide fizzled over her skin. “I heard what sounded like a step behind me and then I felt something hit my back.”