She couldn’t tell if he was teasing her or not, but it didn’t matter. Her muscles finally unlocked and she got her feet moving. She went the shortest route that put as much space between them as possible. That required her to walk over one of the four treadmills. She didn’t care how stupid it looked. Not when she could feel his intense gaze following her process.
“You know, there’s an actual floor you can walk on,” he commented.
“I know.” She nodded and then tucked a strand of hair back behind her ear, feeling about five different levels of awkward. “I like walking on treadmills.”
Her cheeks started to warm as she stepped off the treadmill. There were only a few feet between her and freedom. Just keep walking. Just keep—
She stopped. It was like she had no control.
Biting down on her lip and telling herself she was probably going to regret this, she slowly faced him.
Somehow, and she didn’t know how, he’d gotten closer to her. His gaze was sheltered as he stared at her. She wondered if he was going to ask about her arm. A terse moment passed and then he said, “You didn’t clean my apartment last week.”
That was not what she was expecting him to say. “Yeah, I figured you didn’t want me to do that.”
His head tilted just the slightest. “That’s your job, isn’t it?” His cold tone would’ve impressed Devlin. “Why would I not want you to do it?”
It’s your job.
A sharp stab pierced her chest. She had no idea why that statement bothered her so much. Maybe it was because she knew damn well he would never speak to her mom or father with that tone. And maybe it was because it was a painful reminder of just who she was to him now.
A staff member that worked for his family.
That ugly feeling from before turned to a messy knot in her throat, but she lifted her chin. She was done crying over Gabe.
“I figured you wouldn’t like if I was in your room,” she said, keeping her voice level. “But I can clean it this afternoon if you like.”
Something flashed in those eyes and the muscle throbbed along his jaw. “I don’t want you cleaning it today.”
“Then I can do it tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow won’t work either.”
Her brows pinched. “Since tomorrow is Friday, I’m not sure when else I can do it. Next week—”
“You could’ve done it last week like you’re paid to do.”
She folded her arms over her chest like that could somehow help ease the sting of his words. “I’m sorry.” It took every ounce of her self-control to say what she did next. “You’re right. I should’ve done it last week, but I can either do it today or tomorrow. If not, then I will do it next week.”
His features tightened with what appeared to be frustration, but she wasn’t sure what he had to be frustrated about at this moment. He was the one being difficult. “Your suggestions aren’t acceptable.”
Irritation swelled inside her, washing away the hurt. It loosened her tongue. “Then how about you clean your apartment then?”
Surprise parted his lips.
“I mean, you are a grown man who is more than capable of changing his own bedsheets and picking up after himself,” she snapped, uncrossing her arms. “I’m not your mother.”
“No shit,” he shot back. “But thanks for clearing that last part up.”
“So, I don’t know what you want me to say or do. Either I clean your rooms when I said I could or you do it yourself.”
The corner of his lips twitched. “I can’t believe you’re talking to me like this.”
Nikki was beyond telling herself to shut her mouth and she snapped like a twig breaking under strong winds. “I can’t believe you’re being such a dick.”
A surprised laugh burst out of him, and Nikki couldn’t tell if that was a good thing or a bad thing. She didn’t care at the moment, because she was pissed. “I may be working here for right now, but you need to remember I’m not your servant, here for your beck and call.”
“Actually, you are here for our beck and call.” Gabe smirked. “That’s what you’re being paid real money to do.”
He had a point, but he wasn’t getting it. Not even remotely. “What happened to you?” The question burst out of her. “You were never like this. Devlin? Yes. But you? No. What in the hell happened?”
“You happened to me.”
His words were like a psychical push. She stumbled back a step as her gaze latched onto his. She snapped her mouth shut, because that knot had expanded three sizes bigger and she had no idea if she was going to start cursing him or crying.
Nikki did the only smart thing.
Pivoting on her heel, she hurried out of the gym and she thought she heard him curse. And then she flinched, because she thought she heard him throw something—something that shattered against the wall.
And a spiteful part of her really, really hoped it was his phone.
A shadow fell over Gabe’s workbench, stilling his hands. Gabe looked up from the frame he was chiseling. Despite the shit day he was having, he smiled when he saw Lucian standing there.
And he wasn’t alone.
Troy LeMere was with him and they hadn’t come empty-handed either.
Lucian placed an opened bottle of beer on the bench as Gabe tugged his earbuds out and turned off the music app on his phone. “Figured we’d find you here.”
Grinning, Gabe rose, giving his younger brother a one-arm hug and a clap on the back. The bastard had been gone for about three weeks. “Glad you’re back home.” He turned to Troy, giving him the same treatment. They all went way back, having forged a friendship on basketball courts. “And what did I do to deserve a face-to-face with you?”
Troy grinned as he dragged a hand over his shaved head. “It’s guys’ night?”
Gabe lifted a brow as he picked up the beer. “Guys’ night and you’re spending it at my workshop in the Warehouse District?”
The dark-skinned detective tipped his head back and laughed. “When you get married, that’s how guys’ nights go down.”
“True,” Lucian murmured, taking a swig of his beer.
“What?” Gabe laughed, leaning against the bench. “You aren’t married.”
“Yet,” Troy chimed in, sitting down on one of the stools. “I’m betting they’re married before the year’s out.”
Lucian said nothing, and Gabe shook his head. The last person Gabe ever expected to settle down was his younger brother, but look at him now—wrapped around Julia’s pinky finger and he didn’t even care. “Where is your pretty girl?” Gabe’s smile was daring as he took a drink. “I miss her.”
Lucian’s eyes narrowed. “You have no business missing her.”
He chuckled, loving nothing more than needling his brother when it came to Julia. “Seriously, though, where is she? You’re here and she’s usually wherever you are.”
“She was tired after traveling all day. She’s currently all curled up in my bed, waiting for me.” He eyed the dresser frame Gabe had been working on. “Why in the hell are you here on a Saturday night?”
Gabe shrugged, thinking it must be nice to have someone like Lucian and Troy did. Someone you wanted to get home to and looked forward to ending and beginning the day with. He’d had that with Emma. He’d fucked that up along with the help of his family.
He pushed thoughts of Emma out of his head. “Need to get the order done.”
“Uh-huh.” Troy kicked his long legs up on the bench. “Heard you weren’t in Baton Rouge for more than a few days. What changed?”
His grip tightened on the bottle. Both knew why he’d been going to Baton Rouge. “I needed to give them a little space. That’s the best thing to do.”
Lucian was quiet for a moment. “That’s got to be hard.”
“It is.” He drank half the bottle after admitting that. “You have no idea.”