Her lips parted. Shocked, she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Why she was surprised in the first place was beyond her. That’s what he’d done the last time, when he tried to pull her towel off her and managed to shove his hand under it. He’d threatened her and it had worked. But now? Maybe it had to do with the fact he knew how sick her mother was and he was still threatening her employment.
Nikki was disgusted and horrified.
Switching his glass to his other hand, he reached out before she could move, dragging his damp finger along the curve of her cheek.
“Just something to think about the next time we cross paths.” One side of his mouth curled up. “Okay?”
Parker didn’t wait for an answer. Nikki bit back a curse as she watched him leave the kitchen just as her father appeared, looking harried and beyond annoyed.
Parker nodded at him as he passed.
“Is everything okay?” Her father hurried over.
Clearing her throat, she nodded, not wanting her father to worry. He had enough to stress over. “Yeah, everything is great.”
For what felt like the hundredth time since Nic got in his car, he glanced over at her.
She’d been strangely quiet for the drive into the city, sitting still and staring at the window. She’d been the same way during the dinner, barely making eye contact with anyone, including him. He’d thought she’d be in a jovial mood considering Parker ended up not joining his sister for dinner. Hell, he hadn’t even seen the punk ass.
Hands tightening on the steering wheel, he glanced over at her again when the traffic slowed on the highway. “You okay, Nic?”
She nodded. “Yeah.”
“Hey.” He reached over, touching her arm lightly. She jumped, and he frowned. “You sure about that?”
“Yeah. Yes. Sorry.” She looked over at him. The overhead street lamp glanced off her shadowed face. “Just lost in my head. So, you going to tell me about this surprise?”
“If I did, then it wouldn’t be a surprise.” He took the exit to the Business District.
Gabe wasn’t even sure why he was doing this. It was just something that had stuck in his head ever since spaghetti night.
She shot him a look as she fiddled with the edge of her braid. A moment passed and then she asked, “Do you really think Devlin is going to marry Sabrina?”
“That’s a random question,” he said with a laugh.
“I know.” She dropped her hands to her lap. “It’s just that they barely talk to one another. Sabrina paid more attention to you at dinner than she did Devlin.”
His lip curled with disgust. “Yeah, well, Sabrina wants what she can’t have.”
“I met her in college, after Dev graduated. She was interested.” He turned down Iberville. “I wasn’t. Still not.”
“Did something happen between you guys?”
“No,” he said, speaking the truth. “She tried a time or two back in college, but nothing ever happened.”
Lucian always believed otherwise, but his brother was wrong. Other than being somewhat kind to Sabrina in the beginning, Gabe did nothing to encourage her.
“I don’t like her,” Nic said with a sigh.
“Yeah.” He remembered how Sabrina had talked to her during the first dinner. He hadn’t helped matters. “Sorry about how I acted that one dinner. I shouldn’t have acted like that.”
Nic waved it off, but he knew what he’d done had bothered her. “We’re going to your workshop, aren’t we?”
“Why?” Interest filled her voice.
She sighed heavily. “Sabrina brought up Baton Rouge during dinner. Seems like you go there a lot.”
He nodded as he cut down a narrow alley. “I have been.”
Gabe could feel her gaze on him. “So what are you doing up there?”
“I’ve been looking for a place,” he answered, which was true.
“You’re moving there?” She sounded surprised.
“Part-time. That’s the plan.”
He didn’t answer, because he wasn’t sure how he could without feeling like shit and having her think the worst of him. Because once she learned the truth, she would wonder what everyone would, which was how in the fuck was he here and not there.
It was a question he kept asking himself.
“Are you . . . seeing someone there?” she asked, her voice quiet.
His head shot in her direction as he parked the Porsche. She wasn’t looking at him, but she was messing with her braid again. “No, I’m not seeing someone there.”
He reached over, gently wrapping his fingers around her wrist. Her gaze flew to his as he pulled her hand away from her hair. “I just have some stuff going on there, okay?”
Her brows knitted together. “Okay.”
Exhaling heavily, he let go of her wrist, refusing to acknowledge just how soft her damn skin was. “You ready?”
“For the surprise?” She smiled. “I think so.”
Laughing under his breath, he unhooked his seatbelt. “Hold on.”
Gabe climbed out and jogged around the front of the car, going to her side. He opened the door for her. Closing it behind her, he led her in through the back entrance of his workshop.
A blast of cold air and the scent of raw wood greeted them as he opened the door. He flipped the overhead light on. The lights whirled to life, casting the shop out of darkness.
Nic brushed past him, and the slight touch of her hip against his was like a punch to the gut. There was no ignoring the visceral reaction to her. His dick immediately roared to life, a sure sign he needed to get laid, because handling it himself wasn’t working.
She was a beautiful woman. That was all it was. And she was forbidden, a big no-no, which made her even more . . . there, right in front of him.
That’s what he kept telling himself as she stepped out of the hall and into the open space. “Wow.” She scanned the various projects he had going. “This place is bigger than I imagined.”
Nic moved further into the shop and knelt down, tracing the scrollwork on the leg of a chair. “This is beautiful, Gabe.” She looked up at him through thick lashes. “Really.”
He was oddly jealous of that chair leg.
“I always thought it was strange.” She stroked her hand across the carved wood.
“What?” He watched her tilt her head to the side.
“Lucian paints. Madeline was also a painter. You can turn a couple of sheets of plywood and lumber into something stunning.” She rose fluidly, with the grace of a lithe dancer. “But Devlin, he doesn’t have a talent.”
“Does pissing people off count as a talent? Because if so, he fucking excels at it.”
Her laugh was soft, but hell, it rolled and licked over his skin. “True.”
“Dev does have a hidden talent,” he said, unable to drag his gaze off her as she moved over to a workbench. She touched each tool left out with just one finger and then two, and he swore to God, his dick got harder.
How fucked-up was that?
He really needed to go out, find someone to screw his brains out, because the raw lust pounding through his veins needed an outlet.
And that outlet wasn’t Nic.
No matter how tempting she was.
“What’s his talent?” she asked, picking up a small chisel.
“He can sing.” He eased past her, running a hand over a table he’d been working on earlier in the day.
“What?” She laughed. “Are you for real?”
He nodded as he stopped on the other side of her. One would think talking about his brother would do something about the hard-on he was rocking at the moment, but apparently not. “Would I lie about something like that?”
“I don’t know. Maybe?”
“Well, I’m not. The man can sing. But you’d have to get him drunk before that happens.” He was done talking about his brother. “Come on. Your surprise is through that door over there.”
Her gaze drifted over his shoulder. “I really have no idea what this surprise is.”