Dev didn’t say anything as he focused on the shelves behind the bar. “The labels aren’t facing the same direction.”
Gabe followed his gaze. He was right. Some were cockeyed.
“That would be Nikki.” Dev sighed. “I’m going to have to talk to her.”
“About the bottles of whiskey not being straight?” Gabe’s shoulders tensed. “Are you fucking serious?”
Dev’s gaze slid to his. “No. But that’s a bit of a strong reaction.”
Gabe ignored that comment. “What do you want to talk to her about?”
“How she talks to Sabrina.”
Sitting back on the stool, Gabe held Dev’s stare. “And how does she talk to Sabrina that Sabrina wouldn’t be deserving of?”
“It doesn’t matter what Sabrina deserves. She’s to become my wife, and Nikki needs to respect that—respect her.”
“Kind of hard to respect someone who treats you like a servant,” Gabe fired back.
“Last I checked, that is Nikki’s job. At least for right now.” Dev motioned for Lucian to refill his drink. “Nikki might not be a permanent staff here, but when she’s here, she needs to act as such.”
“Exactly what is Sabrina bitching about?” Lucian asked, pouring the bourbon. “I’ve seen Nikki around her. She usually keeps quiet and ignores Sabrina’s incessant insults.”
“Except when she poured champagne on her,” Dev commented.
Gabe’s lips twitched. “That was an accident.”
“You and I both know that wasn’t an accident.”
“That happened weeks ago.”
Dev picked up his glass again. “Apparently Nikki made a snide comment to Sabrina’s brother about there not being a date for the wedding. This upset Sabrina, which led to her little meltdown tonight.”
Gabe’s eyes narrowed. When would Nic have seen Parker? He’d thought back to Wednesday. Parker had been here, and Nic had been awfully quiet in the car ride to the workshop.
“I’ll talk to Nic,” Gabe said.
“Is that so?” murmured Dev.
“I think that’s a good idea,” Lucian chimed in. “Better than you talking to her.”
“And why is that?” Dev asked.
“Because you’re an asshole,” Lucian replied, grinning. “And Nikki stepped in to help her mom—who has cancer. The last thing that girl needs is you lecturing her on how to speak to her ‘betters.’”
“The last thing she needs is you speaking to her at all.” Gabe folded his arms. “I’ll make sure she stays away from both Sabrina and Parker. I’ll handle her.”
Dev’s lips curled in a semblance of a smile around the rim of his glass. “You know what I think, Gabe?”
“Can’t wait to hear this.”
He took a sip and then looked at him. “I think the last thing you need is to be handling Nikki in any sense of the word.”
Sunday afternoon, Nikki stood in the center of the small room Gabe had put together for her. In her arms, she cradled the woodcarving kit and the block of wood she had taken home with her on Wednesday.
It had been ages since she’d done anything of the sort, so she’d used the block of wood as a practice run, like she’d done when Gabe had first taught her how to use the carving tools.
She’d carved a crescent moon into the block of raw wood, surprised by how much easier it had been once she got going. It didn’t matter how much time had passed. Her fingers knew what to do the moment she sat down with the chisel.
Nikki placed the moon on the desk. Maybe she’d cut it out later, but what she really wanted to do was make her mom a bracelet. She saw it in her head already, six long beads to represent each cycle of treatment she’d receive . . . and survive.
And when her mom finished her last cycle, Nikki planned on giving her the bracelet.
Walking around to the neatly stacked pile of wood, she picked up a section of wood and then grabbed the Dremel tool. Tapping on the music app on her phone, she sat down behind the desk and got to work.
Nikki had no idea how much time passed. The special thing about working with her hands, concentrating on evening out the centers, was that she didn’t think—she didn’t stress. She didn’t obsess over Gabe, worry about her mom, or stress over Parker’s not-so-veiled threat. Her mind went blissfully blank while she worked, and God, she had no idea how much she’d missed that until she was sitting behind the desk Gabe had obviously made with his own hands.
So caught up in what she was doing, she didn’t realize she had company until there was a soft knock on the open door.
Looking up, she wasn’t all that surprised to see Gabe standing there. “Hey,” he said, grinning. “Good afternoon.”
“Hi.” She lowered the Dremel. “I hope you don’t mind that I’m here.”
“Of course not. I told you that you could use this place whenever you wanted.” He leaned against the doorjamb. “I’m happy to see you in here.”
Her stomach dipped, and she thought about what Rosie said yesterday. I think you need to read into it. Her breath caught. “Thank you again for this.”
He shrugged. “It’s no big deal.”
Gabe had said that before, but it was a big deal to her. Even if he hadn’t been keeping the spare wood for her over the past years, this still meant a lot.
“What are you working on?” he asked.
“A bracelet for my mom.” She bit down on her lip and she glanced at the two beads she’d finished. “Not sure what color I’m going to paint them, but I think I’m going to try to carve roses in them. It’s her favorite flower.”
“That’s going to be tricky.”
“It will be, but thanks to you, I have the perfect tools.” She brushed the fine layer of dust off her hands. “What are you up to?”
“Thought I’d swing by and do some work.” He pushed away from the door. “Have you eaten yet?”
Nikki shook her head. “No.”
“Want to grab something to eat?” he offered. “There’s this diner right down the street. They have amazing wings.”
Now her heart was joining in with her stomach. It’s just lunch, she told herself as she nodded. “Yeah, um, let me grab my stuff.”
Gabe waited for her as she snatched her phone off the desk and grabbed her purse. She headed out of the office, brushing past Gabe in the process. The slight touch of her arm against his was a shock to the system, sending sharp tingles all through her body.
Arousal, swift and sharp, swept over her, leaving her a little breathless and, oh Lord, turned on. Her stomach felt weird. Her breasts were heavy, and acute throbbing picked up between her thighs.
Okay, she needed to get out more, and like, meet people, because seriously, her body was ridiculous if brushing against his arm could turn her on.
“You okay?” Gabe stopped in front of the front door.
Not really. She felt flushed . . . and stupid. “Yeah, I just need to eat.”
“Then let’s do that before you pass out.”
As he turned around, she closed her eyes and pictured herself punching herself in the face. Repeatedly.
The diner was just down the block, like he said, and after getting seated near a window, Nikki felt an ungodly amount of nervous energy as Gabe ordered a water and she went for a sweet tea.
Her gaze kept darting from his face to the street outside. Part of her couldn’t believe she was sitting here with Gabe. If anyone had asked her if that was possible a year ago she would’ve laughed straight in their face.
“By the way, there is something I want to talk to you about,” he said, drawing her attention. “I think it would be really smart of you to stay as far away from Sabrina and her brother as humanly possible.”
“What?” She frowned. “That’s a really random statement, and you know I would rather be on the moon during a solar eclipse than be in the same room with them.”
“On the moon during a solar eclipse?” he repeated quietly and then shook his head. “Sabrina complained to Dev about you.”