Bev stopped at the door and looked back. “I don’t think Devlin is going to be happy when he sees what you’re wearing.”
“What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?” It was jeans and a black tee shirt. No way was she going to dress like her mom or her dad. Her willingness to help her parents did not extend to wearing uniforms.
She looked down at herself and saw the hole just below the knee.
Devlin was probably going to have a problem with the hole, but what Nikki wanted to know was what the hell had happened in this house to drive almost all the staff away?
It had to be something.
Not just because the de Vincents paid extraordinarily well, but also because her father hadn’t told her.
And that meant it was something really bad.
It was approximately one in the afternoon when Nikki was finishing up in the sitting room nearest to the first-floor office. She was dusting the chairs that seriously didn’t need to be dusted when she felt a prickling sensation along the nape of her neck. Wiping a faint sheen of sweat off her forehead, she rose and turned to the doorway.
Devlin de Vincent stood there.
His presence startled her enough that she almost dropped the rag she was holding. Stepping back, she knocked into the heavy furniture that reminded her of something straight out of the Victorian age.
She’d seen pictures of Devlin in the gossip magazines over the years, but she hadn’t seen him in person during that time.
He looked so much like his father it sent a chill down her spine. Dark hair coifed and styled short. Coldly handsome and completely remote, he was dressed as if he’d just left an important business meeting, wearing trousers and a button-down despite the fact that it was September and still hot as hell.
As a kid, she’d been slightly terrified of the eldest de Vincent brother who now had to be steadily approaching his forties.
Nikki wasn’t a kid anymore, though.
His gaze drifted over Nikki, assessing her in a way that made her feel like a piece of furniture he wasn’t sure he wanted to keep or store away in the attic where important, powerful people couldn’t see it. “Hello, Nikki, it has been a while.”
Nikki forced an easy smile as she clutched the rag. “Hi, Dev.”
Something passed over his face when she used the abbreviated version of his name. Nikki wasn’t sure if it was irritation or amusement. One never knew with Devlin.
“Thank you for stepping in and helping while your mother is out,” he said, his voice as flat as his personality. “I do hope she is starting to feel better.”
“She is . . . she’s hanging in there,” she replied.
“Your mother is a very strong woman. If anyone can beat this, she can.”
That was possibly the nicest thing she’d ever heard come out of Devlin’s mouth.
His gaze roamed over her again. “I know you have been gone for a long time, away at college and all, but I am sure you do remember that our staff wears a uniform and not ragged, hand-me-down jeans?”
Aaand there he went, ruining it by becoming Captain Dickhead de Vincent, who sounded like he was eighty instead of almost forty.
Nikki’s spine stiffened. “These actually aren’t hand-me-downs.”
“You bought them that way?” A smirk appeared. “Perhaps you should ask for your money back.”
Her lips thinned as she resisted the urge to give him the middle finger. “I’m sorry. I was told I didn’t have to wear a uniform.”
Not necessarily true, but whatever.
He inclined his head, a gesture she used to see from his father. “I see. Then maybe you can find something in your closet that doesn’t look like we pay our help below minimum wage? Especially since you are being paid. You’re not doing this for free.”
She sucked in a harsh breath. Help. The house might’ve changed a little and Lucian may be a reformed man-whore, but Devlin was still the same. “I’m sure I can find something that will meet your approval.”
There it was again. A flicker of emotion that was gone before Nikki could even figure out what it was.
Then Devlin was in the very room with her, only a few feet away. Her eyes widened slightly. How in the world did he move so fast and so quietly?
Was he part ghost?
More like part devil. After all, that was his nickname—what the gossip mags called him. The Devil.
Now he was directly in front of her, and Nikki was not a tall woman. Barely pushing five and a half feet, it was hard not to be intimidated when he towered over her. “Do I detect an attitude, Nicolette?”
Mentally cursing herself and Devlin, she planted the brightest smile she’d ever mustered in her life. “I hope not. I was being serious. I do have nicer pants. Ones that I am sure you would approve of.”
His eyes, the de Vincent eyes, latched onto her. “I am pleased to hear that.”
Okay. He did not sound pleased. At all.
He bent his chin down and she felt the tiny hairs rise all over her body. “I would hate to have to tell your father about your attitude.”
Nikki would, too.
“Do you remember what happened last time? The only time?” he asked. “I do.”
Oh, she remembered. She’d been seventeen and gotten into the liquor cabinet when her mom wasn’t looking, drinking the expensive-as-hell scotch, all to prove she wasn’t a little girl anymore. Looking back, she recognized that she’d been, in fact, a little girl, but that wasn’t the point. She’d mouthed off at Devlin when he’d ordered her to stop following Gabe around like a lost, underfed puppy.
He had such a way with words.
“I remember.” Her smile was beginning to fade. “In my defense, I’d been slightly intoxicated and therefore was not wholly responsible for my actions.”
One dark eyebrow rose.
Her shoulders squared. “And I also hadn’t been following your brother around, so I was a little offended.”
“You were attached to my brother like an underage barnacle that had no concept of why a grown man would not be remotely interested in a teenage girl.”
Holy crap, he really just went there! Like totally went there.
“I . . .” Yep. Nikki had no idea what to say to that.
Because it was true. All true.
Ever since Gabe pulled her out of the pool and defended her to Devlin, she’d spent every spare moment basically stalking Gabe and trying to catch his attention. For some dumb reason, when she’d been younger, she hadn’t seen the age difference as being that big of a deal.
God, she had been such an idiot.
She was completely nutso not realizing that the age difference had been a very, very big deal, because it was quite the age difference. He’d been twenty-six when he pulled her out of the pool. Ten years older than her, a full-grown man, and she had been—well, yeah, barely sixteen. Gross.
But she’d figured in her dumb hormone-riddled teenage brain that once she turned eighteen, Gabe would fall head over heels in love with her.
Honest to God, Gabe had never once given her any indication that he’d thought of her in any way that was inappropriate and illegal, but she . . . well, she had been young and dumb and in love for the very first time in her life.
“Can I be honest with you, Nikki?”
She blinked. “Of course.”
“I was not at all happy about you taking your mother’s place while she gets better.”
Wow. What was she supposed to say to that? Thanks?
“You leaving for college was the best thing you could’ve done for yourself, because if you had stayed, you would’ve gotten yourself in a lot of trouble.” He paused. “Or my brother.”
Well, she hadn’t exactly left before that happened.
Her face started to feel like it was on fire.
Devlin dipped his chin. “I do hope you don’t pick up where you left off.”
Nikki’s mouth dried as her heart turned over heavily. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Now, you know that’s not the truth.” His voice was deceptively low. “From the moment you realized you liked boys, you pranced around this house every single time Gabe was around.”