“Good morning.” He smiled.
She stared at him for a moment. “Where is Rosie?”
“Out in the living room.”
“How did you . . . find me?”
“Took a little investigating,” he replied. “You didn’t think I’d come looking for you when I saw that you left? When you didn’t answer my calls?”
“I thought . . .” She looked away. “I figured you’d give me some space.”
“That’s not what you need right now.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I do,” he replied, and saw her shoulders tense. “Sometimes giving space isn’t always the right thing to do. And what you need right now is me to be there for you. I’m here.”
“I’m not Emma.”
“I know that.”
She exhaled heavily. “I know you feel guilty and you’re probably thinking all these things, but none of it’s real, you know? None of it’s going to be there a week or a month from now, so can we please not do this?”
“Like I said before, we need to talk and right now is not a good time for that, but I’ll tell you this. You have no idea what I’m thinking or if it’s real,” he said, placing his hand on the other side of her legs. “All I know is that I fucked up with you. I should’ve told you about William and I sure as hell shouldn’t have said the things I did. I know damn well you’d be amazing with him. You would accept him. He’d accept you. I spent the last couple of days regretting the hell out of that, wondering if I could fix this, wondering if I was even worth it. But seeing you in that hospital bed—seeing you now? Knowing you could’ve died, and here I was, once again, waiting on third and fourth chances to appear without me working for them while paying attention to stupid shit. I realized none of that mattered when it came to you and me. None of it.”
Nikki didn’t move. He wondered if she was even breathing.
“I’m here because there’s no other place I should be. I’m here because you need me,” he said, kissing the top of her head. “And I’m here because I realized something before you were hurt.”
“What?” she whispered.
“That’s something we’ll discuss later, okay? Right now, I just want to get you home and I just want to hold you so that I know without a doubt you’re okay—that you’re going to be okay.”
She didn’t respond and then her face crumpled. “Oh, God.”
“Sweetheart.” He shifted closer, reaching for her.
She tried to sit up as she pressed her hands over her face. Everything about the way she moved, the way she tried to hide her tears fucking slaughtered him.
Gabe reacted. He climbed right into the bed with her, gathering her up in his arms as carefully as he could without hurting her. But then, the way her shoulders shook with sobs, he doubted she could feel him.
But he was there.
He wrapped his arms around her, holding her as she pressed into his chest, her fingers opening and closing around nothing but air. He held her, trying to soothe her with words that didn’t make much sense. Then he just held her, letting her get it all out, because that was the best thing for her. It had to be.
At some point, he was aware of Rosie checking in on them, but she didn’t say anything and she left, leaving them alone.
He didn’t know how much time passed before the sobs slowed and the raw sounds ended. She sniffled as she drew back, putting a little bit of space between them. “Sorry.” Her voice sounded worse than before. “I didn’t mean to cry all over you.”
“It’s okay.” He kept his arms around her, his hold loose. “I make a good tissue.”
Her laugh was shaky. “It just . . . hit me all at once.”
She carefully wiped at her eyes. “You really . . . you really want me to come back to your house?”
“I do, and we should probably leave soon, if you’re up for it,” Gabe said, letting himself grin just then. “Dev is in the other room with your friend.”
“What?” She looked thunderstruck. “You left Rosie with him?”
He bit back a grin. “I don’t think you need to worry about your friend. I’m more worried for Dev.”
She leaned over, peering toward the beaded curtains. “That’s not good.”
“Probably not,” he agreed. “Come home with me, Nikki. Let me be there for you. Let me start to fix this.”
Nikki’s gaze drifted back to him, and for a moment he feared she would say no, and then he was going to beg. He was also prepared to pick her up and carry her out of there.
“Okay,” she said, slipping free from his hold “All right.”
Gabe watched Richard step out into the living area, leaving his daughter inside his bedroom with her mother. The man looked like he’d aged about a decade between the time he’d gone into the room and now. Gabe felt like that himself. The last twenty-four hours hadn’t been easy.
He’d gotten Nic here, and she didn’t fight him when he took her straight up to his apartment. She’d fallen asleep after managing to get a half a bowl of soup in her, but she hadn’t slept long.
Nightmares plagued her, and there was nothing Gabe could do but hold her through them, reminding her that she wasn’t back in that apartment and reminding himself that she was still very much alive.
This morning she’d finally been ready to call her parents. She had to be, because Richard was going to show up to work tomorrow. The visit hadn’t been easy.
He hated seeing Livie cry.
He also hated seeing how much it affected Nic.
“Would you like something to drink?” he asked.
“Yes.” Richard cleared his throat, still staring at the closed door. “A drink would be nice.”
“She’ll be okay.” Gabe walked to the small bar near the private, eat-in kitchen. “She’s strong. Just like Livie.”
The older man nodded. Several moments passed. “And what will happen to Sabrina?”
Sabrina was, not surprisingly, currently missing in action, and not of their doing. “Dev has people looking for her. It will be handled.”
“In the typical de Vincent fashion?”
Gabe poured two scotches. Richard had worked for their family for a very long time. “Do you really want to know the answer to that?”
“That’s my only child,” Richard said, facing Gabe. “My Nicolette is a good girl. She has a good heart. She’s going to make other people’s lives better one day. I want that woman to pay for what happened to my girl.”
Gabe inclined his head as he handed the drink to Richard. “We want the same things.”
The older man took his drink and downed half of it in one swallow. He set the glass on the bar. “I’ve looked after you since you were in diapers and I know a lot about your family—a lot about you.”
“I’ve always respected you, thought of you and your brothers as sons of mine.” He placed his hands on the bar as his steady gaze held Gabe’s. “You all always have your reasons for doing what gets done. I understand that, and even when you three have done things that go against everything I believe in, I still cared for you all like you were my own.”
Gabe’s shoulders stiffened. Richard knew a lot. He’d seen a lot. Even more than Livie.
“And I know you boys respect me and my wife, so I expect a straight answer to this question,” he continued. “You have my daughter in your bedroom, in your bed, and I know you two have been spending a lot of time together. Not like before. I want to know what your intentions are.”
Gabe didn’t hesitate and he didn’t lie. “I love her.”
The older man’s jaw tightened. “You just learned that the woman you loved for the last ten or so years had died and hid a son from you—”
“I know what you’re getting at. I understand why you would think about Emma, but what I feel for Nic has nothing to do with Emma. There will always be a part of me that loves her.” He took a deep breath. “But the part that loves Nic is bigger.”