Luckily, the cleaning of their rooms was something that only occurred once a week and that wouldn’t be happening until Friday. She was so not looking forward to going into Gabe’s apartment.
The last time she’d been in there, she been clutching this necklace she’d made for him, and . . .
Nikki flushed and cringed at once.
Her mind went back to the awkward reunion. Gabe had stared at her like . . . God, she wasn’t even sure. But it wasn’t good. Not at all and she couldn’t—
“What are you doing?”
Squeaking, she jumped back from the oven and whipped around. Her heart lodged in her throat.
Gabe stood just inside the kitchen.
“What is it with you guys creeping up on people and making no noise?” she demanded, placing a hand to her pounding heart. “God.”
His lips twitched like he was almost going to smile, but then thought better of it. “I wasn’t exactly quiet.”
“I didn’t hear you.”
“Maybe because it looked like you were trying to stick your head in the oven.”
Her cheeks flushed. “The door was closed, so that wouldn’t have been a very successful attempt.”
“No, it wouldn’t be.”
Nikki drew in a stuttered breath that went nowhere when her gaze collided with his. Silence followed. He didn’t speak. Neither did she. They just stood there, staring at one another. He didn’t look exactly hostile, but he didn’t appear warm and fuzzy either.
Her shoulders tensed as the silence continued to grow.
“Dinner smells good,” Gabe said suddenly, breaking the silence. “Roasted chicken?”
She jolted. “Um, yes.” She turned to the counter, where she’d just finished peeling potatoes. “And potatoes. I’m also making a salad. There’ll be biscuits . . . with butter.”
There’ll be biscuits . . . with butter?
It took everything for Nikki not to roll her eyes at herself.
He moved forward, maybe a foot or two, but stopped like one would if they were approaching a rabid dog. A heartbeat passed. “Your hair . . .” He tilted his head to the side. “It’s different.”
“Yeah, it is.” Her hair used to be a rather dull medium brown, but then she found this amazing hair stylist in Tuscaloosa and turned her brown hair into this array of blondes and browns, using some weird technique called balayage. “It’s basically just highlights and stuff.”
“Stuff.” His gaze flickered over the bun.
Uncomfortable, she scanned the kitchen. “And my hair is longer. A lot longer.”
His brows lifted.
Was she really telling him the length of her hair? This was the most strained conversation she’d ever had in her life. And that was, well, it was sad. She peeked at him. It used to not be this way. Back before . . . well, before she ruined everything, he’d be teasing her and asking about her college. He’d be talking to her like he could actually stand being in the same room with her.
She needed this conversation to be over like it was yesterday and she also needed to figure out how she could work here and not run into Gabe. The house was big enough that it should be possible. “I need to get back to—”
“Planting your face against the oven door?”
Her shoulders slumped. “Actually, I need to finish the potatoes. So, if you’ll excuse me.” She started to turn away, praying that he’d just leave.
“That’s it? That’s all you have to say to me? Because I have a lot I need to say to you,” he said. “Never in a million years did I think I’d see you here again.”
Nikki’s spine stiffened like steel had been poured into it. Oh God. Her throat spasmed.
“We need to talk.”
“No we don’t,” she said quickly. “We do not need to talk about anything.”
“Bullshit,” he snapped, and his voice was so much closer that she turned to him on instinct.
Gabe was now at the edge of the massive island, only two or three feet from her. She stepped back into the counter. Her heart thundered in her chest as her gaze flicked to the kitchen door.
“No one is coming near here,” he said as if reading her mind. Her gaze flew back to his. “Dev is in his office on the second floor in a meeting and your father is out with the landscaper. No one is going to hear us.”
A weird mixture of sensations assaulted her. One was a chill that skated down her spine. The other was a tight, hot shiver that danced over her skin.
Gabe kept coming at her, not stopping until he was right in front of her, separated by a few inches. She sucked in air, catching the crisp, clean scent of his cologne. It reminded her of storms, of that night.
That was the last thing she wanted to be reminded of.
Like his brother, he was a good head and then some taller than her, so right now, her eyes were fastened to his chest. Thank God he was wearing a shirt.
“I . . . I don’t want to talk,” she managed to say.
“You owe me this.”
Her body jerked as she pressed her lips together. He was right. She owed him a conversation. “Okay.”
There was another beat of silence and then he asked in a voice so low she almost didn’t believe she heard him right. “Did I hurt you that night?”
“What?” she gasped, her gaze lifting to his.
Gabe stared—well, more like he glared down at her. “I saw the sheets after you left. There was blood on them.”
Oh my God, the blood rushed from her face and then swept back to her cheeks so quickly she feared she might have a stroke. At that moment, it seemed entirely possible.
“Did I hurt you?” he demanded again.
“No.” And that wasn’t a lie. Not really. It hurt, but from what she knew, it tended to hurt the first time.
What appeared to be relief flickered across his face as he briefly closed his eyes.
She drew in a shallow breath. “It’s just, you know—”
“No.” That relief was gone, replaced by anger. “I don’t know, Nic.”
Really? She looked away, telling herself that she was an adult and she could have this conversation, because he was right. She did owe him this. “I was a virgin—”
“Yeah, I kind of figured that part out,” he interrupted, his voice so hard it could break a board. “Seemed like more blood than there should be. Then again, I’ve never made it a habit of fucking virgins, so I’m a little inexperienced in that department.”
Nikki flinched. Of course he wouldn’t make that a habit. Gabe was a good guy. One of the best. “I don’t know what to say, but you didn’t hurt me.”
A muscle thrummed along his jaw. “I don’t believe that for one fucking second.”
She looked up, her eyes wide as she focused on his shoulder. “You didn’t, Gabe.”
He leaned his head in as he placed his hands on the counter, on either side of her hips. Within a second, he’d gotten all up in her space. “I don’t remember much about that night,” he started.
Nikki flinched again, because she remembered everything about that night. Everything. And wasn’t that the gut punch? It had been all she ever wanted, and he hadn’t even remembered most of it.
He hadn’t even known it was her.
“Just bits and pieces,” he continued. “But what I do remember? I sure as hell didn’t treat you like someone who’d never had sex.”
That part was also true. Gabe had not held back and he was large. It had been . . . intense, to say the least.
“So, when I remember those parts and that blood? Yeah, I’m going to wonder if I hurt you.”
She shook her head. “You didn’t.” Her gaze dropped to his right hand. His knuckles were bleached white from how tight he was gripping the end of the counter. “Gabe, I am so—”
“Sorry?” he queried softly. “Are you seriously going to apologize to me?”
“Well, yes. I actually apologized to you that morning. Profusely, if I remember correctly—”
“Oh, I remember that.” His eyes were like sheets of ice. “But not sure how an apology is adequate for what happened.”