“I wouldn’t worry about it. But if you’re truly concerned, I’ll drop Ike and Dad off and drive the town car. It has tinted windows and I’ll pull into the garage.”

“Hmm. Sounds like an action you’ve done before.”

“Join me at my home and I’ll tell you about it.”

“Oh, wait. My car…”

“I’ll make sure it’s parked in your driveway before 6:00 a.m. Anything else?”

“You really don’t have to do this, you know. I am worried about Devante, but I’ll be fine.”

“I know. You’re a strong, proud woman with an S on your cape. I know a few of those, not the least of whom is my mother.” He was glad for the small smile this comment elicited. “So humor me. Come over and share a cup of tea.”

“Is that all you’re interested in sharing?”

The frank question elicited a raised brow. His intentions when he’d asked Monique over had been totally honorable, but her innocent query opened his mind to other possibilities. The image of her lush backside and shapely legs as she’d entered the car came instantly to mind, as did what he could do ensconced between said shapely legs. Why he was so concerned about her welfare, even to the point of feeling somewhat responsible for her well-being, was another question he’d have to figure out. But that would have to happen later. Right now, he wanted to get away from this scene and the mixture of curious and admiring eyes that were starting to be aimed in his direction. Then he saw Ashley walking toward them, staring hard at Monique. It was definitely time to leave.

“Let’s head to the car,” he said to Monique as he pulled out his phone. He dialed his father’s number, careful to maintain a respectful distance between him and his rival when for whatever unfathomable reason all he wanted to do was wrap her in his arms. “You about ready, Dad?” He listened to the response. “Okay. Let me know as soon as you hear anything.” He ended the call. “Dad and Ike are going to stay a little longer. They’ll ride back with one of the neighbors.”

“Niko, maybe I should—”

“Let someone take care of you? Yes, I agree.” His voice was firm and final, the statement delivered in a tone that brooked no argument, even from a nationally recognized defense attorney who’d once kicked his butt in a college debate.

They reached the car and rode the ten minutes from the school to Golden Gates in silence. Monique had passed on rolling low in the backseat, but once they’d reached the home, Niko pulled into the garage.

“I’m going to great lengths to ensure you’re not associated with me.”

Monique laughed and opened her door.

A slight frown marred Niko’s handsome countenance as he watched her. “Why do I get the feeling you’re enjoying a private joke.”

“I am.”

Her look was soft and playful, and Niko discovered he quite liked it. Usually, it was the cool, professional demeanor that was brought to the fore. They reached the door that led from the garage to the hallway beyond it. Niko opened the door. “Care to share?”

Monique stepped inside. “I can’t believe this is your home.” They continued walking down a hall with a laundry room on one side and a mudroom on the other before spilling into a larger area where the kitchen, dining room and great room were visible.

“Really, why?”

“Because shortly after moving here, Margo gave me a tour of the neighborhood. I said this was one of my favorite houses. Remembering back, she didn’t comment. That’s what I find humorous. Now I know why.”

“She didn’t want you to know that you were admiring the home of your stiffest competition?”

Monique had been thinking of her competition’s potential stiffness all night. Now that she was in the privacy of his residence, she’d have to work harder than ever—pun intended—to keep her thoughts PG.

“Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what Margo is thinking. She’s quite the character. But my comment stands. You have a very nice home.”

Built by Drake Realty a little over five years ago, Niko’s home was large yet tasteful, opulent but in an understated sort of way. Pristine landscaping included large trees and bushes and obscured much of the actual home from the street. Visitors were always surprised to come in and find it was so large. Monique was no exception.

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