“I never would have guessed you had so much room. Do you mind my asking the square footage?”

“Not at all. It’s three thousand square feet, not including the outdoor living space. More than enough for a home of one. Too much sometimes.” As she continued to look around with genuine interest, he added, “Would you like a tour?”

“If you don’t mind.”

After giving a quick description of why he’d chosen the muted colors and fabrics for the rooms visible from where they were standing, he led her to floor-to-ceiling glass doors that led to a flawlessly designed outdoor space that included a living area with couches, chairs and a fire pit, a full stainless-steel kitchen with colorful stone bar, a nice-size pool and similarly designed spa. The same colors that dominated inside—a mixture of tan, gray, cream and black—continued outside. Luscious plants and vibrant pillows warmed the scene, and the design of the privacy fence made it less offensive to the eye. All in all, Monique loved it and was surprised to note that had she designed it herself very little would change. She loved the clean lines and thoughtful layout, and Niko’s home office rivaled that which she had on L.A.’s Sunset Boulevard.

The upstairs tour was blessedly brief. She felt hot just stepping foot inside his spacious master suite. She looked at the custom-made bed, with its unique blend of ebony wood and stainless steel covered with a cozy-looking comforter Niko said was a blend of cotton and raw silk, and imagined him sprawled against it. Ignoring the smirk she saw upon her declining to check out the master bath and closet, they made quick work of the remaining upstairs rooms, which included a state-of-the-art gym, and returned to the kitchen.

Monique thanked him for the tour. She was impressed, first with the man and now with the understated and elegant home where he resided. It had given her a brief reprieve from worrying about Devante, a thought that returned full force as soon as she sat on one of the bar stools in front of the unique island made of bright recycled glass. Blue, orange and green slivers of glass provided a vibrant splash of color to an otherwise monotone room. She picked up her phone and, when she saw that no calls had been missed, tried reaching him again. There was still no answer and this time the call went straight to voice mail.

“If something has happened to him, I won’t be able to forgive myself.”

“Come on, now. Don’t think like that. You’ve got to stay positive. Try to relax.”

She took a deep breath, leaned against the chair back and watched how comfortable Niko appeared in the kitchen. He’d put on water to boil, set a container of various teas in front of her and was now placing slices of lemon onto a plate. Their eyes met, and a familiar warmth traveled to its usual places. She was sure she was blushing and prayed the lighting kept this fact a secret. As for the desire that made her clutch her thighs together, she thanked the island for keeping hidden the lower half of her anatomy.

He turned from an open cabinet. “Sugar or honey for your sweetener?”

Neither, Monique was sorely tempted to say. The dark caramel making her heart patter and mouth water couldn’t be found in the pantry. To see it, Niko would have to look in a mirror.

Chapter 12

“Monique? Your choice of tea?”

She hadn’t realized she’d been daydreaming. About Niko. Again. She reached for the first bag in the container, an herbal blend infused with citrus and spice. “Sorry.”

“I know you want to hear from him.”

“Actually, what I want is right in front of me.” She handed Niko the tea bag. “This sounds good.”

“One of my favorites.” Niko opened the cellophane packet and placed the tea bag in an oversize mug bearing the Drake Realty logo. He opened another packet and placed it in the same type of mug before turning off the now whistling teapot and covering the bags with boiling water. Then he reached for cup covers to let the tea steep, before taking a seat across from her. Seeing the frown on her face, he softly said, “Tell me about Devante.”

“He’s basically a good person, though no stranger to the system, mostly in for petty theft. One involved a gun. That upped the charge to armed robbery, a felony. They wanted to try him as an adult. I researched his backstory and was quite moved. He was your stereotypical inner-city child statistic. Father in prison whom he’d never met, mother on drugs, eldest child strapped with the responsibility of raising his younger siblings. That’s why he stole. It was either that or starve. I successfully argued that his case be kept in juvenile court and from that point on took him under my wing as a mentee.”

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