“Why did you do it?” He asked, his voice gruff, and she blinked. This wasn’t the way she had pictured this conversation going at all. Gabe was supposed to gratefully latch on to the excuse to maintain the status quo of their friendship. He wasn’t supposed to ask speculative and penetrating questions.
“What?” She stalled for time, hoping to give him the chance to withdraw the question when he figured out that he was just drawing out the uncomfortable situation longer than was necessary.
“I asked why you did it?” He repeated, leaning forward to bring his sharp gaze onto her face and watching her every reaction with a maddeningly impersonal expression.
“Why did I get drunk?” She deliberately misunderstood, hoping again that he would grab onto this avenue of escape. There was a long pause while he continued to study her with those eyes that missed nothing. She kept her friendly smile pasted to her face but was gradually aware with each passing second how very fake it must look to this man who knew her so well.
“You know what I meant, Bobbi, but if you want me to spell it out—why did you kiss me and why did you touch me?” He leaned forward even more, bringing his elbows to his thighs and clasping his hands loosely together in the empty space between his knees.
“I was drunk.” It was all she could do not to stammer. She kept her eyes up and kept that damned fake smile plastered on her face.
“You said I was your date,” he reminded her, and she froze for the briefest of seconds before forcing a laugh out of her tight throat. She managed another one and then another until the sound that emerged almost resembled her natural laughter.
“Oh my God, Gabe . . . you had me going. So serious . . . Why did you kiss me? Why did you touch me?” She did a terrible impression of his voice, deepening her own to try and mimic his. “But the date thing? You know how drunk I was when I said that! Why else would I have said it? I thought you were angry with me or something, but you’re having me on aren’t you? Don’t scare me like that!”
His eyes had narrowed on her laughing face, but he leaned back in his chair and allowed a small smile to play about his lips. He seemed content to let her latch on to what she considered to be an “out.”
“I’m not angry with you, sweetheart,” he said softly. “I was worried about you. I still am . . . you haven’t eaten much today.”
This was the Gabriel Braddock she had fallen in love with, the one who treated her with a gruff tenderness when he was alone with her, who cared about her well being and always seemed to want what was best for her. When she was growing up, she had loved him like her own brother. In fact, in some ways, she loved him more than any of her brothers.
Billy, Edward, and Clyde had never listened to her aching desires to be like the taller and prettier girls at school. They hadn’t been the ones to comfort her at fifteen, when she had lamented her lack of feminine curves. None of them had been interested in her disastrous crush on Timothy Carfield, the handsome captain of the rugby team. Gabe was the only one who had been there for her during those painful teenage years, before she had adjusted to the changes in her own body and admitted to herself that she would never be like those girls in school, that she had no desire to be like any of them. He had listened, he had advised and had always known exactly how to cheer her up whenever her adolescent fantasies of fitting in had ended in disaster. So often she had trudged home from school and straight to the Braddock house to tell Gabe about whatever humiliation she’d had to endure that day. Depending on the scope of the catastrophe, he would produce ice cream, take her to the movies or drive her down to the closest junkyard—his least favorite place in the world—where she could happily scrounge around for car parts. And so often, he had simply hugged her and told her that everything would be okay.
Bobbi had no pride where this man was concerned. She was desperate to keep him in her life and if it meant slowly bleeding to death from every tiny, slashing wound that his romantic indifference inflicted on her, then so be it.
Still the last day and a half had exhausted her and she just wanted to get home and lick her latest wounds in private.
“I don’t really want to stay for lunch. I just want to get home and sleep,” she told him, and he frowned at her sudden mood shift.
“You haven’t eaten yet,” he reminded.
“I’m not hungry. I feel too sick to eat, and I’d really prefer to go home. If you’re hungry we could stop for some fast food or something.” It was a thirty-minute drive from the affluent coastal suburb of Clifton, Cape Town, where Sandro and Theresa lived to Bobbi’s and Gabe’s homes in Constantia, which was a suburb located in the heart of the Cape Winelands. On a clear day like today, in his sleek Lamborghini, Gabe could do it in less time than that.
“If you’re sure?” he asked with marked reluctance.
“I’m sorry. I’ve totally ruined this weekend for you, haven’t I?” She felt awful about that. She would have to take a minibreak from Gabe after this weekend, focus on her business, and maybe spend more time with her female friends.
“You haven’t ruined it,” he said with a slight smile. “Not at all.”
Gabe watched the relief flood into her expressive amber eyes and the tension seep from her shoulders. She had tried to be so casual and unaffected but had failed miserably. He knew her too well to be fooled by the lighthearted act she’d just put on for him. Something fundamental had shifted in their relationship, and while she was desperately scrambling to take them back to where they had been before The Kiss, Gabe perversely wanted her to acknowledge that she had kissed him and touched him because she had wanted him. Not because she had been drunk and exercising flawed judgement. He knew that he was being an idiot. He should have grabbed onto the lifeline she had thrown him and their friendship with both hands, but it just grated to see her sitting there trying so desperately to look relaxed.