On the positive side, she looked like herself again. She was wearing an old pair of denim shorts that had been hacked off at mid-thigh and her favorite Pink Floyd T-shirt, which was faded and torn in places. Her hair, which he had never paid particular attention to before, was a silky mess that was long in the front—with her side-parted fringe sliding over her left eye—and short in the back, just brushing at the nape of her neck. The glossy black stuff sleekly conformed to the pretty shape of her head, and while it hadn’t been styled in ages, it still gave her an appealing gamine quality, which when combined with her pretty, thickly lashed amber eyes, flawless golden skin, and irregular features, made him want either to ruffle her hair in affection or kiss her senseless. And therein lay the negative side of the situation: she looked like Bobbi again, his familiar and lovable best friend, his unkempt Runt, but damned if he didn’t still want her. It wasn’t an easy thought to adjust to, and it made him feel vaguely uncomfortable—like it was somehow wrong to want a girl he had known for most of his life.
He cleared his throat and tested a perfectly bland smile on her—it seemed to work because she relaxed even further.
“Why don’t you get your stuff packed and meet me downstairs in ten minutes?” he suggested. “We can say our good-byes and be on the road.”
They left twenty minutes later, and Bobbi curled up in the luxurious black and red leather bucket seat of Gabe’s gorgeous Lamborghini Aventador. On any other day she would be crooning over the car’s features and begging Gabe to let her drive it, but right now she wanted to avoid all conversation with him. He put on some music, seeming content to let her pretend to doze in the passenger seat. It was classical music of course—Gabe had sophisticated tastes, evidenced by the clothes he wore and the classy women he dated. Bobbi had never really known how she had managed to remain so firmly entrenched in his life despite their differences. She’d always assumed that she was a remnant of his youth that he enjoyed clinging to. After all he still remained friends with her brother, Billy, and most of their other childhood mates.
She flipped over in her seat to face the window and opened her eyes to focus miserably out at the passing scenery. Gabe handled the car competently of course. He did everything competently—Bobbi didn’t. She was a mess, the only thing she had done properly was open her auto shop and even that fledgling venture was floundering.
The car was slowing down and she frowned, they were only halfway to Constantia. She sat up in time to see Gabe turn in to the parking lot of a popular franchise restaurant.
“I’m starving,” he said by way of explanation. “And you could do with some food too.”
“I’m not hungry,” she repeated, pushing her hair out of her eyes and absently noting that she needed a haircut, the fall of hair that kept flopping into her eye was becoming an irritant.
“I don’t care. You’re eating.”
“Oh my God, you’re such a bossy bastard,” she griped; it wasn’t the first time she had made the complaint, and he grinned and replied the way he routinely did.
“It’s my best character trait.” She rolled her eyes, relieved to have fallen back into their familiar banter.
They got out of the car, which had drawn a crowd of admiring boys and men. There were a few women too, and they cast speculative looks at Gabe’s tall, handsome frame, but none of them seemed to notice her of course. That was always the case—she often found herself overlooked when she was standing beside him. She would be relegated to nothing more than an insignificant bystander beside someone so charismatic, and yet, Gabe never overlooked her. He’d go off and flirt with the women and laugh with the men, but he always made his way back to her to side to check if she needed anything. More often than not, he hurried to find her in order to share an amusing anecdote or a juicy bit of gossip about someone in the crowd.
Gabe ignored the people milling around the car and took hold of Bobbi’s elbow in order to safely lead her through them. She ignored the familiar jolt of sensation she always felt when his bare skin touched hers, but for some reason he broke stride after that initial touch and frowned down at his hand where it gripped her elbow. It was a barely noticeable moment, but Bobbi found herself obsessively wondering about it throughout the lengthy seating and meal selection process. Had he felt that current too? Before now it had been wholly one-sided, with only Bobbi feeling that frisson, but after Gabe’s hesitation, she wondered if just maybe he had felt it too.
She looked up into his familiar features and was disheartened to note that he didn’t look the slightest bit disconcerted and sighed quietly at that ember of hope in her chest that just wouldn’t die.
One of his elbows was on the table and his chin was resting in the palm of his hand as he stared unnervingly at her. His free hand was toying with his fork.
“When was the last time you heard from Chase?” She felt the need to break the lengthening silence between them.
“A couple of days ago. On Skype. He seemed . . .” He sighed and shrugged, his concern for his twin brother obvious. Chase was an award-winning photojournalist and regularly traveled to war zones around the globe. He was currently covering a civil war in the Middle East and a number of journalists had already been kidnapped and murdered in the area. Bobbi knew that Gabe had been urging his brother to come home and leave this one be, but Chase was a stubborn man. “He seemed tired. Distracted.”
“I’m sure that he’s fine,” Bobbi comforted. “He knows how to take care of himself. He knows what precautions to take.”