Starting an auto repair shop wasn’t cheap and if not for Gabe’s emotional support and encouragement back when the idea was just a nascent seed floundering beneath mounds of crushing self-doubt, Bobbi would probably not even have tried to get it off the ground. Gabe had always made her feel like what she wanted was equally as important as her brothers’ lofty ambitions. The costs of her state-of-the-art equipment, building rental, and employee payrolls were immense and Bobbi would swallow her pride and live at home if it meant saving money on rent and food. She’d had a lot more privacy since her brothers had all moved out anyway and usually only saw her father at mealtimes. The man was a workaholic and was always closeted away in his office running the multimillion dollar family business that none of his children had wanted to take over. Instead, Gabe was the one who was being groomed to succeed him as Richcorp’s chairman.
Gabe had been Mike Richmond’s first, last, and only choice as successor once it had become clear that none of his children were interested in learning anything about his huge multimedia conglomerate, which owned five local newspapers around the country, three national radio stations, four glossy multilingual magazines, and a premium cable television that serviced most of the country and a large portion of the continent as well. Gabe had been the one who had asked the intelligent questions on career day when Mike Richmond had graced his classroom—which he shared with his twin, Chase, and her brother Billy—with his formidable presence. Gabe had been the one to dog the older man’s footsteps and beg for a summer job when he was fifteen. While Chase and Billy had flirted with girls and been typical adolescents, Gabe had worked his butt off in the stuffy mailroom of the Cape Town branch of the company. He had eventually obtained his MBA—all the while working his way up through the ranks until he had reached his current status as the CEO of GNT, Richcorp’s most prolific subsidiary. Now he was poised to take over the whole kit and caboodle.
“Hey.” As if she had unconsciously summoned Gabe with her thoughts, his glossy, expensive shoes suddenly materialized at her feet. Startled, she lost focus and raised her head, hitting it on the underside of the car with a bang. Damn it!
She swore roundly and he chuckled in response to her colorful curses. He went down on his haunches and she felt his hands wrap around her ankles. Before she could question him, he dragged her out from under the car. The creeper that she was lying on eased his task significantly. He didn’t budge as he pulled her closer and she had no choice but to part and bend her knees so that they were splayed on either side of his thighs. He halted her progress before the creeper—which was long enough only to support her from shoulder to backside—could whack him on the ankles.
Disgruntled, she sat up but then immediately realized that the move hadn’t been well thought out on her part. It brought her chest within a hairs’ breath of his much broader one and she could feel the heat poring off him. He also smelled delicious—hints of green forest mixed with his own earthy scent—while she was self-consciously aware of the fact that she reeked of Eau de Grease. Still she was so hyperaware of his proximity that her breath shortened into ragged gasps, and her nipples tightened into hard ingots of excruciating sensation. She was grateful for the fact that she wore her loose gray overalls since they hid the embarrassing development from his all-encompassing scrutiny. After the night before she would rather not have it known that it was a pretty typical reaction to his presence. Once could be written off as a fluke. Twice and he’d be onto her longest-kept secret in no time.
She licked her lips nervously and his eyes dropped down to her mouth to track the movement. His rapt gaze traveled over her face and his eyes widened for a fraction of a second before he raised his hand to cup one of her cheeks. He leaned in and Bobbi swallowed painfully. Oh dear God, he was going to kiss her . . .
Of course he was going to kiss her!
It was inevitable. He had confused her so much over the past couple of days but perhaps he was ready to acknowledge he was attracted to her as well? Her lips parted, her eyes slid shut, and his thumb brushed over her cheekbone before his hand abruptly left her face. She was startled into opening her eyes just in time to see him raise his thumb into her line of vision.
“Grease,” he said, wrinkling his nose. She gasped and humiliated color flooded into her cheeks as she caught the mixture of laughter and distaste in his eyes.
She was mortified that she had once again allowed herself to entertain the notion that Gabe could possibly be attracted to her. Her inability to separate reality from her crazy fantasies was one of the reasons she simply had to keep him at a physical distance. That meant no more ill-advised movie nights. She would start being firmer and saying no to him more often. It was mortifying how very little backbone she had when it came to this man. Bobbi reached for a rag that she kept tucked into her pocket and scrubbed self-consciously at her face.
“I’m surprised to see you here.” Her voice was muffled as she continued to wipe her face. “I mean, aren’t you afraid of getting grime on your lovely suit? Grease is impossible to get out, you know.” She eyed the expensive tailor-made three-piece iron-gray suit disdainfully, desperate to get back into familiar territory with him. She didn’t ask him what he was doing in a suit on a Sunday afternoon; Gabe was a real workaholic and since he’d taken Saturday off it was inevitable that he’d go to the office on Sunday.
Knowing him, he’d probably swum a few laps this morning, headed out to the office afterward, had a few high-powered business meetings—achieving more in a few hours than most people achieved in a full day at work. Just a typical morning for the industrious Gabriel Braddock, and now he was here with nary a hair out of place and enough time left in his day to torment her.