He glanced around the room and spotted a familiar rumpled figure—the one bit of chaos in his otherwise well-ordered life—and made his way over to where she stood. Their friendship surprised most people who didn’t know them. They were complete opposites—Bobbi’s untidiness against his neatness and her free spirit versus his buttoned-down conservativeness—and their friendship sometimes baffled him too. He’d known her for most of his life and was used to having her around—no, more than that, he enjoyed having her around. Gabe didn’t confide in many people, but Bobbi was someone he trusted with most of his secrets. She listened to him and was his one constant. His mother and brother were preoccupied with their own lives; his father was a completely hopeless case. His other friends were mates, good for a laugh and a drink at the pub but not for sharing his deep and darkest secrets. When he worried about his brother, Chase, he knew that Bobbi would be there to listen patiently and offer words of comfort and advice. She understood him, and he appreciated that about her. He would be the first to acknowledge that he tended to take her for granted, but he couldn’t quite imagine his life without her.
He watched as she tossed back the remaining contents of a champagne flute before substituting the empty glass for a full one from a passing waiter’s tray. She was as dressed up as it was possible for Bobbi to get, wearing a shapeless navy-blue slip dress, one he had seen her in a million times before. It was her go-to party dress. It kind of skimmed her slender body, falling from thick straps on her shoulders, which seemed to have been designed to hide bra straps, to somewhere between her knees and her calves.
The dress was accompanied by clunky ankle boots that added absolutely no height to her five foot nothing frame, and the entire ensemble was topped off with some ugly plastic tribal jewelry—chunky bracelets that looked horribly out of place on her delicate wrists, a pendant that appeared to weigh heavily on her neck, and truly awful hoop earrings that seemed to tug painfully at her earlobes.
Bobbi was a tiny waif of a girl, so her ghastly outfit seemed to be wearing her. The top of her head barely came up to his chest. She had slender arms and legs, a flat chest, and no curves to speak of at all. He supposed she was okay-looking as such things went, with luminous, thickly lashed amber eyes that shone like dark gold in the sunlight, a snub nose that was crooked as a result of a childhood fall, and a perfect cupid’s bow of a mouth, which—in addition to her eyelashes—was one of the few feminine things about her. She had beautiful skin though, clear and golden, and her short, silky, straight black hair molded the elegant shape of her head.
“Hey, Runt,” he said by way of greeting, knowing that it aggravated her to be addressed as such. “You having a good time?”
“No,” she groused. “You’re supposed to dance with me.”
“I am?” He was?
“You brought me here,” she pointed out, enunciating her words carefully, the way inebriated people tended to do when they were trying to convince others of their sobriety. “You’re my date. You should dance with me.”
“I’m your date, am I?”
“Stop talking to me like I’m a child.” Her words threw him. He did tend to speak to her in the indulgent, paternal tone her dad or older brothers used on her. It was easy for all of them to lose sight of the fact that she was a woman of twenty-six with her own business.
“I’m sorry.” Her pretty eyes reflected her surprise at his apology. She shrugged awkwardly, grabbing yet another glass from a passing waiter and downing it in almost one gulp. She swayed and he reached out to steady her, placing his hands on her slight shoulders.
“Whoa, Bobbi . . . how many of those have you had?”
“How many of whats?” she asked with a frown, and he grinned at her butchering of the language before elaborating.
“Of those glasses of champagne?”
“They’re called flutes . . . like a flute . . . like music. You know?”
“I get it,” he said, keeping his tone somber to match the earnestness in her voice. “So how many have you had?”
“Never mind.” He decided not to push it when it was clear that she couldn’t quite muddle her way through the conversation. “Entirely too many, as far as I can tell. Come on, let’s find a quiet spot to sit you down.”
“I’m not tired. I want to dance.”
“You can barely stand,” he pointed out patiently. It wasn’t like her to get drunk. She was a lightweight when it came to alcohol and tended to restrict her alcoholic intake to no more than two glasses when she was in company.
“I can stand.” She looked offended by his words and wriggled her shoulders out from beneath his hands to prove it to him. She swayed only a little without his support. “Come on, let’s dance.” She pushed past him and walked confidently toward the dance floor. When she got there and turned around to find him still standing where she had left him, she spread her hands in a what gives gesture.
He groaned to himself before making his way to her side. It would be best just to dance with her and get it over with. Arguing with her in her current state would cause a scene. He was being jostled by the crowd and felt a bit harried when he eventually reached her. She smiled up at him before latching her arms around his waist, resting her head on his chest, and snuggling up against him like a contented cat. Floored, he stood with his arms outspread—not quite sure what to do with them—staring down at the top of her silky head.