Bobbi understood that this was easier for her because she’d felt this way about him for years but for him it was brand new. He probably felt as weird as she had that first time she had looked at Gabe and saw someone other than just a good friend. She would never forget that moment, on her birthday six years before. Gabe had been out of town on business. He had rushed to get back before midnight and had come straight to the Richmond house to present her with his gift—a charm bracelet filled with tiny screwdrivers, cars, wrenches, nuts, and bolts. The trinkets must have taken him months to collect and it had been absolutely perfect. Wholly impractical since she couldn’t wear it to work but perfect nonetheless.
She had looked up at the man standing in her doorway, so uncharacteristically disheveled, with messy hair, skewed tie, and wrinkled clothing, and had fallen hopelessly in love with him. From one breath to the next he had transitioned from platonic friend and trusted confidante to the single most important person in her life, and she had wanted him with a fierceness that still shocked her to this day.
They would have to take things slowly. The transition from being friends into a couple would be strange for them as well as their family and friends, who would be blindsided by the match and possibly uncomfortable with it too.
“We’ll sort it out,” she assured him, linking her hands with his and squeezing encouragingly. She smiled and kissed him, happy that she was free to do so. He tasted faintly of whiskey and cigars. Delicious.
He returned the kiss, running his tongue over her lips and then sucking her lower lip gently into his mouth.
“Hmmm,” he groaned, the sound a masculine rumble that she felt against her chest. He dragged his mouth away from hers with obvious reluctance. “I’ve been wanting to suck on that juicy lip for a while now.” He ran a rough thumb over her lip and she caught it in her mouth, nipping wickedly at the pad.
“Come on, Bobbi,” he growled. “Time enough for this later. We need to talk.”
“Fine.” She rolled her eyes. He clearly needed to get this out of his system. “I’m all ears.”
“This is awkward because this isn’t a scenario I ever imagined,” he said. “The women I . . . the ones before, they knew the score. But you and I, that’s complicated.”
“What’s complicated about it?” she asked, a sinking sensation forming in the pit of her stomach. There was nothing complicated about this, they were attracted to each other and now that they had both acknowledged that attraction they were free to be together. Simple.
“We’re friends, good friends, when this ends—when we eventually get this thing between us out of our systems—what happens to our friendship? If there’s any danger of losing you, Bobbi, it just wouldn’t be worth it for a few encounters of meaningless sex.”
Meaningless sex? That’s all he wanted?
Bobbi almost laughed but she managed to bite back the impulse, knowing that the sound that emerged from her throat would be filled with disappointment.
Of course that’s what he wanted! She was such a dolt.
Be careful what you wish for. That was how the saying went and it had never been truer than at this very moment. Bobbi had always wished for him to want her as much as she wanted him, to look at her with desire in his eyes and that wish had been more than granted. There was so much heat in his regard that she felt scorched by it and his zipper was fighting a losing battle against the hard physical proof of his lust. She had what she had hungered for day after day for years but she wanted more than that.
All those years of wishing for him to want her, it had never occurred to her to ask that he love her too. Why would she wish for something she already had? Gabe loved her, he always had—but he wasn’t in love with her.
“So what do you suggest?” she asked, her voice sounding hollow even to her own ears, but he didn’t seem to notice.
“I was thinking we could come to an understanding. We keep this affair and our friendship separate . . .”
What? She didn’t understand what that meant. “I don’t understand.”
“It would be better if nobody else knew about it. If we kept it between us,” he said, keeping his face averted. She was thankful for that because she didn’t want him to see the pain in her eyes. “That way it would be easier for us to go back to being friends afterward. No unpleasant and intrusive questions from family and friends, you know?” She nodded absently in response to the question, feeling a piece of her heart wither and die with every word he spoke.
How stupid of her to think that he would want a proper relationship with someone like her and that she could show the world how she felt about him. How foolish of her to fantasize about actually staking a claim on him and keeping all those annoying blondes at bay by right of possession.
Her fantasies were completely laughable in light of that fact that Gabe wanted to hide the attraction he felt for her in a dark and moldy place where it would be unable to flourish. Instead it would shrivel and eventually die and they would walk away and carry on as if it had never existed.
Their family and friends would remain completely oblivious while Gabe slept with her in secret as if what he felt for her was something to be ashamed.
Gabe watched Bobbi closely but her expression revealed nothing—it was as if a porcelain mask had slid over her face—her features perfectly frozen. He was desperate for her to accept this agreement. He didn’t know what he would do if she refused—she simply couldn’t refuse.
“We could have everything, Bobbi,” he insisted. “The sex and our friendship. Nothing has to change; we just have to keep it under wraps. It’s the only way to keep things normal. Once other people get involved, they’ll start placing their own expectations on us. That wouldn’t be fair on either of us. This is our business not theirs. It’s the only way I can think of to protect you.” And he really wanted to protect her. He didn’t want her friends forcing their opinions on her, didn’t want her brothers or his to make her feel like she was doing something wrong by being with him, and, yes, he was protecting himself too. God knew, her brothers, her father, and his mother—everybody would be horrified. They would insist he “do the right thing” and when he refused it could cause a rift between their families. He was on very shaky ground here and needed to tread carefully.