“So how would it work?” she asked, and he exhaled shakily, relieved that she had broken her silence. “Will we have some kind of secret password or handshake when we want to sleep together?”

He laughed uncertainly, not sure of her mood. Her words had been sarcastic but her eyes looked . . . sad. He swallowed past the lump that had formed in his throat. He didn’t want to hurt her, he was suggesting this arrangement so that he could avoid hurting her—full disclosure was essential, that way she wouldn’t form any unreasonable expectations.

“You’d come round to my place as you normally would and we’ll see where the mood takes us.”

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“So we won’t have to set up some kind of schedule then? Sex tonight, darts at the pub tomorrow . . . that kind of thing? I mean, I’ve never had a friend with benefits before, I don’t know how it works.”

“This is new to me too, Bobbi.” He wasn’t deaf to the cynicism in her voice but was unsure how to respond to it.

She pushed herself up and off him, rearranging her clothing to the best of her ability. He felt the loss keenly and leaned forward to brace his elbows on his knees—staring at her intently, not sure what to expect next. Her face still had a dewy, post-orgasmic glow to it and her lips were swollen from his earlier attentions. She was so damned sexy—he wanted her back on his lap, wanted to feel her tightness close around him as he pushed himself into her, but he needed her to agree to his terms before he could have her and waiting for her answer was excruciating.

“Well how does it usually work with your blondes?” she asked pointedly, sitting down on the chair opposite his—the one her father had occupied earlier.

He usually took his other female companions out to dinner, dancing . . . some kind of event. Followed by a night of sex at their homes—which insured a quick and easy getaway afterward. Bobbi wouldn’t be getting the fancy dinners; he acknowledged guiltily but then appeased himself with the reminder that it wasn’t her scene anyway.

“Our arrangement will be different,” he muttered.

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“Oh yes, of course . . .” She snapped her fingers as if just remembering. “We won’t be seen together.”

“Bobbi,” he chastised miserably, hating her unpredictable mood. She clearly wasn’t receptive to his idea. “What do you want then?”

The question shut her up and she peered at him mutely before shrugging.

“Fine, let’s do this.” She held her right hand over her chest and the left hand up as if she was about to swear an oath. “I, Roberta Rebecca Richmond, hereby do solemnly swear to expect nothing more than sex from one Gabriel Andrew Braddock. I promise to not disclose details of our affair to any third parties, promise to not behave inappropriately toward him in public places and, once our affair has run its course, I promise to never speak of it again and to go back to being Gabriel Andrew Braddock’s bestest buddy. So help me God.”

“Bobbi, you’re making it seem . . .”

“Cold?” she finished, her voice so icy it nearly froze him on the spot and he nodded. “Cynical? Clinical? Maybe because that’s what it is.”

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“Then tell me what you want.” He repeated his previous demand, not bothering to keep the exasperation out of his voice.

“Nothing more or less than you’re willing to offer.” She shrugged before sending him a seductive look that—despite his tension—immediately grabbed his attention.

She got up and walked to the door, and his eyes remained riveted on the deliberate swing of her tight behind. She threw him a look over her shoulder and combined it with a sultry smile.

“Come on, Gabe . . . I’ll walk you home.”

Bobbi didn’t know what the hell she was doing. This was going to end in heartbreak and she knew it . . . but she didn’t want to go through her entire life without being with him. She couldn’t force him to love her the way she loved him so she would take whatever meager substitute he was offering her, and when it ended she would try damned hard to keep her end of the bargain and go back to being his friend. She felt weak and stupid and while her brain screamed at her not to be foolish, her heart urged her to accept his sordid little arrangement and be grateful for it.

In the end her heart had won the fierce battle and so here she was, holding his hand in hers as she dragged him across the lawn toward the fence between their homes. There was a security gate between the two properties that their parents had had installed when the Braddock and Richmond children had still been small—it had been put there to stop the kids from creating shortcuts by climbing the trees that bordered their yards and jumping over the high fences, especially after Chase broke his arm. Once Bobbi had led Gabe through the gate and was safely out of view of her house and numerous security guards, Gabe stopped moving. Bobbi glanced back impatiently but all she could see in the darkness were the whites of his eyes before he tugged on her hand and dragged her into his arms.

She was enveloped in his scent, by his warmth, and then before she could brace herself, completely devoured by his hungry mouth. She moaned and gave herself over to him. There was no finesse to the kiss, it was a meeting of lips, tongue, and teeth, and it made Bobbi feel wanton, wild, and starved for more.

“God, sweetheart, you drive me crazy.” His voice sounded feral in the dark as he forced the words out between gasps. “Come on.”

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This time he led the way as he tugged her to his house, up the porch steps, and into the foyer. His hands were all over her body as he led her into one of the rooms closest to the front entrance. A quick glance around confirmed that they were in his study and she had no time for any other observation before he sat her down on a large sofa and knelt between her legs.

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