“I’m just happy he’s home,” she said, punctuating the sentiment with a wet sniff. “I won’t say anything about his appearance. Thank you for the warning.”

“No problem,” he said. “Love you, Mum.”

“I know, darling,” his mother said softly. “I love you too.”

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Gabe disconnected the call and then glared off into the middle distance, thinking about Bobbi’s boyfriend. What was that all about?

“I hear you’re seeing that Kyle guy.” Gabe’s deep voice sent a shudder of longing down Bobbi’s spine before she registered his words.

“Oh my God . . . ,” she groaned. “Not you too.”

“No truth to the rumor then?” He asked in a strained voice.

“That’s a stupid question,” she shot back. “When exactly was I supposed to squeeze in a budding romance with Kyle Foster when I’ve been spending my free time in dead-end shagfest with you?”

There was a long silence at the other end of the line.

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“My mother, Frank, and Kim are coming round for dinner tonight,” he said after a while. “I think it’ll be a late night, so it’ll probably be best if you didn’t come around.”

Wow. That hurt more than it should have. Under normal circumstances, he would have included Bobbi in what was essentially a family gathering. So this was what it would be like after they ended their thing. They would remain friends, of a sort, but he would start excluding Bobbi from more and more of the family meals and outings until they would simply have “drifted apart.” It wouldn’t be intentional but it would be the inexorable result of an impossible situation.

“Okay,” she whispered. “I’ll chat with you tomorrow then.”

“Yeah . . . ,” he said, sounding reluctant, and she winced. “Okay, I’ve got to go. Take care.”

“You too,” she said, forcing the words out, hating how thick with tears they sounded.

“Bobbi,” he said, just before she disconnected, and her heart leapt hopefully. “Chase saw you leave this morning. He knows about us . . . our having sex. I thought you should be aware of that.”

“Oh.” Chase knew? How did he feel about it? What did he think of her? Of Gabe? She wanted to ask Gabe but he didn’t seem open to discussion at the moment.

“Thanks for letting me know.”

“Right.” God, he sounded so cold that it sent an icy tremor through her body. “See you.”

He disconnected before she could reply, and she carefully put her phone down and unseeingly stared at the shop floor through the windows of her office. Sean and Craig were working on the Corvette and she was taking care of the paperwork as always. She bowed her head over another of the endless order forms that was piled in front of her and desperately tried to keep her tears at bay. She never cried. Never. And she refused to cry now. She had gone into this knowing full well how it would end; so crying over it would be stupid.

She picked up her pen and started to write again. She was stronger than this. She knew she was. She wouldn’t cry. Not now. Not for this.

Gabe was miserable throughout dinner. He shouldn’t have told her not to come around. As the time came for his mother, Frank, and Kim to head home, all he could think about was that he wouldn’t be seeing Bobbi later. He thought about calling her and telling her to come by after his mother left, but he wasn’t sure if she was even speaking to him at the moment. He knew that he’d been a bit abrupt with her that afternoon. But once he explained the strain he had been under she would surely understand? Hearing that everyone thought that she was dating Kyle Foster hadn’t really helped the situation, not when Gabe suddenly and inexplicably found himself wanting to go out and tell everybody who she was really involved with.

He ignored the small voice in the back of his mind that told him he was a selfish arsehole and instead tried to figure out how to get her to come around. He was still trying to figure it out when he kissed his mother and hugged his stepfather and sister good-bye. Chase had been quiet throughout the evening and their mother had been extremely tactful around him. All in all it had been a relatively successful evening.

He dragged his phone out of his pocket, hoping to see a message from Bobbi, but there was nothing. His heart sank in disappointment and he knew he’d probably have to apologize for his earlier dickishness.

“Are you going to tell Bobbi to come sneaking over?” The unexpected sound of Chase’s voice startled him into nearly dropping the phone.

“That’s none of your damned business,” he growled over his shoulder and Chase glowered at him.

“Stop telling me it’s none of my business!” he retorted, coming around to face Gabe. “I love that girl like a sister and you’re my brother. Not only is this extremely weird for me, it is totally my business. I don’t want to see either of you get hurt.”

“Nice of you to show some concern for me too,” Gabe said sarcastically.

“You’ve been around the block a few times more than she has, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t stand to lose as much as she does,” Chase pointed out.

“What do you mean?” Gabe asked, confused.

“If . . . when this thing goes south, you’re going to lose Bobbi,” Chase said.

“No, we have . . .”

“An arrangement,” Chase completed. “Yeah, I know. You’re still going to lose her and I can’t believe you’re unable to see that.”

“We know what we’re doing,” Gabe maintained stubbornly, and Chase sighed.

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