“God,” he said tiredly. “I can’t decide if you’re being willfully blind or deliberately stupid. You know, Gabe, if it was just your happiness at stake, I’d leave you to make your own dumb mistakes, but I don’t know if I can stand idly by while you hurt Bobbi.”
“You seem to have an extremely low opinion of me, Chase. Why can’t you trust me to know what’s best for both Bobbi and me?”
“Because I don’t think you know what’s best, right now, Gabe,” Chase said, laying a gentle hand on Gabe’s shoulder. “I don’t have a low opinion of you. I just think you’ve lost sight of the bigger picture.”
“I’m going to bed,” Gabe said, shrugging off his brother’s hand. “Don’t worry, Bobbi is safe from my nefarious attentions tonight. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Bobbi didn’t hear from Gabe the next day, and she tried to keep her mind occupied with work. She was running on empty from lack of sleep and food. She felt like a zombie and was functioning on autopilot. She felt alone and desperately needed to talk to someone. So when Chase walked into her shop at five that afternoon, she felt a warm tide of relief and gratitude flood through her entire being.
“Chase,” she murmured, and dropped what she was doing to walk straight into his arms.
“Hey, sweetie.” He kissed her head and it was all she could do not to melt into a messy puddle of tears. “Want to get a drink somewhere?”
She nodded and his arms tightened for a brief moment before he looked down into her miserable face and dropped a swift kiss on her forehead.
“I’ll just tell the guys to close shop early and grab my things,” she said, feeling somewhat embarrassed. It was a relief that Chase knew about her and Gabe because it gave her someone to talk to, but it also made her feel incredibly shy and self-conscious. His eyes were filled with gentle understanding though and not in the slightest bit judgmental, which was something she had feared after Gabe had told her that Chase knew.
Sean and Craig had watched the scene unfold and both looked concerned when she told them that she would be leaving early. Craig followed her to her office and watched as she shut down her computer and straightened up her desk.
“You okay, boss?” he asked gruffly. “We noticed that you seemed off today. We were worried about you.”
“Thank you for asking, Craig,” she said, touched by their concern. “I’m fine, just feeling out of sorts. You know how paperwork depresses me.”
He looked unconvinced and shoved his hands into his overall pockets and swayed back and forth on his heels.
“You sure?” he asked, and she felt a surge of affection for the tough, no-nonsense man. He had a rough exterior but he was a huge softie, a family man devoted to his wife and daughters. That paternal instinct sometimes carried over in his dealings with Bobbi.
“I’m sure . . .” She went onto her toes and pressed a quick kiss on his cheek. “Thank you.”
He looked embarrassed and cleared his throat before backing away.
“No problem. Anytime you need to talk . . .” He left the statement open-ended and hastened out of the room. Bobbi grinned at his retreating back before unzipping her overalls and hanging them up on the hook beside the door. She rinsed her face and hands before heading back out to meet Chase.
“Ready?” Chase asked, when she joined him again and she nodded.
“You drive,” she suggested. “We can come back here later to pick up my car.” He nodded and led her toward the Jeep that he always drove when he was home. The Jeep belonged to Gabe, but he was always happy to let Chase use it.
Chase automatically ran ahead to get the passenger door for her and she smiled at him in appreciation as she clambered into the seat. The Jeep was like a comfortable old friend. She always felt a fuzzy sense of homecoming when she slid into its passenger seat.
When Chase climbed into the driver’s side, Bobbi turned to speak to him.
“Do you mind if we avoid Manny’s tonight?” she asked softly. “I’m not really in the mood to hang out with everybody.”
“Yeah, me either.” He grimaced at the thought. He drove them to the nearby Hout Bay instead, which had more choices when it came to restaurants and pubs. They agreed on a place that neither had been to before, less chance of running into chatty old friends that way.
Once they were seated and ordered their drinks, they stared at each other for a long while.
“I guess you think I’m an idiot.” Bobbi broke the silence between them, toying with the basket of cutlery on the table.
“Not even close.” He shook his head. “I think Gabe is the idiot.”
“For getting involved with me?” she asked miserably.
“For not telling the world that he snagged you,” Chase corrected, and she raised hopeful eyes to his, not sure if he was joking. His eyes were serious and met hers without flinching, and he only broke eye contact when the server brought his beer and her gin and tonic.
“You mean that?” she asked, after the smiling server had left, hating the wavering note in her voice.
“Damned right I mean that,” he growled. “He’s made a complete mess of things.”
“Try not to judge him too harshly, he’s doing what he thinks is right,” she said softly, fishing the lime out of her drink and dropping it onto a paper napkin. “He didn’t know how to handle the attraction between us. It shocked the hell out of him, and he’s still not sure how to cope with it.”