“You seem to be handling it just fine,” Chase pointed out, and Bobbi flushed miserably. She focused on swirling the plastic swizzle stick around her glass, making sure her drink was thoroughly mixed, before raising her eyes back to his.
“I’ve had more time to get used to it. I’ve been attracted to Gabe for years and I’ve learned how to deal with my feelings. Gabe . . . hasn’t yet.”
“Years?” Chase asked in disbelief, and Bobbi nodded.
“You never let on, not once,” he said, sounding staggered.
“I still haven’t. He thinks this is as new to me as it is to him and I feel dishonest because of that. And he would still quite happily be treating me like his little sister if I hadn’t gotten drunk at a party last Friday and kissed him, so don’t go thinking he seduced me or anything,” she warned.
“Still, he finds that he has a previously undiscovered passion for you and his first instinct is to cover it up?”
“Chase, one day I was his best buddy, and the next day he was fighting to keep his hands off me.” She was trying to be logical and hated herself for defending Gabe despite knowing that it would be unfair to blame him for every wrong choice. “I should never have kissed him. I didn’t know how he would respond and I’m pretty sure I wrecked our friendship because of one reckless and stupid decision.”
Chase took a long, thirsty swig of his beer before he replied.
“I don’t like the secrecy, Bobbi,” he said, and she sighed.
“I knew what I was doing when I agreed to his terms, Chase. I just didn’t expect it to be so difficult. One minute I’m floating on cloud nine and the next I feel . . . small and unworthy and just so stupid.” Chase swore roughly and she flinched.
“I want to kill him for making you feel like that,” he growled, and she reached over to stroke his hand, where it rested beside his drink.
“Thank you but . . . he’s not the one who made me feel that way. I am. I agreed to his terms, I thought I could handle it. A quick affair, that is all he has to offer. At first I thought—” She broke off what she’d been about to say, knowing that it would only infuriate Chase further. Admitting that she’d expected Gabe to want a proper relationship with her after discovering his attraction to her still made her feel ridiculously naïve.
“At first you thought . . . ?” Chase prompted, and she shook her head, sipping her drink to avoid replying.
“It’s nothing,” she said with a dismissive wave of her hand, and Chase’s face was a study in sheer frustration.
“Bobbi, you do know that you deserve more than this shoddy treatment, right?” Chase asked, and she sighed.
“I know. I just spent years mooning over the guy and this seemed like the only way I could get him. I knew that it would be temporary; I knew that it would place an enormous strain on our friendship and I kind of knew that it would probably hurt like hell when it ended. Knowing all of that doesn’t make the process any easier though,” she admitted.
“This is such a mess,” Chase said.
“Hmm, but it’s not your mess, Chase. Gabe and I will deal with it. I need you to be my friend though, and Gabe needs his brother. We don’t need you to take sides . . . please don’t take sides,” she said, her voice soft with entreaty.
“Both you and Gabe keep saying that you know what you’re doing,” Chase observed in a low voice. “But from where I’m sitting you both look totally clueless. It’s frustrating the hell out of me because it’s like I can see the road ahead of you and it’s leading straight off a cliff.”
“I see the cliff,” she said. “I’m pretty sure Gabe sees it too . . . but sometimes falling is just inevitable.”
Gabe kept checking his phone for messages from Bobbi but of course there were none. He knew that she wouldn’t call or SMS—not after the way he had blown her off the night before—but he didn’t know what her reaction would be to a call from him.
He missed her.
Not just the sexy woman who had become his lover but the endearing friend who brightened up his days with her endless chatter about cars, her silly pranks in the past, and her quirky—often insightful—observations about life in general. It was after ten and he was sitting in the den, morosely staring at his phone, unsure of his next move.
Chase ambled into the room and Gabe’s first instinct was to tuck the phone beneath the sofa cushions. Chase raised an eyebrow at him and Gabe flushed, feeling like a defensive teenager.
“Really?” His brother shook his head and sat down on one of the recliners. “You’re hiding your phone from me? Just call her. It’s better than having you mope around the house.”
“I’m not moping,” Gabe responded automatically, and then felt even more adolescent. Sometimes his brother brought out the worst in him.
“Could have fooled me.” Chase rolled his eyes, reached for the TV remote, and started to rapidly flick through the channels and every microsecond of noisy color that flashed onto the screen irritated the hell out of Gabe.
“Pick a damned channel,” he snapped, but Chase ignored him, continuing to cycle through the channels at the speed of light. Swearing irritably, Gabe vacated the room, seeking solitude.
He settled for the patio and dropped into a lounger beside the lighted pool. For a few minutes he just sat there, listening to the sounds of the night insects and frogs chirping, croaking, and whirring as they went about their business.