“I’m fine.” She dismissed all the concerned queries and instead focused on her brother and Jason and the creative ways she planned to murder them both. They had brought Kyle Foster. Of course they had brought Kyle Foster! God, could her life be any more complicated? Last Friday she’d been just another woman mooning over her handsome best friend. A week later and she was involved in a supersecret affair with said best friend and had an admirer who all of her friends and family thought was her new boyfriend.
Gabe looked like he was about to help her up, but Chase leapt in and took Bobbi’s hand to tug her up. She smiled at him gratefully.
“Are you sure you’re okay to play?” Gabe asked. She waved off his concern and trotted off to the sidelines for a quick drink of water. Billy, Kyle, and Jason joined her.
“That was quite a hit,” Billy said with brotherly glee. “You’re gonna look like hell tomorrow.” She glared at him, or she would have if the left side of her face didn’t felt so numb and swollen.
“Hi, Bobbi,” Kyle greeted, while Jason not so subtly elbowed Billy in the ribs and the two backed off like pubescent teens.
“Hey, Kyle, nice seeing you again.” He winced as he looked at her face and reached out to run a gentle finger over the stinging area.
“Looks painful,” he observed.
“It hurts like hell,” she managed cheerfully. “But you know, it’s all part of the game. I lost focus for a second and took my eye off the ball. It’s my own fault, really.”
He smiled and she returned the smile, but when she happened to look over his shoulder it was to see her brother making kissy faces at her. She diverted her attention to the bleachers, where Bronwyn and Lisa were winking at her suggestively. Bobbi sighed and directed her eyes down at her feet, knowing that she probably appeared coy but was too afraid to meet anybody else’s eye. Seriously, what was wrong with everybody?
Gabe was furious. When he saw Bobbi go down, his entire body had constricted with fear, and he just couldn’t seem to reach her fast enough. He had felt like he was running through a lake of molasses to get to her. When he had eventually fought his way through the seemingly impenetrable wall of men surrounding her, he had nearly howled at the sight of her red and swollen face. He had wanted nothing more than to sweep her up into his arms and transport her to some place where he could protect her, spoil her, and take care of her, but she had flinched away from his touch, and that more than anything else had cut him to the core. He had no claim on her. He would never have any claim on her. Some other man would one day have the right to do everything Gabe had wanted to do. But that didn’t mean that Gabe had to like the thought of that future man.
He watched her walk off the field and frowned when he saw Billy, Jason, and a third man make their way over to her. Billy and Jason backed off and the third man . . .
A growl worked its way up to his throat as he watched the guy touch her. Exactly the way Gabe had wanted to touch her earlier. This guy had even less claim on her than Gabe and yet he had the utter gall to touch her? And worse she was allowing it? That well and truly pissed him off, and he stalked over to the sidelines toward them. The closer her got, the more about the stranger he recognized—it looked like that Kyle Foster guy from the pub, but why the hell was he here? Who had invited him?
A fulminating glare at Billy and Jason, who were quite merrily watching Bobbi and Kyle exchange awkward pleasantries, confirmed that one—or likely both—of them was the culprit.
“Bobbi,” he snapped when he reached them. “Are you ready to join the game again?”
She looked surprised to see Gabe standing right beside her but she nodded, and Kyle took her water bottle from her, with a promise to “guard it” with his “life.” Did the idiot think someone would steal her damned water bottle? Gabe glowered at the jerk, who merely looked back at him impassively.
“Braddock.” He nodded, a small smile on his lips. Gabe refused to acknowledge the greeting, no matter how damned petty he seemed and trotted onto the field after Bobbi. The game resumed moments later.
Bobbi didn’t see the hit coming. One second she was skillfully maneuvering the football through a duo of hapless defenders, and the next she was flat on her back, blinking up at the star-filled night sky and battling to suck in her next breath.
Panic set in when she realized that she was unable to draw in that breath and a distant, detached part of her brain recognized that she’d had the wind knocked out of her. It was a highly unpleasant sensation that she hadn’t had the dubious privilege of experiencing since childhood. Man, she was having a really terrible night.
“Bobbi?” A group of concerned faces popped into her field of vision, and she tried to assure them that she was fine, but only a wheeze emerged from her chest.
“What the hell, Kinsley?” Gabe’s face was hovering on her left and he fixed a glare on Max, who seemed to be hovering on her right. “What’s up with the frikkin body check?”
“I slipped,” Max explained defensively. “It was totally unintentional.”
“She could have been seriously injured, she’s just a tiny thing,” Gabe pointed out insultingly. If Bobbi had her breath back she would have taken exception to that, but she was barely getting in a decent gasp of air every few seconds and it took all of her concentration to breathe normally again.
“Oh come, Gabe. She can handle herself.” Bobbi lifted a limp hand and gave Max a thumbs-up in agreement.
“See?” Max pointed toward her. Bobbi mentally rolled her eyes and cursed them for worrying about her in theory but not in practice. Neither of them had even bothered to ask her if she was okay. Feeling neglected, she pushed herself up into a sitting position and gingerly prodded her ribs to ensure that they were still intact. She grimaced. They were a bit sore but it was nothing major.