“I agree,” Gabe said. “She is too good for me, but I’m trying to become someone worthy of her.”
Pieter’s pale-blue eyes narrowed assessingly, and Gabe kept his stance open and his eyes level. Gabe watched the fight go out of the other man’s bearing.
“You should stop sending her flowers. It’s not her thing,” Pieter said. Yet another guy who thought he knew Bobbi better than Gabe did. If Gabe weren’t so heartened by the fact that her employees obviously liked and respected her enough to fight for her, he would have been beyond annoyed. Besides, Bobbi had never received flowers from anybody precisely because they thought that she wasn’t someone who would appreciate them. But she was a woman underneath the overalls, he knew that better than anybody else, and despite everything, he suspected that deep down inside she had loved the flowers—maybe not the excess of them, but definitely the sentiment behind the gesture.
“It’s been mentioned before,” he said. He heard her voice and leaned to the side to see her past Pieter’s lanky bulk. She was leading the customer out of her office, her voice brimming with excitement. He wasn’t close enough to hear her words above the noise of the shop but whatever she was saying, she was damned enthusiastic about it.
She shook the man’s hand and waved him off as he climbed into his car and drove off. After the car had turned the corner that would take him out of sight of the shop, she pumped her fist in the air and did a happy shimmy.
He could tell exactly when she first caught sight of his car, because her body language tensed immediately. She turned slowly and even with the light behind her he could see her flinch.
“Gabe,” she said, her voice wobbling a bit.
“Can we talk?” he asked without preamble, and she nodded warily, indicating that he should follow her into her office. He dusted off the same chair he’d occupied the last time and saw that his handkerchief came away slightly less grimy this time. He noticed, as he sat down, that she had put the tool bouquet on a low filing cabinet next to her desk. She saw his attention drift to the basket and cleared her throat awkwardly.
“Thanks for the tools,” she said. “But I can’t keep them. They must have cost a fortune.”
He laughed. “I have a fortune.”
“Yes, but I don’t want you to spend it on me. That’s not your place.”
“I don’t want to get into this right now,” he dismissed. “I’m not taking the tools back; I wouldn’t know what to do with them. Use them or don’t. Give them away to your employees like you did the flowers, although I don’t imagine they’d be happy using pink tools.”
“There were way too many flowers,” she said, blushing guiltily. “I had to do something with them.”
“Well, the men certainly appreciated them. Did you know that kid has three girlfriends?” He shook his head in disbelief, and she grinned in spite of herself.
“He’s going to get caught at some point and it won’t be pretty.” She laughed, sounding so much like her old self that his heart constricted with longing. She caught herself and the laughter faded in her throat. “So what can I do for you?”
“My car needs a tune-up,” he lied, and her eyes flew to the Lamborghini. She had been itching to get her hands on—or rather inside—it for months now. He could see that she was torn. He had never used her shop in the year that it had been in business and even before that, when she had been tinkering with cars just for fun, he had never allowed her to lay a finger on any of his vehicles.
“And it’s making this weird knocking noise every time I change gears.” Another lie. The car handled like a dream, but he was willing to let her take it apart from top to bottom if it would make her happy and score him more brownie points with her.
“Is it like a hollow clunking sound?” she asked with a thoughtful frown.
“Hmm, it could be worn gear linkage, but that seems like an unlikely problem for a car under a year old,” she speculated. “And it’s not like you’ve ever tested her capabilities much on the road, so it can’t be from wear and tear.”
“So you’ll take a look?” he asked, trying not to sound too eager. Her eyes were watchful but she nodded.
“I’ll get Craig to have a look,” she told him.
“But I’d rather you did,” he said, because he knew how much she was itching to.
“I have other things to take care of,” she maintained, her eyes filled with longing as they tracked back to the car. But it was clear that she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of accepting this latest gift—because that’s what it was. He was giving her something that she had dying to have for months and . . . she was throwing it back in his face.
“What if I told you that I trusted only you to take care of my car?” he asked softly.
“I’d tell you that it’s too late . . . you should have placed your trust in me long before now.”
“Why are you being this way?” he asked in frustration. “What the hell did I do to you that was so damned awful? Okay so I wanted to keep our relationship a secret at first, I handled the situation badly, but punishing me for having human failings is petty as hell!”
“Do you really think I’m being petty? When you were ashamed to admit that you found me attractive and that I was your lover?”
“Let’s just be completely honest here, Bobbi! You’re punishing me because I’m not in love with you. I have the audacity to want you without craving all that romantic and sentimental bullshit as a side dish to the incredibly hot sex. I respect you and I care about you, but that’s not enough for you. I don’t love you the way you want me to so to hell with me, right?”