“You’re right. You’re absolutely right. I expected too much from you. But, what do you want from me, Gabe?” she asked gently. “Why have you been sending me flowers and poems and presents?”

“I wanted to . . . romance you, I guess,” he admitted.

“To what end?” she asked logically, and he watched her mutely. He wasn’t sure how to answer that question. “To get me back into bed? To get me to forgive you for hurting me? To apologize for what you said at the football match?”

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“All of that.”

“And let’s say you succeeded in romancing me, what would the next step be? We go to the ball together, right? And then start a relationship that we both know would be doomed from the start.”

“Stop this,” he suddenly hissed. “Stop talking to me like I’m a preschooler. Yes, I wanted to romance you, I wanted to apologize, and I wanted to have a proper relationship with you. One that involves spending time together, enjoying each other’s company, and sex. Because I believe that we can be good together. And if it doesn’t last, it’s because that’s the way relationships go sometimes. Grow up, Bobbi. Sometimes all a couple has going for them is the sex, which can grow into mutual fondness, which can then become that damned Grand Passion that all women seem to aspire to. We’re lucky, we used to have a pretty good friendship to build a solid foundation on, in addition to better sex than most people have in a lifetime. Everything else will either fall into place or it won’t. But you want that happily ever after right now. And if you don’t get it, like a petulant child, you’re hell-bent on spoiling the chance we have to explore something that could actually be quite good between us.”

He had a valid point, Bobbi realized. So he wasn’t in love with her, but he did love her and that really was more than most couples had going for them. He looked hurt and disgusted with her and she could understand how he felt, but all the concerns that she had voiced that night in her room were still there. There was the fear that he would expect her to change too much in order to conform to his idea of the feminine ideal. The fear of more heartbreak—but she acknowledged that the chance of heartbreak was a risk in every relationship—it was part of life. But while most other relationships had a chance of ending well, this one was almost doomed to failure, despite Gabe’s grand talk about it possibly growing into something more. But balancing out the fear was the hope that even when it didn’t work out, the relationship would die a natural and relatively painless death and leave them both still with a mutual respect and love for each other. Gabe wanted to try and despite all her misgivings—Bobbi now knew that she wanted to try as well.

“I have been punishing you,” she admitted, and his eyes jerked up to hers. “You mean the world to me, Gabe, and I hated that I didn’t mean the same to you. I just . . .” She choked up and bit her lip as she tried to get herself under control again. “Let’s go to the ball together and see where that takes us, but I’m not promising anything beyond that.” He nodded, his face remarkably grim for a man who had just received what he wanted.

“The other thing I can’t promise you is some major change in appearance,” she warned. “If we’re going to do this, you’re going to have to accept me the way I am.”

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“Bobbi, you’re beautiful the way you are,” he assured her. “You always have been. I apologize if I ever made you feel less than that. But I hope you’ll deign to wear a bra at the very least—there will be a lot of stodgy old men in attendance, and we wouldn’t want any coronary incidents.”

That startled a laugh out of her and he looked pleased. Which sparked an epiphany in her: all these years of trying to make Gabe laugh or smile and she only now realized that he had put an equal amount of effort into surprising laughter and smiles out of her as well. And, she acknowledged to herself, he enjoyed doing so.

“So do you really want your car checked? Or was that just an excuse to come here?” She asked, and he smiled. One of those full-on, genuine smiles that she loved so much.

“Well, I wanted to see how you liked the tool bouquet and the car was my foot in the door. Besides, I know you’ve been itching to get your hands on it.”

“So you don’t want her checked?” She couldn’t quite hide her disappointment and Gabe’s smile gentled.

“Of course I do. I hear you have quite the reputation for restoring and fixing vintage and exotic cars,” he teased, and she felt a surge of pleasure at his words.

“Did you see her?” she asked him.

“If you’re referring to that former clunker of Jase’s, then yes, I saw it. You did an amazing job. Congratulations.” She could see the unmistakable gleam of pride in his eyes and it warmed her from top to toes.

“That man who was in my office earlier?” She had to share the news with someone and she was suddenly excited to tell Gabe. “He has a 1969 Mustang convertible. She’s in decent condition but he wants me to service her, and even better? He belongs to an owner’s club! If I treat his baby well, he’ll recommend the shop to some of the other owners in the area. Isn’t that wonderful?”

“That is bloody brilliant, sweetheart.” He grinned, taking a step toward her and unexpectedly capturing her chin between his thumb and forefinger. He kissed her then, in full view of her employees and anybody else who might walk into the shop. It was a gentle kiss but filled with a longing and desire that matched hers—just his lips on hers and the tip of his tongue tracing along the parted seam of her mouth. He lifted his head with a soft sigh and dragged his eyes open.

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