Gabe nodded curtly.

“Noted.”

Bobbi had heard the doorbell five minutes ago but she couldn’t bring herself to go downstairs. She checked her appearance for the umpteenth time and morosely concluded that it was still the same. She was wearing her navy-blue, all-purpose dress combined with her favorite tribal jewelry and a pair of flat sandals, which were the only pair of shoes she owned that looked even remotely feminine.

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“This is a mistake,” she whispered, feeling sick. “Oh God, what are you doing, Roberta?”

There was a soft knock on her door, and her stomach sank into her ugly sandals.

“Come in,” she called faintly. When the door opened to reveal Billy instead of Gabe, she slumped in relief.

“Gabe’s here for you,” her brother said, his voice strangely gentle.

“I know,” she said.

“Are you coming down?”

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“Soon,” she whispered. He turned as if to leave but changed his mind and came to stand beside her, staring at her reflection in the full-length mirror.

“This must seem odd to you,” she said, and he smiled.

“A bit.”

“I’m in love with him, you know,” she confessed. “I have been for a long time. He doesn’t feel the same way about me and that’s okay.”

“Is it okay?” Billy asked softly and her lips trembled.

“He loves me and he . . .” She blushed, this was her brother after all. “He uh . . . likes me in that way, but he’s not in love with me. For now, that’s enough.”

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“When will it stop being enough?” Her brother, usually such an obnoxious joker, was being remarkably sweet and understanding and his concern brought a sting to her eyes and warmed her heart.

“Who knows? Maybe it will always be enough.”

“Are you content with merely enough?”

“For now,” she repeated with a decisive nod.

“Just be happy, Runt.” Her brother smiled and gently leaned his shoulder against her until she lost her balance and nudged back with a laugh. “Now are you coming downstairs or not? Your date seems rather nervous.”

“He does?” That thought was so far beyond the realms of possibility that it boggled her mind for a moment.

“Yep. I left him in the den with Dad. Last I saw, he was trying to explain that he was here to take you out.”

“Oh my God, what did Dad say?”

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“I don’t think he got it. He asked Gabe where he was taking you; I left Gabe to sweat it out and came up here to get you.”

“A date?” Gabe was getting the full, formidable Mike Richmond death stare and he finally knew what all the man’s business competitors had felt like just before their downfall. The man was certainly a force to be reckoned with, but Gabe had never had that force turned on him before.

“That’s why you sent her all those flowers? You were courting her?” An old-fashioned word that made Gabe wince guiltily when he thought about what those flowers had really been about. Courting? That would have been like shutting the gate after the horse had already bolted.

“Not exactly,” Gabe admitted, keeping his hands folded respectfully in front of him and his eyes level. Don’t show any sign of weakness, he reminded himself. Mike Richmond pounced on weakness.

“So what was that if not a courtship?”

“An apology,” Gabe confessed. “We’d had an argument about something.”

“Like a lover’s spat?” he asked genially, and Gabe swallowed, sensing a trap.

“Just an argument,” he maintained.

“How long has this thing been going on between you and Bobbi?” The older man came right out and asked the question Gabe had been dreading.

“Nearly a month.”

“And this is the first time you see fit to come to my door like a gentleman and take her out? What have you been doing before now?” The man’s voice had turned to ice, and Gabe cleared his throat uncomfortably.

“What happened before now is in the past, Mike. I see no reason to revisit it.”

“You treat my little girl with respect, Gabriel.” Mike looked absolutely furious with him and Gabe knew that the man’s anger was completely justifiable. “You’ve both been carrying on doing God knows what for weeks now and she’s clearly been miserable! So you show her the respect she deserves from now on.”

“Yes, sir.” Gabe nodded. “You have my word on that.”

They heard the murmur of Bobbi’s and Billy’s voices outside the door, and after giving him one last warning look, Mike turned to face the door as it swung inward to reveal his two youngest children.

Gabe looked up too and was helpless to prevent the smile that curled his lips when he caught sight of Bobbi. He kept his eyes on her pretty face, not wanting to acknowledge that familiar, ugly dress of hers until he absolutely had to. She looked nervous and when she met his eyes; he winked at her to put her at ease. He made his way to her side and put his arm around her waist, laying an unmistakable claim before he looked up to meet first her father’s and then her brother’s eyes, arranging his expression to show them nothing but absolute possessiveness. His message was unmistakable: Mine.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

He took her to a four-star restaurant at the Hidden Valley wineries in Stellenbosch. Bobbi had heard about the place, of course. It was one of the top ten restaurants in the country, with excellent food, wine, and absolutely incomparable scenery. It was nearly an hour-long drive to the place, but they managed to get there in time to be seated, just before sunset, at a table that overlooked the entire valley.

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