“It’s so pretty here,” she said reverently, and he reached across the table to cover her hand with his. They sat in silence and watched the sky catch fire and go from gold to scarlet to deep crimson and then fade into shades of pink, purple, and violet. The clouds were daubed in lighter pinks and lavenders and looked like a painter’s palette above the spectacular Helderberg Mountains.
The waitstaff remained at a discreet distance, allowing them to enjoy the sunset and only after twilight had fallen over the valley, did they come and take their order.
Gabe kept staring at her, throughout their starter course of delicious chilled asparagus velouté, and Bobbi self-consciously fiddled with the stem of her wineglass. She took a sip of the refreshing Semillon to calm her nerves and was aware of the fact that her hands were shaky.
“Stop staring,” she whispered, and he grinned.
“I was waiting for you to call me out on that,” he admitted with that irresistible charm that she found so lovable about him.
“Well, why do you keep doing it?” she demanded, keeping her voice low.
“Because you’re so damned gorgeous and I’m still trying to figure out how I never saw it before.” He shook his head in disbelief. She smiled shyly and rolled her eyes at him.
“Maybe because you were always too busy staring at all the beautiful women in the room,” she said pointedly, and he thought about it for a moment before nodding.
“You’re probably right,” he acknowledged, before quite deliberately looking around the room at all the elegant, lovely women seated at the other tables. “Well, none of those present here tonight, so I guess I’m stuck staring at you.”
“You’re such a liar,” she groaned, and his eyes went deadly serious.
“I mean it,” he emphasized. “There’s really no other woman here tonight that I’d rather be looking at.”
“You don’t have to lay it on so thick,” she said, trying to keep the cynicism out of her voice. “I know you’re trying, Gabe. But there’s no need to pretend I’m something that I’m not.”
Gabe bit back a frustrated groan and smiled at her. It was going to take work to convince her of his sincerity, he knew that—but it was worth the effort. He wanted this to succeed. He had honestly thought that her dress and the ugly jewelry and the truly horrific sandals, all of which he had seen on so many other occasions, would bother him. But after that first glance, he had barely given them any other consideration—all he saw was her radiant skin, her luminous amber eyes, and her pink mouth with that plump lower lip. And, of course, that short and messy cap of hair that he always longed to run his fingers through. He wondered how out of line it would be to drag her home with him tonight—mere hours after her father had warned him to treat her with respect. He respected her all right: her mind, her heart, her sexy body, and her ability to drive him crazy in bed.
They finished their starter and for her second course Bobbi had ordered the mushroom vol-au-vent with a pinot noir, and Gabe, who absolutely despised mushrooms, went for the gnocchi, sweetbread, and sage sauté, accompanied by a delicious chenin blanc.
“Chase has become weirdly obsessed with some reality TV show about B- and C-list celebs learning how to ballroom dance.” He remembered what he’d been dying to tell her before. She choked on her wine before looking up at him with wide eyes.
“He’s even rooting for some of the contestants. He’s been watching marathons and back seasons.” Bobbi did a slow, disbelieving blink that he found inordinately adorable before she dissolved into unladylike snorts of laughter. Gabe loved watching her laugh, she always put her whole body into it—he used to tickle her when they were kids just to hear it. He especially enjoyed the cute snorts that went with the convulsive giggling. As he watched her erupt, he realized that he hadn’t heard her laugh like this in too long and that it had been wholly his fault.
“I know that show,” she said between gasps. Her giggles were starting to attract glances from the other tables. Some people seemed entertained by her amusement; others looked haughty, and Gabe found that he didn’t give even the slightest damn about what any of them thought. She was a bloody delight to behold, and people could bask in her radiance or go to hell.
“He’s totally hooked,” Gabe said dryly. “I’m pretty sure I’ll come home one of these days to find him practicing the cha-cha-cha with Letty.” That set her off again and this time her laughter was so infectious that Gabe joined in with a few wry chuckles.
“Truth be told, I’m happy he’s found a diversion,” Gabe said after the laughter had faded to just the occasional snicker from Bobbi. “I think he has lacked focus since he’s been home and I’ve been concerned about him going into some kind of depression, but weirdly enough this TV show seems to be the distraction he requires.”
“He needs a break, Gabe, and maybe this is his way of switching off his brain for a bit,” she offered and he nodded.
“That’s exactly what I thought,” Gabe said.
“Still, it’s hard to imagine him watching something so fluffy.” Chase had always been into the hard-hitting news programs and documentaries.
“I prefer it to him watching anything remotely connected to the Middle East right now.”
“You’re terrified he’ll leave again, aren’t you?” she observed, and Gabe sighed. She knew him so well she could almost always read what was on his mind. It was something that he had taken for granted before—just one of the many things about Bobbi he’d never truly appreciated.