“Really?” he asked with just an edge of sarcasm in his voice. “Because sometimes I feel as if I do. Do you think I don’t know you were expecting me to find you somehow lacking in comparison to that woman in the shop earlier?”

“She was really pretty.” Her words made Gabe feel like taking her by the shoulders and shaking some sense into her.

“She was also a total bitch. Why the hell would I find her more attractive than you just because she happened to be wearing makeup and a dress?”

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“Because she was wearing makeup and a dress,” Bobbi seethed furiously. “Maybe if you hadn’t made a such big deal about my crappy dress sense before, I wouldn’t think you were comparing me unfavorably to every pretty girl in a dress.”

“Yeah, well sometimes I’m an idiot who doesn’t always know what the hell he’s talking about,” he snapped, and her mouth slammed shut as she absorbed his words. He could tell the moment they sank in because her eyes went suspiciously bright with suppressed laughter.

“Yes, you are,” she agreed. “I’m so not going to let you forget you said that.”

He grinned sheepishly before lifting her hand from the table to toy with her fingers.

“Yeah, sometimes I need to be reminded of the zero point seven percent of the time that I’m wrong. It keeps me grounded.” The words startled a laugh out of her and he looked pleased with himself for eliciting the response from her.

“I don’t believe it,” Gabe said, laughing, and Bobbi shook her head, enjoying his astonishment.

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“I love knitting. It’s my secret hobby.” Nobody else knew about that but they had been discussing embarrassing hidden talents. Gabe had confessed to being able to wriggle his big toe independently from his other toes, only the left big toe mind you—which Bobbi actually thought was kind of awesome.

“That’s not exactly an embarrassing talent, you know,” he pointed out.

“It is when you can’t really knit more than scarves—and ugly ones at that. Worse, the wool keeps snagging on my hands.” She held them up for Gabe to inspect. “Because of the hideous calluses.”

He took her hands in his and placed a sweet kiss in each palm.

“I love your hands,” he admitted. “The combination of rough and smooth on my skin sends me out of my mind.”

Wow. Okay . . . blush. Bobbi was outrageously flattered and quite turned on.

They lingered over lunch for much too long, but in the end they reluctantly got the bill.

“Are you coming to the game tonight?” he asked after paying for lunch. “I’ve missed you.”

“I’ll come if you promise not to get into any fights or freak out when I get scraped or bumped or bruised. It’s embarrassing.”

“Well, then don’t get scraped or bumped or bruised,” he retorted.

“Gabe . . . ,” she said.

“Bobbi, I can’t make that promise. I don’t like seeing you in pain and I will probably overreact if you get hurt. That’s just the way it is when you have a . . .” He paused before shrugging. “A boyfriend who would like to see you remain unscathed.”

A boyfriend. The word was so damned juvenile, and yet Bobbi felt like she was floating on air for the rest of the afternoon.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

So you guys are an item now?” Bronwyn asked after the game that night. The women sat on the bleachers, watching the men, who stood around the grill, staring intently down at the smoldering coals as if they held the answer to all of life’s problems.

“I suppose we are,” Bobbi admitted shyly.

“That’s wonderful, Bobbi,” Theresa said warmly and hugged her. “You two are such a perfect couple.”

“You’re such a polite liar, Theresa,” Bobbi laughed, and Theresa frowned.

“Why do you say that?”

“We’re not exactly the perfect couple. We’re totally mismatched. I mean it’s all good now, but the very first time he has to take me out to some business thing, I’ll be an embarrassment to him. And I refuse to change who I am just for the sake of a few superficial business events.”

“That was quite the outburst,” Lisa observed, scooting closer. “Why do you think you’ll be an embarrassment?”

“Dresses and those things don’t matter to me, but they do to him.”

“If they don’t matter to you, then what’s wrong with wearing the occasional dress to the occasional party?” Theresa asked, and the other women nodded. “I mean, it’s not like you hate them or are morally opposed to them, is it? You just can’t be bothered with them.”

Bobbi thought about that for a second, feeling a bit confused.

“Bobbi, you’re in love with a man whose career sometimes requires him to attend formal events. It’s not something he can change; it’s a fact of his life. Would it really be such a sacrifice to wear a dress for a few hours every so often?”

“I’m just worried that he’ll expect me to be this woman I can never be, someone elegant and always perfectly dressed and made up,” she whispered. “I love him so much that it would be easy for me to lose sight of who I really am in an effort to keep him happy.”

“What were you wearing to your dinner last night?” Alice asked.

“My navy-blue dress, you know the one?” They all nodded. Of course they knew it, it was all she ever wore when there was any kind of formal or semiformal event.

“And?” Lisa asked. Bobbi stared at her blankly, confused by the question.

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