“Pardon me?” he prompted, focusing his attention back on the lovely woman lounging beside him.
“I asked if you were okay? You seemed preoccupied.”
“I’m fine . . .” He nodded, glad that the sunglasses hid the lie in his eyes. He was so far from fine it was ridiculous. He wasn’t sure if he should talk to Bobbi about what had happened the night before or if he should leave it alone. This situation didn’t lend itself to any of the usual precedents. Any other woman and he would have known how to deal with the situation—acknowledge the attraction and do something about it. Despite knowing Bobbi better than most other people, he didn’t know her as a sexual being and it terrified him that he was suddenly so acutely aware of everything that made her female and desirable.
Sandro and Rick had headed toward the grill and were getting the fire started for the braai. Bryce and Max drifted over to the fire, as men tended to do at barbecues the world over, and a lively conversation about cricket started up before Sandro deftly diverted the conversation to his favorite sport and the men began to argue about the day’s forthcoming Italian Premier League football matches. Gabe made his excuses to Rosalie, who had flipped over onto her stomach and seemed to be snoozing beneath the warm sun, and pushed himself off the lounger to join the men—thinking that the distraction would be exactly what he needed. But after standing there for a few minutes, watching Sandro stoke the fire while Rick, his deaf brother, Bryce, and Max were engaged in a half-spoken, half-signed conversation about exactly how hot the coals should be before the meat went on the grill, Gabe found himself wandering away from the intense huddle of nouveau cavemen and toward the table where the women—who had been joined by Bronwyn—were sitting. They all looked up at the same time at his approach, making him wonder uncomfortably if they’d been talking about him. He briefly considered the notion that Bobbi may have confided in them about the night before but dismissed it almost immediately. Bobbi wasn’t the type of female who had girly chats with other women about man-related problems.
“Hey.” He nodded casually and moved to sit down in one of the free chairs. The strained silence that greeted him made him reconsider his former opinion—they’d definitely been talking about him and he could feel a flush stain his cheekbones.
“Gabe,” Bronwyn greeted with a regal nod.
“Great party last night, Theresa.” He canted his beer bottle toward the pretty redhead and she smiled her thanks. The usually gregarious group remained unusually quiet and Gabe forged ahead uncomfortably. “Do you think . . . uh, Bobbi will be down again? For lunch, I mean. Has she indicated that she’ll be down for lunch?”
“She’s not feeling up to company after last night,” Theresa said in a gentle voice that seemed to be brimming with accusation and Gabe tensed, expecting censure. “You know . . . after drinking too much? The noise level out here was too much for her to deal with.”
He slowly and silently exhaled the breath he’d been holding. His own guilty conscience was making his imagination run riot . . . or maybe not? Theresa couldn’t seem to meet his eyes and that pissed him off. He hadn’t done anything to warrant being treated like a damned sex offender.
“I’ll go up and check on her,” he mumbled, happy for a reason to leave the strained company and the excuse to go up and see Bobbi. He leapt to his feet, spilling some of his beer in the process, and rushed inside, not needing to look back to know that the women were watching his ignoble retreat.
The sharp knock on her door left no doubt in Bobbi’s mind as to whom was on the other side of the wooden barrier. She sucked in a deep, calming breath before walking over to open the door.
The first thing she noticed was that he had thankfully put on a pristine white T-shirt before coming to her door and had removed the sunglasses. It didn’t stop him from still looking incredible though, especially since his skin had bronzed a shade darker in the morning sun and contrasted attractively with the crisp whiteness of his shirt. She forced that thought from her mind and smiled up at him with just the right amount of friendliness and apology.
“Gabe,” she exclaimed, sounding absolutely thrilled to see him. “I was just coming down to have a chat with you.” She turned her back and walked back into her room, glancing over her shoulder to be sure he followed her inside. He was very careful to leave the door slightly ajar, probably terrified that she’d attack him again. She successfully hid her grimace by heading for the comfortably overstuffed pair of chairs that were situated beside a huge picture window overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and sank down into one, curling her legs and dragging her feet up under her butt, trying to keep her posture as relaxed and nonconfrontational as possible. He warily sat down in the second chair, which was angled to face hers.
Unlike Bobbi he seemed tense, both feet were braced on the floor, giving him the appearance of someone who would bolt at the slightest provocation, and his hands were precisely placed on the armrests of the chairs with his fingers curled around the edges. He couldn’t seem to meet her eyes, which just about broke her heart.
“I’m sorry about last night.” She tried for casual but the words were soft, filled with regret, and the tiniest bit wistful. His throat worked as he swallowed.
“Yeah? Which part?” That threw her somewhat. She hadn’t expected him to ask for specifics.
“All of it. Getting drunk, kissing you . . . touching you.” She watched as his fingers clenched the armrests and brought her regard back up to his face. He had his eyes averted and was staring unseeingly out at the horizon, where the shimmering cobalt-blue ocean blended seamlessly with the azure blue of the sky.