His Unlikely Lover (Unwanted #3)(9)

By: Natasha Anders

“No.” Unfortunately, reason reasserted itself when he discerned exactly where she was headed. He caught her hand just before it reached the fly of his trousers. He was so damned hard he was straining against his zipper and eagerly seeking her delicate touch.

“Gabe.” This time she was the one pleading.

“Go to bed, Runt, before we do something . . . ill-advised.” He used the nickname deliberately, wanting to shock them both out of this erotic haze and it worked—too well. He watched her flinch and pale and steeled himself against the pain he had caused her with his deliberate callousness. She yanked her hand from his grasp and reeled away from him.

She turned and fled, slamming the adjoining door shut and leaving a turned-on, frustrated, and confused Gabe standing in the middle of his room with one hand absently rubbing at the dull ache in the center of his chest.

He felt like a man who had just lost his best friend.

After a restless night, Bobbi felt ill-equipped to face Gabe the following morning. She had been up for hours and had listened to the house come alive outside her door. It was the first week of January, so the guests who had opted to stay the night awoke to a bright, beautiful summer morning. The plan was to have a buffet breakfast and a poolside braai for lunch, and as she listened to her friends’ cheerful chatter when they walked by her closed bedroom door all she wanted to do was curl under the nearest rock and die.

She still didn’t know what on earth had possessed her to touch him the way she had. Her only excuse was that there had been just enough alcohol left in her system to lower her inhibitions and give in to the overwhelming temptation to caress him. That was most certainly the flimsy explanation she would offer when she summoned up the guts to talk to him about it.

Bobbi knew that Gabe had vacated his room at seven thirty; she had listened to the quiet rustling coming from the other side of the wall as he had showered and dressed. The tension that had taken up residence in her neck and shoulders had only fled after she’d heard his bedroom door open and then close again. She had held her breath for what seemed like an eternity when his quiet footsteps had halted for a brief moment outside her door before moving on.

She had tried to formulate a plan of action—an emergency blueprint on how to get through this day and the ones to follow. It wouldn’t be easy—but she stood to lose too much if she messed up these next crucial days. She had to weigh the cost of her friendship with Gabe against the fresh anguish she felt every time he treated her with such casual, impersonal affection. Years of the same had taken its toll and after last night, she knew that she couldn’t do this anymore. She couldn’t stand on the sidelines and watch as every leggy blonde who crossed his path snagged his attention while she never warranted a second glance.

And really, why would he look at her? She was good old Bobbi, his surrogate sister, the girl who had tagged along behind him and his friends when he was a boy. The girl who had made a pest of herself and who would never outgrow the condescending nickname Gabe and her brothers had bestowed upon her.

It was after ten before she summoned up the courage to leave her room and make her way down to the pool. Only the De Luccis’ most intimate group of friends remained: the Palmers—Rick, Lisa, Bryce, Bronwyn, and their toddlers—and Max Kinsley, Rosalie De Lucci, Gabe, and Bobbi. Everybody was already gathered beside the pool, either lounging in the sun or splashing about in the water.

Theresa, who was feeding her fourteen-month-old daughter at the patio table, was the first to spot her.

“Bobbi,” she called with a warm smile. “Good morning. How are you feeling?” Bobbi cringed when Theresa’s voice drew everybody else’s attention and a multitude of good-natured salutations came her way. She managed a sickly grin and waved back in everybody’s general direction—almost preternaturally aware of Gabe, who was sitting on one of the loungers wearing nothing but board shorts and a pair of sunglasses. His superb body was bronzed and toned, with not a spare bit of flesh anywhere to be seen; he was lean and fit and perfectly proportioned. A quick glance his way confirmed that he was studying her but she couldn’t tell what he was thinking, not with those mirrored sunglasses hiding his striking eyes from her. He had a proud nose, just slightly too long but it went beautifully with his bluntly defined cheekbones, which in turn slotted into his narrow, craggy face magnificently. All of that, combined with his thin bow-shaped upper lip and the full sensuous curve of his lower lip, made for an unconventionally handsome man. His dark brown hair, glinting with the faintest hints of auburn beneath the morning sun, was always conservatively cut and brushed and lent him a sophisticated air that went well with his reserved personality.

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