"Done," she said, and realized that this was the most they'd spoken since the fight. Gabriel nodded curtly, and she could tell he was thinking the same. He put out his hand for a formal shake, raising his eyebrows with a slight smirk that Rowan found ridiculously adorable.
They were back on some sort of terms, it seemed. Probably not terms that were going to make her unlock the bedroom door at night (whether that was for keeping him out or herself in was something she had refused thus far to think about), but terms nonetheless. After a second, she slid her hand into his, ignoring the sensory jolt of his skin against hers as she shook firmly. Not perfect, she decided. But a truce was better than nothing.
And new shoes were better than absolutely everything.
He'd given her his credit card, God help him.
Gabriel handed a pint to Rich, one of the regulars, and brooded over the woman Gideon had jokingly called the Red Plague. Around him, Wolf at the Door hummed with life. It had been a busy Saturday so far, between the comings and goings of the usual suspects and the wandering tourists. The sort of day that normally would have thrilled him, since it was full of both money and good company. He enjoyed his job, his customers, the ebb and flow of conversation that was all part of the rhythm of the pub. He also normally would have enjoyed the tall, curvy brunette eyeing him from her stool at the end of the bar, surrounded by a laughing, chattering circle of her equally attractive friends.
Not today, though.
Today all he could think about was the woman he'd decided he needed to ignore for his own good, at least until she figured out they were made for each other. He'd thought it would take a day or two, tops.
Nearly a week later, he would swear that the sexual frustration alone was killing off brain cells at an alarming rate. Why else would he have put his credit rating on the line just to see her smile? He wasn't stupid. He'd been worrying over the depression Rowan had seemed to be sinking into, trying to figure out how to help without putting one or both of them at risk.
So much for that.
And the pub was definitely being watched. But until someone made a move, he would wait. He wasn't afraid of vampires, not by a long shot. And so far, that was all he'd sensed. It was just lucky that humans couldn't smell the bastards, Gabriel thought disgustedly, running a towel over a spill on the bar. This place would be empty. And he would have to head down to that nasty little dive they frequented while in town to extract his lost earnings in ill-gotten blood.
His partner, Jerry, a short tank of a man whom Gabriel respected for his keen business sense and gregarious nature as much as for his skilled fists, eyed him speculatively.
"Not female trouble again, is it?" he finally asked when Gabriel just ignored him.
"Isn't it always?" Gabriel returned, glaring at the soggy rag before tossing it into a bucket beneath the counter.
Jerry simply gave one of his booming laughs and slapped Gabriel on the shoulder. "One of these days, Gabe, you're going to get as good as you've given in that department. And God help you then, because it may well kill you!"
Gabriel gave a wan smile. He enjoyed Jerry, but he was in no mood to tell him that it was too late; it had already happened, and sure enough, his life was in danger. He shot a quick glance at his watch. 6:30. She'd been gone two damned hours, and was nowhere in sight. He'd given her a pretty generous "safe area," not that he was at all sure she'd stay in it. Still, Tobermory wasn't exactly huge, and she wouldn't go in every single place. At least he hoped not.
Once more he thought of his poor credit card, and cringed.
Heaving a flustered sigh, he picked up the phone he kept behind the bar and punched in his own cell number for the second time that day. He felt a bit stupid, truth be told. But he also was going to feel infinitely better when he heard her voice, so he was doing just what he'd warned. Every hour, he'd said. And it was just time again.
The phone rang once, twice, three times. Gabriel was just starting to feel uneasy when Rowan picked up, a cacophony of female voices speaking all at once in the background.
"This phone is going into one of your orifices once I get back," her smoky voice offered by way of a hello. It was a testament to his worry for her that the phrase was music to his ears.
"You agreed to this," he reminded her, mood lightening already. He was a sick, sick man.
"I'm also busy, and I ... oh wait a sec, Gabriel." She covered the mouthpiece with her hand while she spoke rapidly to someone else. He could just make out the words "layers" and "fringe," which was enough to strike a cold sliver of fear into his heart.
"Please tell me you're not at the salon," he said, knowing that the one nearest the pub was decidedly high-end and also contained a spa. "Even if you're lying, just tell me you're not."
Her laughter was warm, and decidedly evil. "Okay. I'm not. Happy?"
"Not especially. What else haven't you been up to?"
"Well, let's see. I didn't buy four new outfits, three pairs of shoes, and the appropriate undergarments
. Nor did I make appointments to get my hair, nails, and toes done. In fact, I've just been sitting on a bench down the street, humming to myself and drooling."
He chuckled, though he was fairly certain he could hear his wallet crying in his back pocket. "Nothing suspicious to report?"
"Yes, actually. Your nasty old sweats ran off all by themselves when I tried to throw them away. But if you mean strange men stalking me, you'll be glad to know you're it."
"Ha." Gabriel relaxed against the bar, enjoying sparring with her after the silent torment of the past few days. He'd been madder than hell to begin with. But as it had worn on, he'd done some thinking about the things she'd said, the accusations she'd hurled at him. And eventually he'd come to the conclusion that maybe, possibly, she was right. Or at least not entirely wrong. Maybe he was being heavy-handed in the name of keeping her safe. Some of it he could blame on his instincts, he supposed. She was his mate. It was natural he'd want to protect her. Some ... well, some of it was just him. He'd been so determined to prove himself, not just to her but to everyone, including himself. It just hadn't occurred to him before her tirade that he might need to tone it down a bit.
It had been, ultimately, the reason he'd sent her off today. It had been a trying couple of weeks for both of them. Some space was probably needed on both sides. Rowan seemed to be enjoying it, in any case.
He wished he could say the same. But if she came back the way she sounded on the phone, it was well worth it. He'd take the annoying ambiguity of their romantic relationship to tense silence any day.
"Well, Gabriel, much as I'd love to continue this stimulating conversation, I have to go get shampooed now. And quit calling, I'm not going to be able to hear the ringer anyway."
"Oh, I'm sure you will eventually," he grinned. "I'll just keep trying."
"Yes, I know you'll keep being trying, anyway. Goodbye, Gabriel."
"Have fun, Rowan. As inexpensively as possible."
There was a wicked chuckle, and Rowan hung up without offering a real answer. Still, Gabriel found he was smiling as he hung up the phone. Finally he'd done something to make the woman happy. Granted, it required some pain on his part, but Rowan had sounded so relaxed and in her element that it was hard to complain. Well, not until the bill came in, anyway.
He was a sorry case, Gabriel decided. But he needed her, to the point where if one more night passed with the locked door between them, he thought he might wind up begging at it like a stray dog. He wanted her smiles, her laughter, her continuous stream of insults. And he wanted to make her burn again, burn only for him.
He'd spoken to Malcolm just this morning. Both the Stone and the woods had been ominously silent since the night Lucien had made contact, but there were about thirty extra Pack prowling the grounds now, with more expected today. Duncan had somehow managed to stuff most of them into the main house and cottages, with the rest camping out in tents in the gardens. It sounded like they were having two gatherings this summer, Gabriel thought, wishing he were there for round two. From the disapproval he'd heard in Mai's voice, he was sure it was shaping up to be just as much fun as the first. He wished he could show Rowan off to his cousins, who were sure to love her, sarcasm being a highly prized trait in prospective family members.
The two of them would head back soon. And if, as Gabriel suspected, Rowan's presence was the draw for the vampires, he wanted his Pack with him when they finally revealed themselves. Then there was the matter of her brother. Bastian, when he returned, if he returned, would come to Iargail. Except Gabriel was beginning to wonder whether Rowan's brother, strong though he'd seemed, had been waylaid somehow. What state he would return in for his sister, if at all. And how, if he did come back, Gabriel was going to tell him all he needed to.
"Hello, darling! I had no idea you were back!" cried a high, feminine voice, jolting Gabriel from his thoughts and switching his worries smoothly from one track to another. Gabriel cringed before looking up with his usual welcoming smile. He'd left a few loose ends lying about when he'd gone home for the annual gathering, thinking he'd leave them until he came back or until they simply tied themselves back up.
But Mary Ross, who was currently angling to plant a juicy lipsticked kiss on his mouth, probably couldn't tie her own shoes. And as the door opened again, followed by yet another female gasp of excitement, Gabriel realized that he was in trouble. Deep, deep trouble, he thought as three more beauties with sweet smiles and murder in their eyes practically climbed over one another to get to him. He was going to have to find a way to convince everyone that he was finally, officially taken, and fast.
Otherwise, there was a distinct possibility of his going down in flames tonight. Literally.
The first time she didn't think much of it.
The second and third times were kind of annoying, but she was busy enough to not let it bother her too much.