By the tenth time she answered Gabriel's cell phone to find yet another woman looking for him on the other end, however, Rowan had had enough.
Rowan paused outside of the chocolate shop, pulling the small black phone from one of her shopping bags and glaring at it before flipping it open and answering with a clipped "Yes?"
She'd talked to Gabriel not too long ago, and would have bet all of the truly fabulous chocolates in her bag that this wasn't him.
She was right.
"Umm," murmured a breathy female voice, "is Gabriel there?" There was a soft giggle after the question, and Rowan felt her grip tighten as she tried to restrain herself from hurling the phone beneath the tires of the nearest passing car.
"No," Rowan replied, keeping her voice artificially sweet. "He's in the shower right now, actually. I'll be joining him in a minute, so I guess I could give him a message if you really want."
"Oh." The giggler's voice had gone from breathy to brittle in the blink of an eye. Rowan smiled with true pleasure. She'd unwittingly given Gabriel's whereabouts to enough of these creatures today. It had gotten to be a lot more enjoyable once she got creative with her replies. In the last twenty minutes, Gabriel had been cooking her breakfast in bed, giving her a foot massage, out buying her jewelry, and now, awaiting her in the shower. The reactions had varied from poutiness to fury, and she'd savored every last one of them.
"I, um, guess not. Who is this?" There was no coy laughter left in the woman's voice, which was a relief.
She didn't know what made her do it, but the words were out before she considered. "His fiancée, of course. Listen, is this about the wedding invitations? We do seem to have missed a few people accidentally, but if you want to leave me your address, I can always send one along. It's been such a whirlwind engagement," she confided, hoping she sounded just the right amount of giddily-in-love.
There was a soft choking noise on the other end of the line, then a muffled sob right before the unmistakable click of the connection being broken. Rowan gave the silent phone a smug smile, closed it, and then rewarded herself with a chocolate caramel before continuing down the street toward the pub. Nothing like the satisfaction of staking your claim on a man and driving away the competitors, she decided. Though the pleasure she felt was clouded by the undeniable fact that she would have been even more pleased with herself if all of the things she'd said were true.
Well, most. Whether or not that included the "fiancée" thing was something she was just not going to think about right now, lest it spoil the soothing effects of the chocolate, which were just beginning to kick in.
She frowned and picked up her pace, troubled. Her day out, not to mention the barrage of calls from Gabriel's ex-conquests, had really helped to clarify some things for her. It had also helped to get her out of those grubby old sweats, for which she was eternally grateful. But doing what she could to return herself to her usual pampered state, from the flattering movement of the long choppy layers of her new haircut, to the floaty fabric of her new sundress, even down to the delicate low-heeled sandals that laced up her ankles, had only served to show her that the only person she wanted to admire her beauty was Gabriel. That she wanted, in fact, to knock him on his ass with awe and then drag him upstairs to have her way with him. Many, many times.
That there was no particular reason why she couldn't do just that only served to complicate her feelings on the subject. Because after all that had happened, after a week of locking him out of the bedroom, if she just hauled off and ravished Gabriel, he was going to know that she couldn't help herself where he was concerned after all. That she might actually care.
That she might actually ...
Oh no. Uh-uh, not going there. Rowan huffed out a breath, blowing the newly cut fringe out of her face, and popped another chocolate-covered caramel. Life had been so much easier when she hadn't been this involved. When the excitement of taking a lover for the evening had been only that, holding no deeper meaning. Nothing but the taking of blood had ever felt particularly important back then, though the occasional squabble over a particularly handsome male had amused her. Especially, Rowan thought with a smile at the memory, since she always won. Gabriel, though ... he was different, on so many levels. She wasn't concerned about the bevy of fluttering women who were probably, right this moment, tossing themselves at him (though the fact that she'd given up his location to a few of them winkled a little, she had to admit). She was more concerned about how quickly the two of them had returned to the sort of sarcastic, intimate banter that had evaporated after they'd fought. And how natural it felt to speak of him, to think of him, as hers.
She shoved the nagging feeling that she was on the verge of making some decision of monumental importance (whether she liked it or not) aside and tried to focus on the fact that she was rapidly approaching Wolf at the Door, which no amount of chocolate, no matter how delicious, was going to prevent. Her heartbeat picked up despite herself as she saw the bright façade, heard the faint strains of music tumble from the door as patrons wandered in and out
Rowan paused in front of a small travel agency, giving herself a final once-over in the glass of the windows. Not at all bad, she decided, running fingernails that had been painted a deep rust color through her hair and turning this way and that, smiling over how well the gauzy material of the thin-strapped dress skimmed down her waist, only to drop in asymmetrical layers to mid-calf. It wasn't quite the glittering raiment of her past, but the jade green matched her eyes exactly, and she couldn't help but think of how well the fabric would move if she decided to dance in it. Alone, perhaps. For an appreciative audience of one.
Rowan's eyes glazed as she let her mind wander, so she barely registered the sight of a burly Scotsman who was so busy staring at her that he stumbled into the bumper of a parked car. Up ahead a ways, a trio of overdone blondes flounced into the pub. Her sensitive ears picked up the distinct sound of one of them fairly sighing the word "Gabriel."
It was a voice she recognized from one of her many abbreviated phone conversations from earlier. And as she'd expected, it looked as though her erstwhile protector was being ambushed. Rowan's brows drew together, eyes narrowing as she stopped, considering. Her plans for the rest of the day had originally encompassed nothing more than heading back to the apartment, dropping her bags off, and stopping into the pub to show off a little. Oh, who was she kidding. She'd planned to drive Gabriel crazy with lust and then lure him away from work in what she'd almost managed to convince herself was a perfectly normal way of thanking him for the afternoon of shopping. Kind of stupid, but it had been working well enough for her.
Now, though, it appeared that she had more of a rescue mission on her hands. That didn't preclude the "showing off" part of the program. And actually, making a spectacle of herself again after all this time was an incredibly appealing thought, with the added side benefit of laying waste to some of Gabriel's bimbo groupies. But that still brought her back to the issue of Gabriel finding out exactly how much he had begun to mean to her. Not to mention having to take a good, hard look at what all of these intense and often irritating feelings of hers really meant.
Rowan hissed out a breath, tapping a finger on her hip.
"All I wanted to do was go shopping, damn it," she muttered. She wished she knew what she was walking into so that she could figure out how best to approach the situation. Or, she thought with a flash of temper, how best to annihilate a bunch of trespassing, bubble-headed females. Barely realizing she was doing it, she reached out to Gabriel with her mind, and was rewarded almost immediately with a shocking little sizzle of connection. It was much like the one they'd formed the first time they'd made love, though instead of memory, she felt Gabriel in the present. Part of her thrilled at her newfound ability. Part of her recoiled at what it must mean.
All of her agreed that she should have known better. Instantly, her nostrils were filled with the earthy, woodsy scent of him, provoking a wave of longing that she was completely helpless to protect herself against. It made her want to be instantly close to him, against him. Rowan's eyes fluttered shut as she tried to concentrate and glean something useful from this strange new connection she'd forged. Slowly, she began to make out the other, underlying smell of smoke, the chatter of many voices, the pulsing beat of music. Then a woman's voice spoke, and Gabriel's discomfort rippled through her so strongly that the tiny hairs on the back of her neck stood up.
"You can't be serious, Gabriel. Everyone knows you're not the marrying kind. Though you are my kind ... which I don't think you could have forgotten."
"Lori, I'm taken. I've found my match. What about that is so hard to understand?" He sounded slightly desperate, which told Rowan he'd been making this argument to one person or another for some time now. At Lori's reply, she could understand why he sounded as he did.
"Oh, stop teasing, Gabriel. Whoever this new fascination is, she's not here, so she doesn't count. I know how it works with you. And I want to dance before that little bitch Moira Douglas gets over here ... look, here she comes. And is that Marisa Maclaren? What's she doing looking over here?"
Gabriel's rising panic was a sick twist in Rowan's gut. "Good Christ, woman, just ... fine. Fine. Come on. I don't want to be in the middle of a catfight, but I'm warning you, Lori, dancing is all we're doing."
"Sure, sexy." The voice now held a gloating note that had Rowan's claws lengthening. "Whatever you say. I'm all yours."
Rowan's eyes snapped open, and the connection to Gabriel was instantly broken. Her rising fury probably hadn't helped that any, she supposed. But she'd heard and felt all she'd needed to. She knew, well and truly, that Gabriel wasn't interested in what any of these circling sharks had to offer him. ft sounded, in fact, like he'd been telling as many tall tales about her as she had about him today. It would have been funny if he hadn't been under such blatant attack.