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His Unlikely Lover (Unwanted #3)

By´╝ÜNatasha Anders

His Unlikely Lover (Unwanted #3)
Natasha Anders

CHAPTER ONE

Roberta Richmond was a fool. At least that's what she told herself. Because only a fool would stand idly by while the man she loved romanced another woman in front of her very eyes. But it wasn't the first time she had done so, and it probably wouldn't be the last. Yes, indeed, Roberta Richmond was a colossal fool.

Time for you to move on, Bobbi, she told herself, grimacing when the aforementioned man placed his hands on his latest conquest's naked back-how low was the back of that dress anyway? One could almost see the top of her butt crack-and steered her toward the dance floor. It was unacceptable really; he had brought Bobbi to this party. So why was it okay for him to hit on other women?

Because he's your friend, her inner voice shrieked at her.

"Oh shut up," she said out loud, and a couple of the people standing nearby directed startled glances over at her. "Not you," she clarified. They moved away anyway, making her feel like even more of a social pariah.

Great.

Gabriel Braddock, her longtime best friend-the object of both her teen and adult fantasies-was whispering something into that woman's ear, and she laughed in response. Beautiful, vibrant, tall, and built-she epitomized femininity, something Bobbi sorely lacked.

"You look rather lost over here, Bobbi." The hostess of the party, her good friend Theresa De Lucci, had moved over to join Bobbi in her Lonely Loser's Corner. Theresa held up a flute of champagne, onto which Bobbi gratefully latched.

"Great party," Bobbi told her after taking a thirsty sip of the fizzy drink, and Theresa smiled.

"I could almost believe you meant that, if not for that glower on your face," her friend teased, taking a sip of her own drink.

"I'm sorry, it's just . . ." She sighed. Her eyes drifted miserably over to Gabe again. "Who's the babe?"

"That's one of Sandro's sisters, Rosalie," Theresa informed her, and Bobbi caught a flash of sympathy in the other woman's eyes before lowering her gaze back to her champagne. "She flew in from Milan yesterday. She's just ten months older than Sandro, so they're very close. Unfortunately none of his other family members could make it."

"Well, that explains the astonishing good looks then." Bobbi laughed bitterly.

"Bobbi." Her friend paused before taking a deep breath and continuing. "I'm going to give you the same advice that Lisa gave me when I was having problems in my marriage-you're either going to have to do something about the way you feel or you're going to have to move on."

"It's that obvious?" Her horrified eyes latched onto Theresa's, and she was relieved when the other woman shook her head.

"To me, yes. I can recognize unrequited love when I see it." Her friend reached out and gave her a one-armed hug. "And I'm here if you need to talk to someone."

"Thanks." Bobbi's eyes drifted back to the couple on the dance floor.

"If it's any consolation, Sandro would probably go ballistic if Gabe messed with his sister. He can be a bit protective-especially over Rosalie.

"Stop looking like it's the end of the world and try to enjoy yourself, okay? You're making me feel like an awful hostess." Theresa's gentle teasing made her smile.

"Oh heaven forbid." Bobbi raised a hand in mock horror. "This is a great party and you know it." It was Theresa's husband's birthday party. It was supposed to be a surprise party, and while Sandro had acted surprised, Bobbi knew-thanks to Gabe-that the Italian had been far from startled. Theresa was terrible at subterfuge and hadn't been able to hide her plans from her husband. According to Gabe, Sandro had known something was up for weeks, but in an effort not to disappoint Theresa, he had gone all out with the shocked reaction.

"He wasn't at all surprised," Theresa confided in Bobbi, a sweet smile tugging at the corners of her lips. Startled that the woman's thoughts had so accurately mirrored hers, Bobbi directed a questioning glance her way.

"Sandro," Theresa clarified. "He wasn't surprised. I could see through that act a mile away-but it'll gut him to know that I know that he knew about the party. So I'll just keep on pretending to believe he was surprised." Theresa paused for a second, absorbing her words before laughing. "God, that all sounded like the setup to a terrible joke."

"Your explanation did get rather complicated," Bobbi agreed.

"Love often is complicated," Theresa quipped, and Bobbi sighed as she took a sip of champagne and directed her troubled eyes back to Gabe.

"Isn't it just?"

Gabriel Braddock reluctantly relinquished his hold on his gorgeous dance partner and let her go with a lingering kiss to the back of her hand. She was totally off-limits, of course, as his good friend's sister. There wasn't a chance in hell he'd indulge himself with this exotic beauty. It would create too many complications in his structured life. She wasn't his type anyway. He preferred blondes-but this was one brunette for whom he would gladly have made an exception. He glanced over at Sandro . . . yep, the guy was staring daggers at him-so that meant Rosalie was still very much forbidden fruit. Too bad. She was charming. He always enjoyed her company and was naturally attracted to her. Still, he had managed to keep their brief interactions over the years limited to harmless flirtations.

He shoved his hands into his trouser pockets-uncaring that it ruined the cut of the garment, which was uncharacteristic for him. He liked neatness. He liked to keep his jaw smoothly shaven, his hair conservatively cut and precisely parted, and his clothes immaculately pressed and tailored to perfection. He preferred to keep things as orderly and controlled as possible. Anything else and he started to feel frayed around the edges.

He glanced around the room and spotted a familiar rumpled figure-the one bit of chaos in his otherwise well-ordered life-and made his way over to where she stood. Their friendship surprised most people who didn't know them. They were complete opposites-Bobbi's untidiness against his neatness and her free spirit versus his buttoned-down conservativeness-and their friendship sometimes baffled him too. He'd known her for most of his life and was used to having her around-no, more than that, he enjoyed having her around. Gabe didn't confide in many people, but Bobbi was someone he trusted with most of his secrets. She listened to him and was his one constant. His mother and brother were preoccupied with their own lives; his father was a completely hopeless case. His other friends were mates, good for a laugh and a drink at the pub but not for sharing his deep and darkest secrets. When he worried about his brother, Chase, he knew that Bobbi would be there to listen patiently and offer words of comfort and advice. She understood him, and he appreciated that about her. He would be the first to acknowledge that he tended to take her for granted, but he couldn't quite imagine his life without her.

He watched as she tossed back the remaining contents of a champagne flute before substituting the empty glass for a full one from a passing waiter's tray. She was as dressed up as it was possible for Bobbi to get, wearing a shapeless navy-blue slip dress, one he had seen her in a million times before. It was her go-to party dress. It kind of skimmed her slender body, falling from thick straps on her shoulders, which seemed to have been designed to hide bra straps, to somewhere between her knees and her calves.

The dress was accompanied by clunky ankle boots that added absolutely no height to her five foot nothing frame, and the entire ensemble was topped off with some ugly plastic tribal jewelry-chunky bracelets that looked horribly out of place on her delicate wrists, a pendant that appeared to weigh heavily on her neck, and truly awful hoop earrings that seemed to tug painfully at her earlobes.

Bobbi was a tiny waif of a girl, so her ghastly outfit seemed to be wearing her. The top of her head barely came up to his chest. She had slender arms and legs, a flat chest, and no curves to speak of at all. He supposed she was okay-looking as such things went, with luminous, thickly lashed amber eyes that shone like dark gold in the sunlight, a snub nose that was crooked as a result of a childhood fall, and a perfect cupid's bow of a mouth, which-in addition to her eyelashes-was one of the few feminine things about her. She had beautiful skin though, clear and golden, and her short, silky, straight black hair molded the elegant shape of her head.

"Hey, Runt," he said by way of greeting, knowing that it aggravated her to be addressed as such. "You having a good time?"

"No," she groused. "You're supposed to dance with me."

"I am?" He was?

"You brought me here," she pointed out, enunciating her words carefully, the way inebriated people tended to do when they were trying to convince others of their sobriety. "You're my date. You should dance with me."

"I'm your date, am I?"

"Stop talking to me like I'm a child." Her words threw him. He did tend to speak to her in the indulgent, paternal tone her dad or older brothers used on her. It was easy for all of them to lose sight of the fact that she was a woman of twenty-six with her own business.

"I'm sorry." Her pretty eyes reflected her surprise at his apology. She shrugged awkwardly, grabbing yet another glass from a passing waiter and downing it in almost one gulp. She swayed and he reached out to steady her, placing his hands on her slight shoulders.

"Whoa, Bobbi . . . how many of those have you had?"

"How many of whats?" she asked with a frown, and he grinned at her butchering of th

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