A half hour later, Gabriel and Ava were eating frozen pizzas in his living room. When they’d arrived back at the shop, he’d been about to show her to her room for the night when her stomach growled. Against his better judgment, he invited her in for a quick meal. Apparently his guilt from earlier hadn’t been assuaged with taking on her lodging and mechanical problems pro bono.
“Oh, wow,” she mumbled around a mouth full of cheese and sausage. “This is so fantastic. Seriously. Like, the best food ever.”
Gabriel lifted his bottle of beer and took a swig before setting it back on the coffee table. “Considering you’re eating generic frozen pizza that I damn near burned, I think it’s safe to say you have very low standards.”
A saucy grin curved up one corner of her mouth. “Low standards are one of my best qualities, Gabe.”
He watched in amazement as she picked up her fifth piece and tucked into it with all the appreciation of a starving food critic at a five-star restaurant. The subsequent moans, however, reminded him of an entirely different activity and had him leaning forward in his seat to hide the reaction between his legs.
“Ava,” he said as a warning.
“I know, you don’t want to get personal, but come on. After my car’s fixed tomorrow you’ll never have to see me again.”
“It’s not a good idea. You don’t want to get mixed up in my world.”
“Yeah, the world of Isolated Desert Mechanic seems really treacherous,” she snorted. When he didn’t take the opportunity to explain, she added more seriously, “Come on, I’m not trying to get mixed up in anything. I’m just looking for some friendly conversation and short-term companionship.”
Companionship. Did he even know what that was anymore? Just the thought made him drain the rest of his beer.
Ava placed what was left of her pizza on the cardboard circle and looked him in the eye. There was a certain vulnerability in those golden eyes he hadn’t seen before. “Believe it or not, I don’t usually get the opportunity to make friends either. As you’ve already guessed, most of my relationships with people are based on lies in order to get out of them what I need to keep going. I don’t like it, but it’s a necessary evil for me, and I’ve come to accept that.
“But it would be really nice, if for one night, I could get to know someone simply because I find him interesting and good company.” A half-smile lifted the corners of her mouth. “Despite his surly tendencies.”
That had him grinning, just a little, and Gabriel knew he could no longer deny her this small slice of normalcy. Hell, maybe he couldn’t deny himself either. He nodded once then said, “On one condition. We keep any information that would be on a birth certificate or legal record of any kind out of it.”
Ava winked and gave him a smile worthy of a Miss America pageant. “So, how long did you say you’ve been here?”