It was a mindless routine, which was unfortunate since this gave Pippi too much time to dwell on the four-minute conversation she had with Acheron. Even now, she had a hard time understanding how a day that had started so wonderfully could end in such a spectacularly dismal way. She had heard of relationships having its expected share of ups and downs, but surely this was too much?
Or maybe she had just been too blind and naive that she hadn’t seen the trees for the forest, and Acheron really was a jerk, just like how all wealthy men—
“Everything alright there?” Her new boss had come up to her desk, a puzzled look on his good-looking face. “You don’t seem yourself somehow…”
Pippi took a deep breath, preparing herself to make up some lie, but the next thing she knew, she had her boss sputtering as she burst into tears. If she hadn’t been so miserable, she might even have managed a teary laugh at the stunned expression that crossed Gareth Evans’ face.
You’re not alone, Pippi wanted to say. Because she was honestly shocked at herself as well.
Pippi had been alone at home when Great-Aunt Agatha had suddenly keeled over in front of her. Terrified out of her wits, she constantly fought against the urge to go into hysterics as she called 911 and did first aid while waiting for the paramedics.
It was only after Great-Aunt Agatha had successfully undergone her operation that Pippi allowed herself the luxury of tears, and she had done so in the shower, to hide the sound of her sobs.
That was how tough…she used to be.
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Evans,” Pippi choked out. “This isn’t like me at all.”
“You don’t say.” Her boss’ voice, albeit dry, held a trace of sympathy that only sent more tears trailing down her cheeks. Oh God, to cry in public, and in front of Gareth Evans no less!
Pippi angrily snatched a sheet of tissue to blot her tears and attend to her runny nose. I hate you, Acheron Simonides. But what was supposed to be a thought spurred by pain and betrayal ended up making her cry harder. She was just so disappointed, and when she thought of how her own family would feel even worse, since they’d be worrying about her, too—
Damn you, damn you, damn you.
But most of all, she damned her heart for being so stupid.
Gareth had enough experience with women to know when they were crying over a man, which was surprisingly the case as well with his newly-hired secretary. Will wonders never cease, Gareth mused. He had initially thought her as someone either frigid or inexperienced, someone he would have to coax into blooming, but apparently another man had already beaten him to that.
Either way, it didn’t make her any less desirable in his eyes, and these tears of hers could only work to his favor.
Seeing her sniff, he handed her a fresh sheet of tissue, intending merely to help but to his amusement, the gesture only had Pippi looking even more miserable.
And then she started apologizing again.
“I’m just so sorry, Mr. Evans. I know this is completely unprofessional of me, and I cannot apologize enough. There are just no words. It’s beyond shame—”
“Relax, Ms. Jones.” Gareth deliberately kept his voice light. “You’re acting like you blew up the whole building when you’ve only blown your nose in my presence.”
She let out a choking sound that also suspiciously resembled a giggle, and Gareth’s lips twitched. “I hadn’t pegged you to be the giggling kind.”
Her boss’ casual banter helped Pippi gradually regain her composure, and she could even feel the pain in her heart fading to a dull ache all the while her humor slowly restored itself. No point in being self-conscious with him now, Pippi thought, after everything he’s seen.
And so she deliberately swallowed past the lump of shyness in her throat and made herself treat him like she would a member of her family. Giving him a tentative smile, she said, “I’ve been known to manage a chuckle here and then as well, sir.”
Gareth’s lips curved in appreciation of how Pippi was doing her best to overcome her reservations. “That’s my girl.” As expected, this had color bursting in her cheeks, and he murmured, “I’m glad to see I’m right.”
Pippi wondered if she had missed something. “Right about what?”
“About your ability to blush.”
This time, the glint of sexual interest in Gareth’s eyes was unmistakable, and Pippi didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Was this what it meant to jump from the pan and into the fire? Or maybe it was the other way around?
Either way, it was utterly insane, to have one wealthy man after another suddenly act like she was the most desirable thing within reach.
“Has Tim ever made you blush?”
“Keep it that way.” He saw consternation flash in Pippi’s eyes, and he said lazily, “I like knowing that I’m the only one to have seen you blush.”