But he wasn’t. She almost said this out loud, too, until she realized that doing so would be pointless. They were over anyway. And so all she said was, “It’s just a blush.”
“Not when you’re the one doing it, Ms. Jones.”
Pippi bit her lip hard.
Would it be possible to pretend that she didn’t notice him flirting—
A low chuckle interrupted her thoughts.
“I can almost hear the gears in your mind working overtime, Ms. Jones.” A pause, then Gareth drawled, “Shall I make a guess? You were thinking if you could act like you’ve misread the situation—”
Pippi strove hard not to start blushing again, but it was impossible. Was she really that embarrassingly easy to read?
“For the record, Ms. Jones—” Gareth’s voice lowered to a husky caress. “You haven’t misread anything. I like you the way men have liked women – and vice versa – since the beginning of time.”
Pippi’s head reeled at how nonchalantly her new boss was admitting his attraction to her.
“You are, of course, free to respond however you wish. I’m certain you’re smart enough to know I’m not the type to force myself on women.” His gaze turned dark with promise. “But I think it’s only a matter of time—”
She started shaking her head before he had even finished speaking.
But Gareth only smiled, his self-assurance obviously unaffected by her silent rejection of his words. “We’ll see.”
“I’m not going to change my mind, Mr. Evans.”
“Because you’ve had your heart broken in a way you never expected.”
The words weren’t uttered in question, and it hurt, realizing how she had been unconsciously wearing her pain on her sleeve.
“You know what they say, Ms. Jones,” Gareth murmured. “There’s nothing like a new man to make you forget the old.”
Not when the new one has too many similarities with the old, Pippi thought.
If she ever trusted another man again, it would be someone so…so poor the only thing he owned were the clothes on his back.
Gareth’s gaze gleamed at the stubborn look on Pippi’s face. “It’s almost as if you’re daring me to prove you wrong, Ms. Jones.”
She looked at him with wide-eyed alarm, knowing how men like him tended to rise to the occasion during dares and challenges like their lives depended on it. “That is absolutely not true, sir.”
Gareth couldn’t help laughing. Never had a woman been so determined to prove her lack of interest in him, and not for the first time, he found himself wondering what kind of an idiot would give up a gem like Pippilotta Jones.
It no longer mattered in any case.
The important thing now was to earn Pippi’s trust until she came to him, willingly, and preferably without clothes.
Looking back at her, he said mildly, “You should take the rest of the day off.”
Pippi immediately shook her head. “I don’t—”
He waved her protest off, saying, “I’m not doing this out of pity or for any ulterior motive. If you really want the truth, I’m doing this because I know you’re worth your weight in gold and I expect you to make efficient use of your free time.”
In other words, he was telling her that today was best forgotten, and tomorrow he expected the real Ms. Jones to show up at work – and impress the heck out of him.
“I see you get my meaning.”
“Yes, sir.” She rose to her feet. “And come tomorrow, I promise you won’t even know what hit you, Mr. Evans. You’ll just realize that you can’t even remember what your office life was like before you had me as your secretary.”
“And my lover hopefully,” he couldn’t help adding.
Pippi decided it was simply best to ignore this. Slinging the straps of her bag over her shoulder, she looked at her new boss, and the usual wave of shyness struck her. But just as she had done a while ago, Pippi fought past it and even succeeded in summoning a smile that was the only slightest bit awkward.
“Thank you…for understanding.”
“What are lovers for?” But before Pippi could even think of what to say to this, he had already pointed to the door, saying, “I’ll see you tomorrow, Ms. Jones.”
Pippi couldn’t help rolling her eyes as she turned to leave. How so like a man, she thought wryly, to always want to have the last word.
The stamp on Pippi’s time card showed that she was getting off work two hours earlier than usual, and the sheer novelty of it helped further ease the ache in her heart. Two hours, she found herself marveling privately. Why, that was more than enough for her to indulge in watching a full-length movie in the cinemas if she wanted to.
She was so busy thinking of the ways she could best put her extra two hours to use that Pippi completely missed the way the other secretaries exchanged sly glances among themselves as she walked past them.