Lennon didn't know what amused him more. The fact people were gossiping about him or how irritated it seemed to make Gillian. The brown-skinned beauty was beyond heated and all in his defense. How cute.
"You're this upset because someone said something ... about me?"
"Don't act surprised that I care."
"Oh, it's not an act."
"Thanks a lot." She frowned, much to his amusement, and tucked free strands of her shoulder-length ebony hair behind her ear. "To think I was about to call her to the floor for you."
"I was just teasing, Gillian. I'm not at all surprised you would stand up for me or anyone else for that matter. It's just the type of person you are."
"Think so, do you?"
"I'm pretty much willing to bet on it." Without a doubt, Lennon considered himself an excellent judge of character. It was a trait mandatory in his line of work, and as usual, his perception of Gillian was dead-on.
She had too big of a heart to work in corporate America. She was a rare individual. Someone who was as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside. It was refreshing yet exceptional, all at the same time. "You're a rare find, Ms. Gillian Foxe--an honest person who still cares about others." He tilted his head to the side and studied her with a mock frown. Something he'd found himself doing a lot of lately. Not that it was all that surprising. She was utterly and completely gorgeous. She was the epitome of exotic beauty, with skin the color of rich molasses and eyes as dark as a starlit night. "I didn't realize they made your kind anymore."
"I assure you, Lennon, I'm not the person you're describing."
"Hmm." He wasn't going to argue with her, especially when he knew he was right. "If you say so."
"Don't worry about it."
"Don't worry about it?" Her eyes blazed with confusion. "Don't you care what they said?"
"Not in particular. If someone is unsatisfied with my work performance, I'm sure it will get back to me eventually." Not that he'd be there to care. His time at Mynch Industries was drawing to an end. All he had left to do was cross some t's and dot a few i's, then he was gone. Lennon had gathered all the information he needed to make a well-informed report to the powers that be. Then he'd disappear almost as quickly as he'd arrived.
"It had nothing to do with your job, Lennon, but you personally."
"Really?" That was new. No one there knew him well enough to have an opinion about him one way or the other. Just the way it was supposed to be. In spite of himself, his interest was piqued. "What did you hear?"
"I'm not quite sure how you're going to take this."
"Better than the ficus, I imagine."
"It's small, miniscule, not much of anything."
The longer she hedged, the more he began to doubt that. "Just spit it out already."
Gillian's steady gaze held his as she leaned forward and softly spoke. "They think you're gay."
"Gay?" In his surprise, he barked the word.
A smile began to spread through him as her words sank in, followed by a full-fledged, honest-to-goodness laugh. Gay? Him? Never had a word described him less, which only made him laugh harder. From the stunned expression on Gillian's face, he could tell his reaction wasn't the one she'd been bracing herself for. She'd obviously been expecting some sort of homophobic indignation. Gillian really didn't know him at all. "Sorry. That was a bit unexpected."
"I can tell," Gillian said. "You're not upset at all, are you?"
"No. Why would I be upset?"
"I guess ... I mean ... most people wouldn't want other people thinking untrue things about them."
"I'm not most people."
A brief smile parted her lips. "So I see."
"Yes, and I find it very commendable. I know most men would be highly heated right about now."
"I'm not most men, Gillian."
"So I see."
"Nor am I gay. Just in case you were wondering."
"Liar," he teased softly.
She boldly met his gaze, as if this were proof of her innocence. "It wouldn't have made a difference to me either way."
The hell it wouldn't. She wouldn't have been so upset if it didn't. Interesting. "That's good to know."
"That's good to know." Gillian rolled her eyes and sat back in the chair in a huff.
"Don't get me wrong, Lennon. I'm pleased you're not upset, but there's nothing wrong with being a little irked."
"Why should I care what other people think of me? I know I'm not gay."
"Normally, I would agree with you, but what if there was a female who was interested in you and she heard this rumor?"
"Then I'd hope she'd stand up for me, and maybe take the initiative to find out for herself." Lennon wondered if he should follow that remark with a "hint, hint," but figured it might be too obvious.
"You are too nice."
Or maybe it wasn't obvious enough. "No, I'm not."
"Yes, you are. Way too nice."
Now that was an adjective not often used to describe him, especially in his line of work. He was the hatchet man. The person employed by corporations to find dead weight and trim it away. Most organizations had inefficiencies, and he was one of the best to find them. Companies didn't hire nice guys to do his type of work, and until right then and there, he'd been okay with it.
"I don't think so." She needed to wake up out of whatever fairy tale she was living in.
"Of course you wouldn't. Nice people never do."
Unbelievable. Here he was being defended by someone who didn't have a clue who he was. In the nine years he'd been in this business, Lennon had never become personally involved with anyone at the companies he'd infiltrated. He played his cards close to his chest, only saying as much as necessary to get his job done. Being aloof, professional, and therefore unbiased made him one of the most sought-after consultants in his field.
Still, she persisted, and despite how often he'd tried to erect a wall between them, she'd found a way to remove a brick, one at a time, until she'd done the unthinkable and befriended him. Or at least as much as one person could befriend someone whom they knew nothing about.
"Okay, I know I'll hate myself later for asking, but why do you think I'm nice?"
"Why wouldn't I think you're nice? I get along with you great."
He had to stifle his laughter at that one. They were friendly because of her persistence and his weakness for her smile. He really could care less about the other employees. "Maybe you're the exception."
"That's because you don't participate. You need to mingle more with people here."
No, that was the last thing he needed. "I thought the problem was people talking about things they know nothing about."
She totally ignored him, forging along. He could tell that once she had an idea about something she wasn't willing to let it go. "Seriously, if you put yourself out there, more people would get to know you and see what a great--"
"Whatever you are. I have an idea."
"Do tell." This ought to be a doozy.
"A bunch of us are going out tonight for happy hour. You should come."
"I don't think so."
"Because I'm not one to mingle. I leave people alone, and they return the favor."
"You talk to me. This would only be adding a couple of more people to the mix."
"As if I had a choice where you're concerned."
"As if you have a choice now."
"Do you? You have to come out of your shell sometime."
"The one you hide behind. You shouldn't let your shyness hold you back."
"Shy?" What the hell? "I'm not shy."
"Just like you're not nice." Sarcasm was as evident in her voice as in the expression on her face.
"You have the wrong idea about me."
"I doubt it. You're a great guy, but not very many people get to see that side of you."
He had no idea where she was going with this train of thought or why she suddenly felt an urgent need that he make friends, but he didn't think he liked the direction she was heading. Her next words more than confirmed his suspicions.
"I'm willing to bet that if you put yourself in my very capable hands, I can have you dated and mated in less than a month."
He was immediately shaking his head in denial. The only person he was interested in dating was her, and she was a big "no-no" for him. He'd already allowed himself too much leeway where she was concerned. And as far as mated, marriage was not even on his radar screen.
"Don't be so quick to say no. I can work with you. We have the technology."
"What are the odds of you taking no for an answer?"
"Slim to none."
"That's what I thought." He chuckled. He had a feeling she was used to getting what she wanted, but so was he. It was by luck only that her plans coincided with ones he'd made for a while. Lennon would give in for now, but only for now. There was time later for Gillian to figure out who exactly held the upper hand. "Okay. One drink. Then I'm out of there."
"One's a start."
It was a start all right, but not the one he knew she was thinking of.