Disclaimer: Not mine, don't sue :)
Prompt:Author's choice; first date
A/N: So, this started as an idea and kind of grew to epic proportions. Be warned buygs, this is fluffy. IT IS SOOOO FUFFY *shakes unicorn* I'm pretty sure when this fic takes a piss, it pisses out rainbows. WHATEVER. Big thanks go out to cutelittletrex because she is an awesome enabler :) Thanks babe.
Fast as I Can
All she'd wanted was a drink.
Well, technically ice for the drink she already had. She'd gone to the break room, because really – it was late enough into the evening that she was probably the only one left in the building, and her scotch needed ice, and she most definitely needed her scotch if she was going to be able to continue working on the quarterlies without throwing them in her trash bin and lighting them on fire.
But apparently she wasn't the only one working late, because the break room was occupied. Ria was standing by the counter, leaning against it with her glass in hand, and Emily was seated at one of the tables, with books spread out around her. "Gill! Hey!"
She smiled in automatic response, because it was impossible to not smile at Emily when she was grinning up at you. Even if you'd spent the last four hours going blind over accounting spreadsheets and questioning your own ability to do basic math. "Hey Emily. You're here late. You too, Ria."
She reached into the fridge, digging around until the coveted ice was discovered partially hidden behind a box of toaster strudel that was probably Loker's. Her grin widened when she finally was able to drop the cubes into her tumbler, and she sighed happily before taking a sip.
"Drinking on the job? Isn't that against company policy?" Ria's voice was teasing and her smile was warm.
"No I'm pretty sure it's a job requirement judging by Dad's stash in his study." Emily interjected, before gesturing to the chairs around her. "Take a break with me guys. This project is killing me."
Gillian sat down gratefully, observing the biology text books spread out across the table with interest. "I'm avoiding budget reports. Nowhere in my psychology doctorate did accounting get covered. I hate having to deal with all of it."
Emily frowned and glanced over at her. "Why don't you guys have a finance guy? Or person? I mean it doesn't have to be a guy, really-"
"Well, it doesn't hurt either." Ria muttered before taking a sip of her water. Gillian glanced over at her with a suppressed grin and Ria simply shrugged. "What? I'm just saying... we could use some fresh meat to look at."
Gillian's nose wrinkled in mild disgust as she laughed. "Okay, firstly – ew. No meat comparisons, please. And secondly, it's irrelevant. You should never get involved with someone you work with. It always ends badly." She took another sip of her drink and completely missed the glance Ria and Emily exchanged.
"What like, never ever never?" Emily questioned with an innocent smile. "What if – okay – what if you work with a guy and he's absolutely perfect for you? Like, you're really compatible and there's no seniority issues at work – you're on the same level and everything. What then?"
"Of course every individual case is different, but on the whole, it's best to avoid the issue. What if it doesn't work out? You still have to work together afterward."
"What if it does work out and your work is actually better for it?" Ria countered with a grin. "Win/win – you get more productive at work and awesome sex at home."
"Name one person you know who's dated or slept with a co-worker and that was the result." Gillian laughed – it was the ideal sure, but not the norm.
"I don't know any." Ria frowned and Emily giggled.
"Yet." Emily's smile was mischievous and Gillian looked from one to the other in confusion.
"True." Ria nodded. "It could happen. It could happen right here if you hire us an amazingly built CFO with a heart of gold and a fetish for Latino women." She grinned and Gillian laughed out loud.
"Yes, because that wouldn't be difficult to find. I'll mock up the ad right now-"
"Besides, maybe Gillian'd like a man with a fetish for classy divorcees with legs." Emily grinned and Gillian shook her head in protest, before finishing her drink.
"No. No, no, no, no, no. No dating." She sighed heavily and stared at her empty drink in accusation. "I hate it. I hate the pressure and the awkwardness, I hate trying to find a half-decent place to meet men without looking like a desperate mess. It's just... blech." Ria laughed out loud at the expression on her face.
"Really? Blech is the best you can come up with? I thought you were all about the words, Foster. And that's how dating is. You've just forgotten because you were off the market for so long. It's ninety percent chance and ten percent effort."
"At least you guys aren't dealing with raging teenage hormones." Emily muttered and Gillian laughed in sympathy, reaching out and rubbing Emily's arm with a grin.
"Oh, honey. You don't even know." Emily mock glared and Gillian glanced down at her empty drink. "I need another drink, but the scotch is in my office and I don't want to move." She pouted and Ria laughed at her expression.
"Is this how you get Lightman to bend to your will? Pouting? I'll go get it, but you have to share." She stood up and strode through the door quickly, leaving Gillian looking over at Emily.
"I don't pout. And where is Cal, anyway? Why are you here so late?"
"Dad's in his office staring at some footage about something or other – something to do with the new case, I think. I'm here because he's my ride." Emily explained with a small smile. "I don't mind though, I like it here. Always have."
Gillian smiled in remembrance – Emily had been almost a fixture around the office since they first had one for her to be a fixture in. She'd watched the young girl grow up into a lovely young woman. And she'd watched Cal become an over-protective father, or watched him grow even more over-protective, at any rate. "I like you here, too."
"But seriously, you should be out dating, Gill. You deserve some happiness."
"I am happy." Gillian protested, but Emily shook her head in disagreement.
"You're happy enough. But I love you to bits and pieces, Gill, and I'd love to see you perfectly happy." Ria entered as Emily was speaking, flourishing the bottle of scotch triumphantly. "Oh! You should try like, online dating! Or speed dating!"
"Oh my God, please speed date, if only so I can laugh at all of your stories later." Ria chuckled while adding more scotch to Gillian's glass before filling one for herself and setting the bottle on the table and sitting down.
"I'm sure it's not that bad." Emily protested. "You guys could do it together – like, solidarity in numbers or something."
"No. I don't do speed dating. Ever." Ria shook her head vehemently. Gillian just observed, taking a sip of her now full drink.
"You both need to get out of your little bubbles. Happiness doesn't just drop in your lap; you have to go find it." Emily lectured them seriously, leaning forward. "And maybe it'd be crappy. Maybe it'd be hilarious. Maybe it'd be fun – hell maybe it would make someone currently in your life sit up and take notice." Emily looked at Ria significantly as she spoke and Ria's eyes widened in understanding.
"Oh what? What the – you two have been cagey. Why? Is there something going on that I don't know about?" Gillian glanced suspiciously at the two of them and Ria looked at Emily, who was stammering, before speaking over her smoothly.
"Loker. I uh – I like Loker."
"What?" Emily echoed just as Gillian stared at Ria in shock.
"Loker? Really? No. Seriously? Loker?" She was staring at Ria who blushed and looked down.
"He's not – he can be very – you know what, I don't even know. But yeah. There it is." Emily was shooting grateful glances at Ria and nodding.
"You should definitely do it then, right, Gill? Maybe he'd react if she was out there, putting herself on the market." Emily was nudging Gillian with her elbow and Gillian was staring at Ria, still in shock. Loker? No, really. Loker?
"Uh, it might, yeah. It could be worth a try. And who knows – maybe you could find somebody worthwhile in five minutes."
"Eight minutes." Emily corrected, causing both women to stare at her for a beat. "What? My friends have single moms. People talk!"
"I don't know." Ria hedged, shooting a small grin at Emily while Gillian was taking a drink. "I'd be embarrassed. It'd be hard to do alone."
"I'd go with you." Gillian offered without hesitation. She didn't have any particular desire to speed date, but she considered Ria a friend, and this was something they could do that would bring them closer together.
"Really?" Emily and Ria asked simultaneously. Emily hopped up, moving over to the sofa and pulling her laptop out of her bag.
"That's great guys! I even know a great site. It's a bit pricier, but they make you fill out a profile and then they send out invitations to their events. You can even get a discount by signing up as buddies, and they'll be sure you both go to events together."
"Okay, you know way too much about this stuff, kid." Ria was protesting as she refilled her glass.
"I told you, one of my friends Moms did this. We looked a bunch of stuff up for her. Now come on, get your credit cards and let's fill out some questions."
He could hear the giggling as soon as he shut down his computer.
Of course he was going to have to investigate, because while he knew his daughter was out in the break room supposedly studying, he was insanely curious to see who in the hell was out there, giggling with her.
He had a few guesses. Even a particular wish about who it could be as he exited his office and meandered down the hall toward the source of the laughter.
Gillian, Torres and Emily were all huddled around her laptop, twittering and giggling like a bunch of schoolgirls. He couldn't see the screen, since they were blocking his view, but he could hear bits and pieces of their conversation.
"Oh my god wait. There's dress code suggestions. Click it, click it! That's need to know." Torres was laughing and Gillian glanced over at her.
"Please. Who on earth would not know what to wear to these things? It seems like common sense to me. Don't dress like a-" She stopped abruptly, glancing at Emily who grinned and tilted her head.
"Emily!" Both women stared at his daughter, askance.
"What?" Emily laughed again. "God, guys, I know the word, okay? Jeez. You both realize I am almost eighteen, right?"
"Yeah, but – but –" Gillian was protesting and a pout was creeping across her face. He smiled in delight, watching it. About time someone other than him got rolled over by that pout. Foster was brilliant at it really – big eyes and her lips wouldn't full out pout, just sort of – sort of – he couldn't describe it really, since his brain usually ceased cognitive function at that point in the conversation.
"Oh don't use that on me, Gill. I'm immune. Okay, let's see. Don't dress slutty. Blah, blah, blah. Don't over dress. Wear classy make-up. Oh look, they recommend heels. And sexy underwear." Emily was reading off the page while Torres was covering her mouth in laughter.
"Why would your underwear make a difference? It's not like you're taking them home!"
"Mind set though." Gillian spoke in a thoughtful tone. "If you feel sexy you'd be more receptive to-" Just then she leaned back to look at Torres directly and she caught him in her line of sight, standing out in the hall, clearly eavesdropping. "Cal!"
"You're more receptive to Cal?" Torres frowned and shook her head. "Not all of us want to be receptive to Lightman, if you know what I'm saying, Foster. In fact, I'm pretty sure you're the only one who'd-"
"No, Cal." Gillian glared at Torres and jerked her chin toward the doorway where he had moved in order to lean against the frame.
"Pretty sure she meant I'm standing right here. Now what exactly, are the three of you up to – besides trouble, that is." Emily jumped at the sound of his voice, shutting the laptop with a jerk and turning to him with an innocent smile.
"Dad, we didn't see you there!"
"It wasn't porn was it?"
"Cal!" Gillian objected with another giggle. "That is just ridiculous. I would not look at porn with your daughter."
"But you would look at it without her then, yeah?" He moved into the room, noticing the flush on Foster's face for the first time. Well. This just got a lot more interesting. He absolutely loved slightly tipsy Gill. Didn't get to see her too often, either. "And apparently you both don't mind drinking with her."
"In front of her, not with her, Cal." Gillian rolled her eyes and Ria stood awkwardly, shoving her chair back.
"Well. I'm gonna – gonna - I'm leaving. In a cab. So no driving. And I'll – I'll-"
"I'll call you later Ria." Gillian finished for her with a warm smile. He felt an odd sort of envy at the sight – that was his Gillian smile. Since when did Torres get it, instead of him?
"Okay." Torres nodded once, before slipping past him quickly and leaving the three of them as fast as she could.
"Dad – it was fine. Gill was just working on the budget, and-"
"Oh crap! The quarterly report! I was supposed to finish that." Gillian interrupted, snapping her fingers and stomping her foot along with it for good measure while he watched in amusement.
"Not tonight, you aren't. You can work on it tomorrow." He nodded at Emily, leaning over to pick up the bottle of scotch. "Didn't even invite me for a cuppa." He sniffed in the pretence of hurt and Gillian laid a hand on his arm.
"Oh I'm sorry, Cal – we were just talking and then-"
"It's alright, love." He smiled to calm her genuine distress, shaking his head at her beaming smile in return. Yes, tipsy Gillian was definitely a favourite of his. "Em – gather your stuff yeah? I'm gonna walk Foster to her office and supervise her while she gets her things together. We'll give you a lift home then, alright, Foster?" Emily nodded with a grin, shutting her books and moving over to collect her bag. He put a hand under Gillian's elbow and helped her stand.
"I'm not drunk, Cal." She stood, moving away from the chair and looping her arm through his as he moved them down the hall toward her office.
"Well you're not exactly sober either, are you love?" This elicited a giggle from her and she swayed into his path somewhat, pressing against his arm in a rather pleasant fashion.
"No, not exactly." She grinned and he laughed out loud at her expression. "It's Ria's fault. I'd have drunk far less without company." She sighed happily and entered her office, tripping around the room as she gathered her coat and purse together. He observed her while saving her work and shutting down her computer.
"Well, it's after hours anyway, darling. But don't make it a habit, yeah?" She was standing next to him again, handing him her coat which he held up so she could slip into more easily.
"No danger of that, as you well know, Cal Lightman." She slipped her arm through his once more and he paused for a moment, staring at her in the soft light. She really was a gorgeous woman – the best part was how completely unaware of it she seemed to be. Obviously she knew she was attractive, but she didn't have that air that some beautiful women seemed to develop. Her eyes were sparkling with laughter mixed with reprimand and he was smiling back in what he was sure was an incredibly stupid manner.
"No, no danger of that love." He pulled back somewhat, reaching out and turning off the light and plunging them into darkness. Her hand tightened on his arm and he ushered her gently out into the hall, where there was still light. Emily was down the hall, leaning against the wall and waiting for them. "Let's get you home, then, shall we?"
Emily had asked to be dropped off first, citing homework as an excuse. Given how she had been looking at him and Gillian as they walked down the hall to meet her, though, he had his suspicions. "Bloody nosey teenagers."
"What?" Gillian's voice was soft as she turned to frown at him and he shook his head.
"Nothing, love. Almost there – get your keys out, alright?" She nodded in acceptance and began to dig through her impossibly tiny handbag. How in the hell did women keep anything organized in those things? He had pants with pockets bigger than that thing. He was just pulling into her parking lot when she pulled the keys out with a triumphant grin. He removed them from her hand before sliding out and walking around to open her door. She had her seatbelt unbuckled and she grinned at him proudly.
"Such a gentleman, Dr. Lightman!" She slid out of the car with that exclamation, gripping his arms tightly as she stood.
"Signs that Gillian Foster is drunk – she speaks total and utter nonsense." He teased her and she whacked his shoulder lightly with her handbag.
"Oh stop it. You are – well, you can be a gentleman, when you want to be."
"Must be sobering up a bit then, Foster." He grinned as they walked toward the courtyard that led to her condo. "That made a bit more sense. Just change the can be to an aren't." When they arrived at her door, he unlocked it and followed her inside, dropping her keys on the table by the door. She simply huffed at him, kicking her shoes off and turning to look at him seriously.
"Why do you do that?" She asked, and he frowned, pushing her coat off of her shoulders before turning to hang it on the coat rack.
"Do what, darling?"
"Under value – no wait, under evaluate?" She frowned in thought before waving a hand carelessly. "Why are you always so negative about your – you?"
"It's not negative if it's reality, Gill. I'm not a nice man, yeah?" He was pushing her gently through to the kitchen, and she sat down on a stool while watching him get a glass from the cupboard and filling it with water. A cursory search of her cupboards revealed the Advil, and he shook out two pills for her before turning back toward her only to encounter the pout. Full blown, lip out and everything. He sighed.
"You're nice to me." She pointed out, taking the pills and swallowing them before drinking the water without complaint.
"You're a special case, love."
"You're nice to Emily." She stood up, moving toward him until he reached out to grip her shoulders lightly. She'd had more to drink than he'd thought. Obviously if she was moving into contemplative Gill – which only ever occurred when she was really drunk. Most people lost their inhibitions while drinking, but Gillian just got introspective and often morose.
"Well she's a special case too, Gill."
"Special how?" Her eyes were sparkling with mischief now and he shook his head, before turning her and nudging her along into the bedroom. She deviated at the bathroom for a moment first and he carried on to the bedroom ahead of her. Her bedroom was completely classy and elegant, much like the woman who slept there. He paused a moment to pull down the duvet and sheets, before hearing a noise and turning around.
"A little warning, Gill, darling!" The words flew out of his mouth and he turned to face the bed again, his heart rate a good deal higher after seeing her in the midst of changing. Her dress had been halfway over her head and her bra was a soft pink lace that he was fairly sure would be imprinted on his brain for the rest of his life. Her breasts were – well... gorgeous, for lack of a better word. And her knickers matched, bloody hell. His hand tugged at his collar and he could hear her giggling as she slid past him, now in a tank top and a pair of cotton shorts with some cartoon character splayed across them.
"Aw, are you blushing Cal? It was only my bra – god, my bathing suit is way less decent than that!" He felt heat rise into his face again at her words as he sat on the side of the bed and frowned at her.
"I'm not blushing." He spoke after a moment spent staring at his hands, the carpet and then the vast amount of pillows behind her.
"You are deflecting, though. I asked you a question- special how?"
"Well you didn't give me much of a chance to answer it now did you?" He met her eyes for a moment before sliding a little closer. "What with the ducking off into the loo."
"I had to brush my teeth and wash my make-up off. So answer me now, hmm. Special how?"
"I dunno, love, just special. Different. I love her. So it's easy to be good to her." The silence in the room was heavy, but not uncomfortable. More like a nice warm blanket laid over you, weighted in a comforting way. Her hand slipped into his, and he turned them over, staring at how small it was in his. He could see the bones of her hand, extended from her wrist to her fingers, delicate under her skin. Her hand tightened on his and he looked up, seeing the unasked questions in her eyes.
Those questions were dangerous for them, he knew. He loved her, more than any other woman in his life with the exception of Emily, but he also knew that she deserved to be happy. And experience had taught him long ago, he wasn't the type of bloke that happily ever after applied to.
"I should go – check on Em, make sure she's alright. Will you be okay, Gill?"
She nodded with a flash of disappointment on her face before she pulled her hand out of his. "I'll be fine Cal."
"Just gonna go to sleep and try to forget I have a headache and a half waiting for me tomorrow. It's good. I'm fine."
"Alright, love. I'll see you tomorrow then, yeah?" He dropped a kiss to the top of her head, lingering just a few seconds longer than necessary as he inhaled the scent of her.
"G'night, Cal." Her voice was sleepy and she was burrowing into the mountain of pillows even as he was standing up, glancing down at her with repressed disappointment and a bit of a longing to climb into bed behind her and hold her tightly. Swallowing, he whispered goodnight in return before turning and exiting the condo as quickly and quietly as he could.
His sense of relief felt heavy on his chest while his sense of self-flagellation chased him out the door, nipping hard on his heels.
She barely had a headache when she woke the next morning, but she still felt like she'd spent the night chewing on cotton.
Which, given the state of the bed sheets and pillows around her, may be more than entirely possible.
Dragging herself out of bed she groaned as she brushed her teeth before hopping in the shower. She berated herself all the way through her daily rituals. She was an idiot. She couldn't tell what she was most upset with herself over – drinking that much in the first place, agreeing to the stupid speed dating thing with Ria or how unashamedly she'd flirted with Cal.
She dropped her forehead against the tile of her shower with the last thought. Yeah, definitely most upset with herself over that last one.
She just didn't understand what in the hell had gotten into her last night. Outside of a third of a bottle of scotch, obviously. She'd just... felt like there had been something different in the way he'd looked at her. Which, granted, was stupid to think, because clearly her drunk perception was not the most trustworthy thing. But she'd been drunk at the time, so how could she know not to trust herself?
She shut off the water with a frown, her mind occupied as she dried her hair and put on her make-up. She, at least, didn't say anything too damning the night before. But she certainly had said enough to cognitively watch him withdraw because of it.
And really, that was an answer in and of itself, wasn't it? He clearly didn't feel the same way she did about their relationship and where it was heading. Her heart ached a little at the thought – like a days old bruise that just held the memory of pain when you moved against it.
She hadn't dated much after the divorce. Like it or not, deep down, her divorce had hurt her. At her age, it wasn't so much the heart-breaking loss of love. Oh it was a loss, of course, and she had loved Alec – despite all of his mistakes and hers too. But it wasn't life-ending. Even as she'd been going through the process, she could see the future. That life would go on without him in it. But still – that level of failure in a relationship that had lasted so long... it was a daunting thought. A shadowed bruise on her heart that would never ever heal fully.
It'd made her hesitant. Made her fearful and she'd indulged it by encouraging her own fantasies of she and Cal, maybe, someday...
Clearly maybes and somedays were all she was going to get with Cal, though. If he'd felt anything romantic for her – wouldn't he have indicated that last night? Or even before now? It had been a while since her divorce.
She bit her lip and stared at her immaculate reflection in the mirror. She looked polished, put together flawlessly, but she didn't feel anything close to resembling that on the inside. She felt like a frayed, barely strung together mess in there. And maybe she needed something, someone to just hold on to for a while. A little Neosporin for the rough edges of her heart. She needed to move somewhere – forward, backward, a jump to the left or a step to the right, she really didn't give a damn as long as she was moving.
She was sick of being stuck here.
But she somehow couldn't just let go of the idea of her and Cal. And maybe the problem was with her own lack of commitment to the idea. As often as she'd dreamed of maybes and somedays – she'd never actually stepped up to the plate and confessed her feelings, had she?
Cal had pulled away last night – but she knew he was terrified of her. Well, not of her but of the possibility of them.
She sat on the edge of her tub with a huff, and pressed her hands to the throbbing sides of her forehead. She knew him – better than anyone else, better than she knew herself sometimes.
He had certain ridiculous ideas about she and him. Certain pedestals in his head that she'd never deserved to be placed on, and certain perceptions about his own place down in the gutter.
And above all that, she knew for all his gambling predilections, he was terrified of actually taking this bet.
She couldn't move forward until she could put him behind her. And she needed closure on these feelings one way or another. She couldn't just sit by and stay in this almost, maybe someday flirtation they were excelling at right now.
She had to tell him if she wanted to move on. Had to know, once and for all – not by reading his face or inferring his meaning or assuming his purpose. She needed to hear the words, because, after all – that was what she was.
Unencumbered, numbered words – an expert in language, word choice, tone. Over anything else, that was what she needed.
One way or the other, she had to know. She could put him behind her – or, even better, she could finally put him beneath her.
A grin broke across her face as she stood and chuckled.
She was still smiling as she walked through the doors of the office, two cups of coffee in her hands and her heels playing a staccato beat on the floor. She nodded to Heidi and Anna who were chatting behind the front desk.
"Messages are on your desk, Dr. Foster!" Anna's voice was chipper and Gillian nodded her thanks before turning down the hall toward the video lab, where she knew she'd find Ria.
She breezed through the doors, surprising the room's occupants as they stared at the video wall in concentration. Loker simply nodded at her, Ria shot her a weak smile while Cal eyed her up and down, as if looking for damage. Her smile grew even brighter under his scrutiny, because after her morning's musings in the shower, she actually felt better.
Making a decision about what to do about the mess that was her personal life actually made her happier than she'd felt in a long while.
Terrified, of course. But it was an exciting sort of anticipation. And she also had no plan, no clue about how to go about this.
"One of those for me, then love?" Cal's hand reached out and actually brushed the back of hers before she danced out of his reach with a smiling shake of her head.
"Nope." She popped the p sound, dragging the word out as she shot him a grin before walking around him and handing one of the cups to Ria, who looked up in surprise before reaching out and cradling the cup in her hands.
"Oh my God, I love you." She breathed out as she inhaled the scent reverently.
"Hey – what about me?" Loker interjected and Gillian laughed slightly before glancing at him.
"Did you work late last night?"
"Huh. And did you get drunk with your boss?"
"Technically – I'm the boss." Cal interjected and she shot a glare over her shoulder at him, only to see his smug grin and amused eyes as he poked at her purposefully.
"Figurehead." She shot back before turning back to Loker, who was looking at Ria with an amused smile.
"You got Foster drunk? And didn't text me? Damn it, Ria – you know how long I've wanted to see drunk Foster!"
Gillian stared at him pointedly until he shrank somewhat, slouching in his chair and clearing his throat. "That? Right there? Is why she gets the coffee." She grinned down at Ria before looking around once more. "Do you guys need me? I have to finish those numbers – but I can-"
"Take any excuse to avoid them?" Ria finished and received a reprimanding stare for her trouble as she took a loud sip of her coffee. "Sorry. But it's true – you're avoiding."
"Shut up." Gillian muttered, sipping her own coffee before rolling her eyes. "Alright, I'll be in my office if anyone needs me. Oh, and Ria – stop by later – we need to discuss outfits for Thursday."
Torres groaned and rolled her eyes. "Oh shit – I forgot about that. I am so gonna kill Emily the next time I see her-"
"Oi! There will be no killing of the boss's daughter!" Cal sidled up behind Gillian, leaning around her to look at Torres. Gillian smothered a smile as she felt his chest brush against her back as he did so. That had to be a good sign right? He touched her way more than strictly necessary lately. In fact she was pretty sure he'd done away with the concept of personal space all together when it came to her. Ria's eyebrow quirked up as she watched them, and Loker seemed focussed on Ria's face. Perfect. "What are you killing her for anyway? She's mostly harmless."
"No, she's mostly your daughter – which means she is dangerous as all hell and even worse after I've had three drinks." Ria muttered into her coffee with a sigh before glancing up at the two of them. "She convinced me to try speed dating. I'm not sure how – there was a testimonial involved somehow and she gave me the Lightman look and bam! I'm signed up for a Thursday night event. Well, we're signed up." Ria grinned up at her evilly. "At least I'm not going down alone."
"Speed dating? I didn't even know you were interested in a relationship right now?" Loker's objection was quiet, and Gillian had to strain to pay attention to it since Cal had gone completely still behind her, one hand dropping to her hip and gripping her there. I wonder...
"Both of you? Are you sodding mad? Those things are bloody ridiculous – you cannot decide if someone is right for you in five minutes." Cal's objections were interesting, and Gillian decided to ignore Loker's reaction for the time being and focus on him. She turned to face him abruptly, enjoying how he rocked back a half-step and didn't let go of her, making his palm slide across the small of her back as she turned. She flushed, cursing her own body's reaction to the feel of his hand, heavy on her other hip now. Face-to-face the position seemed that much more intimate.
"Eight minutes actually, Cal." She admonished him mildly, stepping in to close that half-step distance he'd put between them. "You and I both know physical impressions are formed in less than a tenth of a second, and first impressions in less than sixty seconds. Brain's hard-wired – so eight minutes seems a damn long time in comparison."
"Still not long enough to know if someone is compatible or-"
"It is if you cut through the usual bullshit and actually talk, Cal." She pressed a hand against his chest, her eyes flying up to his when she felt how rapidly his heart was beating beneath her fingers.
"It's a stupid plan, Gill."
"It was your daughter's idea." She arched a brow in amusement before she dropped her hand, her fingers still tingling with the sensory memory of his heartbeat. She stepped back a bit, before turning to encounter awkward silence and two identical grins on their employee's faces. "Oh shut up – the both of you." She snapped, flustered by the fact that Cal's hand was now gripping her arm tightly.
"We need to talk." His voice was tight as he dragged her along behind him, and she balanced her paper cup – careful not to spill any as she was pulled out of the lab and into his office.
"Fine, you don't need to drag me in here, Cal – jesus!"
He turned on a dime, invading her space again and studying her face intently. "Can I at least sit down if you're gonna be doing this?" She waved a hand between them, turning and walking over to the sofa anyway before sitting down carefully. She put her cup on the table, and turned to face him. He'd sat next to her, but his arm was on the sofa behind her and he was a good five inches over what would even be considered a respectable distance.
"I thought you were taking some time – after the divorce, I mean." His eyes were studying her intently and she smiled in response, taking advantage of the moment to study his face as well. Of course, she wasn't really looking for microexpressions the way he was, but she was studying his face because she wasn't one to waste an opportunity.
"I did take time, Cal. Time's up." He wasn't what most people would consider classically handsome. Far from it, actually. His face was angular and his nose was too long – his eyes were heavily lidded. But those were some of the things she loved most about it. She loved that his nose was slightly crooked – it fit his face, and was oddly, probably one of the features she liked best about him. She loved his eyes too though – they were intense and piercing and he used the fact that they were so heavily lidded to his advantage. He often feigned disinterest and used them to hide just how closely he was paying attention.
Not now though. Now he was openly staring at her, pinning her down with his gaze and his hands, which had moved from the back of the sofa to her shoulder while the other cupped her elbow gently, holding her down. She blushed a bit, because she loved the warmth and the weight of them, but she also smiled sadly because he still thought he needed to pin her down for these little sessions. She'd never minded them.
"So what – you're just ready to move on then?" He was frowning, looking and peering and clearly not happy with what he was finding. "Talk to me Gill, you know I can't read you very well." She flushed again at his words, because she knew how it frustrated him that he couldn't read her as easily as he could everyone else.
"That's because your judgement is clouded, Cal. You always second guess what you see."
"When it comes to you." He responded, his hand sliding off of her shoulder and down and around to rest on her shoulder blade. "Why'd you agreed to this plan? It's not your type of thing and you know it darling."
She shrugged in response, lifting his hands briefly as she stared down at her lap for a moment. "Cal – I – I was married for a long time. I dated Alec almost right away in university. Before that, I was with my high school boyfriend for all four years of school. My dating experience is kind of pathetic, when you think about it. I don't know how to go to bars and meet men. And frankly, I wouldn't want the kind of men who hang out at bars anyway." She sighed and his hand moved from her elbow to the back of her neck, his thumb tracing a line just below her jaw that she felt all the way to her core. She shifted, enjoying the feel of his skin, rough against the smoothness of her neck.
"But you would like men who are desperate enough to do this?" He was frowning in confusion and she shook her head in response.
"Maybe. Probably not – I don't know, Cal. Men who do this aren't looking for a quick screw and then off you go. Or if they are, at least this set-up lets me ask that without embarrassment. Honestly? I'm not expecting to find anything lasting on Thursday. But it wouldn't hurt for me to experience it. And, well... you never know, do you? Besides which, Ria asked me to go with her." She flushed under his gaze and his thumb stopped moving, stilling right over her pulse point which she knew wasn't accidental. But she didn't shrug him off, or object. She had nothing to hide from him. Not anymore.
"And you two are best friends now, is that it?" His tone was incredulous and his thumb tightened on her neck just a touch. She felt the pressure though, and drew in a sharp breath, her chest rising and brushing against the underside of his arm.
"You know as well as I do that it's hard to turn what we do off, Cal. It's even harder to keep friends when you see every stupid lie they tell. I like Ria. She's feisty – and stubborn and she doesn't lie. To me, anyway. She needed a favour and I agreed." He paused, digesting that for a moment before something flashed behind his eyes and he grinned, leaning in closer.
"So where's this event taking place then, love?" She laughed, pulling back and sliding backwards until her ass hit the arm of the sofa. She stood before he could follow her.
"No." She laughed. "No, no, no, no, no. Oh no. I am not telling you that Cal Lightman! You'll just happen to show up and proceed to purposefully embarrass the crap out of me. Nuh-uh." She glared at him from her standing position and he scooted closer to her, not stopping until her was seated directly where she was standing. He reached a hand out, sending her an innocent smile.
"Now Foster, that doesn't sound like me a bit." His fingers brushed against the back of her knee and she actually had to close her eyes in order to summon the will to keep standing. He was just touching her lightly – and only the back of her knee, but she was extremely sensitive there, and she could feel a flush spreading up her thighs from the point of contact. God damn. He'd never done that one before.
"It sounds exactly like you, Cal. Now I have to go. Right now." She stumbled backwards, inwardly cursing her less than graceful withdrawal. Straightening up, she fixed him with a glare that she could only maintain for three seconds maximum before it melted into an amused roll of her eyes. "Go get some work done."
"Well I was just working on something, Gill – if you know what I'm sayin' yeah? No matter." He bounced to his feet and she walked backwards toward the door hastily. "I'll figure it out eventually. You know how I love a good challenge." He rubbed his hands together in glee, before striding over and reaching past her to open the door. His face was very close to hers and she exhaled nervously, and licked her lips. His eyes tracked the movement and his mouth opened slightly as he looked back into her eyes. She drew in a breath, feeling a sudden need for oxygen. "And you've always been the best, Gill." He stepped back and around her before striding out the door ahead of her, only looking back once. "Best get some work done darling – don't want to cancel your dates for something as mundane as a quarterly report."
Only when he was out of sight and back in the lab did she release the breath that she'd been holding.
What was she getting herself in to?
He wasn't quite sure what in the hell he was doing.
Really. But she'd announced this whole dating thing and he'd felt like someone had kicked him square in the gut. The thought of Gillian dating.
The thought of Gillian dating someone who wasn't him.
It nearly wrecked him, almost instantly.
And he wasn't stupid – he knew as soon as Emily's name had been connected with the whole scheme – he was getting played here. But it wasn't Gillian doing the playing. Well. Not yet. He grinned to himself as he watched the footage splayed across the screen and barely paid attention to the shots Loker was freezing and isolating for him to double check.
Emily had never been subtle about her wishes for him and Gillian. The girl was like a one person team in the corner of his life. Pointing out how beautiful Gillian looked. Always taking the opportunity to mention how great she was. How much she loved her. It'd been subtle and amusing until Foster's divorce. After that it was like Emily had become a poster child for the parent trap – except Gillian wasn't his ex, and she wasn't their kid. Her gentle nudging had become pointed, sharp shoves.
So he knew that once he told her why he needed to know where this event was happening, she'd fold like a cheap deck of cards.
"So what do you think?" Loker's voice dispelled his more pleasantly occupied thoughts and he glanced over in surprise.
"About – about – this! I just spent the last fifteen minutes pulling these up and explaining them to you-"
"Well, shouldn't be second-guessing your own work, now should you? You've worked here for how long now, Loker? You know the science. Just present your findings and stop begging for approval all the damn time!" He snapped at the younger man, kicking himself for not paying attention to the case. Foster'd kill him if he wasn't focussing on the job.
"Oh I get it." Loker crossed his arms and sat back, looking at him with a smug smile.
"Oh, do you now?" Cal spat out sarcastically. "Fortunate then, it's only taken years to teach you."
"No, no – this is about Foster. And her dates. You don't like it." Loker was grinning and Cal felt an overwhelming urge to kick the boy in the shins. Great stupid smug ponce.
"What I like and don't like, Loker – is none of your bloody business. Don't project your own issues with Torres onto me and Foster, yeah? Now write up your findings, and have them on my desk in an hour." He strode from the room, ignoring the pinched look Loker's face had taken on at the mention of Torres' involvement. Cal chuckled to himself as he headed back to his office, pulling out his phone and texting his daughter as he walked.
Feel like a bit of lunch with the old man, love?
He'd just sat down behind his desk when his phone beeped, and he opened her responding text.
Sure, Dad. I'll be there at 12?
He texted her back his affirmative response before laying his phone on the desk next to him and smiling. Oh yes, Emily'd tell him everything he needed to know.
His eyes fell on the sofa, and he flashed back to earlier – the flush on her cheeks as he'd pressed in closer to her, and how she'd stumbled when she'd stepped back after he'd touched her knee. It'd been a hell of time – not sliding that hand further up her thigh just so he could marvel at the feel of her skin beneath his fingers.
He didn't know what in the hell he was doing, but he was enjoying the hell out of it anyway.
"Knock, knock." Emily knocked and sang out at the same time as she popped her head around the door frame of his office. "I am here for our lunch date!"
"Hello to you too, darling. Come on then, give your old man a kiss." He stood up, and walked across the office floor to meet her, holding his cheek out for her smacking kiss.
"So are we staying here, or going out? Is anyone joining us?" He almost laughed out loud at her hopeful expression, but he managed to contain it to a smile.
"Going out, I think. And just you and me, love, that alright?" He played along with her, because it amused him greatly and made him oddly proud of her manipulation skills. So long as he could see through them at any given moment.
"Oh, sure Dad. I just thought maybe you'd invited Gillian as well. I'm sure she had a rough night last night and all."
"Well I would have invited her, but I wanted to discuss something with you, actually." She frowned at him as he took her arm and led her out to the lobby. They nodded and waved to Anna, before heading out to the bank of elevators and entering one.
"Am I in trouble?" She questioned nervously and he shook his head quickly.
"No, love. I might be." He mumbled the last bit but she head and threw a sharp look at him. She didn't ask though, noticeably restraining herself until they'd walked over to a nearby restaurant and seated themselves.
"Why would you be in trouble? Did you do something?"
"Not yet." He hedged, and she glared at him before the waiter showed up to take their orders. They both placed their orders, and waited for him to leave before he finally decided to just dive in. He leaned across the table, fiddling with the salt and pepper shakers there. "Listen – I may or may not need a bit of your help, yeah?" Emily sat up straighter, nodding eagerly, a grin spreading across her face.
"Is this about Gillian?"
"Why on earth would you think that-"
"You'd normally get her help, Dad. And you didn't want her with us for this conversation." Emily pointed out calmly, before bouncing slightly in her seat. "So?"
"A bit, yeah." He sighed and she let out a squeal that was muffled as soon as he glared at her. "Listen, right? She came in this morning and she seemed, I dunno – happier. Anyway, it came about that she and Torres are going to this – this speed dating thing on Thursday. And I just – I thought she was taking a break from all that, you know? After the divorce."
"You don't like the thought of Gillian dating? But don't you want her to be happy, Dad?" Emily's head tilted as she beamed across at him and he paused to stare at her. On second hand, he wasn't proud of her – she was being downright obvious, she was.
"Of course I want her to be happy! But I just-"
"Want her to be happy with you!" Emily spat the words out in a continuous stream, ended with a huge grin. "I knew it! I knew you loved her – I've always known it!"
"Hey, hey, hey – nobody said anything about love here-" His protests were only met with an eye roll from Emily and he glowered at her, which she blithely ignored. The waiter came by with their plates, and she waited to respond until he'd left once more.
"Oh please Dad. It's all over your face every time you look at her and you think no one is watching." She picked up her burger and took a bite while staring at him like he was an idiot. Which – you know, maybe he was.
"There isn't an expression for love, Emily."
"Yeah there is." She spoke around her food before covering her mouth with her hand and swallowing. "It's like a little bit of happiness and a little bit of awe and you go like, all soft around the eyes. I know what love looks like on you Dad, I see it all the time when you look at me." She grinned before shoving three fries in her mouth.
"I don't know what to do about it though."
"D'uh, Dad. Tell her. She loves you too. Why'd you think I've been all but shoving you at her for the last few months? No one – and trust me, Dad I mean no one – is ever gonna love you as much as Gill does. She knows you. All your invasive stuff and your issues with privacy and your past that you don't even tell me all about – she knows all that stuff. And she's still there." Emily reached over, grabbing the ketchup and holding the bottle upside and shaking some onto her plate before she dragged a fry through it.
"It's not that simple, love. Gill is – she's – she deserves the best, you know? I don't want to hurt her. Ever." Emily sighed softly, taking his hand in hers and staring at him seriously for a moment.
"That? Right there? Is why you are the best for her, Dad. Because you care about her more than yourself, and what other guy out there is gonna do that? No one but you." He pulled back, suddenly aware that he felt a rather acute sense of embarrassment, discussing this with his teenaged daughter, for christ's sake.
"Dad." Emily interrupted his thoughts and he looked up with a frown. "It's okay to talk to me, you know? About this stuff. You always say I should be comfortable enough to talk to you about all this, it kind of feels nice that I know you can talk to me the same way."
"I need to know where this thing is – that she and Torres are going to. This speed dating thing."
"Stop saying it like it's a disease, Dad." Emily laughed genuinely, taking a sip of her drink. "And you should eat – you're not eating."
"Not hungry love. Are you gonna tell me or what?"
"I'll tell you on two conditions. One – you don't interrupt. Don't embarrass her, Dad. It's eight minute dates- okay? She's not gonna meet the love of her life and run off in eight minutes. She needs this. Like a – like a little confidence boost." She glared at him sharply and he sighed heavily before nodding and waving at her.
"Yeah, yeah, I promise, alright? Go on, go on..."
"Two, promise me you'll tell her. The truth about why you're there. Right away. That night."
"I dunno, Em..." He hated the thought of Gillian with anyone else. But the thought that maybe – maybe he was wrong about her feelings. Maybe Emily was reading what she wanted to see. After all, he was the trained expert wasn't he? And he'd never seen it on her face – not once. You were doing your damnedest not to look. It was a big gamble. A huge one. Of the three friendships he had in his life that he thought would be there forever – only Gill was left. If he screwed this up, which, let's face it, was a distinct possibility – he didn't know what he would do without her in his life. It was mind-blowingly scary.
"I'm not telling you then." Emily fixed him with a fierce stare and crossed her arms.
"Alright, alright, fine. I promise, okay?" He bared his teeth at her but she just grinned in response, blowing a kiss at him.
"Excellent. It's at the Regency hotel bar – Thursday at seven." He sat back with a grin. It was exhilarating, knowing what he was going to do in two short day's time.
He'd always loved the thrill of the unknown – putting it all on the line for a chance at a big win.
This might turn out to be his biggest gamble yet.
But god damn if it wouldn't be the biggest win too.
She'd just slipped into the bath; sighing in relief that today was, at long last, over. Miraculously, she'd somehow escaped Cal's notice for the remainder of the day. A combination of not finishing the quarterly report until late this afternoon, and a few fortuitously timed breaks in the case meant that she managed to survive the rest of the day unscathed.
She picked up her book, just cracking the spine when her phone rang. She sighed; reaching for the cordless she'd brought into the bathroom with her and hit the talk button. "Hello?"
"What are you doing, right this very minute?"
Cal. She breathed out in frustration, sitting up slightly more and feeling the water slide down her body as she did so. "Cal, what do you want?"
"I want to know what you're doing. Is that water?"
"Yes. I'm in the bath. Anything else besides this burning need to know what I'm doing? Or can I hang upon you now?" She heard him draw in air as she spoke, and suddenly for some odd reason, she felt more flushed than the bath should be making her. Her cheeks glowed with the heat and she set her book aside with a sigh.
"So you're naked then, yeah? In the tub?" His voice was deeper than usual, and she felt her body tingle in response.
"Generally not the norm to be clothed in the tub, so yeah, I'm naked." Her own voice dropped, despite her attempt to sound normal.
"Good god, woman, are you trying to kill me?" His voice sounded more strangled now and she grinned, her cheeks almost hurting from the force of it. She loved being on the phone with him – always had. He couldn't read her, and she couldn't read him – they only had their words and voices to go on. Plus it didn't hurt that his voice was sexy as hell.
"No. But it'd be a nice bonus." She sounded amused, she knew, because she was. She settled back down into the water, probably more nosily than she strictly needed to be. "So, was there another reason for this call? Besides to torture yourself?"
"Nah." His response was brief and she remained silent, waiting for him to continue. Eventually he huffed a sigh and continued. "Just, you know, didn't see much of you today."
"Aw, did you miss me, Cal?" She was teasing now, even though warmth had entered her chest at the thought. She was barely able to suppress the gooey feeling rising there. She cursed inwardly – wasn't she a little old to be melting over some guy?
"Shut up." He scolded her mildly. "Did you finish your maths homework, love?"
"Yes." She answered in a grumpy tone. "You know, it wouldn't kill you to help with the financials now and then, Cal."
"Oh darling, clearly you've never seen my maths skills. I'm bollocks at all that stuff." He laughed and she laughed with him, shifting slightly under the water, trying to cover as much of her skin under the hot water as she could while still holding the phone. Finally she just clicked the speaker phone button, standing the phone on the table next to her tub. "So I've been looking into this whole speed dating thing – have you got a list together yet?"
"A list?" She asked, startled. "What list?"
"Have you even asked how this thing is done, Foster? A list of questions to ask the blokes who sit at your table. Well," he demanded, "have you got one?"
"I just figured I'd wing it, Cal. Not everything needs to be planned, you know."
"That's rich, coming from you, love." He chuckled and she slid lower into the water with a sigh. "Fortunately for you I happen to be looking at a list of the supposed top questions to ask. Shall we, then?"
"Are you serious Cal? You're gonna sit here and give me questions?"
"Shouldn't be too hard to figure out what's good and what's terrible, darling. Let's see here... what do you do for work, where're you from – well those are incredibly boring don't you think? Every bird there'll be asking the same damn thing. What are you looking for? Please." He scoffed and she laughed out loud and turned her head toward the phone.
"Some of those are perfectly valid, important questions, Cal."
"No they're not. Look, you can't ask about their job, cause then they'll want to know what you do. What're you gonna tell them, Gill? You're a human lie detector. Scare 'em off quicker than telling them you don't believe in sex before marriage, that would." She could hear the amusement laced through every word and she rolled her eyes, sticking her tongue out at the phone. "Don't make that face at me, Foster."
"I can hear it." She grumbled before picking up her wash cloth. Clearly he wasn't going to hang up any time soon, and she needed to wash sometime. "Are you washing now Foster? Don't forget the naughty bits, yeah?"
"Shut up, Cal." She forced the words out through a smothered grin. "Besides, I'll just tell them I'm a psychologist. Problem solved."
"Oh no, that's almost worse love." He hummed for a moment, muttering to himself indistinguishably. "These questions are a load of rubbish, you know. Here's one – what do you do for fun?"
"That sounds predictable."
"Avoiding the question Dr. Foster – what do you do for fun?"
"Mostly I eat candy, read trashy romance novels that are basically paperback porn and of course, there's always bailing out my insane partner in my free time." She reached out to pull the plug, standing and wrapping a bath sheet around her body before she picked up the phone and moved into her bedroom.
"Wait, wait, wait – those romance novels are like porn? You know if you'd explained that years ago – I'd never have questioned your taste."
"Oh sure, there's lots of heaving bosoms and staffs of love – turgid is overused greatly by these writers. Why they just can't say hard c-"
"Bloody hell, Gill!" His spluttering was comical and she laughed genuinely.
"Wanna start a book club?" She asked, tongue in cheek.
"Absolutely. Sounds smashing, what're you reading now?" His voice was eager and she giggled softly, glancing toward the bathroom where she'd left her latest paperback.
"Private Sessions. It's about a CEO, who apparently takes what he wants in the boardroom and the bedroom." Her voice was low and she could hear his breathing in her ear.
"Will there be a discussion meeting then? How quickly do I need to find and read this... novel?"
"Next week?" She had no idea what she was doing. What was she doing? Besides blatantly flirting with her best friend and business partner. But at the same time – this is what she needed. She needed to gauge his interest, which apparently, was high, if she wanted to gather the courage to approach him.
"I'll be there with bells on, love." She could practically see his expression in her mind – waggling eye brows and the suggestive lean. "Now then – oh here's a good one, if you could be any animal in the wild, what would you be and why?"
"Hmmm, that's a weird one. I'd be a dinosaur."
His shout of laughter surprised her and she shook her head. "What? Dinosaurs are awesome!"
"They're also extinct, Gill."
"Says you. " She pouted, finally rousing herself to move from the bed and pull on pyjama pants and a tank top. She moved out to her kitchen, pouring herself a cup of the coffee she'd made when she first arrived home. "According to several very awesome films, they're actually living on an island somewhere."
"And pray tell, what dinosaur would you be? T-rex? Triceratops?"
"Pfft, no! Velociraptor, obviously. They're cute. And vicious." She stirred her coffee and he made a sound of realization.
"Oh, no, you know – I get it now. They didn't look cute in the movie though."
"Ha! Those weren't actual velociraptors. Real one are like big, feathered chickens with teeth and claws."
"So your spirit animal is a chicken dinosaur? Are you shitting me, Gill? Really? That's your answer?"
She laughed, taking a sip of her coffee and settling down onto her sofa. "Everyone says a jungle cat or something. What am I supposed to pick? A cougar?" She shifted, leaning forward with the phone still pressed to her ear. "What would you be?"
"Duck-billed platypus." His answer was swift and she laughed out loud.
"That actually works for you. Bit odd looking but poisonous."
"Exactly. Alright – oh here's another one. Is sexual compatibility important to you?" His voice dripped with suggestion and she rolled her eyes, setting her mug on the table and stretching out on the sofa.
"Of course it is, and anyone who says no is a liar. Sex is an integral part of any relationship."
"How integral are we talking Foster? Twice a week integral? Twice a day?" She laughed again, feeling the flush hit her cheeks as she listened to his voice deepen.
"Somewhere in between."
"Well," she could hear the pout in his voice, "that's vague."
"Gotta keep some sort of mystery, right?" She smiled, closing her eyes as she said and listened to his breathing.
"You're ruining all my fun, Foster."
"I live to serve." She responded slowly and she heard his laugh.
"Am I putting you to sleep Gill? Alright then, love, I can take a hint. I've got a book to go download anyway. Next week yeah? I expect to hear a breakdown of your favourite scene along with complete analysis."
"Will do, Cal. I'll even bring diagrams." She grinned, sitting up reluctantly and laughing softly.
"Pictures would be better. Just so as I can get a realistic picture, yeah? Night, Gill." His voice was soft, and she smiled softly in response.
"See you tomorrow, Cal." She hung up quickly before she felt a ridiculous urge to linger like a love struck teenager. She stared down at the phone for a beat. What in the hell was that?
She still wasn't sure.
But she liked it, whatever the hell it was.
She loved the mornings. Always had – not that she was a morning person, because she was more a hit her alarm three times kind of person, but once she was awake, she loved the possibility the mornings always held.
Today though, all she had felt all day was a nervous kind of anticipation upon waking. That feeling clung to her like a second skin even as she made her way to the office, even as she worked her way through interviews and case analysis.
Yesterday and today had passed by quickly, and with only minimal irritation from Cal. Now she was at home pulling on her red dress and black heels and she felt like a teenager who was about to go on their very first date, ever. Or eight very first dates.
Why had she agreed to this again?
Or right, because Emily and Torres had fed her some ridiculous story about Loker and Ria. Which, she'd only bought because she'd been drinking at the time. Clearly, given how Ria had been more interested in Cal's reaction upon finding out about the speed dating than Eli's –she'd been set up.
She'd probably complain more if it hadn't worked, jealousy or realization or whatever prompting Cal to pay more attention to her the last two days than he had in the last two months.
She normally hated it – those women who played games to get the men they wanted. She was more the shoot from the hip type. What you see is what you get. And it wasn't like she'd agreed to the idea with this purpose in mind – so was it so awful of her to enjoy it as a fringe benefit?
But she enjoyed it anyway. And once this night was over, and she pretended to help Ria who thought she was helping her, she could finally, finally say something to Cal, and find out for once and for all if this thing between them was all in her head.
The mere thought of it nearly sent her running to the bathroom to throw up. She took a few deep breaths, before grabbing her purse and checking her make up one last time in the hall mirror. She didn't quite know how she would go about doing that.
But first, she had to get through this potential disaster of a night.
Her stomach was in knots the entire drive to the hotel bar, but she spotted Ria as soon as she stepped in, waving to her and gathering her evaluation sheets from the event coordinators. She was told to sit at her table (table number 13 – such a good sign) which was in a cordoned off private area of the bar, and remain there until the event began in fifteen minutes or so.
Which basically, meant that the women were all pinned in place so that the men could wander the room and peruse them like cattle. Fantastic.
Only a very few men were stalking through the tables, blatantly sizing up the women there. The women, were, surprisingly not what she expected. A lot seemed to be women like her, single, professional attractive women. It was sort of killing her presumptions that only desperate women did this. Of course, she was doing this, so who was she to judge.
Most of the men stood with drinks in hand, clinging to the back wall and looking over the tables while fiddling nervously with their numbers. Thankfully, no one approached her table until the bell had rung, and then a man – number 39, sat down across from her with a confident grin and a drink clutched in his hand.
"So, Gillian, what do you do?" He glanced down at the place card on her table as he spoke and she froze, cursing Cal's theories up and down.
"I'm a psychologist, how about you?" She smiled and his hand tightened on his drink slightly as he sat up straighter.
"So what, are you like, profiling everyone in the room?"
"Uh, no. It doesn't really work that way-"
"And you can tell people who've got secrets right? I've seen this on Law and Order – you can read people who are keeping secrets, yeah? Well I don't have any secrets." His voice was higher and he shrugged slightly as he spoke. She sighed. False.
"It doesn't work like that. And I kind of like to leave work at work, you know?" She attempted to steer the conversation in a different direction and he drank his drink quickly, rubbing his ring finger absent-mindedly.
"I bet you can tell things about people, because of like, what they're wearing. I bet you think I'm a sexual deviant just because I wore a purple shirt." His laughter is nervous and awkward and her smile is strained in response.
"I'm not a profiler." But if she was, she'd say he wasn't a sexual deviant, but he was clearly married. And also, yeah, who wears a purple shirt to these things? It wasn't even a respectable, manly plum or anything, it was lilac.
"What do my shoes tell you?"
Fact: time is absolutely relative, because those next six minutes took forever to get through. Finally, finally the bell rang and she glanced over at Ria who was laughing her ass off and pointing at her. She stuck her tongue out at the younger woman before pasting a smile on her face as the next man approached her.
The next guy was a bit easier to converse with, but nowhere near her type. But on the plus side, he wasn't accusing her of reading him while drinking copious amounts of alcohol.
The next guy wasn't as fortunate. He was, for lack of a better term, oily. Oiled hair, a ridiculously shiny shirt and his opening words to her were "Steven. Remember it because it's what you'll be screaming out in about two hours." And then he winked.
She stared at him for a minute in revulsion, and he tried to reach across the table to take her hand several times while explaining in explicit detail all of his best... attributes. He was circumcised. That was a selling point apparently.
She didn't even respond to him other than to tell him pointedly and repeatedly "Don't touch me, you're making me uncomfortable." The worst part was the fact that he didn't even get up when the bell rang. The next guy came up to her table and practically had to force Steven out of his chair, to which Steven replied "Don't get too attached, this one is mine." Before winking three more times and slithering away.
"Oh God, are you okay? That guy was-"
"Yeah. Yeah I'm fine. Very happy to meet you, though." She smiled genuinely at the gentleman across from her. He was an older man, closer to the age cut off for that event than any other man there, she suspected. He looked to be in his late fifties.
"These things are ridiculous, aren't they? My daughter keeps signing me up, and I come to make her happy, but you can't really meet anyone here. Besides which, most of the women are in their thirties and early forties, and I'm too old for this shit." His tone was blunt and she laughed out loud in surprise.
"Oh I don't know about that."
"Look, since you just had a royal douchebag, let's forget the usual crap and we'll do something fun. Ask me what I do." His grin was infectious and she couldn't help grinning back.
"Okay, what do you do?"
"I am an animal activist. I like to wrestle crocs in my spare time, but I don't mind running after the occasional Komodo dragon or punching a shark or two in the face, when I need to." This was all delivered in a spot-on Australian accent and she burst out laughing in response. "And what do you do, Sheila?"
"Hmm, let me think." She paused for a minute. "I travel a lot with my work. And there are whips involved more often than not – my pets sometimes need more encouragement to perform, but funny you should be an animal activist – I work with animals too. Lions."
"And tigers?" She laughed again as she nodded.
"And bears." She added for good measure, and he sat back with an awed expression.
"Oh my." They continued on in the same manner for the next six minutes, him switching between Australian and Scottish accents fluidly while she laughed more than she had in a long while. He was definitely her favourite of the night so far, and she was almost sad when the bell rang, but at least she wasn't thinking about the creep who'd come before him.
They were halfway through the evening at this point, and there was a fifteen minute break in which every single woman there moved into the bathrooms as a large group. Ria grabbed her with a grin.
"Oh my god some of these guys."
"Yeah, avoid the creep with the shiny shirt – he was terrifying."
"Oh my god, Steven?" One of the other women leaned across the sinks as Gillian nodded. "I know. That guy was like, insanely obnoxious with an extra creepy coating. Have you had 38 yet, though? I want to take that man home get him to open up, if you know what I mean."
"Uh, no." Gillian responded awkwardly and Ria laughed.
"Hell yes, I know what you mean. I hope you get him, Foster." She grinned, before leaning closer. "But keep in mind that you're heart is already engaged, where as mine is not."
"Oh are we dropping the 'it's for Loker' pretence now that you have me here?"
"Oh please, you knew. And it worked, so don't even bother complaining. Lightman has been all over you like a cheap suit this week, don't even deny it."
"Ria!" She scolded, before they heard the warning bell reminding everyone to get back to their tables. It was a testament to the quality of the men outside that the room heaved a collective resigned sigh before pouring out of the bathroom as a whole.
She seated herself again, wondering what on earth she was going to get this time. Her first guy after the break was tall, very thin and somewhat nerdy. Not in a bad way, but seventeen Star Wars references in an eight minute conversation was a bit much. Even though she loved Harrison Ford as much as the next girl.
The second man to approach her table opened by asking her if her mother was as hot as she was. Then looking her up and down, corrected himself and asked if she had a hot daughter instead.
The third guy was another perfectly nice, perfectly respectable and perfectly bland man who was nervous and awkward in a two piece suit with a hideous tie.
There were six no's all neatly lined up on her sheet of paper and one – the crocodile hunter – yes. Not that she wanted to date him, but she'd enjoyed his company greatly and wouldn't mind exchanging contact information with him just so that they could remain friends.
The last man to walk up to her table was the elusive number 38. And she could immediately see what Ria had meant. The man was very attractive. He had close cut brown hair, startlingly blue eyes and an incredibly shy smile as he sat down. He shook her hand – the first guy to do that all night – and introduced himself as Mike.
She smiled at him as he sat down gingerly. "Is it that painful? Who dragged you along?" Her voice was teasing but gentle and he met her eyes, his hand rubbing across the back of his neck nervously.
"My sister actually – she's table 3. She said she wanted the support and the back-up in case anybody got too creepy. Plus she thinks I need to get out more." His hands stayed on top of the table as he slid his glass from his left hand to his right hand repeatedly.
"Well, you're a good brother. I got roped into this by a friend I work with, who lead me to believe I was supporting her, but really it was all just a scam to get me here. Apparently I don't get out enough either. I'm recently divorced." She smiled wryly, letting something personal slip in an effort to get him to talk more. "What's your excuse?"
"I, uh – just got back from a tour."
"You're in the forces? That's admirable. And it must be tough, re-adjusting." She tucked her hair behind her ear and leaned forward, and he did the same, resting his elbows on the small table.
"It's harder than I thought. You know? It's quiet here. And kind of... strangely bright and opulent. I stood in the grocery aisle for fifteen minutes there other day because I couldn't figure out what kind of cereal to buy. I don't know. It's just – you get used to having everything chosen for you, you get used to the adrenaline and the highs and the lows. I just – I don't know. It's strange." She smiled in understanding.
"You must have just gotten back, hm? Within the last month or two?"
"Yeah," he grinned, picking up her name card and fiddling with it for a minute. "How'd you know?"
"Well your haircut hasn't grown out, for one. And you sound like you're still a bit shell shocked. You probably hated doing this tonight, but it's sweet of you – to do it for your sister." He glanced up at her and smiled charmingly, and she somehow knew that under normal circumstances, he wouldn't have any issues finding a woman willing to spend a little time with him.
"Well, I love her, even if she is a brat." He shot her a grin and glanced down at her name plate again. "I like that you spell your name with a G, Gillian. Jillian with a J – those ones always seem a bit flaky." She laughed softly, because it was something she'd always thought herself, but also because it seemed like such a Cal thing to say.
"Well, I'd thank you but I didn't name myself."
"And what do you do, Gillian with a G?"
For some odd reason, she felt compelled to tell the truth for the first time all night. "I work for a consultation group – we're deception experts."
"What does that even mean?" He laughed and she shrugged in response.
"We work for all sorts of people, and we find the truth."
"So you can tell when people are lying? That is a badass skill to have. Not to mention useful. Do you like it?"
"It's – it's unique, I guess. I never have the same day twice, but it can be stressful. Not everyone likes to hear the truth. Plus, as badass of a skill as it is," she arched a brow as she repeated his words and he grinned like a little boy, "it's hard to turn off. Which makes personal relationships more difficult."
"Not if whoever you're having a relationship doesn't lie. Seems simple enough to me." He leaned closer and she felt suddenly as though she should lean back. Like she was doing something wrong, when really, she wasn't. But her mind was quietly arguing that she shouldn't flirt with this man, no matter how easy it would be or charming he was. Her heart wasn't in it – and he certainly didn't deserve to be lead on. "So you don't swear often, I'm guessing?"
"What makes you think that?" She did lean back then, arching a brow and he shifted slightly, remaining where he was.
"You said badass like you didn't even recognize the taste of the word in your mouth." His hands splayed flat on the table and he met her eyes with a smile. "I liked it – it was cute. You know, I think this is the most I've talked all night."
"You're not available. I know. That's probably why I've been talking so much." She frowned in surprise, and tilted her head to look at him.
"What makes you think I'm not available?"
"Well, you're not the only observant one, Gillian with a G. For one, you didn't give me the trucker stare – you know, the head to toe look that indicates sexual interest. Two, while you've been really nice, I've had my hands on the table for four minutes now, and you haven't tried to touch me to indicate sexual interest once. And three, there's the fact that there's a twitchy guy over in the bar who looks like he'd happily kill me right now." He spoke with a slow smile and she was smiling along with him right up until the last part. Oh, no.
She turned quickly, just in time to see Cal turn his head quickly and lean in what she assumed was an attempt at casualness against the bar. "Oh, god, no."
"He your boyfriend?"
"No, he's my – my-"
"Wow. All that, huh?" Mike was teasing her and she sighed softly.
"He's my best friend. And my partner. And-"
"He's in love with you." Mike finished for her and she looked over at him, startled.
"No, it's not – well, he maybe cares but he's –"
"Trust me. I've been watching him watch you for the last little while. He's in love with you." Just then the final bell rang, and he picked up her hand with a smile. "It was really nice to meet you Gillian with a G. I know you're going to mark 'no' on that sheet, but it was the best eight minutes I spent all night, so thank you." And just like that, he was gone.
She glanced back at the bar to see that Cal had disappeared from his spot by the bar. She sighed heavily, before marking the final box on her sheet and moving to hand it in to the coordinators. She waved at Ria, who pointed to the back booths in the bar with raised brows.
Clearly she'd seen Cal too, and watched his escape route.
She took a deep breath before entering the main area of the bar and heading toward the booths.
He was late, but he'd planned it that way, really. Wouldn't do to get there before her and risk being seen, now would it? Once he'd entered the bar he'd immediately gone and ordered a lager. No scotch tonight, because he sure as hell didn't want to be drunk by the end of this night, but he needed something to calm the nervous anticipation he felt humming through his body.
When he spotted her, he was fairly sure she was really trying to kill him. He loved her in red, and her dress was utterly sexy in its simplicity. It was also really mostly backless, and he could see the line of her spine from his position by the bar. He could also see the faces of the men that sat at her table, but not hers.
It was frustrating but necessary.
Wouldn't do to have her spot him in the crowd. Though she'd know he was there eventually anyway. The first bloke to her table looked like he was about to sweat bullets, and kept touching his ring finger. Right then, clearly married, nothing to worry about there.
The second bloke was barely a blip on the radar. Though Gillian spoke to him for the full eight minutes, her body was relaxed back in her seat and there was no interest on her part.
The third ponce, however, he just barely restrained himself from going over there and planting one square in his face. He was clearly making her uncomfortable – even if he couldn't see her face her back was pressed into her chair like nowhere would be far enough away, and the idiot kept eying her up and down while winking ridiculously. He couldn't hear their conversation, but judging by the tension in Gillian's shoulders, she did not like what he had to say. Fortunately the bell rang and he got told to sod off by the next bloke.
Who, given his age and appearance, Cal didn't think he really had to worry about. But thirty seconds in he had Gillian laughing in a way he hardly ever saw anymore, and he kept her that happy for the next eight minutes, the bloody bastard.
He ordered another drink, and had to consciously relax his frame, releasing the tension that had wound his way into it. As the bell sounded again and the women all stood as a group to escape to the loos, he took a moment to observe the remaining men. As he did so, he noticed the smarmy ponce walking back from the bar with a rather full pint in his hand. Grinning to himself, Cal stepped back just as the idiot was passing behind him, knocking into him and knocking his drink all down the front of his highly shiny shirt.
"Watch where you're going asshole!" Cal turned round in feigned surprise.
"Oh, sorry mate – didn't see you there. Though how I could have missed you, I have no idea. You alright? You need a hand?" The guy was all bark and no bite though, simply glaring at him before storming off and muttering about his shirt while Cal smothered a grin and leaned back into the bar. The ladies were back now, and he watched three more blokes come and go to Gillian's table without worry. The last guy, though, had Cal peering more intently and leaning forward in an effort to read their body language.
They were laughing, and Gillian was leaning across the table, indicating interest that he reciprocated by mirroring her position. He held his breath watching them, feeling a bit put out, while feeling ashamed of even feeling that way in the first place. It wasn't as if he had any right whatsoever – yet – to feel territorial, but damn it, he really did. Just then he saw the final bloke look in his direction and shit – he turned away just in time, leaning against the bar while his heart raced in his chest.
He was supposed to surprise her afterward, not be outed by the bloody competition! When he managed to sneak another glance, he saw that they were both deep in discussion again, and he felt even more wounded at that. Clearly the man had just pointed him out and Gillian... clearly hadn't cared.
He ordered a double scotch and picked it up from the bartender before moving to the back of the bar. He'd just sit back here until they left and he'd go home to deal with Emily's censure in private. He couldn't approach her now.
Of course, he hadn't counted on her finding him though. He'd just finished off his drink when he felt a sharp tug at his arm. "Cal!"
"Hello, Gill." His voice was dull and she sighed in exasperation before gripping his lapel and all but dragging him into a standing position. "What in the hell Gill? Can't a man have a drink in-"
"I am not doing this here, Cal. I don't have scenes in bars with creeps who just hit on me repeatedly watching my every move. You're coming with me, and you better have a good reason for being here." He was being pulled along behind her, not that he minded the view much, and she wasn't even looking back to see if he was alright. She dragged him right out into the evening air, where she proceeded to unlock her car and all but shove him into the passenger side.
"You know I did bring my car-"
"You can come back for it!" She snapped, sliding behind the wheel on her own side and putting the car in gear. "My god, Cal, what on earth would possess you to show up tonight? I mean – what did you even hope to accomplish? Seriously?"
"I just – I wanted to be sure you were alright." Half true. And she knew it too, judging by the glare she shot at him. "I made Emily tell me where it was. I didn't like the idea of this whole thing, and I just – I just-"
"Just what, Cal? Just had to interfere? Just had to ignore any sense of decency or privacy? God, you know – I don't even know why I –" She stopped speaking abruptly and he turned to watch her with interest. She was flushed, and it might have been anger but he could also see a little bit of arousal in there and he felt a responding tingle shoot through his whole body.
"Why you what, Gill? Put up with me?" She shot him a surprised look, and he shrugged, still watching her every move intently. It was the tactical advantage to not being the driver. "I don't know either, but I'm a fortunate sod that you do." She was silent until she pulled into her parking lot, exhaling harshly as she turned the ignition off, her breathing that much louder in the sudden stillness that surrounded them. "I'm sorry – I honestly didn't want to ruin the evening for you. I just – I just wanted to make sure that-"
"Make sure of what, Cal?" Her voice was tired and she turned her head toward him, observing him in the semi-darkness of the car interior. It was absolutely silent, and suddenly seemed far too intimate for his liking. He felt like she could see right through him if she wanted to.
"I don't know." His voice was soft and he released a breath in the too quiet air, strung tight with so much tension that he felt an irrepressible urge to shatter it. Better that he do it, than her. "I wanted to make sure you didn't meet anybody."
"So I have to be alone? That's terrible, Cal. And not even fair!" Her voice was strained and he glanced away from her face to stare out the windshield at the glow of the orange lights that illuminated the parking lot.
"Not alone, Gill."
"If I'm not alone than what am I, Cal? Because I don't see anything-"
He turned to face her suddenly, wanting to see her face, to see her eyes so he leaned in closely, putting one arm behind her headrest and the other one sliding underneath her jaw line until it threaded into her hair. "You're with me. You're – I'd like you to be – I want you with me."
"I've always been with you, Cal, you know that." Her voice was soft, but he could hear the fear there and see it on her face too. He just didn't know what she was afraid of. Him saying this? Or him not saying this?
"No." He spoke swiftly, his hand tightening in her hair. "I mean, yes, you have been, but I want – I've always wanted – I thought you just needed time. And maybe someone better than me. But nobody will love you like I do. And I was an idiot not to see it before." His hand was pulling now, or maybe he was leaning forward, he wasn't quite sure but he could feel her rapid breaths against his face and she licked her lips in nervousness. Her eyes were locked on his and she moved forward that extra half an inch, pressing her mouth to his.
Someone moaned, and somehow both of his hands were buried in her hair now and it felt divine. Her lips were soft and her tongue was rough and her teeth were sharp when she bit his lip and another moan – that one was most definitely him – and she was crawling out of her seat and into his lap and settling her weight there. Her hands gripped his hips and they pushed up into her and that moan was her – oh most certainly her and he loved it so he repeated the action and her hips ground down against him until he growled into her mouth. Her tongue just wrapped around his once more so she could feel the vibration and her hands moved up, sliding under his coat and around his back as her nails scraped against his shirt there.
When her mouth pulled away from his, because they did actually need oxygen to survive, they were both gasping for air and she had her forehead pressed against his and her hips pressed into his. "Cal –"
"I love you." It was getting easier to say each time, and she responded by pushing her hands into his hair, pulling his head back and claiming his mouth once more, and he thought it might have something to do with the positive reinforcement she had going on here.
She tasted amazing – much like he'd always thought she would – crisp and clean and like something refreshing that he could drink of forever. His mouth moved down her throat and his hands slid down over the bare skin of her back, sliding under the fabric just above her waist and creeping down as far as they could go within the constrains. He bit at her clavicle lightly, because her head was arched back and he'd always wanted to and he could now. He ran his tongue along the delicate bone there, pressing kisses and whispering into her skin. "You taste bloody amazing, Gill. God, so perfect." His hands had abandoned their futile trek into the back of her dress, instead moving in between them and sliding up her thighs, high and higher and higher until his fingers brushed against warm silk and she jerked against him deliciously.
"Oh god, Cal!" Her hips thrust forward, pressing herself against his eager fingertips and they both moaned then. "Shit – shit – we need to move." Her voice was thready as she pulled back slightly, looking down at him with heavily-lidded eyes.
"Too old to be doing this in a car, then love?" He grinned and she leaned closer, her hair falling around them as she kissed him once more, hard and fierce.
"Too constrained. There are things I'm going to do to you that require lots of room for manoeuvrability."
He felt his breath catch, and he brought a hand up to her face, tracing her cheekbone back to her ear and then slipping down to rub a thumb along her swollen lips. "I should have told you. Ages ago."
"I should have told you too." Her voice was a whisper that he could feel on his fingertips and he smiled in the dark.
"Told me what, again, love? Cause I don't rightly remember you telling me anything in particular this evening, besides of course, 'oh god, Cal', and 'right there'." She looked down at him seriously, her face soft in the low light and her eyes so full of emotion he felt like an idiot for even insinuating that words were needed.
"You're everything." Her mouth pursed against his fingers as she spoke and it wasn't the I love you he'd been expecting, but somehow it was so much better.
His fingers moved and he pressed his mouth against her in an effort to capture the very feeling of the words in his mouth. Her hands tightened on his shirt as she kissed him back, slower and even sweeter than he'd thought possible.
When she pulled back she was grinning. "You know, I hope you aren't expecting to get laid tonight. It's not even our first date."
"I beg to differ darling, we just spent at least thirty two minutes together, which, by the rules of this evening is four dates. A perfectly respectable time frame to put out." She pushed her lips out thoughtfully, tilting her head in thought before grinning.
"Sounds good enough to me."