Beauty and the Billionaire (Page 10)
Beauty and the Billionaire (Billionaire Boys Club #2)(10)
Author: Jessica Clare
But since he seemed to be skittish, she pretended to look at the art on the walls of the red dining room. She could see why the room was called that, for rather obvious reasons. The walls were a flat, dark red, and the paintings on the walls were of still life scenes that contained quite a bit of red. This one was of a bouquet of roses, that one of apples. It was all very . . . red. She imagined it would be rather blinding if the lights were up fully, but fortunately—or not—the room was lit only by two candelabras in the center of the long wood table.
If Mr. Buchanan weren’t acting so very weird, she’d think that between the rose and the candlelight that this was a date of some kind, except his manner seemed to say the exact opposite.
“Blue Girl,” he said abruptly, moving to the far end of the table and pulling out a chair.
“What?” She turned to look at him.
He averted his gaze, as if not wanting to meet her eyes, and gestured at the chair that he’d held out for her. “The rose I sent you. It’s called Blue Girl.”
Gretchen took a step forward, noticing that when she did, he subtly shifted to one side, unconsciously moving to ensure that the good side of his face remained in her sights. Interesting. “I see. It’s a lovely rose. I thought it was more purple than blue, though.”
“It is. Very hard to get a true blue color from roses. Most soil is not acidic enough.” His tone was brusque, as if explaining things to a fool.
“Ah.” She sat down at the table and he pushed in her chair for her, then moved to her right. She noticed he didn’t sit at the far end of the table but moved to the center of the right side, sitting at a ninety-degree angle from her. To hide his face again? She couldn’t see the scars on the right side when he sat there. The only thing she could see was a clean, crisp profile.
He was handsome enough, she supposed. His jaw was square and strong, his features regular. His nose was slightly larger than beautiful and, on most men it would have overwhelmed his features. On him, it just looked . . . commanding. His eyes were narrow and dark, and his mouth was thin, as if he never smiled.
Of course, then when he turned slightly to the side, she saw the reason for his serious mien. The scars that covered the right side of his face were hideous. They marked the smooth rise of cheekbone and marred the strong lines of his chin. He was careful to keep his face angled away from her, but she recalled long gouges of scarring that crisscrossed his entire face. His brow was striated with white scars, and the scarring even went into his hairline.
She wondered what had happened that would have caused such scarring.
He glanced up and noticed her watching him. He dropped the silverware he was holding, and it clanged to the tabletop with a bang.
“My apologies,” he said.
“No problem,” she told him, a little curious at his mannerisms. Was he . . . nervous? “Sorry I didn’t dress up. I figured this wasn’t a date, so you know . . .” The words trailed off and for a moment, she felt a little uncomfortable. What if he viewed this as a date?
“Of course not,” he said. And as if to prove her wrong, he gave his napkin a rough snap of the linen and placed it in his lap. “I simply wore a jacket because it was pleasing to me to dress well.”
Well, so much for that, she thought. She couldn’t tell if his words were intended to put her at ease or put her in her place. Actually, it was never easy to tell with him.
Mr. Buchanan reached over to a bottle of opened wine. “Would you like some?”
“Are you just trying to get me liquored up?” she teased.
“That was a joke,” she told him quickly. Wow, he really didn’t know how to interpret her humor, did he? “I’d love a drink.” Gretchen extended her empty glass toward him, still watching him. His fingers were long and skilled, and he poured the glass with remarkable grace. If she hadn’t seen him drop his knife earlier, she would have never suspected him of such a thing. He finished pouring and tilted the bottle back with a practiced flourish, not spilling an ounce.
His manners were beautiful, even if his words were abrupt.
The candles flickered as she sipped her wine and he began to pour his own glass. She wondered for a moment if the candlelight was for ambiance or to hide his scars. If it was for the latter, it was a bad idea—the flickering light made his scars that much more hideous with the shadows. And again, she found herself wondering about them.
“I’m Gretchen,” she offered when he finished pouring. “I don’t know that we ever had a formal introduction.”
“We did not,” he said in a crisp voice. “I find it hard to introduce myself when I am nak*d and unawares.”
Her mouth dropped a little at that, and it was on the tip of her tongue to offer another apology when he glanced over at her, and she realized . . . that was a joke. Was he waiting for her to laugh? Or respond?
“Yes, I do imagine it’s quite hard when a madwoman approaches you in the gardens shouting about how she saw your penis,” Gretchen offered back. “I can understand how that’s not much of an icebreaker.”
She tried to gauge his reaction, curious. Would he get upset again, or would he be a bit more at ease now that they were sitting and talking?
To her disappointment, he showed no reaction. Instead, he nudged a covered silver plate closer to the two of them. “I’m Hunter. Buchanan.”
“I figured it was Buchanan,” she said. “Unless you were related to Eldon and you had the real Buchanan locked away in the attic.”
He snorted, though there was no smile on that grim face. “Eldon is my assistant and butler.”
“Clearly you hired him for his sparkling personality,” Gretchen said.
Hunter glanced over at her, still expressionless.
She grimaced, taking another swig of her wine. Faux pas again? “Sorry. I’m not trying to be unpleasant. He just wasn’t very . . . welcoming when I arrived. I’m sure he’s quite capable as an assistant.”
He pulled the lid off the tray, revealing a pale white pasta. It looked as if it had been cooked hours ago, and the noodles were limp, the sauce clumpy.
“Eldon is very protective of the estate. He is not fond of visitors.”
“I gathered that,” she said lightly.
He gave her a solemn look. “Was he cruel to you? Should I speak to him?”
“Oh, no.” Gretchen extended her plate toward Hunter, since he seemed to be serving. “I was just surprised, that’s all. So it’s just you and him in this big house?”
“Not at all,” Hunter said, taking the serving ware and spooning out some of the rather awful-looking pasta onto Gretchen’s plate.
“The cleaning crew is here most days. I assume Eldon told you the schedule?”
She took her plate back from him and tried not to look repulsed by the noodly mass on her plate. Maybe he’d cooked it himself, though? Could she insult him by asking about it? She decided it was time for a little white lie.
“This looks delicious,” she told him, adjusting her napkin in her lap and waiting for him to spoon out his own portion.
“Eldon is an adequate cook,” Hunter said.
“Well if that isn’t a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what is.”
He gave her another curious look, but still did not crack a smile.
She waited for him to take a bite, and when he didn’t fall over, choking, she took a tentative bite herself. The food was every bit as awful as it looked. The sauce was congealed, the noodles overcooked, and the entire thing was cold. She forced herself to swallow, her gaze on Hunter. How could he sit there and eat this mess?
Sufficient cook, indeed.
He glanced over at her. “Is everything all right?” Tension seemed to suddenly vibrate through his body.
Gretchen forced a bright smile to her face. “Great, thank you.”
Hunter grunted and turned back to his food, eating quietly and methodically.
Well, this was definitely one of the oddest dinners she’d ever had. She was seated in one of many dining rooms at the biggest house she’d ever set foot into, and the food was worse than anything she’d ever tasted. Worse than that, the room was unnervingly quiet, and she wondered if Hunter even knew how to make small talk. Or did he even have to? She imagined he had people falling all over themselves to talk to him.
Another thought bothered her. He was a man who seemed to value his privacy. Perhaps spending dinner with her wasn’t very pleasurable for him and he was only doing it out of politeness? Ouch.
She toyed with the noodles on her plate.
He paused again, setting down his fork and knife. “Something is bothering you.”
“No, really, I’m fine.”
His gaze hardened, as if disapproving of her obvious lie. “It’s not necessary for you to humor me with dinner. If you wish to go, please go.”
Oh, great. Now he thought she didn’t want to be here with him? She shook her head and shoved another forkful of the hideous pasta into her mouth to prove that she did want to be there. Immediately, her gag reflex kicked in and she choked. Grabbing her napkin, she spit the gluey wad into it. “Sorry about that. I don’t think I can eat this.”
He looked down at his plate, surprised. “Do you not like Italian?”
“Don’t you have a cook?” she blurted out. “I mean, you’re rich. You can afford a cook, right?”
He frowned at her, then put his napkin down on the table. “Eldon’s cooking is sufficient.”
“I can’t eat it,” she told him. “It’s not you. Trust me. I just . . . I’ll gag if I have to pretend to like another mouthful.”
“You already gagged,” he pointed out.
She wished he would smile so she could tell if he was joking or not. “Yeah, I did. Thank God this dinner party is only for two, right?”
“Is the wine acceptable?”
She nodded and chugged the rest of her glass, determined to wash away the taste of Eldon’s cooking. “It’s very quiet here, too. I find that unnerving.”
“Quiet?” He tilted his head, regarding her as if the idea were foreign to him. “Do you not like the quiet?”
“I live in SoHo,” she told him, and held out her glass for him to refill. “There are cars on the street at all hours, and noisy neighbors, and people going up and down the stairs of my walkup. It’s never quiet. You never feel isolated and alone like you do here. I guess I’m just not used to it.”
She had no idea what he meant by that. “Your house is gorgeous, though. Please don’t take it as a slight against this place.”
“I don’t.” He looked over at her, and she realized that, for the majority of their dinner, he’d taken great care not to look at her.
“Well, I appreciate you letting me stay here, regardless.”
“But you do not like it here.”
“How can anyone not like it here? It’s like a castle.”
“Castles are not pleasant for those in the dungeons.”