Beauty and the Billionaire (Page 11)
Beauty and the Billionaire (Billionaire Boys Club #2)(11)
Author: Jessica Clare
“Well, if my room is a dungeon, it’s the most enjoyable dungeon I’ve ever stayed in. Seriously, it’s fine.” She took another sip of her wine. “I can’t believe I’m insulting the grandest house I’ve ever stayed in.”
“Perhaps it is not the house,” he began slowly. “But the lack of company?”
Gretchen smiled gratefully at him. “That’s probably it, yes.”
“What about your cat?”
“Well, Igor’s not much of a conversationalist,” she teased.
He got that funny expression on his face again that made her think he was blushing. “I meant you could keep him with you.”
“Oh. That’s very nice of you. I worry he might get lost, though. My room’s larger than my apartment.”
“If he gets lost, I will help you find him,” he said gravely.
She pictured that—the stuffy billionaire on hands and knees, calling her hairless cat—and stifled another smile. “You’re very kind.”
“Would you . . .” He paused again. “Would you like to meet again for dinner tomorrow night?”
A smile curved her mouth. He’d sounded so utterly reluctant saying that, and yet . . . she didn’t think he disliked her. She didn’t know what he thought of her. “You don’t sound excited by the prospect.”
“It is you who should not be excited. Eldon will be cooking again.”
She laughed. “Can he make a sandwich?”
His expression seemed to thaw a little, though he still did not smile. “He can make a mean sandwich, yes.”
“Then dinner sounds terrific.”
One Week Later
Gretchen stared at the thirtieth letter and contemplated burning the entire trunk of them. “Seriously, Igor, I don’t see how a project like this could be so mind-numbingly dull.”
The cat didn’t get up from his spot under the lamp, basking in the glow of the artificial light. He didn’t even stir.
She sighed, carefully placing the letter back in the trunk and stripping off her plastic gloves. At least it was close to dinnertime. Strange how the project she’d been so excited about had turned out to be a total snooze-fest, and the billionaire she’d initially thought to avoid turned out to be the highlight of her day.
Over the past week, Gretchen had woken up early, dressed (well, sometimes), and headed to the library to dutifully work on the project. Each letter was opened up, attached to a specialized clipboard with delicate care, and then transcribed. There were better ways to do such things, as she’d pointed out to Eldon at least once, but he seemed very against her ideas. When she was finished with cataloging the letters, she’d be able to move on to the next phase of the project, which involved turning all her notes into some cohesive sort of storyline that would make a novel.
Of course, that was going to be a bit trickier than she’d anticipated. The letters were boring as hell. Written in a tight, crabby script, Ms. Lulabelle Vargas droned on and on to a Mister Benedict Benthwick about the weather in Rochester. Or how the family vacationed for the summer in Jersey. Sometimes she commented on flowers in her father’s gardens or the upcoming Christmas Eve ball that seemed eons away. Sometimes she commented on her fashionable new neighbor, down to the number of bows the woman wore in her bonnet (thirty-nine).
Finishing seemed eons away for Gretchen, too. She’d gone through plenty of the letters and they’d only gotten to September of 1872. She still had most of the trunk to go through. By the time she got through all the letters, she’d know the weather patterns for the entire time period, the neighbor’s wardrobe, and she’d probably want to jump off the balcony from the sheer monotony of it all.
And because the letters were so incredibly dull it was taking her a damn long time to work through them. She had a month to catalog the hundreds of letters. She’d gone through thirty in the last week. At this rate, she’d be done by, well . . . she thought of upcoming holidays and cringed.
Her agent would kill her if she blew an important deadline like this one. Not only was she behind on her Astronaut Bill deadline, but now this one? It wasn’t looking good.
“We’ll just have to buckle down, Igor,” she told the cat, reaching out to scratch behind his enormous triangle-shaped ears. “I’ll come back after dinner and then we’ll pick up round two. Sound good?”
The cat ignored her.
Figured. She’d only been at this big, empty house for a week and already she was talking to the cat. Again. “I don’t know how Hunter does it,” she muttered to herself. Give her another week or two and she’d probably be talking to the furniture.
She scooped up her cat and returned to her room, straightening up before dinner. It was just casual between friends, of course, but for some reason, Hunter continually dressed in jackets and nice clothing, and so she’d started to do the same, since she felt weird sitting next to him in sweatpants.
Last night, she’d shown up in a plain green dress, and his eyes had gleamed with appreciation. She’d felt a little . . . pleased at that. Unfortunately she’d only packed two dresses, and those at Audrey’s insistence. She’d never expected to actually have an occasion to wear them. Go figure. Tonight she dressed in her dark gray sweaterdress that had a large cowl-neck and clung to her curves. Audrey had insisted on her bringing it but she normally didn’t have an opportunity to wear it. Tonight, she could have kissed fussy Audrey in appreciation of her forethought.
Gretchen pulled her hair into a simple upsweep, washed her hands free of dust from the letters and, on a whim, headed back to the library.
Every day, a new rose was left on her desk. Whether it was politeness on Hunter’s part or something else, there was always a new rose. Considering that it was winter outside, she suspected he had them ordered in. They were always unique and different from the last one, though. Today’s rose was a delicate white on the inside and a dark pink at the edges of the petals.
She wasn’t quite sure what the roses meant. Just a polite gesture from a lonely man? She liked to think otherwise. Maybe he was as quietly fascinated with her as she was with him. There was something about Hunter that called to her. His sharp mind? His flawless physique? His scarred face and tortured eyes? She didn’t know, but she couldn’t get him out of her head. He was so different from all the other men she’d ever met. He fascinated her.
Let’s face it, Gretch. You have it bad for him.
She snapped the rose stem and tucked it behind one ear, then winced. A tiny bead of blood welled on her fingertip and she sucked it clean, searching for the hidden thorn. Figured that she’d be pricked the moment she tried to look pretty. Still sucking on her finger, she headed down to dinner.
Hunter was at the red dining room, waiting for her. He didn’t smile at the sight of her—she was coming to expect that—but his gaze moved over her in a way that made her definitely think he’d noticed her dress and approved of it.
“Good evening,” he said, as stiff and formal as ever.
“Hi to you, too,” she told him, grinning. Somehow just seeing him always made her day a little more fascinating. “Have a good day?”
“Sufficient?” she interrupted cheekily. She’d noticed something about him over the last week. He never mentioned things in a positive sense. If she asked him how his day was, his answer would be neutral, guarded. If she asked him if he’d liked dinner, it would be equally neutral. It became a game to her to see if she could goad him into a response—one way or another.
“Indeed,” he said in a dry voice that was almost amused. Almost. “How are the letters coming?”
“They’re coming,” she said in a bright singsong voice that masked her utter dislike for the project thus far. Not that she could tell Hunter that, since the publisher had handpicked her for this job. “Nice weather we’re having, isn’t it?”
She laughed, shaking her head as he pulled her chair out for her. “Before I leave this place, Hunter Buchanan, I’m going to get you to admit that you’re having a good day and that the weather is nice. Not everything has to be shades of gray.”
He ignored her teasing, pushing in her chair as she sat. “I see you received your rose today.”
“I did. What’s this one called?” She touched a hand to the flower behind her ear.
“I love it.”
“Do you?” He stilled, as if hardly daring to breathe.
Gretchen nodded. “Well, it’s not quite my favorite so far. I liked the first one the best. The blue one.”
“Blue Girl. I remember.” He looked so very serious, so intense.
“I liked it best, though they’re all incredibly lovely. Your taste is impeccable.”
Another grunt of acknowledgement.
Tonight’s dinner was more sandwiches. After her first complaint, they’d had sandwiches every night. It wasn’t thrilling food, but at least she could eat it. She just went to dinner for the company, anyhow. If she wanted decent food, she cooked it herself when she was bored, and then dined on leftovers. She never touched Eldon’s cooking. Hunter might have thought Eldon was sufficient at cooking but she thought he was terrible. Why a billionaire didn’t hire a cook, she didn’t understand.
Hunter was an enigma, and she was growing increasingly fascinated by him. She’d never met anyone quite as remote as him.
To her surprise, he picked up her hand and examined her red fingertip. “You hurt yourself.”
“It’s nothing.” She studied his fingers on her skin, and she noticed the scars were on the back of his hand, too. He seemed to be missing a finger as well, which she had never noticed before now. Had he lost it in the accident?
“You should be careful.” His gaze moved over her face and, to Gretchen’s surprise, he was leaning so low that she could scent his aftershave. A hot rush of pleasure coursed through her. Odd that she would be attracted to this man. She knew nothing about him because he never shared anything of himself at their companionable dinners.
But was it because he refused to? Or because he didn’t know how?
Greatly daring, Gretchen pulled her hand from his and regarded him. His face was carefully angled away from her once more. “May I ask you something personal?”
“I suppose.” His tone had gone flat, wary.
“How did your . . . injuries happen?”
He jerked to his feet, and Gretchen knew she’d made a mistake.
“I’m sorry I asked. I just . . .”
Her words trailed off as he headed for the door. Well, shit. She must have touched on the one thing that could break through that icy veneer. She’d wanted him to show a reaction, after all. She’d gotten one.
He paused at the doorway, as if struggling with something internally. Then, he turned and gave her a look so cold that she shivered. “You want to know about my scars? Why I’m as ugly as I am?”
“I didn’t mean—”