Beauty and the Billionaire (Page 13)
Beauty and the Billionaire (Billionaire Boys Club #2)(13)
Author: Jessica Clare
Eldon eyed it, and then her. Ever so reluctantly, he reached out and took the paper from her.
Gretchen kept the smile on her face, though inside she was a bit gleeful at his capitulation. He’d taken her note. “It’s very important that he gets it as soon as possible,” she told Eldon, trying to seem innocent.
To her dismay, Eldon flipped open her note and read it aloud. “Dear Hunter, I would very much appreciate it if you would join me for dinner tonight in the kitchen. Nothing fancy, but I promise you I’m a much better cook than Eldon. Sincerely, Gretchen.”
All right, that was embarrassing.
The butler’s mouth pursed unpleasantly as he finished the letter. “I don’t see anything urgent in this.”
“Yeah, well, it wasn’t for you,” Gretchen said, crossing her arms over her chest. “Just deliver it, all right?”
“Shall I bring back a response?”
“Nah,” Gretchen told him. “I’ll know tonight if he shows up or not.”
“Very well.” He refolded the letter she’d given him and left the room, shutting the door behind him.
Gretchen counted to ten slowly, waiting, and then crept to the door. Her slippers muffled her footsteps, and she ever so slowly eased open the library door, glancing down the hall.
Eldon turned a corner and vanished.
Excellent. With quiet steps, Gretchen tiptoed down the hall after him, keeping her distance. If Eldon did as he promised, he’d deliver that letter to Hunter. She could always wait for him to arrive tonight and apologize then, but Gretchen liked to be on the offensive, and what better way than to get things ironed out than to confront the man herself?
Of course, she couldn’t confront him if she didn’t know where he was. Which was why her plan to follow Eldon was perfect. She would be able to see Hunter’s reaction and find out where he was all at once.
Gretchen trailed a good distance behind Eldon, creeping quietly through the echoing halls of Buchanan Manor. It was a good thing for a change, she thought, that the place was so empty. No one would be there to tattle on her for stalking the butler.
Sure enough, he turned down the wing that she’d come to think of as Hunter’s wing and continued all the way down the hall. Once there, he opened a door and disappeared inside. She followed behind him and was surprised to see that the door led to a glass-covered walkway through the gardens.
Where was this going?
She followed him down the covered path, noting the snowdrifts against the glass. The path itself was cool enough that her breath frosted, but nothing like the wintry cold outside. The room ended in a small mudroom that had steps up to double doors. Through the glass, she could see a vaulted glass roof outside, the windows damp with condensation.
Of course, Gretchen realized, glancing around the mudroom. Of course he had a greenhouse. It was likely full of the roses he’d been gifting her with this last week. It had seemed odd but charming that he’d carefully selected one different rose every day. Now she knew he was plucking them from his own gardens.
How fascinating. There were layers to Hunter she was just beginning to discover.
The double doors hung open, and she could hear the faint sound of voices in the other room. She glanced around, but there were only a few jackets hanging on a peg in the shadows of the mudroom and a mix of boots lined up against the wall. Not much for her to hide behind so she wouldn’t be discovered.
“She left you this note,” she could barely hear Eldon saying. His voice seemed to drip scorn. Jeez. What had she ever done to him? Then again, she had not been nice about his cooking in the note. Guess he’s sensitive about that.
There was a long moment of silence. Then, a quiet, “Thank you, Eldon. That’ll be all.”
“Very well,” Eldon said in that same stiff voice. “I shall return to my duties, unless you’d like for me to carry your response back to her?”
“No thank you. I’m going to think on it.”
Think on it? Gretchen scowled to herself. What exactly was there to think on? Had she truly hurt his feelings that much just by asking about his face? She’d simply been curious about a friend. No more, no less. She’d had no idea he’d be so touchy.
Before she could think about it more, there was the sound of footsteps. A swell of alarm pulsed through Gretchen, and she darted behind one of the hanging coats in the mudroom, squeezing her eyes shut in the hopes that Eldon wouldn’t notice her lurking in the shadows. If he did, it’d be totally awkward.
She kept her eyes squeezed tight as she heard the soft sound of the doors closing, and then footsteps walking away.
Not caught. Whew.
After a few moments had passed and she was sure that Eldon would not return, Gretchen slipped out from under the jackets and crept toward the doors. She carefully turned the doorknob of one and eased it open a crack, peeking inside.
Greenery exploded into view—the jade of fresh leaves, the smell of turned soil, and the thick perfume of roses. Everywhere she could see brilliantly colored roses set against the thick verdant shrubs. There had to be hundreds of roses in the greenhouse. How amazing.
Standing nearby was Hunter. He wore no jacket, and the collar of his starched shirt was loose, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He wore a pair of gardening gloves, pruning shears in one hand. His gaze was on the nearby table . . . and the note she’d asked Eldon to deliver. He hadn’t noticed her.
She’d nearly shied away at the sight of him, thinking she’d be caught, but there was something so vulnerable about his face that she couldn’t help but stare.
He continued to read the note, his gaze flicking over it over and over again, as if memorizing its contents. And his face? He had such a nak*d, hopeful longing in his eyes that it made her heart ache. Was that longing for . . . her? Then why did he push her away at every turn?
It didn’t make sense. None of it did.
But she did know that if she caught Hunter unawares again, he wouldn’t be pleased. So she carefully eased the door shut again, waited a moment, and then knocked loudly.
“Enter,” she heard Hunter call out.
She opened the door, a careful, easy smile on her face. “Surprise.”
He did indeed look startled to see her. The note was gone, as if put away, and he stood there in the midst of the greenery, a solitary figure. “What are you doing here?”
“Nice to see you, too. Can I come in?”
The wary look returned to his face. “Of course.”
She stepped inside the greenhouse, immediately noticing the damp, warm feel of the air and the thick scent of roses and fresh dirt. Her gaze moved over the blooming bushes, and she leaned down to scent a familiar one. “Gypsy Carnival, right?”
She smiled at him and straightened. “I thought you were ordering flowers to send to me. You grow all of them?”
The wariness in his gaze reduced a little, and he gave her a quick nod. “Gardening is my hobby. I enjoy roses the most.” He gestured at the greenhouse, thick with flowers. “This is where I come to get away from things.”
That could have been accusatory, but she chose to ignore it. “It’s marvelous,” she said, moving past him and strolling down one of the aisles to look at the neatly lined-up rows of roses. “You’re really good at this—the roses look better than anything I’ve ever gotten from a florist.” She leaned down to sniff one that had an open yellow bloom the size of her hand. “Do you do anything with them?”
“Yes. Do you sell them to a local florist or something? You have so many.”
He walked behind her a few steps, his gaze on her instead of the roses. “I . . . sometimes I have Eldon show them. And sometimes I cross them, to try and see if I can create a new variety. But I mostly like growing them.”
She glanced at him over her shoulder and smiled. “I would have never pictured a big, strong guy like you as a gardener.”
He blushed, his gaze skidding away from her again, a sure sign that he was embarrassed. “I enjoy plants,” he said simply. “They are far easier to understand than people.”
“Most people are a**holes,” she said bluntly. “I think that’s why I prefer writing. Or baking.”
His mouth twitched and, for a hopeful moment, she thought he might smile, but it was quickly contained again. “Did you come out here to discuss the merits of books versus roses?”
“Actually, no.” She straightened and turned to face him. “I wanted to come out here and ask you if you were going to come to dinner tonight.”
“I . . .” His voice died and his gaze slid away again. “Perhaps.”
“Oh, come on,” she said softly. “I can tell you all about my day. It’s been most interesting.” Her voice had taken on a soft, almost sexy purr.
The effect on Hunter was startling. His gaze flew back to her, his eyes wide, one eyebrow lifting as if to voice the question that he wouldn’t.
She took a step closer to him, gratified when he didn’t back away. “You know all those letters I’ve been transcribing? It seems that my two historical figures had a rather torrid love affair.”
He said nothing. His was attention was frozen on her face, and she saw that strange mixture of fear and longing flicker through his eyes again.
Feeling bolder, Gretchen slid a bit closer to him, her voice husky. “What’s even better is that they describe, in rather blatant, sexual detail, what they want to do to each other. Isn’t that . . . interesting?”
Hunter’s lips parted, and Gretchen thought for a moment that he might break the distance between them and drag her against him in a wild kiss. Her pulse fluttered with excitement at the thought, and she found she desperately wanted Hunter to kiss her. Tongue the hell out of her mouth and toss her down into the dirt and claim her. She wanted to see that reserve of his shatter.
“What do you think?” she prompted.
“I . . .”
He bolted away, turning his back to her. As she stood there, all soft and full of need for him, he stormed across the room and began to jerk on a pair of ugly, thick gardening gloves. “I’d like for you to leave.”
Disappointment crushed her fledgling desire. She sighed heavily and rolled her eyes at his retreat. “So I take it dinner’s off?”
“I . . . no. I will think about it.” But he wouldn’t look over at her.
“Suit yourself,” she said softly. “I’m off to go read more letters. I hope to see you tonight.” She sauntered out of the greenhouse before he could say anything else.
He was an utterly frustrating and confusing man. She knew he wanted her. She’d seen the desire in his eyes. The need. He wasn’t married or dating anyone. She wasn’t either.
So why was he fighting this so very hard? It didn’t make sense.
Was it possible he just didn’t like her? That was depressing to think about. Gretchen sighed and returned to the library, discouraged and unhappy.
She worked quietly for hours, cataloging letters and reading through them. Engrossed in her project, she didn’t notice that someone had entered the room until the door clicked shut again. Her head lifted, and her gaze settled on a tray that had been left on a table across the room.