Beauty and the Billionaire (Page 14)
Beauty and the Billionaire (Billionaire Boys Club #2)(14)
Author: Jessica Clare
It was a vase filled with roses. Every single one she’d casually touched this morning while in his greenhouse had been cut and placed in a gorgeous crystal vase. Unable to help herself, Gretchen moved to the roses and leaned over to take in their scent.
A note was on the table.
I will be there.
Gretchen smiled to herself. Maybe Hunter was interested after all.
“It sounds like he likes you,” Audrey told her over the phone. “But it sounds like he’s shy.”
“You think so?” Gretchen dragged one of her T-shirts out of the closet and winced at how ratty it looked. Why hadn’t she brought more dresses? “He’s just so hard to predict. I can’t forget how he freaked out when I asked him about his face.”
“Maybe he’s just a loner. I mean, he’s friends with Logan and his buddies, but out of all of them, he’s the most remote. Doesn’t attend any parties they give or anything.”
“He’s definitely a loner,” Gretchen agreed. “But there’s something so incredibly . . . remote about him. Most loners seem happy to be by themselves. He just seems a bit lost.”
“Yeah, Logan says that he’s not the friendliest guy, but he’s very true once he lets someone in. He’s always very polite to me, though.”
She’d forgotten the fact that Audrey’s boss was friends with Hunter. “I didn’t think he ever left this house.” She thought of what he’d told her—the kidnapping. His utter loneliness. The way that the staff kept to assigned wings so as not to “bother” him.
Gretchen had never met someone quite so alone as him. It made him strangely vulnerable despite his icy demeanor, and it fascinated her as much as it made her want to touch him. Show him that he wasn’t alone and unlovable.
“Of course he leaves his house, Gretch. He has a billion-dollar real estate empire.”
“Yeah, but does he have to do anything for that other than just, I don’t know, own property?”
Audrey giggled. “You really have no idea how billionaires work, do you?”
“I don’t want to know, honestly. All that money just seems like a lot of hassle.” She pulled a plain black sweater out of the closet and held it against her. A bit worn, but it’d have to do. “So did Logan tell you about his past? The thing with the scars and the kidnapping?”
“Nope. No one talks about it, apparently. No one except you.”
“Yeah, me and my big mouth.” She tossed the sweater down on the bed, and it landed on a curled-up Igor, who meowed in resentment. “I guess I shouldn’t have asked. But I was curious.”
“Well, leave your curiosity at the door. From what I can remember from meeting him, he doesn’t like it if people so much as look at him the wrong way.”
“Jeez, Audrey, exactly how many times have you met this guy?”
“A handful of times. Like I said, he’s one of Logan’s closest friends.”
“And you never thought to give your sister the cliff notes rundown on the man?”
“Well gee, Gretchen, I didn’t think you’d want to bang the guy.”
She sighed deeply. “Is it weird that I’m finding the scars sexy?”
“Yes,” Audrey said flatly. “They’re not cute scars, Gretch. They’re disfiguring.”
“Yeah, but they have a story. He has a story. I like that about him. I just can’t figure him out.”
“Have you considered that he might be a virgin?”
“What? He’s not a virgin.”
“Why does that seem so crazy?” Audrey snorted. “You said he blushes, right? And doesn’t look you in the eye? And that he was scarred at an early age?”
“You think he’s going to get a lot of ladies with a playbook like that?”
“But he has to be close to thirty, if not already thirty. I can’t believe he’d still be a virgin. Can’t you hire hookers for that sort of thing?”
“Gross, Gretchen. That’s just gross.”
“I know, but we were both thinking it.” Gretchen stared into her reflection in the mirror, considering. Was the reason why Hunter kept shying away from any sort of flirtiness that she tossed his way because he didn’t know how? Because he was a virgin?
That seemed weird, and yet . . . the more she thought about it, the more it made sense. He’d been kidnapped when he was ten. Something like that would probably leave him with trust issues and emotional scars, not to mention the physical scars. He’d freaked out when she’d seen him nak*d. And he’d freaked out again when she’d come close to kissing him. He’d also froze like a deer in headlights when she’d flirted with him.
And he’d stared at her note like it was the thing he wanted most in the world. “You might be on to something, Audrey.”
“Of course I am,” her sister said smugly. “The question is, what are you going to do about it?”
“You mean, hold him down and take his virginity?”
“No! Yuck! Gretchen, that’s a visual I did not want.”
“You brought it up. What do you mean, what am I going to do about it?”
“I mean that the man’s skittish as hell. If he’s a virgin, you’re going to have a hell of a time getting him to come on to you.”
“So I’ll come on to him.”
“But you said he retreats every time you try to get intimate. Perhaps he doesn’t want you to come on to him. Maybe he wants to be the aggressor and you’re not giving him a chance? Is there a way you can level the playing field?”
Gretchen thought for a moment and became a little depressed. The playing field hadn’t been level since she’d seen him nak*d that very first day. There was no way to recover from that. “I’m not sure.”
“He might be off balance and afraid to make a move if he thinks you’re sexually experienced and he’s not. Can you pretend to be a virgin?” Audrey sounded amused at the thought.
“Har de har. I just need to think about it.”
“About pretending to be a virgin?”
“No. About leveling the playing field.” And somehow getting Hunter to forget that she’d seen him in the natural state.
“Good luck, whatever you do.”
Gretchen hung up the phone and chewed on her lip. She looked into the mirror and played with her wet hair, still dripping from the shower. Dress sexy? Nah. She didn’t have the right equipment. It was like Audrey said: Hunter would be off balance around her and continue to be off balance unless she did something to “level the playing field” as her sister had claimed. So that was what she needed to do—get them on equal ground. Somehow. She’d seen him nak*d, though.
An impulsive idea flashed through her mind and she immediately shut it down, hugging her robe closed. He’d run for sure if she did that.
There was a knock at her door.
Gretchen adjusted the belt on her robe and went to the door, but didn’t open it. “Who is it?”
“I . . . me. Hunter. Buchanan.”
As if there would be a dozen other Hunters at her door. Biting back her smile, Gretchen opened the door and glanced out at him. “Hi there.”
He was dressed in a black suit, a black shirt underneath, and a dark gray tie. His hair was impeccably smoothed into a part and he carried sunglasses in his hand. Behind him, a large man easily seven feet tall stood behind him, dressed in equally dark clothing and wearing his sunglasses. Gretchen had never seen him, and alarm immediately rose. “Is everything okay?”
“Everything’s fine,” Hunter said. He glanced backward at the man behind him and gave a brief nod. “Leave us.”
The man nodded and headed down the hall, his back to them. Gretchen peered out the door, watching him. Then she looked at Hunter. “Who’s that?” she whispered.
“I see. So you’re ditching me tonight?”
Two spots of color flushed in his pale cheeks. “That’s not what I . . . that is, I—”
“I guessed it as soon as I saw the suit. Though I admit, you do clean up nice. I’m a little sad the suit isn’t for me.” Not that she’d ever seen him wear anything but suits, but her flirty words seemed to be working. He was definitely blushing.
His gaze moved, darting about the room, looking anywhere but at her. “I came to give you my apologies. I can’t make it to dinner tonight. A business meeting was scheduled and I find that I cannot move it.”
“No worries.” Gretchen twirled one of the ends of her robe. “Thanks for letting me know, though.”
He shifted on his feet, and then tugged at his collar, seemingly more uncomfortable by the moment. “I would, however, like if we were to meet for dinner tomorrow night instead.”
“Good.” His voice was curt. “Very good. Good. That’s . . .”
“Good?” she offered. He was adorable.
He gave her another scathing look, but Gretchen only smiled. She was starting to realize his defense mechanisms. God, why had she not seen this before? Suddenly it was so obvious . . . and so sexy that she drove him so crazy.
She took a step forward, wanting to tease him a little. “May I?” She gestured at his tie.
He looked down at it, frowning.
“It’s crooked,” she lied, moving forward and pretending to adjust the tie. It was more or less an excuse to move into his arms and see how he’d react.
He stiffened, but didn’t move away.
She took that as an encouraging sign and continued to adjust his tie. Then she smoothed a hand down the front of it, noting the hard muscle underneath. “All better.”
Hunter’s attention was definitely on her now, and she noticed the look in his eyes was hungry. It emboldened her and made her think of her outrageous idea from earlier.
“Hmm?” He seemed distracted, almost dazed.
She reached for the loose collar of her robe and pulled it open. Stepping back, she flashed him her br**sts.
He stared, frozen in place.
“Now we’re even,” she told him lightly. “The field is leveled. Enjoy your meeting tonight.”
And she closed her robe and sauntered back into her room, grinning the entire time.
One week later
The trouble with a flirt battle was that both parties had to actively participate. Both parties had to know how to actually flirt.
And Gretchen had been flirting her head off, but she was getting nowhere fast.
It wasn’t that Hunter wasn’t interested. If anything, he seemed more interested than ever. But when she teased, he froze up. When she coyly suggested things, he shut down.
When she’d made him dinner, he’d stared at her in silence, and her attempts at conversation had fallen completely flat. Her pleasure at showing him her cooking had been deflated by the fact that he’d looked as if he’d wanted to escape the room.
And yet . . . she continued to get roses every day. Delicate, scented blooms that were thoughtfully selected for her, along with a note inviting her to dinner. She’d declined it once or twice, just to see how he’d react.