Beauty and the Billionaire (Page 2)
Beauty and the Billionaire (Billionaire Boys Club #2)(2)
Author: Jessica Clare
Hunter glanced down at his cards and tried not to suppress the annoyance he felt at her caginess. Couldn’t a man ask a simple question? “I am an admirer of hers . . . from afar.”
“Like a stalker.”
“Not a stalker. I simply wish to know more about her.”
“That’s what a stalker would say.”
Hunter gritted his teeth, glancing over at her. She automatically shied back, her expression a little alarmed as she studied his scars. He ignored that. “Your friend is quite safe from my romantic interests. I simply wish to learn more about her.”
After all, what woman would want to date a man with a grotesque face? Only ones who wanted his money, and he wasn’t interested in those. He wanted a companion, not a whore.
“Oh,” Brontë said, studying her wineglass as if it were fascinating. “Petty. Her last name is Petty. She writes books.”
Now they were getting somewhere. He mentally filed the information away. Gretchen Petty, author. He could see that. “What kinds of books?”
“Books with other people’s names on them.”
He gave her an impatient stare, hating the way she shrank back in her chair just a bit. “A ghost writer?”
Brontë nodded. “That’s right. And Cooper’s in love with her.”
“Cooper? Who is Cooper?” Whoever it was, Hunter f**king hated him. Probably good looking, smug, and not nearly good enough for her. Damn it.
“Cooper’s her friend. It’s okay, though. He won’t make a move. He knows Gretchen isn’t interested in him that way. Gretchen likes guys who are different. She likes to be challenged.”
He snorted. Well, she’d definitely get a challenge with Hunter Buchanan.
They chatted for a bit longer, the conversation awkward. Brontë kept turning her face to the door, no doubt anxiously awaiting Logan’s return. Logan was a good-looking man, tall, strong, and unscarred. Brontë was a soft, sweet creature, but he doubted she’d ever look at someone like him with anything more than revulsion or pity.
He’d had his share of pity already, thanks.
“Gretchen Petty,” he repeated to himself. A ghostwriter. Someone who wrote books for others and hid behind their names. Why, he wondered. She didn’t seem like the type to hide behind a moniker. She didn’t seem like the type to hide behind anything. And that fascinated him. What would draw a woman like her to him? Did he even want to try? Did he want to see if she looked at him with a horror that she was trying desperately to hide for the sake of politeness, just like Logan’s woman? Or would she see the person behind the scars and determine that he was just as interesting as any other man?
He remembered the first time he saw her, standing next to Brontë in the foyer of an empty mansion. She’d declared, “I’d rather have a man not in love with his own reflection than one that needs hair product or designer labels.”
A plan began to form in his mind.
It wasn’t a nice plan, or a very honest one. But he didn’t have to be nice, or honest, if he was rich. The good thing about money was that it allowed you to take control of almost any situation, and Hunter definitely planned on using what he had to his advantage.
The Brotherhood played poker into the night while Hunter’s bodyguard stood at the door, keeping out anyone that would disturb them. They drank, they smoked cigars, and they played cards. It was one of their usual meetings, if one could ignore the quietly sleeping woman curled up on the couch in the corner of the room, Logan’s jacket acting as a blanket over her shoulders. Business was discussed, alcohol drank in quantity, and notes taken for analyzing in the morning. Tips were shared back and forth, investment opportunities and the like.
The Brotherhood had met like this once a week since their college days, vowing to help one another. At the time, it had seemed like an idealistic pledge—that those born with money would help the others succeed and, as a result, they would all rise to the top of the ladder of success.
It had been an easy vow to make for Hunter. When Logan had befriended him in an economics class, he’d been oddly relieved to have a friend. After being home schooled for the majority of his education, Dartmouth seemed like a nightmare landscape to him. People were everywhere, and they stared at his hideous face and scarred arm like he was a freak. He had no roommate or companions to introduce him to others on campus, and so he’d lurked in the background of the bustling campus society, avoiding eye contact and being silent.
Logan had been popular, wealthy, handsome, and outgoing, and he knew what he wanted and pursued it. Women flocked to him and other guys liked him. It had surprised Hunter when Logan had struck up a conversation with him one day. No one talked to the scarred outcast. But Logan had stared at Hunter’s scars for a long moment, and then gone right back to their economics homework, discussing the syllabus and how he felt the class was missing some of the vital concepts they would need to succeed. Hunter had privately agreed, having learned quite a bit of his father’s business on his own, and they’d shared ideas. After a week or two of casual conversation, Logan had taken him aside and suggested that Hunter attend a meeting he was putting together.
It was a secret meeting, the kind legendary on Ivy League campuses and spoke about in hushed whispers. Hunter was immediately suspicious. As a Buchanan, his father was one of the wealthiest men in the nation, a legend among business owners for the sheer amount of property he owned. Their family name was instantly recognizable, and several of their houses were landmarks. His father’s real estate investments had made him a billionaire, and Hunter was his only heir. He’d learned long ago to suspect others of ulterior motives.
But Logan was incredibly wealthy in his own right. He had no need for Hunter’s money. And Hunter was lonely, though he would never admit such things to anyone who asked. So he’d gone to the meeting, expecting it to be a scam or a joke—or worse, a shakedown.
Instead, he’d been surprised. The six men attending had come from all walks of life and had a variety of majors. Reese Durham was attending college on a scholarship, and his clothes were ill-fitting hand-me-downs. He’d been ribbed about being a charity case by the other wealthy students, and he had gotten into a few fistfights. Ditto Cade Archer, though he was a favorite on campus with his easy, open demeanor and friendly attitude. His family did not come from money, and were up to their necks in debt to send Cade to college. He did recognize Griffin Verdi, the only foreigner. European and titled, the Verdi family was well connected with the throne of some obscure tiny country and still owned ancestral lands. And there was Jonathan Lyons, whose family had some wealth, but had lost it all in a business scandal.
It was an eclectic group to say the least, and Hunter had been immediately wary. But once Logan had begun to speak, the reality of their gathering came to light: Logan Hawkings wanted to start a secret society. A brotherhood of business-oriented men who would help one another rise to the top of their selective fields. He believed that the ones that had power could use that leverage to elevate their friends, and in doing so, could expand upon their empire. And he’d selected like-minded individuals that he hoped would have the same goals as him.
Hunter had been reluctant at first, since his family had the most money of all of the attendees. The others had been equally skeptical, of course. But once they began to talk, ideas were shared and concepts and strategies born. And Hunter realized that these men might not be after his family’s wealth after all, but to make some of their own.
He’d joined Logan’s secret society. The Brotherhood was formed, and over time, he’d gone from no friends to having five men who were closer to him than brothers.
And even though years had passed, they still met weekly (unless business travel prevented it) and still caught up with one another and shared leads.
Until tonight, a woman had never been invited. The others had been unhappy at Logan’s invitation to Brontë, but Hunter didn’t mind. He was actually inwardly pleased, though he’d shown no outward reaction.
Brontë’s inclusion into their secret meant that she would be around a lot more. And Brontë was good friends with his mysterious redhead—Gretchen.
This was information that Hunter could use. And so he didn’t protest when Logan had brought her in. She’d given him plenty of information, too. His Gretchen was a writer. A ghostwriter. There had to be a way to get in contact with her. Spend time with her without arousing her suspicions. He simply wanted to be around her. To have a conversation with her. To enjoy her presence.
Of course he wanted more, but a man like him knew his limits. He knew his face was unpleasant. He’d seen women clutch their mouths at the sight of him. He’d never have someone like Gretchen—smart, beautiful, funny—unless she was interested in his money. And the thought of that repulsed him.
He’d take friendship with a beautiful woman, if friendship was all he could have.
Gretchen Petty picked the lemon off her water glass. “Do you suppose if I take enough of these home, it’ll make me a decent dinner?”
Across from her, Kat Garvey reached over the table and snatched the lemon wedge from Gretchen’s hands. “Stop it. You’re not that broke.”
“I’m almost there,” Gretchen said glumly, shoving a straw into her glass and sipping her water. “The cupboard’s bare, and I’m weeks away from an acceptance payment.”
“So I take it lunch is on me this time?” Kat asked dryly.
Gretchen set down her glass and fluttered her eyelashes. “Why, Kat. It is so generous of you to offer.”
“Don’t thank me. I’m taking it directly off the top of your next royalty check.”
“In that case, I’m ordering dessert.”
Kat just shook her head, grinning, and Gretchen blew a kiss at her. They’d started out as agent and client and over the last five years, had ended up as something more like friends and less like coworkers. It suited Gretchen just fine. Considering that she spent most of her days in front of the computer trying to keep ahead of deadlines, the only friends she got out to see were usually due to business lunches.
“So how’s the book coming, Gretchen? As your agent, I’m obligated to ask you.” Kat took a bite of her pasta. “I know it’s not your favorite project.”
“Favorite would be a grand overstatement,” Gretchen said, morosely jabbing her fork into her salad. “Something more like ‘greatest torture known to mankind’ would probably be closer to the mark.”
Kat grimaced. “That well?”
Gretchen shook her head, internally debating how much to share with her agent. She and Kat were good friends, but once she knew how much Gretchen had struggled with this project, it could be tricky. Kat would take the publisher’s side, not Gretchen’s. Kat was fun and a good friend, but when it came to work, Kat would follow the money.
“Are we on track to turn in at the end of the month, at least?”
“Mmmmmsure.” Gretchen gave a tiny shrug of her shoulders and didn’t make eye contact. “Or a week or so after. Maybe two.”