Beauty and the Billionaire (Page 29)
Beauty and the Billionaire (Billionaire Boys Club #2)(29)
Author: Jessica Clare
His expression was immediately contrite. He pulled her into his arms, rubbing his hands on her back. “You never bother me,” he said huskily. “My day is better every time I see your face.”
She leaned in and gave him a light kiss, brushing her fingers over his scarred cheek. “Then help me find this secret passage.”
He took the letter from her and scanned it. “The house underwent many renovations over the last fifty years. The main library was destroyed. If there was a secret room, it’s there no longer.” He folded the letter carefully and held it back out to her, his face impassive. “I’m sorry. I know it’s disappointing.”
“Oh.” Gretchen couldn’t quite hide her regret. “That’s a shame. I was hoping to see it. I’m sorry to have bothered you, then.”
As she turned away, he grasped her arm, forcing her to turn back around. “Gretchen, you are never a bother. I’m just distracted.”
“Work . . . and you.”
She gave a mock-hurt sniff. “Well, if I’m bothering you, I’ll just go.”
He snagged her around the waist as she turned to leave. “No you don’t. Now that you have my attention, you’re not going anywhere.”
“Is that so?”
“It is.” His hands went to her shirt and began to tug it upward. “I can’t help myself. You look ravishing.”
She snorted. “I’m wearing a T-shirt and yoga pants.”
“You always do.”
“Now is that some slight upon my wardrobe choices?”
“No, that’s me telling you that I find you impossible to resist every time I see you.” There was the slightest hint of color to his face, and each word was said precisely, as if flirting came hard won to him.
But he was doing it for her.
She found that enchanting. Her heart melted into a little puddle of goo and she smiled at him, her hand going to his tie. She put the letter down on a nearby table and moved into his arms. “So there’s no more secret passage?”
“Then it seems like I came in here for nothing,” she said lightly.
“Not for nothing,” he murmured. “I think I have something to show you.”
“In my room. Perhaps you’d like to search it for secret passages.”
“What are the odds of me finding one in there?”
“Slim,” he said, and one side of his mouth tilted into a smile. “But there’s always that chance.”
“Sounds like my kind of party.” She turned and tugged on his tie, dragging him toward the door.
Later, when Gretchen was curled in his bed, sleeping and sated, Hunter got up and went back to his office, shrugging on a robe over his nak*d body.
He picked up the letter she’d discarded and studied it. A secret room. Damn it. When he’d had Eldon purchase the trunk of letters, he’d had them tested for authenticity. They’d been carbon dated and he’d been assured the dates were real and that the letters not a hoax. He’d never imagined that he was purchasing Victorian porn. Even worse, he’d never considered that they’d point to architectural oddities that would mark the location.
If Gretchen pushed about the secret room or if she found more compelling evidence about the house in the letters, she’d piece together that the letters weren’t about Buchanan Manor at all. They were a fraud.
Just like he was. He’d orchestrated all of this to bring her to him, never imagining such happiness. He’d simply wanted to experience being around her bright personality for a time.
Except he’d fallen for her. Hard. And he wasn’t going to lose her to a stupid mention of a secret room in a few letters.
He resisted the urge to crumple the letter into a ball and instead set it down carefully and rang for Eldon.
Eldon arrived a few minutes later, in his own pajamas and robe. His hair was slightly mussed as if he’d just come from sleep, but the look on his face was carefully neutral. “You called for me, Mr. Buchanan?”
Hunter gestured at the letter on the table. “You didn’t read these before purchasing them, did you.”
Eldon’s face remained impassive. “I did not. I procured them as you wished, but my instructions never included reading the letters myself.”
“They mention a secret room.” Hunter tossed the letter toward Eldon, his temper getting the better of him. “Gretchen came here looking for it.”
Eldon neatly plucked the fluttering letter out of midair and began to read. His mouth thinned with displeasure as he did. “This letter is quite vulgar.”
Hunter snorted, clasping his hands behind his back as he paced. “They’re all quite vulgar, or didn’t you know that?” At Eldon’s silence, he shook his head. “This is supposed to be a very innocent batch of letters, Eldon. From Buchanan Manor. Not some other nameless house with secret doors and libraries. If she finds out this is a fraud, she’ll leave.” Sudden panic seized him and he clenched his teeth. “I don’t want her leaving here. Leaving me.”
“She’s not a dog,” Eldon said in a dry voice. “She’s allowed to leave your property on her own wishes.”
He gave Eldon a cold look. “You know what I mean. I want her here for as long as possible.”
Eldon’s long face studied him. He sighed, his expression softening just a touch. “You do realize she’s almost done with the project, Buchanan?”
Hunter’s pacing increased. “I thought she was here for a full month. How long has it been?”
“A little over three weeks. And she’s nearly done with the trunk. She’ll be leaving very soon.”
His hand raked through his hair rapidly, his thoughts furious. No. Not when everything was going so well. Not yet. “I . . .” Words failed him. He turned to Eldon. “Fix this.”
Eldon held up the letter, unperturbed by Hunter’s bad mood. “Fix this? Or fix the part about her leaving?”
“Yes. To both.”
“Very well. Shall I shackle her left leg or right?”
Hunter glared at him. “That’s not funny.”
“What do you suggest I do to prevent her from leaving?”
Hunter’s mouth settled into a grim line. “I don’t know. Just think of something. She needs to stay longer. I’m not ready for her to leave my side. Not yet.”
“I see.” Eldon ran a finger down the crease of the letter. “I shall see what I can do.”
“Thank you,” Hunter said quietly. “Do this for me and I’ll see that you’re well compensated.”
“You always do,” Eldon said, and turned to leave. He paused and turned around again, his gaze searching Hunter’s face. “You seem troubled, Mr. Buchanan. Would you like to . . . talk?” The question fell flat at the end.
Hunter’s mouth twisted into the grimace that passed for his smile. “I’m fine.”
“You don’t seem fine, if you don’t mind me saying so.”
“I’m not, actually.” He gestured at the letter in Eldon’s hands. “But I will be once you fix that.” He was struck by the sudden overwhelming urge to hold Gretchen in his arms. “I’m heading back to bed, Eldon. Get some sleep.”
“Of course,” Eldon said drily.
The two men parted, and Hunter slipped back into his dark bedroom, then moved into the bed next to Gretchen. She gave a small sigh and shifted in the bed, automatically moving a bit closer to him. His arms went around her and he pulled her tight against his chest, but he was unable to sleep.
Gretchen . . . leaving soon? Leaving him? Even though he’d declared love for her and they made passionate love every chance they had? Even though they enjoyed the endless hours spent together, and she made every day worth living, every hour of work sweeter because he knew she was waiting for him?
Not if he could stop it. She would be at his side for as long as he could make it happen. He didn’t care how or why.
He just knew he needed her.
Gretchen crawled over Hunter, yawning, and tugged a T-shirt over her body. She searched his room for her panties, which were flung off hours ago. They hung on a lampshade, making her chuckle as she snatched them and put them back on again.
He reached for her, his eyes closed. “Come back to bed. It’s too early.”
“Can’t,” she said, moving to his side of the bed and pressing a kiss to his forehead. He reached for her and she danced out of his grasp, laughing. “Nice try, but I’ve got a lot of work to do.”
He reached for her again. “Come back.”
She wiggled away. “Nope. Can’t. You sleep, though. You were up too late last night working.” She’d had to come into his office to drag him to bed. Of course, he’d been reluctant until she’d started to strip. Then he couldn’t go to bed fast enough, she thought with a grin.
“I’ll get up in a minute,” he mumbled sleepily, then rolled over and went back to bed.
She watched him for a moment, resisting the urge to reach down and smooth his tousled hair. It was a mushy, silly moment, but she didn’t care. Watching him sleep filled her with an odd, easy sort of pleasure. When his breath evened out, she turned and left the room.
Breakfast could wait. She wasn’t all that hungry, and she’d dreamed about deadlines. Dreaming about work always left her in an anxious mood, and today was no different. She had to finish at least one project that was on her plate—if not the letters, then that last chapter of Astronaut Bill and Uranea that she kept promising to her publisher.
But the thought of writing more Astronaut Bill filled her with the usual loathing. She’d concentrate on finishing her cataloging of the letters, then. A week or two after she was already this late wouldn’t make much of a difference. Plus, she was a fancy bestseller now. Her mouth twisted into a sour smile at the thought. Yippee.
She padded across the manor on bare feet. The house was silent and dark, the sun not quite up yet. Hopefully that meant Eldon wasn’t up yet, either. A few minutes later, she opened the door to her library.
Igor stretched and meowed at her from the couch.
“Oh, no. Did I leave you in here all night?” She moved to pet his velvety head, making kissy noises at him. “I’ve been neglecting you shamefully, haven’t I? I can’t help it. I’ve got a new man in my life and he doesn’t even need kitty litter.”
The cat gave her a disgruntled look and then meowed again, flicking his tail at her and walking away.
Gretchen chuckled to herself, then headed to her desk.
And stopped, her heart dropping.
The vase of water that she normally kept her daily rose in was tipped over, the contents spilled all over the antique wood of the secretary . . . and her laptop.
“No, no, no!” She rushed forward, yanking her laptop out of the puddle. The case in her hands dripped, and when she turned it on one side to shake out the keyboard, droplets of water went everywhere. Frantic, she pushed the power button and held her breath, waiting.