Beauty and the Billionaire (Page 30)
Beauty and the Billionaire (Billionaire Boys Club #2)(30)
Author: Jessica Clare
Disbelieving, she hit the power button again, and then set the laptop down on one of the old-fashioned couches, racing back to her room. A hairdryer. That’s what she needed. She returned with it a few minutes later, plugged it into the wall, and flipped over the soaked laptop, her pulse pounding with anxiety. Maybe if she dried it out, things would be fine.
Twenty minutes later, she still had no power. Gretchen bit her lip, hard, her thoughts frantic. It was okay. She always made a backup of her work. Always. She normally emailed a copy to Kat—well, except this time she’d been avoiding Kat—and she always copied the file to her flash drive.
Which she always kept beside her computer.
Her flash drive! Gretchen bolted to her feet and ran for the sopping desk. Sure enough, her small, hot pink flash drive was sitting in a puddle of flower petals and water. She picked it up anyhow and clenched it in her hand, as if willpower could somehow restore her work.
Igor must have been thirsty, she reasoned. He’d knocked over the vase to get some water and her laptop had been in the way. She’d been so busy curling up with Hunter that she’d neglected her cat, and now she was paying for it.
Her stomach twisted into a sick knot.
All that work, down the drain.
Three weeks of work, gone.
The entire file of transcribed letters, gone.
Her latest Astronaut Bill manuscript, completely gone.
Any chance of getting paid before her landlord changed the locks? Gone.
Gretchen sank down on the couch, feeling wrecked. She stared at her poor laptop, at the flash drive in her hands.
No problem. She could fix this. She’d just start over . . . on both projects. In a few months, she’d be able to turn both in. And then she could get paid.
Gretchen burst into tears.
When Hunter awoke, he dressed and immediately headed for the opposite wing of the house. He’d had nightmares about being abandoned, and waking up without Gretchen’s warm body next to him hadn’t helped things.
His loneliness seemed to be slowly ebbing away, replaced with a new, different kind of agony—fear of abandonment. Hunter shook his head to clear it, trying to will away the bad dreams. He had Gretchen in his arms. She cared for him. She wasn’t going anywhere. After a visit to his greenhouse, he selected a white rose and set off in search of her, determined to deliver the rose himself.
Hunter found Gretchen curled up on one of the library couches, clutching her laptop and sobbing as if her heart had broken.
His own heart clenched at the sight. “Gretchen?”
She looked up, startled, and wiped the backs of her hands against her cheeks. “Oh. Hi. Sorry. I was just, um . . . working.” Her face crumpled and she began to cry again.
Something was wrong. He’d f**ked this up somehow and he was going to lose her. That gut-clenching feeling wouldn’t leave. “Tell me what’s wrong,” he managed hoarsely, moving to her side.
She sniffed and set the computer down, moving into his arms when he reached for her. At that, he relaxed a little. If she was angry at him, she surely wouldn’t be going to his arms, would she?
“My book,” she choked out between sniffles. “It’s gone.”
Recognition dawned, and a queasy feeling hit his gut. Was that . . . shame? “Gone?” he asked, feigning ignorance. “What happened?”
“Igor must have knocked over the vase,” she said, burying her face in his shirt. “The laptop is soaked. It’s ruined.”
Her sorrow was tearing him apart. Hunter stroked her back. “We’ll fix it. I’ll call someone to come take a look at it.”
She shook her head against his chest, as if denying his words. “It’s my fault. I left Igor in here all night. I’m so stupid.”
“You are not,” he said, his tone vehement enough to make her look up in surprise. He reached out and brushed the tears from her cheek. “You’re not stupid, Gretchen. Not by far.”
“I should have emailed my backups to Kat,” she said mournfully. “I just . . .” She shrugged.
“You just what?”
She gave him a tiny smile. “The more I work, the less I seem to enjoy it. That’s all. I guess I’ve been avoiding Kat. Talking with her just feels like too much pressure.”
It was on the tip of his tongue to offer her money or work or whatever would take that miserable look off her face. But Gretchen wouldn’t want a handout. She was strong and capable. He’d have to handle this carefully.
His fingers touched under her chin and he tilted her face toward him. “We’ll fix this,” he told her in a firm voice. “Give me your laptop. I’ll send it off with Eldon.”
“O-okay,” she said in a wavery voice that made him ache with the need to comfort her.
He took it from her and then leaned into kiss her lightly. “I’m going to send this off with him and instruct the technicians to not come back until they’ve recovered your files. But for the rest of the day, we’re going to relax and enjoy ourselves.”
“I don’t think I can.”
“Oh, you can. And we’re not going to think about work. We’re just going to enjoy each other.”
She gave him a miserable look. “What if I have to start over, Hunter?”
He quelled the part of him that rejoiced at the thought of another month of her in his house. Her sadness was making his soul ache.
He’d asked Eldon to fix this, but he hadn’t anticipated the destruction of her computer. It was brilliant—and a bit evil. But the worst of it was that Gretchen somehow seemed . . . defeated. His brilliant, vibrant Gretchen had been replaced by a sad woman weighed down by the world.
And that wasn’t what he’d wanted at all.
Hunter caressed her cheek. “I’ll be back.”
“I’ll be here,” she told him with a wobbly smile, sniffing loudly.
He tucked the laptop under his arm, noting that it still dripped when he picked it up. It was definitely soaked. He didn’t know if it could be fixed. He hoped—for Gretchen’s sake—that it could. Either way, Eldon had bought him time with her, just as he’d asked.
Hunter headed back to his office and shut the door, then buzzed Eldon.
Eldon arrived a few minutes later, his eyebrows going up at the sight of the laptop dripping on Hunter’s coat.
Hunter held it out to Eldon. “Your work, I assume?”
He said nothing, simply took the laptop and gave him a meaningful look.
“She’s crying,” Hunter said raggedly. He began to pace. “I didn’t want her upset.”
“You said to fix it,” Eldon said, deadpan as ever. “You didn’t say how. You needed her work to continue to keep her here.” He gestured at the laptop. “I have ensured that, just as you asked.”
Yes, but now Hunter felt like a heartless bastard. The thought of Gretchen’s tearstained face still drove him wild with anger and self-loathing. He’d made her cry, and he couldn’t even apologize.
“Take the laptop to a technician. See if they can fix it.” He glanced at Eldon, and then hated himself for saying, “Not too soon, though.”
“I shall escort it in myself,” Eldon said in a toneless voice. “I am sure that no one will get to it for at least a week, no matter how much I ask.”
“And if the file can be recovered?”
He had to bite back the urge to tell Eldon to delete the file. His need for Gretchen warred with the sight of her tearstained face, her misery. “I . . . I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.”
“Very well,” Eldon said as unflappable as ever.
“Cancel my meetings today. I’m going to spend the day with Gretchen.”
“Very well,” Eldon said. His face was neutral, but his tone was disapproving. It didn’t matter what Eldon thought, though.
Only Gretchen. And he needed to somehow bring a smile back to her face.
When he returned to the library, Gretchen’s weeping was under control. Her eyes were still red, but she was moving around, carefully laying out several of the letters on a nearby desk, the surface cleaned off. She glanced up at the sight of him and waved a hand over the piles of letters, Kleenex still clutched in her fingers. “I think I can come up with a system of some kind. Not all of the letters are important, so if I make a pile of the ones—”
“No,” he said, and threaded a husky, enticing note in his voice. He moved to her side and took her hand before she could reach for another one of the letters. “Today, we’re taking the day off.”
“I can’t.” She gestured at the letters and then wiped her nose with the Kleenex in an oddly fragile-seeming gesture. “If I have to recreate the document, I need to get started right away. I can’t afford to lose any time. I—”
He tugged on her hand, shaking his head when she resisted. “Gretchen, you work every day. Even on weekends. You can take a day off. When was the last time you had a day off from writing?”
She looked up at him, a dazed expression on her face. “I’m not sure.”
“You’re stressed and you’re unhappy. I don’t like seeing you like this.” He pulled her closer, pressing a light kiss to her mouth. “Take a day off. I’ve cancelled all my meetings. We can just relax.”
“But my projects—”
“Can wait one day.” At her disbelieving look, he forced a smile to his lips. “You can call your agent in the morning and explain what happened and tell her you need a deadline extension.”
“She’s not going to be happy.” Gretchen’s voice wavered.
He made a mental note to contact the editor he’d hired and have a delay in launch. Give Gretchen another month or two to work on the project—and at his side. That pinched, stressed look would be gone from her face and they could relax once more. Already he missed her cheerful smiles and flirty banter.
He felt like he’d crushed her, and his heart ached at the thought. This was his fault because he was a selfish a**hole. Hunter grasped her by the back of her neck and pulled her close for a sudden, fierce kiss.
If he lost her, he . . . he didn’t know what he’d do.
Gretchen looked startled at the vehemence of his kiss, but her mouth softened against his and her tongue stroked into his mouth once more. A soft moan rose in her throat when he lightly sucked on her tongue.
Her stomach growled, ruining the moment. They broke apart, and Gretchen giggled softly, her hand going to her stomach. “I think that was me. I guess I got so distracted that I didn’t eat.”
“Shall I have Eldon prepare something?”
She made a face. “I’m a much better cook than he is. You haven’t tried my three-cheese omelet yet, have you? It’ll make you a believer.” Her eyes sparkled with challenge.
“I’m willing to give it a try,” he said slowly, pleased to see the light returning to her eyes. “But I’m not a big fan of eggs.”
“I’ll make you a fan,” she proclaimed proudly, taking his hand. “Come on. I’ll make you a treat.”