Beauty and the Billionaire (Page 35)
Beauty and the Billionaire (Billionaire Boys Club #2)(35)
Author: Jessica Clare
“What am I supposed to think, Gretchen? Your sister proclaims to our dinner party that you enjoy the company of men. Quite a few men, it seems.”
“So I was a little loose in my teenage years. So what?”
“And that you’re sleeping with an ugly man for money. And you don’t deny it.” He stopped typing and gave her an icy look. “And I find you having the exact same conversation with your agent, and again, you don’t deny it. Exactly what am I supposed to think?”
“Well, for starters, you can trust me,” Gretchen snapped.
His jaw flexed, as if he were trying hard to keep his temper in check. He said nothing.
“You really think I’m sleeping with you because you’re rich?” She was incredulous.
“I’m trying to think of another reason why you would,” Hunter said, his voice crisp. “After all, it is acknowledged that I’m quite ugly. And looking back, you came on to me. So yes, it’s looking rather suspicious in my mind.”
“Your feelings are hurt,” she said, shaking her head. “And you’re taking it out on me.”
He shook his head. “You’re not the person I thought you were. That much is clear.”
“And who did you think I was? I’ve never lied about my family or my finances. You never asked. Why do you think I work all the time at a job that makes me miserable?” She snorted. “It’s not my stunning work ethic.”
He said nothing.
“And for the record, I came on to you because I wanted you. Because I was drawn to you. You seemed lonely and ached to have someone touch you. And I guess I’m stupid, because I wanted to touch you and rock your world. I guess that was a bad call on my part.”
“I guess it was.”
She bit her lip, thinking. This conversation was going nowhere. Worse, it was making her confused. She’d come in here to apologize to him for her sister’s behavior, and now she was having to apologize for her own? For the grave crime of falling for a man who didn’t trust her? It was laughable.
No, it was heartbreaking.
Gretchen crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m sorry if my friends hurt your feelings—”
“They didn’t hurt my feelings. They simply showed me the truth of who you are. I should have known you were too good to be true. All those words you said, just words.”
She flinched again. “What words?”
“Your talk of not caring what a man looked like as long as he made you happy. It turns out that you don’t care what a man looks like as long as he has a full wallet.”
“That’s a lie and you know it. And what are you talking about? When did I ever say anything about men and their looks?” Where on earth was this coming from? She couldn’t recall having a conversation with him where they discussed what she looked for in a man. Strange.
“Ask Brontë. Remember? You told her that rich men thought they were the heroes of the fairy tale but they were truly the villains.”
Huh? She stared at him, trying to piece together the whirlwind of accusations. The last long conversation she’d had with Brontë was when they were picking up books on Audrey’s request. They’d talked about men then, but they’d been alone in the empty house. Unless . . .
“You were spying on me,” she said slowly. “That day at the house.”
He gave her a cutting look and turned away, but not before she saw the hint of red rising in his cheeks.
“It’s true, isn’t it? You saw me that day. How? And what does that have to do with anything?”
He was silent.
Her mind raced. She vaguely recalled her conversation with Brontë in the empty house, but only because she’d tried to give her friend relationship advice. Not that she was a great expert on relationships herself. “I don’t understand what that has to do with anything. We didn’t know each other then. I didn’t meet you until I moved into this house.”
Something clicked. Her publishing contract specified that she had to live in the house that Hunter Buchanan owned. Hunter, who’d been spying on her before she knew he existed. She gasped. “And you own a new publisher that contacted my agent out of the blue and offered a big paycheck as long as I lived on location. At your house. You set this all up, didn’t you?”
He stared at her, silent, his jaw clenched. But he wasn’t denying it.
Suddenly, things clicked into place. The weird contract. The editor’s odd comments. The fact that Hunter didn’t seem to know a thing about what kind of books she wrote. Eldon’s dismissive dislike of her. Her mysterious bestsellerdom.
She gasped again. “I didn’t become a bestseller, did I? Not really? Did you buy all those books?”
“I wanted to do something nice for you. It seems I am a fool.”
Horror crashed through her. “You set this all up to bring me here. There’s no new publisher. The letters . . . are those fakes?” When he continued to be silent, her stomach churned. She felt sick. “No wonder the details never matched the house. It’s not this house, is it? None of it’s real. You basically paid me to come and live at your house for a month so I’d be around you and fall in love with you?”
His mouth twisted, the scar at the corner of his lip livid. “Don’t try and throw love into this now, Gretchen. We’re both not fools enough to believe you’re really in love with me.”
Revulsion hit her. She did love him, and he was a monster. “I can’t believe you did this,” she said brokenly. “I can’t believe you went to such levels just to try and get me to sleep with you.”
“It’s not like that,” he snarled.
“Isn’t it? Isn’t that what you did?” Gretchen waved an arm, furiously gesturing at her surroundings. She was angry, but more than that, she was hurt. Betrayed to her core. “Isn’t all this and me being here because you wanted to f**k me? Don’t you care that you’re ruining my life? You can’t just play with people’s livelihoods because you’re bored and lonely, Hunter Buchanan. Reality doesn’t work that way.”
“Doesn’t it? You certainly came running the moment you heard the dollar amount.”
She reeled as if struck. “You really do think that of me. After all we’ve been through.”
“What am I supposed to believe, Gretchen? That you saw my face and thought you needed to have a man like me? You’ll forgive me if I don’t quite fall for that again.”
She wanted to vomit. She had been excited about the money and the adventure. Now she wanted nothing to do with it. She just wanted to get away from here. Away from him and his awful, cold accusations. “Well, thank you for making me feel like a whore,” she told him in a light voice, though it trembled with control. “It’s good to know where I really stand with you. I thought I cared for you and that you cared for me, but I guess I was mistaken in that, wasn’t I?” She laughed bitterly. “I guess we’re both in love with a person who didn’t exist.”
He said nothing. After a long, pregnant pause, he began to type again.
The conversation was done. She shook her head sadly and left the room, closing the door behind her. As soon as the door closed, the tears began to flow. Hot and painful, Gretchen swiped at them but they seemed to keep coming no matter what she did.
You certainly came running the moment you heard the dollar amount.
The walk back to her lonely room seemed endless. The halls were silent and dark, Buchanan Manor as austere and forbidding and unfriendly as ever. When she opened the door, Igor looked up from his position on the foot of the bed and mewed a greeting.
She closed the door behind her and leaned against it, her limbs feeling heavy and lethargic. “We’re going home tomorrow, Igor,” she said softly. “We’re done here.”
The cat simply flicked an ear at her, and then lowered his head again.
It seemed no one was impressed with her lately. Figured. She headed to the bed and moved to stroke his ears. “I wonder if it was even you that knocked over that glass of water, Igor. I’m starting to think Hunter tramples on anyone just to get what he wants. No wonder he’s alone.”
But even as she said the words, she ached inside. Why was it that the man was slowly and methodically destroying her life and she wanted to comfort him? She must be crazy.
What was even sadder? Her accidental declaration of love hadn’t been a lie—she did love him.
She loved him, but she couldn’t be in a relationship with a man who claimed to love her but didn’t respect her and treated her like a pawn.
With a heavy sigh, Gretchen picked up her suitcase from under the bed and laid it flat. Time to pack.
She’d lied to him the entire time.
The agony of it tore through Hunter all night. Over and over, he heard the conversation in his mind.
You know me. I’ll do anything for a paycheck.
He’d thought she was different. He’d dared to hope that someone as vibrant as Gretchen would care for him. No—he hadn’t even hoped for that. He’d simply wanted to be around her, to bask in her presence like an adulating teen boy. It was her who had made the first move, her who had seduced him and made him hope for more.
And that made it worse, so much worse.
Because now he knew what he was missing out on. He craved her body and wanted her curled up against him. Wanted to sink deep inside her and forget the outside world. Wanted to hear those soft cries she made when he pleased her. He wanted to talk to her, hear her laughter, see her eyes shining with joy.
He didn’t want her to go. Even after all that had been said and done, a heartless woman at his side that pretended to love him was torture, but it was better than being alone.
He simply needed to swallow his pride and offer her a new kind of deal—no pretenses to their relationship. No lies. No pretending. Gretchen clearly had a price tag and he could pay it.
And over time, perhaps the ache of it would go away. Perhaps he’d learn to not care that when she cried out under him, she was repulsed by his face and the scars that lined his body. Perhaps he wouldn’t mind that when she smiled, she was simply biding her time.
He’d simply have to become better at hiding his own emotions.
After a fitful night of sleep, Hunter awoke and dressed in one of his more somber suits. He’d confront Gretchen and offer her a new business deal this morning. But when he arrived at her suite, he found the room straightened and her heading for the door with her suitcase under one arm, cat carrier in the other.
“Where are you going?”
She looked surprised to see him, but then the hurt look returned to her face. She wasn’t good at masking her emotions. Maybe she never had to, not like him. Because right now she looked miserable and wounded. “I’m leaving. I just need to call a cab.”
He pretended to straighten his sleeves, adjusting his jacket. “You haven’t finished the project you were hired for.”
“It was delayed,” she said in a cutting voice. “Though I’m guessing the delay was just as manufactured as the project, wasn’t it?”