Beauty and the Billionaire (Page 37)
Beauty and the Billionaire (Billionaire Boys Club #2)(37)
Author: Jessica Clare
Today, he didn’t have time for any of that bullshit.
He headed into the building, ignored the lobby full of people, and headed for the elevator. The receptionist didn’t stop him because he was a recognizable face and had been here several times before. Jamming the button on the elevator, he impatiently waited for it to rise to the top floor. When it did, he stalked down the hall to Logan Hawkings’s office.
Audrey would be there. And she would know where Gretchen was and why she’d refused the contract that he’d more or less put together specifically for her.
But when he burst into Logan’s office, the secretary’s desk was empty.
Hunter gritted his teeth in frustration. Was fate working against him? He raked a hand through his hair and then pushed open the door to Logan’s office.
Logan had his feet kicked up on the corner of his desk, a headset on. He was obviously on a conference call. He frowned at Hunter’s burst into his office and toggled a button on his headset, speaking into the microphone. “I’ve had something come up. Someone send me the meeting notes when you’re done.” He disconnected the call and swung his feet down from the desk, casting an irritated look at Hunter. “Don’t you knock?”
“Where’s Audrey?” A sharp burst of fear hit him. What if Gretchen left town just like Brontë had? Logan had had hunted her down, only to find out that she was right under his nose. He didn’t want Gretchen leaving. He wanted her back, damn it.
“Probably getting my lunch from the cafe downstairs. Calm the f**k down. What’s wrong with you?” Logan’s brows furrowed.
“I need to find Gretchen.” Hunter moved in front of Logan’s desk, ignoring the chair offered to him. Instead, he clasped his hands behind his back and began to pace.
“So you admit that you f**ked up?”
He gave Logan a scathing look. “What are you talking about? What do you know?”
Logan shrugged, putting his hands behind his head and leaning back in his chair, his pose far too leisurely to suit Hunter. “I know that Brontë’s been talking to Gretchen.”
“And,” Logan stressed, “she says she’s really upset. Cries a lot. You f**ked it up, didn’t you?”
He’d thought Gretchen was angry at him. She was crying? Hunter’s heart felt like it was being ripped out of his chest. “What did she say?”
“First you tell me what you did.”
Hunter collapsed in the chair, frustrated with the situation. With everything. “She found out the project was a sham.”
“And that made her cry? Damn, she’s a sensitive type, isn’t she? I wouldn’t have pictured her as the type—”
“Then I accused her of sleeping with me for money.”
“And then when she was packing, I told her that I didn’t care if she loved me or not. I’d pay her to use her body regardless of how she felt.” Now that he was recounting it, it sounded awful even to his own ears. “She turned it down.”
Logan grimaced. “Yeah. I’d say you f**ked it up.”
“Shit.” Hunter suddenly felt weary. “I thought for sure that she was using me for my money. Her agent said—”
“Her agent thinks everything’s about money,” a tart female voice interrupted. “Or didn’t Gretchen tell you that?” Audrey strolled forward and came into sight, no-nonsense in a stern bun and oatmeal-colored tweed, her round face scowling. “Or were you too busy calling her a whore and a money grubber?”
“Audrey, this is not the place—” Logan began.
“The door was open,” Audrey replied in a cool voice. “I’m sorry. I overheard. I’ll leave.”
“No! Stay.” Hunter studied Gretchen’s sister. “What makes you so sure she wasn’t with me for my money?”
Audrey’s mouth drew into a thin line. “Because,” she bit out. “If she wanted to freeload off someone, she’d freeload off Daphne, who has millions. Or Cooper, who’s so in love with her that he’d buy her whatever she wants. Why would she need to sleep with someone for that?”
Hunter’s hands clenched into fists. Cooper. The friend who was in love with her. That bastard had better stay away from his woman.
“I suppose the better question is, what made you think Gretchen wanted you for your money?” Audrey asked. “Did she ever give you reason to think that?”
“Every time she looked at me,” he snarled. “I’m supposed to believe that she wants to be with this?” He gestured abruptly at his face, at the scars that were impossible to miss, that distorted the side of his face.
Audrey’s cold expression softened. “Why is that so hard to believe?”
“Because I’m a monster.”
“My sister’s a romantic,” Audrey told him. “Maybe she likes monsters.”
He didn’t care. He just wanted Gretchen back in his bed. In his life. Laughing and smiling and bringing brightness and joy to every corner of his life. “Why’d she turn down the writing project? She needs the money.”
“She doesn’t need the money that bad,” Audrey said, sidling towards Logan’s desk and setting down a paper-wrapped sub, along with a soda. “She’d rather be broke than work on that project a moment longer.”
Because he’d f**ked it up. He’d had a woman—a smart, funny, beautiful woman who loved him for him and didn’t give a shit about his hideous face—and he’d somehow driven her away.
He’d been so utterly convinced that he was unlovable that he’d pushed away the only person who had given him kindness and affection. He’d been so broken that he automatically assumed the worst.
But he needed Gretchen. And he’d do anything to have her return to his side. “How do I get her back?”
“Groveling,” Logan pointed out. “Take it from me. Lots of groveling.”
Audrey’s lips quirked in a hint of a smile. “That’s a start.”
Gretchen turned the page in her paperback and reached for another Kleenex, weeping.
“You okay?” To her side, Cooper was scooping out coffee beans to put into the grinder. He gave her a concerned look.
“Yeah.” She sniffed and waved the paperback. “It’s just my book.”
“Something like that,” she mumbled, dog-earing the page and tucking the book under the counter. Actually, it was a romance. Audrey read the darn things like crazy, and her house had been full of them. Gretchen had picked one up on a whim and then been unable to stop reading them. The stories were so perfect. Even though bad things happened to the hero and her**ne, everything would turn out okay in the end. They always did. She’d teared up when the hero had admitted love for the her**ne, and then the her**ne had joyfully exclaimed that she’d loved him back as they’d galloped on horseback to the hero’s castle. The epilogue was full of sweet cuddling and hints of future babies. It was saccharine and ridiculous.
And she could not stop crying over it.
Her own relationship? Hadn’t exactly been that clean cut, that fairy-tale wonderful. She’d gotten the admission of love, but she’d chickened out. Of course, then her Prince Charming had accused her of wanting him for his money, and more or less called her a gold-digging slut.
Strange how being called a whore by the man you loved tended to hurt so much, she thought wryly.
Gretchen opened up the back of the glass pastry counter and began to add some of the fresh-baked cookies she’d made to the decorative plates in the front. Some things just didn’t work out like the stories, she supposed. Some people were too damaged.
Even as she thought it, she scowled. There was no reason for her to be thinking like that. The only thing damaged on Hunter was his damn pride.
Gretchen picked off a wedge of broken cookie and tossed it in the garbage. Hunter needed to get over that hang-up about his face and come to terms with the fact that not everyone was out to get him. He needed to learn how to trust people.
“You sure you’re okay?” Cooper said, coming to her side. He patted her shoulder awkwardly, then dropped his hand. “I hate seeing you so unhappy.”
“I’m fine, really,” she told him, but couldn’t force a cheerful smile to her mouth. Things were still awkward with Cooper. She’d come back to work because she needed money—though not badly enough to beg druggie Daphne—and because she was driving Audrey crazy after a week of lounging on her couch in her pajamas. Even Igor seemed to be giving her cranky looks.
But Cooper was still hovering in a way that made Gretchen edgy. Any minute now, she expected to turn around and see him ready to confess his love again. They were nothing but friends, but—
“Gretchen,” Cooper began, his voice soft.
She squeezed her eyes shut. “Oh, Cooper, please don’t—”
“I know,” he said quickly. “I know. It’s weird between us right now, isn’t it? I should have never said anything.”
He sounded so unhappy with himself that she winced. “It’s not that, Cooper. I just . . . wish we could go back to the way things were before, you know?”
“Before I gave you my heart and you stomped it to pieces?”
Gretchen turned, her eyes wide in shock. “I—”
“I’m kidding,” he said with a sheepish grin. “I’ll be honest, I wish things could be different between you and me. But even what we had before was better than what we have now. I know you don’t care for me the way I care for you. And that’s fine, Gretchen. But it hurts me that we can’t even be friends anymore. I’d rather we acknowledge the problem, move past it, and get back to being just Gretchen and Cooper.”
Her eyes began to water again, and she sniffed, reaching for the wads of Kleenex she had stuffed in her apron. “I’m so sorry, Coop.”
“Hey,” he said softly. “Don’t apologize.” He reached out and pulled her into a friendly, warm hug. “I’m sorry I got all weird on you when you needed a friend the most.”
She wrapped her arms around him, sniffing hard. “You’re such a good friend. I’m not normally this emotional.”
“I know,” he said dryly, rubbing a hand up and down her back.
She clung to him for a moment, enjoying the hug and the simple comfort of a friend. “I’m glad that we’re going to go back to just being Gretchen and Coop,” she mumbled against his shoulder. “And I’m sorry I didn’t fall in love with you. If I could have picked to fall in love with someone, it would have been you.”
He chuckled, and for once, there was no pain or sadness in it. “It’s okay, Gretch. I know you’re in love with Buchanan. It was obvious as soon as I saw him with you. You lit up around him in a way I’ve never seen. I’ve had a few weeks to get over you now.”
She smiled over his shoulder, opening her eyes and gazing out into the coffee shop.