Beauty and the Billionaire (Page 38)
Beauty and the Billionaire (Billionaire Boys Club #2)(38)
Author: Jessica Clare
Behind them, a scarred man in a long tailored jacket stood in the doorway of the coffee shop, a dozen roses in his hand. He wore sunglasses despite the cloudy weather, as if it might obscure the scars on his face—and he was watching her hug it out with Cooper. Then, he took the glasses off, and she felt sick with dread.
Hunter’s heart was in his eyes, and it was being broken all over again.
The man had shit timing.
“Hunter,” Gretchen gasped, pulling away from Cooper.
Hunter’s mouth tightened. He said nothing, simply turned and walked back out of the coffee shop. As she watched him disappear into the crowd, he tossed the roses into the nearest waste bin.
She felt as thrown away as those roses in that moment. Everything was all messed up again.
Even as she asked herself why she cared, Gretchen pulled out of Cooper’s embrace and dashed out from behind the counter, crossing the coffee shop quickly and bursting through the door.
The streets were busy, but not so busy that she couldn’t pick Hunter’s bulkier form out of the group. That, and his stiff, angry stance and the way people paused when they glanced at his face.
She raced after him. “Hunter!”
He ignored her, his shoulders set.
“Hunter Buchanan.” Gretchen planted her feet, fists clenched. “Turn around, damn it, or I’m going to run straight into all this traffic.”
He slowly turned around, a good twenty feet from her on the bustling sidewalk. He didn’t move forward and his hands were stuffed into his coat pockets. “What do you want?”
She paused at the icy tone of his voice. “You were bringing me flowers?”
“I was not.”
“Really? I suppose you just throw flowers into every garbage can outside of a coffee shop, then?”
When he flushed, she had to hide her grin of delight. Why was it that she loved teasing Hunter so very, very much? She’d fallen back into her comfortable sense of joy with him, forgetting all about that he’d broken her heart.
“I threw them away,” he bit out after a moment.
“I noticed. You shouldn’t have.”
“Why not? It’s clear you’ve moved on. Anything I say will fall on deaf ears.” His jaw clenched furiously.
She folded her arms over her chest. “Were you coming to apologize?”
He gave her a mutinous look.
“Then why does it matter if I’ve moved on? You made it clear you just wanted my body. You think I’m for sale.”
“I was wrong. I should have trusted you.” He looked so tortured that she softened for a moment. Just a moment.
“You should have. You should have believed that you can’t buy my affection.”
“What other choice does a man like me have?”
For a moment, she was dumbfounded. What did he mean, a man like him? Then, she realized he meant his face. Did he truly think he was so very hideous that he’d have to purchase affection? Sure, he was scarred, and the scars weren’t pretty. They distorted the one side of his face, but they couldn’t hide the fact that Hunter had a delicious body and a generous, sensitive soul. She remembered his long fingers caressing the petals of a flower and the way he’d smiled as if it were something new and joyous to him to be happy.
Her heart ached. “You’re not ugly, Hunter. Not to me.”
“You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t believe that,” he said in a cold voice. “I’ve had a lifetime of being reassured that I’m only wanted for my fortune.”
“Well, if you don’t believe that, then I guess you don’t have much faith in me,” Gretchen said, her voice light. “And that hurts me that you think I’m that shallow and mercenary.”
For a moment, he looked stricken. “I didn’t mean—”
“Didn’t you? You’re saying I’m an awful person who will only f**k a man if he’s got a fat wallet.” People on the street were starting to stare at them, but she ignored them. If Hunter could stand out here in the middle of New York City having a frank conversation with her, then she certainly could, too. “How do you think that makes me feel?”
He scowled. “Not bad enough, it seems. I see you’ve already moved on to your friend.”
Fury pushed through her and she stomped her way toward him. “Ugh! Will you just listen to yourself for a moment? You’re so convinced that you’re some sort of hideous beast that you think that someone can’t possibly see the true you inside. Yeah, well I saw the true you, buddy.”
Hunter said nothing, but he didn’t pull away. He simply watched her.
She was close enough to touch him now, and she stabbed a finger at his chest. “I saw a man who isolates himself because he’s worried about making other people uncomfortable. I saw a man who doesn’t leave his house very often, but makes sure that the staff is well paid. I saw a man who works all day tirelessly and tends to roses because he enjoys their beauty. I saw a man who expects perfection in himself but is okay with others treating him like dirt. I see a man who shuts out the world because he’s so afraid of getting hurt again. And you tell me I’m the one with the problem? How about you look in the mirror?”
Astonishment crossed his face and his mouth slackened.
“How about you take a long, hard look at that a**hole butler of yours? How about you hire someone who you actually enjoy being around? You’re a wonderful person, Hunter. You’re shy but you’re incredibly giving and thoughtful, and you have a poetic soul under all that muscle. If you’re lonely, it’s because you’ve isolated yourself. You have friends!” she exclaimed. “Your buddies thought you were happy at the dinner party and I saw their faces. They were happy for you. Why can’t you be happy for you?”
And she jabbed him in the chest with her finger again.
Hunter caught her hand. She was momentarily astonished at how warm he was against her cold skin, and longing flared through her. But when he lifted her hand to try and kiss the palm, she wriggled free.
“No, Hunter,” Gretchen said quietly. “I care about you, I really do. But I’m still mad at you.”
“I want you with me, Gretchen. If you can forgive me for what I said, I want you at my side. I just have a hard time believing that someone as perfect as you would want to be with someone like me.” He looked pained at her rejection, his scars stark on his face.
She wanted to kiss him and make him feel better. She wanted to grab him by his tailored lapels and shake some sense into him. So she just shook her head.
“Am I too late?” Hunter asked in a low, intense voice, full of pain. “Is that it? You’ve moved on? To him?”
Gretchen gave him an exasperated look. “I was sad and Cooper was comforting me. We’re just friends. That’s all we’ll ever be.”
“You were sad?” His attention focused on her words. “Why?”
“Why do you think?”
For some reason, his face broke into one of his rare smiles.
And she found herself smiling back at him. “I’m still mad at you.”
“But you’ll forgive me.”
“Tomorrow, then.” His eyes gleamed with anticipation.
“Maybe not tomorrow. I’m still deciding,” Gretchen told him playfully, and began to walk back to the coffee shop. “You need to make some changes first, though.”
“I will,” he said.
“Good!” she called over her shoulder. “And next time, don’t throw away my roses!”
She didn’t look back as she went inside the coffee shop, but she could have sworn she’d heard him chuckle before she closed the door. A hint of a smile touched her face.
They were good. Sort of. They weren’t great. Hunter needed to come out of his shell. But they were starting in the right direction.
And she smiled.
The next day, as Gretchen walked into the coffee shop, she was met by a surprising scene.
Every table was covered in enormous vases full of roses. The interior of the cafe looked more like a florist, and customers were milling around, sniffing the flowers and exclaiming in wonder as they held their lattes.
Every rose was exactly the same color—that icy pale blue-purple that she’d come to associate with Blue Girl. It was the rose she’d told Hunter that she liked the best.
Gretchen unwound her scarf from her neck, feeling warmth throughout her bones. She headed to the counter, unable to stop grinning. She knew who those were from and what they meant.
And while she couldn’t be bought, well, it was a start.
Cooper gave her a relieved look as she arrived. “Thank God you’re here. Did you see this mess?”
“Mess?” she inquired innocently. “I think they’re beautiful.”
“The first delivery showed up a few hours ago, and they’ve been coming in all morning. I think someone bought every purple rose in the entire city.”
“Blue,” she corrected him absently, pulling a long-stemmed rose from one of the vases and smelling it. “They’re blue.”
“Well, there’s no name for the recipient. No sender. Just flowers coming in from every single florist in all of Manhattan. It’s crazy.” He looked frazzled.
Gretchen dragged her fingertips across the bud of the rose, feeling the soft petals and smiling. “I think it’s sweet.”
“I don’t know what to do with all of them.”
“Give them out to customers,” she said, taking scissors and snipping the stem from the rose in her hand and tucking it safely into the pocket of her apron. She’d take this one home tonight.
The next day, dozens of yellow roses showed up. The day after that, white roses with pink edges and a delicious scent that was so thick it made her nearly dizzy with delight. The roses never came with a card, but that was okay. Gretchen knew who they were for. Each day, she’d carefully take one of the flowers, wrap it in tissue and tuck it into her apron, and then take it home and press it between the pages of a book, carefully preserving it.
She didn’t work for the next two days, but she still passed by the coffee shop, unable to stop her curiosity.
No roses. For some reason, that made her smile even more broadly. Hunter knew when she was working and made sure the flowers were delivered just for her. That was sweet.
She spent her days off with Audrey, baking, cleaning Audrey’s apartment as payment for letting her live there, and shopping. Her normally capable sister seemed a bit morose and stressed, and Gretchen wondered if Audrey was worried about Daphne. The rest of the family had written off Daphne long ago, but Audrey refused to give up on her twin. Every time Daphne sauntered back into their lives, Audrey was the one who paid the price.
Gretchen had invited Kat to lunch, but Kat had called off, citing work. Gretchen suspected her agent was still mad at her since canceling contracts had meant that it cost Kat money, too. And her agent was probably not very pleased with the mess she’d scraped together for the last Astronaut Bill book, but she didn’t care.
She wasn’t writing a single thing and, for once, she felt wonderfully, gloriously free. She hadn’t realized how unhappy writing had made her until she no longer let it rule her life.