Beauty and the Billionaire (Page 4)
Beauty and the Billionaire (Billionaire Boys Club #2)(4)
Author: Jessica Clare
Well didn’t that just make things uncomfortable.
Cooper was an old friend, a college buddy. They’d both moved to New York at about the same time—him to start his coffee business, and her to pursue a career in journalism. It had seemed natural for them to stick together and remain friends, and when she was lean on money and between checks, Cooper let her work shifts at his cafe for some extra pay.
Except right now? He was being a little too understanding.
Brontë had tried telling her a few weeks ago that Cooper was in love with her. Gretchen had denied it. Cooper was just a friend. They were buddies. They hung out together and had each other’s backs. There was nothing more to it than that. But as time went on, she began to have doubts that maybe she wasn’t quite as aware of Cooper’s feelings as she thought. She gave him a wary look as he made lattes and handed them to the waiting customers. When the bar was deserted again, he turned and glanced back at her, his smile too broad for her liking.
“How’s the book coming?” he asked. “Still giving you trouble?”
There was one way to find out, she supposed, if Cooper was going to make things uncomfortable for her or not. “Oh, just struggling with a love scene,” she said idly. “You know how it goes.”
Cooper flushed bright red and his goofy smile got a little bigger and a little, well, goofier.
She saved her file and exited out of the app. Maybe it was time to be spending a little less time at Cooper’s Cuppa. Usually she only showed up for a shift about once a week, just to pick up some extra money. But ever since her last roomie had moved out, she’d been coming in more or less every day. She needed the cash, and it was a good excuse to avoid writing more of Astronaut Bill and Uranea.
Clearly her coming in so often had backfired.
“Actually, I need to get this scene knocked out,” she told Cooper, forcing an apologetic note into her voice as she tucked her tablet under her arm. “If it’s okay with you, I’m going to head out early.”
“Of course,” Cooper said. “Oh, and I wanted to talk to you about something.”
The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. Oh, God. Cooper was a friend, but that was all he was. He was more like a little brother to her. A little brother with a cowlick in the back of his hair, barely an inch in height on her, and pit stains on light-colored shirts. Cooper was sweet, but definitely not her type. If he was going to ask her out, it was going to absolutely ruin any sort of easy friendship they had.
It already felt ruined, and that was depressing enough.
She tugged at the strings of her apron, turning her back to him so he wouldn’t see her wince. “Can it wait, Coop? I really do need to get going. The cookies will be ready in a few minutes, if you can pull them out.”
“Oh, sure. I was just going to let you know that I think you’ll like your next check.”
She turned to face him. “Why?”
He beamed at her. “I gave you a raise.”
“A raise? Why? I’m your worst employee.”
“Don’t say that. You’re my favorite employee.” The smile on his face grew a little softer.
The discomfort Gretchen was feeling grew. When had Cooper turned the corner from being a friend? Why hadn’t she paid attention before now? This made things so incredibly uncomfortable. “You shouldn’t give me a raise, Coop. Anyone else would have fired me at this point. I’m late, I’m lazy, and I work on other stuff when I’m tending the counter.”
“Yes, but you make an incredible cookie. All the customers love your recipes.”
She snorted. “Did you not hear me say the part about being late and lazy?”
“Yes, but you work hard.”
“On my books, yes. Not on slinging coffee.”
He chuckled. “You shouldn’t tell me that. I’m your boss.”
“You’re my friend,” she emphasized, feeling like an ass when his smile faded a little. Floor, swallow me up right now. “Actually, I wanted to tell you that I might be scarce for a few weeks,” she found herself telling him. That crazy assignment Kat had mentioned was looking better and better. A month away from Cooper might be just the thing to cool his jets and refuel her pocketbook. “I just got handed another contract and it’s an on-location one.”
“Oh?” He looked crestfallen. “I’ll miss seeing you around.”
“Yeah, well.” She shrugged a little, feeling like she wanted to flee. “I’m sorry. Debbie always wants more shifts. Can you give her mine?”
“Hey,” he said, reaching out and squeezing her upper arm as if to comfort her. “Don’t stress. You do what needs to be done. You know I’ll always be here for you.”
Gretchen nodded. “Thanks, Cooper. You’re a good friend. I really do mean that.”
“I know you do.” Was that a hint of sadness in his voice?
Now she felt even worse. The last thing she wanted to do was hurt Cooper. Okay, actually, that wasn’t true. The last thing she wanted to do was date Cooper. The second to last thing she wanted to do was hurt his feelings. “I appreciate it, Cooper. Sorry to run out on you.”
“Not a problem,” he said cheerfully.
They stared at each other for a long, uncomfortable moment, and then the bell on the counter dinged, saving them from further awkwardness.
“I’m going to head out,” Gretchen said, pulling off her apron. “See you around, Coop.”
He nodded, taking a client’s order, as if nothing was wrong and they hadn’t just gotten all weird with each other.
But she felt his eyes on her back as she left the coffee shop.
As soon as she was out the door, Gretchen pulled out her phone and dialed her agent.
“It’s me. Is that weird-ass job at the Buchanan place still available?”
“You’re not seriously thinking about taking it, are you?”
“I sure am.” The more she thought about it, the more this seemed like a good idea. It was a little unorthodox, sure. But the thought of spending time away from Astronaut Bill and his ladylove was more appealing by the moment. And speaking of uncomfortable love interests . . . getting away from Cooper for a few weeks would do a lot to ease the discomfort she was currently feeling. The money was just a very nice, very pleasant bonus on top of things. “I could use a distraction and this project sounds like the perfect one. When do I get to start?”
“As soon as we get a handshake on it. Gretchen, are you sure? It means living on the premises.”
“Yeah, but I’ve seen the outside of the house. It’s huge.”
“What if it’s filled with coffins and decapitated doll heads inside?”
“Jeez, Kat. You been trolling through the horror fiction section lately? It’s a mansion. I’m sure it’ll be fine. It’s probably so big that I won’t see anyone ever. It’ll just be me and some dusty library. No big.”
Kat sighed gustily into the phone. “Well, as your friend, I think you’re crazy. As your agent, I just want to say thanks for the commission.”
“You’re welcome. I think. Now, can you call my Astronaut Bill editor and tell her I need an extension?”
Gretchen stared up at the Buchanan Mansion from the window of the cab as it pulled up the driveway. “Holy doughnuts. This place is insane. I can’t believe I’m going to be living here for the next month.”
“I can’t believe it, either.” At her side, her sister Audrey’s voice sounded prim and disapproving. “The money is good, but I still think you’re crazy for taking this job.”
Gretchen was pretty sure that made two of them. “It’s a pretty lucrative job, Audrey. And you didn’t have to come.”
Her sister gave a derisive snort. “Oh, yes I did. You haven’t met Buchanan. I have. He’s surly and unpleasant and that house is a mausoleum. It’s bad enough that you’re taking a job that forces you to live in someone else’s home. I don’t care if he’s Mr. Hawkings’s best friend—I’m not letting you shack up without checking out the place first. That’s so they know you have someone looking out for you. I don’t want to have you disappear for a month and then we’re calling the news and insisting that someone digs up the gardens looking for you.”
Gretchen rolled her eyes. “I’ll probably never see the man.”
Audrey just gave her a prim look. “Don’t argue with me. You know I’m the responsible one in this family.”
And because she couldn’t really refute that, Gretchen just grinned.
The car moved slowly down the winding drive and, as it did, they passed intricately clipped flowering bushes in fantastical shapes. Spirals, moons, and stars adorned the colorful fall gardens. “I don’t think they’d bury me in the backyard, Audrey. Did you see the landscaping? It probably costs more than we both make in a month.”
“If you need money,” Audrey began for the millionth time that day.
“It’s not just the money,” Gretchen said. “It’s an adventure. Haven’t you ever wanted to have an adventure?”
“Not if it involves living with a stranger, no.”
Spoilsport. It wasn’t as if she and the owner were going to get in their jammies and have pillow fights and cuddle up in the same bed or something. “Look at the size of this place. Odds are that I never see him.”
Buchanan Manor was as big as a shopping mall. Seriously. She tried counting windows at the front of the building, but there was too many. Pointed gabled roofs in a dark green decorated the roof, and the building itself was a pale shade. There were windows everywhere, looking out on the spectacular lawns. If she counted up, it looked like the building was four floors. Good God, how many rooms did one billionaire need? He could fit an entire school into this building.
The taxi pulled up to the cobblestone driveway and Audrey paid the cab driver as Gretchen got out of the car, Igor’s cat-carrier tucked under her arm. The cat meowed angrily, and she made a shushing noise even as she continued to stare up at the mansion.
She was wearing jeans and a sweater and felt hideously, conspicuously underdressed. And here this was one of her better outfits. Since she didn’t leave the house much, she normally spent her time in yoga pants. But this house made her think anything less than starchy collars and tweed jackets were underdressed. Gretchen swallowed hard as her suitcases were set down on the driveway. “This is uncomfortable.”
Audrey shouldered her small weekend bag and gave Gretchen an odd look. “Where’s all your bravery?”
“I didn’t realize I was going to be living at frickin’ Hogwarts! I—”
The massive wooden front door opened, and a tall, thin man with a bald head and long neck stepped out of the house. Both women fell silent and watched him descend. Gretchen looked at him with keen interest. He wore a small plaid bow tie and a tweed jacket with patches in the elbows. Fascinating. Was he the owner, then? Come to greet her? He didn’t look very friendly.