Beauty and the Billionaire (Page 41)

Beauty and the Billionaire (Billionaire Boys Club #2)(41)
Author: Jessica Clare

She giggled at that, even as her fingers curled with the need to touch him. Instead, she just watched him from a distance, enjoying his every move, noting the way his cheek pulled when his mouth curved into a lopsided smile. How could anyone think of that raw, masculine, delicious man as anything but beautiful? She couldn’t take her eyes off him.

Then he turned, and his attention seemed to head unerringly for her. His gaze lit up.

Gretchen’s feet felt glued to the floor. She should go over and say hello to him. Interrupt the conversation he was having. Something. Anything. Instead, she stood there like a dummy, her brain unable to work.

Hunter was having a party and entertaining people. Her Hunter. He was breaking out of his self-imposed exile. Was this all for her?

How could she possibly be mad at a man who was going to such lengths to prove to her that he could be the man she needed him to be? He’d manipulated her—and others—with his influence, that was true, but now she understood why. He’d never thought that she’d be interested in him, never thought she would give him the time of day, so he’d done the only thing he could do to bring her close. And while it was low-down, dirty, and craven . . . she understood it and even felt a twinge of sympathy for him that he’d felt the need to go so very far for something as simple and basic as human need for another person.

He extricated himself from the conversation, handed his glass to a passing waiter, and strolled toward her, adjusting the front of his tuxedo jacket as if to make sure he looked his best. She found that utterly charming. Here was Hunter Buchanan, the most sexy, glorious, powerful man in the room, and he was making sure he looked good enough for her.

It was a heady feeling.

He walked up to her, reached out, and then dropped his hand. A hint of unease flashed across his face but he couldn’t seem to stop looking at her. “Gretchen. You look . . . lovely.”

She smiled at him, shifting when someone passed too close to them. “Hi, Hunter.” She didn’t know what to say. This hadn’t been a problem she’d had often. Normally words just ran right out of her mouth whether she wanted them to or not. A tall, slinky woman strolled past, her tight bandage gown glittering with sequins. “I seem to be underdressed.”

“On the contrary,” Hunter said. “You’re the most gorgeous thing in this room. You don’t need flash to improve your beauty. Just your smile.”

She couldn’t resist smiling at that. “You flirt.”

He flushed a little.

“Nice party,” she told him, stepping aside as another couple moved past them. The room was positively packed. “You did well.”

“I did it for you,” he told her in a voice so low she almost didn’t catch it.

She swallowed hard. “You did, huh?”

“All for you. Everything. I want to prove to you that . . . I can be who you need me to be.”

She shook her head. “Hunter, all I’ve ever needed was—” She paused as someone in the crowd called his name. “Maybe this is a bad time.”

“Not a bad time,” he told her with a growl, and then he was at her side, cupping her elbow and steering her through the crowd. “Come with me.”

They wound silently through the throng and escaped down a back hallway—the north wing. Hunter’s wing. At the sight of the familiar paintings hanging on the wall, she felt a sharp stab of longing. If they continued down a second hallway, they’d get to his room. Was his bed lonely without her? Was this thing they had too broken to be fixed? Had she been too hard on him when she should have been understanding as to what drove him?

Hunter stopped in front of the large windows at the far end of the hall, where the corridor split and branched toward Hunter’s suite of rooms. From here, the wintry gardens were visible and the evergreen bushes were peeking out from under a blanket of snow. His hand lifted as if he wanted to reach for her and he just as quickly drew back.

“You’re well?” he asked in a clipped voice, clasping his hands behind his back and glancing out the window.

“Actually, no,” she told him. When he turned to her with a stricken look, she said, “There’s this guy who kind of broke my heart. He lied to me and sabotaged my work just so I could stay around him a bit longer.”

The look on his face was tense, his expression intent as he focused on her. “And would you have gone out with me? Not knowing me? Not knowing who I was except for this?” He gestured at the deep gouges scarring his face. “How am I supposed to believe that? People turn away at the sight of me.”

His sadness and pain broke her heart. “Oh, Hunter. Just because most people are shallow a**holes doesn’t mean that I am.”

“But how would I know this?”

“It doesn’t matter, does it?” she said briskly. “We’ll never know that, because you manipulated the situation and lied to me. You messed with my career. You can’t just make up jobs to bring people into your life.”

“You can still have the money, you know,” he told her quietly. “I never meant to force you to choose between your happiness and me.”

She threw her hands up in the air. “It’s not about the money, Hunter. When will you get that? It’s about you and me and trust. How can I trust that you’re not pulling strings behind the scenes again anytime something goes my way?”

“How can I trust that you truly want me for who I am and not what I am?” There was a wealth of pain in his voice.

“Oh, Hunter. You have to have faith in me.” She moved forward and gently cupped his cheek, feeling the grooves of the scars.

He closed his eyes as if in ecstasy, his hand moving to hold hers there. “I love you so much, Gretchen. Please don’t leave me again.”

“Then trust me.”

His eyes opened. “It’s hard for me to trust.”

An amused smile curved her mouth. “I get that you’re damaged, but how do you think I feel knowing you’ve been manipulating things since day one?”

He flinched, and she could feel it against her palm. “I never meant to hurt you.”

“I know. And that’s why I’ve come back.” Her thumb lightly stroked over the jagged scar that twisted at the corner of his mouth. “It was the only way you knew how to reach out to me. I forgive you for that.”

He leaned in and kissed the heel of her hand.

“I still haven’t forgiven you for the sabotage of my laptop, though,” she said lightly. “That was kind of low.”

“I didn’t realize Eldon was going to do that,” he told her. “I just wanted him to delay you.”

“Oh, he delayed me all right. Killed my contract dead in the water.”

Hunter winced, but his fingers stroked the back of her hand. He still held her palm to his cheek, as if fearful that if he released her, she’d slip out of his grasp again. “The files were recovered, by the way. I can send you the information.”

She shrugged. “I’m a lot happier without writing, honestly. It’s not a profession I’m very good at. The constant deadlines drive me crazy, and if I have to write one more astronaut story I just might jump off your balcony. Without the contracts, I’m pretty broke but I’m also a lot happier—and less stressed—than I’ve been in a long time.”

“Preston will be sorry to hear that. He contacted me the other day and suggested that if you didn’t want to do the epistolary novel that perhaps you’d be interested in doing a cookbook. He loved your cooking at the dinner party.”

“A cookbook, huh?” She gave him a skeptical look. “Your idea?”

He grinned and released her hand. “It was all him, I’m afraid. For once, I had nothing to do with it.”

“I’ll think about it,” she told him softly, though in her mind she was already racing through her favorite recipes. Well, she’d let Hunter stew on it for a bit before deciding. Gretchen reached forward and slid a finger along Hunter’s lapel. “So what about the letters?”

He leaned into her touch, stepping forward. His hands went to her shoulders. “They were simply a means to an end.”

“Were they real? All those dirty, naughty things they wrote to each other?”

“They were real,” he told her. “Just not in this house.”

“I’m glad. I like to think that those two were crazy in love for so long and that they eventually get together. They do, don’t they? Get together and have a happy ever after?”

He shrugged. “I didn’t read far enough.”

She snuggled into his embrace, sighing. “I like to think that they did. I feel like their story is ours, just a little. Two lovers separated and reunited.”

“Their story’s not ours,” he told her in a husky voice, his fingers brushing at a lock of her hair. “I want us to make our story, not follow someone else’s.”

Her heart melted a little at that, and she curled her fingers into his jacket, tugging him close enough to kiss her. “You hurt me bad, you know.”

“I’m changing. For you, I’ll change everything I am.” His intense gaze swept over her face. “I meant it, Gretchen. I love you. It doesn’t matter to me if you love me or not. Just stay.”

“Well, it’s a good thing for you that I love you, too.”

His eyes warmed. He brushed a finger along her jawline. “Do you mean it?”

She thwacked him on the shoulder. “We’re going to have to get past this trust thing. Of course I mean it. Why would I lie to you after all this?”

A wide grin crossed his face. “I just never thought I would be so lucky.” His fingers moved over her lips and he pressed a kiss to her mouth.

It was a soft, gentle kiss, and it was over far too soon. All it did was stoke a fire in her belly that was impossible to put out. She moaned when he pulled away. “You want to see how lucky you can be?” she murmured to him.


She took his hand and led him toward the greenhouse.

As soon as they shut the door behind them, he wrapped an arm around her waist. She closed her eyes and leaned into his embrace, taking in the lush scents of the rows upon rows of roses and the smell of damp earth.

“Tell me I am not dreaming,” Hunter whispered against her neck, pressing kisses there. “That you’re truly in my arms and I’m forgiven.”

“I’ll just pinch you instead,” she told him playfully, sliding out of his arms and turning to face him. “Got a preference as to where?”

“Don’t care.” He grasped her h*ps and pulled her against him so she could feel the hard length of his desire against her. “I want you, Gretchen. So badly.”

She smiled and sauntered away, passing by the black table that he did the more delicate gardening on. While most of the roses grew in large, deep pots, he had seedlings and a scatter of tools on the table at all times. Currently there were rows and rows of carefully planted seedlings marching across the table and taking up almost all of the space.