Beauty and the Billionaire (Page 5)
Beauty and the Billionaire (Billionaire Boys Club #2)(5)
Author: Jessica Clare
“Good afternoon,” the man said in a sonorous voice. “Which one of you is Ms. Gretchen Petty?”
She raised a hand. “Here.” She immediately lowered it, feeling like a tool. This wasn’t class. “I brought my sister for the weekend so she can see me settled. I hope that’s okay?”
He gave her a piercing stare, as if she’d displeased him greatly.
At her side, Audrey cleared her throat and stepped forward, iPad in hand. “My employer is Logan Hawkings, a friend of Mr. Buchanan’s. When I told Mr. Hawkings that we would be coming here for the weekend, he told me that he had cleared it with Mr. Buchanan and that it would not be a problem for me to tag along.” Audrey’s tone was direct, crisp, and absolutely business-like in the face of this man’s disapproval.
Gretchen wanted to kiss her sister for putting the man in his place. He must not be Mr. Buchanan, then. Thank God. He looked like he had a massive stick up his ass. Not exactly Gretchen’s kind of person.
After a long moment, the man nodded. “I am aware of Mr. Hawkings’s involvement. If you would please follow me, I can show you to your rooms.”
He turned and began to walk back up the stairs, not offering to help them with their luggage. Lovely. “No, no,” Gretchen began loudly. “Don’t bother. I can carry all the bags. There are Amazons in my ancestry, after all. Me strong like bull.” She flexed mockingly.
The man gave her an ugly stare over his shoulder.
Audrey stifled a giggle and thwacked Gretchen lightly on the arm. “Shut up, already.”
Gretchen simply grinned and tossed her bag over her shoulder. “Come on. The world’s friendliest butler there doesn’t look like he’s going to wait on us.”
They followed behind him, jogging to catch up, as he led them through the house.
When they entered the foyer of the grandiose hall, Gretchen stopped and set down her luggage, her mouth gaping at the sight. A dual staircase curved up the massive marble foyer, and in the center of the ceiling dripped a crystal chandelier. A red runner carpet lined the stairs and Gretchen felt as if she’d been dropped into a TV show. “This place is gorgeous.”
The gentleman escorting them turned and gave her a slight sniff of disapproval. “Of course it is.”
“I wasn’t insulting the place, I was just—”
“Talking. Yes, I noticed.” He turned his back on her and began to go up the stairs.
Wow. She made a face at him and turned to Audrey, who was trying to stifle a giggle behind one hand and failing miserably. “Gee, I hope he’s in charge of the tour,” Gretchen mock-whispered. “He’s got some incredible people skills.”
Audrey batted her arm, laughing.
They followed the butler—at least, Gretchen assumed he was the butler—up to the second floor and down a long, narrow hall. The house was clearly old but everything was in remarkable condition and of the finest make. At the end of the hallway, the butler turned to them. “I have prepared only one room for guests.” And he gave another baleful look at Audrey.
“Oh, it’s not a problem,” Gretchen said sweetly. “It must be terribly difficult to find space around here. You must only have thirty or forty guest bedrooms. I totally understand.”
He stared at Gretchen and then opened the door, choosing to ignore her.
The door opened up into a gorgeous room, and despite the butler’s unpleasant demeanor, Gretchen was delighted at the sight. A large canopied bed that looked like something straight out of the Tudor dynasty jutted out from the far wall, and the vaulting ceiling was painted with dancing cherubs and glittered with more chandeliers.
She stepped over the threshold, a bit surprised at the opulence of the room. She’d been expecting something a bit more like a hotel room, with a simple bed, dresser, and table. She would have been glad for that. This . . . was incredible.
“I trust that this suits your needs?” the butler asked dryly.
Gretchen forced herself to close her mouth and gave him an equally grave look. “It’s a little small,” she lied, “but it’ll suit.”
“I’ll give you a few hours to get settled. Dinner is in two hours and will be brought to your room.”
Audrey stopped staring at the gorgeous room and looked over at the butler. “Do we get a tour of the place?”
“And the letters,” Gretchen said. “When do I get to look at those?”
“The letters are in the south wing, and the south wing is off limits today.” He moved toward the door, readying to leave. “If you need anything else, ring the bell pull. My name is Mr. Eldon. You can ask for me.”
“Why is the south wing off limits?” Gretchen asked as he began to shut the door.
“Because today is Friday,” he said as the door closed with a click.
Gretchen stared at Audrey, a bit surprised by what had just happened.
“Well. The rich do surround themselves with eccentrics,” Audrey said. “Maybe he’s very good at being a butler. Or something.”
“I’m hoping it’s more along the lines of ‘old family friend’,” Gretchen said wryly. “Because that’ll excuse his behavior a little more. Do you think the owner doesn’t want me here to do this project?”
“I don’t know,” Audrey said, moving to the bed and touching one of the thick, luxurious tassels hanging from the bed draperies. “They invited you here, didn’t they? So the Buchanan family must be aware that you’re here to work.”
“Huh.” Gretchen wasn’t so sure. The butler was kind of a jerk. Still, she could put up with a jerk for a nice fat paycheck and the opportunity to live in an American-style castle for an entire month. It wasn’t as if Mr. Eldon was going to be hovering over her shoulder for the entire time.
An angry meow came from Gretchen’s bag, and she set it down on the edge of the bed, unzipping. Igor bounded out a moment later, and then hissed at her to let Gretchen know his displeasure.
That was par for the course today, really. It seemed like everyone was in a pissy mood.
Eldon entered Hunter’s office after a quick knock. “She is here, and she is settled, sir.”
Hunter bolted to his feet behind his desk, then forced himself to remain put. Calm. Relaxed. At ease. “Did she seem pleased?”
The butler’s mouth turned down in a sour frown. “Pleased? I suppose. She asked to see the letters and I told her the wing was off limits.”
“You can show her tomorrow.”
“Shall I leave the honor to you?”
“I . . . no. Not yet.” The surroundings would be strange to Gretchen. Best not to unsettle her more than she was already. Perhaps she was nervous and seeing a man with scars lurking in the shadows would only increase the nervousness. “I shall introduce myself in time.”
“Very well, sir.” Eldon said nothing else, but didn’t leave the room, either.
“What is it?”
“She has brought her sister with her.”
“I have no objections.”
“Yes.” Again, a long pause, and then Eldon’s face seemed disapproving once more. “And a cat.”
Hunter felt his mouth stretch tight against his scars, smiling. “A cat is permissible. I did not state in the contract if she had to leave any pets behind.”
“And have you set up the letters for Ms. Petty’s project?”
Eldon gave a sharp nod. “They have been placed in an authentic Buchanan trunk dating from the Victorian era and left in the Blue Library.”
“And you reviewed them to verify their accuracy? This has to seem like a legitimate project, Eldon. I don’t want her leaving early because she realizes it’s a scam.”
“I have been assured of the age and accuracy of the letters by the gentleman who sold them to me. He insisted that they have been in his family for generations and was only willing to part with them for a large sum.”
“I don’t care about how much they cost. I just want it to be enough to keep her here for a few weeks so I can get to know her.”
“You may trust that it is under control, Mr. Buchanan.” Eldon clasped his hands behind his back and shifted on his feet. “This does, however, bring me to the question of the publisher.”
“The one you formed to push Ms. Petty’s project? You hired Mr. Stewart from his publishing house and told him to acquire employees and projects as long as Ms. Petty’s book was given premium attention.”
He vaguely remembered something about that. It had seemed easier to him that he’d set his own publisher up than to approach one of the others. After all, he didn’t care if the business made money. “Is there a problem with Stewart?”
“I believe he wanted to discuss Bellefleur Publishing with you and get your opinion on some of the acquisitions.”
Hunter waved a hand, dismissing the thought. He didn’t give a shit about what Stewart acquired. “Have him talk with my accounting people.”
“They are not fans of this project, just so you know, sir.”
“Why does it matter to them?”
Eldon’s mouth pursed as if considering something unpleasant. “I believe one does not go into publishing with the expectation of making large amounts of money.”
“Then it’s a good thing that I didn’t go into this expecting to make money, isn’t it?” Hunter smiled tightly. “Tell him to contact my accountants. And tell my accountants to give the man whatever he needs to run his business—within reason.”
Hunter moved to the window, gazing out at his rose gardens. They were bare and brown this time of year, the beds carefully covered to protect the roots in anticipation of springtime. They’d be gorgeous then, but for now they were barren. He wondered if she’d like them when they were in full bloom. Did she like gardening? Did she like the outdoors? “You met Gretchen, Eldon. Tell me your thoughts.”
“It is not for me to say, sir.” He didn’t look pleased at being asked. When Hunter continued to wait, he added, “She seemed . . . strong.”
Strong. Hunter rubbed his mouth, thinking of kind Gretchen. She was so beautiful and lively. He’d have no idea how to talk to her. Hell, he still had a hard time figuring out what to say to Logan, Jonathan, and the others and he’d known them for years. Next to someone as lovely and personable as her, he’d be . . . a tongue-tied, scarred lump.
Eldon cleared his throat. “Will our house guests affect the cleaning schedule, Mr. Buchanan?”
“No, they will not.”
“Then I shall be off to resume my duties, sir.”
“Thank you, Eldon.”
His butler left, and Hunter was once again alone in his study. He forced himself to sit back down, calmly, though his heart was beating rapidly in his chest. Anxiety? Excitement? Or something else?
Buchanan Manor never had visitors. Hunter never had visitors. Even the Brotherhood never came to visit. He usually went to visit them, and with a bodyguard in tow.