Beauty and the Billionaire (Page 6)
Beauty and the Billionaire (Billionaire Boys Club #2)(6)
Author: Jessica Clare
He felt an incredible urge to head toward the guest hall in the east wing, where she was housed. He wanted to pass down the hall and perhaps spot her exploring. Did she like his house? Or did she find it old and stodgy and overbearing?
His hand touched the scars on his cheek, feeling the deep, ugly grooves still carved into his flesh after all this time.
And clenched his hands on his desk, quelling his excitement.
Dawn broke bright and early, shining through the massive windows along the far wall. Gretchen bounded out of bed, already feeling restless and ready to begin the project. On the other side of the bed, Audrey mumbled and rolled over, going back to sleep.
That was fine with Gretchen. It’d give her a chance to get her bearings.
She dressed quickly, considering the bell pull, and decided to head out on her own. Dinner had been brought to them last night but it had been . . . strange. A few meager sandwiches and a can of tuna for her cat. She’d considered that Igor might not be the most welcome here and had brought cans of food and a portable litter pan, but it was downright odd that the cat seemed to be welcome and her sister was not. And since the welcome had been so incredibly warm she decided that perhaps this morning she’d explore a bit on her own before alerting their host that she was awake.
The halls of the house were eerily silent, to the point that she stopped and turned her phone to vibrate. A phone call would alert someone to her presence, and . . . she paused. Why was she feeling the need to sneak around? There was no one in this mansion. And after all, she’d been invited. So why the vague sense of guilt?
Probably because the butler had been such a jerk. If he was the welcoming party, she could see why no one else was here. She wondered if the owner was quite as big an a**hole as his employee. Perhaps the unfriendly Mr. Buchanan had given his butler instructions to make their welcome an unpleasant one because he wasn’t a fan of the project. Maybe he didn’t want her here and was permitting it only for the sake of the project.
Though if he didn’t want her here, then why would he allow it? Why wouldn’t he make other provisions to take the letters off-site in a controlled manner and have her work somewhere else where he wouldn’t be disturbed?
None of it made any sense.
Gretchen wandered the halls, admiring the costly furnishings and the architecture of the place, but the more that she wandered, the more bizarre it seemed to her. Though the place was spotless, she had seen no one at all. Didn’t a place this huge need a massive staff on hand? She’d seen enough documentaries about British aristocracy and the huge staff that the manor houses carried. This was practically American aristocracy, right? So where were the employees? She found it hard to believe that Buchanan would be doing his own dishes and dusting his library.
She eventually made it back to the main foyer of the house. Then she headed across the hall to the next wing. For some reason, it was oddly pleasing to hear the distant whirr of vacuums. That meant someone else existed in this enormous mansion.
Following the sounds, she pushed open doors until she found the source—an army of maids thoroughly cleaning one room. There had to be twenty women in there busy with vacuums and dusters.
“Hi there,” Gretchen called.
They stopped what they were doing. One woman froze mid-feather-dust, and the one wielding the enormous vacuum shut it off. They were all middle-aged to elderly, and they stared at her as if she were a ghost.
Gretchen gave them a friendly little wave, though she was feeling a bit odd about such things. This place was crazy. “You guys work here?”
As soon as the question left her mouth, she felt like an idiot. They were wearing traditional black-and-white maid costumes that Gretchen thought only existed for costume parties, though a more modest kind than she’d seen for Halloween. Of course they worked here. “I’m staying in the east wing,” she said lamely. “Working. Nice to see you all.”
“No one’s supposed to be in this wing,” one woman said after a moment. “Today’s Saturday.”
“Umm, okay.” She glanced around, but everyone seemed to be waiting for her to go. “Why can’t we be in the west wing today again?”
“Because it’s Saturday,” another woman said. “Off limits except to the cleaning crew.”
“Yeah, okay, but why?”
The woman shrugged. “That’s how it is. We don’t make the rules. We just work here.”
And now she was making them nervous. Well, wasn’t this awkward. Gretchen pointed at the door behind her. “I’m . . . um . . . just going to leave, I think. Have you guys seen Mr. Buchanan?”
“No one sees Mr. Buchanan except Mr. Eldon,” the eldest maid offered helpfully. “Do you want me to call Mr. Eldon?”
“No, that’s okay. I already had my fill of Mr. Eldon.” Gretchen glanced at the door, then back at the maids. One wing was closed yesterday because it was Friday. This wing was closed because today was Saturday. “So tomorrow’s Sunday. What happens on Sunday?”
“Boathouse and Greenhouse,” one of the women offered. “And any outlying buildings or special projects.”
“No one works on Monday or Tuesday. Wednesday is the north wing, Thursday is the east wing, Friday is the south wing, and Sunday is the west wing.”
“You do a different area each day of the week? Huh. Which day of the week is Mr. Buchanan’s room?”
So he lived in the north wing. Not the same wing as her. “And the rest of the family?”
“No one else lives here except Mr. Eldon and Mr. Buchanan.”
In this big house? Only two men? How positively . . . creepy. And lonely. And an enormous waste of all this incredible space. “I see. Well, I think I’m going to finish taking a look around, if that’s okay with you guys.”
“Are you sure you don’t want me to ring Mr. Eldon?” One woman pulled out a phone that looked remarkably like a walkie-talkie. “I’m sure he’d—”
“No, I’m good. I was just heading down to the kitchens. Can you tell me where they are?”
“There’s three kitchens,” one maid volunteered. “But the only one that’s kept stocked is in the north wing.”
Spiffy. “Thank you. Is there a kitchen staff?”
“Just Mr. Eldon. He prepares all of Mr. Buchanan’s meals. He’s probably there right now.”
“I see.” Jeez. This was sounding weirder by the moment. Gretchen knew the rich were eccentric, but this was a little ridiculous. “Well, skip that, then. I’m not that hungry after all. I’ll check the kitchens out some other time. Thanks for your help, ladies.”
She left, quickly shutting the door before they could protest—or worse, call the oh-so-pleasant Mr. Eldon.
Gretchen headed back to the main hall, heading toward the familiar part of the house before she got lost and someone had to call Eldon on her. It was still early enough that she could get a good day’s work in on Astronaut Bill before Eldon returned to show her where they were keeping the letters. She could return, wake up Audrey, spend some time with Igor, and relax. And work on her book like she was supposed to. Even better, she could ring the bell and force that awful Mr. Eldon to make them breakfast. The thought of him slaving over a stove for her and Audrey had a certain appeal.
And yet . . . Gretchen turned. Then, after a moment’s thought, she headed up the stairs to the north wing.
She was being nosy, she told herself. She just wanted a glimpse of what the mysterious Mr. Buchanan looked like. Maybe he’d be just as weird and unpleasant as Mr. Eldon. But her imagination was fired up.
Plus, she’d use any excuse to avoid spending manuscript time with Astronaut Bill. Maybe it was time Astronaut Bill met up with a fearsome race of skinny, bald giant butlers that needed to be slaughtered.
It would be satisfying, if not a bit bloodthirsty. At least it was just fiction.
When Gretchen had thought she’d want to see the master of the fabulous house, she hadn’t thought that she’d see . . . well, all of him.
After exploring the north hall for a time, she turned down another section of the wing, the faint sound of piped-in rock music drawing her forward. She’d headed toward the sound . . . and stopped.
At the end of the hallway, not a hundred feet from where she was standing, a door was opening. Steam rushed out in a billowing puff, along with the source of the loud music. A man emerged, rubbing his head with a fluffy white towel to dry his hair, humming to himself. His face was hidden from her but . . . nothing else was.
And oh, mercy, he was gorgeous.
He was utterly nak*d, his skin gleaming with wet drops from his shower. His legs were tanned and shadowed from the wet hair clinging to them, and his legs were thick with cords of muscle. Nice, wet cords of glorious muscle. A tattoo traced across one bicep.
He was hung, too, Gretchen didn’t mind noticing. His c*ck lay semi-erect against his thigh, as if he’d recently pleasured himself.
Her gaze traveled upward, feeling almost lascivious at spying. But his chest was just as perfectly sculpted as the rest of him, deep grooves worn into the muscle and displaying a delicious lack of body fat. This was a man who worked out regularly and with great enthusiasm.
Much like the enthusiasm she was feeling staring at his broad shoulders and washboard abs, Gretchen thought to herself. There was something not quite right about the way one side of his body looked, as if the skin had too much shadow on it, but she was too far away to see what it was. A trick of the light, perhaps? A light dusting of chest hair covered his pectorals.
The towel fell, and she caught a glimpse of dark hair atop his head and strong, handsome features . . . and then the towel revealed his entire face.
Scarred. Broken. His mouth was pulled down on one side.
She gasped, unable to help herself. He’d been so perfectly sculpted that the sight of the ruin on his face had completely thrown her for a loop.
The man froze and turned toward her, as if seeing her for the first time. Recognition flitted across his face, and then he was wrapping the towel around his waist. “Get the f**k out of here,” he roared. One hand went in front of his face, shielding it from her gaze.
“Sorry,” Gretchen said in a high-pitched voice, taking a few cautious steps backward. “I didn’t mean to spy. I just—”
“Get out of here! Go! You’re not allowed down this hall!”
“I’m so sorry! I—”
Gretchen turned and ran. She didn’t stop running until she made it back to the east wing and slammed her bedroom door shut behind her. She leaned against it, breathing hard.
She’d just seen the owner nak*d. Really nak*d. Hell, she’d practically ogled his nak*dness and taken his measurements. And it had been some damn fine nak*dness. The only thing that wasn’t perfect was his face. It was terribly scarred, but the more she thought about it, the more she was intrigued by it.
Not that she’d get a chance to find out the story behind it. Mr. Buchanan was seriously pissed that she’d seen him. She’d never seen anyone so mad. Gretchen winced, biting a fingernail.