Beauty and the Billionaire (Page 8)
Beauty and the Billionaire (Billionaire Boys Club #2)(8)
Author: Jessica Clare
Gretchen feigned a yawn. “So where are the letters?”
“Right this way.” Eldon made his way to the back of the room and gestured at a matching rosewood secretary desk. She’d seen furniture like this, but only in antique stores or museums. The legs were spindly and painted with delicate designs, and as she watched with growing delight, Eldon opened the desk, revealing a flat writing surface and myriad cubbies used for mail. “This desk has been designated for your work area.”
“Mmmhmm.” She tried to seem casual and unexcited, even though she wanted nothing more than to sit down and run her hands along the wood.
“The letters are in this trunk.”
Gretchen glanced politely at the large steamer trunk set up next to the desk. “The container that holds the letters is in the trunk?”
“No,” Eldon said. “The letters are in the trunk.” He leaned over and flipped open the lid, revealing the contents.
There were letters, all right. She’d been expecting a lot of letters, of course. Maybe she just hadn’t properly visualized exactly how many letters. This trunk was filled top to bottom with envelopes, all neatly left in slit-open envelopes and lined up like playing cards. There had to be more than several hundred letters in that freaking trunk, maybe even a few thousand.
Her mouth fell open and she moved to the trunk, staring at the contents. “All these?”
“All these,” Eldon agreed. “They are cataloged by year.”
“I see that,” she murmured, touching a small tab separating a line of the envelopes. It was labeled 1885. She did a quick glance down the row, looking at the tabs to get an idea of the scope of the project. They started with 1872 and continued all the way up until 1902. “Are there really thirty years of letters in here?”
“So it seems.”
Holy crap! Okay, so she hadn’t been initially excited about this project, but now she was fascinated. What could these two letter writers have to talk about for thirty years that would have been so interesting that the letters were carefully kept and preserved for all this time? “When can I start?”
“You can start tomorrow.”
“You’re fine with me going back to work and leaving you here?” Audrey awkwardly patted Igor’s wrinkly little head, then returned to brushing her hair, readying for work.
The hairless cat meowed and rubbed against her hand in response.
Gretchen, still lolling on the bed in her pajamas, patted the blanket to call the cat. She didn’t have a day job like Audrey. She didn’t have to get out of her pajamas if she didn’t want to. “I’m fine. I start the letters today, and if this weekend is any indication, Eldon’s the only one I’ll ever see. Mr. Buchanan is either avoiding us or not in residence, and either way suits me fine,” she lied.
After all, she knew the truth—not only was Mr. Buchanan in residence, but he was totally, completely avoiding Gretchen.
She knew why, of course. She’d seen the man nak*d as could be. Strangers tended to frown on that sort of thing, after all.
But Audrey didn’t know any of that. If her sister did find out, she’d insist that Gretchen leave at once. Audrey was a bit prudish about that sort of thing. Growing up, the twins had been models of decorum, and Gretchen had been the wild child. Now all the wildness had gone out of Gretchen and seemed to have slid into Audrey’s twin, Daphne. As for Audrey, well, she still had that good girl mentality.
“I’ve met Buchanan a few times, Gretchen.” Audrey brushed her pale red hair in rapid strokes, glancing occasionally at Gretchen through the mirror. “He’s not what I’d call friendly or pleasant. I just worry about you being here with only that man and that horrible butler.”
“I’ll be fine, Audrey. Me and Igor will just work on the book, live off sandwiches, and get this project done as soon as possible. It’s no big deal.”
Audrey paused from pinning up her hair into her typical workday chignon. “You’re sure? It’s not that far of a drive from the Hawkings building. I can get into a cab and come get you if—”
“If what? I fall down the stairs and no one notices my crumpled form for weeks? Come on, Audrey. You’ve seen this place.” Gretchen rolled over in the bed and gestured at the room. “This house could fit all of my apartment building in here with room to spare, and there’s only two guys living here. The odds of me running into him are slim to none. If I need anything, I just ring for Eldon.”
“I know. I still don’t like this.” She licked a finger and smoothed an errant strand of hair, staring at her reflection in the mirror. “It’s a weird setup.”
“Yeah, but if Buchanan was a creepster, there are lots of cheaper ways to get women. Hookers don’t cost nearly what the publisher’s paying me.”
“That is so not funny.”
“Oh, I don’t know. It’s kind of funny if you think about it. I’m the literary equivalent of a hooker. Give me a contract and I’ll do whatever you want, baby.”
“Still not funny.”
“Come on. Just a little bit funny.”
Igor began to purr, and Gretchen scooped him up in her arms, cuddling him. The cat was surprisingly soft despite his lack of fur. His skin felt like crushed velvet, and she couldn’t resist his sweet but ugly face. “Tell Audrey it’s funny, Igor.”
“Gretch, you’ve really got to get out of the house more if you’re talking to that cat.”
She wiggled Igor back and forth, crossing her legs under her. “Tell Audrey that Mommy’s out of the house right now, Igor.”
“This is what I mean.” Audrey sighed. “That cat gets more attention than your last boyfriend.”
“This cat is better to cuddle with than my last boyfriend,” Gretchen said cheerfully. “And you’re going to be late to work.”
Audrey sighed again and adjusted her dark gray jacket, then picked an imaginary piece of lint off her matching skirt. “You’re going to be fine?”
“Igor and I will be just fine.”
She rolled her eyes and pulled out her phone, jiggling it in her sister’s direction. “Call me if you need me. And keep your phone on you so I can check you via text.”
“I’m twenty-six, Audrey. I can handle myself.”
“You’re in your pajamas, talking to your cat. Forgive me if I feel a moment of doubt. It’s like you’re turning into the crazy cat lady before my eyes.”
“Am not. Igor and I are having a month-long slumber party,” Gretchen said, holding the cat in front of her and making a kissy face at him because she knew it’d drive sensible Audrey bananas. “Isn’t that right, Igor-Wigor?”
“God, you and that cat.” She waved a hand. “It’s no wonder you’re eternally single. I’m out of here.”
“Text ya later,” Gretchen said, and moved the cat’s paw up and down in a facsimile of a wave. She laughed to herself when Audrey shut the door to the bedroom behind her, her sigh of sisterly annoyance still echoing in the hallway. “I’m thinking she’s not fond of you as a roomie, Igor.”
The cat said nothing and simply blinked up at her.
Gretchen sighed and placed him on the bed. “Okay, so Audrey might be right about the whole me-still-in-pajamas-talking-to-a-cat-is-pathetic thing. And given that I’m still talking to you, she might also have a point about the eternally single thing.”
It wasn’t that Gretchen ran into a lot of spectacularly eligible men in her line of work. The only people she knew in publishing were female, as it was a female-dominated business, and when she wasn’t doing job-related networking, she was more or less at home, working on her latest manuscript.
And sometimes she didn’t change out of her pajamas for days, which was kind of gross and not something that a boyfriend would approve of. So it was a good thing that she was single. Single let her hit her deadlines.
Well, theoretically. Since she wasn’t good at hitting those either, she really had no excuse.
She waited a few minutes, listening to her stomach growl, and then glanced over at the clock. Audrey had to be well on her way to work by now. Good. Gretchen rolled off the bed, bounding up onto her feet and heading for the bedroom door. Having her sister around for the weekend was enjoyable for the first night, but after that it sort of made the weekend crawl by. She wanted to explore the house and poke around on her project at her leisure, but all Audrey wanted to do was work on PowerPoints and go through her work email, even on Saturday nights.
The girl needed a hobby. Of course, the odds of that happening were about as good as the odds of Gretchen getting a boyfriend.
She slipped out the door of her room and down the hall. There was no sound of vacuums today. Today they were cleaning the boathouse and greenhouse or something. No flood of maids to drop in on and say hello, since she didn’t know where either the boathouse or greenhouse were. That meant that the only person around was Eldon, and he tended to avoid her.
This also meant that the north wing—Mr. Buchanan’s wing—would likely be deserted.
Gretchen headed there, unable to help herself.
It was a crazy idea, but the more she entertained the thought of apologizing to Mr. Buchanan, the more she wanted to do it. Her spying was going to hang in the air between them, and she didn’t want to spend the next thirty days hiding from him—or having him retreat at the sight of her.
They needed to deal with it like adults. Adults saw nudity all the time. Penises? No big deal. She wanted to apologize and make this next month as smooth as possible, since they’d be living together.
Unfortunately for her, his wing of the estate was entirely deserted. She spent a good half hour knocking on doors, only to come to that maddening conclusion. This place was a maze, and it would be near impossible to find the owner unless she knew where to look for him.
Disgruntled—and a bit hungry—Gretchen headed to the kitchens in the north wing, since it was the only one stocked. Even here, the place was immaculate. Not a crumb marred the gorgeous granite countertops, and the fridge and pantry were brimming with all kinds of delicious things that she was itching to bake with. It wasn’t her kitchen so she wouldn’t touch anything that she didn’t have permission to. Though it killed her not to rummage through the pantry and start baking, she made herself a simple sandwich out of some of the fresh bread left out on the counter (she’d come back later for Igor’s food), washed her knife and plate once she was done, and then wrapped the sandwich in a paper towel and walked the halls as she ate, musing to herself about her surroundings.
As she finished her sandwich, she strolled past a long corridor of windows and almost missed the sight of Mr. Buchanan in the gardens. His tall figure cut a dark form against the nak*d rosebushes. She moved to the window to watch him, and she noticed that he seemed to be inspecting the bushes. They looked pretty dead to her, but maybe they weren’t supposed to be? Intrigued, Gretchen hunted for a door that led outside.