Beauty and the Billionaire (Page 9)
Beauty and the Billionaire (Billionaire Boys Club #2)(9)
Author: Jessica Clare
Five minutes later, she was slogging through the light dusting of snow in a pair of boots that she’d found in the mudroom. Her flannel pajamas were warm enough for the indoors, but the bitter winter wind cut right through them. For a brief moment, she pondered heading back to her room to dress in something other than pajamas, but in that time, the mysterious Mr. Buchanan might disappear on her again.
And she desperately needed to talk to him.
Her footsteps crunched loudly as she walked, and she crossed her arms over her chest, heading toward him with determination. He didn’t seem to have noticed her yet, so she studied him from behind. She’d seen him previously, of course, but not clothed, and he looked different, somehow. Rich guys didn’t need to work hard to get chicks. She always suspected that more often they looked like pasty nerds rather than soldiers. But this man was definitely of the latter variety, however. His shoulders were thick and burly underneath the tan jacket he wore, and his entire frame seemed built for muscle. He wasn’t short either, which was nice. Not that she was interested in those sorts of things. She just wanted to apologize for ogling his junk.
He turned around even as she was considering his nicely formed behind, and her face flushed bright red. She was forever going to be caught leering at him, wasn’t she?
Mr. Buchanan stared at her for a long moment, frozen. Then color began to dot his cheeks. It made the scars on his face stand out even more, like jagged talons of white cutting across his tanned skin.
He also looked like he was torn between running for cover or choking her with the length of rope he held.
“Hi there.” She tried to keep her tone cheerful and nonchalant. “I thought I’d come out and say hi.”
His eyes narrowed warily, and she was reminded for a moment of a wounded animal. That piercing gaze moved up and down her form, noting her pajamas. “Are you drunk?” he asked abruptly.
“No,” she said, drawing out that one syllable. Okay, so the pajamas weren’t making the best first—um, second—impression. “I’m friendly. I saw you out here and wanted to talk.”
His face darkened into a scowl, the scars at the corner of his mouth twisting his entire face into an ugly grimace. He turned away. “I have nothing to say to you.”
So this wasn’t going well. When he began to stalk away at a pace more rapid than she could sustain in her oversized borrowed boots, she panicked. “Your penis!” she called out. “I saw it!”
He stopped in his tracks and turned to give her an incredulous look.
She stomped after him, nearly losing her balance in a snowdrift. “It’s true,” she said, struggling to stand upright. “I was snooping and I saw you nak*d. All of you. Really nak*d. That’s why you won’t talk to me, isn’t it?” When he began to scowl again, she continued. “I mean, you can sit here and pretend you don’t want to talk to me, but we both know it’s totally awkward because I saw your dick before I saw your face.”
His scowl seemed to turn even blacker, making the scars livid on his face.
Oh shit, his scars. He thought she was insulting his face.“I, uh, didn’t mean it like that. Damn, I’m much better at banter when it’s on the page.” Gretchen trailed after him when he began to walk away again. “Can we try this again?” She assumed a cheerful expression and made her voice two octaves higher. “Hi there! I’m Gretchen, and I’m working on ghostwriting the project in your library. I’m only going to be here for a month, but I hope we can be friends.”
And she thrust her hand out.
He stopped, stared down at her hand for a moment, and then looked back at her. “I trust you’ll stay out of my way for the next month, then.”
Ouch. She couldn’t help the flinch that crossed her face. “I guess I will.”
He gave a curt nod. “See that you do. I’m a very busy man.” Winding the length of rope around his arm, he continued back toward the house.
Gretchen watched him leave, frustrated and a little embarrassed at herself. Not exactly a smooth conversationalist there, Gretch. Did you hope to wow him with your witty “Your penis, I saw it!” Did you really think that would break the ice?
“Seems to work for Astronaut Bill and Uranea,” she muttered to herself. Then, shivering and rubbing her arms, she headed back to the manor house.
So much for apologizing to the owner of the place.
Hunter ripped his snow boots off and tossed them down in the mudroom, discarding his gardening gloves and the rope he’d brought inside. She was heading for the mudroom, too, and he needed to get out of there. Tearing down the hall, he headed for the one place he could truly relax and think—his greenhouse.
God, he’d f**ked it all up again.
He headed down the covered garden path that led to the side of the manor house and his private greenhouse. He walked in and the humidity hit him, as well as the perfume of the roses. Immediately, his pounding heart began to calm. He moved to his table of tools and picked up his favorite pruning shears and then moved to inspect his roses. As he knelt and began to prune away the dead leaves, his thoughts whirled with the bizarre, abrupt encounter.
She’d come out to talk to him.
Him. She’d wanted to talk to him. Part of Hunter had been thrilled at the thought, but the larger part of him—the scarred, wounded part—had lashed out. She’d seen him nak*d. Commented on his face. Pointed out quite bluntly that she’d seen his cock.
It had almost seemed like she’d wanted to break the ice and was having a hard time spitting it out.
And what had he done? He’d snapped at her and tried to chase her off. To her credit, she hadn’t been deterred until he’d more or less told her to stay out of his way for the entire month.
Hunter gritted his teeth, viciously snapping a browned leaf off a wilting Gemini tea rose.
He didn’t want her to avoid him. He wanted to see her. Watch her work. Talk to her. Have her turn that odd sense of humor on him. And instead, he’d driven her away.
Fuck. Why did he always freeze up around women? Hell, around people in general. Eldon was the only one who didn’t make him stiffen with alarm. And she’d been so lovely and . . . odd. He thought back to the sight of her, standing in his snowy garden in Eldon’s borrowed boots and ratty flannel pajamas that outlined the hard tips of her n**ples when the breeze had blown her shirt a certain way.
That had made him panic as much as anything, even as it made him hard with need. Hunter groaned and pressed a hand to his cock, willing his erection to go away. He’d give in to the need later, in the privacy of his room. He’d dream about that spill of messy red hair, her pale skin, and the way her mouth made a perfect little bow when she was startled. And then he’d dream of that bow of a mouth descending on his cock, licking the head—
. . . we both know it’s totally awkward because I saw your dick ever before I saw your face.
Yeah, that f**king killed his boner.
Hunter shook his head to clear his thoughts, forcing himself to concentrate on the maintenance of his roses. Some people read or painted to calm their minds but Hunter liked tending to his roses. He grew all varieties, but his favorites were the showy hybrid tea roses that were so delicate in their constitution and yet so incredibly beautiful and fragrant when coaxed into blooming. He ran his fingers over a velvety petal of a Cajun Moon, his exterior calm despite his roiling thoughts.
He’d more or less demanded that she leave him alone.
He didn’t want that. How could he fix it? Demand that Eldon prepare a candlelight dinner and then insist that she show up? Act as if he said nothing to her at all? Better yet, act as if they’d never even met and start fresh?
She’d think he was crazy if he did. Well, more than she already thought.
There was no good answer to this. He thought for a long moment, touching a petal of a blooming Blue Girl. The rose was lovely, the color a cross between pewter and baby blue. He wondered if her eyes were the same color. They’d been pale, making her entire face seem almost too pale in color, and overly round. But he liked that about her. It made her seem less . . . perfect.
With careful fingers, he cut the blue rose and trimmed the thorns off the stem. He’d have to apologize. He wasn’t good at that sort of thing, but perhaps a rose would say more than he could.
When Gretchen showered and dressed, she headed for the library. No sense in avoiding it for any longer—she had to start on the project. Her spirits were a bit low after that morning’s encounter, but at least she’d tried. Now when they avoided each other, she’d know it was because he wanted it that way, not because he was embarrassed.
Shame. It’d make this month lonely.
The desk set aside for her use had been opened when she entered the quiet library. To her surprise, there was a beautiful pale blue rose, freshly cut, laying on a silver tray. A small folded note lay under it.
She picked up the note and opened it, scanning the contents.
I was rude. I apologize. Eldon cooks dinner at seven every night. Tonight, I will be eating in the red dining room if you wish to attend. Pajamas optional.
It was signed with a scribbly HB.
And she smiled.
Gretchen showed up to dinner five minutes early, a bit on edge. It was silly to be nervous, of course. It was just dinner with a man who, for all intents and purposes, didn’t seem to like her very much. She supposed that she still felt a bit of guilt about their rather nude-ish meeting. It was her fault she’d embarrassed him, after all. And since he was the only shot she had of any company while she was staying here, she very much wanted things to be calm and easy between them.
She’d brushed her hair back into a clean ponytail instead of her regular messy bun, but she wore no makeup and dressed in her track pants and a long-sleeved T-shirt. It was just dinner with someone that she wanted to be a friend. Dressing up would make it weird.
Still, when she knocked on the door (after getting directions from Eldon earlier that day) and entered the red dining room, she was surprised to see Mr. Buchanan open the door for her. He was dressed in a crisp suit jacket, and his hair was smoothed against his scalp.
“Were we supposed to dress up?” Gretchen offered him a smile as she stepped into the room. “I admit that I thought of this as a work trip so I wore my usual writing clothes. Sorry if I’m a bit underdressed.”
“It’s fine,” he said abruptly. “You are sufficient.”
She laughed, trying to ease the mood. “Sufficient? I bet you say that to all the girls.”
He looked flustered, and he turned away, shutting the door behind her with a bit more force than it needed. Good Lord. Here she was just trying to be funny and he acted as if he had ants in his pants. He’d been the one to invite her to dinner. “Thank you for the rose,” she told him, crossing her arms over her chest and moving around the room to get a look at the furnishings. That seemed safer than looking at her dinner companion, who looked as if he might fall to pieces if he caught her staring at him.
And to be honest, she was practically twitching with the need to watch him. She’d been distracted in the gardens since it had been so cold and their conversation had gone badly. She wanted to stare at his fascinating face and figure out how it had ended up the way it had. He was covered in scars on one side of his face—deep, almost pitted scars that held a story in them. She was very curious about that story.