Someone had entered the town house.
At the sound of voices, he paused in the foyer of the enormous home. Out of habit, he moved into a shadowy alcove, lest they catch him unawares and stop to stare at him. Even after years of being a scarred, ugly bastard, he was still bothered by the expressions people made at the sight of his face. It was easier to just blend in with the shadows until they were gone. He waited, his ears straining to determine who was there. The only people he’d expected to stop by were Logan’s assistant, who’d insisted on picking up some of his books for a donation, and the movers who’d come to clean out the rest of what was left in the house.
He’d thought the place would be empty, so it would be a perfect time for him to inspect it. He hadn’t realized someone else would be coming in, much less two women.
There was a shuffle of footsteps, and then the sound of a box thumping onto the ground.
“What is this place?” A soft, pleasant female voice asked. “It’s lovely.”
“Some dead celebrity’s home or something. I don’t care.” The other woman’s voice seemed full of laughter and amusement, but her tone was cutting. “All I care about is how we’re supposed to get these damned boxes back to SoHo. What the heck was Audrey thinking?”
“Could we call a cab?”
The women approached Hunter’s shadowed hiding place, and he stilled, waiting for them to pass without noticing him.
The redhead was standing not ten feet away from him, her head bent. He couldn’t see her face, but she was curvy and tall, her as**s a perfect heart from where he was standing, and her hair was a brilliant shade of red. The other girl—a pretty brunette with wide eyes—balanced two boxes and was waiting for instructions from the other woman.
“I don’t know about a cab,” the redhead said. “That’ll clean us out, and I still want to order that pizza.”
“So?” the dark-haired one asked.
“Bront?,” the redhead said in a crisp voice, and Hunter came to attention. That was a familiar name.
But the redhead was still talking. “You have to understand something about my sister. She’s not the most practical creature.”
“She’s not? She seems practical to me.”
“Not when it comes to work. She thinks we’re mules or something, as evidenced by all this. And if I need to call and gripe at her to get her in line, then, by golly, I’m going to do it.” She put the phone to her ear. A few seconds later, she made a frustrated sound. “Voice mail. I can’t believe her. She said there were two boxes. Not five boxes of hardbacks. Does she think we’re bodybuilders?”
“It’s not that bad,” the brunette placated her, adjusting the boxes in her arms. “I’m sure we can manage.”
“I blame Logan Hawkings,” the redhead exclaimed, catching Hunter’s attention. “He thinks the world just belongs to him, doesn’t he?”
The look on the other woman’s face was sad. “I suppose.”
“Ugh. Look at that hang-dog expression. You’re still in love with him, aren’t you?”
brunette turned sad eyes on her friend. “‘I hate and I love. Perhaps you ask why I do so. I do not know, but I feel it, and am in agony.’”
“Oh, quit quoting that crap at me. You’re being dramatic. He’s a jerk. You’ll get over him.”
The redhead turned, and Hunter got a good look at her face for the first time. She was unusual-looking, with a round cheeks smattered in freckles. Her expressive eyes dominated her face despite being hidden behind square, scholarly glasses. Her chin ended in a small point, and she looked fascinating. Smart. Annoyed. “Save me from rich, attractive alpha males. They think they’re the heroes from a fairy tale. Little do they know, they’re more like the villains.”
“That’s not fair, Gretchen,” the one called Bront? protested.
“Life’s not fair,” Gretchen said in a cheerfully acerbic voice. “I’d rather have a man who isn’t in love with his own reflection than one who needs hair product or designer labels.” She bent over, and that heart-shaped as**s was thrust into his vision again, and his co**ck stirred with need.
“So you’d rather have a pizza guy with a weak chin and a knight-in-shining-armor complex?”
“Yes,” Gretchen said emphatically, and a dimple flashed in her pointed little face. “His looks aren’t half as important as his brain.”
So she said. Hunter knew from experience that what women said they wanted in a man was soon forgetten if his physical appearance was unappealing. Still, he was fascinated with her. She was brash and clever, and a little sardonic, as if she were as weary of the world as he was. He watched as the two women, arguing and laughing, stepped out of the foyer of the empty home with the boxes of donations that he’d left for Logan’s assistant.
Her name was Gretchen. Gretchen. He racked his brain, trying to think of anyone who knew a Gretchen. A lovely redhead with a charmingly unusual face and a cutting tongue. He wanted to know more about her . . .
Hunter touched the jagged scars running down the left side of his face and frowned. Would she find him as hideous as the rest of the world did? Probably. But she’d also said she could look past that. That she wasn’t interested in a face as much as the brain behind it.
He was curious whether she’d been telling the truth.
Not that it mattered, since she’d just walked out the door and he’d likely never see her again.
A half-buried memory stirred in the back of his mind as he stared at the now-shut door. The other woman had an unusual name. Bront?. He knew that name, and where he’d heard it before.
He dialed Logan’s number, still thinking about the unusual redhead.
“What is it?” Logan said. “I’m about to head into a meeting.”
“There can’t be more than one ‘Bront?’ running around New York, can there?” Hunter asked.
The voice on the other end of the line got very still. “Bront??” Logan asked after a moment. “You saw her? Where is she?”
Hunter stared at the door, half wishing the women would come back through it again, and half relieved they wouldn’t. “She just left with a redhead named Gretchen. I want to know more
“About my Bront??” Logan’s voice was a growl.
“No. Gretchen. The one with red hair. I want her.”
“Oh.” A long sigh. “Sorry, man. Haven’t been myself lately. She left me, and I’ve been going crazy trying to find her.” Logan’s voice sounded strained, tense. “I can’t believe she’s still in New York. Where are you?”
“At the townhouse on the Upper East Side.” Hunter had been overseeing it to ensure that nothing was out of place. Plus, he’d been bored and restless. And more than a little lonely.
He wasn’t lonely any more, though. He couldn’t stop thinking about that redhead. Gretchen, with her big glasses and pert comebacks and red hair.
“Your assistant didn’t come by to pick up the boxes,” Hunter said after a moment. “This Gretchen did, and your Bront? was with her.”
“I have to go,” Logan said. “I’ll call Audrey and see who she sent over.”
“Send me information about this Gretchen woman,” Hunter reminded me. I want her.
“I will. And thanks.” Logan’s tone had changed from dejected to triumphant. “I owe you one.”
“You do,” Hunter agreed. “Just get me information on her friend, and we’ll call it even.”
Things had suddenly gotten a bit more . . . interesting. Hunter glanced at the empty townhouse and smiled to himself, his mind full of the unusual woman who had been there minutes before.
Hunter Buchanan didn’t believe in love at first sight. Hell, he didn’t much believe in love at all.
But the moment he’d seen the tall redhead standing in the foyer of one of his empty houses, a box of books in her arms and a skeptical look on her face, he’d felt . . . something. She’d been bold and fearless with her words, something that attracted him as a man who clung to the shadows.
And when she’d admitted to her quiet friend that most men bored her and she wanted something different in a relationship than just a pretty face?
Hunter knew she was meant for him.
She was pretty, young, and single. She had a smart mind and a sharp tongue. He liked that about her. She was unafraid and laughed easily. Days had passed since he’d glimpsed at her and he still couldn’t get her out of his mind. She haunted his dreams.
Hunter was smart and rich and only a few years older than her. It shouldn’t have been unattainable.
Unconsciously, he touched the deeply gouged scars on his face, his fingers tracing the thick line at the corner of his mouth where damaged tissue had been reconstructed.
There was one thing preventing Hunter from pursuing a woman like that. His face. His hideous, scarred face. He could hide the scars on his chest and arm with clothing. He could clench his hand and no one would notice that he was missing a finger. But he couldn’t hide his face. When he chose to leave his house, people crossed the street to avoid him. Men frowned as if there were something unnerving about him. Women flinched away from the sight of him.