Billionaire on the Loose (Billionaires and Bridesmaids #5)(4)


by Jessica Clare

But if he needed a friend and was so on the edge, she couldn’t not be there for him, could she? That seemed horribly selfish.

Sigmund: This raid isn’t fun without you.

So much for I’m busy and can’t talk, don’t message me. She quickly sent him a text telling him she was away and then flicked her phone to silent. He’d just have to do without her for a few hours. She closed her eyes and leaned back against the car seat.

The rest of the ride to Buchanan Manor was peaceful, and Taylor’s mood was recovered by the time she paid the cab driver and got out. She just wouldn’t check her phone for the rest of the afternoon. Peace and quiet the hard way. She was supposed to be on call for work, but no one ever rang the tech hotline on weekends anyhow.

Buchanan Manor was huge and imposing, sort of like a big haunted mansion from an old-school video game. The interior was pretty modern compared to the outside, and that was disappointing for a nerd like Taylor, but it happened. Decent Wi-Fi despite being out in the country, too, so that was a plus. Taylor secured her backpack on her back and trotted up to the door, tucking her phone in the back pocket of her jeans. She buzzed the doorbell, and then buzzed it several more times to the tune of “Shave and a Haircut.”

“That must be Taylor,” Gretchen bellowed from the other side of the door. Taylor heard feet slapping against the marble tile and then the door swung open. A disheveled Gretchen appeared, an apron on her front, her hair pulled into a wild, messy knot. “Dude, you only have to ring once, you know.”

“I know,” Taylor said, stepping inside. “Where’s your butler?”

“Family emergency. I told him to take the weekend off. It’s not like we can’t answer the damn door ourselves, you know?” She closed it behind them and then pointed down a side hall. “I’ve got scones in the oven, so come hang out in the kitchen for a few, okay?”

“Scones? How very British of us, guv’ner!”

“Oh, god, Tay, that was the worst accent I’ve ever heard.”

“I’m doing Billie Piper from Doctor Who.”

“You’re yelling.” Gretchen winced. “I don’t think Billie whoever screamed at the Doctor all day long. Increasing your volume doesn’t make you more British, nerd.”

“Cheerio and chop chop!”

“For the love of god, stop it.”

Taylor giggled and flung her arms around Gretchen. Man, it was good to see her. To have an interaction that didn’t involve Excelsior lately. “Since you asked nicely, I’ll stop.”

Gretchen just shook her head, put an arm around Taylor’s waist, and led her down one of the many long halls of the manor. “So tell me what you’re up to.”

“Oh, just more tech support stuff. Nothing exciting.”

“Did you take that promotion they offered you?”

Taylor winced. “No, I turned it down.”

“Oh, Tay! Why?” Gretchen pulled away and opened the swinging kitchen door, revealing a charming, large kitchen with checkered tile and a hanging pot rack. It looked like something straight out of a Martha Stewart baking sim.

“Well . . .” Taylor sat down on one of the stools and put her elbows on the ingredient-strewn table. A bowl of batter went flying and Taylor grabbed at it, only to knock over a pepper mill and a bottle of olive oil. “Oh, god!”

“Tay!” Gretchen bellowed, grabbing items as they rolled off the counter. “I forgot what a disaster you are. Don’t touch anything!”

Chagrined, Taylor crossed her arms over her chest and ignored that one of her sleeves now had scone batter on the cuff. “Sorry.”

Gretchen just gave her an exasperated look. “Seriously. How is it that you’re such a klutz after all this time?”

“Magic?” Taylor kept her smile bright. She just didn’t pay attention sometimes, and her friends knew it. She was easily distracted.

Gretchen shook her head and swiped spilled batter into a bowl, then tossed the entire thing in the sink. “More like a voodoo curse. Don’t change the subject, though. How come you didn’t take the promotion? I know you’re always tight on money.”

She shrugged. What could she say? That guild stuff—and Sigmund’s neediness—was keeping her from being able to put in the extra hours a week that a supervisory position would require? That it meant working in the office instead of at home and she’d be unable to play much, which would make Sigmund spiral out of control? That she’d called in a lot in the last few months and they’d stopped asking her if she was interested in a promotion and started asking if she needed to talk to a counselor? “Just . . . didn’t feel like the right time.”

“I swear, it’s because you’re addicted to that game, isn’t it?” Gretchen put her hands on her hips, and for a moment she looked an awful lot like Taylor’s mom. “Do we need to host an intervention, Tay?”

“No, I’m fine.” It really wasn’t Taylor’s choice to play all the time. If it were up to her, she’d put her accounts on vacation for a few months and take some well-needed days away. But every time she tried, the Sigmund thing got ugly, and her guilt got worse. So she lied, “I’m actually cutting back. It’s just been hectic at work lately.”

“I hear you,” Gretchen said sympathetically. She slipped her hands into a pair of oven mitts. “The housing market’s been crazy lately and Hunter’s business has been booming. He doesn’t sell direct himself of course, but all of his offices are scurrying to keep up and that means extra work for my poor sweetheart.” She pointed one of her mitts at Taylor. “Can you zest that lemon for me while I pull out the scones and somehow manage not to hurt yourself?”

“Sure.” As Gretchen turned away, Taylor picked up the lemon, accidentally dropped it on the floor, and then slid out of her chair to grab it. As she retrieved the lemon and got up, she banged her head on the underside of the counter. With a wince, she returned to her seat, rubbing her scalp. Dang. “I’m not sure you should trust me with sharp objects.”

“Use the grater, dummy.” Gretchen pulled a pan of triangle-shaped creations out of the oven, and the room filled with the scent of lemon cake. “If you hurt yourself with that, though, I’m not responsible.”