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|Before Jamaica Lane(On Dublin Street #3)(67) by Samantha Young|
Hannah now looked traumatized. ‘Not one of you has a good “losing my virginity” story?’
We gazed back at her apologetically.
‘Well, that’s settled it. I’m not doing it with someone I don’t love.’
The four of us shared a look, and I smiled. ‘Well, at least something came out of it.’
Their laughter was cut off as a knock came at the door a millisecond before Braden popped his head in. ‘What’s going on in here, then?’
‘Clothes,’ Ellie answered quickly. ‘We’re talking clothes.’
We all agreed for the sake of Hannah. I’d heard the stories from Ellie. The last thing Hannah needed was for Braden and Adam to find out there was a boy she liked, because they’d end up making her life an utter hell with their overprotectiveness.
Braden didn’t look convinced, but it seemed he was too preoccupied to care about what we were up to. He walked into the room, a small smile playing on his lips as he came up to Joss, who was sitting on the edge of Hannah’s dressing table. He bent and pressed a soft kiss to her mouth, his hand automatically drifting across her belly. ‘How are you?’ he murmured, staring deep into her eyes.
My chest squeezed, but this time in a good way. It was the first time I’d gotten to see them together since the last awful moments in their apartment.
I knew from talking to Joss that she was tentatively excited about the pregnancy and had managed to explain whatever was going on in her head to Braden until they came to an understanding. They were back on track, and it was great to see.
‘I’m good,’ she answered softly, a wry smile on her lips. ‘You don’t have to keep asking me that, baby. You know I’ll be vocal if any issues arise.’
He rubbed her stomach again.
‘You can stop doing that too.’ She huffed in amusement. ‘There’s no bump yet.’ She looked around him, eyeing us with humor in her expression. ‘He’s looking forward to the bump part.’
‘Why?’ Ellie asked, bemused.
The question caused Joss to color and Braden to chuckle in this deep, intimate way that suggested, whatever his reason, it was not something he wanted to share with a group that included his little sister.
Ellie looked ill. ‘Okay, definitely don’t answer.’
Braden chuckled again and then turned to us, his arm sliding around Joss’s shoulder. ‘Did Jocelyn tell you her agent has found a publisher who’s interested in her book?’
‘No!’ Jo cried out excitedly. ‘That’s amazing!’
Joss squirmed, uncomfortable because she was modest. ‘They read the first three chapters and came back and asked to read the rest of the book. It doesn’t mean anything.’
I had to disagree. ‘It means a lot. Pity you can’t drink, because this is a reason to get shit-faced.’ I glanced over at Hannah. ‘Sorry, Hannah.’
‘Sorry for saying “shit-faced” or sorry because I can’t get drunk with you?’
Ellie snorted. ‘I’m so glad Mum isn’t in the room.’
An Italian woman sang a lively, frolicking tune through the speakers as the waiter poured red wine into the glasses on the table before me and Ben. We’d met at D’Alessandro’s since we both loved it so much and also because it offered us a familiarity that I imagined we both hoped would help with any first-date nerves.
Ben was wearing a purple shirt and dress pants and he looked very handsome. It occurred to me that I’d never seen him wear black – and that only occurred to me because it was Nate’s favorite color. Black or dark red. Nate had looked good in both.
‘I have to admit,’ Ben said as the waiter walked away, ‘I’ve wanted to ask you out for months.’
‘Really?’ I asked incredulously, and then immediately scolded myself as I heard Nate’s voice tutting at me for my lack of confidence. ‘I mean … really?’ I asked again, going for nonchalant this time.
It made Ben smile. ‘Really. But … you didn’t seem that interested before …’
‘I’m very focused at work,’ I lied. ‘Sometimes I don’t even realize someone is flirting with me because my head is somewhere else.’
He nodded as if that made sense. ‘True. You were different when we met here.’
I smiled in answer, my eyes dropping to my plate because I couldn’t think of anything to say to that.
‘You seem distracted.’
‘I’m not,’ I lied again.
‘I thought maybe the other reason you were resistant was because there was someone else?’
Tensing, I lifted my eyes to meet his. ‘There was.’
I gave him a wry, unhappy smile. ‘This is not how I wanted to start this date, but you’re right … I’m distracted. I just got out of something. Something really serious, and I don’t know if I’m ready to … I mean I know I should be. And you should know that I like you, I do, I just –’
‘Olivia.’ He leaned across the table and took my trembling hand into his, his beautiful green eyes sincere. ‘I get it. I’ve been there.’ He sat back, his smile patient. ‘Let’s just enjoy our meal together. Forget about this being a date. This is just two people enjoying a good meal and conversation.’
And so that’s what we did, and afterward, once we’d split the bill (I insisted, since it wasn’t a date), Ben walked me around the corner to my apartment. On the sidewalk he pressed a kiss to my cheek and said, ‘I like you, Olivia. So when you’re ready … give me a call.’
Staring at the rolling credits, I sat in the now-lit-up movie theater as my fellow moviegoers got up and shuffled out of the screening.
I’d chosen a comedy because fake laughing at fake stuff helped a little.
It had been three weeks since I’d last seen Nate, and I still hadn’t heard from him. He’d definitely taken it to heart when I told him to never come back. My friends, with the exception of Jo, did a good job of not mentioning him, although his absence when we went out for drinks was felt by all. It made me feel terrible. Nate was Cam, Adam, and Braden’s friend, and now whenever I was around they couldn’t hang out with him. Not that Nate was up to it apparently. According to Jo, anyway. She would casually let information slip into our conversations every now and then. Cam was worried about Nate. He hadn’t seen much of him lately with the exception of judo class. At their last session Nate had been so intense, bordering on outright aggressive, that their teacher had thrown him out of the class by suggesting he walk off whatever was bothering him.