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|Down London Road(On Dublin Street #2)(3) by Samantha Young|
I didn’t look at him, but I heard him chuckle. ‘No, we’re fighting because we have different taste in art.’
‘Cam hates my artwork,’ Becca said with a huff. ‘He can’t be like other boyfriends and lie at least. No. Brutally honest, this one. At least Malcolm likes my work. Did Mal tell you he’s buying my painting, Jo?’
You’d think I’d be jealous of Malcolm’s obvious affection for Becca, and I know it sounds horrible, but until I saw her artwork I was a little jealous. I wasn’t exceptionally smart, I didn’t draw, I didn’t dance, I didn’t sing, I was just an okay cook … Thankfully, I was pretty. Tall with legs that went on forever, I’d been told countless times I had a good body and great skin. Combine those with huge green eyes, long, thick strawberry blonde hair, and delicate features and you were left with an attractive package – one that had been turning heads since I was a teenager. Aye, I didn’t have much, but what I did have, I used to my family’s advantage.
To know that Becca was cute and talented had worried me a little. Perhaps Malcolm would get bored of me and go back to her? Actually, though, Malcolm’s less-than-enthusiastic response to her artwork made me feel better about his relationship with her. Not that that made any rational kind of sense.
‘He did. Good choice.’ I smiled at him and I could tell he was dying to laugh. His hand slid from my waist down to cup my hip and I moved in closer to him, chancing a glance at my phone. Still nothing from Cole.
‘Jo, this is Becca’s boyfriend, Cameron,’ Malcolm suddenly said, and I drew my head up quickly to finally study the man I had been avoiding looking at for the last few seconds. Our eyes met and I felt that frisson of excitement ripple through me again.
His eyes were cobalt blue and seemed to be stripping me back to nothing as they perused me for a second time. I watched his gaze quickly flicker over me, noting Malcolm’s hand on my waist. I stiffened as Cameron took us in, drew some kind of conclusion about us, and slammed his expression shut with the hard pressing together of his lips.
‘Hi,’ I managed and he gave me a barely there nod. The blaze in his eyes from earlier had definitely gone out.
Becca started chattering to Malcolm about the painting, so I took the opportunity to check my phone once again. At a disgruntled snort, my head shot up, my eyes clashing with Cameron’s. I couldn’t understand the distaste in his expression or why I felt the sudden need to tell him to go f**k himself. Faced with animosity or aggression I tended to flinch and not utter a word. In this case, the condemnation and judgement in this tattooed idiot’s face made me want to slam my fist into it and break his already imperfect nose. It had a little bump near the bridge that should have marred his good looks, but instead just added to his ruggedness.
I bit my tongue before I did something out of character, and let my eyes fall to his tattoos. On his right forearm was beautiful black script – two words I couldn’t make out without giving away that I was trying to read them. On his left arm was a colourful and detailed image. It looked like a dragon, but I couldn’t be sure, and Becca moved closer to Cameron’s side, obscuring it from sight.
For a moment I wondered how Becca could go from dating thirtysomething Malcolm in his tailored suits to twentysomething Cameron with his seventies aviator watch and leather bracelets, a Def Leppard T-shirt that had been run through the wash too many times, and ratty Levi’s.
‘Mal, did you ask Jo about the job?’
Bemused, I looked up at my boyfriend. ‘Job?’
‘Becca, it’s fine, really,’ Cameron insisted, his deep voice sending a shiver of something I didn’t want to admit to through my body. My eyes swung to collide with his and I saw him staring back at me, his expression blank.
‘Nonsense,’ Malcolm answered good-naturedly and then eyed me thoughtfully. ‘You’re still looking for another bartender at the club, aren’t you?’
We were. My friend and colleague (and my only one-night stand – I’d been a mess after Callum), Craig, had left us for Australia. Tuesday had been his last night and our manager, Su, had been interviewing for a new bartender for a week now. I’d miss Craig. Sometimes his flirting got to be a bit much, and I never had the balls to tell him to shut up (Joss did), but at least he was always in a good mood. ‘Yeah, why?’
Becca touched my arm and I looked into her pleading face. It suddenly occurred to me that even though she was a few years older than me, she looked and sounded like a little girl, with her wide blue eyes, smooth skin and high-pitched voice. The two of us couldn’t have been any more different. ‘Cam is a graphic designer. He worked for a graphics company that does all the marketing and branding for household names around the country, but they had budget cuts. Last in, first out sort of thing, and Cam just started with them a year ago.’
I shot Cam a wary but sympathetic look. It wasn’t easy losing your job.
I didn’t know what I or the bartending position had to do with it, though.
‘Becca.’ Cam sounded annoyed now. ‘I told you I’d deal with this myself.’
She flushed a little under his penetrating gaze and I suddenly felt a connection to her. I wasn’t the only one he intimidated. Good. ‘Cam, let me help.’ She turned back to me. ‘He’s struggling –’
‘I’m struggling to find graphic design work.’ Cam cut her off, his blue eyes burning with frustration. It suddenly occurred to me that his apparent bad mood might have nothing to do with me and everything to do with his situation. ‘Malcolm said there was a full-time position open at Club 39 and I have experience bartending. I need something to get me through until I can find another job. If you could get me an application form, I’d appreciate it.’
Why I decided to be helpful considering I didn’t very much like him, or his attitude, remained a mystery as I replied, ‘I’ll do one better. I’ll speak to my manager and I’ll give her your number.’
He stared at me a moment and I couldn’t for the life of me work out what was going on behind his eyes. Finally, he nodded slowly. ‘Okay, thanks. My number is –’
At that moment my phone vibrated in my hands and I lifted it to stare at the screen.
I’m home from Jamie’s house. Stop panicking. Cole.
The tension melted from my body and I sighed, quickly texting him back.
I glanced up and noted Malcolm’s raised eyebrows.
Damn. Cam’s number. I flushed, realizing I’d completely blanked on him when I got Cole’s message. I sent him a sheepish smile of apology, one that ricocheted off his steely countenance. ‘Sorry. Your number?’
Unamused, he rattled it off for me and I typed it into my phone.
‘I’ll give this to her tomorrow.’
‘Yeah, sure,’ he responded in a bored tone, suggesting he didn’t think I had the brain cells to remember to do that.
His attitude towards me pricked, but I decided not to let it bother me, snuggling more happily into Malcolm’s side now that I knew Cole was tucked in safe in our flat on London Road.
While Becca no doubt tried to talk Malcolm into extending the lease on the gallery, I wandered off towards the coat rail, my back to the room as I called Cole.
I made a face at the way my little brother had taken to answering the phone lately. Apparently, becoming a teenage boy meant that the carefully seeded manners I’d tried to plant in him were no longer applicable. ‘Cole, you answer the phone like that to me again and I’m selling the PS3 on eBay.’ I’d dipped into our savings to buy him the video console for Christmas. It had been worth it at the time. Apparently becoming a teenager meant Cole no longer had the ability to show excitement. I tried to make Christmas as thrilling as possible for Cole when he was a kid, and I got all juiced up on how crazy happy he got when Santa was coming. Those days had disappeared somewhere, and I missed them. However, the sight of Cole’s shy grin when he opened his PS3 had given me that feeling back for a moment. He’d even patted me on the shoulder and told me I’d done good. Condescending little shit, I thought affectionately.
Cole sighed. ‘Sorry. I told you I was home. I got a lift off Jamie’s dad.’
I breathed an inward sigh of relief. ‘Have you done your homework?’
‘I’m trying to do it just now but someone keeps interrupting me with paranoid texts and phone calls.’
‘Well, if you contact me at the time you say you will I won’t bug you so much.’
He just grunted. This was a response I was becoming familiar with.
I nibbled on my lip, feeling my stomach flip unpleasantly. ‘How’s Mum?’
‘Out for the count.’
‘You had dinner?’
‘Pizza at Jamie’s.’
‘I left you a Pop-Tart if you’re still hungry.’
‘You going to bed soon?’
Another big sigh. ‘Promise.’
I nodded, trusting him. He had a small group of friends he played video games with and didn’t get into trouble with; he was studious, and helpful around the house on occasion. As a little boy he’d been the sweetest thing to ever come into my life. He’d been my shadow. As a teenager things like being openly affectionate with your big sister were uncool. I was learning to adjust to the transition. I refused, however, to ever let a day pass without him knowing how loved he was. Growing up, I’d never had that in my life and I was going to make damn sure that Cole did. No matter how goofy he thought I was. ‘I love you, baby boy. I’ll see you tomorrow.’
I hung up before he could grunt at me again and spun around, only to inhale sharply.
Cam stood before me. He looked at me as he pulled Becca’s phone out of her coat, which was hanging on the rail. His gaze skimmed down my figure again before coming to rest on the floor as he said, ‘You don’t have to ask about the job for me.’