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|Down London Road(On Dublin Street #2)(4) by Samantha Young|
I narrowed my eyes at him, my hackles rising. What was with this guy? What was with my reaction to him? Like I gave a crap what he thought about me. ‘You need the job, right?’
Those deep blue eyes of his met mine again. I watched the muscle in his jaw flex along with his biceps as he crossed his arms over his chest.
I had a feeling it was just pure muscle underneath his shirt.
He gave me no verbal answer, but with body language like that I didn’t need one.
‘Then I’ll ask.’
Without a word of gratitude – not even a nod – Cam turned away and I felt the tension begin to drain out of me. Then, as he stopped and slowly turned back, the tension built up again, as though someone had stuck a plug in my sink.
Although Cam’s lips weren’t full, the upper lip had a soft, expressive curve to it, giving him this perpetually sexy curl. That expressiveness seemed to vanish whenever he directed dialogue my way. His lips thinned. ‘Malcolm is a good guy.’
My pulse picked up speed, having had enough experience of people’s perception of me to know where this was going. I just didn’t want it to be going there with this guy. ‘Aye, he is.’
‘Does he know you’re seeing someone behind his back?’
Okay … I hadn’t expected it to be going there. I found myself mirroring him, my arms crossing over my chest defensively. ‘Excuse me?’
He smirked, his eyes running the length of me for the fifteenth time. I saw a flicker of interest he couldn’t quite hide, but I guessed his disgust for me overruled any masculine appreciation for my body. His eyes were hard when they met mine. ‘Look, I know your type well. I grew up watching a parade of gorgeous bimbos walk in and out of my uncle’s life. They took what they could and then f**ked around on him behind his back. He didn’t deserve that, and Malcolm doesn’t deserve some empty-headed footballer’s-wife-wannabe who thinks that texting on her phone during an adult conversation is socially acceptable or that planning to meet up with another man tomorrow while her boyfriend is standing across the room isn’t morally and emotionally bankrupt.’
I tried to ignore the twist in my gut at his unwarranted assault. For some reason this a**hole’s words penetrated. However, instead of waking up the shame that only I knew existed within me, his words ignited my outrage. Usually, I swallowed my irritation and anger at people, but for some reason my voice wouldn’t listen to my brain. It wanted to spit his words right back at him. I was determined, however, not to approach him in the ‘empty-headed’ manner he expected.
I frowned at him instead. ‘What happened to your uncle?’
At the darkening of Cam’s face, I braced myself for more insult. ‘Married a version of you. She took him for everything. He’s now divorced and in debt up to his eyeballs.’
‘So that would explain why you think it’s okay to judge me? A person you don’t even know.’
‘I don’t need to know you, sweetheart. You’re a walking cliché.’
Feeling the anger boil, I reined it in and turned it down so it simmered carefully, taking a step toward him as I laughed softly, humourlessly. As our bodies closed in on each other, I tried and failed to ignore the crackling of electricity between us. I felt my ni**les harden unexpectedly and was glad for the placement of my arms over my chest so he wouldn’t see. He inhaled sharply at my closeness, his look searing, and I felt it like pressure between my legs.
Ignoring the absurd sexual attraction between us, I glowered. ‘Well, I guess that makes us a pair. I’m a brainless, morally corrupt, money-grabbing bimbo and you’re a jumped-up, pretentious, artsy-fartsy know-it-all dickhead.’ Fighting to cover the trembling coursing through me – a reaction to the adrenaline spiked by my actually standing up for myself for once – I took a step back, satisfied at the flare of surprise in his eyes. ‘See, I can judge a book by its cover too.’
Not leaving him a chance to make a smart-ass retort, I put a swing into my h*ps to overcome the trembling, and sashayed across the gallery and around the wall until I found my boyfriend. Becca had been monopolizing Malcolm’s time for too long. I sidled up to him, sliding my hand along his back and dangerously close to his delicious bottom. His attention was immediately wrenched from Becca as he stared into my now glittering eyes.
I licked my lips provocatively. ‘I’m bored, babe. Let’s go.’
Ignoring Becca’s huff of annoyance, Malcolm congratulated her once more on a great show, and then ushered me out of there, eager to receive the promise in my eyes.
Malcolm groaned in my ear, his h*ps moving against mine in staccato jerks as he finally came. The muscles in his back relaxed beneath my hands and he collapsed on me for a second as he tried to catch his breath. I tenderly kissed his neck and he pulled back, his own affection for me clear in his eyes. It was nice to see.
‘You didn’t come,’ he observed quietly.
No, I hadn’t. My brain was too switched on, thoughts of the evening, of Cam and the argument refusing to let me out of their clutches. ‘I did.’
Malcolm’s mouth twitched. ‘Sweetheart, you don’t have to fake it with me.’ He kissed me softly and pulled back, grinning. ‘I’ll get you there.’ He made to move down my body and my hands tightened on him, stopping his descent.
‘You don’t have to.’ I began to sit up and Malcolm pulled out of me fully, leaning back on his side to let me move. ‘You’ve had a long day. You should get some sleep.’
His large hand came down on my na**d hip, stopping me from getting out of the bed. I glanced back at him and saw concern in his eyes. ‘Did something happen? Are you okay?’
I decided to lie. ‘When I called Cole earlier it sounded like Mum was having some trouble. I’m just worried.’
Malcolm sat up now, his brows drawn together. ‘You should have said.’
Not wanting to upset him, or our relationship, I leaned over and pressed a firm kiss to his mouth, pulling back to gaze into his eyes so he’d know I was sincere. ‘I wanted to be with you tonight.’
He liked that. He smiled at me and gave me a quick kiss. ‘Do what you’ve got to do, sweetheart.’
I nodded and threw him a smile before I hurried to clean up so I could leave. I had never once spent the night with Malcolm. I left after we had sex because I guessed that’s what he’d want. I guessed that’s what would make him happy. And since he’d never asked me to stay, I assumed I’d guessed right.
By the time I was ready to leave, Malcolm had fallen asleep. I stared at his strong, na**d body flung across the bed, and I prayed that this was the relationship that was going to make it. I called a taxi and when it rang my phone twice to let me know it had arrived, I left silently, trying to ignore the disquiet that had settled over me.
Almost a year ago I’d moved my family from our large flat on Leith Walk to a smaller flat off the Walk, on London Road, technically on Lower London Road. It doubled my travel from work, meaning I had to get a bus into town most days instead of walking. It was worth it for what we saved on rent, though. My mum had rented our flat on Leith Walk when I was fourteen years old, but before long it had fallen to me to make the payments, just as it was up to me now. This new flat had been in a right sad state of affairs when we took it, but I’d actually managed to persuade our landlord to let me decorate it out of my own pocket. Something I could do on a small budget.
Less than ten minutes after I left Malcolm’s, the taxi driver dropped me off at the flat and I let myself into our building, immediately going up on my tiptoes so my heels wouldn’t make a noise. As I took the narrow, dark spiral staircase up towards our flat I didn’t even see the dank, graffiti-covered concrete stairwell anymore, I was so used to it. Our old stairwell had been like that too. You could hear everything in those spaces and since I knew how annoying it was to be woken up by drunken neighbours in their clattering heels and alcohol-soaked joviality, I took care not to make any noise as I made my way up to the third floor.
I let myself quietly into the dark flat and slipped my heels off, tiptoeing down the hall to Cole’s room first. I cracked open his door and from the light spilling in under his curtains I could make out his head buried nearly all the way under his duvet. The worry I always felt for him eased a little now that I could see with my own eyes that he was safe and sound, but that worry never, ever completely disappeared – partly because parents never, ever stop worrying about their kids and partly because of the woman who slept in the room across the hall from him.
I slipped into my mum’s bedroom, only to find her sprawled across her bed, the sheets twisted around her legs, her nightdress rucked up so I could see the pink cotton underneath. I was just thankful she was wearing underwear. Despite everything, I couldn’t let her freeze, so I covered her quickly with her duvet and then clocked the empty bottle by her bed. I quietly reached for it and left the room to take it into our small kitchen. I placed it with the others, and noted it was time to take the box of bottles down to the recycle bin.
I stared at them a moment, feeling exhausted, and that exhaustion turned to resentment for the bottle and all the troubles it had caused us. As soon as it had become clear that Mum no longer had an interest in anything, including authority over her own home, I took over from her. These days I paid the rent on our three-bedroom flat on time every month. I’d saved a lot, I worked a lot of hours, and best of all, my mum couldn’t get anywhere near my money. That never used to be the case, though. There was a time when money was a worry, when feeding and clothing Cole was a deep worry. I’d promised myself we would never go back to that. So even though there was money in the bank, I knew it was money that would stretch only so far.
I’d tried to erase much of our former life. When I was growing up, my uncle Mick – a painter and decorator – used to take me with him on the jobs he did for friends and family. I worked with him right up until he moved to America. Uncle Mick had taught me everything he knew and I’d loved every minute of it. There was something soothing about transforming a space, something therapeutic in it. So every now and then I’d go bargain hunting and I’d redecorate the flat – just as I had done when we’d moved into the new one. Only a few months ago I’d wallpapered the main wall in the living room in this bold chocolate paper with grand teal flowers on it. I’d painted the other three walls cream and I’d bought teal and chocolate scatter cushions for our old cream leather sofa. Although in the end it wouldn’t be us benefiting financially from the change, the first thing I’d done when we moved in was strip the hardwood flooring, restoring the floor to its former glory. That had been the biggest expense, but it had been worth it to feel proud of our home, no matter how temporary. Despite the lack of expense on the rest of the decor, the flat looked modern and clean and well cared-for. It was a home Cole wouldn’t be ashamed of bringing friends back to … if it weren’t for our mum.