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|Down London Road(On Dublin Street #2)(7) by Samantha Young|
Yeah. We made a pair. And we got good tips.
‘Mum fell out of bed, broke her last bottle of gin, and took her usual tantrum when I said I wouldn’t get more for her. Once she calmed down I had to help her get ready so she could leave the flat to get some booze.’ I snorted bitterly. ‘Then I had to leave Cole there.’
‘He’ll be fine.’
I shook my head. ‘I’ll worry about him all night. You mind if I keep my phone on me?’
Joss’s brow puckered in consternation. ‘Of course not. But you know what the solution to that is, right?’
‘A fairy godmother?’
‘Yes.’ Her mouth tilted up on one side. ‘Except instead of a fairy godmother, he’s a suit-wearing fairy caveman.’
I didn’t get it.
‘Braden! He’s offered you a job so many times, Jo. Part-time or full-time. Just take it. If you took a full-time position, you’d be working during the day so you wouldn’t have to worry about working nights away from Cole.’
I tried to feel only gratitude as I strode past her and into the bar and tried very hard to ignore the irritation. ‘Joss, no.’
She followed me and I didn’t even have to look at her to know she’d be wearing the mulish expression she used to reserve for when people asked her questions she didn’t want to answer. ‘Why tell me these things unless you want a solution?’
‘That’s not a solution,’ I replied quietly, tying the short white apron around my waist. ‘That’s a handout.’ I shot her a smile to soften the blow of my words.
My friend clearly wasn’t having any of that tonight. ‘You know, it took me a long time to figure out that we can’t do everything on our own.’
‘I’m not on my own. I have Cole.’
‘Okay.’ Joss shook her head and took another step in my direction. I turned towards her slightly, my stomach flipping at the edge in her voice. ‘I’m just going to say it.’
Brace yourself, Jo.
‘How can you take Malcolm and all those other guys’ help but not a friend’s?’
Because it’s a totally different thing! ‘It’s different,’ I told her softly. ‘It’s just part of being in a relationship with a guy who has money. I’m not good at many things, Joss. I’m not a scholar like Ellie or a writer like you. I’m a girlfriend. I’m a good girlfriend and my boyfriend likes to show his appreciation by being generous with his money.’
I was surprised by the utter fury that flashed in Joss’s eyes, and I automatically stepped back. ‘One: there’s much more to you than that. Two: do you realize you pretty much described yourself as a glorified whore?’
She might as well have punched me. Hurt cut me deep as I reared back from her words, feeling the sting of tears in my eyes. ‘Joss …’
I saw regret pass over her face, and she ducked her head, shaking it. ‘There’s so much more to you, Jo. How can you be happy to let people think these shitty things about you? Before I knew you, I thought you were a cool girl but a mercenary gold digger. I had you pegged all wrong – and so does everyone else. And you let them think that. Do you know how many times I wanted to kick Craig in the balls for the way he talked about you? No one respects you, Jo, because you don’t ask for that respect. I’ve only known the truth for a year and I’m finding it hard to hack it. I don’t know how you hack it. I don’t even think you do.’
Laughter and chatter filtered into the bar from the door and Joss moved away from me in preparation for our first customers. I watched her, feeling shell-shocked and raw … like someone had scrubbed off the top layer of my skin and I was exposed and bleeding.
‘I respect you,’ she told me softly. ‘I do. I know why you do what you do, and I get it. But from one ex-martyr to a current martyr … get over your bullshit and ask for help.’
The customers entered the club and I turned to serve them with a bright fake smile, pretending my closest friend in the world hadn’t just called me out on all the things I feared about myself.
As the night wore on, I was able to push Joss’s opinion to the back of my thoughts, and I flirted with good-looking customers, leaning across the bar to whisper in their ears, giggling at their jokes – good or inane – and generally pretending to have the best time in the world.
The tip jar filled up fast.
Two seconds after an attractive thirtysomething guy wearing a Breitling sports watch slipped me his number before he left the bar, Joss was at my side shaking up a cocktail.
Her eyebrow was quirked up in question. ‘Weren’t you just telling me last night how much you like Malcolm?’
Still feeling sore from her earlier flaying, I shrugged nonchalantly. ‘Just keeping my options open.’
She sighed heavily. ‘I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings back there.’
Not acknowledging the apology, not sure I was even ready to, I nodded down the bar. ‘Your customer is waiting.’
For the rest of the night I avoided conversation with her and constantly checked my phone in case Cole tried to contact me. He didn’t.
When the club closed and we’d cleaned up, Joss cornered me as I shrugged my coat on.
‘You’re a huge headache, you know that.’ She huffed as she pulled on her own coat.
I snorted. ‘That’s the worst apology I’ve ever heard.’
‘I’m sorry what I said came out so bluntly. But I’m not sorry for saying it.’
Pulling my bag out of my locker, I shot her a weary look. ‘You used to let people get on with their lives. You never butted in where you weren’t wanted. I liked that about you.’
It was Joss’s turn to snort. ‘Yeah, I know. I liked that about me too. But Braden’s rubbing off on me.’ Her mouth twisted into a grimace. ‘He has this thing about sticking his nose into the lives of the people he cares about whether they want his nose there or not.’
I felt some of the hurt from our earlier encounter recede, a warm balm spreading gently over it. ‘You saying you care about me?’
Joss grabbed her own bag and strode over to me. Her defiant grey eyes had softened with a surprising amount of emotion. ‘You’ve turned out to be one of the best people I know and I hate that you’re in such a shitty situation and you won’t let anyone help you. A few months after I met Ellie, she told me she wished I’d trust her more. I finally get how frustrating that must have been for her – to see that I needed someone and I wouldn’t let her be that person. I feel that way about you, Jo. I see a good person with all her life ahead of her and she’s taking a path to inevitable misery. If I can stop you from making the same mistakes I did … well, I will.’ She grinned cockily. ‘So be prepared to be corralled. I’ve learned from the master.’ Her eyes glittered with anticipation. ‘And he’s waiting outside for me, so I better go.’
Joss left before I could respond to her threat. I wasn’t entirely sure what she meant, but I knew that when she wanted to be, she was the most determined person on the planet. I did not want to be someone she was determined to save.
It sounded exhausting.
‘I’m sorry, Malcolm. I can’t.’ I felt my heart rate speed up as anxiety crawled into my gut to play kickboxer. I hated turning down his generous offer. Once I started throwing the word ‘no’ around, things usually went downhill from there.
‘Are you sure?’ he asked quietly on the other end of the line. ‘It’s not until April. That gives you plenty of time to find someone to look after your mum and Cole for the weekend.’
Malcolm wanted to take me to Paris. I wanted to be taken to Paris. I’d never been out of Scotland, and I imagined I was like most people my age in that I wanted to see a bit of the world outside the one I’d been raised in.
But it wouldn’t happen.
‘I don’t trust anyone else to look after them.’
Thankfully, Malcolm’s sigh didn’t sound exasperated and to my surprise it was followed by, ‘I understand, baby. Don’t worry about it.’
Of course I still did. ‘Are you sure?’
‘Stop worrying.’ Malcolm laughed softly. ‘It’s not the end of the world, Jo. I like how much you care about your family. It’s admirable.’
A flush of heat, of pleasure, rose from my chest all the way into my cheeks. ‘Really?’
For a moment I didn’t know how to respond. I was relieved that he was being so laid-back about my ‘no’, but I was still anxious. Only now I was anxious for a different reason.
My affection for Malcolm was growing deeper by the day. So was my hope.
The past had taught me that hope was far too fragile a thing to cling to.
Oops. ‘Sorry. Woolgathering.’
‘About me, I hope.’
I grinned, and let the purr enter my voice. ‘I can come over after work tonight to make it up to you.’
Malcolm’s own voice deepened. ‘I look forward to it.’
We hung up and I stared at the phone in my hand. Dammit. I was hoping.
Hoping that this time it really was going to work out.
‘According to Braden I ambushed you.’
I glanced up in surprise as I pushed my bag into the locker. It was Friday night and the bar was already in full swing. I was late for work, so I hadn’t had time to really chat with Joss and Alistair, who was covering Craig’s shift and was already manning the bar. I’d ducked out during a lull in the crowds to get a drink of juice and some chewing gum from my bag. ‘Pardon?’
Joss leaned against the doorway to the staff room, the music from the bar beating loud behind her. She had a disgruntled look on her face. ‘I told Braden what I said to you last night and he said I ambushed you.’
I smiled. ‘Maybe a little.’
‘He told me I have a lot to learn.’