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|Down London Road(On Dublin Street #2)(8) by Samantha Young|
That earned an eyebrow raise. ‘Apparently so has he.’
‘Yeah.’ Joss huffed. ‘He’s sporting a bruise the size of my fist on his upper arm. Condescending asshat.’ She shrugged. ‘He also, maybe, was kind of, possibly, a little bit right.’
She looked so uncomfortable it was almost funny. ‘Joss, you were trying to be a good friend.’
‘Braden says I have to be stealthy. That includes not using the word “whore” in any capacity.’
I flinched. ‘Aye, that would be good.’
Joss took a step towards me, all her self-assurance seeming to have disappeared. ‘That came out all wrong last night. You know that, right?’
‘Does this mean you’re keeping your nose out of my business, by any chance?’
She scoffed. ‘Yeah, okay.’
‘I’m just going to be better at it. Less ambushing, more corralling.’
There was that word again. ‘You know, I would think if you were trying to be “stealthy” you wouldn’t tell me about your intentions to veer me from my “path of misery”.’
Joss crossed her arms over her chest, her eyes narrowed on me. ‘Don’t you air-quote me, woman.’
I held up my hands in surrender. ‘Hey, I’m just saying.’
‘Ladies!’ Alistair’s head appeared at the doorway into the bar. ‘A little help!’
I grabbed my gum and brushed past Joss. I smiled as I guessed at what was really bothering her. ‘I’m not mad at you, you know.’ I looked over my shoulder to see her following me.
She nodded, giving a little shrug as if she didn’t care when she obviously did. Which was why I wasn’t mad at her. ‘Okay, cool.’
We hit the bar to see the customers standing all along it.
‘So, you and Cole are still coming to dinner on Sunday?’
I grinned at her, thinking of the Nichols family and Elodie’s mouthwatering roast dinner. ‘Wouldn’t miss it.’
The Nicholses’ home was the kind of home I’d wished Cole and I had been brought up in. Not for the fact that it was this gorgeous period flat in Stockbridge – although that certainly would have been nice – but because it was full of warmth and real familial solidarity.
Elodie Nichols was Ellie’s mum. When she was younger she’d fallen hard for Braden’s dad, Douglas Carmichael, and she’d then fallen pregnant. Douglas had broken things off but offered financial help and a lackadaisical impersonation of a father. Braden had stepped up to the plate, taking his younger half sister under his wing and playing man-child dad/big brother. The two were close – so close in fact, that Braden was closer to Elodie and her husband, Clark, than he was to his own mother. As for Douglas, he’d died a few years ago, leaving money to Ellie and his businesses to Braden.
Ellie had two adorable half siblings – Hannah, who was a year and a half older than Cole, and Declan, who was eleven. Not surprisingly, the two shy teens didn’t spend time with each other when I brought Cole to these dinners. Declan always monopolized Cole’s time anyway – Declan had a large collection of video games for them to zombify themselves in front of.
About eight months ago, Joss had taken me on a night out with Ellie. After five minutes I got the distinct feeling I was being taken under their wing. Ellie immediately asked me to her family’s Sunday dinner (while Joss smirked happily at someone else getting the ‘Ellie treatment’), insisting that I bring Cole. After two months of dodging the invitation, I finally got to the point where I felt rude declining. I dragged Cole along and we both enjoyed ourselves so much, we tried to make Sunday dinner at the Nicholses’ house whenever we could.
I loved it because it was the only time Cole and I really got to be ourselves. Whatever Joss had said to the Sunday gang, no one ever asked about Mum, and Cole and I could relax for a few hours each week. Plus, Elodie was the epitome of a mother hen, and having never had that, both my brother and I enjoyed being taken care of for once.
Sunday dinner included the Nicholses, Ellie and her boyfriend, Adam, Braden and Joss.
While we waited for dinner to be ready, I usually hung out with Hannah. Looks-wise, Hannah was a smaller version of her gorgeous big sister. Tall for her age, and if she was going to be following exactly in her sister’s footsteps, Hannah had already reached her full height at five foot nine. She was absolutely stunning with short pale blonde hair, wide velvet brown eyes that peered out from under a stylish fringe, and delicate features including an adorable pointed chin. She was going to be a little fuller-figured than I ever would be, already sporting a decent cl**vage and a nice curve to her hips. At fifteen-going-on-sixteen she could pass for eighteen, and if it hadn’t been for her shyness, she’d probably have had boys beating down her door and causing Clark no end of aggravation.
As big a bookworm as I was, Hannah was an even bigger one, hiding behind literature and her schoolwork. I thought it was a shame that she wasn’t more outgoing, since she had an amazing personality. She was sharp as a tack, kind, funny, and a little snarkier than her big sister. I’d taken to sitting in her large bedroom, going through her piles of books while she chatted away to me about everything and nothing.
‘That was a good one,’ Hannah observed and I turned around from her bookshelf to see that she was looking up from her laptop. Apparently I’d done something more interesting than her friends on Facebook.
‘This?’ I waved the teen book at her. I didn’t really read young adult books, but Joss had waxed lyrical about them so I decided to give them a try. Hannah saved me a ton of money, acting as my own personal library.
She nodded and smiled, a dimple dipping in her left cheek. She really was adorable. ‘There’s a hot guy in that one.’
I raised an eyebrow. ‘Age?’
Pleasantly surprised, I smiled, flipping through the pages. ‘Nice. Who knew teen fiction had got so risqué?’
‘The main character is eighteen. It’s not gross or anything.’
‘Good to know.’ I stood up from my kneeling position and wandered over to her huge bed to flop down beside her. ‘I wouldn’t want you corrupting my innocence.’
Hannah chortled. ‘I think Malcolm’s already done that.’
I gave a wee huff of amusement. ‘What would you know about that stuff? A boy caught your eye yet?’
Of course, I’d expected her to shake her head, frowning like she always did when I asked her this question. To my utter surprise, her pale cheeks flushed red.
I sat up and pushed her laptop off her lap on to the bed so I could have her full attention. ‘Tell me everything.’
She slanted me a look. ‘You can’t tell anyone. Not Ellie or Joss or Mum –’
‘I promise,’ I replied hurriedly, feeling a bubble of excitement for her. First romances were so exhilarating.
Making a face at my obvious anticipation, Hannah shook her head. ‘It’s not like I’m going out with anyone.’
I grinned. ‘Then what is it like?’
She shrugged uncertainly, her eyes suddenly filled with dismay. ‘He doesn’t like me the same way.’
‘Who doesn’t? How do you know?’
Worry stabbed me in the gut. ‘Older?’
Hannah must have heard the note of reproach in my voice because she waved my concern away quickly. ‘He’s just eighteen. He’s in the last year at school.’
‘So how did you meet?’ Although I was willing to be a friend to Hannah, I also wanted the details so I could figure out whether there was reason to be concerned or not. Hannah was a young fifteen when it came to boys and I didn’t want anyone taking advantage of her.
Relaxing, Hannah turned towards me, getting more comfortable with confiding her boy story to me. ‘Last year these boys started to make fun of me and my friends. We didn’t really bother when we were together. It was just names, and they’re just a bunch of idiots who skip school and bully everyone who actually likes school.’ She rolled her eyes at the stupidity of the young male species. ‘Anyway, one day last year I missed the bus, so I began walking home. They followed me.’
I gripped her duvet cover, my eyes wide. ‘Di–’
‘It’s okay.’ She cut me off, reassuring me. ‘Marco stopped them.’
My lips twitched as I tried to contain my smile at the dreamy way she said his name. ‘Marco?’
She nodded, her smile more than a little bashful. ‘His dad is African American but his mum’s family is Italian American with family in Scotland. He’s from Chicago but he moved here last year to live with his aunt and uncle. He was with a couple of friends and he saw the boys following me and taunting me. He scared the guys off, introduced himself, and then walked me home even though it was in the opposite direction from his place.’
So far, so good.
I nodded, encouraging her to continue.
‘He told me anytime I missed the bus he would walk me home. He started hanging around with his friends at the end of school and waiting to see if I got on the bus. The couple of times I missed it, he was true to his word and walked me home.’
What was this kid after? ‘So has he asked you out?’
Hannah heaved a dramatic sigh. ‘That’s the thing. He really is just looking out for me, like I’m a wee sister or something.’
Okay, maybe he really was just a good kid. ‘Is it your shyness? Do you not talk to him?’
Hannah laughed, such a grown-up sound of tart amusement I had to remind myself for a second I was talking to a teenager. ‘That’s the thing. I clam up around other boys, and you’d think with how hot he is, I wouldn’t be able to talk to him. But he makes it really easy. He’s really down to earth.’
‘How do you know he doesn’t fancy you?’
Her cheeks flushed a deeper red than before and she bit her lip, her eyes flickering away from mine.