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|Down London Road(On Dublin Street #2)(9) by Samantha Young|
‘I may have mmmhed imm,’ she mumbled.
I leaned closer, suspecting I already knew the answer to my next question, ‘What was that?’
‘I may have kissed him,’ she answered grumpily, her cheeks brightening again.
I grinned teasingly. Little Hannah had her sister’s impulsiveness when it came to her crushes. Ellie had told me all about the night she’d thrown herself at Adam. Adam was Braden’s best friend, and out of respect to Braden had held Ellie at arm’s length for a long time. Ellie had not made it easy on him. ‘How did that go?’
Hannah’s brow puckered as she stared at the ground. ‘He kissed me back.’
‘Yay!’ I punched the air like a goofy idiot.
‘No.’ Hannah shook her head at me. ‘He then pushed me away, didn’t say a word, and has avoided me for the last month.’
Feeling my chest ache at how crestfallen she looked, I slid my arm around her shoulders and hugged her to my side. ‘Hannah, you are beautiful and funny and smart and there are going to be a ton of boys who won’t push you away.’
I knew how empty my words were. There were no words that helped ease the pain of teenage unrequited love, but Hannah hugged me back, appreciating my efforts nonetheless.
‘What’s going on?’ Ellie’s worried voice brought our heads up. She stood in the doorway, her slender arms crossed over her chest, her eyes creased in concern. Her blonde hair was much shorter than it used to be. For weeks after her surgery she’d worn head scarves to cover the patch of hair that had been shaved. As the hair grew in, she’d chopped it all off into a sexy pixie cut that she absolutely hated. It was now chin length and as über chic as Hannah’s.
I felt Hannah tense against me, obviously afraid that I would share the news about her secret crush on the elusive Marco. I sympathized with her. He did sound intriguing. It was bad enough moping after a mysterious African American, Italian American, Scottish Italian hottie, without your annoying family knowing all about it. ‘I was just telling Hannah all about my first love, John, and how he broke my heart. She was giving me a hug to say she was sorry.’
Hannah’s fingers squeezed my waist in thank-you as Ellie’s eyes grew round. ‘You’ve never told me about John.’
Not wanting to actually get into it, I sat up on the bed, pulling Hannah with me. ‘Another time. The smell of food is wafting up the stairs, which means it’s almost ready.’
Ellie looked a little disappointed as she led us out of the room. ‘I know! We’ll have a girls’ night in this month and we can talk about our first loves.’
‘Aren’t you and Joss dating yours?’
Her mouth turned down at the corners. ‘Just yours, then?’
I grimaced. ‘Sounds like a real good time.’
‘Every time you hang out with Hannah, you get a little more sarcastic. I’m banning you from her company.’
Hannah grinned happily at the thought that she might have influenced me, and I couldn’t help but laugh, affection filling my chest with warmth. ‘Only wild horses, Ellie. Only wild horses.’
Once we were seated around the table, Elodie clucked around us, making sure we all had what we needed.
‘Are you sure you don’t want any more gravy, Jo?’ she asked, the gravy boat hovering precariously in the air in her light grasp.
I smiled around a potato and shook my head.
‘No, thank you, Mrs Nichols.’
He made my heart hurt with his beautiful manners, and I nudged him with an elbow, grinning at him. Cole flicked me a look that clearly said, ‘You’re such an idiot’ and continued to eat.
‘What were you and Hannah talking about in her room for so long?’ Elodie asked as she settled back in her seat at the end of the table. Clark sat at the opposite end. Ellie, Adam, Joss and Braden sat across from me, while I was between Cole and Hannah, and Declan was on Cole’s other side. I could tell Elodie was pretending she didn’t really care what we had been talking about but in truth was dying to know.
‘Books,’ Hannah and I answered in unison, causing Clark to chuckle.
‘I’m guessing it wasn’t about books.’ Adam threw Hannah a boyish smile and she blushed. These girls and their susceptibility to a roguish Scotsman … I was suddenly thankful Malcolm wasn’t the least bit roguish. All that angst and drama? Does he like me, doesn’t he? Is he just flirting? No, thank you!
‘How cannily deduced, Adam.’ Braden’s mouth twitched as he took a sip of coffee.
Joss smiled around her fork.
Adam shot an unimpressed look down the table at his friend. ‘I think we need to come up with a child-friendly phrase for f-u-c-k off.’
‘Duck off?’ Cole suggested.
‘Exactly.’ Adam gestured with his fork. ‘Braden, duck off, you sarcastic dastard.’
Ellie giggled. ‘Dastard?’
‘ “Bastard” with a “D”,’ Hannah supplied helpfully.
Clark’s laugh was cut short by Elodie’s huff of outrage. ‘Hannah Nichols.’ She sucked in her breath. ‘Don’t you dare say that word again.’
Hannah gave a long-suffering sigh. ‘It’s just a word, Mum. It means a person whose parents weren’t married when they were born. We only make the word offensive by implying that there is something morally wrong about that. Are you suggesting it’s morally wrong to have a child out of wedlock?’
Silence reigned around the table as we all looked at Hannah in mischievous glee.
Elodie made a little spluttering sound, breaking that silence as she turned sharply to skewer Clark to his seat with her blazing gaze. ‘Say something, Clark.’
Clark nodded at his wife and then turned to his daughter. ‘I think you should have joined the debating team after all, sweetheart.’
Braden’s deep laugh was a catalyst for the rest of us. We all chuckled and Elodie’s grimace melted as our good humour got to her. She sighed wearily. ‘My fault for raising a clever girl, I suppose.’
She was more than clever. Hannah was a superstar and I was glad she was surrounded by people who told her every day how special she was.
Chatter filled the room as we broke off into separate conversations. I was just asking Cole if he’d finished the comic he’d been working on when Joss said my name.
I looked over at her and saw her eyes dancing with mischief. I immediately went on the defensive. ‘Yeah?’
She smiled saucily. ‘Guess who was at the bar last night.’
I’d always been crap at guessing games. ‘Who?’
‘Hot guy from the shitty art show.’
‘Hot guy?’ Braden turned from his conversation with Clark.
Joss rolled her eyes. ‘Nothing more than an adjective and a noun put together, I promise.’
‘What hot guy?’ Ellie peered past Adam to look at Joss, completely cutting off whatever her mum had been saying to her.
‘There was this hot –’ She caught herself. ‘I mean a guy who may or may not have been marginally attractive. I wouldn’t know because I don’t notice the hotness of any guy but my wonderful and oh-so-handsome boyfriend, who fills me with such –’
‘Okay, no need to lay it on so thick.’ Braden bumped her with his shoulder and she fluttered her eyelashes at him in mock innocence before turning back to Ellie.
‘There was this guy at the art gallery thing that you missed and he was checking out Jo.’ Joss’s gaze swept over the table to land back on me. ‘Turns out Cam was in need of a job and Jo got him one at the bar. I was showing him the ropes last night.’
Well, that had been fast. I felt my stomach flip at the thought of having to work with Cam, at having to see him again. ‘He’s Becca’s boyfriend. She asked it as a favour.’
Joss nodded. ‘He told me. He seems like a really nice guy.’ No one could miss the enthusiasm in her voice and I knew exactly what she was up to. Was this part of Joss’s corralling? Trying to play matchmaker with some random guy just because she saw us checking each other out? I blamed Ellie. This was clearly her influence.
‘Should I be worried?’ Braden asked the table, and I laughed, some of the tension easing out of me.
Joss waved him off as if his question was idiotic. ‘I’m just saying that our new colleague was very cool and it will be nice for Jo to have someone new to work with.’
Ellie frowned. ‘Why are you speaking like that?’
‘She’s trying to set me up with Cam even though I have a boyfriend. And he has a girlfriend. Not to mention that when we talked Cam treated me like I was a piece of dirt.’ There. I’d said it.
Braden’s brows drew together, a dark glint in his eyes that I’m sure I’d see in Adam’s too if I took the time to look. ‘What are you talking about?’
‘Yeah.’ Joss leaned forward on her elbows, her ‘whose ass do I need to kick?’ face on. ‘What are you talking about?’
I shrugged, suddenly uncomfortable with all the attention. I was especially uncomfortable with how tense Cole had got. I could feel his expectant gaze on me. ‘He just wasn’t very nice.’
‘And yet you got him a job?’ Elodie asked, clearly confused.
‘He needed it.’
‘Well, he seemed perfectly nice last night and he said he was grateful to you for giving Su his number.’
Now it was my turn to frown. ‘He did?’
Joss nodded, relaxing back into her chair. ‘Maybe you misunderstood.’
No, I hadn’t misunderstood Cam’s attitude, but since I now found myself surrounded by two overprotective men, one overprotective wee brother and an overprotective best friend, I’d decided it was better to go along with that. ‘Yeah, you’re probably right.’
Silence fell over the table for a second and then …
‘He’s very interesting,’ Joss murmured, chewing on a piece of succulent chicken.