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|Down London Road(On Dublin Street #2)(14) by Samantha Young|
Malcolm and I stayed out of the direct lambasting of icy wind as we strolled along George Street, going in and out of dress shops, and then down Frederick Street and on to the cobbled Rose Street, one of my favourite lanes in Edinburgh. It was packed with restaurants and pubs and boutiques, and we had lunch in a pub before carrying on to Harvey Nichols on St Andrew Square.
‘No, no, this is awful,’ I told Malcolm through the curtain of the changing cubicle. By this point I’d tried on at least fifteen dresses and neither of us could agree on one that we both liked. Becca was treating us to dinner at the Michelin Star restaurant Martin Wishart and Malcolm insisted on buying me something new to wear.
‘Why? What’s wrong with it?’ he asked, his voice coming closer to the curtain.
I couldn’t believe he wasn’t bored out of his mind yet, but he seemed to be pretty patient with shopping. In fact, I got the distinct impression he enjoyed it. Or at least, he enjoyed spoiling me … which was lovely.
Staring at my reflection in the mirror, I wrinkled my nose in distaste. The dress was so sheer you could almost see my ni**les through it. Add the fact that it had a cut-out back and a short hemline and I might as well pin a piece of paper to my chest that said FOR SALE.
‘Let me see.’
‘No.’ i moved to hold the curtain closed, but i was too late.
Malcolm’s face appeared in the gap he’d created and his dark eyes glittered mischievously as they ran down the length of me and then came to rest on my chest. The mischief slowly disappeared and when he looked back up at me there was heat in his eyes. ‘If we weren’t in a changing room right now …’
I felt a niggle of something in my gut and wondered if it was disappointment. I imagined that if this was Joss and Braden or Adam and Ellie, it wouldn’t have mattered if they were in a changing room. Braden and Adam would have pounced on their girlfriends with no thought to the consequences.
I shook myself for those thoughts. So Malcolm and I didn’t have an all-encompassing passionate relationship. It didn’t mean what we had wasn’t great.
I forced myself to grin incredulously. ‘You think this is hot?’
‘For the bedroom, yes.’
‘I don’t think that was the intent here.’ I looked down at it dubiously.
‘Try on the green one. It’s the same colour as those gorgeous eyes of yours.’
I pressed my mouth to his lips for the compliment and let the curtain fall back so I was alone again in the cubicle.
He was right. The green shift dress by Lanvin was stunning.
Malcolm got a cab to a development site he wanted to visit, detouring to drop me off at home. He knew I wouldn’t invite him inside. I was all set for dinner with Becca and Cam on Saturday night. Well, ready in that I at least had designer armour to wear and Malcolm to act as a buffer.
Tonight at work there would be no designer armour and no Malcolm.
I despised the flurry of butterflies that awoke in my stomach at the thought of working with Cam and all the things he might say to damage my already fragile ego.
It seemed I still needed to grow a thicker skin.
There was a kaleidoscope of butterflies in my belly by the time I got to the bar and when I stepped into the main room and saw Cam and Joss laughing about something as they cleaned glasses, the butterflies swarmed upward to my chest and I couldn’t breathe for a moment.
What was that all about?
I took the stairs down to the bar and ducked under the counter, throwing a smile of hello their way before hurrying into the staff room. Two seconds later, Joss was at my back and the music on the stereo system blasted on. I heard Brian yelling at someone to turn it down and the noise muted to a bearable level.
‘What’s up? You looked like you had swallowed a very sour lemon when you came in just now,’ Joss observed.
I shrugged out of my jacket, smirking. ‘Did I? I can’t imagine why.’
‘You’re afraid I’m going to try and set you up with Cam.’
‘Am I? I can’t imagine why.’
Joss made a face. ‘Okay, enough with the sarcasm. Look. I’m not going to.’
I turned towards her, shoving my phone in my back pocket. ‘What? The matchmaking is over before it’s even really started?’
She clenched her jaw for a second before replying, ‘Yes. And that’s a promise.’
‘What brought on this change of heart? Not that I’m complaining,’ I hurried to assure her.
Completely deadpan and traumatized, Joss held my curious gaze. ‘Ellie made me watch an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma so she could show me the dos and don’ts of matchmaking. This was followed by a redundant showing of the teen movie Clueless, which happens to be based on Jane Austen’s Emma.’ She let that sit with me, clearly urging me to find it as horrifying as she had.
I tried to stifle my laughter. I really did.
Just not hard enough.
I threw my head back, falling against my locker in a fit of giggles. I couldn’t get the image out of my head and I could just imagine how seriously Ellie had taken the whole thing. ‘Oh, my God,’ I gasped through my laughter. ‘That must have been so painful for you.’
Renewed excruciation flickered across her face as though she was having a flashback. ‘Painful does not even cover it. You know what’s worse than watching a romantic drama?’
Well, that set me off again.
‘Stop laughing. It’s not funny.’
‘Oh, it’s so funny. And just what you deserved.’
Joss groaned. ‘Yeah, probably.’
After I’d stemmed my laughter, I shook my head, wiping the tears from my eyes. ‘I still can’t understand why someone who rolls her eyes at romance films is writing a romance novel.’
She glowered at me. ‘It’s not a romance. It’s my parents’ story.’
‘Yeah, your parents who had a flaming, passionate romance.’
Joss’s eyes narrowed dangerously. ‘Do you want me to go back to matchmaking?’
I shuddered at the thought. ‘Definitely not.’
‘Be quiet, then.’
At her belligerent expression, I snorted. Clearly she was mad that her attempts to lead me from my ‘path of misery’ had failed so soon. ‘You know, if it makes you feel any better, I really do care about Malcolm. And I’m not actually miserable.’
Her eyes dimmed a little, any air of teasing between us dying out immediately. ‘My worry, Jo, is that you’re not happy either.’
For a moment, I felt breathless again. I stared over her shoulder at the wall where our shift schedule for the week was pinned to a notice board surrounded by staff memos, cocktail recipes and contact numbers. When I could breathe again, I dragged my gaze back to hers. ‘I know that Malcolm will make me happy.’
She threw me a look that clearly screamed, Are you serious? ‘How lukewarm of you. You’ve been together for over three months. I think you’d know by now whether or not you’re in love with him.’
I slammed my locker shut, preparing to go into the bar for opening. I thought about today in the changing room at Harvey Nichols and found myself getting defensive. ‘Look, not all relationships are like you and Braden, or Ellie and Adam. They aren’t all passionate sex and absolute adoration. Sometimes it’s slow and secure and warm. That doesn’t make it any less meaningful.’
Joss passed me, her nose wrinkled with irritation. ‘Slow, secure and warm? We’re not talking about an old guy in a Zimmer with a lap blanket. We’re talking about sex and love.’
‘Who’s talking about sex and love?’ Cam’s deep, raspy voice tugged at my lower belly.
As I stepped behind the bar, I couldn’t look at him.
I had hoped those last few times in his company were a complete anomaly, but it was clear they weren’t – my body seemed to vibrate and come to life around him, and I was beginning to feel guilty about my attraction towards him.
‘Jo and I were,’ Joss answered, her voice still gruff with frustration. She leaned back against the bar and stared at me, her expression unreadable in the dim light.
Cam raised an eyebrow, shooting me an equally unfathomable look. ‘Trouble in paradise?’
Since he hadn’t asked me with a sneer in his voice this time, I shook my head and deigned to answer him. ‘No, we’re fine. Joss is just having “a moment”.’
She grumbled under her breath, but customers started trickling in, and then pouring in, and soon we were too busy to have much of a conversation.
For the first two hours, I somehow miraculously managed to avoid Cam’s end of the bar. I worked at the opposite end and Joss worked in the middle. I chatted sporadically with her about nonsense anytime we were close enough to hear each other over the music. Braden, Ellie and Adam came in and took their usual table directly across from us so that Braden and Joss could screw each other with their eyes. I, on the other hand, did a good job of pretending that my entire body wasn’t aware of every single move Cam made, of every wicked smile he flashed at an attractive customer, at the way his jeans cupped his bite-worthy ass every time he bent over for something, or that when he reached up for a new bottle of Jack Daniel’s his T-shirt rode up to show a slab of taut abs.
It was just pure muscle under there.
I wondered what it would be like to have him stretched out na**d on a bed, his hard body and golden skin laid out for me to savour. I would start with the sexy V cut of his hips, licking along the definition, pressing wet kisses up his sculpted torso, then flick his ni**les and feel him harden against me –
I jolted out of my daydream, spilling the fresh orange juice I’d just taken out of the fridge. I gaped at Joss, my cheeks flushed with embarrassment.
She was gazing at me with a quizzical smile. ‘You were gone for a minute there. Where did you go?’
The red in my cheeks deepened and I cast a quick look at Cam, who was busy serving a customer. I was thankful for the low lighting that hid my cherry red cheeks, but unfortunately Joss must have caught the embarrassment in my eyes and the quick, not so surreptitious look I’d shot Cam. She glanced down the bar at him and then back at me. ‘Oh, okay.’ She grinned.