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|Down London Road(On Dublin Street #2)(22) by Samantha Young|
‘I’m happy for you, Cam.’ I nervously straightened the dress I was still wearing from last night’s dinner. ‘I can’t imagine what it’s like to wonder who your real parents are. But to a certain extent I understand feeling abandoned by the two people in the whole world who are supposed to want me. It’s not the best feeling, is it? I would have swapped what I had for what you had in a second.’
Cam’s eyes pinned me to the couch again. ‘And what exactly did you have?’
My hands trembled as I smoothed my dress over my legs again. ‘You know, the only person who knows anything real about my life is Joss.’
‘Not Malcolm? Not Ellie?’
‘No. Just Joss. I don’t want anyone else to know.’
‘That is a helluva lot to be carrying around by yourself.’
‘Cam.’ I leaned forward, my watery eyes searching his face, my pulse speeding as I struggled to come to a decision on whether to trust him or not. ‘I …’
‘Jo.’ He leaned forward too and my whole body tensed under his sober regard. ‘What I just told you, about the adoption and about the tattoo – only a handful of people in this world know about them. Mum, Dad, Peetie and Nate. And now you. You and I are starting over today. I’m not some a**hole who has judged you over and over again and got you wrong every single time. Trust me. Please.’
‘Why?’ I shook my head, completely confused by his interest. I mean, I knew that we were sexually attracted to each other, even if we wouldn’t admit it out loud, but this was something else. This was different … more intense – and I hadn’t thought anything could be more intense than the way my body came alive around Cam.
He gave a jerk of his head. ‘Honestly, I don’t know. All I do know is that I’ve never treated anyone the way I’ve treated you, and I’ve never met anyone who deserved it less. I like you, Jo. And whether you want to admit it or not, you need a friend.’
Those bloody tears swam towards the corners of my eyes again, threatening to spill over. I sucked in a deep breath, looking away from him, my eyes catching on the large desk in the corner of the room. A drawing board was propped up on it. There was a sketch on it, but I couldn’t make out what it was. I squinted at it as I procrastinated over whether or not I should tell him anything.
‘Where’s your dad, Johanna? Why are you raising Cole?’
‘I don’t know where he is.’ I glanced back at him, wondering if my eyes were as haunted as I felt inside. ‘He was abusive.’
Cam’s jaw immediately clenched, and I saw his fingers grip his coffee mug tighter. ‘To you and Cole?’
I shook my head. ‘I protected Cole. Cole doesn’t even remember him or know that he was abusive to me.’
Cam swore under his breath, dropping his gaze so I wouldn’t be subjected to the full force of his anger. Somehow that anger felt nice. It was nice to have someone else feel it. What I was telling him, not even Joss knew. ‘How long?’
‘Since I was little.’ The words seemed to pry open my lips and spill down my chin. Although confused, I didn’t dare stop them. ‘Until I was twelve. He was aggressive, violent and stupid. That’s definitely the way to sum up Murray Walker. He spent a good time away from the house, which allowed us to breathe a little, but when he was there he’d hit me and Mum. But Cole … I always got Cole out of the way when Dad was in a mood or I’d distract him from Cole so he’d go for me instead.’
‘Jesus, Jo …’
‘Cole was two. Dad could have killed him with one blow, so it was all I could do.’
‘What happened to him? Your dad?’ Cam almost spat the word, as if the man had no right to carry the title. And he didn’t really, did he?
I curled my lip in disgust as I thought about Dad’s greatest moment of stupidity. ‘Assault and armed robbery. He got ten years in Barlinnie Prison. I don’t know if he served all his time, or when he got out – all I know is that by the time he did we’d already left Paisley with no forwarding address. Mum never told anyone from the old life where we were going. Neither did I.’
‘Was your mum always the way she is?’
‘She drank, but not like this. She still functioned.’
‘I take it she started after your dad went to prison?’
‘No.’ I scoffed bitterly, knowing exactly why she’d started. ‘Not that she was a great mum or anything, but she was better than she is now. No.’ I closed my eyes against the dull pain in my chest. ‘She went downhill for another reason.
‘Growing up I had one person in my life I trusted. My uncle Mick. He wasn’t my real uncle. He was my dad’s best friend when they were kids. Uncle Mick was a good guy, though. Straight as an arrow – made a good living as a painter and decorator. But he was friends with my a**hole of a father. I never really found out why they were friends, but I got the impression they went through a lot together as kids. Although Dad pissed him off, Uncle Mick couldn’t seem to let go. Whenever he could, he’d check in with us. He used to take me to work with him sometimes.’ The ache intensified as I felt the loss of him again. ‘He didn’t know Dad hit me. Dad was careful in front of him. I think he was always a little wary of Uncle Mick. That changed when I was twelve.’ I shuddered as the memories washed over me.
‘It was a Saturday and Dad was drinking while watching the football. Mum was at work. I made the mistake of walking past the television at an important point in the game. He backhanded me and I was on the floor …’ I sucked in a breath, staring at Cam’s carpet, feeling the pain all over again. I’d never felt anything like it. The bite, the sting, the heat … ‘He took off his belt and hit me … I can still see the look on his face, like I wasn’t human to him, let alone his daughter.’ I shook myself and lifted my gaze to Cam’s. He had grown pale, his features stretched taut with emotion he was trying to control. ‘I guess I was lucky that Uncle Mick turned up when he did. He heard me screaming and came crashing in. Uncle Mick was a big guy and, well … he put Dad in hospital that day. He was arrested, but neither of them mentioned Dad’s assault on me for fear the social services would get involved. Dad just dropped the charges and Uncle Mick walked away with a fine.
‘Dad disappeared. Next thing we heard was that he’d been jailed for armed robbery. While he was inside, Uncle Mick was around a lot more, helping out. For the first time in my life I had an almost twenty-four/seven parent who really cared. He even had a good influence on Mum.’ I huffed, the resentment welling up again. ‘Too good.’
Cam guessed. ‘Your mum was in love with him.’
I nodded. ‘I think she always had been, but as far as I know nothing ever happened. Uncle Mick cared about her but not like that.’
‘So what happened?’
Someone took him away from me. ‘Just a little over a year later, Uncle Mick left for America.’
‘Years ago he’d had an affair with an American student. She was studying at Glasgow University for a year and they were together for a good few months. But she left and Mick didn’t follow. Fourteen years later Mick was contacted by his thirteen-year-old daughter, a daughter he never knew he had. He flew over there to meet her, get DNA testing rolling, hash it out, I imagine, with his kid’s mum. He came back for a while, but the results came in and the kid was his … so he left everything behind to be with her.’
Seeming to sense how much that had ripped me up inside, Cam whispered, ‘I’m sorry, Jo.’
I nodded, feeling the emotion claw at my throat. ‘He told me he would have taken me and Cole if he could have.’ I coughed, trying to force the pain back down. ‘He e-mailed me, but I stopped responding and eventually his e-mails stopped.’
‘And your mum fell apart?’
‘Aye. I think he broke her heart. She started drinking more than normal, but things didn’t get really bad until we moved here. She was fine for a while, had a good job, but then she put her back out of commission and couldn’t work. So she got drunk instead, and then she got drunker. Until eventually she wasn’t even a functioning alcoholic.’
‘And you can’t take Cole away from her because he’s not legally yours and if the social services ever found out about your family situation they’d most likely put him into care rather than let you have him …’
‘Or worse … they’d contact my dad.’
‘Yeah, you can say that again. I dropped out of school at sixteen, got a job, tried to keep us afloat, but it was really rough. There were days it took everything I had to buy Cole a tin of beans. We were checking down the sides of the couch for lost coins, measuring out how much milk we were using. It was ridiculous. Then … I met someone. He helped me pay the rent and put some money aside for a rainy day. However, he got bored after six months, so it wasn’t really all I’d thought it had been.’
‘But it showed you a new life. You started dating men with money to get by?’ Cam’s body tensed as he asked the question.
I turned my head from him and even though there was no longer any censure in his question, I still felt ashamed. ‘I’ve never dated a guy I wasn’t attracted to, or that I didn’t care about.’ My eyes found his and I prayed for him to believe me. ‘I cared about Callum. I care about Malcolm.’
Holding up his hands, Cam stopped my worries with a gentle look. ‘I am not judging you. I promise.’
I raised an eyebrow.
He grunted. ‘Any more. Or ever again.’ He shook his head, his brows dipped in consternation. ‘You must have thought I was such a self-righteous prick.’
I chuckled. ‘I do believe I may have actually called you that.’
His eyes brightened. ‘Good girl, by the way,’ he said approvingly. ‘Giving me what for.’