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|Down London Road(On Dublin Street #2)(23) by Samantha Young|
I smiled a little shyly. ‘I usually hate confrontation, but I did quite enjoy putting you in your place.’
My words had the opposite effect of what I’d intended. He didn’t laugh. Instead he was grave. ‘Earlier in the hall, I grabbed your arm …’
I looked away as I remembered my reaction. ‘I tend to freeze if someone gets aggressive with me. Just a reflex from years with my dad.’
‘I didn’t mean to be aggressive.’
‘You know I’m a martial artist.’
As my eyes ran over his lean but roped physique, I was so busy checking him out that I didn’t call him on his seemingly abrupt change of subject. ‘Makes sense.’
His answering smile was more than a little cocky and I rolled my eyes, making him laugh. He shook his head, trying to return to being serious. ‘Judo. Nate and I both go to classes. You should come with me, Jo. Learning self-defence might help – it could give you back a little control.’
‘I don’t know.’ My stomach jumped uneasily at the thought. ‘I work during the day Monday to Wednesday anyway. I don’t have a lot of spare time.’
I had surprised him again. ‘You have another job?’
I gave a huff of laughter, thinking I understood his surprise. ‘Believe it or not, I never ask Malcolm for anything he gives me. I accept gifts he chooses to give me, but that still leaves me with bills to pay. Plus I have to put money aside for when Cole decides what university he’s going to. Oh, speaking of – let me get my purse so I can pay you back the money you just gave Cole.’
‘Forget it.’ Cam shook his head, and catching the stubborn tilt to my chin, he narrowed his eyes. ‘I mean it.’
Hmm. I would just have to find a way to pay him back later in such a way that he couldn’t say no.
As if he was reading my thoughts, our eyes locked in a battle of wills, and slowly but surely the familiar tension thickened, heat creeping between us. My eyes dipped to his mouth, to that soft, curling upper lip I wanted to nip … amongst other things. I wondered what his mouth tasted like, how it would feel brushing butterfly kisses down my neck, tugging my nipple into its heat …
My body tightened, fire tingling in my cheeks and between my legs. I snapped my gaze back up and found that Cam’s own eyes had darkened, his body coiled with the tension.
I stood up abruptly. ‘I’d better go.’
Cam smoothly got to his feet as well. ‘Are you going to be okay going back up there?’
For a while he’d actually managed to make me forget that I’d attacked my mum not too long ago. I found myself shocked all over again. ‘How do I even … ?’
‘First …’ Cam approached me carefully and I had to contain the little shiver of want that rolled over me again when his rough hand grasped my chin to lift my eyes to his. When our eyes met, the pull between us grew stronger. I wanted to curl my nails into his skin, latch on and never let go, and the overwhelming need shook me to my very core. How had it happened that one conversation had changed everything? This Cam in front of me was someone new, someone good, someone I felt close to – closer to than anyone. And I found that I wanted in deeper, not satisfied with merely ‘close’.
The realization made me a little dizzy.
‘You get that guilt out of your head,’ Cam ordered softly. ‘Don’t dare apologize to her. Anyone would have done what you did. Look at what your uncle Mick did when he found out your dad was beating you. It’s instinct to protect those we care about. Sometimes instinct makes us do things we’d never imagine we’re capable of doing.’
‘Violence should never be the answer.’
‘Aye, in a perfect world. But sometimes animals don’t understand anything but their own language.’
‘I don’t want Cole to think what I did was right.’
‘He doesn’t,’ Cam assured me. ‘What you did was human. He thinks what you did, you did out of love.’ His hands dropped to curve around my shoulders and he tugged me a little closer, causing my breath to hitch. The expression in his eyes, the one I couldn’t quite understand, didn’t help my frayed nerves. ‘That kid could have been brought up like you – without a parent, without proper care and affection. Jo, you saved him from that. And he bloody well knows it.’
I felt the weight of today’s revelations settle on me, and I suddenly, desperately, wanted my bed. ‘Thank you, Cam.’
‘Nothing you told me leaves this room. I promise.’
‘Ditto with what you told me.’ I stepped back, needing a little physical distance from him. Something awful suddenly occurred to me. ‘I don’t know how I’m going to ever be able to leave Cole alone with her again.’
‘He’s a strong kid. He’ll be fine.’
I blew out a breath. ‘Yeah, but will I?’
Cam smiled at me as if I was completely clueless. ‘Jo, you are now officially the strongest woman I know. Have a little faith in yourself.’
Silence stretched between us as I processed his words. It was the nicest thing anyone had ever said to me, and I wondered how someone who had been so unpleasant to me could do such a three-sixty. ‘Why were you really such a dick to me?’
Cam’s chin lifted a little, telling me he hadn’t expected the blunt question after our ‘heart-to-heart’. ‘I don’t know … I just …’ He ran a hand through his messy hair, his ring glinting in the light. He had such beautiful, masculine hands. ‘At first when I saw you with Malcolm, I just assumed you were like my uncle’s ex-wife.’
He grinned and gestured to me. ‘Because I didn’t think a girl like you would be interested in an older guy like Malcolm unless he had money.’
‘A compliment and insult in one. Well done, Cam.’
‘I do try.’
I made a face at him. ‘So after that … ?’
‘Well, I realized pretty quickly you weren’t stupid, and it just pissed me off that a bright, attractive woman didn’t think she was worth anything more than being some rich guy’s fancy piece.’
He gave me an unamused look at my interrogation. ‘Then I thought I was wrong. You genuinely seemed to care about Malcolm. However, Callum turned up at the dinner and I took one look at him, a younger version of Malcolm, and I realized you had done this before.’
I glanced away. ‘I see.’
‘But really –’ My eyes flew back to his at his softened tone. ‘It just pissed me off that you’re this completely different person around those guys.’
‘A different person?’
‘Yeah, with Joss and everyone, with me, you’re someone else, someone real. With Malcolm, with Callum, with the guys you flirt with, you’re different. You’re less than you really are. And that f**king giggle …’
I laughed outright.
Cam’s lips twitched. ‘You’re aware of it?’
‘Joss made me aware of it. It drives her nuts. Sometimes I do it just to annoy her.’
Cam laughed. ‘Well, it works. It’s irritating as hell.’
A feeling I couldn’t quite name took hold of me then. Cam really did like me. For me. Sans fake giggle. Just like Joss. ‘I’m going to go, Cam. But thank you for today.’
He eyed me warmly, hope glittering a little mischievously in his gaze. ‘I’m forgiven, then?’
I nodded without needing to think about it. I was already feeling more free for having confided in him, and since we both had done some confiding it felt like a balanced exchange. I wasn’t anxious about having trusted him, and that just blew my mind. ‘Clean slate.’
I almost laughed at that paltry description of what I felt for this stranger who had become my confidant. ‘Friends.’
I had showered and changed into my pyjamas and was feeling a little better – Mum hadn’t come out of her room – by the time Cole returned home. He stopped by the couch and squeezed my shoulder before heading into the kitchen to grab a snack.
‘We’re okay?’ I asked as he came back in to flop down on the floor.
‘We’re okay.’ He shrugged, staring at the television with a casualness I was sure he wasn’t feeling. ‘Are you okay? Was Cam okay?’
I smiled, ignoring the stupid flutter of butterflies in my stomach at the thought of Cam. ‘He was great. What did you say to him earlier? He mentioned something about you looking like you were going to hit him?’
Cole grunted. ‘If I had, he would have deserved it. Didn’t need to, though. Dude’s a decent guy – felt like shit when I told him how wrong he was about you.’
‘Language.’ I threw a cushion at him and he batted it away with a murmured apology. ‘And why did you go down there to set him straight? It wasn’t like I was desperate for him to see me in a better light.’
Cole looked at me, and I saw his green eyes had gone a forest colour from some unnamed emotion. ‘Nobody gets to think that about you, let alone say it out fu–’ He caught himself before he swore. ‘Out loud.’
I wanted to cry, because right then my brother was making me feel pretty loved and pretty cool, but I thought crying would just make Cole roll his eyes. ‘Okay,’ I whispered and he gave me a little nod before turning back to the television. ‘Comedy Channel?’
I changed the channel for him just as my phone rang. Handing Cole the remote, I got up and followed the ringtone into the kitchen where I’d left my purse.
It was Joss. I felt a little relieved it wasn’t Malcolm – I didn’t even want to touch on why. ‘Hi,’ I answered quietly.
‘Hey, you.’ Joss’s rich, husky voice was soothing to my nerves and I realized I’d missed seeing her at lunch today. ‘I’m just checking in. You okay?’