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|Down London Road(On Dublin Street #2)(27) by Samantha Young|
‘Jo, think about it. Please.’
‘I said no, thanks.’ I couldn’t imagine anyone would ever want to hire me, and the humiliation of rejection didn’t sound like a lot of fun.
‘Cam, why are you here?’ I cut him off sharply. I immediately regretted my tone, but there was no taking it back.
He blew out the air between his lips, his eyes searching mine, and as if he couldn’t find what he was looking for, he took a step back. ‘No reason. I better go. I’ve –’
‘Jo!’ My mum’s voice cut him off this time, her shrill shriek making us wince.
It was the first time she’d called for my help since the incident. I sighed heavily and dumped the paste brush back in the bucket. ‘Cam, stay. I’ll see to Mum, you make yourself a coffee. Maybe get me a tea while you’re at it.’
‘I’m coming!’ I shouted and Cam seemed taken aback. ‘What?’ I asked as I moved to pass him.
He smirked. ‘Never heard you raise your voice.’
‘You’ve obviously never seen me approached by a spider.’
Laughing, Cam waved towards the door. ‘I’ll get the coffee.’
Feeling relieved that he’d decided to stay I hurried to get whatever Mum needed over and done with.
To my surprise she was lying in her bed, not seeming to be in any kind of ‘situation’ after all. Oh, God, I hoped she hadn’t lost control of her bladder. That had happened before. ‘What?’ I asked, hovering in the doorway.
‘Who is that?’ she asked loudly, nodding her head to indicate behind me. ‘I’ve heard his voice lately. Who is it?’
It was the first time Mum had really ever taken an interest in anything outside of her gin-soaked, wasted existence and I couldn’t help but reply, ‘That’s Cam. He’s a friend.’
‘You f**king him?’
‘Mum,’ I snapped, flinching at how loudly the question had been asked.
‘Well?’ she asked with a sneer. ‘Look at you! Standing there, judging me. Get that look oot yer eyes, girl. You think yer better than me. Accusing me of hitting Cole, thinking I’m nothing. Well, look in the mirror, girl, ’cause yer nothing too!’ As her eyes sparked with her contempt, I knew this was what she’d been waiting for. This was her payback for my attack. Humiliating me in front of Cam. ‘Yer useless and that piece oot there will walk away when he gets bored with what’s between yer legs!’
I slammed the door shut, my whole body shaking as I leaned my forehead against it, trying to control my breathing. A few seconds later I heard her start to cry.
I sucked in my breath at his voice and turned slowly around to find him standing in the hallway, his eyes glittering with anger. He took the few steps he needed to be close to me and he said loudly, so Mum would hear, I imagine, ‘You are not useless. You are not what they say you are.’
I glanced down at his tattoo.
When my eyes travelled back up to his and I saw pain in his eyes for me, I knew that Cam was the only guy who had ever seen me. And even more important, he saw beyond what I could see. I was more to Cam.
I wanted to grab his hand, lead him down the hall to my room, strip myself bare before him, and let him take everything I could give him.
And take everything he could give me.
Instead of doing what I really wanted to do, I gave him a platonic but grateful smile. ‘Let’s have that coffee.’
The following Saturday everything I was avoiding feeling, everything that wasn’t being admitted out loud, came to a head.
The week before, Malcolm had invited me to a party that Becca’s flatmate was hosting. The party was to be held in their place in Bruntsfield and Malcolm had said he’d put in an appearance. However, he didn’t want to feel like a fish out of water, so he’d practically begged me to accompany him. I wasn’t really looking forward to seeing Cam and Becca in action together, but since I’d been unfaithful to Malcolm in my head, I thought it was the least I could do for him.
The morning of that Saturday I was up early because Mum had woken us up smashing empty bottles of gin in the kitchen sink. I’d got to her before she did too much damage, wrapped a few plasters around little cuts on her hands, held her while she curled into me and bawled like a baby, and finally accepted Cole’s help getting her back into bed. The muscles in her legs were wasting away – it was a wonder she could even walk. Cole and I had given up trying to get her out and about, and seeing the damage I began to feel guilty.
Trying to shake off the grim sadness that always overwhelmed me when Mum found a way to let us know she was just as angry at her addiction as we were, I thought I’d spend a rare Saturday morning reading while Cole hurried down to Cam’s flat. Since I was still trying to weigh whether we could afford the expense of Cole taking up a martial art, Cam had started training lessons with him on Saturday mornings. Cole loved every minute of it, and honestly, I think Cam was enjoying teaching what he’d learned.
I was immersed in the translation of a romance novel by one of my favourite Japanese writers when the doorbell rang.
It was Jamie, Cole’s friend.
As soon as I opened the door, the short, slightly chubby kid turned beetroot. I bit my lip, trying not to smile. ‘Hi, Jamie.’
‘Hi, Jo.’ He gulped, his eyes looking anywhere but at my face. ‘Is Cole in? He was supposed to meet me outside fifteen minutes ago.’
Clearly Cole had lost track of the time. I stifled my aggravated sigh and stepped out of the flat, shutting the door gently behind me – I had been at a really good part in my book. ‘Let me take you to him.’
After I knocked on Cam’s door, he yelled for me to come in. I left Jamie waiting outside and entered the flat to find Cam and Cole standing in the centre of the living room beside a mat. All of the furniture had been pushed to the edges of the room. Cole was grinning, perspiration running down his neck, damp patches all over his T-shirt. Cam was wearing a T-shirt and joggers, not looking that much the worse for wear.
I raised my eyebrows at Cole. ‘Did you forget about something?’
He frowned instantly. ‘No.’
‘Tell that to the kid on Cam’s doorstep.’
‘Oh, sh–’ He stopped himself. ‘I forgot Jamie.’
Cole hurried to grab his socks and trainers. ‘Cheers for the lesson, Cam.’
‘No probs, bud.’
‘You better wash and change your clothes before you go out!’ I called after him as he disappeared into the hall. ‘And text me to let me know what you’re doing –’ I slammed my mouth closed at the sound of Cam’s front door shutting. I turned back to Cam. ‘Why do I bother?’
He threw me a crooked smile – my fourth favourite after the lip twitch – and curled a finger, beckoning me to him. ‘Care to take up where he left off?’
I immediately took a step back, shaking my head. ‘I don’t think so.’
‘Come on.’ He suddenly grew serious. ‘I’ve seen the way some of the customers are with you, and Joss told me she’s had to rescue you more than once in the past from an over eager punter. This will help you learn to deal with the way you freeze up.’
I imagined it might be pretty nice to be able to handle aggressive a**holes by myself rather than relying on protective friends. But training with Cam? No. That would be fanning the flame.
Cam sighed but gave in. ‘Fine. You want a cup of tea?’
I nodded and followed him into his kitchen, trying to keep my eyes on anything but his muscled shoulders and tight ass. I didn’t try very hard.
Standing by his kitchen counter, I was lost in thought about the evening ahead of us as Cam made the tea and coffee, when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. I glanced towards it and nearly had full-on heart failure at the size of the spider clinging to Cam’s kitchen tiles.
‘Oh, my God!’ I squealed, skittering back away from it, a lump of fear in my throat the size of Canada.
‘What – what?’ Cam spun around, his eyes wide on me.
I stared round-eyed at the spider. ‘Get rid of it or I won’t be able to move.’ I wasn’t kidding. I was literally frozen with fear. I don’t know where my phobia of spiders originated, but it was bad enough that we had to invest in spider repellents that plugged into the sockets in our flat. We got the rare few spiders nevertheless and Cole always took care of them.
Cam looked from me to the spider and then back to me again. I could see the beginning of a smile start to curl the corners of his mouth.
‘Don’t even think about laughing. It’s not funny.’
His gaze softened as he seemed to finally realize the extent of my fear. ‘Okay. Stop panicking. I’ll get rid of it.’ He reached into a cupboard and pulled out a pan.
I scowled. ‘What are you doing? Don’t kill it!’
Cam froze, cocking his head in bemusement as he gazed at me. ‘Why don’t you want me to kill it? I thought you were frightened of it.’
‘I am terrified of it,’ I corrected him. ‘But what does it say about humans as a species if we go around killing things just because we fear them?’ Not anything good, that’s what.
Cam’s gorgeous eyes warmed even more and I found myself forgetting the fear and falling into his gaze.
‘What?’ I whispered, feeling my chest swell at the way he was looking at me. No one had ever looked at me like that before.
He shook his head. ‘Nothing. You just … Nothing.’
He blinked a little rapidly before pinning the spider with his gaze. ‘Right.’ He lifted the lid of the pan. ‘I’m not killing it. I just needed something to put it in.’