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|Down London Road(On Dublin Street #2)(48) by Samantha Young|
I felt my chest tighten with anxiety as he remained quiet during the taxi ride with Olivia and Uncle Mick. Even Olivia commented on it, asking him if he was all right.
Of course he insisted he was, though we all knew (we, as in I) that he had been thrown for a loop by the arrival of his ex-girlfriend, aka the only woman he had ever loved.
We arrived at Joss and Braden’s flat on Dublin Street to find the party already in full swing. Hannah and Declan were staying with friends tonight, so Elodie and Clark were free to stay as long as they wanted. Elodie was completely smashed already – and Elodie smashed was just a heightened version of Elodie sober. She kept moving around all the guests asking them if they wanted a refill and when they said yes, she proceeded to overfill their glasses with a loopy ‘Oopsie!’
Cam, Olivia and I settled in a corner with Adam and Ellie. I tried to keep up with the conversation, and attempted to appear as if everything was all right, laughing along with the others as Adam pointed out the growing strain on Joss’s face as she was forced to mingle. At one point we watched as Joss attempted to remove her hand from the grip of the wife of one of Braden’s professional acquaintances as she peered at the engagement ring. Joss tugged politely a few times, but when that didn’t seem to get through, she actually swatted the woman’s hand off hers and then smiled prettily as if nothing had happened, leaving Braden choking on laughter while she excused herself.
We were all laughing, and I turned to Cam to share a smile with him, only to find his head bent over his phone.
‘You okay?’ I asked, looking down at the text message he was typing and feeling that ugly compression on my chest again.
He glanced up and gave me a barely there smile. ‘Yeah, you?’
‘Fine. Who are you texting?’
‘Just Blair. She wanted my address.’
‘Hmm.’ I nodded, hoping my fury wasn’t evident in my eyes. I turned away from him, cursing him to the moon and back.
Come to a party for my friend’s engagement as my bloody date and stand there not paying attention to anything anyone’s saying, tapping away at your bloody phone, talking to an ex-girlfriend you casually mention you were in love with, and expect me not to be bloody well pissed off, you bloody swine, you utter –
‘So, Jo, how are you liking the new job?’ Adam asked me, interrupting my inner diatribe against my boyfriend.
Adam waited for me to say more, but I couldn’t make my brain work. While my blood was hot with anger, my chest hurt, and my melancholy thoughts took up all my head space. Realizing he wasn’t going to get anything else out of me, Adam engaged Olivia in conversation and I ignored the worried looks Ellie kept shooting me.
I glanced around the room, wishing I could just escape, lock myself in the bathroom and cry. But that seemed awfully melodramatic, considering Cam hadn’t actually done anything wrong. It was my insecurities that were making me feel this way, right?
I caught Uncle Mick’s eye across the room and smiled. He grinned and then turned back to Clark. The two men were so different, one a scholar, one a manual labourer, and yet they seemed to get on incredibly well with each other. I was glad. It was nice of Joss and Braden to invite Mick and Olivia to their engagement party, but I had worried that they would feel out of place.
Turned out the only one feeling out of place was me.
I listened with half an ear as Ellie managed to engage Cam in conversation. Although he chatted with her about the new project he was creating the graphics for, an independent chocolate shop that was opening in Edinburgh, I could hear the lack of enthusiasm in his voice. I knew him too well. I knew his mind was off somewhere else tonight.
Was it really my insecurities telling me his mind was on Blair? Or was it my instincts?
I needed the opinion of a blunt, straightforward, honest couple.
Sweeping the crowded sitting room, I couldn’t see Joss and Braden anywhere. I excused myself and headed out into the empty hallway, then proceeded to check the kitchen, where a large group of people had congregated. They weren’t there either. I checked the bedrooms. Both empty.
Wondering if they’d gone outside for some fresh air, I headed down the hall towards the door and that was when I heard the deep, rumbling chuckle.
I halted, my eyebrows at my hairline as I turned to face the bathroom door.
‘Oh, wait, I think my leg cramped up.’ Joss snorted and then giggled. Actually giggled. I didn’t know she could do that.
‘How did it cramp up?’ Braden murmured.
‘Well, I don’t know if you know this about me, baby, but my body isn’t a pretzel.’
My mouth fell open and I muffled a laugh into my hand despite myself. What position had he got her into?
‘Do you want me to massage it?’
There was a moment of silence and then … ‘Oh, yeah, right there,’ she moaned.
‘Fuck,’ Braden huffed. ‘You’ll set me off again.’
‘Seriously?’ she asked incredulously. ‘I just moaned.’
‘That’s all it takes, babe.’
Joss giggled again. I decided it was a nice sound.
And then I realized I was creepily eavesdropping on their sex-in-the-bathroom-at-their-own-fricking-engagement encounter. I knocked on the door.
‘Uh, just a minute!’ Joss yelled.
‘It’s me,’ I called semi-loudly through the door. ‘Are you decent yet?’
‘Um, not yet. Wait.’ I heard clothes rustling and then a muffled ‘oof’ before something clattered to the floor. ‘Are you trying to kill me?’
Braden laughed. ‘You were the one that wanted to f**k in the bathroom.’
‘Ssssh!’ Joss hissed. ‘Jo is outside.’
‘I think she knows what we’re up to.’
‘She does,’ I offered helpfully.
The door swung open. Braden stood over me, his hair ruffled, and his shirt tucked messily back into his trousers. Joss was hopping on one foot behind him, trying to get her shoe back on. Her cheeks were flushed and the French knot in her hair was a little more than worse for wear.
‘Really?’ I asked, glancing around to make sure we were still alone. ‘The bathroom during your engagement party?’
Joss rolled her eyes at me. ‘What, like you’ve never done it somewhere a little risqué?’
My cheeks bloomed bright red as I remembered how risqué it had got with Cam just this morning. God, it seemed like a lifetime ago already.
Braden scrutinized me and nodded smugly at Joss. ‘She’s definitely done it somewhere risqué.’
Joss grinned, finally getting her shoe on and coming to a standstill. ‘I do believe you’re right, Mr Carmichael. Look at those pretty cheeks blush.’
I sighed impatiently, trying to cover my embarrassment. ‘I didn’t hunt you down to talk about risqué sex.’ I brushed past Braden and motioned to him to shut the door.
He raised an eyebrow but complied. ‘Everything all right?’
Trying to keep a lid on my emotions I laid it out for them. The story of Cam and Blair, and now her sudden re-entrance into his life and Cam’s troubling reaction to it.
‘Should I be worried?’ I chewed on my lip, glancing from one to the other.
Joss looked at Braden. ‘What do you think?’
Braden winked at her. ‘I think I’m looking pretty good right now.’
Joss smacked him across the arm for the both of us. ‘Not helpful, you smug idiot.’
He grunted, still smiling cockily, a smile that slipped when he turned to me and saw that I was not in the mood for his humour at the moment. He sighed, his eyes softening. ‘Jo, you’ve nothing to worry about.’
It was exactly the reassurance I’d been looking for, but I needed more. ‘Really?’
‘Look, Cameron just bumped into a girl he has a history with. It’s going to affect him. It doesn’t mean he still has feelings for her. If Joss and I were out for a stroll and we bumped into my ex, I’d probably be feeling a bit off for the rest of the day as well, but not because I’m still in love with the bitch.’
I raised my eyebrows, wondering what the history was there. I shot Joss a look. ‘Clearly.’
Joss caressed Braden’s arm in comfort. ‘She is a bitch.’
I sighed this time. ‘So, you think I’m jumping the gun?’
‘Yes,’ they answered in unison.
‘I must say, though’ – Joss shook her head as if in disappointment – ‘it shows a serious lack of intuition when it comes to women that Cam wouldn’t realize that him planning to meet with an old girlfriend would bother you.’
Braden snorted at Cam’s lack of smoothness. ‘Agreed.’
I pouted a little. ‘Agreed.’ I made a face. ‘Sorry for dumping this on you at your engagement party. That was more than a little selfish. God!’ I threw up my hands. ‘This relationship is turning me into a schizo!’
Joss threw me a sympathetic smile. ‘Welcome to my world.’
When I returned to the party it was to discover that Cam had got surprisingly drunk, shockingly fast. He never drank to the point of being drunk and as the evening wore on, the little that Braden had done to reassure me was obliterated by the state Cam ended up in. Mick had to help me put him in a taxi and then help me up to the flat with him. I bade Mick and Olivia goodnight, stripped Cam out of his clothes, put water and aspirin beside his bed, and crawled in beside him to stay with him and make sure he was okay.
I didn’t sleep.
I felt like I was standing on top of the world’s tallest building, staring out on all that the world had to offer, waiting for that gust of wind to come along and blow me down, ripping me from the best view I’d ever had.
When I turned my head on the pillow to study Cam sleeping, a part of me thought I might hate him a little. I hated him for making me love him so much and for making me feel this horribly uncertain. I’d spent my whole adult life depending on men for financial security, and now I’d traded it in for Cam. I’d thought I was doing it for all the right reasons, but it seemed to me I’d traded financial security for emotional security and the risk hadn’t paid off.