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|Down London Road(On Dublin Street #2)(56) by Samantha Young|
Knowing it would bring me physical pain, I still shook my head ‘no’.
Murray’s smirk grew into a smug smile, as though he’d won something. ‘I suppose we better come to an arrangement then. I’m going to take my hand off your mouth and you’re not going to scream. If you do, I won’t hesitate to hurt you.’
I nodded, wanting at least one of his disgusting paws off me. As I stared up into his face, I saw not for the first time how there was nothing behind his eyes. I didn’t think I had ever met anyone in my entire life who was as callously selfish as this man. Was he really my father? There had been no connection between us other than that of abuser and victim. To me he’d been the reason for the knot in my stomach when I heard his rattling old banger of a car pull up to the house. The affection I’d felt for Mick, the eagerness to see him, the warm contentment of safety he gave me, was exactly what I should have felt for this man. But a man was all he’d ever been to me. A man with mean eyes and even meaner fists. For the longest time I’d despaired that he didn’t love me as a father should. I’d questioned whether there was something wrong with me. Looking at him now, I wondered how I could ever have questioned myself. I wasn’t the problem. He was. He was the shameful one, not me.
I sucked in a deep breath when he let go of my mouth, but he put more pressure on the hand around my throat as an extra warning to be quiet.
‘Now.’ He leaned into me and I could smell the beer and cigarettes on him. He hadn’t been in Club 39, but he’d obviously been in one of the bars near it, waiting on me. ‘I might just give up my right to see the wee man if your boyfriend made it worth my while. Say a hundred grand?’
I knew it. And straight to the point. He didn’t even care. He was as soulless as he’d ever been. How could someone be that way? Was he born soulless, black to his rotten core? Or did life make you that way? How could you hurt your own children and not feel like a monster? Maybe a monster was too far gone to realize he’d become one …
‘I stopped seeing Malcolm months ago. You’re out of luck.’
He squeezed my throat and panic suffused me. I automatically grabbed his hand, my nails biting into his skin. He didn’t seem to notice. ‘I’m sure you can persuade him somehow.’ He pushed his face into mine, his breath reeking of smoke and stale beer. ‘I had myself a bonnie bairn. She’s f**king useless but bonnie. It’s a commodity, Jo. Use it or I’ll come for Cole.’ He let me go and I sucked in a breath, my fingers brushing my neck to reassure myself that his hand was definitely no longer there. ‘If I wanted to, I could become a right pest in your lives, lass.’
Fury that he could do this to me, to Cole, after so long, after thinking we were free, took over and the fear was burned to hell in a blaze of rage. ‘Commodity’s a pretty big word for you, Murray. Looks like someone finally taught you to read.’ I rebelliously hoped my eyes conveyed my condescension clearly even in the shadows. ‘But reading does not a smart man make. I don’t have money. You’ll need to whore yourself out to an old prison buddy.’
I barely even saw the blur of his fist coming towards my face.
My head flew back, the muscles in my neck screaming with the impact and the burning heat of his fist hitting my mouth spread into my lower cheek and jaw. Tears of pain fell from my eyes as I brought my head slowly back around to face him, my lip feeling a million times bigger than normal. The warm trickle of blood oozed from an already stinging cut in my lower lip where my teeth had snagged the skin.
There was nothing behind his eyes as his other fist flew low and hit me hard in the gut, bowing me over. All control fled me as I panicked, trying to draw in air. I hit the ground knees first and he kicked me in the side, sending unbelievable pain flaring through my ribs as I collapsed on the muddy footpath, loose stones and dirt biting into my skin.
My body couldn’t decide whether it couldn’t breathe or was going to be sick.
Hard fingers bit into my chin and I cried out, the air rushing into my lungs. Every muscle, every nerve, every piece of bone felt as if it was on fire. I clutched my ribs as Murray held my head up by my chin. ‘You get me that money, lass. I’m renting the flat above the Halfway House on Fleshmarket Close for a few days. You’ve got two days to bring the money to me there. Got it?’
The hurt in my ribs was unbelievable. I could barely concentrate on what he was saying.
‘I said got it?’
I nodded feebly, sighing with relief when he abruptly let go of my chin.
And then he was gone.
The thick scent of beer and nicotine had disappeared. I was lying on the cold ground, my lip throbbing, my ribs aching and my head screaming with fury. At him. At myself.
I should have taken Cam up on those self-defence lessons.
At the thought of Cam I began to cry, cradling my sore side as I pushed myself up on to quivering legs. I swayed against the hillside, feeling light-headed. My body began to shake uncontrollably.
I think I was going into shock.
I shook my head, trying to clear it. I didn’t have time to go into shock. I had two days to get the money to Murray. A burst of pained energy propelled me forward.
Malcolm would give me the money. Malcolm would take one look at me in this state and give me the money, no problem. He was that good a guy.
I stumbled back down the path I’d run up, picking up my fallen purse, desperation and adrenaline making my progress hurried despite the pain I was in. I could phone Malcolm, get him to come and get me.
His name whirled in my brain as I came out of the gardens and did a U-turn at Leopold Place at the top of London Road. I kept to the trees where I could and then in shadow as much as possible in case I met anyone on my way. I didn’t want the police involved. If I got the police involved they might start looking into my whole family life and … I just couldn’t risk it.
If Malcolm paid, this would all go away.
Before I knew it I was standing outside the familiar building.
At the sight of it I began to cry harder, my breath hissing as my teeth caught my burst lip.
Malcolm wouldn’t pay.
Malcolm wouldn’t pay because I didn’t want Malcolm to help me. I didn’t want anybody but Cameron.
I let myself into our building and pulled myself up the stairs, determined to get to him and to throw my arms around him. I cried harder. I needed to feel safe and only Cam could give me that.
I lightly hammered on his door, and sucked in my breath as agony ripped through me. Lifting my arm was like ripping a stitch across my ribs. My body moved forward to lean on the frame and then the door was suddenly wrenched open. My heart was wrenched out of my body with it.
Blinking, I tried to compute the image in front of me. I shook my head to clear it, but it didn’t go away.
Blair gasped at the sight of me bloodied and crying. ‘Jo? What happened?’
My eyes travelled down the length of her and back up again.
Her short hair was wet and curling around her jaw and she was wearing Cam’s QOTSA T-shirt. She was so small it fell to just above her knees. Her bare knees. Her bare legs.
Blair was at Cam’s with wet hair, wearing only his T-shirt at two thirty in the morning?
‘Oh, my God.’ She reached for me and I wobbled back. ‘Cam’s in the bathroom. I’ll just get hi– Jo!’
I was already running, stumbling, falling, tripping my way back down the stairs. In that moment I couldn’t be anywhere near that building. I couldn’t go home to Cole like this, and Cam …
I threw up beside the rubbish bins.
Wiping my hand across my mouth, I glanced up the road.
I needed a taxi.
I needed my friend.
If Cam … I stifled a sob, hurrying around the corner and up London Road … if Cam wasn’t … then I had to go someplace that was safe.
The only good thing to happen to me that night came in the shape of a taxi with its light on. I threw out my hand and the cabbie pulled over. Still cradling my rib, I shakily got in.
‘Dublin Street,’ I told him, speaking awkwardly with my split lip.
He eyed me warily. ‘You all right? Do you need a hospital?’
‘You’re in a bit of a state –’
‘My people are on Dublin Street,’ I insisted, tears pricking my eyes. ‘They’ll take me.’
The taxi driver’s moment of hesitation was long enough for Cam to come skidding around the corner in T-shirt and jeans, his frenzied eyes searching up and down the street before swinging to meet mine in the cab. Features pale and drawn, he moved towards me just as the cab pulled away, his muffled shout reaching my ears over the sound of the engine.
My phone rang seconds later. I picked it up but didn’t say anything.
‘Jo?’ he yelled, the word coming out in a puff that told me he was out of breath, probably from running after me. ‘Where are you going? What happened? Blair says you’ve been attacked? What’s going on?’
Hearing the fear in his voice did nothing to soothe my heartbreak or quell the bitterness I felt for him in that moment. ‘I guess that’s no longer your concern,’ I answered numbly and hung up to the sound of his frantic shouting.
‘I’m going to kill him,’ Braden threatened with such quiet veracity that a shiver rippled down my spine. An unyielding blaze of retribution burned in his eyes. Another shiver followed in the wake of the last just as Joss dabbed at my lip.
I hissed at the sting of TCP against my cut and threw Joss a wounded look.
She winced, pulling back the cotton wool. ‘Sorry.’
Braden took a step towards me, all bristling angry male and even in a T-shirt and jogging pants he was intimidating. ‘Where is he?’
I shook my head.
‘Tell me, Jo.’
When I didn’t he took another step towards me and demanded coldly, ‘Tell me.’
‘You, back off!’ Joss yelled up at him, her own eyes bright with anger and anxiety. ‘You’re starting to scare Jo.’ Her voice quieted but didn’t lose its authority. ‘And I think she’s been through enough for one night, don’t you?’