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|Echoes of Scotland Street(On Dublin Street #5)(8) by Samantha Young|
Feeling immediately flustered, I pretended otherwise by turning to the reception desk. “Where’s the printer?”
“It’s in Stu’s office. I’ll get it and bring it here for you.” Cole strode toward the back rooms and disappeared down the corridor. My eyes followed him against my will.
“Don’t worry,” Simon said.
“Worry about what?”
He gave a huff of laughter. “About getting your knickers in a twist over Cole. He has a tendency to have that affect on people. Believe me, I’ve never wished harder for someone to miraculously wake up gay one morning.”
Despite being annoyed that Simon had somehow guessed my immediate attraction to our boss, I couldn’t help giggling. “What about Tony?”
Simon waved my question off. “We both have fantasy lists of people we’re allowed to fuck if they ever turned gay. Channing Tatum is on his. Cole’s on mine.”
“Does Cole know you fancy him?”
“He’s seen my whole list. Tony printed them for evidence of our pact in case fantasy ever becomes reality.”
I was still stuck on the fact that Cole knew Simon fancied him and yet seemed perfectly at ease with him. “Doesn’t it bother Cole that you fancy him?”
Simon grunted. “Why would it?”
“Some men, particularly men like Cole, are weird about that stuff. The idiots think it threatens their manhood.”
“Speaking from experience, are you?”
I made a face at the thought of my ex. “I once knew a guy who beat the shit out of a bloke who came on to him in a bar. It was one of the ugliest things I’ve ever seen.” Blinking away the memories, I discovered Simon staring at me with an arrested look on his face. It was as though he sensed it wasn’t the only ugly thing I’d ever seen, and wanted to know why. The thought of anyone in my new life knowing what I’d been through caused a wall to shoot up inside me; its impenetrableness must have been reflected in my suddenly blank expression.
Sensing the change, Simon stepped back. “Cole isn’t like that. He’s not like that at all.”
It didn’t matter what kind of man Cole Walker was. I had no intention of ever finding out.
* * *
I heard Cole’s rumbling tones nearing the door to the main reception room as he led his client out. Instantly I tensed over the printer he’d set up on the reception desk. For the last few hours I’d immersed myself in creating chronological digital folders to organize all the scanned material. The files contained receipts and client information, and many of them had photographs of the tattoo work. I was with Cole—the stuff dated back years, and with the exception of the accounting, most of it really didn’t need to be kept. Stu, it appeared, was a bit of a hoarder. However, as I’d told Cole, I was happy to digitize it all if it meant keeping me busy and out of my new manager’s way.
He’d had a guy called Ross Mead in all morning. They were doing work on a massive tattoo that would eventually cover Ross’s back. I knew Cole had three more appointments this afternoon and I had to wonder if his hand ever cramped up. In fact, after receiving a couple of calls this morning from people looking to book tattoo appointments, I discovered the studio was fully booked at weekends for the next six weeks. Appointments were available during the week, which was a more difficult time for people with nine-to-five jobs, but it was clear some of them were willing to take time off work rather than wait to get in Cole Walker’s chair.
“Same care as before,” I heard Cole say as he and Ross stepped out into the room. “And I’ll see you back here in three weeks.”
Although I wanted to go on pretending I wasn’t aware of Cole, my job involved taking payment from the customer, so I had to look up as they approached. Ross looked a little peaked as Cole led him to me.
“Are you okay?” I said.
Ross threw me a shaky, dry smile. “Want the tattoo, don’t particularly like the way I feel during and afterwards.”
“I’ve got something”—I bent down to rummage around in my handbag—“that might help. Aha!” I curled my hand triumphantly around the bar of chocolate and tugged it out. “Here.” I broke off a few squares and handed them to him. “Sugar.”
He grinned gratefully. “Thanks. How much do I owe you?” He chewed on a piece of chocolate as my eyes flicked over the price list on the desk.
I could have asked Cole, but again that meant looking at him. “Four hours . . . that’s two hundred and forty pounds.”
As I took Ross’s credit card and popped it into the card reader, I expected Cole to vamoose back into his workroom, but he stayed there, chatting to Ross about the Lowlight gig they’d both been to a few months ago in Glasgow. Usually I would have jumped right into the conversation, but, again, I was avoiding interaction with my boss. Moreover, I was supposed to have been at that gig. I didn’t want to think about the reason why I hadn’t gone.
Once Ross had paid he gestured with his last piece of chocolate in thanks to me and departed the studio. Leaving me alone with Cole.
I could feel his stare burning into me.
After a while it became impossible to withstand the intensity. I looked at him in question without saying anything.
Unfortunately he was bestowing upon me that boyish grin that led to dirty thoughts. “Can I have a piece?”
Outraged, I sucked in a breath. “Excuse me?”
His lips twitched with amusement. “Of chocolate,” he clarified. “A piece of chocolate.”
Embarrassed that I’d misunderstood, I thrust the bar of chocolate at him, ignoring his chuckle as he took it. To avoid him I stuffed the last square in my mouth and turned back to scanning the files.
“When’s my next client in?”
“In an hour and a half,” I said without looking up or at the appointment book. I’d already memorized Cole’s schedule for the day.
A twenty-pound note slid toward me on the desk. “Can you go out and grab something for our lunch? Better get Rae something too. She’ll be in soon and she’s usually starving. If we feed her right away, it mellows her a little. But only a little.”
Glancing up as I took the money, I found him smiling at me. “What would you like?”
Cole’s grin turned positively wolfish. “If I answered that honestly you’d likely find me very unprofessional.”