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|Echoes of Scotland Street(On Dublin Street #5)(32) by Samantha Young|
He studied me carefully, and I could see lots going on in those gorgeous eyes of his. “Okay,” he eventually said. “My place is five minutes away. We can talk there.”
I was so nervous on the walk to Cole’s I couldn’t speak at all. Thankfully he seemed to understand. He led us to a Victorian apartment building just off Bruntsfield Road. Once inside his flat on the second floor, I was distracted by its beautiful high ceilings and polished hardwood floors. Cole had furnished the flat in masculine dark woods, strong textures, and artwork that had obviously been carefully chosen. The living room had a gorgeous bay window dressed in heavy chocolate brown suede drapes to match the suede L-shaped sofa. There was an old Victorian fireplace in the center of the room. It was minimal and there were splashes of color in the cushions and rug, but none of it was deliberately coordinated. Everything had been chosen for comfort and function and yet somehow still worked stylishly in its period setting.
The place also smelled like Cole.
“Coffee?” he offered as I stood awkwardly in the middle of the room.
“Please. Milk, two sugars.”
He left to make it and I lowered myself to the edge of the sofa, my knee bouncing up and down with my jitters. I was about to lay myself bare to him.
I felt sick.
When Cole returned, the concern was back on his face as he took me in, shivering. He handed me a mug of hot coffee. “If you like I can start the fire.”
“Not if you’re warm.”
His answer was to start the fire for me.
I smiled gratefully at him as he took a seat in the armchair under the bay window.
“So, what do you need to talk about?”
Attempting to control my nerves, I took a deep breath and exhaled shakily. “That day I told you you were nothing . . .”
Annoyance flashed in his eyes. “Look, Shannon, we’ve been over that. It’s done. Let’s move on.”
“It’s not done,” I insisted. I was so scared at the thought of telling him about what I’d fled from in Glasgow, but at the same time I needed to open myself up to him if we were going to have any chance at real friendship. “For once I’m not going to be selfish with you. You deserve the truth even if I don’t want to tell it.”
Cole scooted forward on his seat, eyebrows drawn together. “Shannon, what’s this all about?”
“I’m not here to dump my problems on you. But I need to explain something about why I came to Edinburgh so you can understand why I said what I said to you and why, in the end, it really had nothing to do with you.”
When he waited patiently, I continued. “I’m not a judgmental person, Cole. Not really. In fact, I’ve been known to forgive people even when their actions are beyond the point of forgiveness. I’ve always accepted people for who they are, always believing there was something special in everyone, something that others couldn’t see. And every time I’ve done that with the men in my life I’ve been proven wrong and everyone else right.”
“Shortcake, I’m not following.”
“I’m a bad-boy magnet,” I said with no humor, because as silly as it sounded out loud it was true. “A player magnet. To start there was a lead singer in a rock band who cheated on me, the biker who cheated on me, the secret drug dealer who stole from me, and my last boyfriend—the pièce de résistance. We were together for two years and his name was Ollie. He worked in a restaurant by day and was a drummer in a band at night. Tattooed, good-looking, cocky, charming, confident . . .”
An understanding was beginning to dawn in Cole’s eyes.
“Before Ollie, I’d already pissed off most of my family with the choices I’d made when it came to men. I’d been hurt so many times they believed it was my own fault, and I don’t think they’re necessarily wrong. They predicted Ollie would be a disaster, but I was so sure he was different from all the rest. He was romantic and into me, and to begin with he made me feel really special. Until slowly that started to change.
“It was so subtle it took me a really long time to even realize what he was doing to me. How he had started to chip away at pieces of me. He belittled me, made me feel talentless and stupid. He made me feel like it was a miracle I’d managed to land him.”
“He was a dick,” Cole snapped.
“Like I said, I didn’t even know it was happening or how much he emotionally manipulated me into constantly choosing him over my friends and family. Almost two years—that’s how long it took me to wake the heck up.
“It was so stupid,” I whispered, feeling the pain in my gut and in my chest. In fact, I ached all over with the memories. “It was a stupid thing that made me wake up. I was supposed to be going out that night with the girls. I hadn’t seen them in a while and I was always blowing them off for Ollie. So I was excited and all dressed up.
“Ollie came into the bedroom. He told me I looked like a whore, which was his favorite word weapon. It hurt, like always.”
Lifting my gaze to Cole, I sucked in my breath at the blaze of anger in his eyes. He gave me a taut nod of his head in a gesture to carry on.
“I changed my clothes and gave him the silent treatment. He tried to placate me. And then somehow like always he manipulated me, attempting to make it out as though I was choosing my friends over him when he needed me. He’d had a bad day at work or something and he just wanted a quiet night in with me. So I blew the girls off. They were beyond annoyed. Like, no-longer-speaking-to-me annoyed. And then a while later he said he was going out with the band.
“I was so angry. I never argued with him, but I was so, so mad at him that night that I let him have it.” My eyes held Cole’s as I silently tried to prepare him. “Ollie didn’t say anything. He just swung his arm out and backhanded me across the face. He’s six foot and a drummer. I went flying across the room and caught my hip on the coffee table as I went down.”
“Shannon . . .” Cole’s teeth were gritted and he was rising from his chair, but I halted him with tears in my eyes.
“He was so apologetic. He cried. He promised it wouldn’t happen again. I believed him.” The tears fell. “I’m so stupid.”
“I don’t know if I can hear much more without breaking something,” Cole said, his voice shaking.
“I need you to. I need you to try to understand.”