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|Fall From India Place(On Dublin Street #4)(4) by Samantha Young|
“Michaela has decided to come with us,” Suzanne said cheerily, like she hadn’t just verbally bitch-slapped me in the toilets.
I squeezed Michaela’s shoulder and smiled at them all. “You guys have a good night. I have somewhere I need to be.”
Ignoring Suzanne’s sputtering, I sauntered out of there, away from the drama and the gorgeous boys, and spent the rest of the evening getting drunk with people who didn’t care if I was single or married, skinny or fat, ambitious or laid-back. They were just out to relax and de-stress from work, and that was all I was looking for too.
Life was good. I certainly didn’t need anyone trying to tell me it wasn’t because they themselves were discontented.
The next morning I woke up to get ready for Jo and Ellie’s baby shower. My mum, Elodie, was hosting it at my parents’ house for all the girls, while the men looked after the kids.
I’d just switched off my hairdryer and was sitting down to do my makeup when my door buzzer went off. Not expecting anyone, I wondered if one of the girls had decided to drop in on me before the baby shower.
“Hello?” I called into the entry phone.
“It’s me,” a familiar deep and masculine voice said.
Pleased by the unexpected visit, I answered, “Come on up.”
When I opened my door Cole Walker smiled at me and strode inside. I turned my cheek for his kiss and offered him a coffee.
“Sure.” He followed me into my kitchen.
Cole Walker was Jo’s little brother. He was a year younger than me, but you’d never know it. I’d never met a guy so close to my age as mature as Cole. For as long as I’d known him he’d been that way. He acted more like a thirty-year-old than the twenty-one-year-old he was.
We’d been friends because our families were close, but the year I turned seventeen we’d grown closer. So close, I considered him my best friend. I often thought it was a shame there wasn’t any sexual chemistry between us, because Cole was seriously one of the best guys I’d ever met and he would make anyone a fantastic boyfriend.
Despite being a little hotheaded, especially when it came to anyone hurting or even pissing off someone he cared about, Cole was the least judgmental person I knew. There were occasions when he could be cocky and come off as intimidating to those who didn’t know him well, but I knew him to be down-to-earth, easy to talk to, intelligent, creative, compassionate, loyal, and sensible, despite what his appearance might suggest to people inclined to judge a book by its cover.
A few inches over six feet, Cole was broad-shouldered and athletically built – he had an amazing body, honed in martial arts classes and weekly visits to the gym. He had messy strawberry blond hair that his sister was always nagging at him to cut, gorgeous green eyes, and a handsome face that was usually scruffy and in need of a shave. It wasn’t his natural good looks that raised eyebrows, although he did turn heads. It was the tattoos. He had lyrics tattooed on his inner right wrist, and black feathers on the back of his right shoulder that reached over and down his upper biceps, the feathers leading to an eagle that was flying, wings outstretched. In its talons dangled an old-fashioned pocket watch. He had yet to cover his left arm, although he was working on ideas for a sleeve.
He also had the same tattoo as Cam. They were best mates. Cole designed it when he was fifteen. It was a “J&C” that was visible in among this almost tribal-like design of vines and curlicues. Cam had it on his chest. When he was eighteen Cole had the same tattoo inked on the side of his neck where his pulse throbbed.
I knew how much that tattoo meant to him. For Cam the “J&C” symbolized not only his relationship with Jo but his relationship with Cole as well. For Cole, the “J&C” was Jo and Cam. Cole had had a pretty shitty time of it at home with his alcoholic mum, Fiona. She was never there for him. Jo had raised him. When Cole was fourteen Jo discovered their mother was beating him, and not long after that they moved in with Cameron and left their mum alone in the flat upstairs.
Fiona had passed away of a heart attack almost two years ago. I imagined it hadn’t been easy for Cole, for many reasons. I’d tried to talk to him about it, but it was the one subject he didn’t want to touch. As far as he was concerned, Jo was his mother and sister rolled into one and Cameron had saved their lives. They were all he needed.
“What are you doing here?” I asked as I made his coffee. “Shouldn’t you be at work?”
Cole was a student at Edinburgh College of Art, but he’d been working since he was sixteen years old at INKarnate, an award-winning tattoo studio in Leith. Stu Motherwell had been running the parlor for more than twenty-five years and Cole had started off as an errand boy so he could get a feel for the place. When he was eighteen he started a part-time apprenticeship there. I knew Stu treated Cole like a son, and relied heavily on him.
I didn’t think it would be too long before Cole was helping to run the place.
“Late start,” Cole replied, taking the coffee with a “Thanks.” “I start in thirty minutes but I thought I’d pop in to see you first.”
I leaned back against the counter, staring up at him. “Why? Is everything okay?”
He gazed back at me for a few long seconds. “That’s what I’m here to ask you. With everything that’s going on…”
Understanding what he was getting at, I smiled reassuringly. “Things are good. Honest.”
He frowned. “I haven’t heard from you much lately and…” He shrugged.
“Cole, I’m run off my feet with school and volunteering. I’m stressing a little and I’m sort of failing at every other aspect of life because of it.”
“You sure that’s it?”
I crossed my heart. “Promise.”
His eyes moved past me to the kitchen table, where the presents for the shower sat all wrapped up and ready to go. I saw him clock the packet of condoms I’d put beside them to give to Ellie and Jo as a joke. Cole snorted. “I do not envy you today.”
“Two hormonal women and a packet of condoms? Isn’t that like a Friday night for you?” I teased.
He laughed because we both knew I was far off the mark.
Cole wasn’t really the player type. Sure, I knew he wasn’t an angel, but he preferred to be in a relationship. Right now he was dating an art history student called Steph.