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|On Dublin Street(On Dublin Street #1)(8) by Samantha Young|
“Focus on your breathing,” a soothing voice coached in my ear.
I followed the voice and swam through the panic, grabbing control of my breathing.
Eventually my vision cleared, the compression in my head easing, my lungs opening up. Trembling from the adrenaline spiked by the panic attack, I turned to look up at the guy who was holding onto me. His dark eyes were concerned.
“You feeling better?”
I nodded, embarrassment flooding me as I looked up to see people watching us from the machines. I gently eased from his grip. “Sorry.”
He shook his head. “Don’t be. I’m just glad I caught you before your whole body hit the treadmill. Your knee is going to have a nasty bruise on it though.” He gestured to it.
I glanced down and saw a tear in my sports leggings and the pain hit me. I winced, flexing my leg. “Great.”
“I’m Gavin.” He stuck his hand out to me and I politely took it, but lazily shook it. I was exhausted.
“Joss. Thanks, by the way.”
Gavin frowned and I noted that he was cute, if you liked that muscly, clean-cut sporty type. And he was a blonde. “You sure you’re okay? I know a panic attack when I see one.”
Flushing inwardly, I shook my head, not wanting to drag up the memories that had brought on the attack. “I’m really fine. Just been a stressful week. But um… thanks again. I’m just going to head home.”
“I’ve seen you here before.” He stopped me with a smile. “I’m a personal trainer here.”
He smirked at my response. “I’m just saying, I’m here. If you need anything.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks again.” I gave him an embarrassed wave and took off for the locker room.
I guess the book about my mom was out.
I got home before Ellie and decided I needed to keep moving, terrified of bringing on another panic attack. I hadn’t had one of those in years. I started putting out plates in the kitchen trying to conjure up plans in my head for the next chapter in my fantasy novel in an attempt to pretend what happened at the gym hadn’t actually happened.
My mind was taken off of the panic attack. Just not by my novel.
That damn Braden intruded again.
I opened the cutlery drawer and found a bunch of crap in it that didn’t belong there. Next on the list: reorganize the mess Ellie had made of the kitchen. The drawer was full of odds and ends—thread, needles, a camera, glue, double sticky tape, and photographs. There was one of Braden leaning against a railing that looked out over water somewhere. It was a sunny day, and he had turned to the camera just in time, his eyes squinting against the light, his beautiful mouth curled up in an affectionate smile.
As I lay the dishes out, Braden’s smile reminded me of his laughter, and that laughter kept echoing in my ears as it had done for the past four days since I’d seen him at the bar. All I could think about was him shirtless with me wrapped around him like a tortilla. Just because I had written off sexual encounters, it didn’t mean I wasn’t a full-blooded woman who got horny just like everyone else. I had a shoebox of vibrating goodies that took care of me when I was in the mood. But since meeting Braden, I was constantly in the mood and every now and then the thought of going out and finding a one night stand would cross my mind.
Of course I’d remember what it felt like to wake up in a strange bed with two strange guys on either side of me and not know what the hell had happened, and that notion instantly evaporated.
I just… I couldn’t understand how I could be this attracted to someone. Someone, I barely even knew.
The front door slammed, shaking me out of those thoughts, and I began pouring water for me and tea for Ellie.
“Hullooo,” she cooed happily as she entered the kitchen, the smell of the Chinese food triggering a series of grumbles from my stomach. “How was your day?” she dumped the food on the table and I immediately began helping her put it out.
“It was fine,” I mumbled, chewing on a prawn cracker.
When we finally sat down across from each other she threw me a look of concern. “Are you okay?”
No, I’m not okay. I went to the gym and had a panic attack in front of a bunch of strangers. Oh and your flirtatious son-of-a-bitch brother won’t get out of my head or my sexual fantasies. I’m horny, I’m pissed off, and I don’t like it. “Writer’s block.”
“Oh, that’s rubbish. I only know what that’s like when I’m writing my research. I can’t imagine how bad it gets writing a novel.”
We ate in silence for a moment or two, and I noted with curiosity how tense Ellie seemed. “Did you have a good day?”
She gave me a wan smile just before she took a bite of curry rice. When she finished chewing she nodded. “I’m starting to feel the pressure of being a post-grad student.”
“Ah the joys of student life.”
Ellie murmured her agreement, and then after staring at the table in silence for a full minute, asked, “So… what did you think of Adam the other night?”
The question seemed to come out of nowhere and there was a definite coyness to it. Huh. I knew there something going on there. “I don’t know. I didn’t really get a chance to talk to him. He’s cute. Seems friendly.”
A dreamy look passed over Ellie’s face. No joke. Dreamy. I’d only ever seen a look like that in the movies. The girl had it bad.
“Adam’s great. He and Braden have been friends forever. If it wasn’t Braden intimidating my boyfriends in high school, it was Adam.” She blushed, shaking her head. “I followed him around everywhere when I was a kid.”
I didn’t know what compelled me to… “Are you two seeing each other?”
Ellie jerked her gaze up to mine, her eyes wide. “No. Why? Did it seem that way?”
Okay. Wrong question to ask. “A little.”
“No.” She shook her head vehemently. “We’re just friends. Anyway, Braden’s always telling me what a manwhore Adam is. He’d never settle down. And he’s too much like a brother to me for there to be anything… you know… more…” she trailed off unconvincingly.
I knew one thing anyway. I would never have to worry about Ellie lying to me. She couldn’t lie for shit. “Okay.”
“So are you seeing anyone?”
Damn. It was my fault. I’d asked a question. “No. Are you?”
“No.” Ellie sighed. “When was your last relationship?”
Does sex count as a relationship? I shrugged. “When was yours?”
Ellie pursed her lips, her eyelashes dipping to cover the instantly hardened look in her eyes. A fierce wave of protectiveness rushed over me out of nowhere, surprising the hell out of me. “Ellie?”
“Nine months ago.”
And what did the bastard do to you? “What happened?”
“We dated for five months. He told me he worked in Glasgow for a recruitment agency. In actuality he works for a rival property development company here in Edinburgh. They were bidding against Braden for this amazing plot in Commercial Quay. Turns out he was just using me to get to Braden, to find out what Braden’s bid would be so his company could outbid him. Suffice to say the relationship did not end well. He ended up with a broken nose and Braden ended up with the plot.”
I raised an eyebrow, silently congratulating Braden on teaching the a-hole a lesson. “Braden beat him up?”
“No.” Ellie shook her head. “Braden doesn’t fight. He hasn’t in a long time.” She smiled widely now. “It was Adam that beat the tar out of him.”
I grinned back at her. “I shouldn’t condone violence, but… yay, Adam.”
Ellie laughed and then sobered. “I’m just glad my naivety didn’t cause Braden any difficulties at work.”
I’m sure that wasn’t what Braden was worried about. I didn’t know how I knew that, but I did. Anyone with eyes and ears could tell Ellie was important to him. “I can’t believe someone would go to that much trouble, do something so heinous, for a plot of land.”
“Commercial Quay is really up and coming. Michelin Star restaurants, cosmetic surgeries, stylish cocktail bars… Braden is building luxury flats there and they’ll fetch anything from half a million to a million for the penthouse apartments. Quite the profit margin.”
I was sickened that anyone could use someone as sweet as Ellie for a damn profit margin. “Guys suck.”
Ellie raised her mug of tea at me in agreement.
After a while of chewing silently, Ellie cleared her throat. “I noticed a few photographs of your family in your room earlier. You know, you’re welcome to put them out in the sitting room or anywhere in the flat. It’s your home now too.”
I stiffened at the mention of my family, still uneasy about taking another attack. “That’s okay.”
I heard her answering sigh and braced myself. “You don’t really talk about them much.”
The time had come already? With Rhian it had been six weeks before she found out. Stomach churning, I pushed my plate away from me and sat back to meet Ellie’s anxious gaze. We were roommates now, we got along – surprisingly well, considering how different we were – and it was time to just lay my cards on the table. “My family is dead,” I told her numbly, no grief, no tears, nothing for her to see as I watched her cheeks grow instantly pale. “I don’t talk about them. Ever.”
I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe because Ellie was so open and kind I thought there would be an attempt to break through my guard. But she amazed me again. “Okay,” she answered, and I saw her struggling to hide the pity in her gaze.
“Alright then.” I gave her a soft, reassuring smile and she answered it, her shoulders relaxing.
A minute later she murmured, “You know, you can be a little bit intimidating.”