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|On Dublin Street(On Dublin Street #1)(11) by Samantha Young|
It was Rhian. “Hey, hon, can I call you back on my break? I’m late for my shift.”
Rhian sniffed down the line. “Okay.”
My heart stopped. Rhian was crying? Rhian never cried. We never cried. “Rhian, what’s going on?” The blood pounded in my ears.
“I broke up with James,” her voice cracked along with my belief.
I thought Rhian and James were solid. Unbreakable.
“What happened?” Oh God, had he cheated on her?
Silence fell between us as I tried to understand what she was saying. “Okay. He proposed, so you dumped him?”
What was I missing? “I don’t get it.”
Rhian growled. Actually growled. “How can you of all people not get it, Joss? That’s why I’m phoning you! You’re supposed to f**kin’ get it!”
“Well I don’t, so stop yelling at me,” I snapped, a pang radiating in my chest for James. He adored Rhian. She was his entire world.
“I can’t marry him, Joss. I can’t marry anybody. Marriage ruins everything.”
And it suddenly dawned on me we were entering our no-go area. This was about Rhian’s parents. I knew they were divorced, but that’s all I knew. It had to be something deeper, something worse, for Rhian to turn her back on James. “He’s not your dad. You’re not your parents. James loves you.”
“What the hell, Joss? Who the f**k is this and what has she done with my friend?”
I paused. Maybe I was spending too much time around Ellie. She was rubbing off on me. “Fair enough,” I mumbled.
Rhian sighed in relief. “So you think I’ve done the right thing.”
“No,” I replied honestly. “I think you’re scared shitless. But from one scared shitless person to another, I know no one’s going to change your mind.”
We were silent, just breathing down the phone to one another, feeling that connection between us, that relief that there was someone else out there just as messed up.
“Have you thought about the reality of this, Rhian?” I finally whispered. “James with someone else I mean?”
A choked noise crackled down the phone.
My heart broke for her. “Rhian?”
“I’ve got to go.” She hung up. And somehow I knew she was hanging up to cry. We never cried.
Feeling a deep melancholy settle over me, I texted her to advise her to really think about things before she did anything she’d regret. For once, I wished I wasn’t so broken, so Rhian had a best friend who was strong and not afraid to love, to hold up as an example of what was possible. Instead, I was her excuse that she wasn’t being irrational. I was her enabler.
I glanced up over at Craig. “Yeah?”
“A little help, please.”
“You fancy a quick shag after work?”
“No, Craig.” I shook my head, following him out, too depressed to even banter with him.
Sunday rolled around before I knew it, and I was so preoccupied with my book and with Rhian, who kept avoiding my calls, and too afraid to talk to James in case he put another crack in my heart with his heartache, that I didn’t have a prayer’s chance in hell of coming up with an excuse to get out of dinner with Ellie’s family.
Instead I was bundled into a cab with Ellie, dressed in celebration of the hot day in my Topshop shorts and a pretty olive-green silk camisole. We took off for Stockbridge and stopped literally five minutes later outside an apartment that looked a lot like ours.
Inside, I was unsurprised to find the Nichols’ home very much like ours too. Huge rooms, high ceilings, and a cozy collection of clutter that reminded me a lot of Ellie. Now I knew where she got it from.
Elodie Nichols greeted me with a very French kiss on either cheek. Like Ellie, she was tall and beautiful in a delicate way. For some reason I’d been expecting a French accent, even though Ellie had told me her mom had moved to Scotland when she was four.
“Ellie’s told me so much about you. She said the two of you have become fast friends. I’m so glad. I was a little worried about her when she said she was taking on a flatmate, but it’s all worked out nicely.”
I felt like I was fifteen again. Elodie just had that mothering way of talking down to you. “Yeah, it has,” I answered congenially. “Ellie is great.”
Elodie beamed, looking twenty years younger and very much like her eldest daughter.
Next, I was introduced to Clark, a kind of non-descript, dark-haired guy with glasses and a sweet smile. “Ellie says you’re a writer.”
I threw Ellie a wry smile. She told everyone I was a writer. “Trying to be.”
“What do you write?” Clark asked, handing me a glass of wine.
We had congregated in the sitting room while Elodie checked on something in the kitchen. “Fantasy. I’m working on a fantasy series.”
Clark’s eyes widened fractionally behind his glasses. “I love fantasy novels. You know, I’d be happy to read it before you send it off for queries.”
“You mean, beta-read it?”
“Yes. If you’d like?”
Remembering that Clark was a college professor and was used to grading papers, I was secretly really pleased by his offer. I gave him a small smile of gratitude. “That would be great. I’d really appreciate it. Of course, I’m nowhere near finished yet.”
“Well, when you are, just give me a shout.”
I grinned. “I will, thanks.”
I was just beginning to think I’d make it through this particular family dinner when I heard kids’ laughter.
“Dad!” a young boy’s voice carried down the hall towards us, and then its owner appeared in the doorway. Running toward Clark, the small boy’s face was lit up with excitement. I guessed this was Declan, Ellie’s ten year old half-brother. “Dad, look what Braden got me.” He thrust a Nintendo DS and two games in Clark’s face.
Clark looked at them, smiling. “Is that the one you wanted?”
“Yeah, it’s the latest version.”
Looking up at the doorway, Clark clucked his tongue in mock disapproval. “It’s not his birthday until next week. You spoil him rotten.”
I jerked around, my palms instantly sweating at the sight of Braden standing in the doorway with his hand on the shoulder of a miniature version of Ellie. The teenager was huddled close to him, her thick bangs and short haircut exceptionally stylish for such a little thing. My eyes didn’t linger long on the mini-Ellie, who I deduced was Hannah. No, they slid up over Braden, drinking him in before I could stop them.
Attraction burned through my blood.
Braden was wearing black jeans and a grey t-shirt. It was the first time I’d seen him in something casual, the first time my eyes had access to his strong biceps and broad shoulders.
I felt a throb between my legs and looked quickly away, hating that he did this to my body.
“I know,” Braden answered. “But I didn’t want to have to spend another Sunday afternoon listening to Dec chew my ear off about the damn console.”
Declan just giggled, his triumphant gaze dropping to his game as he flopped down at his father’s feet and started loading in a Super Mario Bros game.
“Look what I got?” Hannah smiled shyly, holding up something that looked like a credit card. God, I hoped it wasn’t.
Clark squinted at it. “What is it?”
Hannah’s eyes brightened. “A really big gift card for the bookstore.”
“Nice.” Ellie grinned back at her, holding out her arm to her. “What are you going to get?”
Her little sister rushed towards her, snuggling into her side as she dropped onto the couch. She flicked me a shy smile before looking up at Ellie. “There’s a new vampire series I want.”
“Hannah’s a bookworm,” his gravelly voice explained right above my head.
I turned to look up at Braden standing beside the couch, looking down at me with nothing but a friendly smile. Although a little disconcerted by his changed attitude, I found myself smiling back at him. “I see.” A swarm of butterflies awoke in my stomach and I flinched inwardly, looking away from him. It never occurred to me Braden would be attending dinner, although it should have, considering Ellie had made it clear he was a big part of her family.
“Did you thank Braden?” Clark suddenly asked his kids, drawing my attention to them and away from the sex on legs beside me.
A couple of mumbled ‘yes’’ answered the question.
“Hannah, Dec, this is my flatmate, Joss,” Ellie introduced me.
I smiled at them both.
“Hi.” Hannah gave me a shy wave. I felt my chest squeeze at how adorable she was.
“Hey.” I waved back.
“Do you like Nintendo?” Declan asked, waiting for my answer with an assessing gaze. I could tell my answer would either make us or break us.
“Oh yeah. Mario and I go way back.”
He gave me a cheeky grin. “You have a cool accent.”
“So do you.”
That seemed to please him and he quickly returned to his game. I think I passed.
Clark patted Declan’s head. “Son, put it on silent, please.”
Almost immediately the familiar sounds of Mario quieted and I decided I liked these kids. Reading between the lines, I guessed Braden spoiled them, and looking around the home it didn’t seem as if they lacked for anything, but they had great manners, just like Ellie.
“Braden!” Elodie came shuffling into the room, a huge loving smile on her face. “I didn’t hear you come in.”
Braden grinned down at her and enveloped her in a tight hug.
“Did Clark get you a drink?”
“No, but I’ll get myself something.”
“Oh, no, let me.” Clark stood up. “Lager?”
“Yeah, thanks, sounds good.”