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|On Dublin Street(On Dublin Street #1)(14) by Samantha Young|
“I don’t want to be alone. Not when I could have him. God, that sounds so cheesy.”
I shook my head, smiling—the tightness in my chest easing. “Yeah it does sound cheesy. Sometimes the truth is cheesy.”
“I’m going to call him.”
I grinned. “I’ll get off the phone.”
We hung up and I lay there in the dark listening. After twenty minutes I heard my front door creak open and shut.
I found the sitting room empty, the blanket on the couch rolled up. A piece of paper lay across it. A note from James.
I owe you.
I gripped tight to the paper and walked numbly back into my bedroom to stare at the photo of me with my family. If anything these last few weeks had taught me, it was that I obviously – like Rhian – wasn’t over losing them. I had to talk to someone. But unlike Rhian, I didn’t want to talk to anyone who could use that crap against me. My therapist in high school had tried to help me but I’d shut down every time. I was a teenager. I thought I knew best.
But I wasn’t a kid anymore, and I didn’t know best. And if I wanted the panic attacks to stop, I needed to make the call in the morning.
“So, Mystery Man is gone?” The voice scared the bejesus out of me and I jumped, the coffee on my teaspoon scattering onto the counter.
I threw Braden a withering look over my shoulder. “Don’t you ever work? Or knock?”
He was slouched against the kitchen doorway, watching me make my morning coffee. “Can I get one?” he nodded to the kettle.
“What do you take?”
“Milk. Two sugars.”
“And here I was expecting you to say black.”
“If anyone is black around here, it’s you.”
I made a face. “Do you want coffee or not?”
He grunted. “Someone’s pleasant in the morning.”
“When am I anything else?” I dumped his two sugars in his mug with attitude.
Braden’s laughter hit me directly in the gut. “Right.”
As the kettle brewed, I turned around, leaning against the counter with my arms crossed over my chest. I was very aware of the fact that I wasn’t wearing a bra under my camisole. In fact, I didn’t think I had ever been more aware of my body than I was when I was around Braden. To be honest, I’d stopped caring about my appearance and all the shit that came with it after my parents and Beth died. I wore what I liked, I looked the way I looked, and I didn’t give a rat’s ass what any guy thought. Somehow that seemed to work in my favor.
But standing in front of Braden, I realized I wasn’t so confident about that anymore. I was curious what he thought about me. I wasn’t tall and skinny like all the glamazon’s that surely orbited Braden’s world. I wasn’t tiny, but I wasn’t tall. I had slender legs and a small waist, but I had boobs, h*ps and a definite ass. I had good hair on the days I could be bothered wearing it down, but those days came few and far between. It was an indiscriminate color—somewhere between blonde and brown, but it was long and thick with a natural curl in it. However, my hair was so heavy it tended to annoy me unless it was up off my neck, so I rarely, if ever, wore it loose. My eyes were probably my best feature—at least that’s what people told me. I had my dad’s eyes. They were light grey with streaks of gun-metal in them, but they weren’t huge and adorable like Holly’s and Ellie’s—they were tip-tilted and feline, and they were extremely good at glaring.
No. I wasn’t beautiful, or cute, or glamorous. I also didn’t think I was ugly, but worrying about being extraordinary had never crossed my mind before. Braden making me care… kind of pissed me off.
“Seriously, don’t you work?”
He stood up from the doorframe and casually sauntered towards me. He was in another fantastic three-piece suit. Someone as tall and as broad-shouldered as him should have probably looked more at home in jeans and flannel, especially with the messy hair and stubble, but God he worked that suit. As he approached, I found my mind wandering into fantasy land—Braden kissing me, lifting me up onto the worktops, pushing my legs apart, pressing into me, his tongue in my mouth, his hand on my breast, his other hand slipping between my legs…
Unbelievably turned on, I whirled around, willing the kettle to boil faster.
“I have a meeting in half an hour,” he replied, coming to a stop beside me and reaching for the kettle before I could. “Thought I’d stop by and see if everything was okay. Things seemed tense last night before Ellie and I left.”
I watched him pour the water into our mugs, trying to decide whether or not to tell him about James and Rhian.
“Morning,” Ellie chirped, as she strolled into the kitchen, fresh awake and already washed and dressed. Her cardigan was inside out. I reached out and tugged at the label so she could see. Smiling sheepishly, she shrugged out of it and put it back on the right way around. “So I came home and James wasn’t on the couch. Did he sleep in your room?”
Braden stiffened at my side and I glanced up to find him frowning. He obviously hadn’t considered that. I smirked, feeling smug. “No.” I studied Ellie a moment and as my reservations disappeared over sharing the news, I realized I almost, maybe, sort of, kind of trusted her. “James is Rhian’s boyfriend.”
“Rhian, your best friend, Rhian?” she asked, pouring herself some fresh orange juice. She settled with her glass at the table and I thought being near her as opposed to being near her brother was a good idea. I slipped into the chair across from her.
“He proposed, she freaked out, she dumped him.”
Ellie’s mouth dropped open in horror. “You’re kidding me. Poor guy.”
I grinned, thinking about his note. “They’re going to be okay.”
“They made up?” God, she looked so hopeful and she didn’t even know them.
“You’re a sweetheart,” I told her quietly and Ellie’s expression melted.
“You got them back together, didn’t you?” she announced with the utmost confidence in me.
Only Ellie would have that kind of assurance in someone like me. She was damnably determined I wasn’t as detached as I made out. That she happened to be right on this occasion was a little annoying and a lot misleading.
“He was pissed off at you,” Braden interjected before I could respond.
I glanced over at him, still leaning against the worktop, sipping his coffee as if he had all the time in the world. “He thought I talked her into it—breaking up with him.”
Braden didn’t seem surprised by this. In fact, he quirked an eyebrow and replied, “Why am I not surprised?”
Ellie clicked her tongue at him. “Braden, Joss wouldn’t do that.”
“I know she wouldn’t do that. But I don’t think she didn’t do that for the reasons you think she didn’t, Els.”
Crap. So he thought he knew me better than Ellie did. I grimaced inwardly. Maybe he did. Perceptive asshat. Unnerved, I looked away from him, sipping my own coffee and trying to ignore his gaze boring into me.
“Cryptic much?” Ellie grumbled before focusing back on me. “You got them back together though, right?”
I owe you.
The words made me smile into my mug. “Yeah. Yeah I did.”
“You did?” Braden sounded so astonished by this, it was insulting.
Okay, maybe the asshat just thought he knew me. “She’s my best friend. I helped out. I’m not some cold-hearted bitch you know.”
Braden flinched. “I never said that, babe.”
I shivered as the endearment rolled over me, hitting a nerve I didn’t even know I had. My words tumbled out caustically, “Don’t call me babe. Don’t ever call me babe.”
My sharp tone and sudden anger caused a thick tension to fall between the three of us and I suddenly couldn’t remember why I was so grateful to Braden yesterday when he helped me out after the panic attack. This is what you got when you let people in. They started to think they knew you when they didn’t know shit.
Ellie cleared her throat. “So James has gone back to London?”
“Yup.” I stood up and dumped the dregs of my coffee in the sink. “I’m going to hit the gym.”
“Jocelyn-” Braden started.
“Don’t you have a meeting?” I cut him off, about to stroll out of there, leaving the tension behind.
“Jocelyn…” he sounded concerned.
I caught myself with a deep inner sigh.
You’ve made your point, Joss. I didn’t need to continue to be a bitch about it. Sighing outwardly, I looked up at him and offered with snarky charitableness, “I have a travel mug in the top left cupboard if you want to take some coffee to go.”
Braden stared at me a moment, his eyes searching. He shook his head with a quizzical smile playing on his lips. “I’m good, thanks.”
I nodded, pretending indifference to the atmosphere we’d caused, and then I glanced back at Ellie. “You want to hit the gym with me?”
Ellie wrinkled her button nose. “Gym? Me?”
I eyed her skinny self. “You mean you’re naturally that gorgeous?”
She laughed, flushing a little. “I have good genes.”
“Yeah, well, I have to work-out to fit into mine.”
“Cute,” Braden murmured into his coffee, his eyes laughing at me.
I grinned at him, my second non-verbal apology for snapping at him. “Whatever. Guess I’m flying solo. Catch you guys later.”
“Thanks for the coffee, Jocelyn,” he called cheekily to me as I wandered down the hall.
I winced. “It’s Joss!” I yelled back grouchily, trying to ignore the sound of his laughter.
“So, now that we’ve got our introductions and all the basics over, do you want to tell me why you felt it was time to talk to someone?” Dr. Kathryn Pritchard asked me softly.
Why did all therapists speak in that soft, ‘soothing’ voice? It was supposed to be soothing, but it sounded just as condescending to me now as it had when I was fifteen. I glanced around at her large office on North St. Andrews Lane. It was surprisingly cold and modern—nothing like the cozy clutter of the therapist I’d been sent to in high school. Plus, the high school therapy was free. This suede and glass chick was costing me a small fortune.