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|On Dublin Street(On Dublin Street #1)(16) by Samantha Young|
“Rhian, we’ve talked about this. Normal people don’t like to be called names. For some reason, they tend to take that personally. And you are a tad bitchy, by the way.”
“Normal people are so sensitive.”
“Joss, have you read this one?” Hannah appeared around the corner of the aisle, waving yet another dystopian at me. I had read it. What can I say? I had a thing for dystopia.
“Who’s that?” Rhian asked. “Where are you?”
I nodded at Hannah. “That’s a good one. And there’s a hot guy in it. I think you’ll really like it.”
Hannah was delighted at that and clutched the book to her chest, before lugging her hand-basket of goodies back to the teen fiction section.
“That was Hannah.” I tilted my head at a Dan Simmons novel. Ooh, I hadn’t read that one.
“And Hannah is…?”
“Ellie’s fourteen year old sister.”
“And you’re with a teenager… why?”
What was with the tone? Her question might as well have been, ‘and you’re smoking crack… why?’
“We’re in the bookstore.”
“You’re shopping with a teenager?”
“Why do you keep saying it like that?”
“I don’t know. Maybe because you’ve moved into an expensive flat, you’re spending money you were always weird about spending, you’re friends with a girl who’s seen The Notebook fifty-five times and, like, smiles a lot; you’re out for drinks with actual people on week nights, you saved my relationship, you’re seeing a therapist, and you’re babysitting teens. I moved to London and you got a f**kin’ lobotomy.”
I exhaled heavily. “You know you could just be grateful for the whole saving your relationship thing.”
“Joss, seriously, what’s going on with you?”
I pulled the Dan Simmons novel off the shelf. “I didn’t do all those things deliberately. Ellie and I get along and for some reason she likes having my broody ass around, and she has a different life than what we had. She actually likes people, and that means I’m around them a lot.”
I spun around to see Ellie standing before me, a deep frown between her eyes. A rush of concern swam over me and I bobbed my head above the shelves in panic, looking for Hannah.
“Hannah’s fine,” Ellie guessed the reason for the manic head-bobbing. “I’m stuck.” She held up a paperback with a woman in a lavish Victorian dress on the cover. A masculine pair of hands reached seductively for the laces on the back of it. There was also something about seduction in the title. In her other hand was the latest Sparks novel. “Which one?”
Without hesitation I pointed at the bodice ripper. “The seduction of what’s her face. The sparks novel would be overkill this week.”
She gestured at me with the bodice ripper book and a militant nod before heading back out of the aisle.
“Seriously,” Rhian muttered down the line. “Where’s Joss, and what have you done with her?”
“Joss is getting off the phone if you’re done psycho-analyzing her.”
“Joss is speaking in third person.”
I laughed. “Rhian, get gone, okay. And tell James I said hi and yeah, he does owe me.”
Still laughing I hung up on her and went to find Hannah and Ellie.
They were waiting in line to be served and I slid in beside them, watching as Ellie stood there uncharacteristically silent and Hannah just stared adoringly down at all her books. We should have brought a backpack for them all.
At the checkout, I watched them piling Hannah’s books into weak plastic bags, and since Ellie had spaced out on me, I pointed behind the clerk. “Hey, could you maybe pack them into those shopper bags. These ones will just break.”
He shrugged lazily. “They’re fifty pence a bag.”
I made a face. “The kid just bought a hundred pounds worth of books and you can’t give us the bags for free?”
He waved the gift card at me. “No, she didn’t.”
“Yeah. But the person who gave her that gift card did. You’re not seriously asking us to pay for something to carry them in?”
“No.” He drawled the word out like I was stupid. “You can carry them in the free bags.”
Maybe I would have backed off if he wasn’t speaking to me in that condescending ‘I hate my job so f**k customer service’ manner. I opened my mouth to set him down but Ellie gripped my hand, stopping me. I looked up at her to see she was swaying a little, her face pale, her eyes screwed shut.
“Ellie.” I grabbed for her and she held onto me.
“Ellie?” Hannah asked worriedly, hurrying to her sister’s other side.
“I’m okay,” she murmured. “Just dizzy. I have this… headache…”
“Another one?” That was like the third one this week.
Leaving the clerk to wither under my death stare, I pulled Ellie over to the side, sniping at him, “Just pack the books into the normal bags.”
“Give them the good bags,” the girl working next to him sighed.
“Just do it.”
I ignored his irritated glare as I turned my concern to Ellie. “How are you feeling?”
Although pale, I noted her trembling had stopped. “Better. I haven’t eaten today. I just felt faint.”
“What about the headaches?”
She smiled reassuringly. “Honestly, I haven’t been eating enough because of my PhD. I’m feeling the pressure and I’m stressing out. I’ll take better care.”
“Here you go.” The clerk held out two of the heavy shopper bags.
I muttered thanks and handed one to Hannah, while taking the other one.
“Let me.” Ellie reached for Hannah’s bag.
“Oh no, you don’t.” I took her elbow. “We’re getting some food into you.”
Ellie tried to argue that she’d eat later at her mom’s Sunday dinner—a dinner I had thankfully managed to talk my way out of, telling Ellie I really wanted to get a few hours of work in—but I convinced her to at least grab a snack at this cute little bistro around the corner. Hannah walked beside us with Ellie’s hand on her back, guiding her through the crowds on Princes Street since she’d decided to start reading one of her books right away. I didn’t know how anyone could do that—reading while walking? It gave me travel sickness.
We were chatting about the upcoming Festival when I saw Braden. We’d seen each other at the bar on Friday when he, Ellie, Adam, Jenna, Ed and a few of Braden’s colleagues had decided to stop by Club 39 for a drink. We hadn’t really talked much and his attitude towards me had definitely veered into the friend zone.
I didn’t know if the feeling I got when he did that bothered me. But I did know I was feeling something when I saw him with her.
Braden was walking towards us, easily spotted in the crowd because of his height… and, well, his hotness. He was wearing dark blue jeans, black boots, and a dark grey long-sleeved thermal Henley that showcased his sculpted, broad-shouldered scrumptiousness.
In his hand was another hand.
It belonged to a woman I hadn’t ever seen before.
“Braden,” Ellie murmured and Hannah’s head popped up from her book, her whole face lighting up when she saw him.
“Braden!” she called out and his head jerked around from smiling down at his companion to follow the voice. His smile widened when he saw Hannah.
As we approached each other, I suddenly wished I was anywhere but where I was. The little kick I got in my gut when I saw him with someone else was not fun. In fact, that kick was quite possibly the worst joke that had been played on me in a while.
I also wasn’t keen on the carefully polite expression on his face when he saw I was with Ellie and Hannah.
I glanced up at Ellie as we came to a stop only to find her glaring daggers at the woman with Braden. Bewildered and frankly astonished, I couldn’t help but hiss her name in question.
She looked down at me, her jaw clenched. “I’ll tell you later.”
“Hannah.” Braden hugged her into his side and nodded at her bags. “Been spending your gift card?”
“Yeah. I got loads of books. Thanks again,” she added shyly.
“You’re welcome, sweetheart.” He let her go and turned to us. “Els, you’re looking pale. You okay?”
She was still glowering at him and I wanted to know what the hell I was missing. “I was feeling a bit faint. I haven’t eaten.”
“I’m taking her to get some food.” I thought I should mention that, so he didn’t think we were dragging her around when she wasn’t feeling well.
“Good,” he murmured, catching my eye. “Jocelyn, this is Vicky.”
Vicky and I looked at one another, our smiles polite. She reminded me a lot of Holly: tall, blonde, pretty and as natural as freaking Barbie. Still, she was hot.
Braden definitely had a type and I was not it. No wonder he’d stopped flirting with me. His sexual radar must have been wonky when we first met, but clearly it had been restored to order.
“Hello, Vicky,” Ellie purred unhappily.
I couldn’t help it—my eyebrows hit my hairline before I could stop them. Ellie sounded practically predatory.
I was impressed.
And definitely curious.
Braden shot his sister a quelling look. “I had my dinner meeting last night and Vicky was at the next table. We decided to catch up. Thought we’d grab some breakfast.”
In other words, Vicky was at the next table and they’d hooked up. I shrugged off the unfamiliar uneasiness that came over me. My chest felt a little sore and I was feeling a little queasy. Maybe Ellie wasn’t food-deprived— maybe we’d both eaten something bad yesterday.
“Nice to see you again, Ellie,” Vicky replied sweetly. She seemed nice enough.