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|On Dublin Street(On Dublin Street #1)(17) by Samantha Young|
“Hmm.” Ellie blatantly brushed her off, rolling her eyes and then skewering them into Braden. “Are you coming to dinner this afternoon?”
I watched the muscle in his jaw flex. He definitely wasn’t amused by his sister’s attitude. “Of course.” His eyes travelled back to me. “I’ll see you both there.”
“Joss can’t make it. She has stuff to do.”
He frowned at me. “It’s just a few hours. Surely you can squeeze us in?”
In response, Vicky pressed closer to Braden. “I’d love to have dinner, Braden.”
Braden gave her a somewhat patronizing pat on the hand. “Sorry, sweetheart, it’s just family.”
Three things happened at once. Ellie choked on her laughter, Vicky reared back like he’d slapped her, and I felt a panic attack coming on.
Feeling the fog closing in on me, I breathed through it and my confusion. “You know what.” I took a step back from them. “I totally forgot I said I’d drop off Jo’s tips to her at her apartment. Today. Now, actually.” I waved apologetically. “I gotta go. I’ll catch you later.”
And then I got the hell out of there as fast as I could.
“Why did you run?” Dr. Pritchard asked, her head tilted to the side like a curious bird.
I don’t know. “I don’t know.”
“You’ve mentioned Ellie’s brother, Braden, a number of times now. How does he fit into your life?”
I want him. “I guess he’s sort of a friend.” When she just stared at me, I shrugged. “We had an unconventional introduction.”
I told her everything.
“So you’re attracted to him?”
She nodded. “Back to my earlier question then. Why? Why did you run?”
Lady, if I knew that, would I be here? “I don’t know.”
“Was it because Braden was with another woman? Or because he implied you were family?”
“Both I guess.” I rubbed my forehead, feeling a headache coming on. “I want him to stay in the box I’ve put him in.”
“You know, the box. It’s got a label and everything. It’s says ‘sort-of friends’. We’re sort of friends, but not really good friends. We hang out, but we don’t really know each other. I prefer it that way. I think I might have panicked at the thought that he thinks there’s more. That he’d think we were close somehow. I don’t want that.”
“I just don’t.”
Seeming to sense my tone, Dr. Pritchard nodded and didn’t ask the question again. “And your feelings regarding seeing him with another woman…?”
“The only feelings I had were confusion and panic. He was with a woman he obviously has a sexual relationship and history with and he implied somehow that our friendship was deeper than what he had with her by saying what he did to her. Like I said, that’s not true. I don’t want that.”
“And that’s the only reason?”
“So you don’t want a relationship with Braden? Sexual or otherwise?”
“Let’s talk about that. We haven’t spoken about your relationship with men. You seem good at shutting people out, Joss. Has it been a while since your last relationship?”
“I’ve never been in a relationship.”
“Have you dated?”
I curled my lips as I remembered the so-called ‘wonder years’. “Do you want the sordid history? Okay, I’ll lay it out for you…”
“Did you get Jo her money?” Ellie asked quietly as she flopped down on the couch next to me.
I nodded, lying, and to purge my guilt I reached out for my coveted big bag of chips and offered them to her. “You want some?”
“Nah, I’m stuffed.” She relaxed back against the cushion, her eyes on the TV. “What’cha watching?”
“The Bourne Supremacy.”
“Mmm, Matt Damon.”
“Dinner okay? You feeling better?” I felt even more guilt about taking off on her like that. I was still trying to wrap my head around what exactly had happened to me in that moment.
Ellie slanted me a look. “Mum asked after you.”
That was nice. “Did you tell her I said hi?”
“Yes. And dinner was atmospheric. Braden was still pissed off at me.”
I smirked, looking back at the screen. “I’ve never seen you like that before. It was kind of bad-ass.”
“Yeah, well, Vicky’s a slut.”
I sucked in a breath, my eyes wide on her. Her normally open face was tight and stony. “You really don’t like her. Who is she?”
“She was Braden’s girlfriend for a while. I can’t believe he’s seeing her again.”
Realizing I meant ‘what the hell did she do to you?’ Ellie shrugged, her face crumpling. “I went over to see Adam about something one day and she was there. Naked. In his bed. He was na**d too.”
I couldn’t believe it. “They cheated on Braden?”
“No,” she snorted humorlessly. “Adam fancied her, so Braden loaned her out to him.”
Jesus C… “Loaned her out?”
“Does she have no self-respect?”
“Did you not hear the part where she’s a slut?”
“I can’t believe Braden would do that. Just loan her out.”
“Maybe I used bad word choice. She was actually the one who told Braden she wanted Adam. Braden didn’t have a problem with it so he let them have sex.”
Kinky, a little cold maybe, but mutual, so who was I to judge? “So she has self-respect. What’s the big deal?” I tried to dig to the real source of Ellie’s dislike. “The girl likes sex.”
“She’s a slut!”
Oh yeah. I definitely knew the real reason now.
“You really like Adam, huh?”
She exhaled slowly and closed her eyes tight.
A streak of pain lashed across my chest as I watched the tear roll out from under her lashes and drip down her cheek.
“Oh honey.” I sat up and pulled her into my side, letting her cry quietly into my sweater. After a while, I reached for the half-eaten packet of cookies and handed her one. “Here. Sugar up and let’s watch Jason Bourne kick some ass.”
“Can we pretend it’s Adam’s ass he’s kicking?”
“I’m already on it. See that guy… that’s Adam, and Bourne is kicking his slutty little tushy.”
She giggled beside me and I marveled at how someone could be so strong and yet so fragile.
A couple of weeks, one panic attack, and one visit to my therapist later, and there I was struggling with my manuscript again. Usually when I was in the middle of writing my brain would wander off into fantasyland at the slightest notice, whether I was at the laptop or not. Nowadays, I had to force my imagination into action. And that never worked.
With the book flagging and my anxiety dipping and diving over whether I could ‘cut it as a writer’ and worrying what the hell I was going to do if I couldn’t be one, I decided to do what I do best: shoved it down under that steel trap inside of me so I couldn’t think about it, and focused on something else.
Now that the Edinburgh Festival was under way I took on extra shifts at the bar, and I hung out with Ellie whenever she asked me to. On my last visit my therapist encouraged me to try out family dinner again, which I did sans panic attack—win! I hit the gym a lot and avoided the come hither smiles of Gavin, the personal trainer.
To Ellie’s relief, Vicky disappeared out of Braden’s life as quickly as she’d come into it. Not that I would know unless Ellie told me since I hadn’t seen him since that morning on Princes Street. Work was keeping him busy—something was happening with one of his developments and he also had this big event planned at his nightclub, Fire, at the end of the Festival. This was when I discovered that Adam was Braden’s architect, so when Braden was busy, Adam was busy. The few times we were all supposed to meet up—one time to see a comedian, one other time just for drinks, and the last time for the family dinner—Braden had cancelled, proving me wrong: he actually did work for his money.
I began to see his absence as a good thing. I felt more relaxed than I had in weeks and Ellie and I had grown closer. She’d confessed the whole Adam fiasco…
Having always been in love with Adam, since she was a kid, Ellie had finally plucked up the courage to do something about it after he punched out the a**hole who’d set her up to get info on Braden. She went over to his apartment and pretty much threw herself at him. And because Adam was a guy and Ellie was beautiful, he’d taken her up on the offer. That was until she was almost completely na**d and on her back underneath him. Adam backed out, explaining he couldn’t do that to Braden or her, and that Braden would never forgive him and he’d never forgive himself. Realizing he thought it was just a one-night stand kind of thing, Ellie had left, quietly nursing a broken heart and a bruised ego. I would never have guessed that stuff was between them. Ellie was super cool around him. She said she didn’t want things to change and she tried her hardest to be okay about everything. I’d seen it in action. She did try hard. But sometimes something soft, something ‘more’ would enter her expression when she looked at him. When I thought about it, there was something ‘more’ in the way Adam looked at her. Thing is, I couldn’t work out if he was just lusting after her, or if his feelings ran a little deeper? I was curious as hell, but I also knew it wasn’t any of my business, so I was keeping my nose out of it.
After opening up to me, Ellie had tried to talk to me again about my family, about my past.
I shut her down.