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|On Dublin Street(On Dublin Street #1)(19) by Samantha Young|
“Pretending, Jocelyn.” He took another step forward, his eyes narrowed with intent. “I’ve never been very good at it.”
Oh my God, he was going to kiss me. I was standing in his office in crappy jeans with crappy hair and he was going to kiss me.
“Mr. Carmichael, Mr. Rosings and Ms. Morrison are here to see you,” Morag’s voice echoed into the office from the intercom and Braden tensed.
A strange mix of relief and disappointment flooded me and I took an uneasy step back, turning towards the door. “I’ll let you get on.”
I twisted around, my eyes looking anywhere but into his. “Yeah?”
“The picnic? Will you be there?”
The blood was still whooshing in my ears and my body was still strung tight with anticipation for his kiss, but I shoved that all aside, remembering who he was and how much he scared me. I lifted my chin and met his gaze. “As your little sister’s roommate, yeah, I’ll be there.”
“Not as my friend?” he teased.
“We’re not friends, Braden.” I pulled his office door open.
“No. We’re not.”
I didn’t have to turn around to see his expression. I felt it in his words. Hurrying down the hall, I barely managed a quick wave to Morag before diving into the elevator that would take me away from him. What had happened? Where had the platonic, ‘friendly’ Braden gone, and why was ‘Cab Braden’ back? I thought I wasn’t his type? I thought I was safe.
No. We’re not. Those words echoed in my head as I burst out of the office building and into the fresh air. It wasn’t the words. It was the tone they’d been wrapped up in. And those words had been wrapped up in a whole lot of sexual intent.
I didn’t go to Braden’s picnic.
Well, I did, but I didn’t.
Flabbergasted by his transformation back into shmexy ‘Cab Braden’ who couldn’t take his eyes off of me, I didn’t know what to make of it in all my confusion. And yes, in all my scaredy-pantishness! So I took the coward’s way out and roped Rhian into helping me–while also lying to her about why–out of the situation without making it seem like I wanted to get out of the situation…
Saturday rolled by and it was a surprisingly hot day, and The Meadows – a large park on the other side of the city by the university – was crowded with sunbathers and people playing sports. Braden had managed to grab a spot in the shade. Adam, Jenny, Ed and Braden were already there as Ellie and I approached, the sounds of laughter, kids shouting, and dogs barking creating a happy soundtrack to the scene. It was a perfect day, and the atmosphere in The Meadows was electric with contentedness. For a minute I wished I was staying.
“Uh…” I gazed down at the two hampers Braden had brought. They were so elaborate I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d stolen them out of a Fortnum & Mason’s display. “You call this a picnic?”
Braden had stood up when we approached, hugging Ellie into his side and gesturing proudly to the hampers sitting on a beautiful chenille blanket. Now he looked confused. “Yes.” he frowned at me. “What would you call it?”
“A five star restaurant on grass.”
The corner of his lip curled up in wry amusement. “I had the staff at the restaurant make them up.”
“And what restaurant would that be again? The five star one?”
“I think she’s making fun of you and all your money, Braden.” Ellie grinned at him. “It is a bit much.”
He made a noise of disgruntlement. “It’s a bloody picnic. Sit. Eat. Shut up.”
She giggled and flopped down beside Adam who wrapped an arm around her shoulder and squeezed her into his side. “Nice to see you, Els.”
“Yeah, you too.” She smiled at him but pulled away a little, causing me to raise an eyebrow. What was up with that?
I looked up at Braden to find him holding a hand out to me, unmasked heat in his eyes.
And Rhian saved me with perfect timing.
My cell rang and I made an apologetic face as I pulled it out of my pocket. “Rhian, hey.” I turned and took a few steps away, not chancing that they might hear her on the other end of the line.
“I have an emergency,” she replied in a monotone. “Abort the picnic.”
“Oh, no, you’re kidding.” I played along, sounding all mothering and soothing. “Are you okay?”
“Bloody hell, Joss, I thought you could lie?” Rhian grumbled. “You’re speaking like an alien who’s heard of the human concept of ‘being concerned’ but doesn’t know how to execute it.”
I grit my teeth, ignoring her. “Sure, I can talk. Just a sec.” I took a moment, trying to exude ‘human concern’ as I turned back to Braden and the gang. I had a feeling I was scowling more than frowning, but whatever. “I’m sorry, guys, but I have to take a rain check.”
Ellie sat up, worried. “Is everything okay? Do you need me to come?”
“No, I’m okay. Rhian just really needs someone to talk to. It can’t wait. Sorry.” I chanced a glance at Braden and found he wasn’t just watching me. He was studying me. Suspiciously. My eyes dropped quickly. “See you later.” I walked away to their calls of goodbye and stuck the phone back up to my ear. “I was being concerned,” I grouched at Rhian.
“Anyone who knows you, knows that’s not how you sound when you’re concerned.”
“Well, luckily, they don’t know me.” Or not… Braden was sure looking at me funny.
“So you really don’t like this Ed guy?”
I winced, remembering my lie. In an effort not to get into the whole Braden thing with Rhian, I’d lied and said that Ellie’s friend Jenna’s fiancé Ed was a bigot and I didn’t want to be around him, but I also didn’t want to hurt Ellie’s feelings by saying no to the picnic. I felt bad about maligning Ed, but I didn’t think it mattered too much since I wasn’t expecting him and Rhian to ever meet.
“Nope, I don’t.”
“You know I’m not buying it, right?”
I almost stumbled. “Buying what?”
“You talk about Ellie all the time, Joss. I think I can safely say I understand enough about the woman to know she wouldn’t be friends with a f**kin’ bigot. Like I said, you can’t lie for shit.”
Huh! That was so not true! “I can lie. I am a damn good liar!”
“Oh that’s right, yell that out while you’re still walking away from them.”
Shit. I glanced around to make sure I’d put enough distance between us. I had. My heart slowed. “You’re a pain in the ass,” I grumbled, forgetting she’d just done me a favor.
She made a pfftt noise. “You’re the one who lied to me. Seriously, what’s going on?”
I sighed. “Can this be one of those things we don’t talk about?”
“Have you spoken to your therapist about it?”
I frowned, wondering why she’d ask that. “No…”
“Fine.” She sighed heavily. “I won’t ask about it, as long as you promise to talk to your therapist about it. And you may lie, but I know you would never break a promise.”
I shook my head. “It’s not therapy-worthy.”
“If it was worth lying to me about, then it’s therapy-worthy. Sort your shit out, Joss, and promise.”
“Fine,” I agreed, but only because I knew it was Rhian’s grumpy way of being a good friend.
Dr. Pritchard had flowers on her desk. I smiled. She had taken note.
“You lied so you wouldn’t have to spend time with Braden?”
I squirmed, wishing Rhian hadn’t held me to my promise. “Yup.”
“Before, when I asked you if you were attracted to Braden you said ‘I was’. Past tense. Were you telling the truth?”
No. “Maybe not.”
“So you are attracted to him?”
Oh what the hell… “I’ve never been attracted to anyone as much as I’m attracted to him.”
The good doctor gave me a wry smile. “Okay. But you’re avoiding him even though he’s made it perfectly clear that he’s interested in you. Are you afraid of him, Joss?”
“You have no intention of having any kind of relationship with him?”
“Were you not here when I told you about my past with guys?”
“That’s not the same thing. For a start, you know Braden.”
“I don’t want anything to do with him, alright.”
“You’ve just told me you’re extremely attracted to this man. When you talk about him, it’s clear to me you like him, so, no. I wouldn’t say you’re alright—you don’t want to want to have anything to do with him.”
“No it’s not. Why are you afraid of him, Joss?”
“I don’t know,” I retorted, pissed off with the topic and with Rhian for making me discuss it. “I just know that I don’t want to start anything with him.”
Jesus C, sometimes it was like talking to a brick wall with this woman. “It would mess things up. With Ellie, with me, with him. No.”
She tilted her head to the side, her expression blank. She was good at this. “Joss, maybe it’s time to stop thinking fifty steps in front of you and just let things play out naturally.”
“The last time I did that I woke up in bed with two strange guys and no panties.”
“I told you that’s not the same thing. You’re not the same person, and Braden is not some stranger. I’m not telling you or asking you to do anything you don’t want to do, concerning Braden or otherwise. But I am suggesting you stop predicting the future and take each day as it comes. Not forever, not even for a few months. Try it for a few days, a few weeks even. I know it might be scary, but just… try.”