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|On Dublin Street(On Dublin Street #1)(38) by Samantha Young|
Monday night, Braden came over after he’d gone to the gym—we had memberships at different gyms for which I was thankful. I needed to focus when I was exercising—we’d hung out with Ellie, and Braden had stayed the night. Tuesday night I went on my first official required business dinner. A real one this time. What I hadn’t known was that Braden was selling his French restaurant and keeping the contemporary, upmarket Scottish seafood restaurant he owned down by the Shore. It was a private sale to a business friend. A private sale, but the local media had still found out and wrote a piece on the established La Cour changing hands, and speculating over the reason for Braden selling it.
“It’s too much,” Braden had explained after asking me to accompany him to the dinner, which was really just a celebratory thing between him and the guy who’d bought it. “The nightclub has become a much bigger success than I was expecting, the estate agency is always pulling me into some problem or another and away from the property development which is what I enjoy, and I’m just spread too thin. La Cour was my dad’s. There’s not anything about it that has my stamp on it. So I sold it.”
We met Thomas Prendergast and his wife Julie at Tigerlily. I wore a new dress and tried to be as charming as possible. Well, charming in the only way I know how. Thomas was older than Braden and much more serious, but he was friendly and clearly respected Braden. Julie was like her husband, sedate, quiet, but friendly. Friendly enough to ask personal questions. Personal questions Braden helped me deflect.
I rewarded him well for that later.
Overall, the dinner was nice. Braden seemed more relaxed now that he didn’t have La Cour resting on his shoulders, and for some reason I found that him being relaxed made me relaxed. We hung out at his apartment Wednesday night, mostly because we had to be quiet at my apartment, and that took some of the fun out of the sex. So we had sex loudly on the couch, on the floor and in his bed.
Replete, I lay in the tangled sheets of his bed, staring at his ceiling. His bedroom was as contemporary as the rest of the duplex. Low, Japanese bed, wardrobes built into the walls so they didn’t take up space. An armchair in the corner by the window. Two bedside cabinets. Nothing else. He needed some pictures at least.
“Why don’t you talk about your family?”
My whole body tensed, the breath whooshing out of me at the question I was completely unprepared for. My head twisted on my pillow to stare at him incredulously. He wasn’t looking at me warily, like he was waiting on me freaking out. He just looked determined. I sucked in my breath and looked away. “I just don’t.”
“That’s not really an answer, babe.”
I threw up my hands. “They’re gone. There’s nothing to talk about.”
“Not true. You could talk about who they were as people. What you were like as a family. How they died…”
I struggled for a moment with my anger, trying to hold it in. He wasn’t meaning to be cruel, I knew that. He was curious, he wanted to know. It wasn’t unreasonable. But I thought we understood each other. I thought he understood me.
And then I realized that he couldn’t possibly understand. “Braden, I know your life hasn’t been easy, but you can’t possibly understand how messed up my past is. It’s shit. And that’s not a place I want to take you.”
He sat up, pushing his pillow up against the headboard and I twisted onto my side to look up at him as he looked down at me, a pain in his eyes I had never seen before. “I understand messed up, Jocelyn. Believe me.”
I waited, sensing more on the horizon.
And he sighed, his eyes drifting over me to look out the window. “My mum is the most selfish woman I’ve ever known. And I don’t even know her that well. I was forced to stay with her during the summer holidays, travelling around Europe, living off of whatever sad f**k she’d managed to manipulate into being with her. During the school year, I lived with my dad in Edinburgh. Douglas Carmichael could be a harsh, distant bastard, but he was a bastard who loved me, and that was more than my mother ever did. And dad gave me Ellie and Elodie. Elodie was the one thing I had issues with my father over. She’s a sweet person, a good woman, and he never should have chased after her and treated her like all the others. But he did. At least she ended up with Clark and Ellie ended up with a brother who will do anything for her. My dad was neglectfully affectionate with Ellie, nothing more. With me he put on the pressure. And I was an a**hole kid who rebelled against following in daddy’s footsteps.” He huffed at himself, shaking his head. “If we could only go back and knock some sense into those kids we once were.”
“I started hanging around the wrong people, smoking pot, getting drunk, and getting into a lot of fights. I was angry. Angry at everything. And I liked to use my fists to get rid of that anger. I was nineteen and dating a girl from a rough area here. Her mum was in prison, her dad gone, and her brother was a junkie. Nice girl, bad home life. One night she turned up at my door and she was just a hysterical mess.” His eyes glazed over as he remembered, and I knew instinctively that what he was about to say next was going to be beyond awful. “She was crying, shaking, and she had vomit in her hair. She’d gotten home that night and her brother was so off his face on smack that he raped her.”
“Oh my God,” I breathed, feeling physical pain for the girl I had never met, and for Braden for having had that happen to someone he cared about.
“I lost it. I didn’t give myself time to think. I tore off, running the whole f**king way to his place on adrenaline alone.” He stopped, his jaw clenched tight. “Jocelyn, I beat him within an inch of his life.” He looked down at me, his expression remorseful. “I’m a big man,” he whispered. “I was, even as a teenager. I didn’t realize my own strength.”
I couldn’t believe he was telling me this. I couldn’t believe this had happened to him. Braden, who I thought lived in a world of elegant dinners and fancy apartments. Apparently, he’d been in another world for a little while. “What happened?”
“I left, made an anonymous call for an ambulance, and told her what I’d done. She didn’t blame me. In fact when the police found him, we covered for each other. Her brother was a well-known junkie, there were no witnesses, and they just assumed it was drug-related. He was in a coma for a few days. The worst bloody days of my life. When he woke up, he told the police he couldn’t remember who’d attacked him, but when I walked in with his sister she told him what he did.” Braden’s voice hitched a little. “He started to cry. It was probably the most pitiful sight I’ve ever seen, him crying and her just staring at him with hatred in her eyes. She left. He promised me he wouldn’t tell the truth about what had happened. He said he’d deserved it, that I should have killed him. There was nothing I could do for either of them. I never saw him again. My relationship with her fell apart when she turned to drugs to deal with what happened, refusing my help. Last word I heard a few years back was that she’d OD’d.”
I pulled myself up beside him, my whole body aching for him. “Braden… I’m sorry.”
He nodded and turned his head to gaze at me. “I’ve never been in a fight since. Lifted my hands to no one. My dad and I buried a lot of shit after that. He was the only other person who knew the truth, and he helped me turn everything around. I owe him.”
“I think we all do.” I smiled sadly, brushing my fingers along his jaw as it sunk in that he’d trusted me with this.
Did I owe him somehow? Or wasn’t it like that? He’d trusted me because he knew I wouldn’t tell anyone, he knew I wouldn’t judge him.
It occurred to me sitting beside him—feeling pain for him—that I knew he would never tell anyone anything I shared with him. He would never judge me. I heaved a sigh and dropped my hand, my stomach twisting as I fought with myself. “Dru,” her name just fell out of my lips before I could even think about it.
Braden’s body tensed with alertness. “Dru?”
I nodded, my eyes on his stomach rather than his face. Blood rushed in my ears and I clutched the sheets to stop my fingers from trembling. “She was my best friend. We grew up together and when my family died, she was all I had left. There was no one else.” I swallowed hard on the memories. “I was a mess after… wild. I dragged Dru to parties we were too young to be at, did things we were too young to do. It was a little over a year after… and there was this kegger down at the river. I was on this path of picking guys off, some to just make-out with or if I was drunk enough, then other stuff, and Dru was trying to get up the confidence to ask Kyle Ramsey out.” I huffed humorlessly. “Kyle used to drive me crazy. He was always bugging me, but after… well, other than Dru he was the only person I sat down and talked to about everything. He was really a good kid. And I liked him,” I confessed softly. “I really liked him. But Dru had had a crush on him forever, and I was no longer the girl he used to have a crush on. She didn’t want to go that night. But I convinced her that Kyle would be there and I forced her to come along.
It was about halfway through the party and I thought Dru was off talking to Kyle while I was flirting with the captain of the football team, but Kyle was suddenly there with me, asking to speak with me. We walked off for some privacy and he started to say all these things. How I was better than what I was doing with all those guys. How my parents would be so upset if they could see me like that.” I took a shuddering breath on that confession. “And he told me that he cared about me. That he thought he could really love me. I didn’t think. I just let him kiss me, and before I knew it we were getting pretty hot and heavy. He stopped before it went too far and told me I didn’t have to sleep with him to keep his interest. That he wanted me to be his girlfriend. And I told him that I couldn’t be, that Dru was crazy about him, and I couldn’t do that to her. We talked in circles for a little while until I decided I needed to get drunk or something to get away from all the teen drama, but when I went out into the main party one of Dru’s friends told me I was a backstabbing slut. And I realized that Dru had found out about my make-out with Kyle.”