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|On Dublin Street(On Dublin Street #1)(48) by Samantha Young|
“Clark can have a drink. I’ll drive,” Elodie relented and we grabbed our things to leave.
Elodie and Clark shuffled the kids out first. Adam had his arm around Ellie and she was tucked in close to him, looking amazingly happy for someone who had major surgery coming up in a few weeks’ time. Then again, for over twenty four hours we’d all been convinced she had cancer only to discover she probably didn’t… and of course she finally had Adam right where she wanted him.
That left me and Braden to trail at the back, and I got the first taste of what he’d meant earlier. His fingers brushed my lower back to guide me out of the door and it was so deliberate it wasn’t funny.
He knew I was sensitive there.
I tried to hold back the shiver as I turned to lock the apartment, but Braden got in my way, so when I turned I collided with him.
“Sorry.” He smirked, moving slowly so my br**sts brushed against his chest.
I felt my ni**les harden and flinched at the heat that pulsed between my legs. My look was scathing. “Sure you are.”
Braden laughed softly as I leaned down to lock the door, and then I felt his shadow fall over me. I glanced up to my right to see his hand pressed against the door near my head. I twisted around to look up at him, only to find he’d cocooned himself around me. “Need a hand?”
I narrowed my eyes into slits. “Back off before I turn your balls into a keyring.”
I could tell he tried really hard not to laugh. Unfortunately not hard enough. “Babe, you’ve got to know when you say shit like that, it just makes me love you more.”
“You sound like a very bad villain/stalker right now.”
“I don’t care how I sound, as long as it’s working.”
“It’s not working.”
“A few more days of it and it will.” He brushed a quick kiss across my cheek and then abruptly pulled away before I could kill him.
“Come on guys,” Ellie called to us from further up the sidewalk. Elodie, Clark and the kids must have already gone inside. “What’s taking so long?”
“Jocelyn was just begging for sex, but I told her it was a highly inappropriate time for it,” Braden answered loudly, causing passersby to chuckle at him.
Furious at him for so many reasons, I rushed down our stoop towards them. “That’s okay, sweetheart,” I answered just as loudly. “I have a toy that does a better job of it anyway.” With that I slammed into the pub where he couldn’t hound me in front of the kids.
And although immature —and yes highly inappropriate considering the reason we were going for a drink—I couldn’t help but feel satisfied I’d finally got the last word in.
I admit it. I was a big fat coward.
I didn’t meet with Rhian and James on Monday like I’d promised. Instead I emailed her, explaining Ellie’s situation and that I didn’t want to leave her alone at the moment. If Rhian thought it was weird I couldn’t take just two hours out of the day to see her, she didn’t let on. If she thought it was weird I was emailing her instead of calling her, she didn’t let on.
The truth was I barely saw Ellie over the next few days because Adam had practically moved into her bedroom and the two of them only came out of there for snacks and bathroom breaks.
I didn’t want to see Rhian and James. That was the truth.
Because not too long ago I had spewed crap down the phone to Rhian about not running from James because she was afraid of what the future might hold for them, and I really wasn’t in the mood to get a lecture from Rhian about breaking up with Braden and being a total hypocrite.
My story with Braden was entirely different. It was.
I was just scared. No. Terrified. And I had every right to be. I just had to look at the way I’d reacted to Ellie’s situation to know that Braden would be in for a tough, neurotic life with me. Plus, my life had been so much calmer without him in it. I rarely worried about anything, my emotions were pretty stable, I had, if not peace, then quiet. Being with Braden was tumultuous and, really when I thought about it, exhausting. Take out the amazing sex and all that you’re left with is a bunch of ugly emotions. Worry—that he might get bored and stop liking me. Jealousy— I’d never been the jealous girlfriend before meeting Braden, but now my claws got all sharp anytime I saw a woman flirting with him. Fear for him—as if I didn’t have enough to worry about for myself, now it freaking mattered to me if he was happy or healthy. And it mattered more. That just was not cool.
I liked pre-Braden Joss.
She was spunky and cool and independent.
Post-Braden Joss was kind of a mushy asshat.
It didn’t help matters that Braden had kept to his word. He turned up at the apartment any chance he could, and even though I told him that Ellie was pre-occupied, he still hung around.
“I was washing the dishes and the sneaky bastard crept up behind me and wrapped his arms around my waist. And kissed me. Right here.” I pointed angrily to my neck. “Can I not have him committed or something?”
Dr. Pritchard snorted. “For loving you?”
I drew back, shaking my head in disgust. “Dr. Pritchard,” I admonished softly. “Whose side are you on?”
Wednesday night, two days after Christmas, and I was covering for a colleague at the bar. Ellie’s surgery was in two days.
I’d had an exhausting week of dodging Braden, and, whenever she came out of her room, trying to calm Ellie down about her surgery. Dodging Braden wasn’t so easy. Even though Darren, his manager at Fire, had had to quit because his wife was pregnant and she demanded he get a normal nine-to-five—Braden got him a job as a manager in one of the city hotels a friend owned—and that meant training his new manager, Braden had still found time to come around and bother me. There was the sink incident—which I may have overreacted to because it reminded me of a memory I had of my parents— the walking in while I was having a shower to ask me where the television remote was incident, the eating his lunch in the kitchen without a shirt on incident—he said he ‘accidentally’ spilled coffee down it and had to put it in the washer/dryer— and there were the many, many ‘looking at me for no reason’ incidents. I swear to God he was wearing on my panties. I had been this close to just giving in when he started to back off a little.
Of course I wouldn’t have given in anyway.
Because I could see the big picture.
He’d started the cool down a few days before Christmas, and was even on pretty good behavior when we had Christmas dinner with Ellie’s family. The only awkward moment came when we had to exchange gifts. We’d both bought our gifts a while ago, and they were more meaningful than what two mere friends would give each other. Braden had managed to get me a signed copy of my favorite book by my most favorite author. How he pulled that off, I don’t know. Oh, and did I mention the stunning diamond tennis bracelet? Uh huh. I got him a first edition of his favorite book, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. It was the most elaborate gift I’d ever bought, but it was worth it to see the way he smiled at me when he opened it.
Fuckity, shit, f**k.
Maybe I expected him to up the ante after that but Braden seemed to do the exact opposite and just… disappear.
I wondered if it was a new tactic.
So I was on alert when he didn’t show up with Ellie and Adam on Wednesday when I was covering the shift. He’d dragged them into the bar the week before when I’d picked up extra shifts, after Ellie demanded I get out of the apartment—I think I was hovering—and he’d sat on the sofa across from the bar, in my direct line of vision, dividing his time between watching me and flirting with pretty girls. I was guessing this was the ‘pissing me off’ part of his promise.
So I was surprised he wasn’t there Wednesday.
Ellie was still awake when I got home from work. She came out of her room and closed the door softly behind her. “Adam’s sleeping,” she whispered, following me into the sitting room.
I grinned at her over my shoulder. “No wonder. You must have worn that poor boy out.”
Ellie rolled her eyes at me and slumped down onto the couch beside me. “It’s not really like that. Well… kind of,” she blushed, her eyes bright with happiness. “Mostly we’re talking a lot. Sorting things out. All those misunderstandings. Apparently, he’s been in love with me for a while.”
“Oh you don’t say.”
“Speaking of funny, Braden didn’t turn up at the bar tonight.”
His sister eyed me carefully. “His new manager needed help tonight. Were you disappointed he wasn’t there?”
“No,” I answered quickly. Probably too quickly. Dammit, I missed pre-Braden Joss. “I just noticed a lack of ego in the room and thought ‘hey, where’s Braden?’”
Ellie didn’t laugh. She gave me a mothering look of disapproval. “Braden’s right. You’re in love with him. So why are you giving him the run-around? Are you enjoying him chasing you? Is that it?”
I raised my eyebrow at her. “The tumor’s brought out the snarkiness in you, huh?”
She made a face.
“Too soon for tumor jokes?”
Her eyes narrowed.
“Is there never a time for tumor jokes?”
“Never, Joss. Never.”
I winced. “Sorry. That was mean.”
“No. Mean is using my tumor as a tool for deflection. I love you to bits, Joss, but I love my brother too. Why are you doing this to him?”
“I’m not doing this to him. I’m doing this for him.” I turned into her, my eyes sincere as I tried to make her understand. “I don’t handle bad things very well. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true. Look how I just walked out on you when you needed me. When Braden needed me.”