Echoes of Scotland Street

Page 10


Rae smirked and left the room, closing the door behind her.
My shoulders slumped as I turned to stare at my hidden artwork. I felt my throat close with emotion, mostly frustration, that I’d been reduced to acting like a bumbling fool in order to hide my art from people. I never used to hide. I never used to act like this.
Not until . . .
“Why do you bother with that crap? It’s not like you’re any good at it.”
“And what do you know about art?”
“Enough to know you’ve not got any talent, babe.”
The memories flooded me, zapping my energy, and I stumbled to the bed. Staring at the blank wall in front of me, I tried to fight them back, the hand not holding the hot cup of tea curled so tight into a fist my fingernails bit into my skin.
*   *   *
Once I got my emotions under control, I finished packing and decided to get acquainted with my new flatmate. I didn’t want Rae to think I was antisocial, although perhaps she would prefer it if I was. I’d find out soon enough.
Instead of Rae, I found Cole in the sitting room. I almost tripped over my feet at the sight of him on the armchair near the balcony, his right ankle hooked over his left knee. My eyes drank in his long-limbed body before I could stop myself. When they eventually traveled upward, Cole was staring at me with this knowing, cocky little grin on his lips.
His very, very kissable lips.
Man, he was annoying.
“Thought you might want to join a few of us for a drink to celebrate the job and the flat.”
Processing how comfortable and at ease Cole seemed in Rae’s flat, I felt my eyes narrowing as they scanned the room. They stopped on a large black digital photo frame. Every few seconds the picture would change and in among pictures of Rae with people I had never met were lots of pictures of Rae, Cole, Simon, and some Italian-looking bloke I could only assume was Tony.
Rae and Cole weren’t just colleagues; they were friends. All of them were good friends. This meant I not only had to dodge Cole at work but I had to bloody well dodge him in my own home.
He was beyond annoying.
“I’m kind of tired,” I said, looking anywhere but at him.
This came from Rae. I turned around as she strode into the sitting room now dressed in jeans, a Celine Dion T-shirt that seemed incongruous to her personality, and a black leather jacket. “Get your shoes on,” she said. “You’re bloody well coming with us.”
“I don’t think—”
“Bollocks to whatever you’re going to say.”
Assessing her authoritative tone and demeanor, I didn’t take long to surmise that I was not getting out of this. Instead of glaring at Rae, I shot a glower at Cole. “You knew exactly what I was getting into and didn’t do a thing to stop me.” I stomped out of the room, ignoring the delicious sound of Cole’s laughter.
*   *   *
I was introduced to identical twins Grant and Patrick and Grant’s girlfriend, Karen. They were Cole’s friends from art school and Rae had adopted them too. Grant and Karen owned a small gallery and a professional photography business. Patrick was working toward qualifying as an architect. They were all very friendly and welcoming, but the uneasiness I felt as we joined them in Rae’s local pub, the Walk, wouldn’t dissipate. I felt I had no one to blame but Cole.
As soon as we sat down, Cole somehow finagled it so he was sitting next to me in the booth that curved around the table. Almost immediately he pressed his thigh against mine. With Rae squashed in on my other side, there was nowhere to go and no way to remove myself from physical contact with Cole.
Heat burned into my jeans where we touched and I tried—oh, how I tried—to ignore his presence and listen to his friends talk about work and the odd things people said in galleries.
“You have the best hair I’ve ever seen,” Karen suddenly said to me.
Everyone laughed at the random comment.
“She does, though,” Karen insisted. “I’d love to photograph you.”
“Me?” I was bemused by the notion.
“Yes, you.” Karen smiled. “You’d make a great subject.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Oh, I fucking knew it.” Rae groaned.
I looked at her in question and she frowned in response.
“You’re one of those.”
“One of what?”
“A pretty girl who doesn’t know she’s pretty. Pisses me off.”
If I were prone to blushing, I’d be a tomato.
“I think it’s great,” Cole said.
Without thinking about it, I turned my head to look up at him.
He smiled that soft, boyish smile of his and reached out to touch my hair. “Nothing sexier than a woman who doesn’t know she’s gorgeous.”
I hated the way my stomach fluttered at his attention, at his compliments. I’d been paid those kinds of compliments before, and my reaction to them had brought me nothing but trouble. Turning away, I was thankful for Rae breaking the sudden tension with “Bollocks! Nothing sexier than a man or woman who knows that they are sexy as fuck.” She looked down at me, seeming to brim with years of experience despite the fact that she was only twenty-eight and thus only a few years older than me. “Your lack of height makes you cute mixed with stunning. Own it. Rock that fucking hair and those fucking eyes. Then you’ll be sexy.” She grinned and preened. “Like me.”
Patrick nodded, smiling at Rae in appreciation. “I have to admit that was sexy.”
She threw him a flirtatious grin. “Down, boy. I’m already spoken for.”
Surprised, I was about to ask Rae who she was dating when I felt the lightest touch on my lower back. I tensed.
Cole was touching me.
I glanced up at him.
With his thigh pressed to mine, his fingertips on my back, and his gaze boring into mine, words deserted me. The noise in the pub seemed muffled all of a sudden, like an invisible wall had encircled Cole and me.
His fingers pressed deeper and my body began to tingle.
The sound of a glass shattering loudly broke the spell between us and I jerked back, bumping into Rae. Something like annoyance flickered in Cole’s eyes, but I adamantly turned away, shifting closer to Rae, who was too busy mocking Patrick about getting his eyebrows waxed to notice I was trying to crawl my way into her lap to escape the sexual tension between me and our boss.