Echoes of Scotland Street

Page 16


“Something like that.” Mike smiled indulgently at her.
*   *   *
An hour later, Mike put down his empty beer bottle and stood. “I’m sorry, ladies. I’m going to have to hit the hay.” He gave me a nod good night and leaned down to press a soft kiss to Rae’s lips before heading toward her bedroom.
As soon as we heard the door shut behind him, Rae turned to me. “What do you think?”
I smirked. “Like you care.”
“True.” She grinned. “But I’m curious.”
“He seems like a really good guy.”
“The very best,” she said, her gaze drifting past me to the dark sky outside.
Comfortable silence fell between us only to be broken a minute later by Rae. “I had a good foster parent when I was a kid.”
The brittle quality in her voice made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
“Sally McIntyre. Her husband passed a year before she got me, but she kept on fostering.” She took the last drag of her beer and looked me direct in the eye. “Sally’s brother raped me when I was fourteen.”
My whole body jerked back like I’d been shot, and my lips fell open, ready for the right words, the right response, but my brain couldn’t think of one. The blood rushing in my ears drowned out any possible response.
“Sally found out and she got the police involved. She lost everything, though. I was put back into a girls’ home and I was examined and questioned until I wanted to die. That kind of thing leaves a mark on you. My fiancé, Jason, worked his arse off to help me through all the ugliness I’d been left with from my teenage years. He was patient with me, made me feel safe, in every way. With sex too. He gave me back to me.” She smiled but the gesture didn’t reach her eyes. “I fought tooth and nail to enjoy sex and not to be afraid of it, so I kind of went the opposite way, you know—as sexually free as I can be. But that mark . . . it never really disappears, and it leaves something behind in the back of your eyes.”
I couldn’t believe someone as strong as Rae had gone through so much. “I’m sorry that happened to you.”
She nodded her thanks and then continued to shake the ground beneath me. “Shannon, were you raped?”
I felt like all the air was sucked out of the room, and the blood rushing in my ears only worsened. Sweat prickled under my arms and along my palms. Trembling a little, I held her gaze. “Almost,” I whispered, fighting the tears.
A fierce quality entered Rae’s eyes. “You fought the bastard off?”
I nodded and suddenly I was telling her everything. “His name was Ollie . . .”
Everything but the very worst of it, I told her. I didn’t want anyone to know the worst of it—my blame, my guilt, the devastation I’d caused my family. But everything else just poured out of me until I was sobbing in her arms.
Rae held me tight, rocking me, whispering words of comfort I’d had no idea I needed until somehow the pain lessened. Exhausted, I fell asleep in her arms.
The next morning I woke up in my own bed and I realized it was the best sleep I’d had since it all happened.
A lthough Rae and I didn’t mention her confession or my own at breakfast the next morning, there was definitely a shift in our newfound friendship. Not only did I know where I stood with Rae, but now she knew where she stood with me.
Feeling raw after having purged so much from the dark closet in the back of my mind where I kept the events of the last few years locked up tight, I was thankful that Rae continued to be her usual sarcastic, unfiltered self. Her pity would have killed me. It was her day off and for once it coincided with Mike’s, so I was really quite glad to be leaving for work. From the look on her face, I was guessing Mike was in for a sexathon.
Despite Rae’s support and willingness to act normal around me, as I walked into INKarnate I still felt really fragile from my breakdown the night before. Cole had an early appointment, so he was busy, but Simon came out to greet me, took one look at me, and immediately asked me if I was okay. I managed to convince him I just hadn’t slept well, and he left me to get on with the filing.
I blame the edginess I was feeling for what happened next.
A few hours later, I was standing in the back of the closet that held all the files when the light in the room dimmed a little. Sensing I wasn’t alone, I spun around and found Cole leaning against the doorframe, his arms crossed over his chest, one ankle over the other. The pose said casual, but his gaze was assessing.
The attraction I felt toward him was suddenly overtaken by an overwhelming burning anger centered in my gut.
“You look very pretty today, Shortcake,” he said softly.
The seriousness in his words, the lack of flirtation, the tenderness in the silly nickname he’d given me, only made my anger simmer over. At least when he was being blasé and sexy I could fight it, but now he was being underhanded—trying out that soulful “I really do like you” rubbish on me. “I’m busy,” I bit out.
Sighing heavily, Cole stood from the door and took a few steps inside. “Look, I’m sorry if I came on a little strong before. I’m not usually like that.” He gave me a cheeky smile, returning to his natural form. “You just bring it out in me.”
“Oh, I’m sure.”
Hearing the acidity in my response, Cole tensed. “Have I done something to upset you?”
Had he done something?
Mad as hell, I turned on him, feeling all the dislike and fear and loss that was running through me coalesce in his direction. Later I’d realize how unfair and irrational it had been, but right then Cole Walker represented everything wrong with my life and the choices I’d made thus far.
“I can’t stand guys like you.” My words were low, filled with venom that caused Cole’s body to jerk back in surprise. “Good-looking guys who assume every woman will just fall at their feet, grateful for a crumb of their attention. Well, I’m not one of them. I don’t respect players like you. I don’t like you. I don’t trust you. There’s nothing behind that charming smile but empty promises. You have nothing real to offer me or anyone who finds herself a victim of your flirtation. The difference between me and them, however, is that I’m smart enough to see you for what you really are.” Breathing ragged, I concluded, “Nothing.”