Echoes of Scotland Street

Page 20


He gave me a tight, triumphant smile and walked away.
My anger got the best of me. “You’re an immature idiot!”
“I could give a fuck, Shortcake,” he threw back at me. “And you started it.”
*   *   *
Usually I enjoyed Rae’s particular brand of conversation, but that night at dinner I wanted her gone already. Mike was taking her to a movie, but he was running late. Rae had decided to have dinner with me before heading out to meet him, thus stopping me from throwing a snack together and hiding out in my bedroom where I was going to pull out my acrylic paints for the first time.
I’d done as I promised myself and bought the paints with my first paycheck, and now I felt like a kid at Christmas, waiting for an empty flat so I could use them without fear of discovery. The first landscape I wanted to work on was the cityscape I’d drawn from the top of the castle.
However, Rae was taking her sweet time with dinner. She was also being strangely quiet.
Since my flatmate didn’t like anyone asking if she was okay (she usually responded with something sarcastic that made me wish I’d never bothered to be concerned in the first place), I ate in silence.
Until Rae had the notion to speak again. “I haven’t said anything, but I’ve got to tell you my curiosity is killing me.” She dropped her fork and leaned across her plate, her eyes trapping mine. “Why the fuck are you and Cole acting like shitheads to each other? It’s like working with psychos. You’re all nicey-nicey to everyone else and then your attitude turns to ice the second he walks in the room and vice versa. Split personalities much?”
Honestly I was impressed that she’d managed to restrain herself for this long. I blew out air between my lips before answering her. “He kept coming on to me, so I put him in his place.”
Rae laughed. “Why would you do a silly thing like that? It’s Cole.”
“It’s Cole—so what? Just because he’s hot and talented and confident I should fall at his feet? I know his type, believe me. I don’t do bad-boy players anymore. They chew you up and spit you back out. As for Cole, he’s like the Thor of the bad-boy world and . . .” I trailed off as Rae started laughing hysterically.
Glowering at her, I waited for her to stop.
My annoyance only made her laugh harder, so it took her a while to finally calm down. I’d finished my dinner, in fact.
“Oh.” She wiped tears from her eyes. “Forget the hilariously random analogy that didn’t even make a lot of sense but totally did anyway. What the hell are you talking about?”
I stared at her blankly. “Cole. Bad boy.”
“Right.” Rae snorted and started chuckling again.
“What?” I said, more than annoyed now.
“Nothing.” She stood up and took our plates over to the sink. “I’ll let you figure this one out on your own, you bloody numb nut.”
Bewildered, I stared at her as she cleaned the plates. Finally I got up and left the kitchen but not before murmuring somewhat huffily, “You’re the numb nut.”
Her only response was to keep laughing, which she knew would bug the crap out of me.
*   *   *
The next day something different happened. Something unusual.
Like every day I let myself into the studio just before nine o’clock knowing that Cole and either Rae or Simon were already there setting up for the day. Sometimes, nearly almost always, if it was Simon’s day to work he came out to greet me and retrieve the cappuccino I brought him. If it was Rae’s day she came out to tease me about something and retrieve the black coffee I’d brought her.
Cole never came out to greet me in the morning. Not since we’d declared war.
So I was more than a little taken aback to see him striding toward me as I shrugged out of my jacket.
“Today we call a truce,” his deep voice boomed into the room.
Ignoring the familiar butterflies that took up residence in my belly whenever Cole entered the room, I crossed my arms over my chest in defiance. I might have looked intimidating and impressive if it wasn’t for the fact that I had to tilt my head back so much to look up at him. “I don’t see the point.”
The muscle in Cole’s jaw flexed. I ignored the warning sign that I was pissing him off.
“Well?” I shrugged, flicking my hair over my shoulder.
His eyes followed the movement before he could stop it.
Transferring his focus from my hair to my face, Cole sighed. “Can you just pretend to be a grown-up for two seconds? One: I don’t like acting like this. I rarely acted like a teenage brat when I was a teenager, and it bloody galls me that a two-foot-nothing Glaswegian has reduced me to one.”
Irritated at the suggestion I was the reason he couldn’t maintain a level of professionalism (he was the one who started snapping at me when I shot him down), I opened my mouth to argue only for Cole to silence me by cutting the air in front of me with his hand.
“Don’t.” His tone and body language suggested it might be safer for me to listen. Cole waited a beat to see if I was going to obey his command. It hurt to do it, but I couldn’t help remembering the way he lifted me out of my chair as if I were inconsequential. “Two,” he continued once he realized I wasn’t going to back talk him. “Stu is popping in today with an old friend who wants a new tattoo from him. If Stu senses even the tiniest bit of the bad atmosphere you and I have created this past month, he’ll fire your arse so fast your knickers will turn to ash.”
Oh, crap.
That never even occurred to me.
I was immediately consumed by anxiety.
What I was feeling must have shown on my face, because Cole’s expression actually softened. “I can pretend to get on with you if you can.”
The thought of losing my job caused me to nod quickly in agreement. As we stared at each other I wanted to ask why Cole would think to protect me, to protect my position here. I would have thought he’d be glad to see me fired.
Too scared to ask him in case it made him change his mind, I kept my lips sealed and Cole gave me a determined nod before heading into the back.
I stared after him for a while, beyond puzzled that he’d been considerate enough to do this for me. For some reason a surge of uneasiness began to slosh around in my tummy for a while.
*   *   *