Echoes of Scotland Street

Page 21


No more than forty minutes later the front door of the studio opened and the mammoth that was Stu Motherwell strode inside. Although I was anxious I was also pleased to see him. He had a natural merriment about him that really did remind me of a biker version of Santa Claus.
As he walked in he was talking to the man behind him. The man was almost the same height, same build, same hair, with the same beard.
“There she is!” Stu bellowed cheerily. “Steely, meet Shannon. Shannon, Steely.”
Steely and I exchanged hellos as Cole strolled into the main studio. He reached Stu and it was hard not to miss the affection in the older man’s eyes. I’d known Cole meant something to Stu during our interview. He spoke about Cole with such respect. But now I could see it was more than that. As he clamped a hand on Cole’s shoulder, giving him a manly shake and asking him how he was, it was in the gesture of a father asking a son.
He said something, but I wasn’t quite paying attention to what; I was so focused on witnessing the dynamic between them. But then Cole laughed at whatever Stu had said and it was a deep, rumbling, full-on laugh that lit up his eyes and completely mesmerized me. I’d never seen Cole laugh like that before.
It occurred to me then that I didn’t really know Cole Walker at all.
I’d made assumptions (which I still believed were true), but I didn’t know a thing about Cole’s past, his present, or what made him tick.
I blinked out of my musings. Stu grinned back and forth between Cole and me in a way I found disturbing. “How you getting on?” He looked at Cole. “How’s wee fairy getting on?”
Cole immediately threw me a kind smile that caused this weird flippy feeling in my chest. “She’s doing great. She’s revolutionizing your filing, Stu.”
Doing my very best to hide my shock, I grinned gratefully back at Cole.
He appeared almost dazzled by the smile, blinking rapidly at me.
“Good stuff,” Stu said, apparently not noticing the strange interplay between his two employees. “Which room am I in today, then?”
“Mine,” Cole said. “It’s Rae’s day off, so I’ll take her room.” He nodded past Stu to Steely. “How’s things?”
“Aye, no bad.” He frowned, though. “After fifteen years together, the wife finally noticed I’ve got a woman’s name scribed on my shoulder.” He looked at me in disbelief. “Fifteen years. Talk about a lack of interest, eh?”
“To be fair, it is a tiny script and the name is ‘Cherry,’” Stu said.
“Aye, that was her argument. I asked her what the hell she thought ‘Cherry’ meant if it wasn’t a woman. She said she thought it was a fucking song title.” Steely sighed. “Anyway, she’s annoyed about it, so I promised I’d get one done for her to prove some such nonsense or whatever. I don’t know. So let’s get it done.” Cole chuckled and Steely pinned him to the wall with a serious glower. “Never get a woman’s name inked on your skin. Never.”
Stu grinned at Cole. “He’ll ignore that, Steely. I know him too well.” Cole barely responded with a mysterious smile and a half shrug. “And will it be the fair . . .” Stu frowned. “Fuck, what’s her name? Jessica, is it?”
I immediately wanted to bury my head in my files. I really didn’t want to know anything about the fair Jessica, but Cole stopped me from turning away by flicking an enigmatic look at me before answering.
“Nah.” He glanced back at Stu. “Broke up.”
I stopped breathing.
“Ah, and what happened this time?”
“You’re a nosy bugger,” Steely ribbed his friend.
Stu ignored him. “Well?”
“She started redecorating my flat in her head after only two weeks of dating.”
Stu shuddered. “Cling-on.”
“Oh God, yeah.”
Cole’s pained expression stayed painted across my mind’s eye as I bent my head and started pulling out the files I’d last been working on. I still hadn’t come anywhere near to finishing the digitization of them. As I began to work, all the warm and fuzzy feelings I’d been afraid to admit to developing since Cole called a truce for the day dissipated upon new evidence that Cole really and truly was the kind of bad boy I needed to avoid.
I felt sorry for Jessica.
She’d probably only suggested Cole get some cushions for his sofa or something, and he’d misinterpreted it as a threat to his bachelorhood.
I lifted my head to wave Stu and Steely a temporary good-bye as they disappeared into the back to get to work on Steely’s new tattoo, and then I looked back down at the files.
But I could feel Cole’s gaze on me.
Steadying my nerves, I looked up at him and somehow I managed to unstick the words blocked in my throat. “Thank you.”
Cole’s lips twitched with amusement. “See? That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
“I still don’t like you.”
The humor left his eyes. “The feeling is mutual.” He shook his head, his expression unreadable now. “You really are the biggest disappointment, Shannon MacLeod.”
Without another word he followed our boss into the back, leaving me reeling.
His words had almost sounded . . . sad.
*   *   *
At that point I’d really thought the worst was over for the day. Cole and I had put on a united front and Stu seemed happy enough. However, I was wrong.
I knew I was wrong when Stu showed Steely out after he’d finished the tattoo and then turned to me once the door shut behind his friend. He scrutinized me in a way that made me squirm as I scanned photographs of a guy’s tattoo Stu had done fifteen years ago. It was of a muscled naked chick riding a motorbike toward the gates of hell. It was disturbing, but the artwork was awesome.
“Glad to hear you’re getting on so well here, Shannon.”
Was that a question? It sounded like a question.
I tensed.
“Yeah, it’s going great.” Cole suddenly appeared and walked toward me.
Weirdly, I’d never been happier to see him.
Stu looked at us both and then nodded. “Great. Glad to hear it. So I’ll see you at Cole’s birthday party, then?”
Birthday party?
Say what?