Echoes of Scotland Street

Page 22


Panic. Yes, that was definitely panic causing my heart to do that horrible fluttery thing in my chest. “Uh—”
Cole reached me and slid his arm along my shoulders, pulling me into his side. I tried my best not to stiffen, in fact allowing myself to relax into him. I flushed, feeling his lean, hard body pressing into my soft one.
My head barely reached his shoulder.
I hate him, I hate him, I hate him, I hate him, I chanted in my head to remind myself as I quickly grew heated and turned on.
“Of course she’ll be there.” Cole gave me a squeeze and my left boob was crushed against his chest.
Oh boy.
I tried for a grin, but I was pretty sure it came out tremulous because Stu got this suspicious look on his face. However, the suspicion melted into a gleam of delight that quickly made me realize he’d gotten the wrong impression about what was going on between Cole and me.
“Oh.” He nodded and tapped a finger against his nose. “I got you.”
No, he did not get us! He did not get us at all.
“Have fun, kiddies.” He laughed and threw open the entrance door. “See you soon!”
The minute Stu was out of sight of the front windows, I wrenched away from Cole’s embrace, my hands flying to my hips. “Birthday party?”
Looking beleaguered, Cole nodded. “My friend Hannah is on maternity leave. She’s bored. Extremely bored. I am not telling my bored, pregnant best friend that she can’t throw me a birthday party no matter how much I don’t need that shit right now.”
There was a lot in that sentence I did not want to deal with. “I don’t think I should go.”
“That’s entirely up to you, but Stu will be there and he’ll wonder why you’re not there since the two of us get on so well. Everyone I know will be there.”
I growled in frustration.
Cole raised an eyebrow at my reaction. “Don’t worry, sweetheart. It’s not likely that we’ll cross paths at this thing. I’ll barely even know you’re there.”
And once more the irritant walked away with the last word!
T he room was naturally dark since it was a basement room, but warm lighting had been placed in alcoves all around and rugs covered the flagstone floors. To the left of the bar situated in the back of the room were two long tables with enough buffet food to feed a small family for a good couple of weeks. Booths were situated around the edges of the room, and people had already laid claim to most of them.
There were no balloons, no banners, nothing but a birthday cake to suggest this was indeed a birthday party, which told me that Hannah knew her best friend quite well.
“Why am I here again?” I said to Rae.
Somehow despite protesting against it for days, I was standing next to Rae and Mike in the entrance to the basement bar that was part of a split-level nightclub called Fire. The basement had been turned into a private function suite for Cole’s party, organized by his friend Hannah, and hosted by the owner of the club, Braden Carmichael. And yup, Rae told me that Braden was J. B. Carmichael’s husband.
“Because you look hot and it’ll annoy the fuck out of Cole and greatly entertain me,” Rae said, leaning into Mike’s side.
I pulled a face at her, but secretly I was pleased by her compliment. It made no sense, but I wanted to look my best tonight.
As always my hair was down, but I’d taken special care to make sure it was soft and not wild. I was wearing a black figure-hugging short dress, black stockings, and black suede ankle boots with a thin silver heel. No accessories. My makeup was fresh and light—my lipstick, eye shadow, and nail polish peach because it was a color that worked nicely against my skin tone and hair.
Since the dress was short and the heels were high, my legs looked longer. Wearing no jewelry and no color meant that the dress and my hair were doing all the work tonight.
Tony waved from across the room, just this mere action drawing gazes my way. He strolled toward us in another beautifully fit suit, his hand clasped in Simon’s. Simon wore dark jeans and a white T-shirt with a Banksy print on it. As soon as Tony reached me I received a kiss on either cheek. When he stepped back his eyes raked over me with a thoroughness you’d expect from a straight guy. “You look bellissima,” he murmured throatily.
Seriously, the guy oozed sexual charisma.
The strangers beyond him were looking at us again, and as I scanned the group I halted on a familiar face. Cole. I flushed and turned my attention back to Tony, murmuring my thanks.
Tony turned to greet Rae and Mike, and Simon took his place beside me. “You do look sexy as hell, Shannon.”
I smiled gratefully. I felt completely out of place and out of my depth, but looking good and being appreciated, especially by Tony and Simon (whom I’d come to adore) made me feel a little better. “You look sexy too. But you always do.” It was true. He could wear a bin bag and look hot.
“Simon,” a low, pleasant voice said, and I turned to my left to see it belonged to a stunning and very pregnant blond woman. She held her arms out and Simon stepped into her, enfolding her in a gentle embrace.
“Hannah, you look great, sweetheart.”
Oh. So this was Hannah. I studied her while she smiled at Simon. This was Cole’s best friend.
Her gaze moved to me and I could see her brown eyes were brimming with curiosity. “Introduce me, Sy.”
He did so and then promptly left me alone with her.
Hannah held her hand out to me with a friendly smile and I took it with my own. I nodded at her small baby bump. “Congratulations.”
“Thanks.” She patted her stomach and then gave a nod to the left. “It’s our second.”
I followed her gaze to an exceptionally tall, broad-shouldered too-good-looking-to-be-true guy with fantastic caramel skin. He was talking to a dark-haired man I didn’t recognize, holding a little girl with dark curly hair in his right arm, while a little boy, the spitting image of him, gripped his left hand.
“My husband, Marco,” Hannah said. “And our daughter, Sophia, and my stepson, Dylan.”
“You have a beautiful family,” I said with genuine feeling.
Wistfulness caused a light ache in my chest.
She smiled. “They keep me busy.” Just like that, her gaze turned questioning. “So, you’re the new receptionist at INKarnate?”
It occurred to me I had absolutely no idea what Cole had said to her about me. My answering “yes” was cautious.