Echoes of Scotland Street

Page 23


I waited, but that was all I was going to get out of her on the subject apparently, because the next words out of her mouth were “You have the best hair ever.”
I laughed and some of the tension between us broke. “Thank you.”
“How do you get it to do the ringlet thing? With straighteners or a curling iron?”
“The ringlets are natural,” Rae butted in. “The bitch’s hair looks like this naturally, all the fucking time.”
Clearly used to Rae, Hannah didn’t even blink at her calling me a bitch. She just laughed, told us to help ourselves to the free bar and buffet, and wandered off to mingle with other people.
I looked around at the gathering, at the faces I didn’t recognize, at the small children laughing and running in among the adults. I wouldn’t have expected there to be kids, but it suddenly made sense why the party had started so early on a Sunday evening. Stu had even closed the studio early for it. I saw our behemoth of a boss over by the dip, talking to a curly-haired blond girl who was staring up at him in awe.
This was a family party, completely at odds in my mind with the man it was being thrown for.
“Cole knows a lot of people.”
“Yeah,” Rae said, and grabbed my hand. “And I know which one you want to meet.”
Without mercy Rae began to drag me through the room. Struggling against her would only draw more attention to us, so I just went with it, even though I was sure I was about to be mortified.
When I stumbled to a stop at Rae’s abrupt halt in front of an attractive blonde I recognized from her author photo, I knew I was right.
I froze as I took her in. She leaned into a tall, rugged older guy. His dark hair had some gray in it at the sides, but this only made him more distinguished looking than he already was. His amazing pale blue eyes seared right through me.
Rae and I had interrupted the couple’s conversation.
Floor, swallow me. Please.
“Joss, Braden,” Rae said in an almost militant manner. “This is Shannon.” She gently nudged me forward and I gave Joss a strained smile. “She’s my new flatmate and our receptionist at INKarnate. She’s a fan of your books, Joss.”
Joss gave me a kind smile, as though she sensed my discomfort. Admittedly it wouldn’t have taken a writing genius to sense that. I shook her hand, surprised by how nervous I was to meet her. That was probably why the next words that spilled out of my mouth were unfiltered and revealed way more than I’d meant to. “I just want you to know that your books are important. They’ve helped me through the worst months of my life this last year.”
I tensed as soon as the words were out of my mouth, and my three companions noticed. Rae noticed. She put her arm around me and pulled me close so she could press a kiss to my hair. She gently released me and walked away, leaving me staring after her.
Sometimes that woman could surprise the heck out of me.
When I turned my attention back to Joss and Braden, I discovered they both now wore identical expressions of concern.
“That really means a lot,” Joss said, and I noted that her American accent was interrupted quite a bit by Scottish inflections. According to Rae, Joss had lived in Scotland for seventeen years. “I hear you’ve moved from Glasgow. How are you settling in?”
“Good, thank you. I’ve always loved this city.”
She smiled in response, but I could see that she was still assessing me. “Well . . . you know we’re a tight group here . . . if you ever need anything . . .” She shrugged.
I was stunned.
Her offer of support, her acceptance of me as part of their group of friends when she’d only just met me blew me away. I thought about the fact that my own family hadn’t contacted me at all since my sister’s blunt text weeks ago, and I had to look away because this stranger’s kindness had moved me to tears.
I blinked them back hurriedly, staring at the girl with the head of blond curls again. Now she was herding a group of younger children toward the buffet table. Looking more closely, I could see she had Joss’s tip-tilted eyes and smile. “Is she yours?”
“How can you tell?” Joss said, following my gaze, a smirk playing on her full mouth. “That’s our daughter, Beth, and the little dark-haired boy holding her hand is our son, Luke.”
I glanced around the room, taking everyone in. “Big family,” I muttered.
“We’re kind of a tribe, really,” Joss joked.
I smiled and took a step back. “Anyway, I’ll let you get back to your evening. It was a pleasure to meet you.”
“You too, Shannon.”
“And remember,” Braden spoke up, and I was instantly transfixed by him. The air around him crackled like it did with Cole. I hadn’t noticed because I’d been so focused on Joss, but her husband was really kind of sexy. “If you ever need anything just ask.”
Wow. That was nice. “That’s very kind.” I nodded my thanks and walked away, thinking Cole was one lucky son of a bitch to have people like them in his life.
*   *   *
An hour later I’d met almost everyone and also caught up with the twins and Karen. I hadn’t spent much time with them since meeting them that first night weeks ago, but from their friendly demeanor it was clear they didn’t know about my war with Cole.
I was trying desperately to remember everyone’s name, but the only ones that stuck were the names of Cole’s extended family—or tribe, as Joss called it. First Tony introduced me to a tall, slender woman who was quite possibly the most beautiful woman I’d ever met in real life. With her gorgeous light, clear green eyes, I wasn’t surprised to learn she was Cole’s sister, Jo. Her husband, Cameron, reminded me of Cole—not in looks but in manner. I could tell from the way he dressed and held himself that he’d been a huge influence in Cole’s life. They had their daughter, Belle, with them and the minute she saw me she threw herself at me and asked if she could play with my hair. Of course she was even more adorable in real life, so I let her do just that as Jo introduced me to her boss and uncle, Mick, his wife, Dee, and Mick’s daughter, Olivia.
Olivia was an attractive brunette, American, and bubbling with a humor and personality that dazzled me almost as much as her smile and her husband, Nate, did. Although Tony had warned me about Nate, there was really no way to prepare myself for the reality. He was just that good-looking. Everything about his looks, his smile, his confidence, screamed player . . . until he looked at his wife and their two daughters. Anyone could see they meant the world to him.