Echoes of Scotland Street

Page 24


Finally I met Braden’s sister, Ellie, and her husband, Adam, and their two boys. Ellie was one of those women you couldn’t help liking immediately. She was down-to-earth, warm, and endearing and she just knew how to put a person at ease. After meeting her mum and stepfather, Elodie and Clark, I knew instantly where she’d inherited the qualities.
It was overwhelming meeting the tribe.
Even more overwhelming was that uneasiness I’d been feeling every now and then, an uneasiness that churned in my gut and came at me in waves as I met Cole’s friends and family.
Trying to shrug it off, I wandered over to the bar to order a glass of wine, hoping to sneak in a few minutes to myself.
I knew the instant he neared me.
I felt him.
From my peripheral I saw Cole slide in next to me. I turned to watch as he leaned against the bar. Tonight he looked even more amazing than usual, in a crisp white dress shirt rolled up at the sleeves, a fitted black waistcoat, and black suit trousers. A quirky silver pocket watch was attached to the waistcoat. He was wearing a leather aviator watch along with the black leather bracelets he always wore. For some reason that watch and those bracelets were incredibly sexy on him. Perhaps it was because it drew attention to his wrists, which then drew attention to his strong forearms, which then drew attention to his tattoos, which then . . .
You get the picture.
My eyes drifted up to his face, and heat instantly suffused me. His greedy gaze was roaming over me in a way that was blatantly sexual and at the same time consternated. Our eyes met.
“So, all I’ve heard tonight from my family is how bloody lovely Shannon MacLeod is.”
I flushed inwardly with pleasure, glad they’d liked me, but I didn’t respond to him. I didn’t really know what he wanted me to say.
No response was the wrong way to go, because it clearly exasperated him. “Want to tell me why I’ve not met this version of you? No . . . wait.” He leaned in close, those green eyes hot with anger. “I have met her, but she was fifteen.”
I looked away quickly, willing the bartender to appear.
Seconds later I heard a frustrated growl and then I felt Cole melt away from my side. I let go a huge sigh of relief only to choke on the remnants of it at the sight of Hannah hurrying toward me. She frowned as she came to a stop in front of me.
“What was that?” she asked, gesturing in the direction of where I assumed Cole had headed.
Hannah narrowed her eyes. “Cole is my best friend and he tells me everything, so I know he came on to you and you shot him down. I also know you shot him down in a probably not very nice way because of his reaction. Cole spends most of his life horizontal he’s so bloody laid-back, so it takes a lot to make him this frustrated and fucked off. It’s not like him.”
“I only said the truth.” I defended myself because I didn’t want these seemingly good people not to like me. “I told him I knew he was a player and that I wasn’t interested.”
Hannah looked taken aback. “You’re kidding me, right?”
I shook my head.
“Cole? A player?” She guffawed. “Are you high?”
I grew very still, not liking her reaction at all. She smiled, but there was disbelief in the look. “Shannon, I’ve known Cole Walker since he was a shy fourteen-year-old that could barely say two words to me. Cole is definitely not a player.”
I struggled to deal with what she was saying, and I doubted I kept that struggle out of my expression. “He’s such a bad boy,” I squeaked out.
She chuckled. “No way.”
“But . . . but he’s so cocky and flirty . . .” I trailed off, that uneasiness in my gut starting to make sense all of a sudden.
“Well, he’s spent his formative years surrounded by men incapable of restraint when it comes to flirting outrageously with their wives. Each one of them”—she gestured around the room—“is a cocky, arrogant, overconfident bugger.” She grinned. “But you won’t find men who are more loyal or loving to their wives.” Her expression turned serious. “We’ve all been through a lot. As has Cole. Like us, he knows what’s important. And he’s been deeply influenced by the men in his life. Cole’s never been a fan of casual. With the exception of Jessica and probably some alcohol-induced one-night stands, Cole has only ever been in relationships. He’s looking for the right woman to settle down with. He’s a romantic.” Her eyes glimmered with deep affection. “He’s also one of the best men I’ve ever, ever, ever met. I love him dearly, and . . . I only want the very best for him,” she concluded pointedly.
I felt awful as soon as she finished speaking. Absolutely, truly awful.
“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 them and me, however, is that I’m smart enough to see you for what you really are . . . Nothing.”
“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?”
“Cole. Bad boy.”
“Nothing. I’ll let you figure this one out on your own, you bloody numb nut.”
I squeezed my eyes shut tight at the memories. “I am such a bitch.”
Feeling Hannah’s hand resting on my arm, I opened my eyes to find her staring at me with a surprising amount of kindness. “Somehow I don’t believe that’s true.”
And on that enigmatic comment she walked away, leaving me to drown my guilt in a large glass of red wine.
O nce when I was ten I had helped my granddad throw out some old things because Gran was doing her yearly spring clean and somehow Granddad’s belongings always ended up taking the brunt of the clear-out.
My granddad had books everywhere. I remembered grabbing books that were piled randomly in the corner of the sitting room and asking him if they were to be thrown out. His response was an immediate and very adamant no. I made a face and asked him why since no one else had probably even heard of the books with their very boring covers. Granddad had tutted at me and told me that inside the books were the best stories he’d ever read, and that I shouldn’t judge them solely on their bad marketing.