Echoes of Scotland Street

Page 26


“Jessica, you don’t have to do anything.” Cole continued being nice, which I thought was decent of him considering most guys would have bounced her arse out of the door by now. “We’re just not right for each other, sweetheart.”
Her eyes filled with tears. “We are. I love you.”
My mouth fell open.
Yup. Total cling-on.
A red warning sign began blinking in my mind’s eye.
Cole seemed as stunned as I felt. “Jessica . . .”
The urge to rescue him overtook me. “Cole,” I called out. “Simon needs you in the back.”
His startled gaze flew to mine, relief in them. “Right, of course.” He turned to Jessica. “Look, this is a really bad time. I’m sorry if you got the wrong impression, but we’re just not . . . going to happen.”
When she continued to stare at him incredulously, I found myself slinking out from behind the desk and hurrying over to the front entrance. The bells tinkled as I yanked it open, drawing Jessica’s attention.
She caught my look, and her jaw hardened at the silent point I was making. With an overdone sniffle she hurried out of the studio, clutching her bag to her chest as though we’d just killed her puppy and refused to apologize.
I shut the door behind her and mouthed, Wow, at Cole before heading back behind my desk.
Cole cautiously approached me, his expression filled with suspicion. I returned his stare with an innocent one of my own.
“Thank you,” he said with not a tiny amount of wariness.
“You’re welcome,” I said, my tone kind.
He blinked rapidly and it was clear his suspicion had only increased.
Cole stared at me for a few seconds longer, but I managed to maintain perfect politeness.
Backing away slowly, Cole held my stare, silently questioning me with every step he took. He turned around, but then just before he stepped into the hallway he looked back at me, confused.
I gave him nothing and he disappeared into the hall. I broke out into a massive, amused grin, a grin I quickly hid when Cole’s head popped back around the door. The hilarious sight of his seemingly floating head was made only more entertaining by the distrust in his narrowed eyes. Schooling my features into innocent politeness, I endured a short staring match with Cole’s head before he gave up.
His head disappeared and I began to shake with silent laughter.
*   *   *
“You’re freaking me out a little bit,” Cole said the next morning as he took the coffee I offered him.
Although I quite enjoyed the fact that I had him feeling off balance, I gave him the speech I’d prepared for the moment he called me out on my unusual behavior. “I’ve decided you’re right. I’m sick of acting like a brat. I’m sorry for what I said. I don’t know you. It was uncalled for and unprofessional of me.”
Cole didn’t even try to hide his surprise, and I liked that about him. I was beginning to realize that Cole was pretty transparent. He didn’t play games like most people. He wore his mood on his sleeve for everyone to see, and most of the time his thoughts were out there too. “Wow. Did not see that coming.”
I grimaced, feeling unsure all of a sudden. I’d been holding on to Hannah’s assessment of Cole’s character, using it to assure myself that we’d move on like nothing had ever happened. “Does that mean you accept my apology?”
He stared at me a second and I think he did it to make me squirm. It worked. He finished off, however, with a nod. “Of course. Thanks for the coffee.”
His response was mature; it was what I thought I wanted, but I walked out of his room weighed down with disappointment. He’d accepted my apology with all the warmth of a wet bath towel.
Muttering under my breath, I berated myself. I did have only myself to blame if Cole wasn’t really feeling all that friendly toward the woman who completely annihilated his character without an ounce of proof to back up said annihilation.
“Making nice with the boss?”
I let out a startled squeak and spun around to find Rae mere inches from me. “Jesus!”
Rae laughed and pushed me gently down the hallway and into the main studio away from Cole’s ears.
“I take it you were listening?” I glowered at her as I headed toward my desk.
“Of course.”
“You are a nosy pain in the arse.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m a horrible flatmate. Now fucking spill.”
I lowered my voice. “Hannah informed me that I had the wrong impression about Cole. She told me he isn’t a player or a bad boy after all.”
“Took you long enough.”
“You could have told me.”
“And where is the fun in that, pray tell?”
I was not amused. “You know, there are times when you’re a bitch and then other times when you are a bitch.”
Rae sighed in exasperation. “Look, you need to learn how not to bring your past into your present. It’s a lesson I had to learn on my own, and having someone baby you through that isn’t going to teach you what you really need to discover for yourself. If you fuck this up—whatever this is with Cole—you’ll learn never to do it again. But I’m hoping there is a better lesson here.”
“And what’s that?”
“Someone tried to take something from you. You didn’t let them. Why start now? Especially when it comes to the things you want, and the things you need.” She smacked her hand down on the counter with an abruptness that startled me. “Enough of this Miyagi crap. Point is, fight for what you want, and while you’re doing that I’d like an egg mayo sandwich without that fucking cress shit on it this time.”
I tried to keep up with the change in subject. “It’s three hours until your lunch break.”
“I’m hungry now and I’ve got a client in fifteen.”
“I get lunch for everyone at the same time. I’m not a gofer. I’m a receptionist.”
She eyed me carefully. “Sometimes your tiny height is deceiving.” And on that weird comment, Rae strode outside. I assumed in search of a sandwich.
I n high school I took art class every year, and a lot of still-life drawing is involved in the Scottish curriculum. Luckily for me I liked those classes, yet there were moments when I’d be sketching a flower or flowers stuck inside a skull, or a stuffed animal, or even a person in life drawing class, when I’d step back from my work and to my disappointment I’d see that it wasn’t quite right. There was something lacking, something that was stopping it from being brought to life.