Echoes of Scotland Street

Page 28


She made a huff of disbelief. “I don’t—”
“I’m not finished,” I snapped.
Her mouth clamped shut and that hurt puppy dog look was back.
My expression turned mean with calculation. “I take it you’re counting on graduating from Edinburgh College of Art?”
Confused, she nodded.
“I happen to be Professor Kris Lowery’s goddaughter. You’ll have heard of Kris, right, seeing as she’s the principal of the college?”
Jessica’s whole demeanor changed. Now she took a wary step backward.
“See, I don’t know if you’re stupid, selfish, or crazy, but I do know that harassment is beyond stressful, horrible, and downright criminal. I also know for a fact that Kris will not be happy to hear that one of her students has a report filed against her with the police for harassment. In fact, I’m thinking Kris will not like that at all.”
Jessica’s anxious gaze drifted over my head to Cole and then back to me.
I sighed, pouring every ounce of pissed-off impatience into the effect. “That look in your eyes tells me at least you’re not stupid. Just selfish, then.”
“I really like him.” She shrugged pathetically.
“Well, he’s a little preoccupied liking me, so from now on don’t call, don’t write, don’t turn up at his home, his work, or try to contact him in any way, because I’m a jealous girlfriend with a very doting godmother who will do just about anything for me. Understood?”
Flushing, Jessica nodded quickly.
“That’s your cue to leave.”
It was almost tragically comical how fast she flew out of the studio, slipping on the marble floor tiles. She had to grab on to the door to right herself, before yanking it open and fleeing the building. If she hadn’t put Cole through the ringer these last few weeks, I would almost have felt sorry for her.
I turned to face my boss and laughed at the twin looks of shock on his and his customer’s faces. “You’re welcome.”
“Is it always like this in here?” the customer said to Cole.
Eyes still on me Cole nodded. “Lately it feels like it.”
*   *   *
The customer left fifteen minutes later (after having booked an appointment, so we couldn’t have scared him too badly), and Cole waited until the door closed behind him before turning the full force of his inquisitive green gaze on me. “Thank you, Shannon.”
There was a question in there somewhere, but there was also warmth that pleased me beyond measure. “You’re very welcome.”
“Professor Kris Lowery? You knew that how?”
“I looked her up. Good bluff, though, eh?”
“Fantastic,” he agreed. “But why?”
“Her constant harassment was stressing you out. I felt bad for you.”
Cole leaned on the counter, creating a deeper intimacy in our proximity and thus our conversation. “About that kiss . . .”
Not wanting him to think I was expecting anything, I hurried to reassure him. “I was just trying to help you out. I don’t have a lot of friends here, Cole, and apparently you’re a good one to have. I was trying to help out a potential friend.”
His smile was kind, but there was something troubled in his eyes. “I can be your friend, Shannon. I know when you first came here I was too forward with you, with the flirting and what have you, but that was then. It won’t happen again.”
“It won’t?” I blurted out before I could control myself.
“I find you attractive,” he said carefully. “I think we both know that, but you and me . . . we’re different. We’re better as friends.”
I knew I should accept his words and move on, but I was feeling a little put out. “Different?”
“We didn’t get off to the best start because of that difference . . .”
It dawned on me what he was talking about. “Me being overly judgmental.” I deflated when I saw on his face that I’d grasped what he was trying to say.
Cole grimaced. “I don’t operate like that, and being in a relationship with someone who does would drive me nuts, and as gorgeous as you are, I don’t do casual. So friends it is.”
To my horror and surprise I felt more than a little winded by his declaration. I wanted to tell him that he’d gotten me wrong, that I had a reason for the way I treated him and that I wasn’t usually like that. However, the words got stuck in my throat when my pride kicked in.
I was not going to beg for his attention like Jessica had done.
Instead I gave him a nod of agreement. “Sure. Friends.”
“Great.” He gave me that boyish grin again, and it made my stomach twist with lust and regret. “In fact, we have the same days off, so we should do something sometime.”
“Sure,” I repeated, not actually sure I meant it at all. Did I really want to spend time with Cole outside of work when he didn’t know who I really was?
“You know I’ve wanted to go to the new prizewinner exhibit at the modern art gallery. They’ve put the winner and runners-up from the college of art graduates for the John Watson prize on display. Do you fancy coming along to it on Friday?”
I knew if I said no, if I shut him down once more, that would probably be the last time he’d make a friendly overture. So, attempting to hide my reluctance, I smiled. “Sounds good.”
B y sheer force of will I got through the rest of the day and the next by pretending that everything was all right and just as it should be. The truth was I wasn’t sure everything was okay.
I didn’t want a relationship with Cole. As much as I’d grown to like him, I still didn’t trust him. Plus, I worried about what my family would think of him if they ever found out. At the same time it was really rubbish to have to go on with him thinking the way he did of me. That wasn’t who I was.
And now . . .
Now he was acting like there was no attraction between us at all.
Exhibit A: He took a sip of my latte without even asking and he did it without batting an eyelash. He walked away like it was no big deal, leaving me to stare at the place where his lips touched my coffee cup. Weeks ago our lips touching the same cup would have caused loads of meaningful staring and flirty eyes!
Exhibit B: I was working innocently at my desk when I felt Cole press in behind me and take the mouse from my hand. Cheek nearly touching mine, he leaned into my space to look through the computerized appointment book. I held my breath the entire time, my whole body zinging with awareness of him.