‘What if he goes to another bar? There are more attractive women out there who will come on to him.’
‘Yeah, but I don’t have to see it this way.’
‘Good point,’ I murmured, eyeing Cam as he leaned over the bar so a female customer could say something in his ear.
The unexpected explosion of jealousy that ripped through me when he pulled back and smiled at her with blatant sexual cockiness nearly floored me.
What was I doing? What was my body doing?
I was with Malcolm. I was happy with Malcolm.
Deciding it was time to go on break, I gave Joss the heads-up and hid out in the staff room for ten minutes. Berating myself for a good portion of that, I managed to get myself together enough to return to work. When I came back out, the bar had hit another lull of quiet and Joss and Cam were leaning against the bar, talking to each other. I drew a deep breath and decided to be a grown-up.
‘What’s up?’ I asked congenially as I approached them.
Joss gave me a surprisingly uneasy look. ‘Cam asked about your family. I thought you’d already told him. Sorry.’
My heart flipped in my chest, a rush of queasiness making my skin prickle. ‘Told him –’
Realizing what I thought she meant, she rushed to clarify. ‘About your mum’s illness and how you have to take care of her and Cole.’
An immediate rush of relief overwhelmed me and I let out a deep breath. ‘Right.’
Unfortunately, I’d given away too much. When I chanced a look at Cam, I saw his suspicious gaze flickering between me and Joss. He had just opened his mouth, presumably to ask another question, when Joss derailed him. ‘So what about you, Cam? Your family from here?’
Although his eyebrows were still drawn together in curiosity, he nodded. ‘My parents live just outside Edinburgh. Longniddry.’
Nice, I thought. Longniddry was this lovely village situated near the water. It was a beautiful place with rough beaches and old cottages. I wondered what it must have been like to grow up in such a place.
‘No overbearing brothers or sisters?’ Joss continued her interrogation. ‘No car crashes or drug addicts or medical problems?’
I tried to contain my snort.
Cam shrugged good-naturedly. ‘Not that I’m aware of.’
Looking nonplussed, Joss eyed him warily. ‘Are you telling me you’re actually a well-adjusted individual?’
He threw her his hot grin and I succumbed to another heated flare of sexual attraction. ‘I like to think so.’
Joss shot me a look that said, Well, at least I’ve got you before she shook her head at Cam as though she were disappointed in him. ‘And here I thought we could be friends.’
Cam laughed. ‘I could invent a tragic past if that helps?’
‘Or unearth some deep, dark family secret I can turn into a book.’
‘I’ll get back to you on that.’ He smiled and then looked at me carefully, his gaze lowering a little under his eyelashes. He had sickeningly long eyelashes for a man. ‘I made the mistake of telling Becca I had this Saturday off and I hear she’s booked a table for four at Martin Wishart.’
Yeah, I’m sure the last thing you want to do is sit down for a meal with me. ‘Malcolm told me.’
‘So I guess we’re having dinner together.’
Joss chuckled, and as she turned to serve a customer she rather unhelpfully advised, ‘Try not to kill each other.’
I smirked and shot a look at Cam, then immediately wished I hadn’t. He appeared to be trying to work me out, as though I was this mysterious puzzle he was drawn to solving.
My body flushed with pleasure at his attention, but my brain screamed at me to run as far away from him as possible.
As much as Joss acted as a buffer between me and Cam, the tension between us refused to dissipate. Friday night I danced around him like an idiot, desperate not to have a repeat of the previous evening. Joss kept eyeing me as if expecting me to hatch an alien at any moment, I was acting so strangely.
When Malcolm had phoned me during the day I’d felt this whoosh of guilt at the sound of his voice, as though I had cheated on him in a way with my impure thoughts about Cam. I wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t as though I hadn’t been ruthless when going after men. I tried not to think about the girls who had been hurt by their defection, and I tried to rationalize that somehow it was okay to have been party to such a betrayal because Cole needed me to marry someone like Malcolm. There was no truth in that. That somehow suggested there hadn’t been a choice for me, but of course there was a choice. I had chosen. And I had chosen selfishly.
I drew the line at physically cheating on someone, though. I particularly drew the line at being the direct betrayer.
Lusting after Cam seemed like one step too close towards that.
Thankfully, as always, Friday was really too busy to make much conversation with my colleagues. Cam cracked a few jokes, made us laugh, and Joss, as always, was her witty self. I, on the other hand, decided to try to diminish my awareness of Cam by focusing on filling up the tips jar.
I flirted my ass off and ignored the way Joss rolled her eyes at my girlish giggling. She’d once told me I had a fake giggle and a real giggle. My real giggle was apparently ‘adorable’, but my fake giggle – the one I used to convince a guy that I thought he was the funniest man I’d ever met – drove her up the wall.
If only she knew that just made me want to do it more.
I was serving drinks to three guys who weren’t mind-blowingly attractive but were charming and sexy in their own way, and I was enjoying their attention.
‘Seriously, you should just jump over the bar and come spend the rest of the night with us,’ one of them insisted, flashing me a crooked smile. I could usually read when a guy was being lascivious, but these guys were just having fun.
I leaned my elbow on the bar, handing the shortest guy his change with one hand while resting my chin thoughtfully in the palm of my other. ‘Hmm, where would you take me?’
‘I heard Fire is a pretty good nightclub,’ the one in the middle suggested, his eyes glinting with hope.
I snorted and gestured around the bar. ‘Leave one club for another. No, you’ll have to do better than that.’ I smiled slowly and watched the three of them lean in closer, their eyes dipping to my mouth.
‘The Voodoo Rooms.’ The short one nodded at his mates as if it was a great idea.
I shook my head sadly in response. ‘Expand your horizons, boys.’
The one with the crooked and very hot smile leaned on the bar so that our faces were only an inch apart. My eyes smiled into his as he stared at me intensely. I suddenly realized he’d stopped playing and was serious, and my smile wilted a little. His gaze dropped to my lips. ‘I’ll take you anywhere, darling, anywhere in the world, if you’ll give me your number.’
I heard the clearing of a deep throat before a warm hand pressed against my belly. I jolted in shock and twisted my head around to see Cam leaning into me.
It was his large, warm hand pressed to my belly.
He put pressure on me and eased me back off the bar. ‘Excuse me,’ he muttered, his expression blank except for the muscle jumping in his jaw. Cam’s touch set off sparks in my body, my skin prickling with excited heat, and in my dumbfounded reaction I let him push me back from the bar, his body curling into mine as he reached past me. His hand slid around to my waist, nudging my tank top up so his callused hand gripped my bare skin, holding me in place as he bent down for a bottle of liqueur. When he straightened, our eyes met, and it took everything in me not to reach for him too.
As if it suddenly occurred to him that he was still touching me, he leaned back and nodded at me, then strode down to his end of the bar. I stared after him too long, wondering why he’d felt the need to touch me, to move me rather than just ask me to move. Usually, I would read that as interest, as an invitation, but Cam was sending me a whole bunch of mixed signals. I stared so long that when I turned back to the guys I had been diligently flirting with, they were gone. And so was their prospective tip.
The rest of the shift flew by and as I had taken to doing the last few nights, I hurried out of the bar as soon as we’d cleaned up at closing, desperate to get away from Cam.
It was a freezing-cold, brisk walk back to the flat, avoiding drunks who took one look at a single female and decided she’d make great target practice. Joss hated me walking home alone after our shift, but I was used to it, and had a rape alarm on my key ring and a small can of pepper spray in my bag as a precaution.
I hurried quietly up the damp stairwell of my building, and almost melted against our front door with relief and exhaustion. Home at last. Deciding that a cup of tea would be nice to take with me to my room I headed for the kitchen to switch on the kettle but was stopped dead in the doorway.
A haggard resentment rippled through me at the sight of my drunken mother passed out on the kitchen floor. Thankfully, she was wearing pyjamas. There had been times I’d discovered her like this and she’d been nak*d.
I wondered how long she’d been there and feared that she’d not only got a chill from the cold kitchen tiles but hurt her bad back. Shaking my head, biting back the tears of frustrated exhaustion, I shrugged out of my jacket and took a minute as I decided how I was going to carry her back to her room without waking up Cole and without doing any more damage to her back. I supposed I could drag her as carefully as I could manage.
Attempting to move quietly, I did just that. I lifted her under the arms and began to slide her body out of the kitchen. Her foot hit the edge of the door, slamming it back against the wall and I winced, frozen on the spot. I hoped I hadn’t woken up Cole.
Unfortunately, I’d just begun to drag her again when I heard his bedroom door open. I twisted around to find him standing in the hallway staring at me with bleary eyes.
‘Sorry, sweetheart. Go back to bed,’ I whispered.
But Cole just grunted and shook his head, stumbling towards me. ‘Need a hand?’
He grunted at that again and came around to the other end of Mum. With ease he lifted her feet and we began to carry her towards her room. I eyed him as much as I eyed where we were going. Cole was my height and still growing. He was a smart kid, and one who hadn’t had it easy in the parent department. It had given him this weary glint in his eyes that made him look more mature than he was. I was saddened that my wee man had had to grow up so fast.
This of course was not the first time he’d helped me carry our mum to her bed.
Once we had her on the bed, I set about tucking her duvet around her, trying to offset any damage she may have caused to herself from lying on the cold floor. Assured that she was warm enough, I slipped out of her bedroom and met Cole in the hallway.
I gave him a smile that trembled with my tiredness, with my sadness.
He saw it and his own sorrow flickered across his expression before he killed it with a smirk. ‘I’ve had an idea for a new workout fad. It’ll make us loads of money.’
My lips twitched. ‘And what’s that?’