I didn’t need to answer – we both knew she was right.
‘Does Cam give you butterflies?’
‘Are you aware of every move he makes?’
‘Does he enter your thoughts at the slightest provocation?’
‘You are so screwed.’
‘I am not.’ I huffed indignantly. ‘I’m perfectly in control of the situation.’
‘Yeah.’ Joss snorted. ‘So was I until I found myself pinned to Su’s desk. Eighteen months later and I’m picking out bedsheets with Braden and worrying if he doesn’t text me at least once from work to let me know how his day is going – as if he can’t tell me when he gets home. I can’t get to sleep without him beside me. Me? Can’t sleep without a guy in my bed? I’m addicted, Jo. And it started out with that look you’ve got.’
‘I’m glad for you, Joss. I really am. But it’s not the same thing. I care about Malcolm. I’m just physically attracted to Cam. It’s nothing.’
Joss burst out laughing and I watched in complete bemusement as she shook with her own hysterics.
She waved me off, trying to catch her breath. ‘Oh, man, nothing. Nothing.’ She looked at me again and then gave a furtive chuckle as if she knew something I didn’t. ‘I’m just having déjà vu.’
For the first time ever, I pretended to be sick at work. I told Mr Meikle I was coming down with a migraine, and since I was pale with worry for Cole, it didn’t take much convincing for him to let me leave early, although he grumbled the entire time I packed up my things.
I managed to get back to the flat just as Cole was getting home from school. He stopped in the hallway when he stepped inside the flat, his lips pinched as he watched me kick off my work shoes.
‘Well, you can’t pull a sickie every day,’ he said, deducing exactly what I’d done and why. ‘You’ll just have to trust that I can take care of being in the flat alone with her. Plus, I really think you scared the crap out of her.’
At that exact moment Mum’s bedroom door opened. She peered out at us, her lip curling in hostility as her eyes clashed with mine. She made a grunting noise before using the wall to help her along to the bathroom. As soon as the door shut, I turned back to Cole.
‘Apparently, I can’t trust you to be alone with her.’
He winced at the reminder that he had kept her abuse from me. ‘I just didn’t want to upset you.’
I harrumphed at that and strode into the kitchen for a cup of tea. By the time I’d made it and nestled into the couch with my book, Cole had settled down on the armchair with his homework and Mum had gone back into her bedroom.
We sat there for an hour before I decided to get up and put on some dinner. I was just coming out of the kitchen when I heard a knock at the door. For an awful moment I thought maybe I’d finally stretched Malcolm’s patience and he’d turned up at the flat. He’d texted me today and I’d texted back, but I hadn’t encouraged conversation. Had he decided to show up to see what was going on?
My heart was pounding stupidly hard as I reached for the door, and it flipped over in my chest when I saw who stood on the other side of it.
‘Cam.’ I smiled, more than happy to see him.
He was wearing his usual uniform of print tee and jeans and I wanted to haul him in out of the freezing-cold stairwell. He gave me a quick smile. ‘All right?’
I stepped aside. ‘Come in.’
His smile widened and he slid past me, his shoulder brushing mine and causing inappropriate thoughts to tumble through my overworked brain. ‘Can I get you a coffee?’
‘Aye, that would be great.’ He followed me, throwing a wave to Cole. ‘Hey, bud, how are you?’
Cole grinned at him. ‘Good. You?’
‘Yeah, not bad.’ He trailed me into the kitchen.
‘What do you take?’
‘Milk, no sugar.’
I set about making it, fully aware of his eyes on my every movement. My cheeks felt incredibly warm under his perusal, and I hurried to get his drink ready. ‘You’re working tonight, aren’t you?’ I said, handing him the mug.
‘I am. But I wanted to drop something off first.’ He took a sip of his drink. ‘Mmm, good coffee.’
I laughed softly. ‘The way to a man’s heart.’
His grin was wicked. ‘Only an easily pleased man,’ he retorted, suggesting he was anything but easy to please.
‘Yeah, I can guess what it takes to please you, Cam, and this is a PG-rated household.’
He threw back his head and laughed, causing another flutter in my chest and my own smile to widen. ‘Good thing the flat downstairs is open to X-rated situations.’
I flushed and shook my head. ‘Moving on …’
‘What? Punters in the bar say worse than that to you and your comebacks are always good.’
He had been paying attention. I shrugged. ‘They’re not my friends.’
His eyes softened. ‘I’m still your friend, then? You haven’t changed your mind?’
‘No, I haven’t changed my mind.’
‘Good.’ He pulled something out of his back pocket. ‘Because I want you to trust me enough to give this to Cole.’ Cam held out a key. I raised an eyebrow at it. ‘A spare key to my flat. I want him to use my place when you’re not around. It’s a safe place for him to be so you’re not worrying every second of every minute that you’re not with him.’
That key was the best present anyone had ever given me.
‘Cam’ – I looked from the key up to him – ‘are you sure? I mean, it’s not too much of an imposition?’
‘Not if it helps you out.’
I reached for the key, but instead of just taking it, I curled my hand around it and his fingers. He tensed with awareness and I poured my gratitude into my eyes. ‘This is the best present I’ve ever had.’
Cam’s eyes roamed my face, his mouth curled up at the corners. ‘A key: the way to a woman’s heart.’
‘Only an easily pleased one.’
He laughed again.
‘What’s so funny?’ Cole’s voice snapped us out of our little bubble. I pulled my hand back from Cam’s and held up the key to Cole.
‘I’ll explain in a minute.’ I turned to Cam. ‘Would you like to stay for dinner? Macaroni cheese.’
‘How can I say no to that?’
‘You can’t. I won’t let you.’ I handed the key to Cole. ‘Take Cam into the sitting room – he’ll explain. Dinner will be ready soon.’
They left me to it and for a moment I could only stare at the cupboard, my insides all trembling and fluttering from my interaction with Cam. He was thoughtful and considerate and trying to prove what a good friend he could be, and that just made his hotness even hotter. I wondered, not for the first time, what he’d be like in bed. His grin alone made me tingle – imagine what his tongue could do.
My phone buzzed, snapping me out of my sensual haze.
Guilt immediately washed over me as I pressed the ANSWER button. ‘Hey, Malcolm.’
‘Sweetheart. How are you?’
‘Just about to put out dinner for me and Cole.’ I winced at the omission of our guest. ‘Can I call you back?’
‘Of course. Talk to you soon.’
I hung up and shoved my phone in my back pocket with shaking fingers.
Seriously. What was I playing at?
Cam stopped by early before work the next day and walked me to the bar. I found that now we understood each other Cam was pretty easy to talk to. He tried once more to persuade me to go to judo with him, but I put him off, still not keen on the idea of having someone slam me into a mat or whatever it was judo involved.
‘Can you imagine me?’ I scoffed as we neared the bar. ‘I’d be screaming about breaking a nail within five seconds.’
Cam gave me a look as he held the wrought-iron gate to the basement stairs open for me. ‘See, that’s the kind of bullshit other people believe. I know better.’
‘Oh, you do, do you?’
‘You were sitting chewing a nail last night after dinner.’
‘Yeah, but I filed it and repainted it for work this morning.’
He flashed his teeth at me. ‘Whatever, Walker. I know the truth.’
‘Evenin’, Jo, Cam,’ Brian greeted us as we came down the stairs. He stood beside Phil, who was grinning at me like always.
‘Brian, Phil.’ Cam nodded at them.
As I made to pass them, Phil stopped me with a hand on my arm. He ran his eyes down my body. ‘Still with Malcolm?’
‘Persistent Philip, I am still with Malcolm.’
He winked at me. ‘Persistence will win in the end.’
‘And so will an STD,’ Cam put in drolly, gently pushing me forward with his hands on my back so that Phil had to let me go. ‘But you already know that, right, Phil?’
I tried to stifle my giggle as we walked into the bar to the sounds of Brian howling with laughter and Phil swearing at him. ‘It was only that one time. Fuck! I’m never telling you anything again, Bri.’
‘Euch,’ I whispered to Cam. ‘That was more than I needed to know.’
‘Correction: that was the one thing you needed to know.’
I laughed again and we sauntered into the staff room, barely getting a ‘hello, goodbye’ out of Su, who came racing out of her office at the sight of us and disappeared as quickly as she’d materialized.
‘It amazes me that anything gets done around here,’ Cam said, shrugging out of his jacket. ‘She’s never here when she should be.’
I grunted at that, completely used to Su’s physical absence and as always grateful for it.
The bar soon started to fill up. As usual on a Tuesday, there weren’t many customers, but we were kept relatively occupied.
We weren’t busy enough to diminish our attraction to one another, however. For some reason, being behind the bar together seemed to heighten the tension. Was it the confined space? I didn’t know. All I did know was that I spent half the time with one eye on my work and the other on Cam.
Joss was right. I was absolutely aware of every move he made.
And speaking of Joss, I wasn’t at all surprised when she stopped in at around nine thirty. I was surprised she was alone, but she explained that Braden was working late and Ellie and Adam were on a date.
‘So you were bored and thought you’d come to work?’ I asked, sliding her a Diet Coke as she settled on to a stool at my end of the bar. I didn’t think so. I thought she was worried about me.
Joss just smiled and then nodded in greeting to Cam, who had just noticed her presence, but he was too busy talking to a customer to come over. No, not a customer. My eyes focused more carefully on the girl he was grinning at so flirtatiously. Becca and a friend. She handed him his aviator watch and Cam leaned over and pressed a soft kiss to Becca’s lips.