After I knocked on Cam’s door, he yelled for me to come in. I left Jamie waiting outside and entered the flat to find Cam and Cole standing in the centre of the living room beside a mat. All of the furniture had been pushed to the edges of the room. Cole was grinning, perspiration running down his neck, damp patches all over his T-shirt. Cam was wearing a T-shirt and joggers, not looking that much the worse for wear.
I raised my eyebrows at Cole. ‘Did you forget about something?’
He frowned instantly. ‘No.’
‘Tell that to the kid on Cam’s doorstep.’
‘Oh, sh–’ He stopped himself. ‘I forgot Jamie.’
Cole hurried to grab his socks and trainers. ‘Cheers for the lesson, Cam.’
‘No probs, bud.’
‘You better wash and change your clothes before you go out!’ I called after him as he disappeared into the hall. ‘And text me to let me know what you’re doing –’ I slammed my mouth closed at the sound of Cam’s front door shutting. I turned back to Cam. ‘Why do I bother?’
He threw me a crooked smile – my fourth favourite after the lip twitch – and curled a finger, beckoning me to him. ‘Care to take up where he left off?’
I immediately took a step back, shaking my head. ‘I don’t think so.’
‘Come on.’ He suddenly grew serious. ‘I’ve seen the way some of the customers are with you, and Joss told me she’s had to rescue you more than once in the past from an over eager punter. This will help you learn to deal with the way you freeze up.’
I imagined it might be pretty nice to be able to handle aggressive a**holes by myself rather than relying on protective friends. But training with Cam? No. That would be fanning the flame.
Cam sighed but gave in. ‘Fine. You want a cup of tea?’
I nodded and followed him into his kitchen, trying to keep my eyes on anything but his muscled shoulders and tight ass. I didn’t try very hard.
Standing by his kitchen counter, I was lost in thought about the evening ahead of us as Cam made the tea and coffee, when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. I glanced towards it and nearly had full-on heart failure at the size of the spider clinging to Cam’s kitchen tiles.
‘Oh, my God!’ I squealed, skittering back away from it, a lump of fear in my throat the size of Canada.
‘What – what?’ Cam spun around, his eyes wide on me.
I stared round-eyed at the spider. ‘Get rid of it or I won’t be able to move.’ I wasn’t kidding. I was literally frozen with fear. I don’t know where my phobia of spiders originated, but it was bad enough that we had to invest in spider repellents that plugged into the sockets in our flat. We got the rare few spiders nevertheless and Cole always took care of them.
Cam looked from me to the spider and then back to me again. I could see the beginning of a smile start to curl the corners of his mouth.
‘Don’t even think about laughing. It’s not funny.’
His gaze softened as he seemed to finally realize the extent of my fear. ‘Okay. Stop panicking. I’ll get rid of it.’ He reached into a cupboard and pulled out a pan.
I scowled. ‘What are you doing? Don’t kill it!’
Cam froze, cocking his head in bemusement as he gazed at me. ‘Why don’t you want me to kill it? I thought you were frightened of it.’
‘I am terrified of it,’ I corrected him. ‘But what does it say about humans as a species if we go around killing things just because we fear them?’ Not anything good, that’s what.
Cam’s gorgeous eyes warmed even more and I found myself forgetting the fear and falling into his gaze.
‘What?’ I whispered, feeling my chest swell at the way he was looking at me. No one had ever looked at me like that before.
He shook his head. ‘Nothing. You just … Nothing.’
He blinked a little rapidly before pinning the spider with his gaze. ‘Right.’ He lifted the lid of the pan. ‘I’m not killing it. I just needed something to put it in.’
As he rescued the spider from me and me from the spider, I crammed myself into the corner of the kitchen, scared that Cam wouldn’t move quickly enough and the spider would somehow launch itself across the room at me. I had no reason to fear. Cam had the spider in the pan in record time and I watched with growing relief as he took it to the kitchen window and deposited it outside.
‘Thank you,’ I breathed.
Cam didn’t reply. Instead he shut the window carefully, put the pan by the sink, and turned around to gaze at me.
Suddenly the air felt electric between us, like it always did while we worked side by side at the bar. I’d done my darndest to make sure those moments were confined to the bar, trying to feign ordinary interaction outside in the real world.
Today there would be no feigning.
I held my breath at the intensity in Cam’s eyes as he slowly began to make his way towards me. When he closed the distance that would be considered socially acceptable between two friends who both had partners, I was just about to question him, stall him, but then my br**sts brushed his chest and the words got sucked right back into my mouth along with all the air in the room. I felt his hands in a gentle embrace around my upper arms, his aftershave familiar and intoxicating, and the heat of his body made mine languid.
I hadn’t been able to meet his eyes, and so I was looking at his throat when he leaned in and pressed the sweetest kiss to my forehead. A yearning, deep and expanding, burst open in my chest and I melted into him, feeling his lips chase a delicious shiver across my skin. He replaced his mouth with his own forehead. I closed my eyes as he closed his and we rested against one another, breathing each other in.
I was filled with such longing, a longing only intensified because I knew it was reciprocated.
‘Cam,’ I whispered, wanting him to pull away and needing him to never leave.
He groaned and gently slid his forehead down the side of mine, his nose skimming my cheek, following my jaw, and coming to rest in a nuzzle against my throat.
I held my breath, waiting.
His hot lips touched the skin there. One brush. Two.
And then I felt the wet, erotic touch of tongue and I shuddered, falling against him. My n**ples pebbled against my thin shirt, begging him to go further.
A sharp, piercing ringtone shattered the air between us and I jerked back, coming to my senses. Cam cursed, his jaw clenched so tight it was close to shattering. He reached for his phone on the counter beside us and then blanched as he read the caller ID. He shot me an unfathomable look. ‘Becca,’ he stated grimly.
I gulped, not believing that I’d let him touch me, that we’d been seconds from hurting two people who didn’t deserve to be hurt. More than that, I was shocked at how much I hadn’t even cared – my need for Cam was that selfish.
This was not good.
If it was anybody else, I would have suggested it was time to put some distance between us. But this was Cam. I needed Cam.
‘I better go. Malcolm is picking me up in a few hours.’ I straightened my shirt and tightened the band holding my ponytail in place. I couldn’t meet his gaze.
‘So we’re back to pretending there’s nothing between us?’
My spine stiffened at his curtness and I looked up, only to flinch at the anger I saw in his eyes.
I couldn’t lose Cam’s friendship. It was the best thing that had happened to me since Cole. ‘Cam, please don’t. I’m with Malcolm and you’re with Becca.’
His mouth opened to respond, but I fled his presence before I was forced to hear what he had to say.
All day I felt I might be sick at any moment. I could barely do anything, really only taking time to reply to Cole when he texted me that he was staying at Jamie’s house that night. I dressed uncharacteristically casually for the party, pulling on a skintight black miniskirt and a print tee from Topshop. I paired them with knee-high boots with a fleecy lining so my legs wouldn’t freeze and a dark faux fur jacket I’d got at a sale and usually wore with something dressier.
Tonight I wasn’t in the mood to sparkle. I wanted comfort, youth – I wanted to be me in some tiny way. I shook the entire time I was dressing, wondering what Cam was doing, wondering if he was ever going to speak to me again. I could still feel his hot mouth against my throat, burned there along with the tingling sensation of his tongue. Why did he want us to face our attraction when we were both with other people? Did he want to leave Becca? Did he want me to leave Malcolm?
And the biggest question of all was, could I?
Could I walk away from a man who cared about me, who could provide me with security and safety? Could I risk it for Cam? If I did, what would happen if it just turned out to be physical between us? No emotion, just spark.
My head pounded from overload.
Malcolm waited outside my building, beside our cab, and I almost came to a standstill at the look on his face as he eyed my outfit. When he was done with the once-over, he gave me a small smile before pressing a quick kiss to my lips.
‘What is it?’ I asked, frowning, sensing that something was off and not liking it. My stomach was already in upheaval over facing Cam again; I didn’t need to worry about Malcolm too.
Malcolm ushered me into the cab and as we pulled away, he perused my legs before looking back up at my face. ‘You look very young tonight.’
I glanced down at my outfit and pursed my lips. I looked my age tonight. I looked like me. ‘You don’t like it,’ I muttered.
He gave a huff of laughter. ‘Sweetheart, you look sexy as hell, but you look like a young wild child dating a grumpy older man.’
Something in his voice drew my gaze and I caught the flicker of unease in his eyes. He seemed worried. Cam’s face hovering so close to mine flashed across my eyes and the guilt was crushing. ‘You’re not a grumpy older man. You’re my sexy older man.’
His shoulders relaxed. ‘As long as you think so.’
‘I won’t wear this again.’
‘Good,’ he murmured, leaning down to kiss my cheek. ‘I prefer you in the dresses we bought. They make you look older, sophisticated.’
I would never have let a comment like that bother me before, but tonight it rubbed me a little raw. I faked a smile and let him squeeze my hand, wishing like hell I was back in my flat alone with a good book.
When we pulled up to Becca’s building my stomach almost revolted and I sucked in a gasp to hold back the queasiness. Malcolm turned sharply to me, his brows drawn together. ‘Are you okay?’
‘You know, I’ve been feeling off,’ I lied. ‘I think I’m fighting a bug or something.’
‘Do you want to leave?’
YES, YES, YES!
‘No.’ I nodded at the bottle of wine in his hand. ‘Let’s at least go up and have a drink.’
The party was in full bloom when we arrived. The huge flat had the rough needs-a-good-repaint-scrub-and-tidy-up look that many of the old student flats in Edinburgh had. Becca didn’t seem to mind the clutter, or the ripped carpets, chipped woodwork and yellowing walls, and neither did her guests. Her artwork was plastered across as much of the wall space as possible, and the guests didn’t seem to mind that either.