Braden smirked. ‘Mick.’
Turning to Joss, Braden nodded towards the door. ‘Come on, we’re getting dressed. We’re taking Jo to Mick and then Mick and I are paying Mr Walker a wee visit.’
‘No, Braden, I don’t want you –’
He held up a hand to quiet me. ‘I’m not going to fight him.’ His eyes darkened. ‘Mick and I will just have … a word with him.’
‘Shouldn’t we call Cam?’ Joss asked as she and Braden stood up.
Mention of his name shot pain far more excruciating than my physical wounds through my entire body. I felt my cheeks burn as I admitted softly, ‘I went to him first. He was a little preoccupied with Blair.’
They were both silent for a moment as my meaning registered with them, and then Braden bit out a curse. He grazed past Joss, squeezing her shoulder as he flashed her a wolfish grin that didn’t quite reach his eyes. ‘Better wrap my hand up. Looks like my fist will be meeting more than one face tonight.’ And with that pronouncement he strode out of the room, presumably to get changed.
I stared after him, wondering if he’d meant what I thought he’d meant.
Joss smiled weakly. ‘He’s kidding. Braden doesn’t fight. Well … normally …’ She raised an eyebrow in thought. ‘He is a little overprotective, though. And he definitely doesn’t like men who beat women and he doesn’t like cheaters … but he’s kidding …’ She turned her head to look at the door. ‘I think.’
The Caledonian was a Waldorf Astoria Hotel, so it was a nice place. To assure uninterrupted passage through it, Joss and Braden dressed well, and I huddled behind Joss for the entire walk across the quiet reception area. It was now four thirty in the morning. Braden gave the night receptionist a brisk, no-nonsense nod, and that together with his appearance – he was wearing a black Armani trench coat over his dress trousers and shirt – seemed to assure the receptionist that we belonged there.
Butterflies were in full riot in my stomach as we rode the lift up to the fourth floor. I felt guilty for dragging Joss, Braden and Mick into this mess, but I wasn’t doing it for me. I was doing it for Cole, and I had a proven track record of acting selfishly when it came to protecting Cole. Lucky for me, Joss, Braden and Mick actually cared, and I knew that they would be doing this even if I hadn’t asked it of them.
As we stopped outside Mick’s hotel door, Braden knocked on it loudly and Joss put an arm around my shoulder and pulled me to her. It put pressure against my side and I winced, immediately rewarded with a rambling apology from Joss. It would have been funny how many times she called herself a dick if I hadn’t been trying to catch my breath.
The hotel door swung open and I was surprised to find Uncle Mick fully dressed and alert. His eyes narrowed in on me and I saw the muscles in his jaw working against his fury. ‘I’ve been trying to call you,’ he said tersely.
Confused, I blinked rapidly. ‘Um … my phone’s switched off.’ I’d turned it off when Cam had tried to call me again.
Mick nodded and then stepped back so we could enter his room. Braden led us in and stopped quite abruptly at the threshold. I knew why when I sidled up next to him with Joss.
Olivia and Cam were there.
Braden looked down at me, drawing my gaze. ‘I can hit him now if you want?’
I’m not going to lie – I seriously pondered the suggestion before finally saying with a sigh, ‘Not worth it.’
‘Jo?’ Cam asked hoarsely.
I looked at him and felt Joss’s hold on me tighten. Cam’s blue eyes searched my face and just like Mick’s had, his expression clouded over, undiluted rage sparking to life in his eyes. ‘Who the f**k did it?’ he asked between gritted teeth.
I didn’t answer his question. Having him here was incredibly painful. The anger he felt over my attack seemed fake in light of the fact that he’d cheated on me with Blair. ‘I want you to leave.’
Cam closed his eyes as if he was in pain. ‘Jo, please, what you saw …’
‘Jo.’ Olivia stepped forward. ‘Give him a chance to explain.’
‘Later,’ Mick snapped, his gold eyes fixated on my wounded mouth. ‘I want a name. Now.’ I gulped, feeling the threat of violence rise in the room. Not just from Mick – his anger was infecting Cam and Braden.
Mick’s nostrils flared at the name.
‘Dad did it,’ I clarified.
‘What?’ he yelled, his question muffled by Cam’s explosion of expletives.
Olivia strode between them, trying to calm them. ‘We’ll get thrown out of the hotel,’ she warned them. She turned to me. ‘Explain what happened.’
For the second time that night I related my tale, and when I was done the air was thick with testosterone. Cam finally couldn’t take it any more and he crossed the room, his shaking hand reaching to cup my chin. At the brush of his skin against mine, I tugged my head away, then grimaced at the sharp sting of pain in my neck from where I’d suffered whiplash from Murray’s attack.
‘Jo, I didn’t do what you think I did,’ he insisted.
I couldn’t look at him. All I could picture was his face above mine as he made love to me, his eyes telling me he cared, and then the image tearing down the centre to reveal him and Blair writhing nak*d together on his bed. My stomach turned at the thought and the pain in my chest was indescribable. So this was what it was like to be heartbroken? ‘Why did you even come here?’
‘I came here because I thought this was where you’d go if you were in trouble.’
His response startled me. My eyes betrayed me and sought out his. He’d thought I would come here? ‘Not Malcolm’s?’
He shook his head, his expression desperate.
That disconcerted me. I didn’t like it. I dropped my gaze, my confused thoughts giving me a headache. Cam had trusted me not to turn to Malcolm after all. He did see me.
He saw me.
I scoffed at the hope bubbling up inside me.
He’d also screwed Blair.
Deflated, I felt my shoulders slump.
‘Where is he?’ Mick demanded. ‘I’m going to sort that f**ker out once and for all.’
I wasn’t big on violence. Anyone who really knew me knew that. But as I looked up into my uncle’s distressed and bloodthirsty gaze, I couldn’t find the willpower to lie to him. I wanted to believe fighting violence with violence was never the answer. I wanted to believe that there was a better way. And maybe for other people there was. Unfortunately, fear was the only thing Murray Walker understood. He was a schoolyard bully, and bullies really were cowards at heart. Murray definitely was … but only when it came to Mick.
One day I’d have to ask Mick why that was.
Not tonight, though.
‘The flat above the Halfway House on Fleshmarket Close.’
Mick grabbed his phone from the bedside table and stuffed it into his pocket. He turned to Olivia. ‘Take Jo home. I’ll call you when we’re done.’ He nodded at Cam and Braden. ‘You two are with me.’
My eyes disobeyed me again, finding Cam’s. The emotion roiling in those blue eyes of his was like an electrified net that caught me. Holding my gaze, he stepped towards me and cradled my face gently in his hands, then pressed his forehead against mine without a word. The familiar scent of him, the heat, the feel of his skin, all made me shudder with a rush of anguished longing.
‘You know I didn’t sleep with her, Jo,’ he whispered against my mouth, and everyone else just seemed to disappear. I wanted to believe him so badly.
Pulling back to gaze into my eyes, he refused to let go of me. We had a silent conversation.
You have to trust me.
I saw her there. In your T-shirt. What else am I supposed to think?
That I would never hurt you like that.
A deluge of images flashed in flutters and whispers of colour and feeling. The tenderness in his eyes, the honesty I’d known from him, our laughter, searching hands that couldn’t seem to get through a day without feeling my body beneath them …
Blair coming back into Cam’s life was a problem for me. However, it had never been because I was worried he would do something so callous as cheat on me with her. Yes, I had worried that he’d leave me for her, but I never believed he would cut me like that. I’d trusted that he would never cut me like that. Did that trust still exist? I searched his face for the answer.
No. Cam would never cut me like that.
Something in his gaze shifted as he recognized my realization and he sighed.
There she is.
I pinned him with a look that told him he wasn’t off the hook just yet. ‘We still need to talk.’
He nodded, his gaze flickering to my mouth. His own lips thinned, a hard glitter entering his expression at the sight of my bruised and swollen lip.
‘Does anyone else know what just happened here?’ Mick asked impatiently.
Joss grunted. ‘I think Jo just said she believes Cam didn’t sleep with this Blair chick.’
Braden grumbled, ‘If only you were that intuitive about our relationship.’
She glowered at him. ‘If I wasn’t so damn worried about you going off to face this guy, I might just dump your ass.’
I raised an eyebrow, looking over my shoulder at her fiancé. Braden narrowed his eyes and I watched another silent conversation unfold. Whatever he said in it made her squirm.
‘Och, enough of this,’ Mick groused cantankerously as he wrenched open the hotel door and stormed out, followed by Braden. Cam gave me one more meaningful, soulful look before he disappeared behind them.
My stomach flipped as I thought about what they were going to do.
Another cab ride took Joss, Olivia and me back to the flat. Although I was exhausted, I was awake enough to shoot the door to Cam’s flat a glare so ferocious it was a wonder flames didn’t erupt from the doorstep and devour it with the heat of my anger.
‘He explained everything to me and Dad,’ Olivia suddenly said, obviously catching my look. ‘You need to talk to him.’
‘She doesn’t need to do anything but rest right now,’ Joss insisted softly, taking my keys out of my purse as we climbed the steps to my flat.
‘It’s okay,’ I muttered. ‘I believe him. Seeing her was a shock, I didn’t think clearly … but Cam wouldn’t do that to me. Still doesn’t mean he isn’t thinking about doing it, though.’
‘He’s not,’ Olivia assured me, but I was too weary to listen.
We tried to be quiet as I settled on the couch with Olivia while Joss made us all a cup of tea, but I heard Cole’s door open nevertheless. I closed my eyes, drawing in a deep breath.
‘What’s going on?’ I heard him ask, obviously talking to Joss.
She whispered something to him and the next thing I heard was his light footsteps across the hardwood floor.
‘What the hell?’
My eyes flew open to find Cole standing over me in his pyjamas. His eyes were wide and frightened as they took in my face, and just like that he was a wee boy again. ‘I’m okay.’ I attempted to reassure him, stifling a flinch of pain as I reached for his hand and dragged him down beside me.