“Can we pretend it’s Adam’s ass he’s kicking?”
“I’m already on it. See that guy… that’s Adam, and Bourne is kicking his slutty little tushy.”
She giggled beside me and I marveled at how someone could be so strong and yet so fragile.
A couple of weeks, one panic attack, and one visit to my therapist later, and there I was struggling with my manuscript again. Usually when I was in the middle of writing my brain would wander off into fantasyland at the slightest notice, whether I was at the laptop or not. Nowadays, I had to force my imagination into action. And that never worked.
With the book flagging and my anxiety dipping and diving over whether I could ‘cut it as a writer’ and worrying what the hell I was going to do if I couldn’t be one, I decided to do what I do best: shoved it down under that steel trap inside of me so I couldn’t think about it, and focused on something else.
Now that the Edinburgh Festival was under way I took on extra shifts at the bar, and I hung out with Ellie whenever she asked me to. On my last visit my therapist encouraged me to try out family dinner again, which I did sans panic attack—win! I hit the gym a lot and avoided the come hither smiles of Gavin, the personal trainer.
To Ellie’s relief, Vicky disappeared out of Braden’s life as quickly as she’d come into it. Not that I would know unless Ellie told me since I hadn’t seen him since that morning on Princes Street. Work was keeping him busy—something was happening with one of his developments and he also had this big event planned at his nightclub, Fire, at the end of the Festival. This was when I discovered that Adam was Braden’s architect, so when Braden was busy, Adam was busy. The few times we were all supposed to meet up—one time to see a comedian, one other time just for drinks, and the last time for the family dinner—Braden had cancelled, proving me wrong: he actually did work for his money.
I began to see his absence as a good thing. I felt more relaxed than I had in weeks and Ellie and I had grown closer. She’d confessed the whole Adam fiasco…
Having always been in love with Adam, since she was a kid, Ellie had finally plucked up the courage to do something about it after he punched out the a**hole who’d set her up to get info on Braden. She went over to his apartment and pretty much threw herself at him. And because Adam was a guy and Ellie was beautiful, he’d taken her up on the offer. That was until she was almost completely nak*d and on her back underneath him. Adam backed out, explaining he couldn’t do that to Braden or her, and that Braden would never forgive him and he’d never forgive himself. Realizing he thought it was just a one-night stand kind of thing, Ellie had left, quietly nursing a broken heart and a bruised ego. I would never have guessed that stuff was between them. Ellie was super cool around him. She said she didn’t want things to change and she tried her hardest to be okay about everything. I’d seen it in action. She did try hard. But sometimes something soft, something ‘more’ would enter her expression when she looked at him. When I thought about it, there was something ‘more’ in the way Adam looked at her. Thing is, I couldn’t work out if he was just lusting after her, or if his feelings ran a little deeper? I was curious as hell, but I also knew it wasn’t any of my business, so I was keeping my nose out of it.
After opening up to me, Ellie had tried to talk to me again about my family, about my past.
I shut her down.
Dr. Pritchard said it would take time. For now, I couldn’t let go, and no matter what the good doctor said, I still wasn’t sure if it was in me to let go.
“Writer’s block again?”
I spun around in my seat to find Ellie standing in my doorway waving an A4 manila envelope at me.
I grimaced, closing my laptop. “I should just get that printed on a t-shirt.”
My only reply was a grunt.
“Anyway, I hate to ask but…”
She waved the envelope at me again. “Braden stopped by last night when you were working and he left these documents. He just called to ask me to bring them to his office because he needs them for his meeting in two hours, but I have a class-”
My stomach flipped. “And you want me to take them to him.”
Ellie’s eyes got all big and adorable. “Please,” she begged.
Crap, fuckity, crap, fuck. Grumbling, I stood up and took the envelope from her. “Where’s his office?”
She gave me the address and I discovered it was down by the quay, which meant I’d need to get a cab to get there in plenty of time since I had to have a shower before I left.
“I really appreciate this, Joss.” She grinned and started backing up. “I’ve got to run. Catch you later.”
And then she was gone.
And I was Braden bound. Dammit. Trying to ignore the beating wings in my stomach, I huffed around, muttering under my breath as I showered and dressed. I pulled on a pair of jeans, a thin sweater since it was fairly warm outside and wearing a jacket in Scotland when it wasn’t below freezing made you stick out as a tourist. No joke. A little sun came out in Scotland and they had their shirts off.
I stared at my reflection in the mirror. Very little makeup, my hair twisted up in a messy bun. The sweater was cute and showed a little cl**vage, but my jeans were old and faded. Sure, I wondered what Braden thought about me physically, however I wasn’t going to let that change me. I never dressed to impress anyone but myself, and I certainly wasn’t going to for some guy who liked his women’s legs longer, their boobs smaller, and their hair blonder.
The cab ride seemed to take forever, and as always, I was feeling a little travel sick by the time we got there after bumping down God knows how many cobbled roads. He dropped me off at Commercial Quay and I wandered down the man-made stream that opened out at the bottom into the water. There was a parking lot to my right, and to my left a number of commercial establishments. I found Braden’s office in the same building as an architect’s office, an accountant and a dentist. After being buzzed up, and floundering embarrassingly around in the elevator that opened on the opposite door from the one that let you in it, I found myself in a chic reception area.
The blonde receptionist wasn’t what I’d been expecting at all. She was about Elodie’s age but carried at least twenty pounds more than Elodie, and she was beaming at me with a big friendly smile. Her nametag said ‘Morag’. I’d been gearing myself up for someone tall, thin and beautiful who would sneer at my jeans and try to have me removed from the building. Was I in the right office?
“Can I help you?” Morag was still beaming at me.
“Uh…” I glanced around, looking for a sign that this was Braden’s office. “I’m looking for Braden Carmichael.”
“Do you have an appointment?”
Okay, so it was his office. I stepped up to the reception and waved the envelope. “He left these documents at his sister’s – my roommate’s place – and, um, asked her to bring them in. She couldn’t, so I said I would.”
If it was possible, Morag’s grin got even wider. “Oh how nice of you, dear. Can I take a name?”
“One second.” She picked up the phone on her desk and didn’t have to wait long. “I have a Joss Butler here with some documents for you, Mr. Carmichael.” She made an ‘mmm hmm’ noise. “I’ll do that.” She hung up and smiled at me. “Let me show you to Mr. Carmichael’s office, Jocelyn.”
I clenched my teeth. “It’s Joss.”
It was annoying enough that he refused to call me anything but Jocelyn, did he really have to get other people on board? I followed the cheerful, middle-aged receptionist down a narrow corridor until we came to a corner office. She knocked, a deep voice answering with a ‘come in’. I shivered at that voice and wondered for a second if I’d missed it these last two weeks.
“Jocelyn for you, sir,” Morag announced as she opened the door.
I wandered in past her and heard the door shut behind me as she left us alone.
The office was bigger than I was expecting with one large window that looked down on the quay. It was very masculine with a huge walnut library desk, leather chair, black leather couch and sturdy bookshelves hefty with folders and hardbacks. A few metal filing cabinets were stored in the corner. On the wall above the couch was a huge painting of Venice, and on the bookshelves more than one framed photograph of him with Ellie and with Adam and with Ellie’s family. In the corner behind me were a treadmill and a weight bench.
Braden was perched on his desk, his long legs stretched out in front of him as he watched me. I felt that kick to my gut again at the sight of him and the familiar tingling between my legs. Jesus C, he was even hotter than I remembered.
Fuck, shittity, fuck, shit.
“Hey.” I waved the envelope at him. Witty opener, Joss, very witty.
Braden smiled at me and I froze as his eyes washed over the length of me, taking his time taking me in. I swallowed hard, my heart kicking it up a gear—he hadn’t looked at me like that since the night at the bar with Holly. “It’s nice to see you, Jocelyn. Feels like forever.”
Ignoring the flush of pleasure those words produced, I strode forward and held out the envelope. “Ellie said you needed these pronto.”
He nodded, still gazing at me as he took the documents. “I appreciate you bringing them down. How much do I owe you for taxi fare?”
“Nothing.” I shook my head. “It wasn’t a problem. I was just beating my head off my desk anyway.”
He smirked. “That bad?”
With a sympathetic smile he stood up, bringing our bodies to touching distance. I felt the breath whoosh out of me as my head tilted back to meet his gaze. “Sorry I had to cancel on you those last few times.”
He made it sound like he’d cancelled a date. I laughed, confused. “O-kay.”
“I stopped by last night but you weren’t there.”
“I was working. Extra shifts.” I took a step back, hoping the less proximity I had to him, the faster it would reduce the heat in my blood.
I thought I saw him smile as he turned and put the documents on his desk. “The last time we saw each other I think something I said sent you running for the hills. Or maybe someone that was with me?”
Arrogant a**hole. I guffawed. “Vicky?”
His grin was cocky now as he looked back at me. “Were you jealous?”
Were we actually having this conversation? I hadn’t seen him in two weeks and, and… pfft! Smiling in astonishment at his egotism, I crossed my arms over my chest. “You know, it’s a wonder I managed to squeeze into the room what with your giant-assed ego taking up all the space.”
Braden laughed. “Well you ran off because of something, Jocelyn.”
“One: stop calling me Jocelyn. It’s Joss. J-o-s-s. Joss. And two: you had just insinuated that I was somehow ‘family’ after only knowing me a few weeks.”