Who knew a text could be so heartbreaking? I text back… wait for it…
Back at ya.
Yeah, I did. I did do that. I’m an idiot.
As I began staying away from the apartment, swimming at a different pool and avoiding the gym we shared, I think it must have begun to dawn on Braden that I knew about Isla.
Four days into Ellie’s recovery at the hospital and only a few days before she was to come home, I got another text from Braden.
We really need to talk. I’ve come by the flat a few times but you’re never in. Can we meet up?x
I didn’t text him back. Obviously, he wanted to tell me about his new manager.
It didn’t matter if I didn’t text back. Fate already had plans for us to meet. Two days after the text, I was dodging the apartment and having lunch at this great pub on the Grassmarket. I was going to head up along George IV Bridge to Forrest Road where there was this little kitschy store that Ellie loved. They sold these umbrellas that were like old-fashioned parasols and she’d been going on and on about buying one but never had. So I was going to buy it for her as a little present for her return to the apartment the next day.
I had just finished my lunch and had stepped out onto the Grassmarket, trying to shove my purse back into my bag, when I heard, “Jocelyn?”
My head snapped up and my heart did that thing where it beat so hard it unhooked itself from my chest and took a swan dive into the pit of my stomach. Braden was standing before me, and at his side was this tall, stunning blonde. She was wearing a pencil-skirt and Victorian-style suit jacket, sexy stiletto heels, her long blonde hair was perfectly tousled, and her make-up was as flawless as her face.
Was she for real?
I hated her instantly.
“Braden,” I murmured, my eyes flying anywhere and everywhere to avoid his gaze.
I should mention I was wearing my jeans with the worn out knee, a ratty t-shirt that advertised a famous beer, and my hair was in its usual knot on my head. I wore no makeup.
I looked like hell.
I’d really made his choice easy huh.
“I text you,” he said in an annoyingly stern tone.
My eyes flew to his at that. “I know.”
His jaw clenched.
Isla cleared her throat politely and he tried to relax, although his penetrating gaze didn’t leave mine as he said, “Isla, this is Jocelyn. Jocelyn, this is Isla, the new manager of Fire.”
Putting on my best acting skills I smiled politely and held out my hand for her to shake. She smiled back at me curiously. “I’ve heard all about you,” I told her meaningfully.
Braden’s whole body froze at that and I sent him a bitter smile, my eyes sending their own message—yeah I know all about her, a**hole.
Isla turned to Braden with an attractive and exceptionally flirtatious tilt to her mouth. “You’ve been telling people about me?”
He didn’t answer. He was too busy killing me with his eyes. “Isla, can you give us a moment please?”
And then miracles. Bon Jovi saved the day. I’d reset my ringtone.
SHOT THROUGH THE HEART, AND YOU’RE TOO BLAME, YOU GIVE LOVE A BAD NAME.
Yeah, I hadn’t been feeling subtle that day.
Braden raised an eyebrow at it, a stupidly amused smile curving his lips as I pulled my cell out. Rhian. Thank God. “I have to take this. I’ll catch you later.”
His smile quickly turned into a glare. “Joc-”
“Rhian,” I answered with affected cheer, giving Isla a little wave goodbye, one she returned obliviously.
Rhian snorted. “You sound wired.”
I hurried past the pubs heading for Candlemaker Row, a shortcut up to the bridge and Forrest Road. “I didn’t give you a good enough Christmas present, do you know that.”
“Because you just saved my ass. I’m sending you a little something as a thank you.”
“Ooh, chocolate please.”
I let her talk to me about everything and nothing for ten minutes in a desperate attempt to dull the excruciating ache in my chest at seeing Braden. It didn’t last long. I went home, curled up with the unwashed bedsheet that smelled like him and cried for three hours, before I finally got up the courage to put it in the wash.
Perhaps I was still feeling guilty about flaking out on Ellie that first night, so I went a little overboard on getting the apartment ready for her return. It was clean from top to bottom, but I’d held back my own inclination to ‘tidy’ and left her clutter out since I knew it made her feel at home. I ordered this gorgeous pale green luxury bed set online because she loved green, I bought a few decorative cushions, and made her bed up into a princess bed. I bought a breakfast-in-bed table that rolled up to the side of the bed and swung over so she could eat in bed. I bought flowers. Chocolate. I packed the fridge with her favorite Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. There was a pile of every latest issue of every magazine I’d ever seen her reading on her bedside cabinet. A couple of Sudoku and crossword books. And the most extravagant… a small flatscreen television with a built in DVD player. It was probably a little much for a patient who was only supposed to be on bed rest for two weeks but I didn’t want her to get bored.
“Oh my God.” Ellie’s eyes widened as she walked into her room. She was standing with her arm wrapped around Adam’s waist, and Elodie, Clark and Braden were already in the room, smiling at everything. The kids were back at school so they’d missed out on ‘Joss goes overboard’. Ellie’s eyes swung to me. “You did all this?”
I shrugged, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable. “It’s not much.”
Ellie laughed and came over to me slowly. “You’re a little bit awesome.”
I huffed. “If you say so.”
“Come here.” She wrapped her arms around me and I hugged her, like always feeling like a little girl hugging her mother because she was so tall. “I love it, thank you.”
“I’m glad.” I gently eased her back and frowned. “Lie down.”
Ellie groaned. “This is going to be fun.”
As Adam helped Ellie off with her shoes and into the bed, Elodie came over to me. “The doctor says you need to make sure her bandages don’t get wet when she’s showering.”
“She can take baths for now.”
“Good. And, she’s to rest. She’s allowed to walk about, but not constantly.”
“She’s to go back in two weeks to get the bandage off.”
“And then she has a check-up three months after that. If everything’s fine, it’ll be a year after that.”
I frowned. “Wait.” I shot a hopeful smile Ellie’s way. “You got your biopsy results?”
“No one told her?” Ellie’s brow puckered as she stared accusingly around the room.
Braden sighed. “Maybe if she would stop avoiding everyone someone might have.”
“Hello!” I waved my hand. “Results please?”
Ellie grinned. “Benign.”
I sagged in relief to hear confirmation of what Dr. Dunham had predicted. “That really should have been the opener.”
“Uh huh.” I quirked an eyebrow at Elodie. “P.S. I’m going to take good care of her.” My eyes flickered to Adam who had climbed on top of the covers on Ellie’s other side. “That’s if Lover Boy let’s me.”
Adam grimaced. “I’m too old to be called a Lover Boy.”
“I quite like it.” Ellie smiled mischievously.
“Then Lover Boy it is.”
“Well, I think I’ll go make us all some coffee before I throw up on Ellie’s new bedspread,” I cracked and made to move towards the door.
Braden stepped in front of it, his face expressionless. “We need to talk.” With that he turned on his heel and walked out of the room, leaving me no choice but to follow.
I found him in my room and as soon as I walked in he strode past me to shut the door.
“We could talk in the sitting room,” I told him irritably, hating him in here where there were so many memories. Plus, his presence in my room had always been overwhelming.
In response, he prowled towards me, only coming to a stop when there was an inch of space between us. I wanted to back up but I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction. I stared up at him defiantly and he bent his head a little so he could look me directly in the eyes.
“I’ve been trying to give you space, but this is ridiculous.”
My head snapped back at that. “Uh, what?”
I watched his gorgeous and furious eyes narrow into slits. “You’re never here. Are you seeing someone else? Because I swear to God-”
Furious didn’t even cover it. “Are you kidding me?” I yelled, forgetting there was an audience down the hall.
“Well, what the hell is going on?”
I drew in a shuddering breath, trying to calm down. “You’re an a**hole. Coming in here and accusing me of messing around behind your back when you’re the one who’s screwing his new nightclub manager.”
Now Braden jerked his head back in shock, and the look he gave me? Well, let’s just say it was not a polite way of expressing that he thought I had a screw loose somewhere. “Isla? You think I’m f**king Isla? I don’t believe this.”
Okay. I was completely confused. I crossed my arms over my chest in an attempt to look as if I was in control of this conversation. “Ellie told me everything.”
His mouth actually fell open. It would have been funny if the situation wasn’t like a knife in my gut. “Ellie? What exactly did Ellie tell you?”
“She met you for lunch. The two of you met her and Adam for lunch and she said that you were all over each other.”
Now Braden crossed his arms over his chest and the soft fabric strained against the muscles of his biceps. I got a flash image of him above me, his hands pressing my wrists into the mattress, the muscles in his arms moving as he thrust hard into me and over and over again.
I flushed, shaking the image out of my head.
“Ellie told you she had lunch with me and Isla, and that I was all over Isla?” he asked me slowly, as if I were a mental patient.
I answered through gritted teeth, “Yes.”
“If she hadn’t just had brain surgery I swear to God I’d kill her.”
I blinked. “What?”
Braden took another step forward which meant I had to step back if I didn’t want my boobs mashed up against him. “I never had lunch with Isla and Ellie. They met when she and Adam stopped by the club to drop off a USB stick I left at the flat. They met for two seconds.”
I scratched behind my ear not liking at all where this put me in this conversation. “Why would she tell me that?”
Braden sighed heavily and turned away, running a hand through his hair in frustration. “I don’t know. Probably because I told her I was giving you space as part of the next stage in my plan to get you back, and Ellie didn’t agree it was a good idea. Apparently, Ellie thought jealousy was the next step.” He shook his head and shot me an unfathomable look. “Apparently she was wrong.”