Samantha Young will publish the sequel to On Dublin Street on May 7th. Here is an excerpt of Chapter 1 from Down London Road!
I looked upon the piece of art and wondered what the heck I was looking at. To me it was just a bunch of
lines and squares in different colors with some shading here and there. It looked familiar. In fact, I
thought I had a picture Cole had drawn me when he was three years old tucked away somewhere that bore a remarkable resemblance to it. Although I doubted I could expect anyone to pay three hundred and seventy -five pounds for Cole’s drawing. I also doubted the sanity of anyone who would pay three hundred and seventy-five pounds for the piece of canvas that looked like it had been sitting next to a railroad at the exact time a train full of paint careened off the rails and crashed.
However, chancing a glance around me, I could see that most of the people in the gallery liked the artwork. Maybe I wasn’t smart enough to get it. In an effort to appear more sophisticated for my boyfriend’s sake, I adopted a pensive expression and moved on to the next canvas.
“Um, okay, I don’t get it,” a low, husky voice announced beside me. I would have known that voice anywhere. Its American -accented words were disturbed here and there by a lilt, or the sharper consonants of a brogue, all a consequence of its owner having lived in Scotland for almost six years.
Relief flooded me as I brought my head down to meet the gaze of my best friend, Joss. For the first time that evening, I smiled brightly. Jocelyn Butler was a straight-talking, ballsy American girl who tended bar with me at a pretty swank place called Club 39. It was a basement bar on one of the city center’s most famous streets—George Street—and we’d been working together for five years now.
Kitted out in a designer black dress and Louboutins, my vertically challenged friend looked hot. So did her boyfriend, Braden Carmichael. Standing behind Joss, his hand resting possessively on her lowerback, Braden exuded confidence. Drool-worthy, he was the kind of boyfriend I’d been searching for, for years, and if I didn’t love Joss so much and Braden didn’t adore her past all reasoning, I would have trampled over her to get to him. Braden was almost six and a half feet tall, which was ideal for someone of my height. I was a striking five foot ten—that made me more than six feet tall in the right heels. Joss’s boyfriend also happened to be sexy, rich, and funny. And he loved Joss to distraction. They’d been together for almost eighteen months. I could feel a proposal brewing.
“You look amazing,” I told her, eyeing her curves. Unlike me, Joss had big boobs, along with hips and an ass that wouldn’t quit. “Thank you so much for coming. Both of you.”
“Well, you owe me,” Joss muttered, her eyebrow arching as she glanced around at all the other paintings. “I’m going to have to do some serious lying if the artist asks me what I think.”
Braden gave her waist a squeeze and smiled down at her. “Well, if the artist is as pretentious as her art, why lie when you can be brutally honest?”
Joss grinned back at him. “That’s true.”
“No,” I interjected, knowing that if I let her she would do just that. “Becca is Malcolm’s ex-girlfriend and they’re still friends. You go Robert Hughes on her ass and it’s my ass that gets kicked to the curb.”
Joss frowned. “Robert Hughes?”
I sighed. “He was a famous art critic.”
“I like that.” Joss grinned evilly. “You know they say honesty is next to godliness.”
“I think that’s cleanliness, babe.”
“Of course it’s cleanliness, but surely honesty is a close second?”
The stubborn glint in Joss’s eyes caused my throat to almost close up. Joss was a force to be reckoned with, and if she had an opinion or wanted to say something, there was little you could do to stop her. When I first met her she was an incredibly private person, preferring not to get involved in her friends’ personal affairs. Since meeting Braden she’d changed a lot. Our friendship had grown, and Joss was now the only one who really knew the truth about my life. I was thankful for our friendship, but in moments like these I sometimes wished she was the old Joss, the one who kept her thoughts and emotions locked up tight.
I’d been dating Malcolm Hendry for almost three months. He was perfect for me. Kind, laid-back, tall—and wealthy. Malcolm was the oldest of all my “sugar daddies,” as Joss jokingly called them.
Although at thirty -nine, he was hardly old. He was, however, fifteen years my senior. I didn’t care.
Convinced that he might be the one, I didn’t want Joss jeopardizing the progress of our relationship by insulting his good friend.
“Jocelyn”—Braden gripped her waist again, eyeing me and my growing panic—“I think it best if you practice the art of artifice tonight after all.”
Finally reading my expression, Joss placed a reassuring hand on my arm. “I’m kidding, Jo. I’ll be on my best behavior. I promise.”
I nodded. “It’s just . . . things are going well, you know.”
“Malcolm seems like a decent guy,” Braden agreed.
Joss made a sound at the back of her throat, but we both ignored it. My friend had made her opinion clear on my choice of boyfriend. She was convinced I was using Malcolm and he was using me. It was true that he was generous and I needed that generosity. However, the bigger truth was I really cared about him. Ever since my “first love,” when I was sixteen years old, John, I’d fallen for charming providers and the idea of security for me and Cole. But John had gotten fed up with playing second fiddle to my family, and after six months he’d dumped me. It had taught me a valuable lesson. It had also given me a new requirement in a boyfriend—he had to have a good job, be driven, hardworking, and have a good income. No matter how hard I worked, with my nonexistent qualifications and lack of any real talent, I was never going to make enough money to secure a stable future for my family. I was, however, pretty enough to secure a man with good qualifications and talent.
About a year after I pieced myself back together from the heartbreak of my failed romance with John, Callum entered my life. Thirty, a well -off solicitor, gorgeous, cultured, sophisticated. Determined to make it last, I became what I imagined was the perfect girlfriend to him. It was a habit, becoming someone else, especially since it seemed to work. Callum thought I was perfect for a while. We were together two years—until my secretiveness about my family and my inability to “let him in” drove too deep a wedge between us and he left me.
It took me months to scrape myself back together after Callum . . . and when I did, it was to run into the arms of Tim. Horrible decision. Tim worked for an investment company. He was so mind -numbingly self-absorbed that I actually dumped him. Then there was Steven. Steven was a sales director for one of these annoying door-to-door sales companies. He put in long hours, which I thought might work in our favor, but it didn’t. Joss thought Steven had dumped me because of my inability to be flexible about anything because of my family obligations. The truth was I dumped Steven. Steven made me feel worthless. His comments about my general uselessness brought back too many memories, and although even I thought there was little to recommend me other than my looks, when your boyfriend said the same and ultimately made you feel like a paid escort, it was time to call it quits.
I took a lot of crap from people, but I had my limits, and the older I got, the narrower those limits became.
Malcolm was different, though. He never made me feel terrible about myself, and so far our relationship was moving along nicely.
“Where is Lotto-Man?”
I shot a glance over my shoulder and searched for him, ignoring Joss’s sarcasm. “I don’t know,” I murmured.
With Malcolm I’d literally hit the jackpot, as he was a solicitor-turned-lottery-winner. He’d won the EuroMillions three years ago and given up his job—his career, in fact—to begin enjoying a new life as a millionaire. Used to being busy, he’d decided to try his hand at property development and now had a portfolio of properties he owned as a landlord.
We were standing in an ancient redbrick building with its dirty windows made up of rows of small rectangles that you’d be more likely to see on a warehouse than an art gallery building. Inside was a different matter altogether. Outfitted with hardwood floors, amazing lighting, and partition walls for the art, it was the ideal gallery spot. Malcolm had divorced a year before his win, but of course a goodlooking, wealthy man attracted young women like me. He’d soon encountered Becca, a savvy twenty -sixyear-old Irish artist. They’d dated for a few months and remained good friends even after they broke it off. Malcolm had invested money in her art, renting a gallery a few blocks away from my old flat in Leith.
I had to admit the gallery and the art show were impressive. Even if I didn’t happen to understand what the art was saying to me.
Malcolm had managed to gather a group of private buyers to attend this special opening of Becca’s new collection and thankfully the art was speaking to them. As soon as we’d arrived, I’d lost my companion for the evening. Becca had come hurrying toward Malcolm and me in metallic leggings and an oversized sweater, her bare feet slapping against the freezing-cold wooden floor. She’d given me a flustered smile, grabbed Malcolm, and demanded that he come introduce her to the people who had shown up. I then proceeded to walk around the gallery wondering whether it was that I had no taste for art or that this art was just atrocious.
“I’d thought about buying something for the flat, but . . .” Braden gave a low whistle as he saw the price tag of the canvas we were standing in front of. “I make it a rule not to overpay when I’m buying shit.”
Joss snorted and nodded in absolute agreement. Deciding it best to change the subject before one of them encouraged the other to be openly rude, I asked, “Where’s Ellie and Adam?”
Ellie was a sweetheart and could put a positive spin on anything. She also managed to temper the blunt tongues of her best friend and her brother, which was why I’d specifically invited her.
“She and Adam are staying in tonight,” Joss replied with a quiet seriousness that concerned me.
“Today she got the results from the MRI. Everything’s all clear, of course, but it brought it all back for her.”
It had been just over a year since Ellie had had brain surgery to remove benign tumors that had been causing physical symptoms and seizures. I didn’t really know Ellie at the time, but Joss had crashed at my old place once during Ellie’s recovery, and I knew from what she’d told me it had been a pretty hard time for them all. “I’ll try and pop round to see her soon,” I muttered, wondering if I could squeeze in the time
to do that. Between my two jobs, looking after my mum and Cole, and accompanying Malcolm whenever he wanted me somewhere, my life was pretty hectic.
Joss nodded, a crease of concern between her brows. She worried about Ellie worse than anyone.
Okay, maybe not worse than anyone, I thought, shooting a glance at Braden, whose own brows were knitted together in a troubled expression.
Braden was quite possibly the most overprotective brother I’d ever met, but since I knew all about being overprotective of a younger sibling, I had no room to make fun.
In an attempt to pull them out of their dark thoughts, I joked about the utterly crap day I’d had at work. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday nights, I worked at Club 39. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday during the day I worked as a personal assistant to Thomas Meikle, an accountant at Meikle &Young’s accountancy firm. Mr. Meikle was a moody bastard and since “personal assistant” was really just a posh word for “gofer,” I suffered constant whiplash from his colorful temperament. Some days were fine and we got along well enough;; other days, like today, “I didn’t know my arse from my elbow”—directquote—and was utterly useless. Apparently my uselessness had hit a new record today: There hadn’t been enough sugar in his coffee, the girl at the bakery ignored my instructions to take the tomatoes off his sandwich, and I hadn’t mailed out a letter Mr. Meikle had forgotten to give me. Thankfully, tomorrow was my day off from Meikle and his vitriolic tongue.
Braden once again tried to persuade me to leave Meikle and come work part-time at his estate
agency, but I declined to accept his help, just as I had refused Joss’s many offers of help in the past.
Although I was grateful for the kindness, I was determined to always make my life work on my own.
When you relied on people you cared about, put your trust in them with something huge like that, they
inevitably disappointed you. And I really didn’t want to be disappointed by Joss and Braden.
Obviously feeling more persistent tonight, Braden was relaying the benefits of working for him.
Suddenly I felt the hair on the nape of my neck stand on end. My muscles tensed and I turned my head slightly, Braden’s words becoming muffled as I checked out who or what had caught my notice. My eyes flickered across the room and then my breath hitched as my gaze paused on a guy who was staring at me.
Our eyes met, and for some absolutely bizarre reason the connection felt physical, like acknowledging each other’s presence had actually locked me in place. I felt my heart rate pick up, the blood rushing in my ears.
There was a fair distance between us, so I couldn’t make out the color of his eyes, but they were thoughtful and probing, his brow creased as if he was just as confused by the static between us as I was.
Why had he caught my attention? He was not the kind of guy I usually responded to. Aye, he was pretty good-looking. Messy dark blond hair and sexy stubble. Tall, but not as tall as Malcolm. This guy was probably six feet tall and no more. I would stand a few inches taller than him in the heels I wore tonight. I could see the muscles in his biceps and the thick veins on his arms because the idiot was wearing a T-shirt in late winter, but he wasn’t built like the guys I dated. He wasn’t broad and beefy. He was lean and sinewy. Mmm, “sinewy” was a good word for it. And did I mention the tattoos? I couldn’t tell what they were, but I could make out the colorful ink on his arm. I didn’t do tattoos.
When his eyes lowered under their lashes, I inhaled at the shock-like feeling that jolted through me as his gaze traveled down my body and back up again. I felt like squirming, overwhelmed under his flagrant perusal, though usually, if a guy checked me out like that, I would just smile back flirtatiously.
The moment his eyes came back to my face, he offered me one last searing look—a look that I felt like a callused caress down my body—and then dragged his gaze away. Feeling dazed and decidedly turned on, I watched him stride off behind one of the art walls that divided the gallery into sections.
“Who was that?” Joss’s voice broke through my fog.
I blinked and turned back to her with what I imagined was a stupefied look on my face. “I have no idea.”
Joss smirked. “He was hot.”
A throat cleared behind her. “What was that?”
Her eyes twinkled mischievously, but when she turned to face her scowling partner she had schooled her expression into one of innocence. “I meant from a purely aesthetic point of view, of course.”
Braden grunted but pulled her tighter into his side. Joss grinned back at me and I couldn’t help but smile. Braden Carmichael was this no-nonsense, straight-talking, intimidating businessman, and yet somehow Jocelyn Butler had managed to wrap him around her pinky finger.
I think we stood there for about an hour, drinking the free champagne and discussing everything under the sun. Sometimes I felt intimidated when the two of them were together because they were so intelligent and knowledgeable. I rarely felt I had anything profound or interesting to add to the conversation, so I just laughed and enjoyed them teasing the hell out of each other. When I was by myself with Joss it was different. I knew Joss better than I knew Braden, so I was confident that she would never want me to feel like I had to be anybody other than myself. It was a nice change of pace from the rest of my life.
We chatted with some other guests, trying not to seem confused by their enthusiasm for the art, but after an hour Joss turned to me apologetically. “We have to go, Jo. I’m sorry, but Braden’s got a really early meeting tomorrow.” I must have shown my disappointment because she shook her head. “You know what? No, I’ll stay. Braden can go. I’ll stay.”
No. Absolutely not. I had seen myself through situations like this before. “Joss, go home with
Braden. I’m fine. Bored. But fine.”
She gave my arm an affectionate squeeze and took Braden’s hand. He gave me a nod, and I returned it with a smile and a “Good night,” then watched as they walked across the gallery to the clothes rail where all the guests’ coats were hanging. Like a true gentleman, Braden held Joss’s coat for her and helped her shrug it on. He kissed her hair before he turned to pull on his own coat. With his arm wrapped around her shoulders, he led her out into the cold February night, leaving me inside the gallery with an unfamiliar ache in my chest.
I glanced down at the gold Omega watch Malcolm had bought me for Christmas, and as always when I checked the time, I bemoaned the fact that I couldn’t sell it yet. It was possibly the costliest gift I’d ever received, and would do wonders for our savings. There was always the hope, however, that my relationship with Malcolm would turn into something more significant and selling the watch would no longer be an issue. But I never allowed myself to get my hopes too high.
It was nine fifteen. My pulse picked up a little and I riffled through my tiny fake Gucci clutch purse for my phone. No messages.
I had just pressed SEND on a text message reminding Cole to call me as soon as he arrived home, when an arm slid around my waist and the woodsy, leathery smell of Malcolm’s aftershave filled my nostrils. Not needing to tilt my head back to meet his gaze since I was wearing my five-inch heels, I turned and smiled, covering my worry for Cole as our eyes met. I’d gone for sophisticated in the Dolce & Gabbana red pencil dress that Malcolm had bought for me on our last shopping trip. The dress showed off my trim figure to perfection. I loved it. I would be sad to add it to my eBay pile.
“There you are.” Malcolm grinned at me, his brown eyes bright as they crinkled attractively at the corners. He had a head full of lush, dark hair with a sexy sprinkling of gray at the sides. He wore suits all the time and tonight was no exception, the Savile Row tailoring exquisite. “I thought your friends were coming tonight or I wouldn’t have left you all alone.”
I smiled at that and placed my hand on his chest. “Don’t worry, I’m fine. They were here, but they had to leave early.” I looked at the phone still curled in my hand Where was Cole? Little gremlins awoke in my stomach to nibble anxiously at my insides.
“I’m buying one of Becca’s paintings. Come and pretend with me that it’s brilliant.”
I chuckled and then immediately felt bad, biting my lip to stall the sound. “I’m so glad I’m not the only one that doesn’t get it.”
His eyes darted around the room, his lips curled in amusement. “Well, thankfully these people know more about art than we do, so I’ll at least get a return on my investment.”
He kept his arm around me and guided me through the gallery and behind a couple of walls, where Becca stood under a huge monstrosity of splashed paintwork. I almost tripped over my own feet when I saw who she appeared to be arguing with. Tattoo Guy. Crap.
“You okay?” Malcolm glanced down at me, frowning as he felt the tension in my body.
I smiled brightly. Rule number one: Never let him see you as anything but positive and charming.
Tattoo Guy was grinning at Becca, his hand on her hip, trying to pull her to him, his expression bordering on appeasing. Willfully, I ignored the catch in my breath at the flash of his wicked white smile.
Becca still looked a bit put out, but I totally understood when she stepped into his embrace. I thought any woman would have forgiven the bastard anything when he smiled at her like that.
Averting my eyes from Tattoo Guy, I followed Malcolm as he came to a stop and the couple turned to us. Becca’s cheeks were flushed pink, and her eyes sparkled with excitement. “Just ignore me and Cam. We’re just fighting because he’s an eejit.”
I didn’t look at him, but I heard him chuckle. “No, we’re fighting because we have different taste in art.”
“Cam hates my artwork,” Becca said with a huff. “He can’t be like other boyfriends and lie at least.
No. Brutally honest, this one. At least Malcolm likes my work. Did Mal tell you he’s buying my painting, Jo?”
You’d think I’d be jealous of Malcolm’s obvious affection for Becca, and I know it sounds horrible, but until I saw her artwork I was a little jealous. I wasn’t exceptionally smart, I didn’t draw, I didn’t dance, I didn’t sing, I was just an okay cook . . . Thankfully, I was pretty. Tall with legs that went on forever, I’d been told countless times I had a good body and great skin. Combine those with huge green eyes, long, thick strawberry blond hair, and delicate features and you were left with an attractive package—one that had been turning heads since I was a teenager. Aye, I didn’t have much, but what I did have, I used to my family’s advantage.
To know that Becca was cute and talented had worried me a little. Perhaps Malcolm would get bored of me and go back to her? Actually, though, Malcolm’s less-than-enthusiastic response to her artwork
made me feel better about his relationship with her. Not that that made any rational kind of sense.
“He did. Good choice.” I smiled at him and I could tell he was dying to laugh. His hand slid from my waist down to cup my hip and I moved in closer to him, chancing a glance at my phone. Still nothing from Cole.
“Jo, this is Becca’s boyfriend, Cameron,” Malcolm suddenly said, and I drew my head up quickly to finally study the man I had been avoiding looking at for the last few seconds. Our eyes met and I felt that frisson of excitement ripplethrough me again.
His eyes were cobalt blue and seemed to be stripping me back to nothing as they perused me for a second time. I watched his gaze quickly flicker over me, noting Malcolm’s hand on my waist. I stiffened as Cameron took us in, drew some kind of conclusion about us, and slammed his expression shut with the hard pressing together of his lips.
“Hi,” I managed and he gave me a barely there nod. The blaze in his eyes from earlier had definitely gone out.
Becca started chattering to Malcolm about the painting, so I took the opportunity to check my phone once again. At a disgruntled snort, my head shot up, my eyes clashing with Cameron’s. I couldn’t understand the distaste in his expression or why I felt the sudden need to tell him to go fuck himself.
Faced with animosity or aggression I tended to flinch and not utter a word. In this case, the condemnation and judgment in this tattooed idiot’s face made me want to slam my fist into it and break his already imperfect nose. It had a little bump near the bridge that should have marred his good looks, but instead just added to his ruggedness.
I bit my tongue before I did something out of character and let my eyes fall to his tattoos. On his right forearm was beautiful black script—two words I couldn’t make out without giving away that I was
trying to read them. On his left arm was a colorful and detailed image. It looked like a dragon, but I couldn’t be sure, and Becca moved closer to Cameron’s side, obscuring it from sight.
For a moment I wondered how Becca could go from dating thirtysomething Malcolm in his tailored suits to twentysomething Cameron with his seventies aviator watch and leather bracelets, a Def Leppard
T-shirt that had been run through the wash too many times, and ratty Levi’s.
“Mal, did you ask Jo about the job?”
Bemused, I looked up at my boyfriend. “Job?”
“Becca, it’s fine, really,” Cameron insisted, his deep voice sending a shiver of something I didn’t
want to admit to through my body. My eyes swung to collide with his and I saw him staring back at me,
his expression blank.
“Nonsense,” Malcolm answered good
-naturedly and then eyed me thoughtfully. “You’re still looking
for another bartender at the club, aren’t you?”
We were. My friend and colleague (and my only one
-night stand—I’d been a mess after Callum),
Craig, had left us for Australia. Tuesday had been his last night and our manager, Su, had been
interviewing for a new bartender for a week now. I’d miss Craig. Sometimes his flirting got to be a bit
much, and I never had the balls to tell him to shut up (Joss did), but at least he was always in a good
mood. “Yeah, why?”
Becca touched my arm and I looked into her pleading face. It suddenly occurred to me that even
though she was a few years older than me, she looked and sounded like a little girl, with her wide blue
eyes, smooth skin, and high
-pitched voice. The two of us couldn’t have been any more different. “Cam is
a graphic designer. He worked for a graphics company that does all the marketing and branding for
household names around the country, but they had budget cuts. Last in, first out sort of thing, and Cam
just started with them a year ago.”
I shot Cam a wary but sympathetic look. It wasn’t easy losing your job.
I didn’t know what I or the bartending position had to do with it, though.
“Becca.” Cam sounded annoyed now. “I told you I’d deal with this myself.”
She flushed a little under his penetrating gaze and I suddenly felt a connection to her. I wasn’t the
only one he intimidated. Good. “Cam, let me help.” She turned back to me. “He’s struggling—”
“I’m struggling to find graphic design work.” Cam cut her off, his blue eyes burning with frustration.
It suddenly occurred to me that his apparent bad mood might have nothing to do with me and everything
to do with his situation. “Malcolm said there was a full
-time position open at Club 39 and I have
experience bartending. I need something to get me through until I can find another job. If you could get
me an application form I’d appreciate it.”
Why I decided to be helpful considering I didn’t very much like him, or his attitude, remained a
mystery as I replied, “I’ll do one better. I’ll speak to my manager and I’ll give her your number.”
He stared at me a moment and I couldn’t for the life of me work out what was going on behind his
eyes. Finally, he nodded slowly. “Okay, thanks. My number is—”
At that moment my phone vibrated in my hands and I lifted it to stare at the screen.
I’m home from Jamie’s house. Stop panicking. Cole.
The tension melted from my body and I sighed, quickly texting him back.
I glanced up and noted Malcolm’s raised eyebrows.
Damn. Cam’s number. I flushed, realizing I’d completely blanked on him when I got Cole’s
message. I sent him a sheepish smile of apology, one that ricocheted off his steely countenance. “Sorry.
Unamused, he rattled it off for me and I typed it into my phone.
“I’ll give this to her tomorrow.”
“Yeah, sure,” he responded in a bored tone, suggesting he didn’t think I had the brain cells to
remember to do that.
His attitude toward me pricked, but I decided not to let it bother me, snuggling more happily into
Malcolm’s side now that I knew Cole was tucked in safe in our flat on London Road.