On Dublin Street
"This extraordinary debut combines a true gift for storytelling with a liberal dose of racy encounters. But what really sets it apart is exquisite characterisation."Daily Record
“This is a really sexy book, and I loved the heroine’s journey to find herself and grow strong. Highly recommend this one.”USA TODAY
Jocelyn Butler has been hiding from her past for years. But all her secrets are about to be laid bare…
Four years ago, Jocelyn left her tragic past behind in the States and started over in Scotland, burying her grief, ignoring her demons, and forging ahead without attachments. Her solitary life is working well-until she moves into a new apartment on Dublin Street where she meets a man who shakes her carefully guarded world to its core.
Braden Carmichael is used to getting what he wants, and he's determined to get Jocelyn into his bed. Knowing how skittish she is about entering a relationship, Braden proposes an arrangement that will satisfy their intense attraction without any strings attached.
But after an intrigued Jocelyn accepts, she realizes that Braden won't be satisfied with just mind-blowing passion. The stubborn Scotsman is intent on truly knowing her… down to the very soul.
Release date: October 12, 2012
Print pages: 415
Content advisory: explicit language; sexual content
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On Dublin Street
Surry County, Virginia
I was bored.
Kyle Ramsey was kicking the back of my chair to get my attention, but he’d been kicking my best friend, Dru’s, chair yesterday, and I didn’t want to upset her. She had a huge crush on Kyle. Instead I watched her as she sat beside me drawing a million tiny love hearts in the corner of her notebook as Mr. Evans scribbled another equation on the board. I really should have been paying attention because I sucked at math. Mom and Dad wouldn’t be happy with me if I failed a class the first semester of freshman year.
“Mr. Ramsey, would you care to come up to the board and answer this question, or would you prefer to remain behind Jocelyn so you can kick her chair some more?”
The class tittered, and Dru shot me an accusing look. I grimaced and shot Mr. Evan’s a pointed glare.
“I’ll stay here, if that’s okay, Mr. Evans,” Kyle replied with impudent swagger. I rolled my eyes, refusing to turn around even though I could feel the heat of his gaze on the back of my neck.
“That was actually a rhetorical question, Kyle. Get up here.”
A knock at the door put a halt to Kyle’s groan of acquiescence. At the sight of our principal, Ms. Shaw, the whole class grew still. What was the principal doing in our class? That could only signal trouble.
“Whoa,” Dru muttered under her breath, and I looked at her, frowning. She nodded at the doorway. “Cops.”
Shocked, I turned to look back at the door as Ms. Shaw murmured something to Mr. Evans, and sure enough, through the gap in the door, I could see two deputies waiting out in the hall.
“Miss Butler.” Ms. Shaw’s voice snapped my gaze back to her in surprise. She took a step toward me, and I felt my heart leap into my throat. Her eyes were wary, sympathetic, and I immediately wanted to back away from her and whatever it was she was here to tell me. “Can you come with me, please? Grab your things.”
This was usually the part where the class would ooh and ahh about how much trouble I was in. But, like me, they sensed that wasn’t what this was about. Whatever news was out in that hall, they weren’t going to tease me about it.
I was shaking now from a spike of adrenaline, and I could barely hear anything over the sound of blood rushing in my ears. Had something happened to Mom? Or Dad? Or my baby sister, Beth? My parents together had taken some time off work this week to de-stress from what had been a crazy summer. They were supposed to be taking Beth out today for a picnic.
“Joss.” Dru nudged me, and as soon as her elbow touched my arm, I shot back from the table, my chair screaming across the wooden floor. Without looking at anyone, I fumbled with my bag, swiping everything off my desk into it. The whispers had started hissing around the room like cold wind through a crack in a windowpane. Despite not wanting to know what was ahead of me, I really wanted out of that room.
Somehow remembering how to put one foot in front of the other, I followed the principal out into the hall and listened to Mr. Evan’s door snick shut behind me. I didn’t say anything. I just looked at Ms. Shaw and then at the two deputies, who stared at me with a distant compassion. Standing near the wall was a woman I hadn’t noticed earlier. She looked grave but calm.
Ms. Shaw touched my arm and I looked down at her hand resting on my sweater. I hadn’t spoken two words to the principal before, and now she was touching my arm? “Jocelyn . . . this is Deputies Wilson and Michaels. And this is Alicia Nugent from the DSS.”
I looked at her questioningly.
Ms. Shaw blanched. “The Department of Social Services.”
Fear gripped ahold of my chest, and I fought to breathe.
“Jocelyn,” the principal continued, “I am so sorry to have to tell you this . . . but your parents and sister, Elizabeth, were in a car accident.”
I waited, feeling my chest tighten.
“They were all killed instantly, Jocelyn. I’m so sorry.”
The woman from the DSS stepped toward me and started speaking. I looked at her, but all I could see were the colors that she was made up of. All I could hear was the muffled sound of her talking, as if someone was running tap water beside her.
I couldn’t breathe.
Panicking, I reached for something, anything to help me breathe. I felt hands on me. Calm, murmuring words. Wetness on my cheeks. Salt on my tongue. And my heart . . . it felt like it was going to explode, it was racing so hard.
I was dying.
Those words were said in my ear over and over again until I focused enough to concentrate on just breathing in and out. After a while my pulse slowed and my lungs opened up. The spots across my vision began to disappear.
“That’s it,” Ms. Shaw was whispering, a warm hand rubbing soothing circles on my back. “That’s it.”
“We should get going.” The DSS woman’s voice broke through my fog.
“Okay. Jocelyn, are you ready?” Ms. Shaw asked quietly.
“They’re dead,” I answered, needing to feel how the words felt. It couldn’t be real.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart.”
Cold sweat burst on my skin, my palms, under my arms, across the nape of my neck. Goose bumps rose up all over, and I couldn’t stop shaking. A rush of dizziness swayed me to the left and without warning, and vomit surged up from my churning gut. I bent over, losing my breakfast all over the DSS lady’s shoes.
“She’s in shock.”
Or was it travel sickness?
One minute I had been sitting back there. There, in the classroom, where it was warm and safe. And in a matter of seconds, in the crunch of metal . . .
. . . I was someplace else entirely.
Eight years later
It was a beautiful day to find a new home. And a new roommate.
I stepped out of the damp, old stairwell of my Georgian apartment building into a stunningly hot day in Edinburgh. I glanced down at the cute white-and-green-striped denim shorts I’d purchased a few weeks ago from Topshop. It had been raining nonstop since then, and I’d despaired of ever getting to wear them. But the sun was out, peeking over the top of the cornered tower of the Bruntsfield Evangelical Church, burning away my melancholy and giving me back a little bit of hope. For someone who had packed up her entire life in the US and taken off for her motherland when she was only eighteen years old, I wasn’t really good with change. Not anymore, anyway. I’d gotten used to my huge apartment with its never-ending mice problem. I missed my best friend, Rhian, whom I’d lived with since freshman year at the University of Edinburgh. We’d met in the dorms and hit it off. We were both very private people and were comfortable around each other for the mere fact that we never pushed each other to talk about the past. We’d stuck pretty close freshman year and decided to get an apartment (or “flat” as Rhian called it) in second year. Now that we were graduates, Rhian had left for London to start her PhD and I was left roommateless. The icing on the cake was the loss of my other closest friend, James, Rhian’s boyfriend. He’d run off to London (a place he detested, I might add) to be with her. And the cherry on top? My landlord was getting a divorce and needed the apartment back.
I’d spent the last two weeks answering ads from young women looking for a female roommate. It had been a bust so far. One girl didn’t want to room with an American. Cue my What the fuck? face. Three of the apartments were just . . . nasty. I’m pretty sure one girl was a crack dealer, and the last girl’s apartment sounded like it got more use than a brothel. I was really hoping my appointment today with Ellie Carmichael was going to go my way. It was the most expensive apartment I’d scheduled to see, and it was on the other side of the city center.
I was frugal when it came to my inheritance, as if that would somehow lessen the bitterness of my “good” fortune. But I was getting desperate.
If I wanted to be a writer, I needed the right apartment and the right roommate.
Living alone was an option, of course. I could afford it. However, the God’s honest truth was that I didn’t like the idea of complete solitude. Despite my tendency to keep eighty percent of myself to myself, I liked being surrounded by people. When they talked to me about things I didn’t understand personally, it allowed me to see things from their point of view, and I believed all the best writers needed a wide-open scope of perspective. Despite not needing to, I worked at a bar on George Street on Thursday and Friday nights. The old cliché was true: Bartenders overhear all the best stories.
I was friends with two of my colleagues, Jo and Craig, but we only really hung out when we were working. If I wanted a little life around me, I needed to get a roommate. On the plus side, this apartment was mere streets away from my job.
As I tried to shove down the anxiety of finding a new place, I kept my eye open for a cab with its light on. I eyed the ice cream parlor, wishing I had time to stop in and indulge, and almost missed the cab coming toward me on the opposite side of the street. Throwing my hand out and checking my side for traffic, I was gratified that the driver had seen me and pulled up to the curb. I tore across the wide road, managing not to get squashed like a green and white bug against some poor person’s windshield, and rushed toward the cab with a single-minded determination to grab the door handle.
Instead of the door handle, I grabbed a hand.
Bemused, I followed the tan masculine hand up a long arm to broad shoulders and a face obscured by the sun beaming down behind his head. Tall, over six feet, the guy towered above me. I was a smallish five foot five.
Wondering why this guy had his hand on my cab, all I really took in was the suit.
A sigh escaped from his shadowed face. “Which way are you headed?” he asked me in a rumbling, gravelly voice. Four years I’d been living here and still a smooth Scots accent could send a shiver down my spine. And his definitely did, despite the terse question.
“Dublin Street,” I answered automatically, hoping I had a longer distance to travel so that he’d give me the cab.
“Good.” He pulled the door open. “I’m heading in that direction, and since I’m already running late, might I suggest we share the taxi instead of wasting ten minutes deciding who needs it more.”
A warm hand touched my lower back and pressed me gently forward. Dazed, I somehow let myself be manhandled into the cab, sliding across the seat and buckling up as I silently questioned whether I’d nodded my agreement to this. I didn’t think I had.
Hearing the Suit clip out Dublin Street as the destination to the cab driver, I frowned and muttered, “Thanks. I guess.”
“You’re an American?”
At the soft question, I finally looked over at the passenger beside me. Oh, okay.
Perhaps in his late twenties or early thirties, the Suit wasn’t classically handsome, but there was a twinkle in his eyes and a curl to the corner of his sensual mouth that, together with the rest of the package, oozed sex appeal. I could tell from the lines of the extremely well-tailored expensive silver-gray suit that he wore, that he worked out. He sat with the ease of a fit guy, his stomach iron flat under the waistcoat and white shirt. His pale-blue eyes seemed bemused beneath their long lashes, and for the life of me I couldn’t get over the fact that he had dark hair.
I preferred blonds. Always had.
Yet none of them had ever made my lower belly squeeze with lust at first sight. A strong, masculine face stared into mine—sharp jawline, a cleft chin, wide cheekbones, and a Roman nose. Dark stubble shadowed his cheeks, and his hair was kind of messy. Altogether, his rugged unkemptness seemed at odds with the stylish designer suit.
The Suit raised an eyebrow at my blatant perusal and the lust I was feeling quadrupled, taking me completely by surprise. I never felt instant attraction to men. And since my wild years as a teen, I hadn’t even contemplated taking a guy up on a sexual offer.
Although, I’m not sure I could walk away from an offer from him.
As soon as the thought flashed through my head I stiffened, surprised and unnerved. My defenses immediately rose, and I cleared my expression into blank politeness.
”Yeah, I’m American,” I answered, finally remembering the Suit had asked me a question. I looked away from his knowing smirk, pretending boredom and thanking the heavens that my olive skin kept the blushing internal.
“Just visiting?” he murmured.
As irritated as I was by my reaction to the Suit, I decided the less conversation between us the better. Who knew what idiotic thing I might do or say? “Nope.”
“Then you’re a student.”
I took issue with the tone. Then you’re a student. It was said with a metaphorical eye-roll. Like students were bottom-feeding bums with no real purpose in life. I snapped my head around to give him a scathing set-down, only to catch him eyeing my bare legs with interest. This time, I raised my eyebrow at him and waited for him to unglue those gorgeous eyes of his from my bare skin. Sensing my gaze, the Suit looked up at my face and noted my expression. I expected him to pretend he hadn’t been ogling me or to look quickly away or something. I didn’t expect him to just shrug and then offer me the slowest, wickedest, sexiest smile that had ever been bestowed upon me.
I rolled me eyes, fighting the flush of heat between my legs. “I was a student,” I answered, with just a touch of snark. “I live here. Dual citizenship.” Why was I explaining myself?
“You’re part Scottish?”
I barely nodded, secretly loving the way he said “Scottish” with his hard “t”s.
“What do you do now that you’ve graduated?”
Why did he want to know? I shot him a look out of the corner of my eye. The cost of the three-piece suit he was wearing could have fed me and Rhian on crappy student food for our entire four years of college. “What do you do? I mean, when you’re not manhandling women into cabs?”
His small smirk was his only reaction to my jibe. “What do you think I do?”
“I’m thinking lawyer. Answering questions with questions, manhandling, smirking . . .”
He laughed a rich, deep rumble of a laugh that vibrated through my chest. His eyes glittered at me. “I’m not a lawyer. But you could be. I seem to recall a question answered with a question. And that”—he gestured to my mouth, his eyes turning a shade darker as they visually caressed the curve of my lips—“that’s a definite smirk.” His voice had grown huskier.
My pulse took off as our eyes locked, our gazes holding for far longer than two polite strangers’ should. My cheeks felt warm . . . as did other places. I was growing more and more turned on by him and the silent conversation between our bodies. When my nipples tightened beneath my T-shirt bra, I was shocked enough to be plunged back into reality. Pulling my eyes from his, I glanced out at the passing traffic and prayed for this cab ride to be over yesterday.
As we approached Princes Street and another diversion caused by the tram project the council was heading up, I began to wonder if I was going to escape the cab without having to talk to him again.
“Are you shy?” the Suit asked, blowing my hopes to smithereens.
I couldn’t help it. His question made me turn to him with a confused smile. “Excuse me?”
He tilted his head, peering down at me through the narrowed slits of his eyes. He looked like a lazy tiger, eyeing me carefully as if deciding whether or not I was a meal worth chasing. I shivered as he repeated, “Are you shy?”
Was I shy? No. Not shy. Just usually blissfully indifferent. I liked it that way. It was safer. “Why would you think that?” I didn’t give off shy vibes, right? I grimaced at the thought.
The Suit shrugged again. “Most women would be taking advantage of my imprisonment in the taxi with them—chew my ear off, shove their phone number in my face . . . as well as other things.” His eyes flicked down to my chest before quickly returning to my face. I swear to God, I was tomato red on the inside, and I couldn’t remember the last time someone had managed to embarrass me. Unaccustomed to feeling intimidated, I attempted to mentally shrug it off.
Amazed by his overconfidence, I grinned at him, surprised by the pleasure that rippled over me when his eyes widened slightly at the sight of my smile. “Wow, you really think a lot of yourself.”
He grinned back at me, his teeth white but imperfect, and his crooked smile sent an unfamiliar shot of feeling across my chest. “I’m just speaking from experience.”
“Well, I’m not the kind of girl who hands out her number to a guy she just met.”
“Ahh.” He nodded as if coming to some kind of realization about me, his smile slipping, his features seeming to tighten and close off from me. “You’re a no-sex-until-the-third-date, marriage-and-babies kind of woman.”
I made a face at his snap judgment. “No, no, and no.” Marriage and babies? I shuddered at the thought, the fears that rode my shoulders day in and day out slipping around to squeeze my chest too tight.
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