Hearts of fire, p.1
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       Hearts of Fire, p.1

           L.H. Cosway
 
Hearts of Fire


  HEARTS OF FIRE

  By L.H. Cosway

  Copyright © 2015 Lorraine McInerney.

  Smashwords Editon.

  ISBN-13: 978-1508535638

  All rights reserved.

  Cover designed by RBA Designs.

  Editing by Indie Author Services.

  This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.

  Contents

  Playlist

  One

  Two

  Three

  Four

  Five

  Six

  Seven

  Eight

  Nine

  Ten

  Eleven

  Twelve

  Thirteen

  Fourteen

  Fifteen

  Sixteen

  Seventeen

  Eighteen

  Nineteen

  Epilogue

  PLAYLIST

  Dear reader,

  If you’d like to listen to the playlist for Hearts of Fire CLICK HERE.

  I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.

  —Susan Sontag.

  For this world of readers and writers. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be than here with you. May we all have an adventure just like Lille’s, in the pages and in our minds.

  One

  Jack and Lille met on a hill

  I had a list.

  I was trying to tick one thing off it, but I was having trouble convincing Shay to assist me. In the small Wexford town where I lived, there was only one tattoo parlour, and Shay Cosgrove owned and ran the place. He was several years older than I was, and I had a tiny crush on him, but that was another matter entirely.

  Right then, I was trying to convince him to give me a tattoo, and he was having none of it.

  “I’m sorry, Lille,” he said while crossing his tatted-up, muscular arms across his chest and giving me a placid look, “but if I put ink on you, your mother will have my guts for garters, and going up against Miranda Baker is not on my bucket list.”

  “But getting a tattoo is on my bucket list, and I adore your work, and I don’t want to have to drive all the way into the city to get it done, and….”

  He cut me off when he placed two fingers on my lips to shut me up. I swallowed and blinked, momentarily forgetting everything I was about to say because, as I mentioned earlier, I had a crush on him and his fingers were on my lips.

  Gulp.

  My eyes got all big and round, and my breathing accelerated. Shay smirked knowingly as he withdrew his hand from my mouth. Smug bastard. The sad thing was, he was well aware of my crush, but he found me about as attractive as a flat, lifeless piece of cardboard. All of the girls in this town fancied Shay, but he only went for the sexy, sassy hot chicks who were no doubt wild in the sack.

  I was not sexy or sassy, and my clothing was as plain Jane as you could get (thank you, Mother) — ergo, not hot.

  I was the arty girl with her head in the clouds, and it was not considered cool to be seen with me. In fact, it was considered the complete opposite of cool.

  But I was an artist, just like he was, so I thought we could bond over our shared loved of canvas and paint. That never happened. At best, Shay tolerated me. At worst, he wished I’d bugger off and quit pestering him with questions about tattoos.

  How does the gun work?

  What kind of ink do you use?

  How often does the skin get infected?

  Can I have a go of the gun?

  What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever tattooed on someone?

  So yeah, I was a question-asker. Most evenings I’d find a reason to stop by the parlour and admire his drawings, which were hung up all over the walls. I’d try to show him my own stuff, but he was uninterested.

  Shay was into dark art, like Giger and Kalmakov.

  I was into Pop art, like Warhol and Lichtenstein. I was all about colour.

  Anyway, back to my list. It only contained ten items so far, and getting a tattoo was one of them. I’d designed it myself. It was a multi-coloured, paint-splashed hot air balloon. I’d wanted to get the tattoo first, because most of the other items on my list were about having an adventure and breaking free. For me, nothing symbolised an adventure more than a hot air balloon.

  Where would it take you?

  What would you do when you got there?

  Who would you meet?

  And since hot air balloon rides also had a chance of ending in disaster, I thought it was all the more appropriate. After all, there’s no point to an adventure if safety is guaranteed. The whole purpose is the unknown, the danger.

  I craved it more than anything.

  Shay had gone back to his sketching table, his back turned to me, when he said, “I’m not doing the tattoo, Lille, so you might as well get going.”

  I swallowed the lump in my throat and headed for the door. Just before I stepped outside, I turned around and said, “If you’re afraid of someone as ridiculous as my mother, then you must work so hard on all those muscles to hide the fact that you’re a massive wimp, Shay Cosgrove.”

  I sounded like a petulant child. Plus, I was being hypocritical, because if anyone was afraid of my mother, it was me. Still, I felt the need to put Shay in his place. He thought he was so hip and cool, but really he was just a pretentious small-town arsehole.

  Wow, I think my crush just disappeared. Cowardice was a surprisingly big turn-off.

  “Lille,” he began in an annoyed tone, but I left before he could get the last word in. I had to get to work anyway. I muttered my annoyance to myself as I struggled up the hill to the restaurant. Everywhere in this town you were either going up a hill or down a hill. It was like whoever built it was having a good old joke on behalf of all its future inhabitants.

  While I was on my summer break from college, where I was studying for a degree in business (at my mother’s behest), I was working part-time at a small restaurant in town. I was scheduled for the Sunday afternoon shift, and the place would be packed with families having dinner. I liked this shift best because my boss, Nelly, let me do face painting for the kids while the parents enjoyed their meals.

  On a normal day I was a waitress, but on Sundays I got to be an artist. Well, as much as turning little boys into Spiderman and little girls into fairies counted as being an artist. I especially liked it when the girls wanted to be Spiderman and the boys wanted to be fairies.

  I was all for breaking the mould.

  And I loved kids. In fact, I felt far more comfortable talking to five-year-olds than I did talking to adults. Kids told you exactly what they were thinking. Adults said one thing when they really meant another entirely. It was confusing.

  I had a hard time connecting with most people. My curiosity and endless questions tended to turn them off. Mum said I came across too eager, and that I had to work on being more aloof and unattainable, whatever that means. I thought on this as I went inside the restaurant and began to set up my face paints at an empty table by the door. I smiled as I heard several little girls squeal in delight when they saw me. I was known as the face-painting lady around these parts and elicited much excitement in children.

  I waved hello to Nelly, who was standing by the service counter, and then let my eyes drift over the patrons. I recognised all of the regulars, but two tables down sat an old woman and a young man I’d noticed a couple of days ago. They’d been in every day since, and caught my interest mainly because the woman must have been in her sixties, and her hair was as red as a Coca-Cola can. She also wore about a hundred necklaces all tangled around her neck.

  The man had long, wavy dark brown hair and brown
eyes. His skin was tanned, and he wore a battered old T-shirt. His equally battered brown fedora hat sat on the table in front of him. He reminded me a little of a sexy gypsy, though less of a My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding gypsy, and more of a Johnny Depp in Chocolat gypsy. He was tall, and his muscles made Shay’s look like puppy fat in comparison. Plus, there was the man bun his hair was messily tied up in. I was a swooning mess for a man bun. Always had been.

  In other words, he was hot…and I was staring. I’d found myself staring at him a lot this past week, but never caught him staring back (much to my disappointment.) The woman he was sitting with caught my eye and gave me a mischievous wink. I smiled to myself and looked away. There was a queue of kids lining up to have their faces painted, so I tried to focus on my job rather than the odd couple sitting two tables down.

  A little while later as I went to grab a glass of water, Nelly took me aside and asked, “See those two in there?”

  I nodded.

  “They’re from the circus, the one set up just outside of town. I think the woman is the owner. She’s a strange-looking character altogether.”

  I absorbed this information with another nod. I was well aware of the circus. In fact, tonight was its last show before it moved on, and I’d been saving up a little cash to go see it. My mind was awash with possibilities. I wanted to see clowns, elephants, lions, and acrobats. I wanted to see it all. I’d asked my sometimes friend Delia if she wanted to come, but she’d given me the brush-off. I say “sometimes friend” because sometimes she ignores me, especially if her other friends are around. I think she really only tolerates me because my mum runs this big important tech company, and she wants to get in good with the local high-flying businesswoman. Really, I should be offended, but when you live in a small town in the southeast of Ireland, you kind of have to take what you can get in terms of friends.

  As the evening wore on, most of the diners trickled out, and the odd couple, as I’d started to refer to them in my head, were the only ones left in the restaurant. I was passing through the kitchen when John the cook had to run to the bathroom and asked me to keep an eye on some eggs. I nodded, and he hurried off. It was my own fault that I wasn’t paying proper attention, because I went to grab the handle and instead burned my hand on the side of the pan.

  “Ouch!” I screeched, loud enough to wake the dead. I held my hand to my chest, wincing at the pain. Half the inside of my palm was burned raw. A moment later, both Nelly and the odd couple came rushing into the kitchen to see what the racket was about.

  “What happened?” Nelly asked breathlessly.

  I bit my lip. “Burned my hand. Sorry about, uh, the screaming.”

  “I thought an axe murderer had broken into the place,” Nelly said. “Come here and let me see.”

  Taking a step toward her, I glanced at the dark-haired man. His deep, almost black eyes were fixed on my hand. His face was unreadable.

  “It’s okay, I’ll take care of this,” Nelly said, waving them both back outside. Now the man was staring into my eyes, and I got a little shiver down my spine, though it wasn’t unpleasant. They both went back to their table, and Nelly put some burn cream on my hand and wrapped it up.

  A few minutes later, the restaurant door opened, and a mother and daughter walked in. The little girl was eager to know if the face-painting lady was still around. I mustered a smile and went to ask her what she wanted to be. Since it wasn’t my dominant hand that had been burned, I could just about manage painting.

  “I want to be a pirate,” she declared as she pulled herself up onto a seat in front of me.

  “Oh, good choice!” I replied. Now I was thinking about Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. I had old Johnny on the brain today.

  I drew a fake goatee onto the little girl, complete with an eye patch and a red bandana. Then I took things a step further when I did a skull and crossbones on her cheek. When her mother came to get her, she didn’t look too pleased that I’d transformed her child into a hairy-faced marauder, but I just shrugged. It was what she’d asked for.

  “She looks like she wants to make you walk the plank,” a voice said just behind me. I turned to see the Coca-Cola-haired lady standing there. Her accent was London cockney at its finest, and when she smiled, she had a million wrinkles around her eyes. They weren’t ugly. In fact, they were beautiful, full of character and experience. I wanted to colour them in with every shade of the rainbow.

  “Hmm, well, I am in the mood for a swim,” I replied humorously, and her smile widened. A shadow fell behind her as she rummaged in her bag and pulled out a flyer for the circus. The shadow belonged to Mr Tall, Dark, and Exotic. He stood there, unfathomable eyes on me, causing me to blush. All at once I felt sweaty, hot, and strangely self-conscious. It was like his eyes were taking the sum total of my parts, but I had no clue as to the result he’d settled on.

  The woman continued, “You should come see the show tonight, girly. It’s our last one.”

  “I’d already planned to. I can’t wait,” I exclaimed, picking up the flyer and folding it into a neat square.

  “I’ll wait for you outside, Marina,” said the man gruffly, his eyes meeting mine once more before he moved by us and walked outside. I watched him as he stopped, pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket, and lit up. His grey T-shirt showed the muscles in his arms and his tanned skin. Quite like Marina, I would have liked to paint him, too, but for very different reasons.

  I’d been surprised to hear his deep Dublin accent. I was expecting something…I don’t know, foreign. I heard Marina laughing and brought my attention back to her.

  “If I were from the American south, I’d say he was a mighty ornery bastard,” she chuckled. “Never did manage to learn any social niceties, that one.”

  I swallowed and couldn’t help but ask, “Is he a part of the circus?”

  “Oh, yes, Jack’s a fire-eater. He’s a big attraction with the ladies, as you might guess. A pity he never mastered the art of charming them.”

  Her words made me imagine Jack sitting at a dinner table, knife and fork in hand, ready to dig into a plate of fire.

  “Oh, well, I suppose when you look like that, you don’t really need charm.” The words were out of my mouth before I had the chance to censor them, and Marina let out a loud guffaw of a laugh.

  “I like you. You say what you think. I hope your hand heals up fast,” she said, and patted me on the shoulder before following Jack out the door. I twisted in my seat and watched them say a few words to one another before walking down the hill away from the restaurant.

  When I arrived home after my shift, I wanted to run straight upstairs, take a shower, put on something nice, and head out to the circus. Unfortunately, Mum was waiting for me when I got there, her arms crossed over her chest, face stern and an opened letter in her hand.

  I narrowed my gaze when I saw the letter had my name on it. “Did you open my mail?” I asked indignantly. I should have been more surprised, but I was used to her control-freak behaviour by this stage.

  “Yes, and I’m glad I did. These are your end-of-year exam results, and I have to say they leave a lot to be desired.”

  She walked towards me and shoved the letter into my hand, her designer heels clicking on the hardwood floor. I unfolded it and took a look. I’d gotten mostly Cs, a D, and a couple of Bs. They certainly weren’t the worst results in the world, but Mum expected perfection.

  “Considering I never wanted to do this degree, I think these results are pretty good,” I said bravely. Abruptly she turned, walked back to me, and slapped me hard across the face. I gasped and clutched my cheek in my hand in shock. Mum wasn’t often physically violent — words were her weapon of choice — but every now and again she’d strike me. It usually meant something hadn’t gone right for her at work, so she was taking that frustration out on me.

  “You’re an ungrateful little bitch!” she shouted. “After all the money I’ve spent on your education, you go and say something like that
.”

  I stood there, speechless, as she grabbed my hip, pinching her fingers into the fleshy part. “And look at this. You’re putting on weight. I’m going to have to start controlling your calorie intake again.”

  Tears stung my eyes, but I refused to let them fall. I wouldn’t give her that victory. And the fact of the matter was, there was nothing wrong with my weight. My mother simply possessed a talent for seeing flaws where there weren’t any. She was so miserable that she couldn’t see any of the beauty in the world. She wanted straight boring lines, and if anyone dared to veer away from them, she would make their lives hell.

  All my life I felt like I’d been living in quiet desperation. Following my mother’s rules and biding my time, waiting for the moment when I could finally break free. The thing was, I was twenty-one now, and my time still hadn’t come. I had a disturbing image of me still living under my mother’s roof at thirty, still keeping to her straight lines, never walking on the cracks, and it made me feel like screaming.

  But I didn’t. Instead, I turned calmly away from her and walked quietly up the stairs to my bedroom. I felt like my refusal to respond to her actions showed more strength than weakness. I would not sink to her petty level. Once there, I sat down at my dressing table, stared into the mirror, and took a calming breath. Then I opened a drawer and pulled out the folded piece of paper where I’d written my list, letting my eyes trail down the numbered items.

  1. Dump Henry Jackson.

  2. Get a tattoo.

  3. Have sex with a stranger.

  4. Do something dangerous.

  5. Visit a place I’ve never been before.

  6. Fall in love.

  7. Make a new friend.

  8. Quit my degree.

  9. Become a real artist.

  10. Move out of my mother’s house.

  I felt a small stirring of pride that I’d already completed number one several weeks ago before college let out for the summer. Henry was the son of one of my mother’s business associates and had been enrolled in the same course as me. Mum set us up on a date during my second year of studying, and we’d been conducting a dull, chemistry-free relationship for the last two years. Quite like the subject we were studying, the sex was all business. So I’d decided it was finally time to put an end to it. Mum was furious when she found out, and I could tell she was already plotting a way in which to get Henry and me back together.

 
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