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       Cross My Heart: Hearts Series Book 5.75, p.1

           L.H. Cosway
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Cross My Heart: Hearts Series Book 5.75


  CROSS MY HEART

  A Hearts Novella (#5.75)

  By

  L.H. Cosway

  For Bowie and the imaginations he captured.

  Copyright © 2017 L.H. Cosway.

  All rights reserved.

  Cover design by RBA Designs.

  Editing by Marion Archer at Making Manuscripts.

  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

  One

  Two

  Three

  Four

  Five

  Six

  Seven

  Eight

  One

  Life on Mars?

  Whenever I was feeling down I watched the musicless version of Dancin’ in the Street.

  What?

  It was the perfect remedy for a case of the blues.

  Then I watched the original version, the ultimate catnip for oddballs like me. Bowie was my guru, my constant companion, my imaginary friend. He visited me from beyond the grave, each time dressed in one of his many guises.

  Some would say this was the reason my life was in the gutter, but those people could go kiss my shiny Ziggy Stardust boots. Okay, I tell a lie. I didn’t own a pair of shiny Ziggy Stardust boots. That sort of luck only fell upon the truly blessed. I did, however, possess an encyclopaedic knowledge of Bowie and his madcap crazy life-living skillz.

  For example, did you know that David (I felt I knew him well enough to be on first-name basis) used to anonymously comment on his own fan forum under the code name ‘Sailor’? He relished the fact that people had to say “Hello, Sailor” when they greeted him.

  It was these sorts of titbits that really kept me going. I know, kinda sad. Unfortunately, when you’re twenty years old, homeless, and wash dishes for a living, it’s the little things that seem like bright, shining beacons of hope.

  I was a glass half full kind of girl. I had to be, otherwise I’d be a hand me the crack pipe kind of girl.

  A car honked loudly from somewhere outside the building I was squatting in, prompting Mr Hector to jump off the sleeping bag and do a runner. The little coward. Mr Hector was my stray cat. I didn’t own him or anything, he just kept showing up. I named him Mr Hector after the concierge in Home Alone 2 (obvs), because he possessed the exact same disdainful, snobbish personality and facial expressions.

  Yes, cats had facial expressions.

  Well, I liked to imagine they did, anyway, and I had quite a vivid imagination, hence my fictitious Bowie visitations. He sat by the crumbling window ledge, looking out onto the dead environs of a forgotten part of London.

  “They’ll probably try to gentrify this place soon,” Bowie sighed, rolling his glass orb from one palm to the other. He was Jareth the Goblin King this morning. “Then where will that leave you?”

  “I’ll have enough for a deposit to rent a flat by then,” I replied.

  “But you don’t have any references from previous landlords. Everybody asks for references these days. It’s not the 1970s anymore,” he continued, arching a wry, well-plucked eyebrow.

  Damn imaginary Bowie, always pointing out the flaws in my plans.

  “More’s the pity. If it were the ’70s I could go live with you and Iggy Pop in Berlin.”

  He paused his orb rolling. “You couldn’t hack that lifestyle.”

  I gaped at him and gestured around myself. “Eh, hello, I’m living in a squat. I can hack any lifestyle. And besides, I’m sure I’ll be able to find somewhere willing to let me rent. Maybe if I pay them in cash they’ll turn a blind eye.”

  Bowie didn’t look convinced. Neither did Mr Hector, who was sitting in the far corner of the room licking his privates now. Mr Hector and his privates needed to get a different room.

  I glanced at the time on my cracked but still functioning alarm clock and jumped into action. I had a shift at The Grub Hut in two hours and upon sniffing myself, deduced I needed to wash. That meant paying a visit to the local public swimming pool and availing of their showers.

  Please, don’t judge. I did what I had to.

  I could only afford the swimming pool twice a week. Three at most. Other days I either used the bathroom at work, or I brushed my teeth and washed my face with a bottle of water here at the squat. There was no running water in the building. Or electricity for that matter, and when it got dark my only source of light came from the collection of candles I’d accumulated over time.

  Saying goodbye to Bowie and Mr Hector, I made my way outside. I’d been living here for three months and so far so good. In other words, no police had come knocking. That didn’t mean they wouldn’t eventually, of course. I needed a contingency plan, but between work and making sure some junkie didn’t usurp my living quarters, I didn’t have a lot of time for coming up with Plan B.

  My story was a typical one. After my mum died of an overdose when I was fourteen, I’d been placed into care. I aged out of the system at eighteen and have been doing my best to survive ever since.

  My philosophy was that nobody was going to show up and give me a home. I had to fight for one, and working hard was the only way I knew how to fight. Hope was a powerful thing. So long as I held on to positivity and hope, I knew I’d better my situation. I had to.

  My hair was still a little wet when I arrived at work. My boss, Lee, was kind of amazing. When I’d shown up asking if he had any jobs going, he’d taken one look at me and somehow sensed my desperation. Maybe he’d been in my position before, or maybe he was just a good person, but he didn’t tell me to sling my hook when I confessed I couldn’t give him my address. Instead he nodded soberly and told me that if I showed up on time and did my job well, he’d turn the other cheek.

  I felt a little bad that I secretly charged my iPod in the break room during my shifts. I’d had it since my thirteenth birthday and managed to keep it in near-pristine condition. It was one of the last things Mum ever bought me. It kept me feeling warm on so many cold, lonely nights.

  I could live without a home.

  I could live without a family.

  But I couldn’t live without my music.

  Luckily, Lee liked to pipe the local radio station into the kitchen while we worked, which helped make my shifts go by quicker.

  I was carrying a stack of dirty dishes from the front of the restaurant and out to the kitchen when I caught sight of a familiar police uniform. My pulse sped up and my posture stiffened. This always happened when he came in, but for some reason I never got used to it. My living situation being what it was, I tended to run the other way when I saw police. In this particular case, I knew he wasn’t here for me.

  Liam Cross was my boss’s little brother. Lee was always talking proudly of how he’d completed his training and started working as a PC. Great for him, but not so great for me, especially considering the suspicious looks he frequently threw my way.

  It didn’t help that he was singularly the prettiest man I’d ever laid eyes on. Closely cropped light brown hair, blue eyes brighter than the Mediterranean, and the kind of toned, muscular physique girls swooned for the world over.

  “Excuse me,” I mumbled, not making eye contact.

  He was standing in the hallway that led to the kitchen, blocking my entry. His gaze flared ever so slightly when he turned and saw me, then he quickly plastered on a bland expression.

  “Sorry, go ahead,” he replied and moved to let me pass.

  “Thanks,” I managed and scurried by.

  A few moments later I was back by the sink, hosing down dishes and trying to calm
my nerves. What was it about Liam Cross that made me so nervous? Sure, there was his profession, but Lee’s wife was a policewoman, and she didn’t make me feel antsy like Liam did. I got this sense that he was constantly watching me, evaluating, searching for flaws. Since I’ve always tried to fade into the background, it made me seriously tetchy.

  Had Lee told him of my unconventional employment status?

  No, I didn’t think he’d do that. He didn’t know I was homeless, probably just thought I was surfing friends’ couches until I could save up enough money to get on the renting ladder. Well, at least the last bit was true.

  “Iris.”

  I froze. It was him. Why was he talking to me? He never talked to me.

  I turned off the water and slowly turned. God, I was right about him being pretty. It was even worse up close. And as much as I tried to avoid the police, I couldn’t deny that the uniform was sexy. At least, it was on him.

  “Y-yes?” I stammered and dried my hands on my apron.

  My eyes locked with his and a moment passed between us. The tiny hairs on my arms stood on end and I hoped he didn’t notice. His gaze moved from my eyes to my nose, lingering then on my lips. The way his eyes darkened made me shiver a little. Crap, was I shaking?

  He cleared his throat. “There’s been a spill over by table nine. Lee asked if you could grab a mop and bucket to clear it.”

  How romantic.

  “Oh right, yes, of course.”

  I had my head in the clouds if I thought Liam Cross harboured any sort of attraction for me.

  I nodded and moved to walk by him, but in a flash he took hold of my wrist. I glanced up at him, questioning. His eyes moved cautiously between mine. I felt small. On display. Studied. Liam wasn’t a particularly tall man, but being that I was only five foot two, he practically dwarfed me.

  “Are you all right?”

  I did my best to appear casual. “Yes. Why wouldn’t I be?”

  “You seem a little shaken.”

  I frowned at this. He was very direct. I effected a weak laugh. “Shaken? I’m fine. Seriously.”

  He didn’t let go of my wrist, and it only functioned to panic me further. His gaze narrowed the tiniest bit, an expression on his face like he was trying to read my thoughts. “You’re lying.”

  “I’m not.”

  “You are.”

  I grit my teeth, pissed with him now. “Let go of me.”

  After the tiniest moment of hesitation, he let go and I scarpered.

  One of the customers had spilled their Coke all over the floor, so I busied myself cleaning it up before somebody happened by and slipped. It was the lunchtime rush so the place was jam-packed. Five minutes later I was done and returned to my place by the sink, an endless routine of rinsing and stacking, rinsing and stacking. It was monotonous, sure, but I didn’t care so long as I got paid.

  When you’ve experienced true hunger, you’ll do just about anything to keep food in your belly. Back at the squat I had a loaf of bread, some peanut butter, and a packet of biscuits stashed inconspicuously behind a few bits of broken furniture. My stomach grumbled just thinking of them. I really hoped Mr Hector didn’t discover my secret stash, because he was a notorious food thief. Although, the upside of working here was that meals were provided, which was obviously a godsend for me.

  I was humming along to Psycho Killer by Talking Heads when I sensed somebody’s attention. The lunch rush was over and Lee had gathered the crew to prep for dinner. I would’ve loved to be a part of the cooking staff, but I wasn’t qualified. I harboured a secret ambition to ask Lee if he’d train me, but I was still building up the courage. I was also a little obsessed with food, although I wasn’t sure if it stemmed from constantly being hungry or a natural affiliation.

  I glanced quickly to the side and sure enough Liam was standing by one of the countertops, a bowl in hand as he ate some spaghetti, eyes on me. I really wished he’d quit. I might’ve been humming about a psycho killer, but that didn’t mean I was dangerous. I was only trying to get by. You’d swear I was the prime suspect in a murder case by the way he continued to observe me.

  I endeavoured to ignore him and continued washing dishes, too self-conscious to continue humming.

  “Iris,” said Lee and I jumped. Damn Liam and his constant surveillance.

  “Yep?”

  “You can go on break now. There’s some cottage pie in the fridge if you want to heat it up.”

  “Okay, thanks,” I replied, grateful that today’s lunch consisted of something carb heavy. I hated the days when he made soups or salads. Most people didn’t understand the need to fill up as much as you could because you didn’t know when or where the next meal was coming from.

  I studiously ignored Liam’s attention as I pulled off my rubber gloves, but as soon as I sat down in the break room to eat the chair across from mine moved.

  I looked up and Liam was there, joining me at the table.

  What the hell?

  Since I was last to go on break today, there was no one else around. Yes, I was completely alone with Liam Cross, a man I both feared and fancied in equal measures.

  My brows crinkled as I bit my lip, my eyes automatically going to my iPod that was still charging under the table. Liam followed my gaze, his attention landing on the slim pink contraption before moving back to me.

  “Yours?”

  “Um, yes, my battery ran out,” I mumbled and reached down to pull out the plug.

  “You couldn’t charge it at home?”

  I shook my head. “I forgot.”

  He didn’t say anything, just studied me.

  “Do you need something?” I asked, trying to keep my voice from wavering.

  “Not particularly.”

  “Then why are you sitting here? My food’s going cold,” I complained, growing irritable.

  “I just thought we could chat. I’m on pretty friendly terms with my brother’s staff, all except you.”

  I shifted in my seat, the scent of cottage pie wafting up and making my mouth water. Damn him. I wanted to devour it like a wild animal, but I obviously couldn’t do that with an audience. “I like to keep to myself.”

  “I noticed.”

  His stare was intense now and it made my stomach twist. He knows about you. He knows everything, my brain panicked.

  “You have?”

  At this his cheeks reddened slightly and he glanced away. Wait, what? Was he embarrassed?

  He cleared his throat and his gaze returned to me. “I watch you a lot.”

  I know.

  “You do?”

  He smiled a little. “Like you haven’t noticed.”

  “I haven’t.” I have. “I’m pretty much in my own little world most of the time.”

  He didn’t say anything for a minute, then, “Yeah, I think that’s what intrigues me so much. You’re very . . . solitary.”

  “I am?” Jeez, why couldn’t I manage more than two words at a time today?

  Instead of answering my question, he nodded to my food and said, “Eat.”

  He didn’t have to tell me twice. I dug into the pie with gusto. Aside from the slice of bread with peanut butter I ate for breakfast, this was all I’d had all day. A minute or two went by and Liam didn’t speak. Instead he watched me eat. I probably would’ve felt awkward if the food wasn’t so good and I wasn’t so hungry.

  “Is that your natural hair colour?”

  I glanced up. “Huh?”

  “Your hair. It’s very dark. Is it natural?”

  I self-consciously ran a hand over my loose bun. “Oh, um, yeah. It’s natural.”

  “I thought it might be dyed because of all your tattoos. Thought you were going for the Goth look.”

  I laughed softly. “I’m more of a punk.”

  “Ah.”

  “So, how did you come by all that ink?”

  I swallowed a bite, deliberating over whether or not to answer. Surprisingly, my mouth wanted to talk to Liam even if my brain thou
ght it a questionable idea. “I used to have this friend. She was an aspiring tattoo artist and I let her practice on me.” I held my arm out for him to see, my skin visible since I was wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt. Liam’s gaze traced over the oriental fishes, five-point stars, and other random illustrations with interest. My pores tingled.

  “You were her guinea pig?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Do you regret that?”

  I shook my head fervently. “No, definitely not. My friend . . . she died. They’re all I have left of her.”

  “Fuck, I’m sorry.”

  “Don’t be.”

  “What happened to her?”

  I let out a breath. This conversation had taken a turn for the morbid. “She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. We lived in a rough neighbourhood and there was a shooting, a rift between two gangs. Becky got caught in the crossfire.”

  Liam sucked in a harsh breath. “Christ, were you there?”

  “No, but I wish I had been. I hate thinking of her dying alone.”

  My thoughts wandered back, pain clutching my heart. Becky and I had met in foster care when we were fifteen, and for two short years we’d been inseparable. Sisters. At least, she was the closest thing I had to family. She brought colour into my life, and when she was gone everything felt empty. Again.

  Liam went quiet and I returned my attention to eating. He was there when I finished, still not talking. I wondered what was going through his head. My stomach felt delightfully full, which worked to keep me from feeling too down remembering Becky.

  “Don’t you have to be getting back to work?” I asked, pointedly eyeing his uniform.

  He arched a brow. “Don’t you?”

  I glanced at the clock. “I have ten minutes left.”

  “What a coincidence. So do I.” He was smiling now. It made me feel funny.

  “What’s it like being in the police?” I asked, unable to hold in my curiosity.

  His smile warmed. “Why? You interested in joining?”

  I scrunched up my mouth. “No. God, no.”

  “Got a problem with the law, little punk?” He leaned closer over the table and a waft of his cologne invaded my senses. He smelled good. Citrusy.

 
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