Thief of hearts, p.15
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       Thief of Hearts, p.15

           L.H. Cosway
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  I closed the door and turned to Stu, still clasping his hand. Our mouths were literally inches apart and a heady sensation washed over me. “He doesn’t know about the robbery,” I whispered and his expression instantly relaxed. “Alfie told him one of your brothers is a Rembrandt fanatic, and he’s painting the piece as a surprise birthday gift.”

  Stu grinned at that and so did I. I’d met his brothers. They weren’t the sort of men who were into Rembrandt. After a second the mood changed. Our smiles fell but our eyes stayed connected. Stu’s gaze turned hot and needful and it made something flutter in my chest.

  “How’ve you been?” he murmured, moving his thumb along the inside of my wrist. Neither one of us let go, and I wondered if he enjoyed the feeling of being skin to skin as much as I did. Sweat pebbled my forehead, both from the unseasonably hot day and Stu’s effect on me. My body responded to his on instinct.

  “Good. Busy,” I croaked as he moved an inch closer. His eyes wandered to my lips, which suddenly felt dry so I licked them. Stu’s expression turned pained as he endeavoured to look away. Now his gaze was on my collarbone, studying my bare skin.

  “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in so few clothes,” he said, a strain in his voice.

  “It’s sunny,” I replied.

  “You’ve got the most flawless skin,” he continued, his gaze moving to my chest. My boobs weren’t small. They weren’t gigantic, either. They were just sort of . . . medium. Though for some reason they felt bigger now as Stu ogled them, almost as if they were straining to break free.

  “Um,” I said, biting my lip. Words were never my strong suit when Stu was near.

  He braced one hand against the wall at my shoulder, his thumb still brushing the inside of my wrist. How could I feel that one touch all the way between my thighs? This man had some sort of magic.

  “Do you ever think about that kiss at your parents’?” he asked huskily, dipping his head to trace his lips across my jaw. A small, embarrassing noise escaped me that I wasn’t sure how to label.

  “Um,” I said again. Seriously, brain, could you come up with something more than single syllable nonsense right now?

  “I do,” Stu went on, his tongue dipping out to taste me. My head fell back against the wall, granting him more access. Stu groaned and started kissing my neck in earnest, sucking and biting. His lips felt like heaven, and I was already wet. How quickly things escalated. Stu pressed his hips into me. Shit, he was hard. His mouth travelled across my neck, along my earlobe and to my mouth. When he kissed me it was soft and explorative. I didn’t stop him, didn’t want to. Desire had won this round.

  Reaching down, he lifted my thigh and hitched it around his waist. I gasped into his kiss, allowing him to slip his tongue in and taste me. I loved the feel of his soft licks, how his tongue danced with mine.

  Stu pulled away, going to kiss my neck again before moving down to my cleavage. He mouthed the top of one breast, then the other, and the moan that came out of me sounded foreign. I didn’t realise I was still capable of such a sound.

  “Your tits are gorgeous,” Stu breathed, kissing and licking them. When he gave them a little bite I yelped. His answering chuckle was low, hitting my right in the pit of my stomach. “I spend half my time in class staring at them, the other half I spend wondering what your nipples look like. You drive me insane, Andrea.”

  I moaned again and Stu grunted, pinching my hardened nipple through the fabric of my top. “I love that sound,” he said. “You’ve no clue how long it’s been since I’ve heard a woman make that sound.” His voice was practically a growl now, more animal than man. I strained against his erection where it pressed firmly between my thighs. I could tell he was . . . substantial. The thought actually had me blushing.

  “Stuart, are you coming to see this painting, or what?” Jamie called from Alfie’s bedroom, his tone full of mischief. Mortification hit me as I wondered if they’d heard us, but then I remembered Alfie had the radio on. I just hoped it drowned out the sound of . . . whatever that just was.

  “If we ignore them they’ll leave us alone, right?” Stu asked irritably.

  “Unfortunately, it’ll only make them more determined. You should go.”

  “I don’t want to,” he grunted, standing back to his full height and brazenly dropping his hand between my legs.

  “Stu!” I yelped, stifling a gasp.

  “I want to stay and taste this,” he continued, massaging me. I hadn’t been touched like this in such a long time that I was embarrassingly close to orgasm. If he applied any more pressure, I was in danger of coming and he’d barely done a thing.

  Stu swore and moved away, turning to face the window for a second as he willed his erection to go down. I busied myself fixing my hair back into place and made an effort to calm my laboured breathing. A minute passed, maybe two, and then Stu moved by me out the door. I didn’t get why he wouldn’t look at me, but I hoped it was because it’d make it harder for him to leave. I closed the door and moved into my room. Flopping down on my bed, I pressed my face into my pillow to muffle a groan. I’d never been so aroused in my life, not even with Mark. That thought was sobering.

  Our relationship had always been more friendship based than sexual. We were just seventeen when we first met and became fast friends. Our friendship blossomed into love, rather than lust becoming love. Don’t get me wrong, we had a fantastic sex life, but I never felt that hot itching need beneath my skin that Stu gave me. Again, guilt set in. A part of me thought I shouldn’t be feeling this way. If my love for Mark was as pure and true as I thought, then how could I possibly want Stu? Maybe it was all just lust. Lust could make even the tamest person act out of character, and I was still wrapped up in its madness.

  I lay there, my hand resting on my lower belly, where my top had ridden up a little. My nerves were frazzled and wondered if I should allow myself a little relief. What harm could it do? Moving my hand under the waistband of my shorts, I slid my fingers beneath my underwear and touched myself. I was embarrassingly wet.

  Stu’s muffled voice sounded from Alfie’s room as they carried out a conversation. I let it wash over me as I stroked my tender flesh and imagined it was his fingers. I had a vision of him coming to me after class, locking the door and kneeling before me. I’d be wearing a skirt and he’d push it up, burying his head between my legs as he went down on me with his skilled tongue.

  I moved two fingers inside myself, using my other hand to circle my clit. My hips jutted forward, practically in the air as I strained to come. My movements got faster, harder, until a fresh swell of moisture coated my fingers. I buried my face in my pillow once more as I orgasmed so intensely I wanted to scream. The fantasy in my head combined with Stu’s voice just one room away was a heady combination.

  This wasn’t something I normally did. Sure, I got myself off every once in a blue moon, but it was more of a bodily function rather than a necessity. Being turned on by a real live person was certainly new territory for me.

  I lay there for long minutes, feeling sated yet wanting more. Wanting him. I knew it was wrong but I just couldn’t help myself. It wasn’t a choice, it just was. Moving off the bed, I opened my wardrobe and grabbed a cotton jumper, pulling it on over my vest. My nipples were still hard beneath my bra, and the feel of the fabric sliding over them both aroused and frustrated me.

  After paying a quick visit to the bathroom, I knocked on Alfie’s door and stepped inside. My cousin was hard at work, stabbing the paintbrush into the canvas with passionate abandon. Stu sat at the worktable by the window with Jamie, funnily enough engaged in a game of Go. Jamie was fanatical about this Chinese board game akin to chess. He actually attended Go tournaments from time to time and I always lost whenever I played him.

  Glancing at the board I was surprised to find that Stu currently had the upper hand. The objective was to surround as much territory as possible using black and white pebbles. In this particular case, Stu was the black pebbles and Jamie the white

  “Hey,” I said and Stu’s attention fell on me. His eyes traced my body then focused intently on my face. I flushed, feeling like he could tell from my expression what I’d just been up to. He stared a long moment, his eyes dark and heated, but that could’ve just been because of what had transpired between us earlier.

  “Andrea, it seems I’ve finally found a worthy opponent,” said Jamie, smiling from ear to ear. He always loved a challenge. “Stuart here is quite the natural.”

  I looked at Stu. “You’ve never played before?”

  He shook his head. “No.”

  “In that case you’re doing incredibly well.”

  His lips curved into a smile while Jamie’s attention returned to the board, pondering his next move.

  I tugged on the end of my sleeve as Stu continued to study me. “You okay?” he asked.

  I nodded, perhaps a little too fervently. “Of course, why wouldn’t I be?”

  It took him a moment to answer. “You look . . . flushed.”

  “It’s just the weather. I’m fine,” I said, waving him off.

  “So, Stuart,” said Jamie, and I was relieved he decided to speak if only to divert Stu’s attention away from me, “do you mind if I ask about your time in prison? I have to admit I’m morbidly curious.”

  Obviously, my relief was short-lived. This was typical Jamie. The man had been born without a filter.

  “Maybe some other time,” said Stu, shifting uncomfortably in his seat.

  “Oh, don’t be shy. I’ve had a few run-ins with the law myself over the years. I knew all those unreturned library books would catch up with me eventually,” he joked.

  “How about I make us all something to drink?” I said in an effort to change the subject. “Anybody thirsty?”

  “I’ll take a juice,” said Alfie, not moving his eyes from his work.

  “Sure, whatever you have is fine,” said Jamie with a smile.

  “I’ll help you,” Stu offered, about to get up from his seat but I waved him off.

  “You stay and continue your game. I’ll only be a minute.”

  When I returned with four glasses of orange juice the men were in the middle of a conversation that had Stu saying to Jamie, “Come on, even you have to admit she’s sexy.”

  I paused by the door, not entering yet because I wanted them to continue talking and suspected they’d stop if I came in, like a domestic version of the ‘waiter pause’.

  Jamie’s eyes glinted with mischief as he answered pointedly, “Well, everything else aside, being that I fancy men, I’m not exactly her target audience.”

  A small moment of awkward silence fell before Stu spoke. “Ah, right. Didn’t pick up on that.”

  “Not your fault,” Jamie went on. “People can rarely tell. I’m more Rock Hudson gay than Liberace gay.”

  Alfie scoffed, his paintbrush held in mid-air as he shot Jamie a look. “That’s a laugh. You’re Oscar Wilde gay and we all know it.

  Jamie gave him a playful glance. “Well, at least I’m not Alan Turing gay.”

  “Hey now, be nice,” Alfie frowned. “Our intelligence might be matched, but don’t curse me to poor Turing’s fate.”

  “You’re right, that was mean,” Jamie allowed.

  “So you’re both . . .” Stu cut in, his words falling short.

  “Raving homosexuals?” Jamie provided. “Why yes, dear.”

  I stifled a laugh at him calling Stu ‘dear’ and stepped over the threshold into the room. As suspected, all conversation hushed when I entered. I still wondered who Stu had been referring to as ‘sexy’ but it wasn’t like I had the nerve to ask. After handing out the refreshments I took a seat on Alfie’s bed, while Jamie and Stu returned their focus to the board game.

  I looked around, realising that I never really spent much time in Alfie’s room if I wasn’t there to provide a critical eye for his art. It was a lot bigger than mine, but I let him have it because he worked from home. All I really needed was a bed and somewhere to store my clothes and I was happy. My attention fell on the stack of paintings in the corner, more specifically the one at the top. Alfie had painted me numerous times in the past, but this one I’d never seen before.

  I sat with my legs crossed at the water’s edge at my parents’ holiday home in Lake Windermere. The painting was based on a picture they’d taken when I visited with them almost two years ago. My hair hung long down my back as I stared out at the water, my face in profile.

  “Stuart was just admiring that one,” said Jamie, his voice breaking me from my thoughts.

  “Oh,” I breathed, eyes going to Stu, “you were?”

  He shrugged, actually looking embarrassed, but that couldn’t be right. “Yeah, it’s . . . nice.”

  “Oh, come now,” Jamie tsked. “You said it was a little more than nice just a minute ago.”

  I blushed as realisation hit me. Had Stu been calling me sexy? I’d been so twisted up over the idea of him faking his attraction just to get to Alfie, but what happened in my room earlier wasn’t fake. It had been too raw, too messy and spontaneous to not be real.

  I sipped on my orange juice, trying not to blush. Every once in a while, I felt Stu’s eyes on me, but I didn’t look at him. I was too edgy, too needful. If I looked at him now I’d be liable to jump him in front of both my cousin and one of my closest friends. After a couple of minutes, I excused myself to go and finish correcting my papers. The men were far too ensconced in their activities to notice me leaving, and I breathed a sigh of relief to have some distance from Stu.

  I felt so conflicted around him.

  On the one hand, I was incredibly attracted to him, both physically and cerebrally. He was gorgeous to look at and, more often than not I liked how his mind worked. But on the other hand, his past was so incredibly different to mine, the circles he moved in unnerved me, and the fact that he entered my life with dishonest intentions was cause for concern. In fact, no, it was a whole lot more than just that, but my feelings of lust seemed to be mingling with my anger, making it incredibly difficult to figure out how I felt at all, really.

  Over an hour passed and none of them had yet to emerge from Alfie’s bedroom. I knew how absorbing the board game could be, and imagined Jamie was relishing the challenge Stu presented. His natural talent for the game showed his tactical aptitude, which was yet more proof of my theory about different kinds of intelligence. Stu might struggle reading books and completing written assignments, but he was leaps and bounds ahead of the pack in other areas.

  When I returned to Alfie’s room my cousin was lying on the bed, his arm thrown over his face and his breathing deep and even. I would’ve thought he was asleep if it weren’t for the way he was mumbling to himself, something about finding the right shade of blue-black. The painting wasn’t anywhere near finished, but I could definitely see it taking shape.

  “Did you know that Go dates back over five thousand years?” asked Jamie while Stu stared at the board, his dark brows drawn together as he contemplated the pebbles. “The first written record of it is contained in an annal dating from the fourth century. Think of the sheer historical significance, the simplicity of a game that is at the same time incredibly complex. It’s quite fascinating.”

  “You talk a lot,” said Stu, casting him an irritated look. “And I know what you’re doing. I’ve got the edge and you’re bricking it. You’re trying to make me lose my concentration.”

  Jamie shot him a look like butter wouldn’t melt. “Why, I’d never dream of doing such a thing.”

  Stu smirked and shook his head, finally reaching for a pebble and making his move. Jamie swore loudly and Alfie chuckled, sitting up from his reclining position.

  “You lost. I can’t believe it.”

  “Oh hush,” said Jamie. “I’m well aware of Stu’s victory. No need to rub it in.”

  “Yes, but this is definitely a first. We should take a picture.”

  “No thank you, Alfred. There’s absolutely no need for photograp
hic evidence of me losing to a novice.”

  “I’m kinda regretting not putting some money down,” said Stu smugly. I smiled to myself, because it was nice to see him happily interacting with two of the most important people in my life.

  “I was thinking of ordering in some pizza. Anybody want some?” I asked and was met with three resounding yeses. Even Jamie appeared soothed by the prospect of bread and melted cheese. I went to place the order while the others congregated in the living room. As I was setting out plates and cups Stu came up behind me, lowering his mouth to my ear.

  “I can’t stop thinking about you.”

  “You could’ve fooled me. I thought you might’ve forgotten my existence you were so absorbed in your board game,” I teased.

  “It wasn’t like that. I needed a distraction,” he answered quietly, his hand going to my stomach and gently caressing. “Didn’t like leaving you like that though.”

  I turned my head a little. “Like what?”

  “All horny and gorgeous. Such a fucking waste.”

  His husky whisper made me tremble as I recalled that my arousal didn’t exactly go to waste. But no way was I telling him about that.

  “What are you thinking about?”

  I shrugged. “Nothing.”

  “Don’t lie. Your head went someplace just now. Where was it?”

  I was blushing bright red. “Honestly, you’re imagining things.” I twisted out of his hold and walked to the other side of the kitchen to grab some knives and forks. Not that we needed them. Nobody ate pizza with utensils. What I needed was distance.

  Stu caught me by the wrist just as I set them on the counter, twirling me back around to face him. His eyes traced my features as he took hold of my chin so I couldn’t turn away again. After a moment I knew he saw the truth because he swore under his breath.

  “Fucking hell.”

  His head dropped to my shoulder, where he seemed to take a few calming breaths. The next time he looked at me his eyes were dark and full of sin. “Do you have any idea what I would’ve given to see that, Andrea?” he whispered huskily. “God, I can just imagine you with that gorgeous hair spread across the pillow, your hand between your legs, making yourself come just for me.”

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