Thief of hearts, p.21
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       Thief of Hearts, p.21

           L.H. Cosway
 
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  I laughed again, this time louder. When Stu bit lightly on my nipple my laugh transformed into a moan. He licked a line across my breast, his gaze intense as we made eye contact. I trembled.

  “Let’s get these off,” Stu whispered huskily as he reached for my knickers and slid them down my legs. He knelt between them, his gaze devouring me before he bent and pressed a kiss to my inner thigh. He kissed all the way up my body until our mouths met again. After that we were a tangle of lips and teeth and limbs. I was breathless when we broke apart. Stu reached over to the chest of drawers beside his bed and pulled open the top one.

  A second later he was tearing open a condom and sliding it down his length. My tummy quivered at the sight of him. His brows drew together in concentration, his abs bunching and contracting as he moved. When he was done he braced his hands on either side of my head and stared down at me. My legs were spread wide around his hips and I felt his cock nudge against me. I wanted him inside.

  His gaze was tender when he pushed into me, slowly filling me inch by inch. My breath whooshed out when he was embedded deep. He went still, his eyes closed as he held himself above me. A low expletive left his lips and then he started to move. I tried not to be too loud, still aware of all the people downstairs. But God, I wanted to scream when his thrusts sped up. It was all too much.

  Our gazes locked and something passed between us, some unspoken emotion I couldn’t decipher. I felt my channel clench around him, my body close to orgasm. Stu grunted as he pounded me so hard I was surprised the bed wasn’t banging against the wall. When he came it was with a low growl, his mouth finding mine, and his tongue sliding in. The kiss was slow and sensual as he rode out the rest of his orgasm. I moaned when he pulled out of me, and his breathing was choppy. He flopped down onto the bed and dragged me on top of him.

  “Move up here,” he ordered and my stomach did a flip-flop.

  “W-what?” I sputtered, my cheeks heating at the command.

  “On my face,” he went on and I swear I blushed from head to toe.

  “Stu, I—”

  “You heard me, luv. C-mere,” he said breathlessly. I could tell by his expression that even though he’d just come he was still worked up. Lucky me.

  Before I could stop him Stu grabbed my hips and shifted my body until I was doing exactly what he’d asked. I yelped and gripped the headboard to steady my balance. Stu pressed his face to my sex, his mouth hot and wet as he tongued me. I cried out, sensitive after the pounding he’d just given me.

  Glancing down I saw him watching me, absorbing my every reaction. I hissed when his teeth grazed my clit, and the way his lips curved in amusement told me it had been intentional.

  “You’re a bastard,” I said past a moan.

  He only smirked, still going to town on me with his mouth. Every part of me fizzled with pleasure, and when his tongue slid inside me I had to bite my lip to keep from screaming. He was way, way, way too good at this, especially considering he was so out of practice. His fingers dug into my hips, holding me in place. His tongue was on my clit again now, swirling in a circular motion as my stomach tightened and my thighs tensed.

  I was close, so close.

  “Fuck,” I swore. “Stu, I’m—”

  He said something but it was muffled by the fact that his face was still pressed to my vagina. The vibration was what sent me over the edge, and I came so hard my body bucked. Stu’s groan echoed through me, and he continued licking until every last tremor subsided.

  I dropped down onto the bed and snuggled into him, burying my face in his neck because I was embarrassed now. I couldn’t believe I’d just done that, that I’d let him to do that to me.

  Stu flipped us so we were spooning, one hand cupping my breast, the other spread out over my stomach. I felt owned by him, every part of me possessed. The thought was sobering. He sucked my earlobe into his skilled mouth then whispered, “Go to sleep, luv.”

  I wanted to. In fact, there was nothing I wanted more than to drift off into a contented slumber wrapped up in his arms. I didn’t realise how much I missed being in bed with a man, being held by him, until this very moment. But I couldn’t stay. I already felt too raw, too exposed with him after the day we’d had. I also had to go home because if I stayed out all night Alfie was going to wonder where I’d been. It was a pity I didn’t have any close female friends so I could pretend I was spending the night at their place.

  Grown women could still have sleepovers, right?

  I allowed myself a couple of minutes to enjoy lying next to him before I tried to make a move.

  “No chance,” Stu grunted, his lips in my hair. “You’re staying.”

  “I can’t,” I whispered and his arm tightened around me.

  “Got plans to wake up and fuck you again. Don’t mess with my plans, Andrea.”

  How did he manage to make that sound charming? It was a true talent.

  “If I don’t go home Alfie will worry.”

  “So shoot off a text and tell him not to wait up.”

  I shook my head and twisted around to face him. “You don’t understand. Alfie can’t know about us, not yet. He doesn’t do well with change. I need to pick the right time.”

  “You’re not his parent. You shouldn’t need to pussyfoot around him.”

  “That’s not what I’m doing. Alfie’s just not like everybody else, and I’m one of the few people in the world he feels safe with.”

  Stu wore a serious look. “What’s his deal anyway?”

  I rubbed my shoulder and sat up. Stu followed suit, his warmth pressing into my back. When I didn’t say anything for a long moment he spoke quietly, “It’s okay. You don’t have to tell me.”

  “No, no, I want to, it’s just . . . Alfie’s always been an artistic soul, almost like he operates on a different plane than other people. That temperament was exacerbated as a result of his upbringing.”

  “Did his old man knock him about or something?”

  I shook my head. “No, nothing like that. To be honest, his dad wasn’t really present in his life much. Raymond was always working or out spending time with his revolving door of mistresses. His cheating turned Alfie’s mum into a paranoid wreck and my cousin had a terrible time of it living with her. After a while her paranoia transformed into coldness and Alfie spent a lot of his childhood without any warmth or parental love.

  “She took a lot of her unhappiness out on him, always bossing him around, treating him like her own personal servant. For years I tried persuading him to move out, but he was too under her thumb. Then after Mark passed I finally managed to convince him to come and live with me. Nowadays he keeps very little contact with her, and it’s for the best. I know it might not seem like it, but he’s so much more balanced now that he doesn’t have to see her all the time. It’s not that she’s a particularly bad person, she’s just not good for my cousin.”

  “I can understand that. Some people are like black holes; they suck out all your energy. And I get why you’re protective of him. He’s your family.”

  A breath escaped me, and I was so relieved he understood Alfie’s and my relationship. “So you’re not mad I can’t stay?”

  “No, Andrea, I’m not mad,” he whispered and bent to press a kiss on my lips.

  “Thank you.”

  We were quite for a few moments before I spoke. “Stu?”

  “Yeah?” His hand stroked lazily back and forth across my stomach.

  “What was it like growing up here?” Now that we’d been intimate, I felt like I wanted to know everything about him. It was like I had this unquenchable hunger inside me. I mean, the inside of his house was clean and modern, but I had to wonder if it had always been that way. Most of the street looked fairly rundown.

  He pondered his answer a while. “Sometimes it was brutal, especially after our Mum died. We were all still kids at the time, and our old man hadn’t been on the scene for a long while, so we were more or less on our own.”

  I gasped. I co
uldn’t believe I hadn’t known his mother was dead, but he never spoke about his parents and I’d never asked. “But didn’t social services step in? A bunch of kids with no parents can’t just be left alone like that.”

  “Our aunt, Sophie’s Mum, let on that she was taking care of us.”

  “And was she?”

  “Nah, but she had no problem spending the social welfare money she got for it.”

  “That’s awful,” I exclaimed.

  “That’s life, Andrea. And we survived well enough. We might’ve had to break the law to do it, but we survived.”

  I hugged him close, my heart hurting for him and his brothers, for the little boys they once were. Now I understood how he’d ended up in prison, how he’d gone down the wrong path in life. It was survival, pure and simple. I wished I could somehow go back in time and pluck him from that situation, care for him and his brothers like they should’ve been cared for.

  “My upbringing was the complete opposite,” I said, my voice quiet. “I never had a care, never wanted for anything. Thinking about how life was for you, I feel like I took it all for granted.”

  “You were a kid. All kids just accept their reality, whether it’s good or bad.”

  “Maybe. It just really hurts me to think about you having to steal when you should’ve been out playing football with your friends or I dunno, going to the cinema and stuff.”

  Stu gave a tender chuckle. “We still did that, too. It wasn’t all bad you know. It just was.”

  A quiet fell between us and Stu’s fingers wandered to my inner arm to trace my tattoo. “When did you get this?”

  I startled slightly, because I often forgot it was even there. “Just a few weeks after Mark passed. Alfie was actually the one who suggested it. I was staying at my parents’ house, barely getting out of bed, not eating. I think he thought it would be good for me to do something to commemorate him, something permanent that would symbolise how he still lived on in my heart. So he drew the design for me on a piece of paper. It was beautiful, so simple and lovely. And he was right. Every second the ink was going into my skin made me feel better, less lost.”

  Stu didn’t speak, just continued tracing the tattoo, and somehow I felt like he understood. He accepted my past, and though he’d questioned me about my ring earlier in the day, I felt like now, in this moment, he didn’t feel threatened by it. If I hadn’t experienced everything I had, if I hadn’t been married to Mark, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

  We stayed like that for a long while, just lying in one another’s arms and savouring the feeling of connection. Finally, Stu shifted us into a sitting position, his voice tender when he spoke. “Go get some clothes on, and I’ll give you a lift home.”

  “Stu.”

  “What is it, gorgeous?”

  “Thanks for listening to me, and for telling me about your childhood.” I paused, a smile tugging at my lips. “You’re kind of a great guy.”

  He shot me a cocky grin. “You’re only realising this now?”

  I threw a pillow at his head.

  Twenty

  Someone knocked loudly on my bedroom door, irritatingly waking me up from a lovely, lovely dream. Stu had dragged me into the storage cupboard at the college again, only this time he used his hands to bring me to orgasm.

  I sat up in bed, grumpily flicking on my lap and checking the time on my alarm clock. 3:47 a.m. I was going to murder my cousin.

  “What do you want, Alfie?” I called. “I can’t even think about how early it is right now.”

  There was a pause and the sound of him hopping nervously from foot to foot. “Well, technically you could say it’s late rather than early . . .” he said sheepishly as I climbed out of bed and threw open the door. I was so tired I could only manage to open one eye.

  “Just spit it out,” I said crankily.

  Alfie was practically buzzing with energy as he blurted. “I finished it. It’s done.”

  “Finished?”

  “The painting. Stu’s painting. It’s finished, and Andie, oh my God, it’s . . . I feel like it might be brilliant, hell, I feel like it might be amazing but I’ve been staring at it so long I can’t tell anymore, and I need you to look so you can tell me I’m right.”

  I held up a hand to cut off his never-ending words and then rubbed at my eyes. “Okay, I’m awake. Let’s go take a look at this knock-off.”

  “It’s a replica, Andie, not a knock-off,” Alfie grumped.

  I grinned sleepily and he folded his arms on a huff. “Fine, I guess I deserved that for waking you up. You’d swear I’d just interrupted you from a dream about a Charlie Hunnam striptease.”

  Now I grinned, because my dream had been so much better than that. Two weeks had passed since I had dinner with Stu and his family. Two weeks of stolen kisses and hurried sexual encounters where we were both so eager to fall into one another we barely had time to catch our breath. My skin constantly tingled with the anticipation of when we might get to be together next, the danger that we might get caught. Most evenings he’d wait at the end of my street in his car and then we’d go take a drive somewhere. And by drive I meant . . .

  My thoughts were cut short when I stepped inside Alfie’s bedroom to find a masterpiece on his easel. I stood frozen in place, aghast at the accuracy of his work. It didn’t just look like the original, it looked old, like I was staring at a piece that had existed for hundreds of years. Alfie hovered close by, anxiously awaiting my feedback.

  “Well?” he said, biting his lip. “Do you think it’ll pass for the real thing?”

  I didn’t answer him and instead walked farther into the room, glancing between the fake and Alfie’s laptop screen, where the photograph of the original was displayed. I was still amazed by how you could zoom in and out and inspect every single detail, see every tiny crack in the oil paint. I kept looking from one to the other, trying to pick out differences but coming up short.

  It was flawless.

  Whatever methods Alfie had used to recreate the aging of the paint truly astounded me.

  “I can’t believe it. Alfie, it’s identical,” I said finally, and he let out the loudest sigh of relief I’d ever heard. Sometimes I wondered how just one person could hold so much unspent nervous tension inside their body. It almost felt like he was vibrating with it.

  My cousin sagged down onto the bed, his clothes and much of his hands smeared with paint. He threw his arm over his face as he muttered. “Thank God.”

  I sat down next to him to properly take in the piece. It wasn’t just flawless. It was magnificent. Dark, deep blue sea curled up into a violent pale wave. The ship tilted in its struggle to stay afloat as Christ and his disciples faced the raging storm. The waves were so vivid it almost felt like I could feel them bashing against the wood of the vessel, the sails billowing in the wind. Above there is a hint of yellow light where the clouds are beginning to part, anticipating Christ’s command for the storm to subside.

  After a few moments Alfie sat up and we both just stared at it. Soon my awe of my cousin’s talent turned to worry. The piece was complete and now the next stage of the plan had to be put into action.

  And I, well, abruptly I felt like I was suffocating with the finality of it all.

  Too wired to go back to sleep, I showered, got dressed, and worked on my laptop as I mentally prepared myself to tell Stu the painting was ready. The date hadn’t been set for the transportation of Renfield’s cargo yet. He was still under the impression that Stu and I, or more specifically, Mr Kennedy and Miss Jordan, were ironing out the last few details.

  Now that the painting was done there was no longer any point in delaying things.

  I was still on edge when I arrived to work. Lots of students were hanging out in the lobby, chatting and drinking their morning coffees when I spotted Stu amid the crowd. His eyes met mine and he smiled tenderly, his gaze softening. This was how he looked at me all the time now, and it made my heart feel too many things.

  I felt like
I was falling for him, but given the strong, lustful pull toward one another it was hard to tell the difference, to make sense of my feelings.

  “We need to talk,” I said when I approached him, my expression sober.

  Stu got the message loud and clear and silently followed me to my classroom. The place was still empty, none of the other students having arrived yet. I let Stu go in by me before I closed the door, leaned back against it and exhaled a deep breath. He eyed me curiously.

  “The painting’s finished,” I blurted. “Alfie completed it early this morning.”

  Stu’s eyes flared, a moment of quiet passing as he ran his hand through his hair and turned to face the window. “Fuck.”

  “I know.”

  He turned back around. “I have to make some phone calls. I’ll probably miss class today.”

  I nodded. “Yes, of course, that’s fine. Do what you’ve got to do.”

  He came to stand before me, gripping my upper arms. “Andrea, listen, if anything goes wrong, you and Alfie had nothing to do with any of this,” he promised. “If the police come asking questions, you tell them you don’t know anything, do you hear me? And you have my word that I’ll never breathe a word of your involvement.”

  “Stu, you’re talking like you’re going to get caught. The plan is foolproof. Nothing bad is going to happen,” I said, willing myself to believe it. Things had changed. They weren’t the same as they were when Alfie and I first agreed to help him. I had feelings for him now, real, strong feelings, and I couldn’t stand the idea of him going back to prison.

  “I know that. I just need to make sure you understand. Even on the off chance that the shit hits the fan, I’ll make sure your name is kept out of it. I’ll make sure you’re safe.”

  My heart clenched, my stomach in turmoil at his words. I swallowed and looked at the floor. “What about the guy you hired to do the transfer? Are you sure you can trust him?”

  Stu’s expression was stoic now. “I can trust him. Don’t you worry about that. Just . . .” he exhaled, his voice gentling, “just be my soft place to fall. I need you, Andrea.”

 
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