Thief of hearts, p.29
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       Thief of Hearts, p.29

           L.H. Cosway
 
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  Completely confused, I reached for the letter but he swiped it away before I could pick it up. I looked at him. His face morphed into a giant grin and that was when I knew I was being played.

  “You bastard!”

  He stood up and pulled me into a hug. “Serves you right for being nosy. I told you not to ask your dad if I got in, but you just couldn’t help yourself.”

  I pressed my face into his chest. “I’m sorry. But I couldn’t stand waiting.”

  He chuckled and stroked my hair affectionately before pulling back to look at me. “I know, and it’s adorable.”

  “Stu.”

  “Yes, Andrea?”

  “You’re going to university.”

  “I know, luv.”

  I grinned. “And you said this wasn’t Good Will Hunting.”

  Now he rolled his eyes, but he was still smiling. “Piss off.”

  I laughed and stepped away to grab my things. Then I slid my hand into his and dragged him from the classroom. “Your brothers will probably all be at the restaurant, right?”

  “Probably.”

  “Well, let’s go and give them the good news.”

  “Andrea, they’re not going to be as excited as you are. They’re—”

  I turned and held a finger to his lips. “That’s enough self-deprecation for one day. We’re going to Lee’s.”

  So, obviously, I had an ulterior motive. As soon as I found out Stu was accepted into the course, I called Lee and we put together a last-minute party to celebrate. Everybody was waiting at the restaurant to surprise him, and I was giddy with anticipation.

  When we arrived at Lee’s, Stu climbed out of his car and came around to open my door for me. I took his hand and together we walked inside. As soon as we stepped through the door everyone was cheering and shouting “Congratulations”. I was beaming from ear to ear as Stu shook his head and gazed down at me.

  “Completely over the top,” he muttered before pressing a soft kiss on my lips. “But thank you.”

  “You’re welcome. We’re all so proud of you.”

  Our entire was family was here, including my mum and dad. Dad and Stu had developed quite a close friendship over the past few months, and surprisingly both my parents were over the moon about my new relationship. They never mentioned the student-teacher thing, and I thought it was probably because they were simply relieved I’d found love again.

  Lee came over and pulled Stu into a manly hug. “Congrats, bruv. I knew ya had it in you.”

  “Thanks,” said Stu, looking a little sheepish. He wasn’t used to all the pomp and ceremony.

  “Incoming,” Trevor yelled before jumping on top of Stu and Lee for a group hug. I saw their youngest brother, Liam, standing off to the side and shaking his head at Trevor’s antics. Trevor shot him a look. “Get over here, Liam, before I drag you kicking and screaming. One of us is getting a uni degree, and I think I speak for all of us when I say no one expected it to be Stu. This is a momentous occasion.”

  “Oi,” Lee scolded. “That’s enough, Trev.”

  “What? I’m just saying what we’re all thinking.”

  “It’s fine,” said Stu, raking a hand through his hair as he pulled away from his brothers and came to drape an arm around my shoulders. “If it weren’t for Andrea, none of this would be happening.”

  “Aw, that’s so romantic,” said Trevor, nudging Liam vigorously. “Isn’t it fucking romantic? I think I’ve got a tear in my eye.”

  Liam slapped him lightly on the back of the head. “Quit acting like a freakshow.”

  “What? I’m feeling totes emosh right now. I’m not a robot. I can’t hold in my feelings like the rest of you non-feeling shrews.”

  “Well, try,” said Lee before turning and taking Stu’s hand. “We’re all proud as fuck.”

  “Can I second that?” came my dad’s voice as he approached with Mum.

  We spent a few minutes chatting with my parents and then Alfie and Jamie arrived. The two of them had grown even closer these last few months, spending hours and hours locked up in Alfie’s bedroom. I couldn’t tell if they were getting it on or secretly plotting how to take over the world. Seriously, with those two you just never knew. They still hadn’t gone on their cruise, mainly because Alfie kept putting it off. I was beginning to wonder if it was ever going to happen.

  The party progressed, and we enjoyed ourselves. Lee made some fantastic food and everybody seemed to be having a nice time. Later in the evening Stu pulled me aside and led me out to his car.

  “Where are we going?” I asked curiously.

  “I was gonna wait a while to show you, but I don’t know, there’s something about tonight that feels right.”

  What he said made me excited, but I tried not to let it show too much. “Okay.”

  About twenty minutes later he parked on a quiet residential street not too far outside the city. Stu cut the engine and was silent for a minute.

  “You don’t have to make any decisions right now. I just want you to know the option’s there.” He sounded nervous, which was way out of character.

  “Stu, will you just tell me what’s going on?”

  He inhaled a deep breath before pointing toward a nice-looking apartment building across the street. “You see that place?”

  “Uh huh.”

  “I just made a down payment on one of the top-floor apartments. I’m moving in next month.”

  Now I turned to face him, unable to hide my smile. “That’s great news.” I knew he’d been finding it hard at home, especially with so many people under one roof. “Now you’ll finally have your own space.”

  He scratched at his stubble, before blurting, “I want you to move in with me.”

  I gaped at him. “What?”

  “It doesn’t have to be right away. I know everything’s still very new between us. But just think about it, yeah?”

  I stared over at the building again. It was way nicer than where I was currently living, and the neighbourhood was a lot better, too. Finally, I whispered, “I’m not sure if I can leave Alfie.”

  “Luv, Alfie is family, so he can live with us if he wants. I’m used to having family around so it’s no big deal. There are three bedrooms.”

  “Oh,” I breathed, my heart pounding in my chest. It was just so thoughtful and lovely of him to consider Alfie.

  A moment of silence passed before Stu slipped his fingers through mine. I noticed a new set of keys in his other hand. “Come in and take a look around. Maybe it’ll help you make a decision.”

  I let him lead me outside and a few minutes later we stepped off the lift at the top floor of the building. There was a long hallway with doors lining one side and a narrow window running all the way down the other.

  Stu slotted his key in one of the doors and pushed it open to reveal a large, open-plan kitchen and living area. There wasn’t any furniture yet, but the walls looked newly painted and I liked the wooden floors. Stu pulled me farther inside and led me through all the rooms, giving me the grand tour. It was way bigger than Alfie’s and my flat, and certainly a lot bigger than the single bedroom Stu currently occupied in his family home.

  I was looking out the window when he came and wrapped his arms around me from behind. His warmth soothed me and I leaned back into the embrace, enjoying the comfort his hugs always brought. He kissed the top of my head.

  “Like I said, you don’t have to make a decision right away. I just want you to know the offer’s there if you ever want to accept it.”

  I exhaled heavily and twisted in his arms. Stu stared down at me, looking all expectant and handsome, and somehow my decision was clear. I knew what I wanted. Between one breath and the next I pulled his mouth down to mine and kissed him with everything I had in me. Stu automatically responded to the kiss, his arms tightening around me, pulling me close, his tongue sliding along mine in a seductive dance. I broke away on a gasp and announced, “I’ll do it. I’ll move in with you.”

  “Don’t f
uck with me, Andrea,” he whispered, his eyelids lowered and his gaze searching mine.

  “I’m not fucking with you, Stu. I want to move in with you. I want to wake up with you every morning and go to sleep in your arms every night. Life’s too short not to do what feels right in my heart.”

  “Jesus, I love you,” he groaned, his voice husky as he pressed his lips to mine fiercely.

  “I love you, too,” I replied and for a while we were lost in one another. About half an hour later we were in a state of undress on the floor, trying to catch our breaths.

  “Well, at least the place has been christened now,” said Stu with a cheeky grin.

  I smiled and elbowed him in the side. “Yes, at least there’s that. Now all I have to do is convince Alfie to move in with us.”

  Stu chuckled. “Piece of cake.”

  He wrapped his arms around me and I lay against his chest, glancing around at our soon-to-be home. I fingered the diamond ring that hung around my neck. It was no longer a symbol of all that I’d lost. Now it represented a part of a journey, one I was still embarking on. I’d been fortunate to fall in love not once, but twice.

  And I was ready for whatever else life had in store.

  Twenty-Nine

  Three months later.

  Stu

  “Be honest. How do I look?”

  Lee sat on the sofa finishing off a bacon sandwich when I came out of my bedroom. He paused mid-chew, looked me up and down, smirked, then swallowed.

  Before he could answer Trevor cut in. “You look hot, bruv. A real sexy beast. Rawr.”

  “Fuck off,” I said, scowling and returning my attention to Lee. Unlike Trev, I knew I could trust him to give me a straight answer. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Why does it matter? Isn’t everyone gonna be wearing the same getup?”

  “Don’t they wear that shit in Harry Potter?” Liam piped in.

  I shrugged. “Fuck if I know. Feels like a dress.”

  “They’re called graduation robes,” said Trev, in a fake haughty voice as he produced the stupid hat I refused to put on. “And you need to wear this, too. It’s traditional.”

  “Nope. Not happening. I draw the line at the dress.”

  Trev sighed. “Again, it’s not a dress. And you need to get used to wearing it, because I expect you to have a doctorate by the time you’re forty. I wanna be able to go around bragging to everyone that my brother’s a doctor.”

  “Unless it’s a medical doctor, it doesn’t count,” said Lee.

  Trev’s phone rang, interrupting our conversation. He glanced at the screen, a little secretive smile on his mouth before he answered, “Hey ReyRey, how’s it hanging?”

  I should’ve known. Trevor’s special little non-girlfriend best friend was the only one who could make him smile like that. Like the cat-that-got-the-cream-who-knew-your-darkest-secret-and-saw-you-naked-and-discovered-your-Internet-search-history all rolled up into one single expression of smug fuck.

  “You love it.” A pause. “Quit complaining, we both know you love it.” A chuckle. “Okay fine.” Silence. “Yeah, the graduation’s at two. Then we’re all heading out for dinner. You coming?” Another pause. “Okay, great. See you then. Smooches!”

  Liam screwed up his face while Trev slid his phone back in his pocket. “Smooches? Who are you, Paris Hilton?”

  “I’m my own special flavour of exceptional,” Trev shot back. “Don’t be jealous.”

  Liam gave him the finger.

  “When are you ever gonna stop stringing that girl along?” I asked, frowning.

  “Yeah,” Lee added, “because you’re not fooling none of us with the whole best buds story. I’ve seen you looking at her tits. A man doesn’t look at tits like that and think, now there’s a girl I want to be friends with.”

  “Oh, you can all piss off, you big bunch of cynical arsebags,” Trev replied snootily. “I don’t have to explain our special friendship to anyone.” There was a pause and then a glint came into his eye. “But if you must know, that’s exactly what I think when I look at tits. I’d much rather be friends with someone with a fantastic rack than some smelly . . . penis-haver.”

  “Penis-haver?” Lee chuckled. “Now I’ve heard it all.”

  “It’s a word,” Trev went on. “All the cool kids are using it.”

  I left them to their bickering and went back inside my room. Fuck, I was nervous. Today the college was holding a small graduation ceremony for a few of the adult education classes. I was gonna have to get up on a stage and collect a certificate and shake some posh bloke’s hand. It felt surreal to think that less than a year ago I was sitting in a prison cell, just trying to survive and get through one day at a time. I didn’t see a future for myself other than one that involved crime. Then I met Andrea and everything changed. She made me want things. Made me want to be a better person, achieve something real. Now I couldn’t imagine a world without her in it. How’d I get so fucking lucky?

  “You almost ready to make a move?” Lee called from the living room. “We need to get going.”

  “Yeah, be out in a sec.”

  I took one final breath then headed out. Andrea was already at the college helping get the place ready. I was hoping to steal a minute alone with her before the ceremony started. She was my soft place, and today I was in serious need of the calm she gave me. All it took was one touch, a tender look.

  When we arrived, Lee and the others went to find seats while I went to search for Andrea. On the way I bumped into a bunch of my classmates, and yeah, like Lee said, they were all wearing the same robes as me. At least we were in this together.

  “Well, would you look who it is,” said Mary. “Old cranky drawers himself. You look like you’d rather be having an ingrown toenail removed.”

  “Ugh, nice visual,” Susan complained.

  “What? I’m pleased as fucking punch to be here,” I said with a grin. “I love dressing up like a twat and parading myself in front of everyone’s nearest and dearest.”

  “It’s not about the dressing up,” Kian interjected. “It’s about celebrating our achievement, and I for one am proud of all of us. Fuck! We’ve passed our exams and we’re getting our diplomas, even if we do have to wear these weird dresses. Bullshit!”

  I chuckled loudly and gave his hair a ruffle. What could I say? I liked the kid’s optimism, even if he did have a crush on my woman. I knew he was harmless. “I’m glad I’m not the only who feels like they’re in drag.”

  He held his hands out. “Hey, it’s the name of the game.”

  I told them all I’d see them later then continued down the corridor. With clipboard in hand as she went through a list, Andrea was in organisation mode. God, I loved her. She was beautiful without even trying. Her hair hung in long waves down her back, and I had a vision of weaving it around my fist, tugging her neck to the side so I could get a taste. She wore some kind of navy wrap dress and the little tie at the waist had me itching to pull it free. That shit was just too much of a temptation. She was so engrossed in her list that she didn’t notice me come up behind her. Letting out a small gasp when I folded my arms around her middle, she hitched a breath then sank into me.

  “Hey,” I murmured and pressed a kiss just below her ear. “You look gorgeous.”

  “Hey, yourself,” she said and twisted in my arms to peer up at me. “Wow, you look—”

  “Ridiculous?” I provided.

  She shook her head and blushed a little. “No, strangely sexy.” Pausing to run her hands down the silky fabric, she bit her lip and asked, “Is this rented?”

  I nodded.

  “Damn. I just had a little fantasy of you wearing it at home tonight with nothing else.”

  I smirked and bent to take her earlobe in my mouth. “Dirty. I like it.”

  She giggled then sighed when my hand moved over her stomach. I was seriously considering the logistics of a quickie, but then reminded myself there were too many people around. As much as I enjoyed having se
x in public places, now wasn’t the time.

  With a reluctant sigh I let her go and asked, “Is Alfie coming today?”

  She smacked her hand to her forehead. “Oh right, I forgot to tell you. He and Jamie finally went on their cruise. They left for their flight early this morning.”

  “The cruise they’ve been planning for the last few months? I honestly thought that was never going to happen.”

  She bobbed her head. “Me too. I think they kept putting it off because Alfie’s fear of flying was getting to him. He sent a text a little while ago saying they landed safely, so he obviously got over it enough to endure the flight. At least he doesn’t have a fear of water, too. If he did we’d be waiting until 2020 for him to finally bite the bullet.”

  “Well, I’m glad they went. They both deserve a break.”

  In spite of offering for him to come and live at the new flat, Alfie had surprised both of us by saying no. He claimed he wanted to try going it alone for once, to be completely independent. If I was honest I thought Andrea was more stressed out about the separation than Alfie was. She loved him though, and I understood her worry because I knew exactly how she felt. I knew what it was like to be fiercely protective of your family.

  We shared a look of mutual understanding before there was an announcement over the intercom that proceedings would begin in five minutes. I kissed her and then we both made our way to the function hall.

  I took my place next to Kian in the second row from the stage as the ceremony started up. When they called my name I stood and went to collect my certificate. Of course, as soon as I stepped onto the stage my brothers had to make a big song and dance by cheering for me like Arsenal just won the Premiership.

  “Go Stu!” Liam shouted.

  “Work it, you sexy beast.” This was Trevor. Course it was. Half the people in the audience started laughing. Lee let out a rip-roaring whistle, and I couldn’t help the smile that spread across my face. Bunch of nutters, but I wouldn’t change them for the world. I looked out and saw Sophie and Karla sitting next to them, both shaking their heads in dismay.

 
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