Thief of hearts, p.5
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       Thief of Hearts, p.5

           L.H. Cosway
 
I avoided answering that question the same way I avoided thinking about my debt. Seemingly, it was my coping method in many areas of life.

  Aside from a few funny memes, I couldn’t really find any posts he’d written himself, and it further piqued my concerns about his writing. Obviously, he must’ve been able to read somewhat if he was on Facebook in the first place, but the question was how much.

  There were a lot of family pictures he’d been tagged in, and well, his brothers were certainly an attractive bunch. Stu was definitely the best looking, with his dark hair and eyes. The rest of his brothers had lighter hair and piercing blue eyes. He was also the tallest, and studying them all together, I thought he might be the eldest, too.

  I startled when somebody spoke, immediately shutting down the page. Seriously, you’d swear I’d just been looking at porn.

  “Miss Anderson, I haven’t received any invite to the group yet,” said Harold with a hint of impatience. He didn’t like to be left waiting for things. I noticed Stu shoot him an arch look and remembered the first day when I’d had to quell a potential argument between the two of them over seating.

  “I’m sorry, Harold. I got caught up sending an email,” I lied. “I’ll get on those invites right away.”

  “Or he could just wait for you to be finished with what you’re doing,” said Stu, one arm resting casually on the back of his chair.

  “It’s already been five minutes and the bell is going to ring for lunch any second,” Harold complained, which only functioned to bother Stu further.

  “And she’s in charge,” Stu countered. “So quit being a whiny little bitch and wait until she’s ready.”

  “Stu!” I exclaimed, while several of the other students gasped their surprise at his aggression. Sure, Harold wasn’t exactly a favourite in the class, but no one would ever think to speak to him like Stu just had. “That’s quite enough,” I continued, my voice hard. The bell chimed right after I said it and everybody stood from their seats, probably relieved for an excuse to leave.

  “I’ll send the invites during lunch, everyone,” I called then shot Stu a pointed look. “Stay back a minute. I need a word.” It felt like I was constantly holding him back to have words, but I just couldn’t let behaviour like that slide. He wasn’t my first student to have teething problems while adapting to classroom etiquette, yet I was undecided whether it was his upbringing or perhaps arrogance.

  “That was completely uncalled for,” I said once everyone was out of the room.

  “What? I was only saying what everybody else was thinking. That bloke is constantly complaining about shit. Someone needed to call him on it.”

  “Not like that, Stu. That’s not how we speak to each other in this classroom. It’s about respect, not name calling. You’re breaking the rules of behaviour.”

  He scrunched up his brows. “Just because I called him a whiny little bitch? I’m sure he’s been called worse.”

  “Harold is fifty-seven years old and about half your height. He’s also been out of the education system for almost forty years. You can’t imagine how scary that is for a person. He basically has to learn how to learn all over again from scratch.”

  “We’ve all been out of school for a long time, Andrea. I know exactly how it feels, but I don’t go around complaining about every little thing.”

  “That’s because you’re stronger than he is. Try to have a little empathy, Stu. Stepping into someone else’s shoes will help you see that we’re all struggling, and that way you’ll learn tolerance. You can’t just go around telling people off because they deal with things in different ways than you do.”

  He ran a hand through his hair, swearing under his breath. “I just don’t like him talking to you like that, okay? It’s disrespectful.”

  Now I laughed. “Coming from someone who’s disrespected me countless time in the past week.”

  “I haven’t disrespected you. I just talk to you how I’d talk to anyone. And I think you’re gorgeous, so . . . yeah, when I like a bird I tend to be a little full on. Sorry. I also haven’t been around women for a long time, so I’m kinda rusty.” His expression turned self-conscious, which oddly looked good on him.

  I couldn’t seem to hide my blush at his compliment, even if I did dislike being referred to as a ‘bird’. “If what you said on your first day is to be believed, then you didn’t waste too much time getting reacquainted,” I teased, trying to lighten the mood.

  His gaze flicked up, his hazel eyes turning dark and introspective. “Yeah. Right.”

  It felt like I’d struck a nerve, and I immediately felt bad for making light of his time in prison. I frowned. “That comment was in poor taste. I apologise.”

  Stu’s hand went from his hair down to rub at his jaw. It was a very nice jaw. I couldn’t help noticing. “Don’t apologise. I just, what I said that day was bullshit. I was peacocking or whatever they call it. Truth is, I haven’t been with anyone since I got out. Haven’t had an appetite for women at all, really. It’s kind of depressing.”

  I didn’t bring up the fact that he’d been hitting on me pretty hard since day one. Instead, I asked, “Why do you think that is?”

  His tone was self-deprecating. “Prison fucked my head up, probably.”

  I approached the desk where he sat and pulled up a chair, my heart clenching for him. I couldn’t even imagine what prison would be like. “Did something happen to you while you were in there?” My voice was soft.

  Stu arched a brow. “Do I look like the sort of bloke that ‘something’ would happen to? Fuck no, Andrea. But I saw it happening to others, and more. Every time I close my eyes at night, I see it. Makes me feel sick.”

  I stared at him; the look on his face told me he wasn’t lying. In fact, this was probably the most real he’d been with me so far. “The college has a counsellor, you know. If you ever want to talk to someone.” I thought it was a good idea. Maybe he’d even be more comfortable telling the counsellor about his reading and writing.

  His head whipped up. “Why can’t I talk to you?”

  “Of course you can talk to me, but I’m not a counsellor, Stu. I can lend an ear, but I’m not qualified to give advice.”

  “And ear’s all I need.”

  “Okay, then. Do you mind if I eat lunch while we talk? I’m starved.”

  “Go ahead.”

  He watched as I went to grab the food container from my bag and I thought it’d be rude to not offer him anything, so I asked, “Do you want to share with me?”

  A small smile graced his lips as he shrugged. “Sure.”

  I sat down next to him again and placed the food on the table, dividing it up between us as I spoke. “So, you’ll need to apologise to Harold. But you have to promise you won’t act out in class again. The college has strict rules, Stu, and the dean expects compliance. I’ll make an allowance this once but I won’t be able to do it again, otherwise people will become suspicious.”

  Stu got a flirtatious glint in his eye, his voice lowering as he teased me. “Will they think we’re fucking after hours, Miss Anderson?”

  I narrowed my gaze, trying to ignore how my belly fluttered in response to his use of the F word. I wasn’t a prude, but Mark and I had never fucked as such. We had always made love. I swallowed and tried to keep my voice steady.

  “Don’t be a smart-arse, or I’ll take back the olive branch I just extended.”

  He raised his hands in surrender. “My bad. I’ll keep this smart-arse locked up tight.”

  My lips twitched but I just about managed to keep my smile at bay. “See that you do.”

  Stu grinned, and his eyes traced my features. “You run a tight ship, huh?”

  I picked up one of the sandwiches and took a bite. Taking my time to chew and swallow, I finally replied, “That’s right, so you should consider following my rules from now on.”

  The rest of my thoughts I left unspoken. The thing was, I had a feeling if I didn’t run a tight ship with Stu Cross, it was possible I
’d find myself falling overboard very quickly.

  Six

  Outside the college at the end of the day, I saw Stu approach the same car as before, the one with the tinted windows. White Room by Cream was blasting from the stereo and this time the driver was standing outside drinking a bottle of Lucozade. He was tall, with pale skin, brown hair, and startlingly blue eyes. Looking more closely, I recognised him from Stu’s Facebook pictures. He was one of the brothers, and I had to admit he was even better looking in real life.

  I was just a few feet behind Stu as he took the guy’s hand and they did one of those very street handshake/shoulder bump greetings. Keeping my head down, I pretended to be typing on my phone as I passed.

  “Andrea, hey!” Stu called.

  When I acted like I hadn’t heard him he only spoke louder. “Miss Anderson. Come over here a minute, would ya?”

  Unfortunately, I wasn’t far enough away to pretend I hadn’t heard him a second time, so I looked up and plastered a smile on my face. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Stu. In fact, despite all the many reasons why I shouldn’t, I probably liked him a little too much. It was just that the more I allowed myself to get to know him, the more problematic our relationship became.

  The effect he had on me was unexpected, and in an odd way it felt like I was being unfaithful to Mark just by having these . . . feelings.

  Hey, I never claimed to be a rational human being.

  “Hi, sorry, I uh, didn’t see you there,” I said, rubbing my hand down the front of my coat as I glanced between the two men. Stu wore a smirk that told me he knew I’d been ignoring him, but he didn’t look offended.

  “I wanted you to meet my brother, Trevor. Trev, this is my teacher, Andrea.”

  Trevor had the sort of blue eyes that constantly shone with mischief, forever concocting plans and schemes.

  “It’s Miss Anderson, actually. Nice to meet you, Trevor,” I said, holding out my hand.

  “You, too,” he replied, shaking with me before glancing at Stu. “She likes to keep things professional, eh?”

  “She thinks she does. She’ll learn,” said Stu, but I didn’t really get what he meant.

  “Okay, well, I’ll see you tomorrow, Stu. And again, it was nice to meet you, Trevor.”

  I immediately started walking but Stu’s voice stopped me. “Wait a sec. You need a lift?”

  Trying to hide my grimace, I turned back. It was just my luck that the day Stu offered me a lift home was also the day I’d decided to take the tube to work instead of driving.

  “Oh no, that’s quite all right, but thanks for the offer,” I replied and saw his eyes scanning the lot.

  “Can’t see your motor anywhere,” he said, taking a step closer to me.

  “Yeah, I got the tube this morning.”

  He was already pressing his hand to the small of my back and guiding me over to Trevor’s car before I had the chance to protest. “Well then, I won’t take no for an answer. We’ll have you home in half the time.”

  “Honestly, Stu, I don’t think . . .”

  He pressed his fingers deeper into me, the action stealing my words. Why did he always have to smell so good? “Listen, you did me a solid today. Let me return the favour.”

  I was momentarily consumed by his dark eyes as he continued to manoeuvre me. Before I knew it I was sliding into the back of the car with him.

  Um, why wasn’t he getting in the front?

  Trevor echoed my sentiment as he cocked a brow at his brother. “What am I, your bloody chauffeur?”

  Stu just ignored him, scooting right in next to me. Everything felt too close as both men slammed the doors shut and Trevor pulled out of his parking spot. Stu’s thigh rested against mine, which there was absolutely no need for. Sure, he was a big guy, but he wasn’t that big. Trevor eyed me through the overhead mirror.

  “So, where to?”

  I swallowed thickly, my heart fluttering at the idea of handing over my address. It felt like all of Alfie’s paranoia was suddenly my own.

  “Oh, you can drop me off at Finsbury Park tube station. I live close by.”

  “Nah, we’ll take you to your gaff. Looks like it could be rain,” said Stu, nudging me with his shoulder. I wished he’d stop touching me. I wasn’t used to it, which was why it made me go all mushy and ridiculous.

  I hesitated another few seconds and Trevor let out a low chuckle. “I don’t think she wants you knowing where she lives, bruv.”

  My throat went completely dry as Stu turned his body to face me. Also, let it be noted that his arm was resting along the back of the seat, just shy of my shoulders. I was more or less surrounded by Stu Cross, and I had to admit that even if my brain was wary, my body was overjoyed. Glancing to the side I found him studying my profile.

  “That true, Andrea?”

  I shook my head and protested a little too profusely. “Of course not. I just don’t want you going out of your way.”

  “We’re not. Like I said, I want to return the favour, so tell him where we’re headed.”

  Trevor piped up, a twinkle in his eye. “Return the favour? What did I miss?”

  “None of your business, so shut up and drive.”

  “Can’t drive with no destination.”

  Stu reached out and grabbed my knee, giving it a squeeze. I felt the touch zing right between my legs and wanted to slap myself for the reaction. Why was I suddenly growing a libido after years of nothing?

  “Your address, luv.”

  “My name is Andie.”

  “Andie’s a bloke’s name,” said Trevor.

  “I told you to shut it,” Stu barked.

  “I was only saying.”

  “Yeah well, don’t.”

  “I live on Queen’s Drive,” I blurted, if only to end their bickering.

  Trevor grinned. “Aw shit, babe. I didn’t think you’d actually tell us.”

  “Just drive, dickhead,” Stu growled, growing irritable now.

  “But she should know about your problem, bruv, just in case you fall off the wagon.”

  I looked at Stu. “What’s he talking about?”

  “He’s acting the prat. Don’t listen to him.”

  Trevor eyed me through the overhead mirror again. “You want to know what he was really put away for? The stolen car racket is a load of bull. You see, Stu actually has a thing for breaking into women’s homes and stealing their underwear. It’s a . . . what do you call it? A fetish. Can’t help himself. And now that he knows where you live, well . . .”

  I knew he was making it up when he winked at me. I wanted to laugh because Stu looked like he was about to throttle his brother.

  “You’re fucking hilarious, Trev. See how I can’t stop laughing,” Stu deadpanned.

  “Tell me about it. I should have my own show. I’d make a mint on TV.”

  I let out a chuckle and Stu’s eyes returned to me, focusing in on my smile. His lips curved slightly, but he held his own smile at bay. I was overly aware of how his hand still rested on my knee. When Trevor focused back on the road, Stu’s thumb moved, brushing back and forth over the fabric of my trousers. I hitched a breath and he shifted closer, which really wasn’t necessary because he was already in my personal space.

  “I enjoyed our lunch,” said Stu, dipping his mouth so he could speak at my ear. “Can we do it again tomorrow? My treat this time.”

  I turned my head, my eyes drawn to his for some inexplicable reason. Our mouths were way too close. “But you’re already paying me back by giving me a lift home.” My voice was barely a whisper.

  “I’ll bring the food. I like talking to you,” he said, ignoring my previous statement.

  Needing some space, I slid my arse across the seat so I was practically plastered against the window. He had me penned in and there was literally nowhere else to go. All he did was move with me, and I inwardly sighed because there was no winning in this situation.

  So, I sat it out, folding my arms across my chest and staring at the pa
ssing scenery, thankful the stereo was on to drown out the silence. A minute later Trevor’s phone rang, and he put it on speaker before proceeding to chat away with one of his friends. I barely heard what he was saying, because I was too aware of Stu. His smell. The feel of his body next to mine. The way he watched me as I continued to pretend I didn’t notice.

  The journey felt like it took forever, especially since Stu seemed to have taken a vow of silence. Trevor was still on the phone to his friend when we pulled up to my flat. Stu got out first, coming around to open my door for me. As I emerged I saw the curtains twitch in the living room. Great. Alfie was spying.

  “Thanks,” I murmured, unable to meet Stu’s gaze. The car journey had been way too intense, especially the quiet portion.

  “No problem. See you tomorrow, Andrea,” he said, his deep voice caressing my name.

  “Yeah, see you,” I said, hitching my bag up on my shoulder and turning abruptly to open the gate. He knew where I lived now, and there was something both powerless and electrifying about it.

  I could feel his gaze on my back all the way to the front door. It was only when I got inside the flat that I felt I could breathe again. Unfortunately, it only lasted a moment before Alfie was in front of me, his arms folded, and an accusatory look on his face.

  “Who was that?”

  I shrugged and went to hang up my coat. “A friend.”

  “Hmmm. I didn’t know you had friends like that.”

  “Like what?”

  “Friends who look like they just stepped off a Guy Ritchey film set.”

  “Oh Alfie, I’m really too tired for this today.”

  “That was him, wasn’t it? The ex-criminal? That man looked exactly as you described your new student, and I think it’d be a bit of a coincidence that you suddenly made a new friend who’s practically his clone.”

  “He’s not dangerous,” I said and moved past him into the kitchen. All I wanted to do was cook dinner and pour a glass of wine. I really didn’t have the patience to indulge my cousin’s paranoia.

  “Even so, I’ve never seen you get a lift home from a student before. This isn’t like you.”

 
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