THIEF OF HEARTS by L.H. COSWAY
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 passing 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.
Published October 4th 2016