Like a lot of writers, I have a hopper full of old stories and plot bunnies. Mostly on a whim, I decided to revisit an old story for Valentine’s Day and just polish it up. An additional 22K words later, I had Thief of Hearts, a sexy sweet novella featuring a May-December romance.
Some hearts are made to be stolen.
Mark Mannix doesn’t believe in love or romance, which is ironic given his birthday falls on Valentine’s Day. As he approaches forty, Mark is perfectly content with his life and nursing career in Boston, and—outside of his long-time friend-with-benefits, Alistair—prefers his hookups to be one-night stands.
When Mark’s plans for New Year’s Eve fall through, he attends his sister’s party and meets Owen Todd, a graphic designer of Caribbean descent. Owen is more than a decade younger than Mark and, at first glance the two men appear to have little in common. The chemistry between them is potent, however, and Mark breaks his no-strings pattern, seeing Owen week after week.
A connection forms between the two men, leaving Mark in uncharted territory and drawn to Owen in ways he’s never known before. Even so, Mark continues his hookups with Alistair but is startled when Owen withdraws out of a desire to protect himself. His foundations shaken, Mark must decide if he can watch Owen walk away or … if the time has come to follow his heart in a new direction.
“Why do you call your sister Lo?”
Mark dredged a piece of maki in soy sauce and smiled. He and Owen were seated in a booth at the sushi restaurant, sharing platters of food and drinking sweet, sticky cocktails. Mark had slept late after his shift in an effort to stock up some energy, but then Owen had run late, and for a few minutes Mark had thought he might back out. Owen had turned up at last, however, and seeing him brought that New Year’s Eve vibe back to Mark, the connection fluid and easy, as if they were already fast friends. Mark liked that very much.
“It’s sort of a twin thing,” he said in answer to Owen’s question. “My sister and I started talking pretty early—”
“Color me surprised.”
“Don’t be a bitch.” Mark smirked. “We were two or so and our mouths couldn’t always keep up with the chatter. I had a problem with the ‘r’ in Lauren’s name and shortened it to ‘Lo.’ The funny part is it stuck and never went away. My parents called her Lo, too, even after we’d both grown up.”
“I see.” Owen grinned. He’d come directly from work, and was dressed in monochromatic navy. He looked both gloriously handsome and far too serious in his dress shirt and tie, but he’d rolled up his sleeves again and tucked his tie in his pocket to keep it neat. “Did Lauren have a nickname for you?” he asked.
“She did. She claims now that she also had trouble with the letter ‘r’ for a while, but I think she just wanted to give me a special name. I’m not sure you need to know the nickname, however. That’s not the kind of information I share with just anyone.”
Mark pursed his lips against a teasing smile, but Owen merely popped a piece of nigiri into his mouth. He chewed for a moment before speaking.
“I plan on sucking your dick again at some point tonight. Does that make me just anyone?”
Mark set his chopsticks down. “No. No, it doesn’t, Owen, and I’m glad you pointed that out. Lauren called me ‘Mac’ when we were kids. She still does sometimes, when she’s feeling sassy or has had too much to drink. I’m surprised she didn’t on New Year’s Eve, to be honest, because she was in exactly the right kind of mood.”
A soft smile transformed Owen’s entire face. “That’s fucking adorable. You know that, right?”
“Yeah, I do.” Mark grinned at the platter of rice and fish while fire licked up under his shirt collar.
“And Lauren’s the only one who calls you Mac?”
She is now that Mom and Dad are gone.
Something about that dark thought must have shown in Mark’s face, because Owen’s smile flickered. Mark quickly summoned up a grin.
“She is, yes.”
Owen laid a hand over Mark’s. “I don’t believe it. What about that sort of boyfriend of yours, Alistair?”
“Alistair is not my boyfriend.” Mark laughed. “He’d literally cringe to hear you say that. He’s not the boyfriend type and neither am I.”
“No?” Owen cocked his head. “Why not?”
“Not my thing. I’m not a big believer in love or romance, or anything schmaltzy. Ironic given Lauren and I were born on Valentine’s Day.”
Owen snickered. “That’s way too perfect. So you consider yourself aromantic?”
“Ugh, you’re such a millennial with your labels,” Mark said with a wink. “If I must classify myself, I suppose aromantic fits better than anything else.”
He heard the reluctance in his own voice, but knew Owen had a point. Mark had never felt romantically attracted to anyone. That heart-fluttery, over-the-moon kind of feeling people talked about when they met a special someone? He had no idea what that was all about. To Mark, falling in love sounded a little like being motion sick. Friendships and sex he understood, particularly in combination. They’d always been enough for Mark and he’d never questioned that about himself.
“Alistair would cringe at hearing me called Mac, too,” he said.
“Well, that’s stupid.” Owen glanced Mark’s way and smiled. “You can be the mac to my cheese any time you want.”
Mark tipped his head back and laughed. Damn, but this kid was fun. “Are you comparing me to comfort food?”
“Oh, yeah.” Owen’s eyes heated and Mark fell right into their warmth before he could stop himself. “You’re all kind of delicious, as far as I’m concerned.”
“I’ll accept Mac from you but only behind closed doors.”
The corners of Owen’s lips quirked up. “Okay. It’ll be our secret.”
He leaned in and covered Mark’s mouth with his own and a little while passed before either of them spoke again. A distant part of Mark knew they should ease off with the PDA. Overall, Boston was LGBTQ-friendly and the majority of its citizens didn’t care what two adult men got up to with each another. That didn’t mean bigotry was dead, however, and especially when the nearby sports arena meant a population of boorish homophobes in the crowd was almost a given. Mark didn’t stop, though. The shine in Owen’s gaze when they finally parted made him glad he hadn’t, too.
Mark meant to pour drinks once they’d returned to his apartment and stowed Owen’s skateboard in the hall closet, but Owen’s tongue in his mouth proved an excellent distraction. He and Owen were by the bed and tugging at each other’s clothes before Mark really registered what was happening, and the breathless laugh they shared felt damned good.
Once Owen’s clothing fell away, Mark drank in the sight of him nude, and the lust in Owen’s eyes seared him in return. Owen ran his hands over Mark’s pecs.
“I love your body.” He wet his lips with his tongue. “The way your muscles feel under my fingers…so sexy.” He pinched Mark’s nipple and both of them groaned.
“Fuck, you are hot,” Mark murmured.
Cock already standing rigid against his abdomen, he urged Owen down onto the mattress. Owen lay still under Mark’s gaze, his head pillowed in his hands, his chest rising and falling with each breath. A flush turned the tips of his ears red, and he sighed when Mark bent and skated his fingers over Owen’s torso.
“Want you, Mark,” he murmured.
Mark sat down beside him. “I want you, too.”
He teased the sensitive skin of Owen’s pelvis before he wrapped his hand around Owen’s cock. The noise that rolled through Owen seemed shockingly loud in the quiet of the apartment, and he brought his hands to Mark’s shoulders, pulling him closer. Mark slotted their mouths together and swallowed Owen’s greedy hum, and pumped him slowly while they kissed. He took his time stretching out on the bed.
They stayed like that for a long while, making out and grinding until they were breathless and Mark thought his heart would beat its way out of his body. With a gasp, he broke away, and pressed deep, wet kisses into the skin of Owen’s neck, licking and sucking while Owen groaned.
Mark worked his way lower, nosing at the sweat that sheened Owen’s ribs, then bared his teeth and nipped in just the right spot. Owen’s bark of laughter made him smile.
Owen brought a hand up and wound his fingers in Mark’s hair, pulling lightly so Mark hummed. Mark moved back up Owen’s body, dropping kisses along the way, but Mark’s cock was hard and he was done teasing, particularly when Owen reached between Mark’s legs and palmed his dick. Mark arched against the touch with a gasp.
Lust painted Owen’s face. “No religion during naked time,” he murmured, and even through his haze of need, Mark couldn’t stop his laugh.
“You are bananas.”
Owen smiled. “Pot, meet kettle.” Mark took him in hand, too, and Owen actually whined as Mark lined up their cocks so he could frot them. “Oh, my…fuck.”
“I’d love to.” Mark brushed their lips together. “You okay with that?”
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