Home > The Kiss Thief(12)

The Kiss Thief(12)
Author: L.J. Shen


He covered my forehead with his. We both closed our eyes, savoring the bittersweet moment. Finally together, breathing the same air. Only to be forever torn apart.

“Maybe in the next life,” I said.

“No, goddess, definitely in this one.”

With that, he turned around and glided down the darkened hallway, allowing me a few more calming breaths before I stepped out of the alcove and faced the music. When my shaking subsided, I cleared my throat and marched toward my table.

With every step I took, I tried to convey more confidence. My smile was a little wider. My back a little straighter. When I spotted my table, I noticed Wolfe wasn’t there. My eyes began to search for him, a concoction of irritation and dread twirling in my stomach. We left things so awkwardly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Part of me hoped—prayed—that he’d finally had enough of me, and that he called things off with my father.

The more I searched for his tall figure, the faster my heart thrust against my sternum.

Then I found him.

My future husband, Senator Wolfe Keaton, was skating past tables elegantly. Three feet behind him, Emily Bianchi ambled, tall and provocative, her hips swaying like a dangled, forbidden apple. Her hair blond and shiny—just like his date from the masquerade. No one had noticed how her cheeks were stained pink. How they put some distance between their footsteps but headed in the same direction.

Emily was the first to disappear behind the massive, silky black draperies, slipping from the ballroom without notice.

Wolfe stopped, shook hands with an old, wealthy-looking man, and struck easy conversation with him for at least ten minutes before taking a sidestep and resuming his journey to the back of the ballroom.

As if sensing my gaze on him, Wolfe turned his head toward mine, amidst the hundreds of people around us, and locked our eyes together. He winked, his lips unflinching, as his legs carried him to his destination.

My blood bubbled in my veins. When I was busy restraining my passion toward her date, Emily had been snagging my future husband for a quickie.

I stood there, fists balling beside my thighs. My heart pounded so loud, I thought it was going to burst across the floor and flip like a fish out of water.

Wolfe and Emily had betrayed us.

Disloyalty had a taste.

It was bitter.

It was sour.

It was even a little sweet.

Most of all, it taught me an important lesson—whatever the four of us had, it wasn’t sacred anymore. Our hearts were tarnished. Stained. And guilty.

Unpredictable to a fault.

And bound to break.

THE NEXT MORNING, I THREW the Godiva chocolate in the kitchen’s trash where he would hopefully see it. I dragged my famished body out of bed voluntarily, driven by the one thing stronger than the pain of hunger—revenge.

The text messages I’d found on my phone were enough to fuel me. They were dated the night of the masquerade, the same night I’d avoided taking out my phone out of fear I’d beg Angelo and make a fool of myself.

Angelo: Care to explain that kiss?

Angelo: On my way to your house.

Angelo: Your father just told me that I can’t come there anymore because you’re soon to be engaged.

Angelo: ENGAGED.

Angelo: And not to me.

Angelo: Know what? Fuck you, Francesca.

Angelo: WHY?

Angelo: Is that because I’ve waited a year? Your father had asked me to do it. I came in every week to ask for a date.

Angelo: It was always you, goddess.

There weren’t any new ones since then.

Eating was still firmly not on my daily agenda—something I’d heard Ms. Sterling complaining to Wolfe about on the phone as I breezed past her, a flowery chiffon wrap dress clinging to my ever-shrinking body. At this point, my stomach had given up and stopped growling altogether. Yesterday, I’d forced myself to steal a few bites of bread when Wolfe was busy making his point with Emily, but it wasn’t nearly enough to appease my shrinking gut. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I had hoped I’d faint or cause enough damage to be rushed to the hospital where perhaps my father would finally put an end to this ongoing nightmare. Alas, hoping for a miracle was not only dangerous but crushing altogether. The more time I spent in this house, the more the rumors made sense—Senator Wolfe Keaton was destined for greatness. I would be a first lady and probably before I hit thirty. Wolfe rose up nice and early today to get to the regional airport on time and even made plans to go to DC over the weekend for some important meetings.

He didn’t include me in his plans, and I very much doubted he cared if I died, other than the unwanted headline it would likely create.

Under my ivy-laced window, tucked in the heart of the mansion’s garden, I tended to my new plants and vegetables, surprised by how they’d managed to survive without any water for a couple of days. Summer had been cruel so far, scorching hotter than the typical Chicago Augusts. Then again, everything about the past couple of weeks had been crazy. The weather seemed to fall in line with the rest of my frayed life. But my new garden was resilient, and I realized as I crouched down to weed the new vine tomatoes, so was I.

I carried two bags of fertilizer to the spot underneath my window and rummaged through the small shed located on the corner of the yard to find some more old seeds and empty pots. Whoever was assigned with the task of taking care of this garden had obviously been given the instructions to make it look manicured and pleasant but only minimally so. It was green, but reserved. Beautiful, yet unbearably sad. Not unlike its owner. Unlike its owner, though, I craved to cultivate the garden with my green thumb. I had plenty of attention and devotion, and nothing and no one to give it to.

After I placed all the material in a neat line, I examined the shears in my hand. I grabbed them from the shed, explaining to Ms. Sterling that I needed to cut the fertilizer bag open, waiting for the tiny elderly woman to turn her back to me. Now, as the blades of the clippers twinkled under the sun, and the unsuspecting Ms. Sterling was in the kitchen, berating the poor cook for buying the wrong type of fish for dinner (still hoping I’d grace Senator Keaton with my presence at dinner tonight, no doubt) my opportunity had finally arrived.

I crept my way back into the house, passing through the sleek chrome kitchen. I took the stairs two at a time, slipping into the west wing to Keaton’s bedroom. I’d been there once before, when I eavesdropped on him and the pretty journalist. I hurried into his bedroom, knowing that Wolfe had at least another hour before he got home. Even with his jet-setting lifestyle, he still wasn’t above escaping the Chicago traffic.

Whereas my room had been decorated with glitz, oozing of Hollywood’s regency era, Wolfe’s room was elegant, reserved, and plainly furnished. Dramatic black and white curtains dripped across the wide windows, a black channel-quilted leather headboard and coal-hued nightstands stood out from each side of the bed. The walls were painted a deep gray, the color of his eyes, and a sole crystal chandelier dripped from the center of the ceiling, seemingly bowing down to the powerful man who occupied the room.

He had no TV, no chests of drawers, and no mirrors. He did have a bar cabinet, not to my surprise, considering he’d marry booze if it were legal in the state of Illinois.

I trudged to his walk-in closet, snapping the shears chirpily in my hand with newfound energy as I swung the doors open. The black oak shelves stood out against the cool white marble of the floor. Dozens of suits sorted by colors, cuts, and designs hung in neat, dense lines, perfectly ironed and ready to be worn.

He had hundreds of scarves folded in precision, enough shoes to open a Bottega Veneta store, and blazers and pea coats galore. I knew what I was looking for first. His tie rack contained over a hundred ties. Once I found it, I serenely began to snip his upmarket ties in half, taking a somewhat bizarre liking to watching their fabric drop at my feet like orange and rust-colored leaves in the fall.

Snip, snip, snip, snip, snip.

The sound was comforting. So much so, that I forgot how hungry I was. Wolfe Keaton had screwed Angelo’s date. I couldn’t—and wouldn’t—avenge his indiscretions by cheating on him, but I damn well could make sure that he didn’t have anything to wear tomorrow morning except for his stupid smug expression.

After I finished the task of cutting all his ties, I moved on to his crisp dress shirts. He had some nerve to assume I would ever touch him, I thought bitterly as I tore through rich, smooth fabrics in crème, swan white, and baby blue. Consummating our marriage was expected. But despite Wolfe’s good looks, I detested his playboy way of life, awful reputation, and the fact he had slept with so many women already. Especially as I was embarrassingly inexperienced.

And by inexperienced, I meant a virgin.

Not that being a virgin was a crime, but I regarded it as such, knowing Wolfe would use this piece of information against me, highlighting how unworldly and ingenuous I was. Not being a virgin was not really an option in the world I lived in. My parents expected me to stay celibate until my wedding, and I had no problem fulfilling their wish, seeing as I didn’t particularly believe in having sex with someone I didn’t love.

I decided to deal with the issue of my virginity when it was time. If it would ever be time.

I was so focused on my mission—ruining clothes and ties worth many tens of thousands of dollars—that I didn’t even notice the click-click of his loafers as he made his way into his room. In fact, I only detected his arrival when he stopped outside his bedroom door and answered his phone.



“He did what?”


“I’ll make sure he can’t move an inch in this town without getting raided by the CPD.”

Then he killed the call.

Shit, I inwardly cussed, throwing the shears on the floor and scrambling to run outside. I slammed an open drawer which contained his watches, knocking something to the floor and running out of the walk-in closet, flinging the double doors of his bedroom open just as he stepped in, still frowning at his phone.

It was the first time I’d seen him since the wedding yesterday. After he’d disappeared with Emily, he came back twenty minutes later to inform me that we were leaving. The ride back home was silent. I openly texted my cousin Andrea on my phone, something he didn’t seem to care about. When we got home (this is not your home, Frankie), I retired straight to my room, banging my door shut and locking it for good measure. I didn’t give him the pleasure of asking him about Emily. In fact, I didn’t show him that I cared. At all.

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