Declan has pined for Moor long enough. Determined to have a life of his own Declan accepts a meeting with a blind date. However vampire masters and dating don’t mix and at the end of the night he’ll see a side of Moorhaven he never expected.
Declan West tidied the den, plumping pillows and verifying not a speck of dust graced any surface. After the third run-through to check that everything sat in its proper place, he gave the room a pleased nod. With his obsessive-compulsive tendencies temporarily sated, Declan left his master’s office and headed for the front door.
The clock struck midnight as he reached the wooden double doors. Without checking the peephole or peering through the front windows, he pulled the doors open just as his master, Phoenix Moorhaven, walked up the steps.
“Good evening, Declan,” Master Phoenix said in his rich, mellow voice.
“It is technically morning, sir,” Declan corrected him automatically as he did every day at this time. Being exact was a science the vampire didn’t subscribe to.
“So it is,” Master Phoenix agreed, his gold eyes shining with amusement.
“You let your servant talk back to you like that!” The blonde lady on Master Phoenix’s arm sneered at Declan.
“Mind your manners, dear. I might be the leader of the vampires, but Declan is the master of my house,” Master Phoenix scolded. His tone might have been mild, but his expression went colder than the Arctic Circle.
Declan took his master’s coat without comment. The opinion of one blonde tramp meant nothing to him. Master Phoenix would fuck her, suck her, and toss her out at sunrise. He never kept his food around for long. As far as Declan could tell, his master had no interest in any human, male or female, beyond sustenance. Too bad, since Declan wouldn’t mind being on the menu.
“The den is prepared for you, sir,” Declan prodded, eager to have the vampires out of the way so he could finish his morning rituals.
Master Phoenix’s warm smile, the one he saved only for Declan, eased his irritation. He might merely be a servant, but Declan knew how much the vampire appreciated the smooth running of his household. Master Phoenix’s pleasure in Declan’s work was shown in the many bonuses Declan found in his paycheck.
“Good morning, Master Lorrie. I didn’t see you at first, please accept my apologies.” Declan greeted his master’s vampire companion.
Lorrie Bellows, the second-in-command of the vampire coven, gave Declan a friendly nod. “That’s all right. I know I don’t exist until you have Moor settled.”
Declan granted Lorrie one of his rare smiles. Lorrie had a winning way without using over-the-top flattery. There were always a few who tried to get to Master Phoenix through his prized servant, forcing Declan to waste his precious time returning their presents and bribes.
Declan’s integrity wasn’t for sale.
“May I take your coat, sir, and that of your companion?”
They both handed over their expensive outerwear. Master Phoenix’s bite for the evening hadn’t bothered wearing a jacket, probably worried about hiding her cleavage. Declan could’ve told her the vampire cared more about her blood than her breasts; however, he stayed silent. He never interfered with donors as long as they didn’t mess up the house.
Declan hung up their jackets with meticulous care, then closed the door, only to turn and find the entire party staring at him.
“There are drinks and snacks in the west parlor,” he prompted. He always put out food and juice for the guests. They tended to be hungry after the vampires fed.
No one moved. Really, why were they still watching him?
He raised an eyebrow at his boss. Master Phoenix smirked, then wrapped an arm around his food for the evening and turned to lead the girl away.
“So when are you going to leave Moor and come work for me?” Lorrie teased as he walked past.
Master Phoenix spun around, abandoning his date. “What?”
Declan didn’t roll his eyes, but only because it would take away from his dignity. “Master Lorrie appears to think I’m underpaid and overworked,” he explained. Lorrie lived to poke at the vampire leader, and Declan refused to fuel that fire.
Declan’s gaze zeroed in on a piece of lint sticking to Master Phoenix’s suit. Annoyed that it had passed his previous inspection, he walked over and plucked it from the vampire’s jacket. He carefully brushed down the fabric to smooth over the slight mark he’d made with his nails while trying to ignore how good Master Phoenix smelled. The vampire always wore an alluring scent Declan had never been able to identify, sort of a combination of cloves and honey. Why a vampire smelled sweet, Declan didn’t know, but he tried to keep his sniffing to a minimum.
Declan almost jumped when a large hand tilted his chin up until he met his boss’ eyes. “Were you considering leaving me?”
For a moment he thought he saw a flash of hurt in Master Phoenix s eyes, but abandoned the idea as foolish. The vampire never took particular notice of Declan unless something went wrong. “Don’t be ridiculous, sir. Why would I leave here? You’re an excellent employer.”
It would be difficult to find another boss who allowed Declan to arrange everything to his own liking and schedule.
“Good.” Master Phoenix stroked Declan’s head like a favored pet. “I’d be at loose ends without you.” He pointed a finger at Lorrie. “I forbid you to steal my butler. The entire coven would be in disarray if Declan weren’t here to keep me in line.”
Lorrie laughed. “Surely, you exaggerate.”
Master Phoenix shook his head. “Declan organizes my life to perfection, so don’t go messing with it.”
Declan’s head got another stroke. “Take the rest of the evening off, Declan, and don’t go wandering in the woods. You nearly gave me a heart attack last time.”
He didn’t bother to acknowledge Master Phoenix’s grumbled order. “I’ll see you later, sir.” He gave Lorrie a reproachful look that was met by a playful wiggle of his eyebrows.
Declan had only wandered close to the woods once, and the strong protection spells had kept him back. Asking around didn’t lead to any clues about what might be out there, so Declan let the subject drop. Master Phoenix’s reaction to an innocent walk was way overboard. Overprotective vampire.
Shaking his head, Declan headed for his room. He didn’t want to be around while the vampires fed. Sometimes their partners moaned really loud. It only underscored to Declan that he needed to find a lover, but who was going to get together with a slightly neurotic butler who had to be on twenty-four-hour call for his boss. Few men would put up with being second place to any job, much less one involving vampires.
Back in his room, Declan pulled up his profile on the online dating site he’d recently joined. He spent the next few hours going through the improbable bios and dirty emails he’d received while he had been working. A few he put in his saved folder to look at in more detail later. Maybe one of them would pan out. He didn’t need a full-time lover. Hell, at this point, he’d take a part-time fuck buddy. Anything would be better than spending every night dreaming about his boss.
* * * *
“You’re not still mad at me, are you?”
Phoenix watched his best friend pour himself another scotch. The girls were already gone, having been bundled into their limo, previously arranged by the ever-efficient Declan.
“Stay away from my butler. I don’t like to see Declan disturbed,” Phoenix said. He’d like to ruffle the prim butler himself, but he refused to ruin the smooth flow of his household.
“It would take a natural disaster or a herd of dust bunnies to bother that man. He’s unflappable. Are you certain he’s not a robot?”
Phoenix gave a bark of laughter. “Yes, I’m positive.”
“Have you ever tasted his blood?” Lorrie asked curiously.
“No! He’s my servant, not my food source.” He scowled at his friend.
Lorrie flashed him a cheerful smile. “Good, then you won’t mind if I try a sip as long as I don’t steal him away.” Lorrie’s chatter ended when Phoenix flashed across the room and wrapped his fingers around Lorrie’s throat. He leaned in close so there was no way his warning couldn’t be heard.
“If you ever bite my butler, I will rip out all your teeth and you’ll have to figure out how to suck blood through a straw.” Phoenix shook his best friend, slamming him repeatedly against the wall as anger burned through him like an out of control brush fire. “No one touches Declan! No one!” he screamed.
“Whoa.” Declan’s smooth voice broke through Phoenix’s rage as his soft hands pulled ineffectively at Phoenix’s wrist. “Master Phoenix, let go of Master Lorrie.”
He released Lorrie, pleased when he crumpled to the floor clutching his throat.
“I beg your pardon, Declan. I lost my temper,” he apologized to his butler. He hated for Declan to see him at less than his best. Declan’s good opinion of him mattered above all.
The butler stared at him for a long moment. Declan’s eyes were the barometer of his soul. Light green when happy, dark green when sad, and an uncertain hazel when upset. Phoenix hated when they turned hazel, the color facing him right now.
“I think Master Lorrie might be the one you owe the apology to,” Declan reproved.
“It’s all right, Declan. I was baiting him.” Lorrie climbed to his feet with a rueful grin.
Declan raked a hand through his sunshine-gold hair. He kept it cut in neat, even layers that always made Phoenix long to touch him. Declan debauched would be quite the sight. Not for the first time, he wondered what his butler would look like naked and in his bed.
“Please refrain from getting yourself killed,” Declan scolded Lorrie before turning on the heel of one highly polished shoe and walking back out the door.
Phoenix glared at his friend. “You got me into trouble. My coffee will probably be cold when I wake up.” He hated it when Declan was upset with him. Instead of the smooth operation of a happy Declan, the entire household suffered.
Lorrie laughed. “I can’t believe you let that human rule your house with an iron fist.”
Phoenix shrugged. “Declan keeps things in perfect order. That’s an irreplaceable skill. I won’t have him worried about whether a visiting vampire is going to bite him. He’s off-limits and that’s final.”
Lorrie frowned. “Does he ever leave the house?”
“Of course.” Phoenix searched his mind. “Wednesdays. Every Wednesday, he has off.”
“Where does he go?” Lorrie asked, his eyes lit with curiosity.
“Why the hell do you care? Stop speculating about my butler. In fact, go home. We’ll work tomorrow.” Phoenix didn’t like Lorrie’s new interest in Declan. No one should be thinking of his servant—at all. Maybe he should stop inviting people to the mansion. It only encouraged them to visit with Declan. Other vampires often became jealous when they saw Declan’s efficient control over Phoenix’s household.
For the first time in centuries, his good friend rubbed Phoenix’s nerves completely raw. It didn’t help that the next day was Wednesday, the worst day of the week. He didn’t care if Frank, the underbutler, did a decent job. He wasn’t Declan. Declan added a certain panache to everything. He not only brought Phoenix’s coffee but positioned it at the perfect angle with the exact amount of blood he liked.
Lorrie scowled. “Tomorrow is Wednesday, isn’t it?”
“Maybe we should start having Wednesdays off. Frank never gets my drink right,” Lorrie mused.
Phoenix laughed. “We don’t get days off. You can’t oversee the needs of an entire coven if you’re unavailable once a week.”
Lorrie gave a long sigh. “Fine. But I think giving the butler a day off is highly overrated.”
“Me too. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Phoenix sat watching the fire and tried to gather enough energy to leave the toasty warmth of the den to go to bed. Before he could stand, Declan arrived with a familiar tray. Phoenix watched as the butler set down the serving platter. A silver coffee pot and a plate of his favorite cookies rested on top.
“I thought you were off for the evening. By the way, how did you know I was strangling Lorrie?”
Declan smiled. Phoenix froze at the beauty of Declan’s expression. Sometimes he forgot his stiff and precise butler was still in his early twenties. He ruthlessly shoved that information to the back of his brain where it belonged.
“You were making so much noise, I figured I’d best save Master Lorrie,” Declan explained.
Phoenix laughed. “And how did you know it wasn’t me being injured?”
Beneath his fascinated gaze, Declan lifted one eyebrow. “I don’t think so. Master Lorrie might be irreverent and sometimes not give you the proper respect your position deserves, but he’d never physically attack you, and if he did, I’d take care of him.”
Phoenix propped his chin on his hand, fascinated. “And how would you stop a vampire?” His butler might be scarily efficient, but he wasn’t a fighter.
Declan held up his hand, showing off the wide antique ring he always wore. “This is a poison ring. I keep hemlock powder inside for protection.”
“Really!” Concentrated hemlock powder could easily knock a vampire unconscious, if not kill him. Pleasure filled Phoenix as he regarded his employee in a new light. Meticulous, shy Declan had titanium balls to show his vampire boss he carried around enough poison to take out a vamp. “Aren’t you a man of surprises? Wait, you’ve always worn that ring.”
Declan gave him a mischievous smile. “My mother gave it to me when I told her I was going to work in your household. I know you won’t attack me, but you often have guests.”
Phoenix nodded. “Excellent idea. You might want to consider a dart gun also.”
Declan turned around and lifted the back of his perfectly tailored jacket to expose both a small dart pistol tucked in the back of his waistband and an extremely fine ass.
“Um, good job,” Phoenix managed to choke out over his surge of lust.
Declan put down his jacket and turned back around. “Is there anything else I can get for you, sir?”
Lay naked across my knees. Let me fuck you unconscious.
Phoenix shook his head to both answer his employee and try to knock the naughty images from his head. “No, thank you.”
Declan took a few steps toward the door before stopping. “I have to confess that I fiddled with your coffee.”
“What do you mean fiddled?” Had his trusted servant poisoned him? And if so, why would he tell Phoenix about it?
His servant’s fidgeting drew Phoenix’s attention. Declan’s usual calm demeanor rarely showed fraying like it did now. “The new order of synthetic blood hasn’t arrived yet. I used some of my own blood for your brew. I don’t know the health of your other employees, so I didn’t want to chance polluting your system.”
A sick or diseased person’s blood could mess up a vampire for months. Phoenix appreciated his butler’s care even as his dick hardened over how his coffee would taste like Declan. “Thank you. Next time, don’t feel you have to sacrifice your own body for my coffee.”
Declan blushed a pretty pink color as he nodded. He turned and headed out the door without another word.
Anticipation had Phoenix pausing as he held the cup to his lips. The aroma set his gums tingling. Tilting the cup, he sipped at the bitter liquid. The acidic taste of the coffee hit his tongue a second before another flavor exploded across his senses with the power of a tsunami.
Declan’s blood had a more complex signature than any Phoenix had ever consumed before. It only took a moment to realize why. His butler wasn’t entirely human; definitely part human, but human and something else, something with an ancient bloodline.
Humming contently, Phoenix polished off his cup of coffee and poured another from the small pot provided. Enough energy buzzed through him as he finished the rest of his work that he wondered how Declan’s amazing blood tasted directly from the source.