Dating Declan – Prologue
“Declan! What are you doing here?” The last person Elizabeth Watson expected to see at her door was James' former, and hopefully soon to be restored, protege. She and Declan parted on good terms after Christmas, all things considered. She'd saved his life and he'd barely kept his job when James caught them in an infirmary bed together. It didn't seem quite fair.
Declan's smile was warm and genuine, “My flight was canceled, thought I'd stop by and see how you're weathering the storms before I check-in to my hotel.”
“I'm all stocked up and ready. I just heard the approaching storm has canceled all flights for the rest of today and possibly tomorrow as well. I'm sorry you got caught in it, come in and get warm.” She stepped back, opening the door to allow Declan into her apartment. “It's good to see you, Declan. I was worried James would feed you to some abnormal after I went back to school.” She took his heavy jacket and scarf, putting them on hooks behind the door with hers.
Declan laughed, “Too right.”
He carefully wiped his boots on the rug so he wouldn't track mud in, and Elizabeth smiled at his thoughtfulness. She gestured to her comfortably worn couch. “Sit, please. Would you like some tea? I have the kettle on, it's that kind of day. Gloomy, gray and cold.” She gave him a wistful little smile. “Reminds me a bit of London.”
A horn honked loudly down on the street outside, and Beth laughed because they could hear the raised voices of the cab drivers, even on the sixth floor. “Until they start shouting at each other and using rude hand gestures, then I know I'm in Manhattan. Are you hungry?”
“A bit, yes. I don't eat airport food if I can avoid it,” Declan confessed.
Elizabeth nodded, understanding the sentiment completely. “With the amount of time you must spend in strange airports, I don't blame you.”
Declan stretched an arm across the back of the couch. “I've always wondered why you chose New York City, its loud and crowded. After life in London, I thought you'd choose somewhere a nit more quiet. Is there a special program here that interests you, or was it to get as far from James as possible?”
Elizabeth listened from the tiny kitchen while she made the mugs of tea and fixed them each a turkey sandwich and some chocolate biscuits. “I'm seriously considering the food science degree program, it's excellent here. Too many years following the cooks around the kitchen begging for scraps, I guess,” she chuckled. “As for the James, I can handle him most of the time. Mostly, I wanted a grand adventure. When I was first adopted, I dreamed I was stolen from America as a baby and just ended up in London by mistake. Silly, I know.”
Declan took a cautious sip from the mug she offered and shrugged, “Anything's possible. James doesn't know where any of the children came from. I guess if you want an adventure, America is a good place for it. Plenty of trouble a young woman can get into.”
“I never get into trouble,” Elizabeth huffed, dramatically. “I'm the good daughter who meekly does everything James tells her to do.” Her sarcasm was not lost on Declan, especially in light of recent events.
She put their plates on the coffee table within easy reach and took the chair across from him, tucking her legs up under her. “So, rumor has it you've been working at the Old City Sanctuary since Christmas. I guess working for Dr. Magnus beats being sacked outright, or shipped off to Siberia. Or does it?”
“It worked out better than I expected,” Declan nodded. “And James needed time to cool off.”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “I told James not to blame you for what happened. He's such a prude.”
“I think any man has a right to want blood when he finds his teenage daughter tucked up in bed with the help.”
Elizabeth scowled into her mug. It was just like Declan to defend James to his dying breath. The 'help' indeed. “You are far more to the London Sanctuary than 'the help', and if James doesn't appreciate you, he doesn't deserve you.”
“I'm an employee of the Sanctuary and I've no right to even look at his daughters.”
Beth smiled at his tone, poor Declan was a white Knight trapped in the wrong era. “I don't see why you can't look, his daughters spend a great deal of time looking at you. Not to mention thinking scandalous thoughts about you.”
Declan choked on his tea, and wheezed, “Is that why you saved my life?”
“If you're asking if I have an embarrassing teenage crush on you, the answer is... most definitely, but that had nothing to do with saving your life.”
Declan leaned forward to put his empty plate and mug onto the table. Elizabeth felt a flash of pride at how quickly her impromptu lunch was devoured. The poor man really had been hungry. “Then, why? You had to know James wouldn't sanction a plan that involved sex between us, even to save my life.”
“Oh bugger what James thinks!” Beth growled. “He's not God, he's just a man, a very old and set in his ways, Victorian man. I'm not his 'property' and he needs to realize that I'm almost to my majority. I need to be the one to make my choices or I'll be useless.”
Elizabeth hesitated, not sure if she should spell it all out for him, but giving in because it seemed like information he had a right to know. “I've lived in the London Sanctuary for over eleven years, Declan. I've seen so many strange, terrifying things I feel like I've lived as long as James, sometimes. Men come and go, they stay for a bit and either quit... or die. People don't live very long when they work for James, not long enough for us to get attached to them, and certainly not long enough for James to become attached.” She took a long sip of tea before continuing, “You've become James' arms and legs, the one who does the tasks James physically can't do. And maybe your military training makes a difference in your longevity, I don't know.
“Once I knew I had this power and how it only works through sex, I kept it secret from everyone, especially James. I regret shocking him the way I did, but it's a frightening responsibility, life and death. You're a good man, Declan, and James leans on you more than he has ever has with anyone. I don't think he sees you the way you see yourself at all; I think when he looks at you he sees an eldest son, the heir to his legacy. His adopted children are still too young to take over the Sanctuary. Most of them still need a bloody keeper. When he told me you were poisoned, James was beside himself at the prospect of you dying, and racked with guilt he couldn't find a way to save you. I swear I didn't have time to think about anything beyond you surviving the night. I was sure I could heal you, and I did.”
Elizabeth had been staring at her hands in her lap, and when she hazarded a glance at Declan, it made her smile to see his slack jawed expression. He was rendered speechless, so she decided to tweak him, “And poor me, I had to lose my virginity with a hot guy in the name of saving us all.” Her lame attempt at humor seemed to get his brain back on track. “I figured you and I would have some awkward moments from this. It's alright, you know. I'm too young to think about a serious relationship with you or anyone, and I don't expect or want anything from the whole fiasco beyond maybe us staying friends.”
“You think James means to name me as his successor to head the London Sanctuary?” His blue eyes were dark and his expression gravely serious.
Declan had probably never considered the possibility, he didn't crave authority like some of the people James had working for him. He did the dirtiest jobs, volunteered for the most dangerous missions, and never complained about anything, no matter how bad things seemed to get. It was just not in his nature. “I do. And I'm not the only one; everyone feels the way I do, you know nothing is a secret with telepaths in the House. We trust you like we've never trusted anyone but James. If the Council and Dr Magnus tried to make anyone else Head of the London House, they wouldn't last a week before we tossed what was left of them out into the street.”
Beth unfolded herself and stood up, collecting the dishes and taking them into the kitchen. As she washed them, she watched Declan process the information she'd unceremoniously dumped into his lap. If he ran for the hills, she was going to be in serious trouble. Elizabeth didn't feel like she'd misjudged him, he was their Knight, gallant and handsome and brave. James should be happy to offer up one of his precious daughters as a virgin sacrifice.
Much to her relief, Declan didn't look like he was going to bolt from her apartment, never to be seen again. Just the opposite in fact, his head had fallen back to rest on the back of the couch and he stared up at the ceiling lost in thought.
Declan's long legs stretched out under the table and crossed at the ankles. He really was nice to look at. There wasn't a night in the last two months Beth didn't lie awake in bed and play their hasty sex scene over and over in her head until she fell into a tormented, lustful sleep. Raging hormones were a real bitch sometimes.
“Please say something,” Elizabeth begged.
Declan's head rolled in her direction until those blue eyes were fixed on her. “So, I'm hot, am I?” The corner of his mouth turned up in a small, smug smile.
Her cheeks flamed, “Of all the things to fixate on in my speech, you have to pick that.” It was like a dream when you stand naked in front of an auditorium of people making a speech you can't remember, only more humiliating. “Ask me something else.”
“Are you coming home for Spring Break?”
Elizabeth breathed a sigh of relief at the change of topic. “I don't know. I wasn't really planning on it. Cancun sounds more pleasant than London in March... or maybe a beach in Miami... Girls Gone Wild and all that. Why?”
“I've had two months to think about it, and I feel I owe you dinner, at least, for saving my life. Next time you get back to London.”
Now, it was Elizabeth's turn to gape. “Are you suggesting a... date?”
Declan stood and strode across the room to stand before her, his height made it a bit awkward looking up at him. His hand cupped her cheek, warm and gentle. “I realize I'm entirely too old for you, and James will take a piece or two out of my hide, but yes. I'd like to take you on a dinner date. If people mistake me for your father, so be it.”
Beth rolled her eyes and moved her hands to his chest, he was very warm under her palms. “You aren't that old... and I'm not quite as innocent as you may think. I wasn't planning on saving my virginity for a future husband or anything like that, it's just...” she sighed, dramatically, “college guys leave a lot to be desired. Most are sex crazed idiots. I'd want to mace them if they even tried to put a hand on me.”
“I can imagine; I was their age once,” Declan winced. “I'm sure I was a complete arse.”
Elizabeth smiled up at him, “I don't believe you could be like the guys around here. ”
“I've developed a healthy respect for women since those days, and I've lost my taste for sex in the back of autos and in cramped storage closets.”
“Damn. There goes half my fantasies about you.”
Declan laughed. “I prefer beds or rugs before a roaring fire, now.”
Turning the conversation back to a prospective date, she said, “Nobody in London would have the nerve to say anything against us if we went out to dinner. Except James, of course, and I'm going to give him a piece of my mind when I get home, if not before, for being such an ass to you.”
They made their way back into the living room the intimacy of the moment fading. This time, though, she chose to sit beside him on the couch. It felt different being this close to him, not as safe. She could feel the heat of his body where her legging clad knee rested against his thigh.
“On second thought, maybe we should go to dinner here in the States. Might be wise to keep an ocean between us and James' temper.”
“Well, if we get the blizzard of the century this weekend, you may get stranded in this apartment with me and I'd have to feed you and let you share my bed until the roads are cleared.”
Declan leaned in until their noses were almost touching. “You have a comfortable couch.”
“You aren't going to fall for it, are you?”
“No,” Declan said, sternly.
“What if I bat my eyelashes and wear lacy, seductive clothes?”
Declan's shrugged, “Might kiss you.”
“And if I wear nothing at all?”
“Besides wrapping you in a blanket, so you don't freeze in this weather? I'd probably take you over my knee and redden your backside. If we are going to see where this attraction goes, there should be ground rules.”
Elizabeth pulled a face. “Such as?”
“Such as practicing discretion and waiting until we have James' blessing before we make our date or dates public knowledge. And not disrespecting James by carrying on under his roof if we do more than date.”
Beth sighed, “And there went the rest of my fantasies about you...”
Declan leaned in and brushed his lips softly across hers. “I'll help you come up with some new ones. I have a feeling it will be near July before we convince James I'm not out to use you for sex and break your heart...”
“So, what if you are? It's my life and my body and I'll not have James telling me what I can and can't do with either.”
Declan kissed her, again, just as softly, then stood up. “Spoken like someone living eight hours from London by plane. I should get going.”
She followed him to the door. “You don't have to go.”
“I do.” Declan put his coat and scarf on, then turned back to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth tried again, more determined this time, “I don't want you to go.”
Declan chuckled, “Of course you don't, but you need to learn to walk before you can run, luv.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Elizabeth frowned up at him, but before she could say anything else, Declan was very thoroughly and passionately kissing her. He continued to kiss her until her eyes glazed over and she melted into his arms.
Eventually, he let her go and opened the door out into the hallway. “Let me handle James, 'Lizabeth. I'll see you for spring break...”
“Yeah, okay...” Elizabeth managed weakly, still melted from his kisses. She closed the door behind him and leaned against it for support. “Damn that man can kiss.”
“I heard that,” his voice called through the door.