|There was one rule his kind honoured above all others: an owned human must never be touched by a vampire other than their master.|
Every vampire knew that to lay a hand on a bonded human out of desire or feed from their vein caused them immeasurable pain and suffering, and that their master would know of it and would come to act out the penalty.
Death to the vampire who had broken the sacred law.
Death was not something that Javier was looking for but knowledge that it awaited him should he break the law hadn’t stopped the fierce heat of desire from gripping him the moment she had arrived at the London theatre two years ago, sent to work by her master. Javier had been telling himself to forget her ever since. In the time that she had been in the service of the theatre, he had been unable to escape the torment of her presence. The simplest task had become agonizing for him. Giving her orders for the night with the other staff was torture he couldn’t endure. Two years and his need for her had only grown worse. His desire had gone from a liquid fire that threatened to make him step out of line if he were in her presence for more than a minute to a crushing need to kiss her whenever he heard the soft melody of her voice in the distance.
It was unbearable.
But bear it he would.
There was no alternative. Her owner was one of the richest of Vampirerotique’s patrons and his business partners would stake him if he lost the man’s much needed money. That was, if the man didn’t kill him first. Lord Ashville was an aristocrat, a pureblood vampire, and almost three times Javier’s age and strength. As only an elite, Javier couldn’t contend with him. His death would be swift and brutal, and by law he wasn’t even allowed to defend himself. If he dared to touch her, to act out his dark urges and needs with the human female, he would have to quietly accept the consequences.
It was madness to desire a human owned by such a man. He would easily sense the violation of the bond. It was madness.
Javier swirled the blood in his crystal whisky glass, staring at it but not seeing it. His head was full of her, his heart rebelling against his better sense that said it was impossible and to give up on his futile desire for her. She would never be his.
The soft lighting in the back of the black limousine turned the blood dark and uninviting. He drank it anyway, forcing it down, and poured himself another glass from the decanter in the small refrigerator built into the back of the driver’s seat. He had been drinking more and more often recently in the hope that it would stave off his growing hunger for her.
The car engine purred as they slowed and dread settled in his stomach. This was the moment he always feared whenever he was called away from the theatre. Lilah had been on his mind the whole time during his journey, and the whole month that he had been resident at his remote family home in northern Spain. He could still see her clearly in his mind, could vividly remember how she had looked at him with her beautiful golden brown eyes when he had announced to the staff that he would be leaving them in the capable hands of Callum, and how her heart had set off at a pace, colouring her cheeks when his control had slipped and he had looked directly at her. She was so beautiful, so alluring even in the plain long black dress of her uniform. She had haunted him this past month, had been waiting for him to close his eyes each morning and drift off to sleep before stepping into his dreams and ensuring his desire for her burned fiercer than ever each night he awoke.
The car pulled to a halt on the road outside the elegant columned Grecian façade of the theatre. Warm floodlights lit the sandstone from below. On a normal night of business, it would have looked inviting to him, his home away from home, the place that housed something so precious to him. Tonight, it looked cold and dark, ominous and frightening.
An icy chill settled in his chest.
What if this time his fears became real and he had returned to find that she was gone?
A month was long enough for Lord Ashville to have decided he needed more servants in his mansion and sent for her. Callum had emailed Javier regular reports on the staff and the theatre while he had been away attending his sister’s wedding. His old friend hadn’t mentioned Lilah at all but that didn’t mean she was still here. Javier had wanted to ask about her so many times, had typed the words in his emails to Callum only to delete them when sense had overcome the desires of his heart. Callum might understand his plight but if word reached Antoine or Snow, the aristocrat brothers who ran Vampirerotique with them, there would be hell to pay.
The car door opened and Javier swiftly necked the glass of blood. He set the glass down and stepped out of the limousine, his polished black leather shoes reflecting the lights of the theatre. He straightened his deep silver-grey tie and fastened the button on his black suit jacket, preparing himself mentally at the same time. The driver nodded and closed the door, and then opened the boot of the vehicle and removed his luggage. Javier took the dark grey suit bags from him, hanging them off his fingers by his side, and looked up at the theatre. Six tall columns supported a triangular block of sandstone. Each carved figure on the frieze had been cleaned during his time away in preparation for the new season. Tonight was the first show, open only to elite vampires. The aristocrats were yet to return from the countryside or abroad.
Javier managed a smile when the wooden shutters on the other side of the windows and glass doors drew back, revealing the sumptuous red and gold interior of the theatre and his friend. Callum’s steps were swift and sure, his handsome face a picture of darkness as he hurried down the wide marble staircase in the middle of the entrance hall, tying his long black hair back into a ponytail. He shoved the doors open, leaving one of the staff to hurriedly wipe his handprints off the glass, and briskly took the five stone steps that led down to the pavement and Javier.
“It’s a nightmare.” Callum raked long fingers through his hair, messing it up again. It was a habit of the elite vampire’s when he was under stress. His green eyes flashed with irritation and Javier could sense that he was angry about something as well as see it.
“Hello to you too.” Javier’s smile widened and he motioned for the driver to come to him.
Callum snatched the black designer suitcase from the driver, stuffed a large tip in the man’s breast pocket, and waved him away. Like Javier, Callum wasn’t used to the attention of servants and being waited on. It had taken them both years to get used to having humans and weaker vampires fetch them things or do menial tasks such as carrying their baggage. Clearly Callum still had difficulty with the latter.
Javier looked beyond him to the foyer of the theatre, hoping to catch a glimpse of Lilah. Was she working tonight?
He frowned, his sandy eyebrows knitting tightly, and stared at Callum. What if his nightmare had something to do with the staff?
“Has something bad happened?” He fought to keep the note of worry from his voice. Callum would see straight through him if it slipped out. They had spent years together at the finest vampire academy in England even though Callum was a century younger than he was and had remained in touch after graduating. They had always been close friends, even when they had been hundreds of miles apart and in two different countries.
“Victor got into a fight and got his nose broken. He’s a bloody mess.” Callum practically growled the words, his British accent hardening the final two and emphasising his anger.
Javier could understand his distress now. Victor was one of their best performers and often took the lead in the final act of the show, seducing a human thrall before feeding from them in front of the audience. He was a favourite among the female theatregoers because of his good looks and the fact that he was happy to engage with male as well as female partners on stage, and could handle more than one human at a time. He had been with the theatre for almost a decade and was a big draw. Even the aristocrat females liked him and he wasn’t averse to giving some of them private performances to keep them sweet and keep the money rolling in for the theatre. They needed Victor on form and on stage. On a normal night, Javier might have felt more concerned by the news, but the flight from Spain had felt as though it had taken days rather than a couple of hours and his frayed nerves were telling him to find somewhere quiet to rest, at least until he knew that Lilah was still here.
Still temptingly close.
Once he knew that, he would be able to function again and find his usual calm edge and the emotional balance he needed in order to face a crisis. He couldn’t think straight at the moment, let alone deal with the drama of their star performer having a broken nose when he was due to go on stage tonight.
“So tell Antoine.” Javier swept his suit bags over his shoulder, resting the back of his hand on the soft material of his black suit jacket. “He deals with the performers, not me.”
“Antoine is busy with Snow, and I have good reason for coming to you first.” Callum mounted the sandstone steps again and led the way into the brightly lit foyer of the theatre. The black haired elite vampire looked over his shoulder at Javier, his vivid green eyes still dark. “It was one of the staff who hit him.”
“One of the staff broke his nose?” Javier found that one difficult to digest. All of the staff were either human or of weak vampire lineage. Victor was of elite blood. His family weren’t as strong as Javier’s or Callum’s, their blood diluted by too many turned humans in their ranks, but he was still powerful enough to deal with any of Javier’s staff.
“A woman.” Callum dumped Javier’s expensive luggage down in the middle of the marble floor. He waved to one of the passing male staff and the man came over to them. “Take these things to Javier’s office.”
The man dutifully picked up the suitcase and then held his hand out to Javier. He stared at it.
“I was going to freshen up and change before the performance tonight. It has been a long journey, Callum. I’m sure this can wait.”
The look on Callum’s face said it wouldn’t. Javier sighed and handed the dark grey suit bags to the man. He bowed his head, hurried across the foyer to the side of the double-height elegant room and opened the plain wooden door that led to the staff only areas of the theatre.
“The show starts in under an hour. We need to get Victor fixed up and then you need to speak with the woman who hit him and find out what happened before Antoine hears. He has enough problems on his plate at the moment. Snow is going through a rough patch again. I doubt he will tolerate this, regardless of who her owner is.”
“Owner? The female is human?” Javier said and Callum nodded. “Who was it?”
Callum’s dark eyebrows rose and he shrugged his broad shoulders, shifting his black designer suit jacket. “You know I’m not good with their names.”
Javier knew that. Callum dealt with the darker side of the theatre business, tracking down vampires who could become good performers from cities all over Europe and sourcing human victims for the final act and other parts of the show the theatre hosted each week. His friend had long ago given up finding out anything about the humans. He had said it made his work easier. Javier took that to mean that his old friend was growing a conscience about what he was doing. He had even given the sourcing of victims over to a firm of vampires recently, letting them deal with it all, and had focused on finding vampire performers to bring into the Vampirerotique family instead.
Callum started across the foyer in the direction the man had taken and Javier followed. An hour wasn’t a long time to fix this mess without Antoine hearing about it. If Snow was in a bad way again, Antoine would be in the mood for bloody murder. Whenever his older brother went off the rails, Antoine’s temper degenerated into nothing short of vicious.
“Can you describe her?” Javier suspected that Callum would be able to manage that at least. He had an eye for detail, especially when it came to human females. The prettier the better to him.
“Tall, reddish brown hair... fiery... great tits... and had the strangest golden eyes.”
Javier stopped dead. Callum paused with his hand on the wooden door, holding it open, and looked back at him.
Lilah had hit Victor?
Before he could ask Callum more about it, a female member of staff appeared out of the gloom on the other side of the open door. She bowed her head to Callum, who still held the door, and then Javier and walked through. Javier’s gaze tracked her, his head tilting to one side as he took in what she was wearing.
“Do you like it?” Callum said and when Javier looked back at him, he was smiling, all trace of anger and concern gone from his eyes. “I thought it suited the theatre more and it means the staff can move around during the performances without being an eyesore for those attending.”
Javier turned back to stare at the woman again. She stood near the glass doors, speaking to one of the male staff as he polished the windows.
“I leave you in charge for a month, and you change the uniforms?” Javier couldn’t quite believe it. Callum thought that the incident with Victor was a nightmare. This was a nightmare to Javier.
The male uniform hadn’t changed much. The material of the black formal outfit the man wore was a little finer than before, and the cut was tailored now so it fit snugly to his figure, but the long tail of the jacket still made him resemble a butler.
The female uniform.
Javier couldn’t stop staring at it.
It looked as though Callum had gone to a sex shop and bought out every French maid uniform they had. The puffed sleeves of the black dress were lined with black lace, and the neck scooped so low that Javier was surprised he couldn’t see her nipples. Perhaps he could if he was close enough. The lace that trimmed the material there was probably obscuring them from this distance. The horror of it didn’t stop there. The previous uniform dress had reached the ankle of the wearer. The new one barely reached mid-way down her thighs, revealing creamy flesh and long over-knee black socks. The only thing that had remained the same was the black pumps and the colour.
If he saw Lilah in such an outfit, it would be the death of him.
And he had to find her and find out why she had punched Victor.
The Devil help him, he wasn’t going to be able to resist her any longer.
It would be a miracle if he even managed to utter a single question before finally succumbing to his need for her.
Callum’s intent gaze on him roused him from his thoughts and he turned a blank look on him.
“You don’t like it.” Callum let the door drift shut. “We can change it back. I just thought it gave the guests something to look at between acts. Antoine thinks it’s a good idea.”
“I like it,” Javier lied and forced another smile. “We should speak to Victor before Antoine comes down to speak to the performers prior to the show.”
Javier hoped that Victor would tell them everything and then he wouldn’t need to find Lilah and speak to her. Callum opened the door again and Javier strode down the dimly lit black corridor with him, heading for the area to the side of the stage where stairs led up to the offices and hallways led backstage and off to the staff quarters. They were almost at the end of the hallway and out into that brighter double-height expansive room when several females crossed before him. Lilah was among them, carrying a broom and a red plastic box of cleaning equipment, her dark chestnut hair twirled up in a bun at the back of her head.
She said something he didn’t hear to the three other women and then broke away from them and struggled to open the heavy wooden doors that led to the area in front of the stage in the theatre. Her broom knocked against the door when she managed to open it, fell from her grasp and clattered on the floor. She cursed softly and Javier echoed her in Spanish when she let the door close again and bent to retrieve her fallen broom.
The frilled black skirt of her dress hid nothing from view as she picked up the broom, her back to him. He stared at her bottom and her black knickers, blood pounding in his temples, his hunger for her kicking back into life and threatening to seize control of him. He pictured crossing the scant few metres that separated them, sliding his hands over the firm peachy globes of her backside, and drawing her back against the raging erection tenting the black material of his tailored trousers beneath his jacket.
Lilah straightened so fast that he jumped and she whirled to face him. Her cheeks coloured, rosy and dark, and the startled edge to her round eyes captivated him. She blinked, shuttering her beautiful golden irises, and then dipped in a curtsey. Her gaze stayed downcast this time, her head slightly to one side, so the cord of her neck remained taut and tempting.
“This is the one, Javier,” Callum said and Javier almost barked that he knew that already and barely stopped himself from throttling his friend for interrupting his perusal of her neck.
He cleared his throat instead. “I will deal with you later.”
Callum moved on. Javier remained where he was, his feet firmly planted to the dusty floor, his eyes glued to her, waiting to see her reaction.
Lilah’s gaze slowly rose, bringing her head up with it. When it touched on his, the colour on her cheeks darkened and he forgot to breathe. He stared at her, mesmerised, lost in the black abyss of her dilated pupils.
She didn’t take her eyes away from his as expected. She held his gaze, steady and unafraid, no trace of fear in her scent. The way she looked at him spoke of desire and he had a hard time telling himself that he had to be imagining it. Her bond with her master made it impossible for her to feel anything for Javier. The gentle rhythm of her heartbeat called to him, luring his gaze down to her cleavage, and he fought his desire to step closer so he could reach out and run a lone finger over the luscious curves of her breasts. Touching her would only bring her pain. He couldn’t. No matter how much he needed to have her warm soft skin beneath his fingertips and know the feel of her at last. It would hurt her. He didn’t care. No. He did care. If it hurt her, he would stop. He would never harm Lilah. To pain her was to pain himself. He cared about her too much.
“Are you coming?” Callum’s voice shattered the spell she had cast on Javier and he glanced at him and nodded.
When he looked back, the door was closing and Lilah was gone.
He rubbed the bridge of his nose, drew in a long deep breath, catching the enticing scent of her in the air, and followed Callum backstage.
He would be in her presence. Alone.
And he wouldn’t be able to resist her any longer.
If it hurt her, he would stop, but he needed to touch her.
He needed to know the feel of her and her taste.
Even if that one taste was all he could ever have.
Even if it signed his death sentence.
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