DECLAN DE Quirke listened to his mother’s usual first-day-of-school lecture as they headed toward Saint Joseph’s Academy for the terminally overprotected. He sat across from her in the behemoth they called their car. The bullet-resistant limousine had become a permanent fixture in their diplomatic existence since his American father died in a car bombing in London nine months ago. His mum was a beautiful, petite Irish flower with a radiant smile wrapped in sixty-grit sandpaper. Her bright sapphire eyes sparkled against her creamy white skin as she lectured and brushed a lock of blue-black hair behind an ear. Declan smiled to himself. She still wasn’t used to the new hairstyle. Save for his height and build, they could pass for twins. Well, except her hair was without as much as a wave to his curls.
“And don’t give Headmaster Brassington any lip service,” Sorcha snapped, her Irish brogue thick as it always was when she was serious.
Declan smiled knowingly, and she blushed.
“Oh, Declan, I didn’t mean it like that, and you know it. God, you’re such a pain in the arse.”
“I thought ambassadors weren’t supposed to swear.” He loved to tease his mum. She had a great sense of humor and could take it and dish it right back.
Sorcha’s smile flashed, all seriousness gone. “Having you for a son has thrown me into the abyss of moral decay. Here, now, you only have one more year as a dreadful high schooler and you’re off to university. Make a good show of it, will you? I deserve to be lauded as the perfect mother.”
George, their longtime personal driver, pulled the car into the gated circular drive, the sound of the car’s tires baffled by the old cobblestones. Lana Del Rey’s “Brooklyn Baby” finished playing on the radio, and Declan leaned across the car and kissed his mum’s cheek before getting out. Leaning back through the open window, he kissed the tip of a finger and dotted it to her nose. “Yeah, Mum. Love you. See you tonight.”
Sorcha cupped his cheek and smiled adoringly. “My beautiful boy.”
DECLAN HAD attended Saint Joseph’s Academy in Alexandria, Virginia for grades nine and ten. He’d transferred home to Ireland for grade eleven, but his mum thought a change of scenery was in order after his father was assassinated, so they returned to the States for his senior year. Being the son of two ambassadors, one American and one Irish, made for an interesting life, and Declan wondered what this year would hold for him. Everything had been awkward lately, and learning to live with extraordinary security, personal guards, and media attention had made the past year even more unbearable.
Declan closed his locker door as the school’s most popular and formidable four approached led by Mason Brassington, the headmaster’s son and king of the hill. Mason was a tall, handsome, blue-eyed blond. The epitome of the American jock. Ethan Paddington was a slighter, shorter version of the same. Jacob Straus was also smaller than Mason, with dark hair and brown eyes. Caleb Travois was small and willowy with long, wavy blond hair that he kept tied back in a braid. His perpetually golden skin and green eyes gave him the look of a California surfer.
“Hey, de Quirke, you’re back! Ill!” Mason called as he approached.
“Hey.” Declan shook hands with each of them.
“You going to be here ’til we graduate or what, man?”
“Not if I can help it.”
Mason laughed and gave Declan’s shoulder a not-so-light punch. “Great to have you back, man.”
“Sorry to hear about your dad, bro,” Caleb said, giving Declan’s other shoulder a light cuff.
“Yeah, dude. Harsh,” Ethan agreed.
“Salty,” Jacob agreed.
Not wanting to talk about it, Declan changed the subject. “Thanks. How long is your hair now, Caleb?”
“Down to my waist.”
Declan bumped fists with him. “Quiet defiance?”
Caleb nodded with a wry smile.
Declan looked at his registration paper. “You guys headed to homeroom? I have Prof Lowe.”
Mason flicked the paper with a fingertip. “So do we. Come on. You gotta check out the cats. We got a few Brits in this year. Just your type.”
Not, Declan thought.
“Let’s check it out!”
Mason’s wolfish enthusiasm grated on Declan.
“TAKE YOUR assigned seats, ladies and gentlemen. Alphabetical order. Shouldn’t be too hard,” Professor Lowe called over the din of amassing students in homeroom.
Declan found his name placard and slid into the left-hand seat of the desk that accommodated two. He was lucky this year and got a window seat. Ever better for his daydreams.
Mason landed in the seat behind him—since when did B come after D? He leaned over the desk toward Declan. “Check it out, man. There’s a whack of new pussy this year,” he whispered loudly.
Declan grimaced at both the vulgar language and the prospect. Acting interested, he followed Mason’s gaze until his eyes settled on a buxom, freckled redhead. Declan would find her cute if he were into girls. His eyes drifted over the room. Blonde, brown, black, tall, short, skinny, and plump. The thought of having to date any of them revolted him, but he would to keep up appearances. Though he had never been with a guy, he’d come out to his parents last year. His dad hadn’t been thrilled, but his mum had been cool with it. Nonetheless, Declan kept it on the down-low for the school and the Embassy of Ireland. “A dibstone on the redhead,” Declan whispered to Mason.
“No way, bro. She’s mine.” Mason slapped his shoulder.
Predictable. Anything Declan wanted, Mason took. Forever king of the hill.
A hushed voice sounded from behind Declan.
The heavily accented, deep timbre permeated Declan’s mind, a rich, thick fur on his senses. Soft and smooth, it made him want to roll around in it as if it were catnip. He turned to find the most gorgeous guy he’d ever laid eyes on making his way down the aisle. A bronze-skinned, green-eyed Adonis—in miniature. Definitely a DILF. Declan immediately began to get hard. His damn dick regularly made his life a living hell.
Declan eyed the sophisticated European clothing, the absence of gaud, and the contradictory chestnut curls that fell to just below the guy’s shoulders. He had to be no more than five two and, though obviously petite, the well-defined shoulders and narrow waist and hips proved he wasn’t scrawny. Even from six feet away, the guy radiated a prevailing presence, a charisma that hummed softly up Declan’s spine. He could only imagine the nocturnal emissions in his immediate future. Like I need more of those.
Declan watched as the young man gracefully turned sideways in an effort to make his way past three gossiping girls. In doing so, his books slipped from his grasp and splashed to the floor. A quiet “merde” escaped his supple, Cupid’s-bow lips as he bent to collect them. The girls made no effort to move out of his way.
Using every ounce of resolve he possessed, Declan willed his dick down, stood, and went to help pick up the books. “Excuse me, ladies.” He deftly guided the most obtrusive of the girls aside with gentle, but deliberate, hands.
“Hey! Oh, sorry.” She looked up at him. “Oh my God, you’re stunning. Do I know you?” She batted her lashes.
Declan knew he bore the good looks common to the black Irish. His tall, sinewy body, sapphire eyes, creamy white skin, and shiny ebony curls weren’t lost on his peers. The Irish brogue he tried hard to conceal only added to his mystique. At least for Americans. “I don’t think so,” he said to the girl as he bent to help collect the spilled books.
He stood and held the books in an arm and motioned the little Adonis forward. The guy’s piercing green eyes held anger. Awkward. Maybe the guy didn’t want help. He held the books out to him in silence. Before the guy could take them from Declan, Professor Lowe’s voice filled the room.
“Master de Quirke! Have you lost your way to your seat so soon? I could have sworn I saw you in it only moments ago,” Professor Lowe snarked.
Declan turned and gave Prof Lowe his best false smile. “No, sir. Only aiding a fellow student.” He returned to his seat and set the books at the end of the desk in easy reach of the dreamy guy.
JEAN-ISIDORE COULDN’T make it through a single moment of his miserable existence in peace. Dumping his books was a perfect beginning to his new freedom in America. If the rest of his year went this way, his father would surely send him back. And he would not go back. He would sooner die than be sent back. He had traveled nearly four thousand miles, and by some cruel twist of fate, Declan de Quirke was in America and attending his school. As if to taunt him further, fate had seated him at Declan’s desk and bien sûr—of course—Declan had to be beautiful. After years of misery, why would his life be reasonable now? Mon Dieu, he prayed. Please don’t let me fall apart now.
TO DECLAN’S astonishment, the guy sat in the seat next to him. Declan’s pulse sped, his heart began to beat in his throat, and his untamed dick rose to full mast within seconds. Damn!
“Thank you,” the gorgeous guy whispered to Declan.
The French accent seemed to call to Declan’s senses and, if little Declan had a voice, he would have screamed for mercy. His pants were strangling him. Problem! “No problem,” Declan whispered.
Prof Lowe rapped the podium loudly and the class quieted. “Right, then, ladies and gentleman, my name is Professor Lowe. I’ll be your homeroom professor for the year. I’ll be in charge of your administrative needs such as attendance, club and sports memberships, social assistance, assistance with lessons, and so on. Consider me your old Uncle Edward. On a more somber note, and as most of you know, we lost a student to suicide last year. Had someone, anyone, let us know the boy was having trouble, we would have come to his aid. Therefore, we have a new policy this year. We have instituted a buddy system, and each of you has an assigned friend for whom you are responsible. You will report anything unusual or irregular about your friend to me. If your friend is struggling, whether or not related to school, please don’t hesitate to let me know. We want our students not only to succeed but to do so happily. If your friend does not appear in school, it is your responsibility to call his or her home and find out why he or she is absent. Failure to do so will result in an accrued demerit each day until you know why your assigned buddy is absent from school.”
Everyone grumbled. “That’s not fair,” someone called out.
“True. Life is unfair, but that’s how strongly we wish to pursue ensuring that our students are all right.”
Declan stifled a sigh. Big brother is out of control.
“All right, then, everyone turn to your deskmate, introduce yourself to your assigned buddy, and exchange telephone numbers.”
Holy crap! My assigned buddy is Adonis!
JEAN-ISIDORE NEARLY fainted. What had he done to deserve this? Why was he, of all people, assigned to be Declan de Quirke’s friend? This was an impossible situation and needed to change immediately. He’d speak to the professor after class, explain the circumstances, and request a different assigned friend.
DECLAN TURNED to face the gorgeous guy, and large chartreuse eyes beheld him. He all but fell into the translucent green as if he had traversed time itself and landed in another world. Amazing eyes. He must have stared too long, because a light dusting of rose heated the young man’s bronze cheeks. The guy quickly lowered his eyes, his lashes thick, dark crescents against his skin.
“Declan.” Declan’s voice cracked, and he cleared his throat. Epic fail. “Declan de Quirke,” he finally managed and extended a hand.
The young man raised his eyes. “Jean-Isidore de Sauveterre,” he said softly.
The name rang a distant bell in Declan’s head but he couldn’t place it. “Nice to meet you.” He shook the guy’s hand. The moment they touched, his veins filled with hellish heat and, though he thought it impossible, his traitorous dick swelled larger yet. He would never escape class without someone seeing his wood. Crap!
The young man’s eyes widened ever so slightly. “A pleasure to meet you as well, Master de Quirke.”
“Declan, just Declan,” he managed to say as he released the guy’s hand.
“Do you want me to put my number in your cell phone or just write it down?” Declan asked quickly.
“Write it, if you would, and I will do the same.”
Declan watched the perfect lips move. The honeyed sound of Jean-Isidore’s voice and French accent were saccharine on Declan’s senses. Taking a deep breath, he said, “Yeah, okay.” He ripped a piece of paper from his notebook, scratched his number on it, and slid it across the desk to Jean-Isidore’s hand. An elegant hand that offered long fingers and short, manicured nails. It was a hand that looked as if it belonged to a fine artist, a classical pianist, or a brain surgeon. His skin looked smooth and supple, and Declan wondered what it would be like to hold the guy’s hand. What is wrong with you, de Quirke?
Jean-Isidore moved with self-assurance, withdrawing a pen from his jacket pocket and writing his number on the same piece of paper alongside his full name. Unlike Declan, he carefully folded and tore the paper in half and slid it across the desk to Declan. He then stored his pen and turned to face the professor.
Declan looked down at the paper. Perfect handwriting. He looked back up at Jean-Isidore. His high forehead and cheekbones framed a refined nose that graduated to a mouth made for kissing. His profile was gorgeous, as was the rest of him. He was beautiful and sexy, and Declan wanted to ravish him. Dude, have you lost your mind?
Declan turned to face the professor and endeavored to collect himself and will his disloyal dick down.
DIEU MERCI, Declan had stopped looking at him. Jean-Isidore released the breath he’d been holding and tried to steady his trembling hands. Declan’s touch had been electric, and there was no denying the instant attraction, but that made no sense. Nothing he’d researched or heard about Declan de Quirke told him he liked men. Then again, it wasn’t public knowledge that he was gay either. His father would kill him if anyone found out. From the corner of his eye, he watched Declan tap his notebook with a pen. He wore a plain white-gold ring on his right thumb, and Jean-Isidore wondered if there was any significance to it. He mentally shook his head to clear it of useless curiosity and tried to focus on what the professor was saying.
“RIGHT, THEN,” Professor Lowe intoned. “We’ll go around the room. Say your name and something about your family.
Translate: Who are your parents and what do they do? Declan felt as if he’d been catapulted back in time to kindergarten. When it was his turn, he stood and said his name. “And my mother is the Irish ambassador to the United States.” He sat quickly.
“And your father?” Professor Lowe queried.
A band tightened around Declan’s heart, and anxiety squeezed his chest. He didn’t want to talk about his dad’s death publicly. He wasn’t sure he could even if he wanted to. He chewed his lower lip, straining to hold back the emotion that threatened to overwhelm him. Unbidden tears welled and embarrassment heated his face. I am so out of here!
He abruptly stood, his chair scraping the floor loudly, and left the room.
“Master de Quirke!” Professor Lowe called after him.
JEAN-ISIDORE SAT motionless. The aura of sorrow that had radiated from Declan was palpable and mirrored his own profound grief. He wanted to go to Declan, to tell him that he understood.
Professor Lowe’s raised voice echoed from the hallway as he yelled at Declan.
Jean-Isidore closed his eyes. How many times had they beaten him for his tears? How many times had he sought the quiet dark in his mind just to shut out the pain? Professor Lowe’s voice barked again, and disgust rose in Jean-Isidore. Salaud.