1. St. Valentine’s Day
Mason took a steadying breath and pushed open the door to the library. He set the tray piled with cups, saucers, a teapot and that morning’s ironed papers on the small table beside the fireplace. He was Agamemnon Frost’s valet. His sometime partner in their fight against their Martian enemy. And nothing else. Absolutely nothing else.
Some days it was hard to live with that fact. This was one of them.
The familiar smells of the library hit his sharpened senses. Dried paper and the old leather binding the books that filled the mahogany shelves. The stink of brass cleaner and black from the fireplace, cutting through the hint of ash, coal and wood from the morning fire. Another smooth breath brought the lingering touch of Theodora’s floral perfume, blending in the warmed air with the scents of sandalwood, vanilla and macassar oil that marked out Agamemnon Frost.
The latter caused Mason’s pulse to jump. He never tired of those scents, despite the strangeness grown between Frost and himself. Mason was his valet. But that morning, Frost had seen to himself, washed, shaved and dressed before he found his way, as usual, to his library.
The chance to touch Frost, to brush lather against his skin, shave him, stroke lotions into the line of his neck, the straight line of his brow was something Mason treasured. Or had. Now they burned. Frost taking over his duties was possibly a relief to both of them.
The teapot rattled and hissed steam, breaking into his thoughts. Its dial hovered around the hundred degrees centigrade mark. Optimum temperature. He poured steaming water into a cup. “Your morning constitutional, sir.”
Frost turned in his chair, away from his desk and his gaze narrowed. The little spark of wickedness, the one that always forced Mason’s mechanical heart to miss a beat, flared. His lips twitched. “Hardly that, Mason.”
Mason hadn’t meant to almost…flirt, but they could slide easily into the familiar play of words. Innocuous enough. It disguised what he at least wanted and could never have. Theodora and the law stood squarely between them.
Mason offered the cup and saucer, and willed his breathing to even as Frost drew his fingertips over Mason’s knuckles before taking the cup. It wasn’t an accepted touch. Not one that could be explained away, such as shaving him or straightening the hang of his coat. The illicit stroke—so rare since their hurried time together—branded him, firing the sensitivity that came with being an automaton, a bastard mix of man and Martian mechanics.
Frost held his gaze and the seconds slowed, the heat and want fierce. What had brought this on? Mason fought not to wet his lips or to fist his hands. The sudden sharp ache in his flesh caught him, held him, and only deepened as Frost put the china cup to his mouth.
The remembered taste of Frost burned anew on Mason’s tongue, and the urge to pull the man to his feet and shove him against the nearest wall beat with every fast thump of his heart. Because they could. Because the power in their alien-made flesh meant they could satisfy every craving…
But even in the empty library they were not alone. The clatter of working maids in the adjoining room pricked his enhanced senses. “Do you require anything else, sir?” Mason heard the rawness in his own voice and held down a wince.