Friends & Neighbors 6

It’s Where the Heart Is

Petersen’s Fishery, located behind Steward & Westminster was constructed of brick, rusted metal and a tin roof, a perfect place to use as an off-the-beaten-path torture chamber. This section of the wharf was old and deserted with no one around to hear victims scream. Angel was no stranger to torture although he had rarely been on the receiving end. Spike’s plans came as no surprise, nor did his employment of a torture specialist like Marcus to do the dirty work.

He was also prepared for Spike to betray him once they had reached the fishery. Two against one. Better odds to get the ring off his finger. For once, Spike kept his word. They faced off against Marcus, used an item or two from his table of torture devices, and in the end left his dust swirling in the breeze.

“Been a while since we fought on the same side.” Spike kicked his boot across the dust pile for a final bit of fun before getting serious again. Angel saw that he wasn’t joking around anymore. “So we have a deal. I stay out of L.A., and you leave me be.”

Warning him that it was not quite that easy, “If you’re planning on staying in Sunnydale, Buffy will be there to keep an eye on you.”

Spike hesitated a moment before wagging his tongue lasciviously, “Maybe I plan to keep an eye on her too.”

“Don’t.”

The simple response was a multi-layered warning. It did not matter if he had ended things with Buffy. Spike was never going to be a better option, not that he liked Riley Finn any better, but at least he had humanity going for him. Spike was just trouble, especially when left to his own devices. Still, he knew Buffy could handle it.

For once, she was not his priority. “There’s no deal until I get Cordelia and Doyle back.”

“Deal’s a deal, Pea—,” Spike broke off as Angel’s cell phone started to ring. “Oy! That’s you.”

Angel pulled out the small black phone and flipped it open. The last thing he needed now was someone calling about a case. Cordelia rarely ever forwarded the office phone to his number, frequently accusing him of letting all of his calls go to the endless pit of voice mails he could not figure out how to answer.

“Hello?”

Cordelia sounded surprised to hear his voice. “Angel! Angel, are you okay? Still in Sunnydale? I have to—”

“What the bloody hell!” Spike obviously heard her too. He yanked his own cell phone out and started punching in numbers.

“—warn you. Sorry to interrupt the apocalypse, but I have the 411 on your old pal, Spike,” Cordelia huffed the words as if she was almost out of breath like she had been running. “Watch out for him. He’s—”

Behind him, Spike was giving Manny the Pig hell. “I’ll rip out your lying tongue! Drive around the bloody block and keep—”

“—looking for that ring Buffy gave you.” Cordelia went on barely allowing Angel to keep up. “Buffy did give you the ring, right?”

Angel had a second to acknowledge it, “Yeah.”

“Go invulnerability! You must be kicking some Big Bad ass.”

“Cordelia, are you okay? You sound—”

She rushed to say, “Oh, I’m fine. We’re both fine now. You just need to watch your back. Spike will probably come after you. Y’know, if you’re going to be there for a while.”

“It’s over. Sunnydale is safe for the moment,” he told her.

There was a pause where Angel thought he was supposed to say more, but before he could get out the words she asked, “Are you going to come back?”

What kind of question was that?

She had to ask?

While he was stunned at the question and half distracted by Spike reaming out his henchman over the phone for losing Cordelia and Doyle, he realized that she might have had a legitimate reason to think he might not want to return to L.A. She obviously thought he was still in love with Buffy despite the kiss they shared and the way they had grown closer over the past few months.

The phone was no place for explanations. All he could do was say, “I’m here.”

“Where?”

“Home. Well,” he corrected himself, “here in town. Spike and I—”

Cordelia’s annoyance was clear. “You’re with Spike?”

“Yeah. You’re okay?” Angel asked again needing to know that she was not injured or abused in any way. “He didn’t…”

“Toss me into a gross van with no air conditioning? Spike totally did that,” Cordelia made a noise that told him she found it icky. Hardly the worst of what he had imagined her going through. “Don’t beat him up too much before I get there.”

Angel fought off a smile as he watched Spike pacing in front of him while muttering about incompetent morons and cheeky cheerleaders. “What about Doyle?”

“He probably wouldn’t mind getting in a punch or two,” she said, and he could practically hear the smile over the phone. “We’re at his place. Smells like bong water, but it is safe for now. We kind of rescued ourselves.”

That was his fault for not being there, Angel realized with a stab of guilt.

“Doyle is surprisingly good at getting out of restraints,” Cordelia added with a laugh. “I’ll tell you all about it later if it’s okay to come back.”

Angel explained that Spike would be leaving shortly, but did not get into the details of their deal. He wanted him out of his sight so that he could check on Cordelia and Doyle for himself, and verify with his own eyes that they were unhurt. He had missed seeing them everyday. They were his friends and he wanted them safe.

More than that…

He wanted her.

His throat tightened up as he told her, “See you at home,” because he was not completely certain he could put up with a conversation. Not when all he wanted was to take her to bed and keep her there replete with pleasure to the point that she would never want to leave him.

“Guess that’s my cue to get going,” Spike told him as soon as he ended the call. “One little problem there. My ride is parked a couple blocks away from your building. Got in through your sewer entrance last night. Don’t s’pose you’d give me a lift?”

The sun was still shining outside. Although the shadowy box canyon of buildings along the wharf prevented Spike from burning to a crisp between the car and the fishery entry, it had not been a comfortable ride from the office being bundled up under a blanket.

Angel did not want to subject himself to any more of Spike’s tales about Sunnydale or his run-ins with the Slayer or her posse of do-gooders. “We part ways here.” He strode over to the Plymouth and let the top roll back to full convertible mode. “The sun is still up. I’m going to enjoy it.”

Standing just inside the shadowy entry of the doorway, Spike seethed a bit. “Love to rub it in, don’t you? Our deal stands. Ride off into the sunset if you want, but don’t get too happy. Whatever you’ve got going with the Cheerleader, don’t screw it up, or make me regret giving you that ring.”

“Our deal stands. Stay out of my business and I will stay out of yours. Cordelia is off-limits.”

Spike scoffed at those words twisting them back at him, “Take your own advice on that one. Don’t get careless with that ruddy soul of yours. Lose it and she’ll be your first victim.”

The thought sickened Angel mainly because Spike was not wrong. The ring was the source of powerful magic, but could it really protect his soul? As much as he did not want those doubts to surface, he could not deny that they existed.

“Take care of my ring.”

Angel took hold of the rusty stair rail jumping over it in an easy leap to stand directly in front of Spike. “The ring is no longer your business. This city is mine,” he bit out the words. “Don’t ever threaten it or my people again. Next time there won’t be any deals. I want you back on the road at sundown.”



The Truth is Out There

Hugging him tight, Cordelia was reluctant to let go. “G’night, Doyle. See you tomorrow.” She closed and then locked the door behind him while wishing that he had stayed longer uncertain that she wanted to be alone with Angel.

A bizarre feeling tickled at her nerves leaving an odd jumpiness that felt foreign. Being with him usually made her feel safe. It did not help that she could sense him watching her from across the room.

This was not exactly how she had expected things to go. For one, Angel was actually here instead of Sunnydale. Did that mean the old zing wasn’t there with Buffy or that he was actually coming home to L.A. without strings attached? He certainly hadn’t thought about her or their pre-apocalypse makeout. Not if the lack of contact over the past week was a clue.

No phone calls.Not one.

Not even to say he wasn’t a big pile of dust.

The big jerk.


Annoyed at the thought of being ignored even if the world might have been in jeopardy, Cordelia turned around to glare his way. He was looking back just as she suspected, Mr Poker Face with the impenetrable stare. Was he just pissed off that Spike had trashed his apartment while searching for the Gem of Amarra? Maybe he blamed her because she had insisted on trying to confront their burglar, managing to get herself and Doyle kidnapped in the process.

That one was probably on his ‘To Do List’ of lectures.

Unless it was more personal and he realized she had slept in his room last night. Gulping at the idea, she tried to remember if she had put the borrowed shirt into the hamper or left it on the floor. Crap! It was pathetic enough missing him so much that she crawled into his bed, but for him to find out about it after his romantic rendezvous at the Hellmouth made her queasy.

With a little strategic planning, she might be able to fix things before he noticed. “Guess we should get stared on the cleanup, huh?”

Moving fast, she intended to pass him in the doorway, but Angel’s big hand wrapped around her upper arm to hold her there. “It can wait. Are you sure you’re okay? Your heart is racing.”

Cordelia wanted to die on the spot. Not fair using the vampire senses! “I’m just excited,” she said, which was definitely true. Telling him that it was because he was touching her was not on the cards. Opting for a different truth, “You’ve got that nifty new ring. No more Florence Nightingale duties for me. Now I won’t have to worry about you coming home after a fight looking like hamburger meat.”

“That’s not all it can do.” Angel started to tell her, but Cordelia interrupted, a big grin on her face.

“Oh, I think it’s great! You can walk outside without the sun sending you up in flames,” Cordelia was genuinely thrilled. There were so many things he could do when he was not limited to lurking shadows. He might actually like the beach. “Doyle and I were talking about going to the beach. Now you can come, too.”

Frowning, Angel quickly let go of her arm as if he could not bear to touch her any longer. She stayed close for a moment until he said, “Good thing Doyle was here when Spike showed up,” strangely sounding ticked off about it.

Doyle’s presence was not exactly unusual. “He’s always here.”

“Is he?”

“Sure.” What was so surprising about that? “Hello, Doyle works here, too. Besides, his cable TV is still on the fritz and ours works just fine.”

Grabbing his wrist, she pulled him into her living room to show off their new television and doing a little dance. “Go Cordy, go Cordy! Movie night is on. Doyle and I have been working out a few kinks over who gets control over the remote.”

“As long as those are the only kinks,” Angel quipped back in a way that wasn’t quite as amusing as it should be.

The television was still on in mute mode. “Bikini babes and speedos,” Cordelia let out a laugh remembering that awkward moment with Doyle as she grabbed the remote to turn it off.

There was a hint of a growl in his voice as he asked, “Has Doyle said anything to you…?”

Okay, so she had a few angry vibes of her own to shake off. Jumping in with, “About being a demon?” She had almost forgotten to be mad at him for not telling her. “Thanks for the heads-up. Not! I love finding out that the people in my life lie to my face about who they are. You included!”

Looking like she had backed him into an unexpected corner, Angel came out fighting. He growled out, “That was different. I wasn’t keeping anything from you, Cordelia.”

Huh. That was so not true. “Buffy had to tell me that you were a vampire. You were keeping that little secret all to yourself. Guess that goes for your demon friends, too.”

“Doyle is only half demon,” Angel snapped back with a little more truth that had not been previously revealed. He took another step forward, riled up, his irritation showing in the way he crowded her forcing her to step back more than once just to get some breathing room.

Poking him in the chest with a finger, she goaded him on. “You knew all along. That is so unfair. Just like you keeping the truth from me.”

Angel countered quickly, “You didn’t even know vampires existed when we first met. The truth wasn’t even on your radar.”

Well, admitting silently, for a while she had thought those goons at the Bronze were gangbangers. “Finding out that way hurt.”

As she pushed futilely against the wall of his chest, Angel growled quietly, “Harris helped you get over it pretty fast as I recall.”

Cordelia gaped at him for a second for daring to bring Xander into this.

“Crushing on a vampire who was already in love with someone else—I wasn’t sticking around to get caught in the middle of that mess.”

“Face it, Cordelia,” he cupped her jaw tilting it up, “you ran from the truth as fast as you could even though you wanted me.”

She swiped at his hand noting the way he chuckled at her ineffectual attempt at dislodging him. When that did not work, she squirmed and pushed some more, failing to budge him an inch. His thumb swept across her lower lip as he stared down at her with a growing hunger in his gaze that left her trembling and weak at the knees.

God, he was right. So right. “Smug much?”

Angel gently released her jaw, but kept her close as his big hands closed around her waist. “If you say so. All I remember is you flirting every chance you could get…”

Cutting in, she huffed, “Obviously, your memory is faulty.”

“…trembling in my arms whenever I rescued you from the latest danger you’d managed to get into…”

Whoa! That was total exaggeration. Plus, there was a medical explanation for that. “Adrenalin rush.”

“…or the way you let me catch a glimpse inside that icy bitch exterior to see the real you. Beautiful, vulnerable, surprising and always tempting.”

“Oh? In what way? Not as a late night snack, I hope,” she tried not to think of how she hoped he was tempted. Or that he had also fantasized about her, which would be totally shocking consider his all-consuming true love for you-know-who.

Angel dipped his head low to nuzzle the smooth skin of her throat, his cool lips brushing against her pulse. The sensation made her sigh and lean into him, her hands sliding up his arms to cling to his broad shoulders. “Every way.”

“So you’ve though about…”

“Being inside you, tasting you,” he moaned the words against her ear before hissing his confession, “yes.”

Melting on the spot, her body softened, creaming at the sensual images he was stirring up. She licked at her lips wanting more. Needing his kiss no matter how much she was angry. It occurred to her that she did not have to wait, that she could just kiss him, but he jerked her away from him all of a sudden.

Angel ground out the words looking entirely pissed off at her. “I’m a vampire, Cordelia. You were smart to run. The things I could have done to you Angelus would have done far worse.”

Hooboy! Anytime a conversation touched on Angelus and what his soulless self did or might have done it sent Angel into a tailspin of doom and gloom. Warding that off she pressed a finger against his lips to stop him from going there. “Oh, no you don’t. This is a no brooding zone.”

Irritated, Angel pulled her hand away, but held it close to his chest. Softly, he added, “You started it.”

“Did I? Well, I just wanted to know why you never told me about Doyle. You’re supposed to be my friend.”

He didn’t answer right away, his attention caught by the abrasions on her wrist where the rope had rubbed it raw, busy sweeping his thumb across the sore flesh in a way that made her want more. When he looked up again she felt the impact of his gaze as physically as his caress, dark and intent, touching her deeply. A jealous tone laced his words seeming to come out of left field, “Why are you so interested in Doyle’s secrets?”

“He’s my friend, too. His secrets are my secrets. That’s how it works.”

“That’s all?”

Cordelia squirmed to get away suddenly feeling like the Inquisition had come along. “You practically ran him off tonight. It wasn’t his fault Spike broke into the apartment. Now he’s all alone after our kidnapping trauma.”

“If he needs some comfort he can go home to his mother.”

What? Huh? “Doyle has a mother?”

Angel’s mouth twisted into a reluctant smile, “You’ll like his mother.”

Cordelia mentally added one more thing to her list of things she had been left out of the loop on. “Just call this Betrayal City because I have totally been living in it. Nobody tells me anything. Alone together for a week and he doesn’t even mention that he has family living in town.”

“Alone together?” Somehow Angel latched onto those particular words managing to look sick to his stomach as if she had added something spicy to his blood supply. “Have you…has something…,” he fumbled around for a while until he finally spat out, “Has he been staying here?”

“Once or twice,” she shrugged considering it was no big deal. “Just for an all-night marathon or two. Once I get started, I’m like the Energizer Bunny. We were planning our next play date when Spike showed up.”

Angel looked murderous for a second before he backed away into his own apartment, almost tripping over the toppled lamp and doing a good impression of one of the Three Stooges. He grabbed the lamp and set it upright so fast it caused the shade to shake wildly. Standing there with his back to her, he said nothing else, just visibly holding his anger in until he had it under control.

“That ring doesn’t have any creepy side-effects, does it, like turning you into a raving madman? Because you’re scaring me.” She warned him to tone it down. Although it was clear what had set him off, she wanted him to tell her straight up. “What’s wrong about me spending time with Doyle?”

He gave her a look that suggested she was crazy, but he stayed silent, digging in his heels and waiting for her to finish. As if he was waiting for the last straw to break.

“There’s no need to be such an ass about it,” Cordelia tried to ward it off by being inclusive. “You can join in, too. That was the plan.”

Angel’s stare intensified.

“Doyle’s choices are a little skeezy,” she warned, “but don’t worry about it. You’ll get your turn to be in charge if you think you can handle it.”

Stalking back to where she stood, Angel gave the impression that he could handle just about anything, even if it included a confusing array of buttons. “Cordelia,” she shivered when his fingers slipped up to trace the curve of her collarbone, “you should know by now that I don’t like to share.”

“Pfft! No surprise there.” Cordelia teased him, “Sometime if you’re really good, I’ll let you have the remote all to yourself.”

“Ah…remote?”

Confused, Cordelia spoke slowly, as if redirecting him back to the discussion. “As in TV remote, dumbass. For our movie night marathons.”

Angel seemed clueless as if they had been having two separate conversations. Though, knowing his tendency to be way behind the times about anything involving entertainment, the world of high fashion, or new technology, it shouldn’t surprise her one bit. So, what was he talking about? Not movie night. Backing up the whole thing in her head, Cordelia reviewed the highlights.

All-night marathon? Check.
Inviting Angel to join in? Check. Check.
Taking turns being in charge. There would be power trips. Check.
Angel not wanting to share…
Oh ho, hell no, he so did not go there!

Realizing this was not about rights to the remote, Cordelia tried not to freak out at the direction she believed his thoughts had taken. “Let me get this straight. Somewhere in that dark swirling space between your ears you’ve been imagining that Doyle and I have spent the entire week in bed making with the wild monkey love.”

Angel grunted, “Not necessarily in bed,” just as she suspected pretty certain that he was far from limiting sex to between the sheets. Well, back in the day when he could do that kind of thing.

This is what he had on his mind while he was in Sunnydale? “And this deranged thinking includes me issuing an invite to join the fun?” There was only one threesome she had ever dreamed up, and impossibly, it included both Angel and his alter ego. What should have been more of a nightmare with Angelus involved had only been hotter for it. Insane, duh, but it was not like she could control her dreams. Maybe Angel was not the only crazy one.

“How can you possibly be jealous of Doyle?”

Angel did not bother to answer. Nor did he deny what was driving this insane idea along. He just looked at her like he wanted to devour her whole.

“I don’t understand.” Cordelia felt genuinely confused.

Reaching up, he cupped her face in both hands, his fingers threading through the silken strands of her hair. Raw passion thickening his words as he leaned in close, he said, “I want you.”

A shaky intake of breath preceded words that sounded far steadier than her nerves. “Just like that.” It physically hurt to deny herself the pleasure of giving into that confession, especially when the distance between them was rapidly vanishing. “Not so fast, horn-dog. I’m not here just for your convenience.”

“Don’t pretend this desire is something new. You feel it too.”

“What I feel isn’t up for debate. You’re cursed. End of discussion.”

The intense scrutiny of his dark gaze made her feel like he was reading her every thought. Testing out her words for hidden promises. His heated stare fell to her lips, and he inched closer, almost close enough to kiss. An ache centered at her mouth, and she wanted nothing more than to move into that tiny space still keeping them apart.

“What happened back in Sunnydale?” She whispered the words just as he lowered his mouth to hers, kissing her with just enough pressure to shut her up. Leaving that initial tenderness behind he repeated the mind-numbing move. “Did Bu—,” barely a breath between and he made her forget how to do anything except kiss him back.

Angel fastened his mouth across hers for a series of delicious, searing, hungry kisses. With her head spinning, heart pounding, hands trembling, and knees shaking, she was totally out of control within seconds. Unable to get close enough. Writhing closer, a moan escaped her throat at the hard, insistent press of his arousal revealing the truth of his words, and making the hot, empty space inside her ache to be filled. Sliding her hands up the wide frame of his shoulders to clasp his face, she kissed him this time, excitement making her bolder, leading her to slide her tongue into his mouth, tasting him.

Without a hint of warning, he pulled back suddenly leaving her chasing his mouth, hers feeling bruised by the intensity of their kisses. His hands gently pushed her away leaving her to fall back against the nearest wall for support. Confused. Panting for enough air to say something, anything that did not sound like she was begging for more.

When her eyes opened he was standing several feet away, his hands balled up tight, straining for control. “You want me, too, Cordelia. You want more than just our friendship. Think about it,” he challenged before striding into his bedroom and forcefully slamming the door shut behind him.


Plan A for Angel

The concrete cracked as Angel drove his fist into the wall. Sharp pain was only a temporary distraction from the frustration building inside him. He ignored the bleeding knuckles as he wrenched off his leather jacket tossing it on the bed. The entire room was in disarray, and he was in no mood to put things in order.

All he could think about was Cordelia and the romantic plans he had dreamed up about this reunion. Idiot! What possessed him to believe that things would go accordingly? Spike’s kidnapping scheme to get the Amarran gem denied him the hero’s welcome that might have greeted him and everything that was supposed to fall into place in picture-perfect fashion.

Beautiful Cordelia. He wanted more than just her body. He wanted all of her.

Cordelia’s sparkling eyes, that gorgeous smile on her face letting him know she cared, the hug that conveyed just how much she missed him during their week apart, and curving her body into his, in that subtle, natural way that proved she was into him—all missing from their hasty rehash of Manny the Pig’s treatment, Spike trashing the apartment, and his dispatching of Marcus the Torturer.

Instead of revealing the ultimate benefit the ring might provide, he held off on talking about it, wanting to share it just with Cordelia at first. The news of this miraculous cure would be between them for now. Because it meant their relationship did not have to spin on its wheels anymore, fraught with sexual tension. There would be no more need to suppress his desires. He could be the one to claim her and all her pent up passion.

Even that idea was turned topsy-turvy. Doyle accompanied her home. Having taken a big risk, he was the one who freed them, allowing them to escape Manny the Pig’s van. Cordelia made a big deal about it in her usual touchy-feely way. Hugs and squeezes, pats on the back, handholding and ego stroking included.

Angel was forced to congratulate Doyle on using what little brawn he possessed to save the day. Being relieved that they were both safe was quite oxymoronic. He was irritated by his friend’s presence and felt strangely left out of their little survivors club, which was ridiculous, but it changed nothing.

Doyle was supposed to be out of the picture, off at some poker game or at his favorite pub. He sure as hell was not supposed to have spent the whole week trying to get into Cordelia’s pants, or at the very least her good graces. Smugly, he now knew there was nothing intimate going on. Ninety-nine percent certain of it, anyway.

Jealousy twisted his gut. He did not want that feeling. Probably unfounded, it seared at his insides anyway. If he thought Doyle really stood a chance, he might let him have it. If happiness were something Cordelia could find with his friend, then he would support it all the way. Well, as much as he could without actually crushing Doyle into a pile of bone shards. But they were not really suited. They might have a spark of something going on, but she did not lust after Doyle the way she wanted him.

Angel knew Cordelia felt just as much passion for him. Every kiss and touch, and moan had given her feelings away. So, he might have followed through with his original plan. Tracing her tempting curves. Starting a slow, gentle seduction. Nothing like that wild, reckless romp in the other room. Not their first time.

Closing his eyes, he could still feel her touch, the warmth of her hands exploring the breadth of his back, the curl of her nails into his shoulders as he took their kiss even deeper. The urgent need to get closer. Wanting to rip away the clothes that kept them from being skin to skin.

He never got around to telling her about the ring. Even after she slapped him with that comment about the curse. The perfect opportunity blown because Spike had implanted that one shred of doubt in his head. That had not stopped him from kissing her. Red-hot kisses, too much, too fast. Not in the soft romantic way he had planned. He needed to slow it down. Find a way to tell her everything.

Yet, he had to make sure that there were no excuses this time. No one else to blame for this magnetic attraction between them, especially fictional characters in a historical romance novel.

Cordelia had never admitted that she wanted him. He had argued like he never had before, telling her things he had kept close to his chest, filing them away for the stuff of fantasies. Reminding her that he was not just a man, but instead a vampire with a few demonic needs to go along with everything else.

She had been turned on instead of terrified.

Exactly what he hoped, precisely what he feared, because she wanted him on every level and that might just be enough to push him over the edge if the ring did not protect him or that loophole in the curse wasn’t as defunct as the Watcher thought it to be.

Truth was that he did not want to take things slowly, not really.

As if his own clothes offended him now, he started removing them. First the shirt, opening it button by button as if to calm himself down. Toeing off the shoes. Unbuckling his belt and unfastening his pants with the slow descent of the zipper trying to ignore the fact that he was still rock hard, but it was impossible. Angel swiped his thumb down his ridged penis torturing himself with the teasing rub.

Kicking away the rest of his clothes, he stalked into the bathroom and turned the shower on full blast. The cold water was an icy irritant. One more thing he didn’t need right now. Angel turned the knob the other direction so the water became steaming hot filling the shower stall in a cloud of vapor. Stepping inside, he let the water beat mercilessly at the tension tightening his muscles.

He pressed his hands against the tile, standing there with his eyes shut tight, willing his body to return to a quiet state. Impossible when the mantra repeating in his head was her name. Not when the real source of tension was positioned farther south where the hot water trickled down to his groin, the heat chasing away the cold from his flesh.

Angel growled away the urge to touch himself. He did not want that right now. Not without her. Flashbacks of Cordelia, gorgeously naked and aroused, wet all over, touching him with those healing hands, made him realize the shower might not have been the best way to ease his tension. Before, he had been badly injured, incapable of responding sexually, although he was certain he could have managed if he had tried. Right now, she would get a far different reaction.

Different.

Kissing her lush mouth, the water pelting their skin. Those soft hands soaping up the hard lines of his aroused body, neck to nuts, letting her soapy grasp slide along his hard length, fisting him tight, moving up and down at an agonizingly slow pace. He wouldn’t idly stand by certain that his hands would be roaming around her softer curves, busy circling bubbles around her luscious breasts.

They would never make it back to the bed. Not if they took the time to dry off. The sheets would be wet and he would have to fix that. Or else she would complain about getting tangles in her damp hair. Better if they stayed right there in the shower where it was warm. He’d turn her around, press her up against the tile, and listen to her gasp his name as he took her deep and hard.

Thrusting away from the tiled wall, Angel tried to ignore the random images scrolling in his head of the rest of that scene. It was not happening. Not tonight at any rate. How many years had he practiced suppressing his urges, and studying methods of control? One hint of a reprieve and all he could think about was sex… and Cordelia.

Angel picked up the soap and quickly dispensed with the rest of his shower. Other than a perfunctory cleaning, which provided more temptations, he left his aching shaft untouched. A personal torture he would survive. After all, he was a vampire, and a case of blue balls was not going to kill him no matter how excruciating.

He dried off, wrapped a towel around his waist, and found his favorite hair gel on the floor where Spike had no doubt rifled through the medicine cabinet behind the mirror he had no need to use. Right now it was steamed up giving the illusion that there might be something to see. Defiantly, he wiped the steam away staring into the reflection of the bathroom interior, a harsh reminder that he was not human despite the benefits provided by the Gem of Amarra.

Despite their mutual desire, Angel wondered if he had the right to press Cordelia into a sexual relationship. The passion was certainly there, but they had their friendship and the mission to consider. Was he moving too fast? No, he had given her time to think. He had let her go when all he really wanted was to carry her off to bed and prove that there was nothing remotely eunuch-like about him.

Angel smirked smugly at the idea.


Mind Games

Think about it.

He wanted her to think about it.

That was not a challenge. It was torture.

Thinking was only going to make this frustration even worse. Angel had demanded a confession wanting her to fess up that she was just as hot for him, or else . . . well, she wasn’t certain about the consequences. It was true that he could turn her on and rev her up faster than she could say Corvette.

The last thing she wanted on her mind was S.E.X with Angel. Being laid by her own resident hottie in a go-all-night marathon…. Want? Duh! Sure. How about having free reign at Tiffany’s for a day? She wanted that, too. Countless little blue boxes all for her…score! At least the jewelry did not come with an evil alter ego.

Fair? Not!

Maybe it was just bad karma. Every negative thing from her past seemed to be hanging over her head claiming it was payback time. Getting what she wanted had caused some people hurt feelings, something that had never caused her a second thought until now. Winning had been more about the win itself than needing the prize, but this wasn’t some random award, a higher status to be won, or about putting someone unworthy of her attention in their place.

This was Angel. He actually meant something to her, more than just in a magnetic attraction kind of way. That news frightened her, and not just because of the curse. Feelings, real feelings could be tangled up with all of the other crap that life threw at you. Taking that kind of step was not a casual fling. A person like her could get hurt if the other formerly obsessed with Blondes person did not feel the same way.

Think about it.

Why was he doing this when they had a good thing going with Angel Investigations and the whole getting to be friends and neighbors thing? Angel was a bastard for winding her up this way and making her want him just as much as he wanted her. He did. She knew that much. It was the why he wanted her so much that confused her. Attraction was not the issue here. There were equal parts of irritation. Angel made no bones about telling her to her face that she pissed him off.

It did not seem to matter. He wanted her anyway and did not try to hide the fact.

Just look at the way he was jealous.

Of Doyle!

Bizarre, but at least it showed that he had feelings, even if they were of the slightly crazy, possessive vampire kind. This would not matter so much without feelings being involved. Without them, there would be no worries about perfect happiness or a moment of bliss or something like love getting in the way of what was certain to be fantastic sex.

Cordelia had no idea about the extent of Angel’s feelings. Something mixed up with friendship and lust and no doubt related to whatever the blasted Buffy angst had done his ego. Living together made it impossible to avoid getting close. Maybe the old crush did have some lingering effects because it was so easy to overlook that he could be a penny-pinching jerk, a clueless dork, or an overbearing watchdog. Not exactly attractive qualities in a guy.

Yet, Angel was really easy on the eyes, and possibly the best kisser ever. Maybe they could avoid the whole loophole of the curse thingy by sticking to mind-numbing makeouts several times a day. Just kisses. Endless kisses.

Think about it.

Cordelia slowly licked her lips imagaining Angel’s mouth on hers.

Yeah, she could so go there for the second or two it would take to start craving his touch. Those capable hands on her body stroking her to madness, being taken by him gently and slowly, or fast and hard, she wanted it all. The things she wanted to do to him did not stop with kisses, although it might be fun to explore his body inch by inch just with her mouth.

Forcing herself to stop thinking about it, Cordelia knew one thing with certainty. No matter what Angel really felt about her, she knew that he would never willingly put her in harms way.

~*~

The entire apartment sparkled. With the exception of a few missing items that were broken beyond repair, and now discarded, thanks to Spike’s disastrous little search, it looked like everything was back in its proper place again. Angel closed his eyes as he sank into the old leather chair taking solace in the familiar comfort now that his self-assigned task was done.

Cleaning up had been necessary, and it had given him a good excuse to stay in rather than go out on patrol. He wanted to be there just in case Cordelia decided to throw caution to the winds. Of course, she was smarter than that. No matter that he knew her desire was as great as his own, she was not ready to admit it.

True, he still needed to explain that loving him might not be a suicidal act. Experiencing Angelus up close and personal as she had on more than one occasion was enough to make anyone want to play it safe.

What if she said no? He knew that she wanted him, but did she want him enough to trust his belief that the Gem of Amarra could keep his soul safe? Even though he had read and re-read the passages in the references Giles provided detailing the powers imbued upon the ring, and felt confident that it should enhance the safety of his soul, it was not exactly created for that purpose. He could offer no ironclad guarantees.

Fast or slow, whatever pace Cordelia wanted to take was fine with him, as long as it meant they kept on moving forward. He spent the rest of the night listening to the sounds of her heartbeat. Near dawn, she was out of bed, and for a moment or two, he knew that she was standing just beyond the doorway that joined their apartments.

Angel bolted out of his chair, eyes fixed upon the closed door, willing it to open because it would mean that Cordelia was tired of waiting, too. The door remained closed. A minute later Angel heard her shower running, which led to salacious thoughts of joining her there, and picking up where yesterday’s fantasy left off.

Realizing that he needed to get away, to think about how he was going to handle it if Cordelia rejected the idea of moving their relationship beyond just being friends and neighbors, Angel headed for the roof.

~*~

The morning had dragged by slowly. No phone calls, no customers, not even Doyle’s friendly banter. He might have a reason to think she would need some space after the big reveal of his half-demon status. Maybe it was just as well that he was in avoidance mode because she did not want to have to deal with him right now.

Angel was more than enough to handle and boy howdy she had thought about handling him a time or two since last night. All alone in her bed she had tossed and turned unable to sleep, her mind hashing over the whirlwind events of the day. So much had happened, but it was Angel’s hot kisses that kept her on the edge causing her to feel like she was going to spontaneously combust.

There was no denying the attraction on either side. Angel knew way too much about her former crush. No doubt his vampire senses had given away subtle details about her body’s uncontrollable reactions even when she knew that having feelings for him was futile. Or when she thought those feelings were buried forever.

Why did he have to go and ruin things by kissing her? They were doing just fine for the most part except for a stupid argument or two. Usually his fault. They had a mission, a business together. He was her boss, friend, and neighbor. Now that she knew he wanted her, too, it was going to be impossible to ignore what happened.

Because that was the only thing they could do and keep everything else in their lives going smoothly. Ignore it.

Yeah, right. Like ignoring it would make these cravings for him go away. Not.

Knowing that he wanted her made it worse.

Angel had practically given her a whole speech on the extent of his desire for her. Broody, monosyllabic Angel made it utterly clear that he wanted her in his bed, and that he had fantasies of his own. Once or twice last night she had nearly ignored the inner voice reminding her that Angel couldn’t act on those fantasies without risking his soul and her life. Angry, she had flopped back into bed trying her best to ignore the salty sting in her eyes.

Since she had not been able to sleep, Cordelia showered and dressed for a day at the office in a silky red top and modest miniskirt that hit mid-thigh, adding sandals that tacked on a couple of inches to her height. Makeup took a little extra time thanks to the dark circles under her eyes. Fortunately, a little concealer went a long way.

It wasn’t that she was trying to impress Angel, she thought, twisting her hair up into a knot and adding a tortoise shell clip that gave her a sexy, yet professional look. Pleased with the effect, Cordelia decided it was her brand of armor.

Last night was not just going away.

The idea was scary exciting. She wanted more. She wanted everything. Including the whole perfect happiness scenario that came with every fairy tale ever written. Well, that wasn’t happening. Not with Angel. Not that it could happen without him, either, she suspected, frowning at her reflection in bathroom mirror.

Reacting with a soft, “Pfft!” Cordelia decided that depressing thought had no business popping into her head. There had to be a way to get around the curse. Have a little fun without…y’know…causing Angel’s soul to go poof. Even though Cordelia suspected that she had feelings that went deeper than just wanting recreational sex, it seemed stupid to imagine anything else was in the cards.

Before heading up to the office, Cordelia stopped to pick up the stack of old issues of Cosmopolitan Magazine she had piled up in a corner of the room. Although she was certain there was no article on ‘Getting Off Without Losing Your Soul’ to conveniently leave on Angel’s desk, there might be something helpful. Cosmo had never led her astray yet.

Finally, a call came through, the phone ringing a couple of times before Cordelia dragged her attention back to reality. She grabbed the receiver and cheerfully delivered her opening lines. “Angel Investigations, we help the hopeless. Cordelia Chase speaking.”

Actual business. A potential client! This could mean anything from being able to buy a working paper shredder to a new pair of shoes. Taking notes, she paused to tell the old woman, “Yes, we do charge more than the local plumber, but we’ll be happy to adjust your bill if it turns out to be rusty pipes instead of something demony.”

She jotted down the name and address, and was going over a few more details when she caught a glimpse of movement from the corner of her eye. Angel. Here. Now. Awareness tingled along her spine feeling more than seeing his approach. Her insides suddenly felt like they were under attack from a swarm of butterflies fluttering wildly.

Trying to finish her conversation with their new client, Cordelia struggled stay focused, “So, ah, what was that address. I did? Oh, right. It’s right here. Got it.”

Angel was right there. Behind her. Standing so close all she had to do was lean back a little and she would be in his arms. His fingers brushed across her elbow as he came into view, and that gentle touch was all it took. A hot ache centered between her thighs instantly craving his hands caressing more intimate places.

She turned to face him, pulling the phone cord across her body and dragging the phone to the edge of the desk, ignorant of her actions. The client was still yammering in her ear sounding muffled and far away.

Her hungry eyes devoured every inch of his solid frame. He was big and gorgeous, and inexplicably wearing a blue shirt instead of his usual black, white or gray, along with the denims that hugged his muscular thighs and bulged so invitingly. After her lingering perusal, Cordelia dragged her eyes back up to note the confident gleam in his dark gaze.

Panting breaths sounded as she tried to speak. The client had asked a question, needed an answer. “No worries, Mrs…ah…” What was that name again? Periwinkle? Parramore? Pattycake?

Too close, he was way too close for her sanity. Cordelia made the mistake of putting a hand on him to push him back, a futile move when he obviously had every intention of breaching her personal bubble. Her hand slipped down from his abdomen to the waistband of his jeans, fingers curling around an empty belt loop pulling him in even as he leaned forward.

His long fingers spread out across her lower back caressing up and down by inches as he slowly moved closer, teasing her with the time he took to press against her. The kiss was fleeting when it came, the briefest touch of his lips against the corner of her mouth. His cheek brushed hers as he whispered into her ear. “Good morning.”

Feeling deprived of the mouth-crushing, red-hot kiss she actually wanted, Cordelia flashed him an annoyed look and pointed toward the phone. Hello, client! This time when she pushed him away, he let her do it. Although he did not actually go anywhere just moving down to the edge of the desk where he sat to stretch out his long legs.

After letting the client drone on for a few more seconds in order to pull herself together, she ended the call with a quick promise, “We’ll be there tonight.”

Hanging up the phone brought her a step closer to Angel who asked, “Something I need to take care of now?” reminding her that he did not have to wait until the sun went down.

Cordelia handed him the note. “Not really. It could be a ghost, a demon, or just rusty pipes, but the noises only happen at night.”

After glancing at the information, Angel put the purple sticky note back on Cordelia’s desk. “Good. That means we have all day.”

With Angel, that normally might mean having all day for Spring-cleaning, or another lecture on the appropriate use of his Asian throwing knives. Not this time, she figured. That little kiss was just a teaser, a tiny temptation telling her he had no intention letting her off without declaring that her feelings for him involved more than just her love of a paycheck.

Wanting Angel was easy. Knowing that he wanted her too both thrilled and frightened her, but she suspected it went deeper than that for both of them, and that scared her. “All day for what?”

“Us.”

Cordelia’s heartbeat skipped at the suggestive promise of that one little word. Simple. Well, it should be simple, but for them it was anything but, and that reminded her why wanting Angel was never really an option. Those Cosmo tips were just another way to hold on to the fantasy.

“Coercing me into confessing that I like to make out with you isn’t going to change a damn thing,” she pleaded for reason. Crossing her arms, she held on tight as if trying to support her own decision to demand details. “Tell me you’re not just feeling sorry for yourself because you left Buffy behind in Sunnydale. Again.”

Annoyance flashed in his eyes as he straightened up from his spot at the end of the desk. For a moment, she felt like prey trapped in a very tight corner as he edged closer. How wrong was it that dangerous vibe just turned her on? Maybe that was why she baited him to begin with.

“Buffy and I are done,” Angel told her with a controlled edge to his voice. “It’s finished. Over.”

“Oh. Really?” Strangely, she felt like she should console him for his loss instead of jumping for joy and dancing around the desk at the news. She wanted details, the 411. “That’s… unexpected.”

His eyes never left hers as he said, “So was this.” Angel swung his arm up to desk level dropping the object he had been carrying.

The sound of the hardback book slapping down on the wood surface startled her. Recognizing the cover art of ‘Private Dick: The Lady Wore Red’, the third volume of the series, and the one she was currently reading, she knew that Angel was not planning to change the subject with an Angel Investigations Book Club discussion.

No, he was going for something a little more direct. “I found this in my bed.”

Cordelia knew precisely how that book ended up in Angel’s bed. There had to be a way to get out of admitting how lonely she felt without him being there. Enough to climb into his bed, snuggle down, and read a chapter of ‘Private Dick’. Just what she would have done if Angel had shown up then and there was not something she had considered at the time. Oversleeping the next morning, she never had time to tidy up before Doyle had arrived eager to begin their movie marathon. Then there was the whole thing with Spike.

Searching for any kind of explanation that kept her pride intact, Cordelia came up with an elaborate explanation about Spike dropping the book there when he was rifling through Angel’s belongings. He so could have done it. Only not, and she suspected the sleep-rumpled beddings accompanied other evidence of her presence. She opted for something closer to the truth. “You were gone for a week and I-I missed… your sheets.”

Angel cracked a rare smile. “Just my sheets?”

“They’re pretty awesome sheets,” she reminded with a cheeky shrug. Then laughed, “I should demand visitation rights.”

His mouth twitched in amusement, but his eyes remained darkly intent. “Only under my complete supervision,” he answered, sending an array of sensual images flashing through her head of the two of them tangled in his soft sheets.

Of course he could just be talking about the peanut butter incident. Cordelia confessed, “I like to eat in bed.”

He leaned closer to whisper a sexually-charged promise, “So do I,” and then gently tugged on the soft skin of her earlobe teasing her with his words and his touch.

Turning her so that her back was to the desk, Angel’s fingers skimmed down her arms, taking both hands and pressing them flat against its wooden surface preventing her from pushing him away again. Though she was not sure that was what she wanted to do because it felt so good to have his body against hers, and his mouth against her skin.

Cordelia’s head lolled back at the sensation of his soft lips and blunt teeth nibbling a sexy path down her throat. Utterly trusting him not to bite despite the urges he had hinted at on more than one occasion. His mouth lifted away causing her to moan its loss. She opened her eyes to find him staring down at her intently. It reminded her of last night, when she wanted to forget about everything else except the passion he stirred within her, only to deny that she felt anything more, just before he walked away.

She knew he was thinking about it too, and he confirmed it by with a determined command, “Tell me what you want. Did you think about what I said last night?” Words thick with desire, his body was taut against hers, and aroused.

How easy it would be to simply admit to such desire. Wanting him in every way it was possible to have him and still hold on to her dreams. No matter what had happened to get him to admit to his attraction for her, and for her to do the same, there was still that one thing that made it impossible for them to be together.

Closing her eyes for a moment, she blocked out the intensity of his dark gaze, not willing to let it sway her any further. Not until she found the courage to say what needed to be said.

Cordelia’s lashed fluttered open, her gaze focusing in on his, as her tongue swept across her suddenly dry lips. “I thought about it. All night.”

His thumb brushed across her bottom lip as his hand slipped across her skin barely touching, smooth fingertips leading a trail of tingling fire down the open vee of her blouse to pluck at the top button. It easily popped open exposing a flash of lace and a hint of curved cleavage. A hard sound rumbled from Angel’s throat. He lowered his mouth to the vee of exposed skin, pressing his lips there, and darting his wet tongue into the soft hollow, drawing out an unsteady sigh from Cordelia before continuing his exploration.

With one hand free, and the other still trapped against the desk, Cordelia reached out to him, fingers following the contour of his bicep and broad shoulder, up to the space where his collar met skin. Skimming along his neck she cupped the back of his head, spreading her fingers through his short hair. “Angel, you’re driving me crazy.”

She could feel his smile against her breast. “That’s the idea,” he knew exactly what kind of response he elicited each time his lips touched her skin. Each butterfly kiss softly stimulated kindling heat beneath the cool touch of his smooth lips. Making her want to do things to him that could end up being very bad for her health. “Cordelia, tell me what you want.”

Moving her hand to his jaw, she answered, “More than I should. All of you. Everything. Please, Angel, I can’t think when you touch me.”

She counseled herself to be strong. To fight the temptation, but it was next to impossible when her body eagerly betrayed her at every turn. Her breasts swelled to his caress as he rubbed through the silk blouse and underlying lace bra, palming her all too briefly, and making her moan at the loss of his touch there.

No thinking required here, she decided, as his big hands gathered her hips pulling her even closer into his tall frame letting her feel the physical proof of his desire pressing boldy between them. Angel moved in with deadly accuracy to fuse his mouth across hers. No more teasing, just his mouth slowly rubbing across the pout of her lips, claiming territory, stoking a fiery need inside her. His tongue dashed across the seam of her lips, opening her up, delving inside where it was hot and wet.

Cordelia clung to his broad shoulders, shamelessly savoring each kiss, her pulse thrumming and an achy need forming low in her belly. Restless in his arms, she broke free of his mouth, her hands grasping his face or fisting up in the collar of his shirt, peppering him with hot and sweet ravenous little smooches. Panting out a frustrated sigh, she clutched at his back, tucking her head under his chin. “Stop! Angel, we need to stop. We can’t let this get too serious.”

Pulling back, Angel stared down at her with raw determination. “Don’t you feel it, Cordelia? Too late to back out now.”

“Kinda hard to avoid feeling it,” she muttered as her thoughts took a sexy little twist. Knowing what he meant, Cordelia knew the decision was not simple. “Wanting you is dangerous, Angel. You’ve got a curse, and we both know it could end badly.”

“What if I told you I had a way around that, and that the loophole wasn’t an issue for us?”

Cordelia flinched, hurt by the suggestion. Bitterly telling him, “If this is just about getting laid for the first time in a year, you can think again.”

To his credit, he looked horrified at the concerns that had been running through her head, now out in the open for his consideration. Anger took over just as quickly, tightening his jaw, and turning the mouth that had been so soft against her skin into a hard line of fury. “Is that really what you think is going on here— that I’m using you as some kind of substitute for Buffy? I’m not.”

Arguing back, “Good, because I have no intention of being your Rebound Girl!”

Angel stalked away from her stopping only because he was blocked by the front door. For a moment, Cordelia thought he might open it and keep on going. She might have questions, but leaving was not the way to handle this. This friction between them, the desire they faced, was not going to vanish just because it was inconvenient. Hurrying over, she put her hand on his shoulder, prepared to tell him that her hangups had more to do with the curse than his ex.

“Don’t touch me if you don’t want the consequences,” he growled at the touch of her hand. Facing her, he was full of restrained passion, his body taut with as he reigned himself in. “Cordelia, we’ve been working up to this for a long time now. You’re the only one I want, and you’d better get used to the idea that I want to kiss you.”

“I’m a big fan of the kisses,” she admitted refusing to back away. Especially now that some of her doubts about his feelings were starting to fade.

Angel cupped the back of her neck, and pulled her forward, those hungry eyes staring down at her mouth. Just inches from her lips, he lifted his gaze to meet hers. “I want to do more than kiss you, Cordelia. You have no idea what I want to do to you right now.”

A lusty shudder passed through her at the raw need in his voice. “I’ve got a pretty good imagination,” the words sounded breathy even to her. “It’s not that I don’t trust you to play it safe, because I’ve got a feeling you can be creative that way,” she felt a little thrill pass through her at the thought, before a more realistic one set in. “The curse doesn’t come with an off switch, and when it comes to you, I want it all. That’s what scares me.”

The hand at the nape of her neck began a slow massage as if Angel picked up on the tension gathering there. He asked huskily, “You want me too?” as if before he had only been trying to convince them both that it was true and only now believed it.

“Duh!”

Angel explained about the ring’s magic and his belief that the Gem of Amarra could protect his soul in spite of the curse. That it could counteract its power and keep his soul intact. The seed of hope he planted bloomed fast with each new piece of evidence he offered. He sounded so certain. “Knowing about the curse’s effects nullifies the loophole. Even so, the ring will ensure I remain whole. My soul is safe.”

Knowing he would never risk letting Angelus loose on the world again, Cordelia took him at his word instead of launching an all-out inquiry. Excitement bubbled up as she realized there was no longer any reason to hold back her feelings, or to avoid taking their relationship to an intimate level.

At the same time, she was legitimately confused. “Why didn’t you tell me this last night?”

“I wanted you to have time to think about it. To—”

Interrupting, she quipped, “Thinking is overrated,” before tilting her head up for a kiss he kept just out of reach.

Angel placated her by rubbing his thumb across her lips, silently promising more even as he kept on going, “To realize that this isn’t just short-term attraction between us. I love you, Cordelia.”

Stunned, Cordelia stared into the deep well of his eyes finding only the honest truth reflected back at her. “Since when?” Vividly remembering his words back in the shower, she reminded, “You called me the biggest pain-in- the-ass you know.”

“Honestly, that just makes me love you more,” Angel confessed as he finally closed the distance between them covering her mouth in a long, drugging kiss that made it difficult to remember anything except her need for more of the same.

The butterflies were back. “Good. Can we get to the part where I find out exactly what you want to do to me? Because I have a few ideas of my own.”

A Vampire and a Gentleman

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