“That’s not funny,” Angel’s face hardened as he advanced a step closer to the thing that was obviously sent to torture him. Of course! That was it. This was another “let’s see if he can sink any lower” kind of sick game that some higher – or lower – being was playing with him. Angel reached out and grabbed Cordelia’s arm roughly, “Whoever the hell you are, I’m not playing. Do you hear me?” He squeezed harder, eliciting a yelp of pain from Cordelia, “I’m not playing!” he yelled up to no one, gaining glances from all on the street.
“Let go of me, you freak!” Cordelia wrenched away her arm and quickly turned, walking at a brisk pace as she fished through her oversized bag and chanted lowly to herself, “Don’t panic, Don’t panic, Don’t panic.”
Angel stared after her, all thoughts and emotions on overload. He couldn’t be wrong. She had to be some kind of vision or demon or test. But his senses flared, told him a different version. Everything about her was Cordelia. Her voice, her smell. Her blood. Especially her blood. The way it raced through her, the tangy smell of it. It was Cordelia’s blood that he sensed in the rapidly retreating body. And blood never lied.
He caught up with her, whipping her around. “Cordelia,” he almost whispered, catching a look in her sparkling, angry, hazel eyes only a moment before a fine mist covered his vision.
“What the…?” he wiped the cold liquid off of his face.
Cordelia squinted at the small bottle in the dimly lit street, “Oh, crap. Mace.”
Angel grabbed her arm again. This time more gently, but still firm enough that she could not get away if she tried.
Cordelia’s heart raced. “Of course, the one night I need the spray bottle of Holy Water I bring the mace,” she rambled. “Okay,” she nervously checked the area, “ where is she?”
“Well, you’re all evil.”
“No, I’m not.”
Cordelia tried to escape his grip again, “Buffy!” she struggled against his hold on her.
Angel noticed the glances they were getting from the few people left on the street and for once was thankful that most humans, especially on a dark street in New York, were too afraid to come to her aid. But still, he did not want to take any chances.
Before Cordelia blinked she found herself in an even darker side street, her back to the wall of a brick building. Angel looming over her. “You really don’t want me,” Cordelia breathed heavily now, truly afraid of who she thought must be Angelus. “I’m sure the other half of your epic tragedy will be along any minute. The two of you can punch it out until dawn. It’ll be therapeutic.” She began to struggle again.
Angel stilled her, pressing her harder to the wall, his senses on high alert, taking in everything about her. “I told you, I’m not evil.” His eyes roamed over her body. It was her. Cordelia. She was alive and in front of him.
Cordelia glanced down at Angel’s hand gripped around her arm and looked pointedly back at him with raised eyebrows. “Yeah, right. This situation screams heroic do-gooder. Don’t even tell me you haven’t shacked up with Buffy the Wonder Slayer again.”
“I haven’t. I wouldn’t,” he wanted to loosen his grip to prove it, but he could feel that if he let her loose she would run.
“Well then someone gave ya a great big old happy,” she accused.
“There you are,” came the English accent from the shadows. “I been waitn’ for you back at the apartment for over an hour, mate.” Spike’s platinum hair came into view before he finally did.
Cordelia looked at Angel with widened eyes, then to Spike, and back to Angel. “Ewwww,” she said with a crinkled nose.
Angel looked horrified, “No!,” he turned his eyes to Spike who was now approaching his side, then looked back to Cordelia. “No!” he repeated with disgust.
“Cordelia?!” Spike finally noticed the beautiful brunette. In truth he had thought Angel had found another imitation to stalk again. “So, what do we owe this honor? Come back to set him straight again? Give’im a little kick in the ass?”
Cordelia stared in shock at Spike, her heart racing. Angel might be able to turn the ‘evil’ switch on and off, but Spike was a definite ‘evil’. She took inventory of her options and used the only defense she had left. A blood curdling scream.
Angel quickly covered her mouth and pressed his body against hers, pinning her completely to the cold wall. Leaning his head down, he spoke softly beside her ear. “He has a soul, Cordelia,” he spoke calmly to the still screaming, although muffled, young woman. “Did you hear me? I’m not evil, Cordy. I still have a soul. Spike too.”
Cordelia stopped screaming. More from the shock of Angel calling her ‘Cordy’ than the not evil part.
“Are you going to scream again?” Angel asked, his mouth still millimeters from her ear.
Cordelia shook her head. Relief in her eyes at the realization that she would not be eaten by two evil vampires.
Reluctantly, Angel stepped away from a still stunned Cordelia. His hand slid away from her lips slowly as he watched her expression. She was doing what Cordelia did, taking it all in, processing it, accepting it with more ease than any human ever would or should. A part of him stirred inside. It was Cordelia. Really and truly Cordelia. He stayed his happiness. It was Cordelia, but something was not right. Not complete.
“What the bloody hell’s wrong with her?” Spike asked.
“I don’t think she remembers,” Angel answered absently as her watched her closely, waiting for her to bolt.
Taking a deep, cleansing breath, Cordelia tried her best to calm her jumping nerves. “Pffft, I remember Spike. I may not remember every evil, scary thing that walked through the hellhole of a hometown in which I grew up. But, I’m not deficient. Of course I would remember one of the worst.“
“You thought I was one of the worst?“ Spike smiled with pride.
“Well, you did try to kill us all on several occasions. So, you caught the big curse too, huh?”
“Actually,” Spike flirted openly, still bloated with what calculated in his mind as a compliment, “no. I get the soul. And all the benefits. No curse attached,” he smiled suggestively before receiving a sound punch in the jaw. “Ow!” Spike shook off the punch, rubbing his jaw. “Was that necessary?”
“Yes,” Angel answered curtly, then turned his attention to Cordelia. “Cordelia, I don’t understand what’s going on here. How long have you been in New York?”
“I left right after graduation.” Cordelia felt her pulse finally slowing as she watched the stone faced vampire in front of her, his hard features tensing slightly. No one else could have detected such a slight change in his granite face, or even guessed that the small change in expression meant he was in deep thought, trying to fit the pieces of a puzzle together. No one except for her. So…..how did she know?
“You …..you were never in L.A.?” he asked quietly.
“Hmmm….no. I mean, not since my mom and I took a shopping trip there my Junior year. Why?” Why was he so interested in her? And why would he care where she had been over the last few years?
Angel stood silently in front of her for a moment, trying to make sense of the impossible. Cordelia began to fidget under the scrutiny of his gaze then caught herself, stiffened up, and in true form bit out, “Well, while this little attack has been fun, I was on my way home. I have a busy day tomorrow and…“
“I’ll walk you,“ Angel interjected.
“Shouldn’t you be out harassing short, blonde women?“ Cordelia had meant for the comment to sting, and it had, just the wrong vampire. While Angel seemed unfazed by the comment, his eyes still studying her intently, Spike stiffened, all the teasing play gone from his face. For some reason unknown to her she had created an uncomfortable moment for the blond vampire. And for a reason extremely unknown to her she felt a little bad about it. So, without another word she slowly slipped around the immovable Angel and stepped cautiously to the main street, the two vampires following in their own thoughtful silence.
Angel’s head was reeling as he walked in silence beside Cordelia, casting a glance her way now and then just to make sure she was real. How could she be here? Was she ever really in L.A. at all? Angel mentally shook his head. Of course she had been in L.A.. This was Cordelia. His Cordelia. Something had happened. Something major. And before the sun rose he would find out just what that something was.
Cordelia’s eyes continually flashed back and forth between the two vampires flanking her as they walked the dark New York streets. Spike seemed to be somewhere else, off in a world of his own as he walked in silence at her left. Angel, on the other hand, was completely present, casting his own glances at her as he walked to her right. He walked so closely that their arms brushed for a few paces, and, if it had been any other man, Cordelia would have guessed he had done so on purpose. But this wasn’t just any other man. This was a vampire. It was Angel. ‘Okay, Cordelia,’ she mentally scolded herself. ‘Don’t get all flattered that he wants to walk you home. This is Angel. He didn’t notice you in Sunnydale when you were in your prime, so why would he give a crap now. It’s just his old fashioned way of seeing the ‘little lady’ home.’ Of course then his earlier display began to play in her mind. What was that? He had attacked her as if …..almost as if he had been….angry, worried, looking for……her.
The sight of her building a block away gave Cordelia an odd sense of dread. This would probably be the last time she saw Angel. She didn’t really understand why that bothered her. She barely knew the guy, and half of what she knew of him had not been a pleasant experience. Even so, as unexplainable as it seemed, she felt sad that he would more than likely be on his way to do what ever it was he and Spike were doing. Cordelia glanced back to Spike with a furrow of her brow at that thought.
“This is me,” she spoke up as they approached the entrance to the building. Cordelia turned to face the two brooding vampires. “Well, thanks….I guess.”
“Which one?” Angel’s eyes indicated the windows above before looking back at her.
“Why?” she asked at his borderline creepiness.
“Which one?” he seemed impatient.
For some reason answering him seemed the natural thing, “Three up, one to the right,” she said as she fished out her entrance key.
Angel reached out and took the key, leaned around her and unlocked the lobby door.
“What are you doing?” This was really getting out of hand. His attentiveness was beginning to make her moody and confused and she had a ‘Big Break’ tomorrow. She didn’t have time for….whatever it was that he was doing.
“Walking you home,” he answered easily as he passed through the lobby door, holding it open for her to follow.
Cordelia gave a delicate huff and passed him quickly, her heels clomping a little two loudly as they walked up the three flights, neither noticing that Spike was no longer with them. Once at her door, Cordelia turned, “Angel, what is this? What do you want?” ‘Certainly not me,’ echoed in her mind.
What did he want? He wanted to know where the hell she’d been while he was in agony over her absence. He wanted to know that he really had not gone insane. He wanted to pick her up and break down the door behind her, carry her in and never leave. “Just to make sure you got home safely,” he finally answered.
His answer was simple, but the look in his eyes made Cordelia swallow hard. “Well, mission accomplished,“ she said a little too bitterly even for her own ears. “Goodnight.” She stood there for a moment looking at his eyes. Trying to identify the emotions they were expressing before slipping into her apartment.
Angel stood in front of the door, never budging even after he heard the two deadbolts slide into place. It was like a good and bad dream at the same time. Only a thin piece of wood – and an invitation – separated him physically from Cordelia, but a host of unanswered questions separated them much further. Reluctantly, he turned and made his way slowly down the stairs. When he was once again outside the building, he crossed the street, leaned against a lamppost and looked three up, one to the right.
“She’s not going anywhere, mate,” Spike now stood beside him, approaching so silently even Angel hadn’t noticed him there. “We’ve got to find the girl,” Spike’s gut clenched with guilt at the thought of the young co-ed, hoping he wasn’t too late to save her, show her how to exist.
Angel stared at the window, trying to hone in on any sounds; running water, the whisper of cloth against skin, “You’ll have to find your own girl, Spike,” his eyes still focused on the window. “Now that I’ve found mine.”
Cordelia stared at the dark ceiling above her bed. She glanced to her night table at the alarm clock, then to her bedroom window. It was almost four a. m., surely he still wasn’t there. She wouldn’t go look. She would not. She glanced at the clock, watching the red numbers, staring until four zero, zero became four zero, one. Ugh! This was so frustrating. She flipped the covers off quickly, walked to the wall beside the window and slowly slid closer to the curtain, lifting it away so that she had a slivered view of the walk across the street. And there he was. Still standing, still staring. Cordelia let go of the curtain as if it had burned her and hurried back to the safety of her bed, pulling the covers up to her neck. Why was he there? What did he want? It terrified her that Angel, a vampire, was – for lack of a better definition – stalking her. Any normal girl would be terrified of such a realization, afraid for their safety. But what was surprising to Cordelia was that her fear was not really rooted in a fear of Angel. Her fear came from deep within, a fear of herself. Knowing Angel was outside was doing something to her, exciting her even as it scared her. She closed her eyes, tried to relax, tried to blame her racing heart on the quick sprint to the bed. She closed her eyes tighter. She needed at least a couple hours of sleep just to be able to think straight at her audition.
Angel watched as the curtain was pulled away slightly, then quickly let go. What was he going to do? Thoughts and doubts trampled a hard path through his mind. It was Cordelia, but the time she had shared with him in L.A., the bond that had been sealed between them had been lost. How? Why? He would have sought those answers if he had known where to even begin to look. And for the first time in a long while his thoughts included Wesley. Wesley would have known where to begin the search for an answer. He may not have always been accurate or even wise when it came to his research and conclusions. But he would have tried. Tried to find out what the mystery to Cordelia’s reappearance meant.
The thought of not knowing the answers to Cordelia’s plight should have made Angel distraught, desperate. Should have made him attempt to move heaven and hell to find out just what was going on. But he knew himself, knew why those feelings hadn’t come. It was because it didn’t matter. He didn’t care who had brought her back or why. She was here, she was real, and the only desperate thought floating through his brain was how to work his way back into her life, gain the old bond even as he started fresh with her. He had handled things so clumsily in L.A., stammering and stuttering so long that time had ran out, until the very things that had pushed them together had pulled them apart. In the beginning, the darker side of the world, of their work had bonded them somehow, made them friends until friendship blossomed into love before either one was aware. But his hesitance had lost him his chance, and that dark side wrapped its fingers around Cordy, possessing her, taking her away.
This time there would be no hesitation. Angel vowed to win his way back into her life, make her his. No harm would ever come to her, not again. Not while he walked the earth. And he would never let her go.
Spike walked into his trendy apartment, shoulders slumping in defeat. He had not found her. And with Angel facing his own dilemma, he wasn’t sure if he ever would. His gut turned at his own actions, the way he had just left her there. Angel thought he was a coward, even though he hadn’t said it, Spike knew. And he was. Just not for the reasons Angel believed. He had left her not out of fear of what he had done, or what he thought he might have to do to her. Guilt had never really been a big burden to Spike. Not much of one anyway. Walking to his kitchen cupboard, Spike took out the whisky, remembering her eyes as they looked up at him.
He had been too late, too late to help her. And after he had done the unthinkable, changed her, he looked down at her, expecting a monster, a creature to be destroyed. But when her eyes opened, when they looked up at him, he could see it shining, blazing. Her soul. Not just any soul, but hers, good and pure. A lump had formed in his throat as he stared down at her, her soul wide open to him, connecting him to her somehow. He saw all of her fears, her hopes, dreams. And he knew her. In that moment, with her soul reaching out to his, his soul knew hers. It was basic, instinctual, elemental and spiritual all at the same time. And it had scared the hell out of him. He thought he had loved: in whimpering human form, in his bestial, demonic form, and even in his obsessive behavior with the Slayer. But all those were desperate attempts for affection and paled in comparison to the lightning bolt that struck his dead heart when he looked into those young, trusting eyes. Eyes that looked upon him as some sort of hero for saving her when in truth he had damned her.
And now, because he was such a coward and a dolt, so afraid of love in its purist form, she was out there, alone, unprotected. A vampire with a soul better than most human’s. And his need to find her, teach her, protect her was killing him. He took another swig of whisky and waited for the coming day, swearing that another night would not pass until he found her.
Cordelia’s alarm pounded a monotonous beep into her brain before she punched the off button and groaned. She had only managed an hour and a half of fitful, nightmarish sleep. Raising up slowly, she squinted the barely dawn lit room into view, rubbing her eyes and desperately trying to shake off the veil of sleep. She would never get the commercial. Commercial actresses always looked bright eyed and fresh and she had a feeling she would not have either of those attributes today. Yawning and stretching, she began to replay the strange dreams that had plagued her brief nap. Angel laughing, the two of them in obviously private moments, sharing their lives together. Then, betrayal, violence, and not from Angel. From herself. She saw herself, twisted and sick with evil. A roar thundered through her dream and even though the picture of Angel had not accompanied it, she knew the cry had been his. A roar of fury, of hurt, of denial. The dream had confused and upset her. Why would she dream of Angel in that way? It had almost felt like emotions instead of a dream, memories even. She shook it off and marked it up to seeing him last night and his terrifying and bizarre actions.
Sliding her feet into the fuzzy slippers on the floor beside her bed, Cordelia stood and stretched again before heading for the shower. She paused at the bedroom window and before she could help herself, pulled back the curtain. A busy, sunlit street stared back at her. What did she expect? It was daylight. She should be glad that he was gone. Gone and probably never coming back. Last night was just a chance encounter. She swallowed hard and let the curtain go, unwilling to examine too closely why it made her depressed to think that she would never see Angel again. Sure she had had a massive crush on him in Sunnydale, but she was a grown woman now and knew full well what he was and what he was capable of. So why didn’t that make her feel better? If anything it made her heart sink a little more. He had looked so frightening standing out on the street, staring up at her window for who knows what reason. So frightening, and so alone. It made her want to go to him and run from him at the same time.
She shuffled to the bathroom for her morning routine and was still thinking of Angel and his brooding good looks and the mysterious encounter with him an hour later as she added the last touches to her makeup just before heading out the door. Cordelia slid the deadbolt lock free and swung the door open, a small sound of surprise escaping her lips at the body standing solidly in front of her doorway. “Angel,” her voice was filled with astonishment. “How….it’s daylight.”
“Sewers. There are actually more of them here than in L.A.. I wasn’t sure if I’d remember all the routes through the city but I found this one. It runs right under your building. “
“Yippy,” she wanted to kick herself for her sarcasm but she wasn’t sure why he was standing in front of her door, and was even more sure it wasn’t for any of the reasons her silly mind kept hoping for. Without knowing his reason for being there she certainly couldn’t let him see that she was thrilled.
“Where are you going?” he asked and Cordelia noticed that the tension and anger that had been in his voice the night before where gone. He seemed…happy. Almost sociable. And definitely glad to be in her presence.
“I’ve got an audition,” she explained as she locked her apartment door, tucking the keys into her small, stylish purse and pulling out the address the casting agent had given her
Angel glanced at the address in her hand, making a mental note of it. “You’re an actress,” he said it so softly that she almost didn’t catch his words and looked up at him to make sure he had really spoken. He had that look again, the minute change in his face that said he was thinking and his dark chocolate eyes were staring at her, melting her. She mentally shook herself.
“Well, I’m not sure I can call myself that, even though it’s how I referred to myself often when I first arrived. Now, I’m a hostess at a restaurant a few blocks from here. I was walking home from work when I ran into you last night. As for the actress thing, I’m slowly beginning to think its just not my destiny,” she gave a small laugh.
Angel didn’t laugh.
“Well,” she continued uncomfortably. “I’ve got to go or I’ll never get there in time.”
“Will you be out by lunch?” he asked hopefully, resuming a forced semblance of casualness that he didn’t feel, fearing that things weren’t going as well as they could. He had to remember that Cordelia didn’t live in the world she had shared with him any longer. And things like destiny didn’t mean the same thing to her now as they did to him. He couldn’t blow this, couldn’t let his sullen nature ruin things. Charm would win Cordelia and nothing else. No darkness for her this time.
Cordelia’s teeth scraped at her bottom lip and Angel could hear her pulse quickening. “What is this, Angel? I mean, I don’t know you that well really. I know your history, at least your Sunnydale history. I just don’t understand why you would want…..why you’re acting like you’re…asking me out or something,” her brow furrowed slightly, a questioning look on her face.
“Because I am asking you out…..or in,” God how he loved that little quirk in her brow. “ I can’t very well go out to lunch,” he looked up at the ceiling as if to indicate the time of day. “I just thought that maybe I could fix you lunch when you got back and we could talk. You’re right when you say you don’t know me. And as far as my Sunnydale history, I’m not sure you really know all of that either,” Angel persuaded, put on his best behavior, oozed charm. It was paramount to him to be invited into her apartment, a first step into her domain and her life.
Cordelia hesitated. Why on earth would she willingly invite a vampire into her apartment. ‘Because it’s Angel’ her mind whispered to her. So what? Indecision wracked her brain. It might be Angel, but he was still a vampire. A vampire asking her to sit down to a meal with him. Her. A human. A natural food source. She shook her head and began to move past him. “I’m sorry, Angel. I’ve got to go.”
Angel’s heart sank as he watched her walk to the stairwell, the door thudding shut. He couldn’t force her, he had to convince her to spend time with him, but he was failing. Miserably. Turning, he took a step in the opposite direction, heading for the stairwell on the other side of the building. The one leading to the basement.
He heard Cordelia’s steps pause on a step and turned to look at the door she had just shut. He waited a moment, hoping, staring at the door until he heard her footsteps again, this time growing louder as they ascended. The door cracked open and Cordelia looked up at him from one step down. “Dinner. Out in the open. Come by at about seven.” The door thudded closed again.
“Fresh as a daisy, with Daisy antiperspirant,” Cordelia smiled brightly, trying not to groan at the terrible line. Who wrote this crap anyway?
The three men in front of her whispered to one another. The one in the middle, who was obviously more important than the others by the looks of his suit and the way the other two seemed to cater to him, scanned Cordelia up and down as he spoke quietly to his cohorts.
“Thank you, Ms. Chase,” one of the peons said. “We’ll get back to you.”
Cordelia didn’t even bother to smile back, she couldn’t fake it this time. One too many rejections had gotten a hold of her, squashing her drive to even try any longer. Setting the plastic deodorant stick down, she turned and left the room. As she walked through the hallway of waiting women who all seemed to have gotten much more sleep than she, a hand touched her shoulder.
“Ms. Chase,” it was the man in the expensive suit. Kinda cute, in a Wall Street meets Hollywood kinda way. “I’m James Sharp. My family owns Sharp Enterprises.”
At her blank stare he continued, a little irritated. “My family owns all Daisy products. At least that is a fraction of our empire,” he bragged.
Cordelia was too tired to actually be flattered or excited. And he had said empire. What a self-centered jerk.
“I know that you must be disappointed about not getting the role,” his voice was quieter, as if wanting to keep their conversation private in the hallway of waiting hopefuls. “In truth, the others wanted you for the spot, I’m the one who declined.”
“Gee, thanks. Is this flattery going anywhere?” she bit out a little too harshly.
James stirred a little and gave a sly grin. He liked this one. He always liked the ones with a little fire. The ones who acted like they were more than just a cheep actress. “Actually, it is. The reason I didn’t want you for this spot is that I think you’re too good for it. I’ve got something else in mind. Print, but more wide spread.” He coolly slipped a card in her hand. “I have to be here until six-thirty, but I’d love to meet with you to discuss it. Everyone should clear out by seven. Could you come back? At least take a look at the offer?”
Cordelia stared at the card and then at the man in front of her. Could it be that simple? She had heard about stars getting discovered in all kinds of bizarre ways. She bit her bottom lip in thought. He didn’t look like any of the sleazy directors or agents that had come on to her when she first moved to New York. He obviously came from a wealthy family. Of course, Cordelia knew that didn’t necessarily mean you weren’t a sleaze ball. But he had asked her to meet him here, in the plush studio. There were no, “Hey babe, let’s have dinner and talk about your career.” But for some reason, she couldn’t seem to get excited. Maybe she was just jaded. After all, after hearing “no thank you” and “next” so many times, anyone would be a little cynical about the whole showbiz game.
Or maybe it was because Angel had been her immediate, first thought when he had asked her to come back at seven. Of course, she did say “around seven”. Surely she would be back in time. The little part of her that was frightened of Angel egged her on while the larger part of her that wanted to run home and create a knock-out look for the hot vampire screamed “No!” Good grief. She had just seen Angel in two very brief and very odd moments and now she was willing to blow off the chance she had been waiting for the last few years? The desire that had kept her working crappy jobs with horrible hours and pay just so she could go on auditions? How could she do that? “I have a dinner date, so I have to be out quickly. At least by seven-thirty, no later. I hope that‘s alright,” she finally smiled, ignoring a nagging voice in her that said ’no’. He would wait. If he really wanted to see her, he would wait thirty minutes. She tried to convince herself.
James smiled back with teeth that were just a little too bright and perfect for a man. Another one lassoed. He loved it when his parent’s company had new auditions for pretty young things. He always managed to score a whore or two each time. She’d be fun, he knew it. Granted, her little act of class and breeding was good, but they all put out in the end, as long as they thought there was something in it for them. And the pictures kept them quiet when they figured out the only thing they were getting was fucked. “Great, no problem, seven it is,” he put on his most noble face and turned back toward the room. Maybe he could score one more for later on in the night, if this one didn’t wear him out.
The afternoon passed by quickly and before Cordelia knew it, it was going on seven o’clock. Her legs were dragging from exhaustion and lack of sleep as she headed for the studio. She had tried to keep herself busy, window shopping, drinking as much Starbucks as possible, knowing that if she went back to the apartment to catch a nap she’d never wake up. Or never leave, knowing Angel would soon be there. She glanced at her watch guiltily. He would wait, he had to. If he really wanted to see her that badly, he would wait. No, better to stay up, stay alert, stay away. This could be her big break. Her horoscope had said that life changing events were coming to her this month. But for some reason she just couldn’t seem to get that excited about the meeting. She supposed it was fatigue, and the fact that Angel had not left her thoughts since last night.
The streets had grown completely dark now in the early, winter hours and before she knew it, Cordelia found herself in front of the studio. She glanced at her watch again. Seven, ten. Angel was at her apartment, maybe, waiting for her. A little pang of guilt ran through her for testing him in this way. That was what she was doing, testing him, judging just how serious he might be.
With a little sigh, she opened the door and walked down the now deserted long hallway. When she reached the audition room it was dark and empty. Great. He had probably changed his mind, found what he needed in one of the other hundred women that had been there. Almost relieved and a little too happy, she turned, but before she reached the door a voice echoed from a door across the dim room. “In here. Sorry, I didn’t realize the time”
Cordelia didn’t walk forward. “Are we the only ones here?” she asked, trying not to sound too young but failing.
He emerged from the door across the room and walked part way to her. “Well, yeah. Everyone left a while ago. In fact, they finished up before they thought they would. I’ve actually been waiting around for you for about two hours,” he tried to sound as if it had been a great sacrifice when in fact it had given him more time to set up. When she didn’t move, he continued. “I just thought we could meet in the photography studio, you know, go over some ideas. But, if you feel uncomfortable….”
“No,” Cordelia shook herself. She had felt off all day and knew she probably wasn’t thinking straight. Maybe that was where the paranoia was coming from. Besides, she had agreed to have dinner with a vampire. If that didn’t scare her, then why should a photography studio with a mere mortal. A mortal, she reminded herself, who was offering what he alluded to as a potentially big contract. Cordelia crossed the room and tried to smile. “I’m sorry. I’m a little tired, that’s all.”
James smiled and held the door for her, making sure to give a little cough over the click of the keyhole lock.
Cordelia stalled, in the middle of the room was a camera, poised and pointed at a well lit set-up. A set-up that did not look like a deodorant commercial. She turned and looked accusingly at James.
“Oh,” he tried a little chuckle. “That’s not our set,” he lied. “The photographer had a session today. I don’t know what that was,” he acted as shocked as her by the bearskin rug and miscellaneous sexual items scattered about the floor. “I just thought we could take a few head-shots. You know, something to turn into our ad department with the contract. Let them know what I’ve found. And since I’m no photographer, I asked the guy to leave the lighting set-up. You don’t mind do you?” He was so proud of how easily the lies came.
“Well, actually, I do. But since we’re here,” she felt defeated even though her voice sounded a little haughty. She would do just about anything now to get out of here quickly. The thought of Angel pacing in front of her apartment made her mad at herself for thinking to test him. And the fear that he might not be there waiting for her, made her want to lay down and cry. “Where do I stand?”
James smiled, “Right here.” He moved her by her shoulders to the center of the rug, standing her directly in a spot of light so bright it was hard to focus on the camera. Cordelia squinted and flinched when he slid the purse from her arm, ‘accidentally’ brushing his hand against her breast as he did so.
James set the purse a couple of feet from her on the floor and moved back to the camera. “Just look beautiful,” he teased and the camera clicked.
Cordelia made a small move to get out of the line of light but James was there before she could move. “That one was a little stiff.” He reached up and messed the sides of her hair a little, pulling stands of it closer to her face.
Cordelia repressed the need to flinch again. She had had head shots done before and the photographer always moved her slightly, directed her where to look, how to pose, how to accent her positive attributes. But something about James made her nervous. However, her trusty radar was off. Angel had done that and because of it she was unsure for the first time in a long while of her instincts. Like the instinct she was having now. The one that was telling her to get the hell out of there. She stayed her ground. The guy knew she had a date, knew she had to be out by seven-thirty. He was just a little inexperienced and flirty. That, along with the grossly out of taste set was all that was setting her nerves on edge. She tried her best to look into the camera as she heard another click.
Angel paced the hallway in front of Cordelia’s apartment, flowers in hand. He stopped, looked at his watch for the tenth time and then continued the routine. Seven-fifteen. Where in the hell was she? Her appointment had been this morning. Where else did she have to go? Work? God, he wished he had asked her now.
She had said seven.
He stopped and looked at his watch again.
Seven-sixteen. He growled. Any semblance of his earlier, forced civility gone. She had stood him up. There was no other explanation.
Or was there?
He stilled. What if something had happened to her? What if, in this life that she led, dangers faced her here too. He had been so stupid, thinking only of the horrible, unearthly dangers they had faced in L.A., forgetting that there were violent and terrible things that happened to humans all the time. He thought of Spike, of the attack that had happened to the girl he was following. Spike had been too late. Spike had been too late to save her.
Anger was quickly replaced by terrifying fear of the prospect of anything happening to Cordelia, of Angel being too late to stop it.
Tossing the flowers down to the hallway floor, Angel raced to the stairwell, his senses on high alert, retracing Cordelia’s day. Starting with the address imprinted on his brain.
After the third click, Cordelia took it upon herself to move quickly out of the blistering lights. But again James was there before she could completely get out of their beam. Taking hold of her shoulders firmly, he looked at her with a little disapproval. “You know. I think it’s this top. Maybe another one from the wardrobe over there would look a little better.”
“For a black and white head shot? I don’t think so,” she tried to look at her watch but James grasped her wrist.
Cordelia went deathly still.
“You know,” he said. “For someone that’s getting a pretty sweet deal, you would think a little more gratitude and cooperation would be coming my way.” Damn. Usually they were falling all over themselves to please him at this point, thinking they were on their way to fame and fortune.
When he didn’t let go of her shoulder or wrist, Cordelia felt an icy chill run up her spine. How could she be so stupid? Damn out of whack radar. She had been pretty good at spotting these creeps. “I think you’re right,” she said sweetly. “I’ll go take a look at what’s over there,” she indicated the rack of clothing on the opposite side of the room before glancing at the distance to the door.
“That’s more like it,” James smiled and trailed the hand on her shoulder down her side, grazing her breast again and letting go of her wrist.
Cordelia shivered and luckily he took the impulse as a compliment instead of a repulsion. Very slowly she stepped toward the clothing rack, passing beside one of the bright lights on the way. He was looking at her as she paused beside it. Grabbing hold of the metal stand, she pushed the light toward him. James had to dodge the burning, shattering bulb, giving her time to sprint to the door. She grasped the knob hard and tried to turn. Locked. With a key. Crap! She heard the clinking of keys behind her. Turning her head, she saw James, laughing, dangling keys in the air.