Double or Nothing. 42

Chapter 42: Breaking Tension

“No, I’ll not weep:
I have full cause of weeping; but this heart
Shall break into a hundred thousand flaws,
Or ere I’ll weep. O fool, I shall go mad!”

Those words slammed full force into Cordelia’s heart as if meant specifically for her. Standing in the doorway of room 207, she glared at the burly football player whose stilted delivery of the lines to the rest of the class seemed to be the result of reading her mind rather than a passage from King Lear.

“Thank you, Larry,” Mrs. Petersen instructed her student to resume his seat though her gaze was full of concern and focused, like most of her students, entirely upon Cordelia Chase.

The brunette avoided further eye contact with her classmates, returning to her own seat. Answering her teacher’s query about the possibility of needing to go home with a simple shake of her head, Cordelia stemmed off any detailed questioning. The girl’s flushed appearance might be attributed to the emergent nature of the news given her by the tall man in black, the teacher presumed while moving ahead with the lesson plan. It might be forgiven that Cordelia’s attention wandered, her thoughts obviously not on the task at hand.

O fool, I shall go mad. Cordelia thought about that last line with disdain.

Surely she was the fool for kissing Angel that way. Giving in to desires that had no business existing. He left immediately afterward, not giving her time to think about what had happened. The vampire had kissed her until her body quaked with wanting more and then disappeared while her head was still reeling.

Omigod, how I wanted that kiss, Cordelia realized woefully that she had not only accepted that kiss, but reached out to take it.

Willow was dying with curiosity, but unfortunately was at the opposite side of the room from Cordelia whose seat was in the aisle nearest the windows. What in the world had brought Angelus here at this time of day? He actually dragged Cordelia out of class for all of ten minutes on the grounds of a family emergency. What family? There were Cordy’s parents, she supposed, suddenly growing more concerned.

Glancing at Cordelia over her shoulder, Willow tried to gauge the severity of the news given to the other teenager. Whatever it was, Cordelia appeared to be in a state of shock. Not much different than her appearance before Angelus showed up, only now her face was flushed instead of looking mannequin perfect.

There had not been much opportunity to talk to Cordelia during the last two weeks. Willow figured that the brunette was purposefully avoiding the rest of the gang. She obviously didn’t want to talk about Angelus and Angel merging into a single being. What Willow had observed from the few research sessions that Cordelia had deigned to attend suggested that the vampire and the cheerleader had a long, rocky road ahead of them if they were ever to develop the kind of relationship they had before.

Cordelia noticed Willow’s continued attention and did her best to ignore it. Could she guess the reason Angel had come to the school? Hope not. She didn’t want any of the Scoobies to know that she’d given in so easily. Outraged by her behavior, the sudden realization that she might want more frightened Cordelia to the core. Angel’s kisses were compelling and unique despite the recognizable feel of his mouth on hers.

Touching her still tingling lips, Cordelia knew that this attraction had nothing to do with Angel being her mate’s look-alike. There was just something compelling about him. Yes, there was a familiarity, but as much as she tried to push him away, she found herself aching in need. Wanting to be closer.

It’s not right. Cordelia stared out the window blindly watching the breeze as it rustled the leaves of the trees shading the courtyard below. I can’t do this.

The moment the bell rang, Cordelia was out of her seat and striding to the door. She had already blocked out the path to her car in her head planning to avoid all contact with Mr. Snyder who roamed the halls in the afternoons or with well-meaning friends who couldn’t seem to leave her alone.

Speaking of…

“Cordelia?” The redhead blocked her way out of the room having executed a swift move around linebacker Larry to get to the opening before she did.

“Not now, Willow.”

“Cordy,” whined Willow with pleading eyes. “What’s going on? Are you okay?”

“I have to go home,” Cordelia told her distractedly.

Willow let out a concerned gasp. “Did Angelus bring you bad news?”

Cordelia winced visibly at the use of her mate’s name in reference to the Moirae’s champion. She’d gotten used to calling him Angel, but using the formal version of his name was still off-limits as far as Cordelia was concerned. Snapping at the redhead, “No. He came to kiss me good morning.”

As her jaw fell open, Willow wondered if Cordelia was trying to hide the truth from her. Besides, “It’s already afternoon.”

“So what? I’m going home, Willow. I need him,” Cordelia’s hurried words tumbled out of her mouth as she pushed passed the witch.

Willow followed as fast as her shorter legs would carry her. “C-Cordelia, do you think it’s really a good idea to ditch school just to— to…well, you know— with Angelus?”

Coming to a halt in the middle of the hall, Cordelia turned to face Willow whose face was almost as flaming red as her hair. “What?”

“I said—”

“I heard you the first time,” Cordelia’s cool response sounded. “Whatever gave you the idea that I was going home just to have sex? With him?”

Thinking over the brunette’s words, Willow didn’t see how she could be mistaken. “You said so.”

“Did not.”

“You said you needed him,” Willow pointed out.

Cordelia had no recollection of saying that. “I need to talk to him, just talk. Do you get that?”

Nodding vehemently despite not believing a word of it, Willow babbled, “T.A.L.K. Talking, as in producing an exchange of information, conversation, chatting, speaking, verbal intercour— eep!”

That last word wasn’t quite what Willow intended to come out of her mouth, so she let out an embarrassed peep and clamped it shut.

Stalking over to her locker, Cordelia twisted the dial on the lock and yanked the door open. Tossing her haggard copy of King Lear inside, she pulled out her purse and her brown leather jacket. “Think what you want, Will. I’m going home. That vampire of mi— Angel and I have things to discuss.”

Cordelia felt Willow’s curious eyes on her all the way to the exit. Managing to drive off the school grounds without getting caught by that nosey troll Snyder was akin to a miracle. She tried not to speed, to give herself time to think about what happened and how she was going to tell Angel that it couldn’t happen again.

The idea itself caused her heart to ache, but Cordelia simply wasn’t prepared to let her head in on the secret that her body already understood.

Assuming that staying through the remainder of class and driving home slowly had given Angel plenty of time to get back to the mansion, Cordelia expected to find him inside. Proving her right, the sound of the television cut off abruptly as soon as she shut the door behind her and the clickety-clack of her heels echoed across the foyer floor. Pausing to toss her keys on the table, Cordelia removed her jacket and set it down as well.

Angel was already expectantly looking in the direction of the living room doorway when Cordelia appeared. She lifted her hands and held onto the doorframe as if needing steady support. The move only managed to accentuate the curves beneath the brown cashmere sweater and Angel found her too tempting a picture as his suddenly hot gaze trailed down the length of her perfect form.

“You’re home early,” Angel commented distractedly. She certainly hadn’t waited until after dark to return. “Is school even over for the day?”

“No. I left,” Cordelia admitted without apology. Nor was she about to come right out and tell him that the reason she was here was because of him. No, Angel might get a case of those crazy Willow thoughts. Need him? Who was she kidding? Pfft!

The look on Angel’s face suggested his thoughts were already there and then some. “Come here, Cordelia.”

There were times when Cordelia would swear to the fact that the vampire had a thrall. Something about the sound of his voice just wrapped itself around her and made her want to do the same to him— curling her limbs around that muscular frame. Dragging her gaze away from his, Cordelia’s eyes swept over the living room looking for any excuse to avoid responding to his compelling instruction.

“Geez, this place is a mess,” Cordelia noticed soda cans, used plates and magazines scattered across the room. Puzzled, she realized that this was the first time she’d ever seen the mansion looking less than immaculate with the exceptions of vampire wrestling and Fate-summoning aftereffects.

Angel suppressed a smile. Took you long enough to notice. “It’s your mess.”

“Mine?” Cordelia dropped her hands from the door frame and clasped them behind her back as she stepped into the room to examine the evidence. Cosmo. Several old copies. Nail polish. Two different shades. A pair of shoes she’d taken off and left here instead of bringing them upstairs. The soda cans and plates from the snacks she’d eaten here instead of sitting down for a real meal with Angel. “That pile of papers is so not mine.”

“It’s today’s newspaper, Cordelia,” he commented wryly.

“Oh.”

“Like I said,” Angel stretched out his legs and propped them on the coffee table, “it’s your mess. I’m not cleaning it up.”

Crossing her arms rebelliously, Cordelia suggested, “My Angel would.”

“As you keep pointing out,” the vampire returned smoothly, “your Angel isn’t here. Any obsessive-compulsive urges to clean are being overruled by my better sense of justice. I’m willing to share household duties, but I’m not going to live with a slob.”

“Then don’t,” she snapped defensively. “The Fates never said you had to stay in Sunnydale. Take a trip. Take a hike. Take a flying leap off the nearest cliff while you’re at it.”

Angel latched onto her wrist as she swept past the couch and before Cordelia could react, she found herself hauled into his lap. With her legs dangling over the side of the couch and his arm supporting her back, she was in a rather vulnerable position, but it provided a perfect view of the glittering amusement in his eyes.

“Are you laughing at me?” Cordelia demanded with a gasp of outrage. Her hand gave a hard slap to his firm pectoral muscle— not that she’d noticed the firmness of any of his body parts. Nope.

“Maybe.” That twitch at the left corner of his mouth gave way to a wide grin that left her motionless under its impact. Cordelia melted under that smile, her stiff posture relaxing. There was just something about that gorgeous smile, its rarity perhaps, which drew her to him.

Managing to ignore the nearly irresistible urge to wrap her arms around his neck and pull him closer, Cordelia reminded herself she had come home with an agenda that did not included more Angel kissage. Squirming in his lap, Cordelia tried to extract herself from the awkward position only managing to turn herself over in the process so that she lay prone.

As one large male hand lightly squeezed her bottom through the barrier of her skirt, Cordelia figured the move was a bad mistake. Especially when the vampire dared to chuckle, “You trying to tell me something?”

Glaring over her shoulder in embarrassment, Cordelia answered, “Not anything along the lines of what you’re thinking.”

Cordelia scrambled to move off of Angel’s lap with a scurried twist of elbows and knees that nearly unmanned him in the process. “Careful,” he lifted her back into a sitting position only this time straddled across the lap she had been trying to escape. Those capable hands were looped casually around her waist, holding her in place yet not forcing her to stay there.

The strange thing was that Cordelia didn’t want to move despite the intimate place on his lap. It felt almost natural being there even with her legs splayed open and her knees hugging close to his hips. Once again there was a silent battle going on in her head where logic warred against emotion, only now she was no longer certain which part was telling her it was okay to enjoy the feel of Angel’s hard body beneath her.

With that one thought, Cordelia’s defenses slammed into place again. The hands that had found their way to his shoulders dropped to wrap around his forearms with just enough pressure to hint that she wanted him to move. He did, but not how she had expected as Angel moved both hands down to palm her rounded bottom pulling her deeper into his lap.

Cordelia’s hazel eyes dilated as he settled her over his thighs. The soft perfume of her awakening arousal subtly scented the air, but the words tumbling from her lush mouth denied what his vampiric senses told him to be true. “Paws off, Angel. I don’t want you touching me like this.”

“Holding you?” Amber flashed in his eyes at his query. Such rejection in light of her responsive kisses earlier today felt like his tenuous grasp on forward progress had come loose. His eyes swept over her body noting the way it responded to his touch and their intimate position. “You’re turned on. Don’t think I can’t tell.”

Bastard. It wasn’t fair that he was so observant and had enhanced senses detecting things no human would easily notice. “Today— you shouldn’t have come to the school.”

“You kissed me because you wanted it, not because I demanded it,” Angel reminded with a vein of tempered fury sounding in his voice. Though the vampire wasn’t certain what would have happened if she’d said no.

“I didn’t want to cause a fuss at school,” Cordelia lied with as much skill as she could muster. “I don’t want your kisses.”

A dark laugh emanated from deep in his chest. “You expect me to believe that?”

“Absolutely,” she answered stubbornly while refusing to follow the urge to look away.

“I could have you melting in my arms inside a minute,” Angel countered smugly. It was no boast, realized Cordelia as she remembered yesterday’s sticky romp with the syrup and the pure need evoked by today’s simple kiss. Only it hadn’t been one kiss, but a series of mind-numbing, soul-stirring caresses.

Cordelia gave him a cold look that wiped out his arrogant air in the space of a single heartbeat. “You have skills— so what? Doesn’t mean I should try them out. It’s too soon for me to go around kissing another man.”

“I’m not just another man, Cordy.”

“Pfft! Manpire,” she corrected with a roll of her eyes.

Angel fumed, “That’s not what I meant and you know it.”

“I just need time,” Cordelia stressed as her heart drummed in a panic. “Maybe after six months or a year—”

“We’ve already wasted enough time,” Angel cut her off. “You can drop the weeping widow act— there’s no need for it.”

She stormed, “It’s not an act,” while shoving her hands against his rock-solid chest in a move of pure anger.

“It’s an unnecessary frame of mind that boils down to denial. You’re lying to yourself and me. I won’t have that,” he caught her hands adeptly twisting them behind her back and pulling her closer.

“Watch out,” her glaring warning came with a reminder, “I bite.”

That vibrating rumble sounded in his chest stimulating her already aching nipples as they pressed up against him. Angel’s mouth curled into that trademark smirk, “So do I.”

Cordelia squirmed under his hold infuriated by the fact that he dared to restrain her.
It took only one of his powerful hands to clutch her wrists in a grip that was just shy of bruising. Her struggles and furious, “Grmph!” resulted only in Angel using his free hand to cup her bottom again.

“Get your hand off my ass,” she fumed squirming even more.

“Then stop struggling,” Angel barked back with a groan now that her movements had awakened more than his fury.

“Oh!” Cordelia felt the hard ridge burgeoning directly beneath her. Instantly stilling, she stared down into his amber-rimmed eyes like a deer sensing the danger of a predator. His name fell from her gasping lips, her body tensing with instantaneous reaction as liquid heat pooled between her parted thighs, “Angel.”

Releasing her wrists, his hand joined its mate in curling around the firm globes of her bottom trapped beneath the thin layer of her skirt now bunched up at her hips. Angel rotated his own hips upward eliciting a lusty moan from the brunette, her response automatic despite her determination. Her hazel eyes fluttered closed at the intensity of the escalating sensations created by that simple friction at her loins.

Angel’s hand shifted to gently knead her upper thigh, his thumb circling closer to the edge of her panties. Lost to sensation, Cordelia’s vocal response filled his ears as her breathy sighs alternated with moans of pleasure. As her head tilted back the exposed column of her throat was too much of a temptation to ignore as the vampire’s mouth moved over her warm, pulsing flesh with a series of wandering kisses.

His thumb now circled atop her silk panties teasing closer to the bundled nerves that kept angling with each movement of her hips to rub against his rigid erection. Errant thoughts caused Angel to wonder if Cordelia’s arousal was meant for him or if it was simply random lust. With her beautiful eyes closed, it was impossible to tell, so Angel issued a gruff demand to see them.

“Look at me.”

The command in his voice kindled a spark of defiance, but Cordelia focused her gaze on his knowing that there was no hiding her arousal. She was clutching at Angel’s shoulders, both hands full of his shirt as her hips rocked against him in counter circles. It was only when Cordelia realized he was no longer guiding her movements that she recognized the extent of her own response.

The hand on her bottom had moved to trail fingers up and down her spine leaving warm tingles spreading across her whole body. His other hand continued to slowly circle her silk-covered mound even as she forced herself to stop shifting against him.

Fiery color swept across her cheeks. “I— you—this shouldn’t have happened. That was all your fault. Let me go, Angel.”

Her body screamed in denial as she demanded it. Wet and throbbing and aching for release, her sudden arousal had built up so quickly that Cordelia wanted to sob with frustration at her own efforts to stop. His tempting mouth was only inches away and her lips burned to taste him. All she needed to do was lean in just a little…except the urge died as her anger flamed again with his next words.

“You’re going nowhere until you hear me out,” Angel growled, equally frustrated as his erection strained against the taut fabric of his pants. “It’s decision time for you, sweetheart. This is your one chance to have a say in what comes next.”

“Don’t you dare threaten me,” Cordelia glowered at him recognizing that Angel was completely serious in the delivery of that warning.

Angel reached up and cupped the nape of her neck. “It’s a plea, not a threat. We’re going to be together, Cordelia, but I’ve been patient long enough. The way I see it, you have two choices: let me into your life willingly or learn to obey my lead without question.”

Apprehension clouded her desire as Cordelia realized there would be no negotiation in this matter. This ultimatum was about giving him everything or forcing him to take what he wanted. The vampire saw nothing in shades of grey in between or a middle ground to give her more time to adjust. There was only now.

“Angel—,” she started to protest.

Cutting short her response, as if knowing the words she was about to speak, Angel pressed his thumb over her parting lips removing it only when he’d had his say. “Let me into that caged heart of yours, Cordelia. Just a little, baby. Enough for me to feel something that means you might give a damn.”

Hadn’t she already done that by kissing him today— let him in? Then, with the more obvious display of lap-dancing lust, she’d given away far too much. More than she should. Tears scorched her eyes, but Cordelia refused to shed them. He wanted more than sex, more than her passion. Angel wanted her love and that knowledge left her screaming inwardly in denial.

“I can’t.”

She waited for the vampire’s howl, the forcible show of his rage, but there was only a wall of dark shadows descending over his visible emotions until there was nothing to be seen except the impenetrable surface of a stony expression. That sliver of fear increased tenfold, as Cordelia waited for a response that did not come. Wondering what he was feeling, she cursed her curiosity and convinced herself that emotions were better left out of the equation.

Not that Angel seemed to have any one way or the other at the moment. None that she could tell by looking, but Cordelia instinctively knew this wasn’t the prelude to a brooding session. It was the projection of total control over anything that remotely resembled a feeling.

The phone started ringing in the background before Cordelia could make a comment.
Ignoring it, she touched her fingers to his chest at the open vee of his shirt and made her query with the soft utterance of his name. “Angel?”

All that came was a silent move as Angel lifted her to her feet and nudged her in the direction of the still ringing telephone. Cordelia grabbed it from its cradle. Pressing the TALK button, she automatically lifted the phone to her ear, but her attention was fully focused on Angel who had backed out of the room. The vampire now regarded her from his distant position in the hallway.

Cordelia met his midnight stare barely containing the urge to follow him beyond the threshold of the living room. She waited, frozen to the spot, sensing he was seconds away from charging back into the room. Her breath caught in her throat, anticipation crowding out her confusion.

Then a voice suddenly sounded in her ear. “Hello! Cordelia? Angelus? Hello!”

Blinking, Cordelia remembered that she was holding the telephone. Recognizing the voice, she gasped, “Mother?”

When she looked up again, Angel was walking away in the direction of the basement stairs.

***

Nearly half an hour passed before Cordelia hung up the phone. Not by choice. Getting her mother off the phone any sooner short of cutting her off would’ve been a miracle. A look of sheer panic fell across Cordelia’s features in response to that call. This was a day of too many surprises, not all of them good.

Crap! This is so not good. Why? Why! Someone please tell me what I’ve done to deserve this? Glancing at the messy room with the realization that Angel was right about one thing— she was turning into a slob. Cordelia knew this would never pass muster considering the news that had just come her way.

Reaching for the soda cans and dirty plates, Cordelia piled everything up and darted toward the kitchen. Skidding across the floor, she nearly dropped everything just as she reached the sink. Stupid heels. Kicking them off, Cordelia realized she was going to have to tell Angel about her mother’s call.

Maybe he’d had time to cool down— or warm up— or whichever thing he needed to do to understand the decision she had made. Better now than never.Not that now was a good time, but Cordelia didn’t see that she had any choice in the matter.

Leaving the kitchen, Cordelia padded down the hall in her bare feet pausing only briefly at the door leading to the basement training room. Even from here she could hear the rhythmic connection of fist to leather as Angel worked out his anger at her on the punching bag. She felt a wave of guilt that he was down there instead of in her arms, but Cordelia knew she’d feel even worse if she gave in so easily to those tempting kisses.

Anger is good, she told herself as she looked down the stairs. At least it’s an emotion. He’s feeling— something.

Taking in a deep breath of resolve, Cordelia walked down the steps pausing half way as she caught sight of the vampire. He’d taken off everything he had on upstairs and replaced it only with a pair of grey sweatpants. Silently, she watched the muscles of his back and powerful arms flex and extend as his fists pounded into the bag. A light sheen covered the pale skin of his warrior body suggesting that Angel hadn’t stopped moving since he got started, for Cordelia knew that it took prolonged activity for a vampire to break a sweat.

It didn’t take much to make the jump to thinking about Angelus and their marathon lovemaking sessions or the times they’d left tenderness behind and simply had hot, sweaty sex. Her body shuddered at the memory, flushing hot and tingling with need. Every erogenous zone she possessed seemed to be shrieking in response to the hard muscled male standing below.

Angel grabbed onto the punching bag stopping its rebounding sway as he caught the sound of Cordelia’s approach. The soft footfalls were accompanied by the rapid rate of her heart, nervous heaving breaths and a hint of honeyed arousal in the air.

“Go back upstairs,” Angel snarled at her without bothering to turn around.

Stepping closer onto the thick blue mat at his feet, Cordelia watched him rest his forehead against the black leather surface. Impatience filled his voice, irritation at her presence here in his personal territory. Even with Angelus, she’d rarely come down to watch him workout since he always claimed it distracted him— in a good way.

“I need to talk to you,” she began. Licking at her lips, she decided there was no use in delaying the news. Better to throw it out there and see how he’d react. “That was my mother on the phone.”

“Yes, I heard that much,” Angel revealed still keeping his back to her. She had no damn clue how lucky it was that Emelia Chase was the one on the other end of the line. If it had been anyone else, Angel was certain he would have reentered that room, tossed the phone into the fish tank and proven Cordelia a liar. “It’s the wrong time of day to be calling you.”

Rolling her eyes, Cordelia should have known Angel would pick up on that. “Snyder called her and wanted to know if my ‘family emergency’ was going to keep me away from school for the rest of the week. Told her next time she sends someone to get me to contact the Principle’s office first.”

“Should’ve thought of that,” a huff emerged from Angel’s throat. “Principle Snyder, I need to see one of your students. She missed out on her morning kiss.”

Cordelia wasn’t about to admit to Angel how romantic she thought it was that he came to school that way and that his kisses had left her wanting more in spite of all her feelings to the contrary. “I don’t suggest you try that. Snyder may be a troll, but his instincts are sharp, hence the calling of my mother.”

“I take it that she covered for you,” Angel presumed. “Did she call to check on you or was there something else?”

Edging closer, Cordelia put a hand on the other side of the large punching bag and stared anxiously at his profile. “She asked— well, it was really more of telling than asking— if she could come over…with my father, of course.”

“Now?”

“That would be easy,” Cordelia tittered uneasily. “I could tell them no. They want to come over for Thanksgiving Dinner.”

Angel lifted his head and looked at her with only the smallest measure of surprise. “I think it’s about time they decided to show up, even if they had to use a holiday as an excuse to see their own daughter.”

“You think it’s an excuse?” Cordelia frowned at his response to the news when she’d been hoping for blatant refusal.

“They’re your parents and no matter what deal Daniel Chase made to save his ass, he’s still your father,” Angel ground out the words. His thoughts flashed to his own— Liam’s— father and the fact that the time for second chances was long past. “Your parents screwed up when they decided to distance themselves from you. Maybe it was done to protect you, but it wasn’t right.”

It felt strange hearing that from him, knowing that this vampire had never met her parents; that he was only drawing upon memories that were not his own. “No, it wasn’t, but I used to have a good relationship with them— when I was little.”

“I got that hint…Princess,” Angel’s mouth quirked at one corner. “Maybe this is their way of trying to get back into your life again.”

“How do you feel about that?” Cordelia wasn’t certain why it was important to her to know the answer to that question, but she found herself holding her breath waiting for Angel to speak.

Trailing a finger along one long tress of dark chestnut hair that fell in a wave over her shoulder, Angel tugged lightly on the end as he reminded her, “Your family is mine. They come into my protection through your link to the Order of Aurelius. I welcome their visit and their involvement with you as long as they respect your place here with me.”

A sudden realization hit and Cordelia’s hazel eyes nearly popped out of their sockets as she reacted in shock. “Omigod, Angel! No, this is bad.”

Angel watched Cordelia start to pace across the floor mat. “What exactly?” Knowing Cordelia, it could be anything from turkey basting to family feuds.

“They think you’re Angelus,” she rubbed at her temples.

Shrugging, Angel commented, “I am. So what’s the problem?”

“They think you’re my Angelus,” Cordelia panicked. “They’ll expect—”

When Cordelia’s throat closed up against the words, he only nodded in understanding of her fears. Irrational fears, to his mind. “You worry that they think I’m your mate and they’ll expect to see a certain amount of intimacy between us. I see no reason to inform them otherwise.”

Cordelia started to protest when Angel added confidently, “We both know it’s already true in everything but deed.”

Gaping, Cordelia found she couldn’t argue that point right now. No sidetracking. She needed to focus. Thanksgiving was only a few days away— next Thursday to be exact. Her parents would expect the whole shebang, with decorations and holiday fare not take out from the local Home Town Buffet.

“This is serious,” Cordelia wrapped both hands around one bicep and shook his arm as if forcing him to think sensibly. “Daddy wants to meet Angel and thank him for the money.”

“He can thank me if he must,” Angel didn’t see the problem.

“Yeah,” Cordelia’s panic suddenly had her thinking of all kinds of scenarios. “We’ll tell him that Angelus is out of town on an important mission. You’ll be Angel…cos that’s what I call you. Daddy won’t know the difference and can thank you instead.”

Plainly retorting, “I’m not lying to your father.”

“But my parents know Angelus had a twin,” Cordelia dropped her hands, clutching her arms across her stomach.

Angel was adamant, “Tell them the truth.”

“But—”

“There’s no ‘but’ to it, Cordy,” he countered.

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