Double or Nothing. 45

Chapter 45: Thanksgiving

“Tell me again why I invited the Scoobies over for Thanksgiving Dinner,” prompted Cordelia nibbling on her lower lip while staring at the clock. Only a few hours to go before the mansion would turn into a three-ring circus.

Coming to stand behind her, Angel wrapped his arms around her waist providing a modicum of support. He’d warned her against being ambitious for their first official get-together, but she obviously had considerations of her own. Primarily, Angel assumed, that meant distracting the Chases from asking too many uncomfortable questions.

Wryly suggesting, “A moment of insanity?” Angel couldn’t stop the dark chuckle that rose into his throat at the thought of the evening ahead.

“Yeah,” Cordelia sounded out a deep sigh of agreement as she leaned back against the hard wall of his chest, answering, “Putting my parents at the same table with Xander Harris might be the biggest social faux pax of the season. Maybe— ever.”

Angel scowled at the mention of the boy, releasing Cordelia from his arms and stalking over to the counter where he attempted not to grit his teeth at the notion he was letting her ex-boyfriend into the house again. It didn’t matter how much water was under the bridge when it came to that relationship. Angel just didn’t like the kid. He knew the feeling was mutual.

“I’m sure Harris can handle it,” Angel crossed his arms over his chest.

“My parents, on the other hand, may not,” commented Cordelia as she noted that his expression wavered between a vampiric scowl and a sexy pout.

“They’ll be fine, Cor,” he reassured her despite a few doubts of his own. “Considering everything else they’ve had to deal with and what we’ll be telling them tonight, I doubt even the distraction that is Xander Harris will faze them.”

It still irked Cordelia that Angel wouldn’t back down on his decision to speak to her parents about their current circumstances. She didn’t want to talk about it at all. The subject was too personal even for them. Opting for diversionary tactics, Cordelia had issued her invitations figuring a full house might do the trick. Unfortunately, she had not thought about the Scoobies inflaming the situation.

Strolling toward him, hands clasped behind her back, “There’s a big diff between avoiding the IRS and avoiding Xander’s attempts at polite conversation,” Cordelia pointed out. “He’s much better at using his hands and keeping his mouth shut.”

“Cor—,” the vampire started to protest the image that popped into his head only to be interrupted.

“What?” Realizing that Angel was getting all grumbly over Xander, Cordelia felt a hint of retribution over recent events. While he focused on introducing her to every facet of his personality, it was comforting to see that some things never changed. Though Angel and Xander turning into best buds might have been too much for anyone to handle, she smirked. “It’s the truth.”

“No doubt. Just don’t give me reminders that he’s had his hands on you. It’s not good for his health,” Angel told her as the scowl deepened despite the sparkle that crept into his eyes.

Seeing that Angel was only half joking, it was difficult to tell whether the serious or the funny was winning out. Cordelia wasn’t certain what part pleased or perturbed her most. That he actually cracked a joke or that he really meant it. Normally, she could read Angel like a book— okay, maybe he read more like a complex volume of hieroglyphic-based demonology texts, but there was usually a clue if she looked hard enough.

“Jealous? “ Cordelia arched an eyebrow as she scrutinized him head to toe.

Angel’s voice sounded calm and steady as he responded, “No— just territorial.”

The perturbed side seemed to be winning her personal tug-of-war. “At least you have the nerve to admit it. Possessive much, Angel?”

“Absolutely!” Answering so quickly, there was no doubt he meant it despite knowing it irked her to hear it, “Especially where you’re concerned.”

With an eye roll, Cordelia let out a trademark, “Pfft! You and your caveman tactics.”

“Vampire instincts,” he corrected smoothly. “That’s just the way it is.”

“I suppose flirting with that blonde bimbo at the grocery store was just instinct, too,” Cordelia rattled out before she could stop herself. Damn! She’d told herself to forget that.

Looking clueless, Angel stared at her with those dark chocolate eyes melting into hers. “Flirting? Was not.”

“Was too,” snapped Cordelia refusing to get caught up in that stare.

“Was—”

“Too!” Stepping closer to Angel, she put her hands on her hips presenting herself in a mock-hero stance with an equally mocking psuedo-Angel voice, “Here I am to save the day, Miss Bimbo. Yes, my turkey baster is a large one. Let me show you.”

Angel stood agape realizing that Cordelia was completely serious about thinking that he flirted with the blond woman in the grocery store. He now understood why she’d gone to the car and refused to talk to him all the way home.

“Cor— it wasn’t like that— I-I mean— really, y-you can’t think that I was actually— actually coming onto her. She just saw the turkey baster in our basket and wanted to know which aisle we found it in.”

Her vampire was starting to sound like Giles on a bad day. “Y’know, I’m starting to believe you. No one could be guilty and look like that much of a dufus.”

Rapidly grabbing the reprieve, Angel changed the subject, “I bought you something.”

“Oh. So you are guilty.”

“What? No.”

Eyeing him with a vein of suspicion, Cordelia asked, “Then why buy me a gift?”

“Because I wanted too?” Suddenly, Angel didn’t sound so certain. Hers was obviously a trick question.

“Hmm. Does this present come in a blue box?”

Meaning of the jewelry store variety? “Um— no. I bought it at the grocery store after you stormed off to the car.”

“See. Guilt.” Cordelia tried to keep a straight face, but her wide mouth twitched in amusement at the thought that she was getting to him. The mock dripping sarcasm intermixed with a snark or two. “You bought me something at the grocery store. No mistaking you for a big spender.”

Opening a cabinet, Angel dragged out a decorative gift bag stuffed with colorful tissue paper. Sidling up to him, Cordelia set her gift on the countertop to open it. Before she could pull any of the tissue paper out of the bag, Angel commented, “It’s for today.”

“Parent repellent?” Cordelia laughed as she started to wade through the sheets of tissue. “I could use that. How about Scooby restraints?”

“That might be fun,” Angel smirked, “but I don’t think Joyce or Rupert would take kindly to the idea.”

She’d extended the invitation to Mrs. Summers, not wanting the divorcee to spend the holiday alone. As for Giles— “Maybe not. After all it took just to get that man to accept my invitation, I’m not planning to chase him away.”

Cordelia had a difficult enough time getting Giles to talk to her considering recent events in the library. He’d gotten over his anger, but the man still couldn’t look her straight in the eye. In fact, when they’d spoken, he seemed to focus his gaze at the top of her head. Safe territory, apparently.

While Giles made a visible effort not to look at anything that might remind him of the incident, much less discuss it with her, Cordy knew he had not been quite so evasive with Angel. No, he’d gotten the full lecture. After the Watcher let off a little steam by telling the vampire he didn’t care what he got up too with Cordelia as long as it was not in his library, Giles was stunned to receive the invitation to Thanksgiving Day at the Crawford Street mansion.

Recalling his prompt refusal, Cordelia rolled her eyes. “Not his holiday…pfft! As if I’d let him get away with that lame excuse. Besides, with Mrs. Summers there, it rounds out my numbers at the dinner table.”

Angel gave her an odd look at that comment causing Cordelia to let out a long groan. “Sheesh! I’m starting to sound like a Carol Brady clone. Domestic much? Somebody stake me now.”

Deciding that silence was his best response, Angel nudged the gift bag hinting that Cordelia should forget about her worries of domesticity and just open her gift. With a grin, Cordelia reached the bottom of the bag, grabbed onto the items at the bottom and pulled them out with gusto.

“Angel!” A soft laugh followed as she unfolded the cloth to find a large apron with Kiss-the-Cook emblazoned on the front and a floppy chef’s hat. “Are you sure these aren’t really for you?”

Putting the halter-style apron over her head, Angel tied it in place. “Just so you know you’re not getting out of helping me in the kitchen today.”

Still laughing, Cordelia couldn’t get over the idiot grin that spread across his face as he put the hat on her head adjusting it just so. “Did I ever tell you that you’re really sexy when you’re being a goofball?”

“You’re still not getting out of it.”

“Hmph.” Worth a try. Arching on eyebrow, she mocked, “This could get messy. Even dangerous.”

“That’s what Champions are for— handling dangerous messes and willful brunettes,” Angel commented playing right along with her little game and poking fun at his own Moirae-assigned status.

He knew Cordelia was going to try to squirm out of doing her share in the kitchen. Cooking omelets for her was one thing was one thing. A holiday meal for ten was quite another. “Besides, I also bought cookbooks.”

Cordelia only hoped she wouldn’t have to run out to McDonald’s for emergency take-out burgers when this was all over. Glancing down at her apron, she lifted her eyes to his with a serious-toned query, “Just how good you are at following instructions when you read them?”

He was about to assure her that he could read a recipe when the gleam in her eye made him realize she wasn’t talking turkey. “Kiss the cook? I think I can handle that.”

Cordelia’s hand curled into the loose material of his shirt at his waist as Angel leaned in close for a kiss that started with a smile and ended with hot, gasping desire.

Hours later…

Glancing at the four adults gathered near the aquarium, Xander scratched his head with his pool cue while pondering the situation. “Does anyone else feel like you’ve been stuck at the kiddie table at a grown-up party?” he asked his friends.

“We could join them,” Oz suggested from his spot leaning against the wall. He had been planning to do that anyway. Watching Xander and Willow face off at the pool table was an amusing diversion, but his curiosity had him wondering what Cordelia’s parents were like.

Daniel and Emelia Chase, decked out in dressy holiday attire, were speaking to the two other adults in the room having greeted the rest of them, but not really giving the teenagers more than the odd glance or two. They were surprised to find other guests in the mansion, but were hiding it with their practiced social charm.

“To make grown-up talk?” Willow gave her boyfriend a knowing glance. He was more interested in listening in than participating in the conversation.

Oz never had a chance to answer as Buffy let out a strangled gasp. A scowl appeared on her face as she stared at her mother from across the room. “Did you see that? My mom is laughing.”

“It’s a conspiracy,” Xander quipped. “Obviously a joke-telling demon has broken into the mansion.”

Whacking him on the arm, Buffy ignored his yelp of pain not realizing that she hit him a little harder than intended. “I’m serious. Look! Mom and Giles. She’s leaning. He’s leaning. They’re—”

“Talking?” Xander didn’t get the reason for the twisted expression on the blonde’s face.

Glancing that way, Willow saw Mrs. Summers clasp Giles’s arm as she peeled with laughter. “Maybe he said something funny.”

An unblinking blue stare followed soon joined by the raising of a couple pairs of dark eyebrows. Willow glanced from Buffy to Xander to Oz and thought about her words.

Giles being jokey? Gulp. Not under any circumstances she could recall.

Considering whom she was talking about, she peeped, “Oh. Maybe he’s telling her his theories on the latest prophesy. That was kinda funny.”

With a snort of annoyance, Buffy was not amused. “God— maybe they’re talking about me. What else do they have in common?”

She received three matched shrugs.

“This isn’t parent-teacher night! There’s vibiness,” Buffy whined ruefully. “I sense vibiness. It’s— I think— ugh!— I think they’re flirting.”

“Eew!” Xander’s nose scrunched up at the idea. He instantly understood why Buffy was crawling with the wiggins. “That’s your mom. That’s Giles. That’s just so—”

“Wrong,” Buffy finished as her stomach churned.

Cordelia breezed back in just as the blond Slayer was about to figure out which of the two adults needed saving from the other’s clutches. “Wrong? The only wrongness here is there is no mingling. Be mingly, people.”

“Some of us are already too mingly,” muttered Buffy as she continued to glare.

Taking a peek toward Giles and Mrs. Summers, Cordelia gave herself a mental pat on the back. Go me!

“Something wrong, Buffy?” she queried with a knowing lilt.

With a dawning realization, the blond Slayer turned to her hostess with a death-glare in her eyes. “Cor—”

“Dinner’s ready,” Cordelia announced before Buffy could gripe about matchmaking her mother with her Watcher.

Willow felt her boyfriend’s arm slip around her shoulder squeezing her closer. They shared a smile before following behind Cordelia as she led the whole group into the dining room. Both had felt a little underdressed, not that Oz cared, when seeing Mr. and Mrs. Chase. Cordelia looked stunning in a form-fitting blue dress and wispy scarf which was more middle-of-the-road attire despite its designer appearance.

The witch and her werewolf both wondered if the Chases knew Cordelia’s scarf was functional rather than simply decorative. Buffy had blown a gasket, initially worrying that Angel was going psycho again. She’d approached Cordelia about the scarf and what obviously lay beneath it only to receive a blunt assurance that the vampire bite had nothing to do with an attempt at killing her.

“This is beautiful, darling,” Emelia Chase proclaimed upon seeing the elaborately decorated table. Tapered candles flickered in the midst of an evergreen centerpiece. Elegant cream-colored china bowls were filled with colorful holiday fare. The entire table was perfect right down to the small name placards denoting where everyone was to sit.

Miss Manners couldn’t have done it better, thought Cordelia smugly as she watched her mother’s discerning glance sweep over the room.

Carrying a platter with a large golden brown turkey, Angel entered the room to the applause of the hungry guests. There was one large open space at the end of the table, which he placed the platter. He was still wearing the Kiss-the-Cook apron and chef’s hat that Cordelia had convinced him really needed to be worn by the one in charge of the turkey. The floppy hat was sitting at an odd angle on his head and Angel accepted the soft giggles from Buffy and Willow without comment.

Xander was too busy staring at the impressive meal laid out for them to make fun of the vampire’s attire. Obviously surprised by what he was seeing, Xander patted his stomach, “That actually looks good enough to eat. It all does.”

Considering their initial delay in getting the cooking started and the chaos that reigned in the kitchen while they argued over who was going to do what, Angel was pleased with the outcome. No need to tell Harris that. Hell, he was proud of all that Cordelia had done to make things perfect— even if it was mainly done just to prove something to her mother.

“Just a few things Cordy and I threw together,” Angel’s eyes glinted in amusement as he met Cordelia’s hazel gaze. She stood next to him at the head of the table now practically glowing at everyone’s positive response.

“I think it’s safe to take these off,” Cordelia pulled the tie to the apron. It suited him much better than her, she figured mischievously. Removing the hat, she combed her fingers through the soft strands of his spiky hair.

An electric current ran through her body just by touching him, drawing her entire focus to his handsome face. Cordelia’s fingers trailed slowly down the contours of his cheek and jaw. Dropping down, her hand took hold of the front part of the apron, planning to pull it over his head, but seemingly stuck in a moment where she could do nothing except meet the intensity of his gaze.

So beautiful, Angel found himself mesmerized by the smile on her gorgeous face. Neither her parents nor the Scoobies had seen Cordelia as he did only a few hours before, her skin flushed and rosy, her silky hair tangled after his fingers had threaded through her tresses. Now she was again a picture of perfection except for one small flaw.

A tiny red smear of the cranberry relish she’d tasted was clinging to the corner of her mouth calling to him in a way that could not be denied. Cupping her cheek, Angel leaned in to kiss it away finding her tasting of cranberries, cinnamon and lip-gloss.

“Ahem,” someone cleared their throat loudly when the display went on more than a few seconds.

“Angelus, I’m sure my daughter gives you a lot to be thankful for,” Daniel sent him a hard stare never minding that his words had little tack, “but I think we’re here to eat and not to watch the show.”

Emelia poked her husband in the side with a sculpted nail. “Hush. They’re in love.”

Standing flushed and wide-eyed after that confident statement, Cordelia gripped the back of the chair for support. What did her mother mean— in love? Did their little kiss say so much? It was only Monday that Cordelia figured she’d need an Oscar-worthy performance to get through this party. Funny how kissing Angel felt nothing like acting even if it had occurred to her to try.

Glancing suspiciously at the table, she found no indignant gasping over the fact that her mother was jumping to conclusions. After all, she supposed almost everyone had witnessed their increasing closeness over the past few days. Some more than others. Cordelia’s brilliant smile wavered, her hazel eyes darting to look at Angel after flitting over the faces of her guests.

Sensing the tension now pouring off of Cordelia in waves, Angel settled his hand at the small of her back moving his thumb in a soothing circle along her spine. “You’re right, Daniel. I do have a lot to be thankful for and Cordelia is the most important part of that.”

“Then why does my daughter suddenly look like a bug-eyed blowfish?” Daniel wasn’t the type to let observations go without saying something. He’d caught onto the vibe soon after their arrival, but Cordelia had been so busy hostessing the opportunity to ask her about it wasn’t there.

The rest of the table was caught up in a sudden rush of activity as napkins were placed on laps, sips of water taken or a detailed study made of the cracking plaster pattern along the ceiling around the chandelier.

“Daddy,” moaned Cordelia in embarrassment. Bad enough to actually look like that in front of the Scoobies, much less have it pointed out by one’s own father. Striding down to her end of the table, she took her seat and cast another wide grin— this one not quite reaching her eyes. “Food’s getting cold. Let’s eat.”

Cordelia had made the seating arrangements so that everyone sat in alternating boy-girl fashion around the table. Willow, Daniel, Emelia and Xander were to her right with Oz, Joyce, Giles and Buffy to her left. Placing Xander next to her mother might not have been the wisest choice, but it was probably less stressful than seating him next to Angel.

“Aren’t we missing someone?” Daniel asked his host. Maybe Emelia was interested in talking about interior decorators and the potential for bridal gowns, but he had his own agenda. That included thanking the vampire’s brother for getting him out of debt.

Oh crap! Cordelia cast a look of panic toward Angel. This was the only true bone of contention left between them about today. No matter what she did to try and convince him, Angel refused to back down on his decision to give her parents the details. Just say no and leave it at that. Please, please, please.

Catching the brunette’s silent plea, Angel simply answered, “We’re all here.”

“What about your twin, Angelus?” Now it was Emelia’s turn to sound confused and curious. “I thought he was here. Wasn’t that him I saw meeting some of the others at the door earlier? I heard them say his name— Angel, right?”

Cordelia grabbed for the nearest dish and shoved it in front of Xander. “Sweet potatoes?”

“Umm. Sure,” Xander dutifully took the bowl and heaped out a serving of the marshmallow-topped casserole onto his plate.

When he turned to hand the bowl over to the person seated next to him, Xander found himself stuck because Emelia Chase was far too distracted to care about the food. He sent a grateful look to Buffy when she reached across the table to take it from him.

Giles cleared his throat nervously as he realized that neither Angel nor Cordelia had told the Chases about recent events. A holiday meal hardly seemed the appropriate time or place to discuss the fact that a trio of higher beings had been manipulating Angel’s existence, but it seemed there was no avoiding the subject now.

“That was me at the door. I am Angel,” the vampire revealed to Cordelia’s parents while cautiously watching for her reaction, “but I am also Angelus. There is only one of me. Things have happened since we last spoke that may confuse you. Explanations can wait until after dinner.”

“Damned if they will,” gruffed Daniel stubbornly as he cross his arms over his chest. Looking at the others gathered at the table, he got the feeling that Emelia and he were the only ones in the dark. “What the hell is going on?”

Emelia cautioned her husband, “Maybe we should discuss this later. This is family business, after all.”

“We’re all family here,” Angel pointed out, “in one way or another. These people know everything there is to know about me.”

She let out a little gasp of surprise clasping her hand to her throat. “They— they know that you’re a—”

When her voice trailed off, Angel finished her sentence, “A vampire. Yes, Emelia. They all know who and what I am. Better than most. We are all a part of the same fight.”

“The Good Fight,” plugged in Xander, no longer able to hold his mouth shut. The tension was killing him.

“You’re not a vampire too, are you?” Emelia eyed the young man sitting next to her with a discerning glance.

Several snorts and giggles sounded from around the table. Turning pale at the idea, Xander barked, “No! I’m human— I’m no Deadboy! Totally alive and fully functioning here.”

Emelia’s mouth curled up at the boy’s vehement response. Now that she had come to accept the fact that her daughter’s fiancé was a vampire— even if she envisioned a romantic b-movie version— Emelia found herself to be genuinely curious. It was part of the reason she invited herself and her husband to dinner. Finding out more about Angelus D’Aurelius was a priority, not to mention ensuring that Cordelia was safe, secure and living in a style to which she was accustomed.

As a mother, Emelia admitted to herself that she had not been there for Cordelia during a crucial period of her life. Now it was time to try to make up for that— even if it meant believing in vampires.

“It doesn’t surprise me that your friends know,” Daniel acknowledged. What were friends for if not to keep your secrets as long as they didn’t betray you? With a nod in the direction of Joyce and Giles, he asked, “What about them— a librarian and an art dealer? What brings them to this Good Fight?”

Buffy piped up, “I do.”

Daniel eyed the petite blonde. Physically, she looked about as ready for a fight as a toddler entering the ring with Iron Mike, but there was a glint in her blue eyes that echoed a hidden strength. What’s her name again? Daffy? Daphne? Bunny? Huh. That doesn’t sound right.

“You?”

“Buffy is the Slayer,” Giles revealed suddenly deciding that truth was far better than any attempt at deception, “the one girl in all the world chosen to rid the world of darkness. To slay vampires.”

Emelia glanced nervously at her prospective son-in-law. “Yet you invited her to dinner?”

“Angel and I go way back,” Buffy waved a hand like it was nothing, but couldn’t hide the flash of hurt in her eyes.

She felt a lump of discord growing in her throat. Here she was at Angel’s mansion celebrating Thanksgiving Day with him and Cordelia. Everyone was gathered at the table— one big not-so-happy-family. Except that Angel was trying. Look at what he’d done. Put on that apron and dorky chef’s hat, cooked turkey and played host to a bunch of humans when she knew he’d rather be off in a dark corner somewhere.

At least that’s what my Angel would’ve preferred. This shiny new Moirae-enhanced vampire was obviously different. Buffy couldn’t prevent the flash of jealousy from bursting inside her, especially when she guessed that Angel’s actions had less to do with the Moirae’s manipulations and more to do with his feelings for Cordelia herself.

Was it possible to have a normal relationship when you were a vampire or a Slayer? Cordy and Angel seemed to be trying. While that still hurt to the depths of her soul, Buffy knew it was time to forgive and forget. Nothing she could do would ever revive that relationship even if she wanted it.

What do I want? she asked herself. What do I have to be thankful for?

Glancing around Giles to her daughter, Joyce Summers heard the slight waver in Buffy’s voice. Being here wasn’t easy for either of them. Buffy came because she was invited and because it would have looked bad not to come. Joyce was here strictly to support her daughter, being uncertain what to expect.

The names of Cordelia Chase and Angel were not generally invoked at their house. Especially these days. Joyce did not have all of the details, but knew that something had happened to Angel recently that changed his whole relationship with Buffy.

Xander jumped in with his own opinion seeing that Buffy looked a little down after witnessing Deadboy’s smooching of Cordelia. “The Buffster is a real superhero, an eradicator of evil and—” Seeing Joyce Summer’s slightly green complexion at his description, Xander broke off. He slumped down in his chair a bit and darted his eyes in Buffy’s direction, “— and is that green bean casserole? I think I need some.”

She picked up the bowl and handed it over with a smile curling at the corners of her mouth. Her eyes brightened at the pick-me-up he’d given her.

“So Angelus is a vampire,” Emelia recounted, “Buffy is a— Slayer. You’re human.”

“Chief sidekick and rabble-rouser,” Xander cleared his throat as he handed over the bowl of beans.

Willow let out a laugh. “I thought I was the chief sidekick.”

“Nah! You’re the resident witch,” he corrected.

Daniel and Emelia shared a surprised look. “Did you say witch? As in Glenda the Good Witch?”

“I’m wicca,” Willow explained with a gentle smile. “I’m no Glenda, but I’m not the Wicked Witch of the West, either.”

Looking intrigued, Emelia was about to ask more questions when Xander thrust the next dish under her nose. “Here ya go, Mrs. C.”

“Thank you, Xander,” responded the socialite with a sigh. To think that Cordelia used to date this boy. Not that the news had come from her daughter.

“What about you?” Daniel nodded in Oz’ direction noting his black-tipped red hair.

“Werewolf guitar player.”

Cordelia’s father glanced up at Angel who was busy carving the turkey. “Just where does my daughter fit in with your little band of do-gooders?”

She’s mine, came the first thought popping into Angel’s head. Before he could summon up something less inflammatory, Cordelia looked her father in the eye. “I’m Bait Girl. Y’know— I provoke the demon thingy and lead it into a trap so the others can kill it.”

“WHAT!”

“Actually, I haven’t even been doing that lately,” Cordelia gave him an exasperated look. “Mr. Dark Ages over there won’t let me patrol with the others anymore. Says I need official training first and that only takes…like— forever.”

His eyebrows arched as Daniel tamped down the horror rising in his chest. His little Princess was not only living with a vampire, but used to put herself in the position of being bait for their demon-hunting patrols. A flash of guilt washed over him again at the thought of what he’d done, but remembering the kiss the vampire had bestowed upon Cordelia it seemed all too clear that Emelia was right about them being in love.

“What kind of training?” Daniel wasn’t certain that he liked that idea either, though he was conscious of the fact that his interest in Cordelia’s safety was hypocritical at this stage of her life having all but ignored her for the past few years.

Angel continued to carve up and distribute the turkey as he answered the question, “Daniel, I won’t pretend that being with me gives Cordelia a normal life. Sometimes, it can get dangerous. Because of that, it’s necessary to teach her to defend herself.”

He left off the part where that sometimes involved the use of sharp weapons. Daniel probably wouldn’t want to hear it, but considering the way that he stared at the carving knife in Angel’s hand, it seemed clear that he’d gotten that impression.

“This is all a little shocking.” Daniel turned to look at his daughter, “Is this what you want? Being a vampire’s— mate?”

“Yes, Daddy,” Cordelia answered so quickly she surprised herself. Her eyes darted to Angel who had stopped his turkey carving and now stood in statue-stillness while he searched her expression for the true meaning of her words, obviously doubting them for being the simplest form of truth.

She’d denied him that claim, that binding link. Refuted that his bite meant anything to her except him tasting her blood. Angel’s campaign to break down the barriers she built up around her heart had an impact that Cordelia couldn’t deny. Her body recognized its mated match even if that knowledge had no impact on the protected feelings shrouded deep inside her.

Wanting Angel was never in doubt. Being with him seemed a necessity. Just looking at him made her heart flutter a little— he was a hottie, after all— and her body tingled at the thought of what his touch could do to her.

Cordelia’s thoughts of training suddenly had nothing to do with swords, kick-boxing or ju-jitsu techniques. With her parents at the table, those thoughts seemed rather out of place. A slow burn flushed her cheeks despite her determination to ignore her instantaneous reaction.

“Good,” commented Daniel as he glanced back and forth between his daughter and the vampire. D’Aurelius would never let Cordelia go even if he demanded it, Daniel knew. It appeared that it wouldn’t be an issue.

The discussion closed, the Chases apparently satisfied for the moment that Cordelia knew what she wanted. Indulging her had always been a habit and this would be no exception. They accepted Angel’s brief explanation of the mystic turn of fate that led to his separation and reincorporation without prying for details.

“Does this mean we can eat now?” asked Xander gazing hopefully at his plate full of food.

His grin broke the tension that had built up around the table. Cordelia instantly went back into hostess mode encouraging everyone to enjoy their holiday meal.

Finished with the turkey dishing, Angel assumed his seat only to find Emelia Chase watching his every move. There was a question burning in her curious gaze. “What is it, Emelia?”

“I thought vampires only— ‘drank wine’,” she stared down at his plate of food. It had more of the softer solids rather than some of the other selections at the table, but it certainly wasn’t blood pudding or something that screamed ‘vampire cuisine’.

Barely hearing Angel’s response, Emelia’s thoughts were happily situated on planning the society wedding of the year. After all, it was a good thing to see her prospective son-in-law eating a regular meal. It would look a little strange if the bridegroom only drank at the wedding reception. Her daughter would be eighteen in May, so maybe a summer wedding— in the evening of course.

Hello! Vampire son-in-law. Allergic to the sun. Sending Cordelia a smile, Emelia made plans to talk to her in private before the night was over. This was part of the reason she invited herself over tonight. It was never too early to start planning.

As dinner progressed, those who knew him were surprised to find Angel in a talkative mood as he comfortably discussed Europe, its history and art, drawing both the Chases and Joyce Summers out of their deeper thoughts and into conversation.

“You big smoothy,” Cordelia cornered Angel in the kitchen as they prepared the dessert. “You have them eating out of your hand.”

“I had to make up for telling them that being with me puts you in danger,” he admitted with a soft laugh.

“This is Sunnydale,” Cordelia reminded him. “Waking up in the morning puts me in danger. I’d just rather wake up next to you.”

Angel captured her wrist and reeled her closer. “Careful, I’m beginning to think you might care.”

Chapter 46

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