“Something was here all right,” Angel confirmed as he sniffed the air catching a faint hint of a non-human scent.
Stepping away from the cabin, they made their way to the barbecue and picnic area to look for anything that might provide a clue. Wesley had informed them prior to their departure from Los Angeles, that there were no legends of any kind of monster at Crater Lake.
It suggested the demon was a newcomer to the area rather than an old resident. He and Fred had scoured the internet for any mention of previous sightings, but found nothing.
“Yeah,” Cordelia could tell, “something that likes chocolate.”
The picnic table was decked out with a plastic cloth. Scattered cups and plates were spread across it and the nearby ground. The lack of a strong wind had kept most everything in place. Timmy Tolliver’s birthday cake sat in the middle of the table; seven unlit candles now deeply imbedded or tilted haphazardly in the icing.
A third of the cake was gone, but it hadn’t been cut away by a knife.
“That could’ve been raccoons,” Fred pointed out that the local wildlife might be the culprit.
Angel followed the scent he’d spotted and found that it led exactly where he had suspected. “The trail leads straight back to the water.”
Michael Tolliver had mentioned they originally mistook the creature for a random swimmer, meaning that it could have come from any spot along the lake. “Before we start searching,” Wes suggested, “perhaps we need to consider recreating the events of the day. Something drew this creature’s attention here.”
“Recreate it?” Angel didn’t discount Wesley’s idea, but he wondered how they could accomplish it considering the fact that they didn’t have a dozen children running around. “Maybe I should just hike around the lake and see what I can find.”
“We’ll fall back on that if necessary,” Wes agreed, but pointed out that the lake was vast and circumnavigating it would likely take several hours. “We’d have no guarantee of finding cover before daylight.”
“That’s a risk we may need to take. There are probably other campers out here,” Angel figured. “This demon could be preying on them.”
Cordelia voted for anything that avoided a long trek in the creepy woods. It was way too hot for that. “Wes is right,” her announcement brought a shell-shocked look to his face. Squaring his shoulders, Wes was about to thank her for the support when she added, “this time.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” The others knew better than to say anything.
“Just that we’re not likely to run into another Nose Pick demon out here at the lake,” Cordelia reminded him of one embarrassing misinterpretation of an ancient scroll.
Wesley stared down his nose, correcting her in a clipped voice, “That was actually a Nassphick demon. How was I supposed to know the color of my shirt was was an attractant? There was no telling its predilection for mating with other species.”
“Nah,” Gunn shook his head, his teeth flashing as he grinned wide. “She was just interested in you, dog. Had you pinned down right off the bat. The rest of us had to fight off her goons.”
Snorting at the memory of the demoness licking Wesley’s stubbled jaw before Angel managed to save him, Cordelia turned her head to look at Angel, mischief dancing in her eyes. He was staring back, but there was no mirth to be seen there. Just the dark intensity of his gaze creating a shudder that ripped right through her, its errant waves settling deep in her belly and creating an empty ache between her thighs.
He came at her in a flash, too fast to be stopped, his weight settled on top of her when they ended up tangled together on the ground. His hard male body pressed into hers, crushing her breasts against his chest, his aroused lower body finding the cradle of her hips. Those masculine lips claiming hers in instant possession.
Cordelia blinked, seeing Angel still standing a couple of yards away. Hazel eyes widening at the course of her own thoughts, she instantly blamed the heat for causing her to think something so insane.
“We should get started,” Wesley broke through the silence between them to catch their attention.
Their first problem was the darkness itself. It had been daytime when the demon had appeared. Fred suggested moving Gunn’s truck and using the headlights to simulate daytime in the picnic area.
“I could scent charcoal and lighter fluid,” Angel reminded them. “Tolliver had something on the grill.”
Taking a closer look, Wesley noted the presence of blackened, shriveled hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill. The charcoal inside had long since turned to ash, but there was a bag of unused charcoal squares nearby. It was angled against a red cooler. Taking a look inside, he found a few leftover hot dogs.
“I will start up the grill,” Wes told them.
Fred already had the bag of charcoal in her hand. “You sure you don’t want me to do this?” She was pretty certain that she’d had more experience with barbecues than Wesley.
Wes gave her an affronted look, “I am perfectly capable of starting a fire.”
“Okay,” Fred said and then pressed her lips together tightly as she handed over the bag. Her smile broke through anyway. “Just holler if you need me.”
“So what are the rest of us doing?” Gunn asked.
“Take a look around you,” Wes suggested. “The answer is mere child’s play.”
The ground was littered with water toys. Squirt guns, bazooka blasters, and super soakers were dropped at random spots between here and the lake. A kiddie pool filled with lake water appeared to have been dragged from below and brought up here. It was filled with a couple dozen water balloons still floating in the pool. The water temperature and the minimal shade of the cabin had prevented them from bursting spontaneously from the heat.
“Looks like the kids had quite a battle going,” Cordelia reached down to pick up one of the water balloons, testing its resiliency in her hand. Good thing she had planned to change clothes once she got to the ‘resort’ and was still wearing her shorts and t-shirt. “You guys have ten seconds to get rid of the axe and sword. After that, you’re fair game.”
Fred and Cordelia took the opportunity to make a grab for the nearest water weapons while Angel and Gunn were putting their favorite fighting tools in a spot that was safe, but easily accessible.
Back at the barbecue, Wes started a ten second count. “ONE one thousand, TWO one thousand…”
Fred giggled as she held her green squirt gun, already calculating just the right shooting angle to hit Gunn with mid-chest. Then she glanced over at Cordelia, her smile dimming. Cordy held her water balloon in one hand and shouldered a neon blue bazooka blaster in the other. The dainty water pistol simply didn’t compare with the shooting power of the other weapon.
Leaning close, Fred whispered with a soft twang, “Why do I get the girl gun?”
“Oh, sheesh!” Cordy made a trade with her and handed over the bazooka blaster in favor of the pistol. She tucked it into the low waistband of her shorts and grabbed another water balloon.
“TEN!” Wes’ voice had Angel and Gunn running for the closest water weapons. They were blocked from the water balloon pool by Cordelia, but there were still several other choices scattered around.
A loud squeal sounded from Fred as she took off after Gunn, determined to get him first. Cordelia simply waited for Angel to choose one of the weapons and come after her. She bounced the water balloon in her hand, licking her lips in anticipation.
“You don’t really think you’re going to hit me with that, do you?” Angel asked as he slowly walked toward her, super-soaker in hand.
“It’s no fair if you use your vamp super-speed. Maybe I’ll take it easy on you anyway,” Cordelia promised cheekily.
Angel advanced slowly so intent on Cordelia that he didn’t notice the other two now standing behind him. Gunn and Fred were already wet having gotten each other at least twice. They decided it was time the vampire stopped jabbering and got wet. He’d taken off his leather jacket and put it down on the picnic bench leaving him in his usual white shirt and black pants.
Hearing Gunn clear his throat, Angel turned to find himself surrounded. Streams of water hit him in the face and chest. Cordelia took the opportunity to aim her water balloon right at Angel’s head. It hit dead-on and burst against his scalp sending a flood of water over his hair and down onto his shoulders.
The spluttering vampire growled at the sensation and whipped back around to aim his super-soaker at Cordelia. Only she wasn’t there. He heard her giggling to herself as she darted through the trees closest to the picnic grounds, using them as cover.
Fred and Gunn had also run off as soon as they’d squirted him. Angel let them go. Eyes narrowing, he spotted Cordy peeking out at him from behind a tree trunk. Reminding himself that they needed to make as much noise as possible, Angel called out, “I see you, Cordy.”
She’d grabbed another water balloon before her escape. Her only hope was to draw him in a little closer. “Then come and get me.”
Angel stalked slowly toward the tree line, his super-soaker aimed toward her. He took a shot when she stuck a hand out to wave at him, teasing him from her protected position. Dripping wet, Angel was determined to get back at Cordelia. She wasn’t dealing with a five year-old here and if she thought he’d let her get away with this, Cordy had another thing coming.
A squeal sounded behind him accompanied by a burst of heat. It was Wesley. Three-foot flames leapt from the grill. He didn’t appear to be hurt. The flames slowly started to lessen, though a black cloud surrounded the barbecue pit. Wesley stood by with a couple of the water balloons as if contemplating using them to put out the flames.
Taking the opportunity, Cordelia stepped out from behind the tree and let her last balloon fly. She let out a triumphant shout when it connected mid-chest. Angel let out a surprised shout. “No fair! I was distracted.”
Cordelia found herself a little distracted, too. His shirt was plastered to his torso, the damp material outlining every hard male angle. The moonlight was just bright enough to provide startlingly yummy eye candy. It wasn’t like she hadn’t seen his bare chest a hundred times, but there was just something extra hot about seeing him like this.
Thoughts of unbuttoning that clinging shirt to smooth her hands over the damp skin of his chest buzzed through her head. She might have been gaping a little because the stream of water shooting out of Angel’s gun splashed into her mouth as well as soaking her exposed front side.
“I can’t believe you did that!” Cordelia’s hair was flat, strands clinging to her face and neck. Her white cotton top was practically see-through revealing the lacy pattern of her bra.
Angel hadn’t counted on that. He hadn’t even considered the benefits behind this little game. Certainly not the way his body tightened in response to the sight of her curves cupped close by something so sexy, yet hidden away by a thin layer of cotton that managed to reveal everything. “Ummm… sorry?”
He didn’t sound very sorry. Cordelia gasped at the undisguised lust staring back at her. Those dark eyes glittered with it, practically eating her up, his body tense as if ready to pounce. Hers tingled in reaction, heat flaring instantly, her nipples budding under the weight of his stare.
“Cordy…,” it came out almost gutturally. Angel took one step forward, stopping in his tracks when she pulled out the water pistol from the waistband of her shorts.
“Stay there,” Cordelia panted the words, her warning softened by a mischievous tone in her voice as she added, “I’ll shoot.”
There weren’t any ghosts of undead lovers to blame for this. She’d seen that look on the faces of many men before, but they weren’t Angel. None of them had ever caused her to react this way. She thought back to that night of the ballet when they were possessed. Acting blasé about kissing Angel had been just that, an act.
He’d been so set against going back into that room, obviously having issues with the thought of kissing her. Friends didn’t do that, apparently, even when it was just possession and not really them at all. But it was. Cordelia could remember every kiss, every touch, the way his aroused body moved against hers.
It wasn’t just the possession. This had been brewing between them for quite a while, at least on her part. Although Cordelia had to admit that it hadn’t seriously occurred to her until now. “This isn’t a wet t-shirt contest, buddy,” Cordy started backing away, still aiming her squirt gun in his direction. “Try to be a little less obvious about the leering.”
Angel looked horrified. “I wasn’t leering,” he hastened to deny it.
Throwing her head back, Cordelia let out a loud laugh. “You were too. Angel was leering, Angel was leering,” she singsonged as she skipped backward along the slightly sloping ground.
If Fred, Gunn or Wesley heard her, neither Cordy nor Angel really cared. They were too focused on each other. The sounds of their friends’ laughter further up the embankment went completely ignored. Even Lorne had poked his head out of the cabin after the shouting and giggling became too much to ignore. He’d quickly retreated back into the safety of the dry cabin.
Cordelia felt the water lapping at her ankles and realized that she’d unwittingly cornered herself at the edge of the lake. She started to make a move, but Angel was right behind her. The super-soaker in Angel’s hand dropped to the ground, but he continued his pursuit.
She shrieked loudly, squirted him with her water pistol while inwardly cursing the fact that she’d given Fred the bazooka blaster she’d first acquired.
The small squirts did nothing to stop him and it was clear that Angel was ready to do just about anything to shut her up. He was right in front of her when the heel of her sandal caught on something hidden beneath the shallows. Cordelia went tumbling back, dropping her squirt gun, arms flailing wildly. At the last second, Angel caught her hand, but the momentum had them both tumbling into the water.
After the initial splash and the heavy body that toppled onto hers, Cordelia let out a loud whoosh of air. Too stunned to move, she found herself staring up at Angel who seemed just as surprised at the position they’d ended up in.
Arms arched above her head as she lay flat in the water, Cordelia realized that their fingers were still entwined. Angel must have realized it too because he gave her hand a soft squeeze before releasing it,
“You okay?” he asked softly. Shifting his weight so that he wasn’t squashing her, he moved no further.
Cordelia let out a shaky, nervous sigh. “No,” she admitted causing instantly Angel to panic.
“Where are you hurt?” he demanded, too scared to move as that might make it worse.
“Right here,” Cordy told him. She pressed a fingertip to her lips. “Make it better?”
Angel stared down at the moist fullness of her lips. His eyes snapped up to hers. “Dammit Cordy! I thought I’d hurt you.”
Her fingers curled around his arms to tug him that much closer. “Are you really going to lecture me?” she teased.
Angel shifted, his big body enveloping her as his head dropped down to block out the light. As the warm lake water lapped around them, his lips slid across hers in a butterfly stroke testing her reaction. A soft mewl emerged from her throat as her mouth opened to his.
“Humans have strange mating rituals,” a voice bubbled up from the waters beside them.
Reacting instinctively, Angel’s eyes went gold, features shifting fluidly to reveal his true nature to the demon emerging from the lake. Grabbing the creature by the neck, he hauled him up out of the water. Its webbed feet dangled inches above the surface.
Cordelia scrambled out from the danger zone, the water splashing around her as she struggled to her feet. She called out to the others bringing a sudden end to their water fight.
In an arcing throw, Angel tossed the demon onto the bank. Gunn was coming at them on a full run, axe in hand. Wes had picked up Angel’s broadsword at the same time, but was a few steps behind.
“What you waiting for?” Gunn asked as he slowed to a halt. Angel was standing there with the demon at his feet.
Wes arrived and immediately identified it as a rare variety of water demon, one known to be non-violent. “There are several interesting accounts. Actually, I should have considered the possibility before. These demons are renowned for their love of isolated places.”
The scaly-skinned creature was curled into a tight ball, shaking from head to toe. “P-p-please let me go. I was j-j-just curious.”
Cordelia propped her hands on her hips, ignoring the fact that she was dripping wet. “Well, your timing stinks,” she huffed angrily.
Angel shot her a look over his shoulder, the corner of his mouth quirking upward as his eyes lingered on the splotches of color on her cheeks.
“I thought his timing rather opportune,” Wesley commented having missed out on the action at the lakeside. “Better to appear sooner rather than later.”
Having been involved in their own water fight, Fred and Gunn hadn’t witnessed a thing, but it wasn’t exactly difficult to guess considering the way Cordy and Angel were looking at each other.
“You owe me five bucks,” Fred told her boyfriend and then turned to head back toward the cabin. He followed along beside her. “I told ya something happened between those two at the ballet.”
Wesley watched them go, but tried to control his reaction. He wasn’t used to the idea that Fred had chosen Gunn over him. Not that he’s said anything to her, but he’d missed his chance. He turned back to see Angel helping the water demon to its feet.
The topic of Cordelia and Angel would wait until he had an opportunity to speak to them alone. If Fred was right as usual, there were weighty matters to consider. Though he doubted Angel capable of experiencing such an unguarded moment as perfect happiness, Cordelia was the one person with whom he figured it might be possible. Such theories could only be tested with time and yet he knew that his friends deserved far more than cautionary words.
“You’re free to go,” Angel told the demon who immediately shuffled toward the waterline. “Just be cautious about your curiosity. Next time it may get you killed.”
“I wouldn’t hurt anybody,” the demon assured him. “Usually, I see so many adult humans. They camp and hunt in the woods. Today I saw younglings. They were playing with the water as you have done.”
Cordelia asked, “Is that why you came back?”
“I scented the smoke from across the water,” he explained. “I live on one of the small islands at the center of the lake. When I thought the same humans had returned, it was my desire to make a plea for their silence.”
Angel informed the demon that David Nabitt was more open-minded than many humans. “Not all of his people are aware that demons exist. He may have some luck in holding off the authorities, but I won’t guarantee the spread of rumors.”
They watched the demon dive into the lake disappearing beneath the surface with barely a ripple to distinguish his trail below the water. Wes stood between Angel and Cordelia as they stared after the creature. Clearing his throat, he suggested, “Perhaps now would be a good time for me to give you a bit of adv—”
“No,” came the dual answers though it was softened by Cordelia’s feminine giggle and a rare grin from Angel. As they turned on their heels and headed toward the cabin Wes watched Cordelia slip her hand into Angel’s, their fingers threading as the distance closed between them.
“I suppose that now would be a good time to start researching that curse,” Wes advised himself. “Lord knows I won’t be getting any sleep for a while.”