Cordelia didn’t even make it into the same room as Marnie Mitchell before Clay found her. He was anxious to learn about Angel’s decision in allowing her to pose for him.
“I can assure you that your cooperation will only help him. My contacts in the world of art are innumerable. Through them, I can make your Angel a household name.”
“I’m a little nervous,” Cordelia admitted, pressing her lips together.
“No need, my dear,” patting her cheek, he commented, “I am a professional.”
Winging it, Cordelia accepted his offer. She was told that an assistant would take her to his studio at ten o’clock in the morning. Before he went, she had to ask, “Should I wear anything special or is there a costume?”
Amused by her naivety considering that Angel’s patron had basically pimped her out to the vampire, “The only costume you’ll need is that gorgeous skin.”
The fact that Angel had been right wasn’t lost on her, but Cordelia wasn’t about to back down now. This might mean finding out the truth.
Cordelia spent the rest of the evening making small talk with Marnie Mitchell who was enjoying her stay at the mansion and was completely clueless that anything might happen to her. When asked, she told Cordelia that Clay Vandemere hadn’t talked to her since the three of them were together earlier in the day. Interpreting the scenes from her vision, Cordelia had to wonder if somehow, she had replaced Marnie as Clay Vandemere’s next victim.
Dinner went by in a haze as Cordelia contemplated what would happen tomorrow morning. Neither Angel nor Wes had found anything during their brief search of this wing of the mansion. That meant she would have to go through with posing for Clay.
Oh God! What now? Just show up, drop her clothes in front of the potentially evil guy with leer-o-vision? How was she going to do this without freaking out? Cordelia had always thought she was comfortable with her body. Hello, cheerleader. That usually gave her the ability to ignore leering men, but not while she was bare-assed and posing for one.
Maybe this was a bad decision. Maybe she should change her mind. But no, that would be giving into Angel and confessing that he was right all along.
As soon as Marnie excused herself to follow her artist lover to their room, Cordelia made her own escape upstairs. The bedroom was still empty suggesting that Angel was either occupied in his role as artist extraordinaire or that he was busy snooping around the other wing of the mansion. Cordelia didn’t really care which it was at that moment; she darted into the bathroom, shed her clothes and turned the water on in the tub until hot steam covered her wide-eyed reflection in the mirror.
After a long soak, Cordelia finally climbed out, pulling up the stopper to drain the tub and took her time in drying herself from head to toe. The body lotion came next. She donned the terry cloth robe that hung on the back of the door having forgotten her pajamas in the rush to feel clean again, wrapping it around her slim form and then knotting the belt in place. She brushed her teeth until they were sparkly and her breath minty fresh. Afterward, combing and drying her hair until it fell in a mass of wavy tendrils down the length of her back, radiating a healthy shine.
Finally, Cordelia could find no other excuses to remain in the bathroom. She’d come to a startling conclusion while soaking in the tub. The steam had cleared her mind and she realized that there was only one way she was going to be able to pull this off in the morning.
Cordelia reached for the door, her breath catching in her throat. She could sense him beyond the wooden barrier. Angel was out there and she was about to ask him to do something that wasn’t exactly the normal thing one might expect between friends or between boss and assistant or between vampire and seer.
Angel had his back to her as Cordelia padded barefoot across the thick carpet, but turned just before she came to a stop. His eyes slid over her flushed skin and the determined expression. One dark eyebrow quirked upward in sudden expectation of a continuation of their earlier fight. He’d been thinking of what else he could do or say to convince Cordelia not to put herself in direct danger, but he knew there was nothing that his stubborn seer wouldn’t counter with that sharp little tongue.
“What is it, Cordy?” he asked when she didn’t immediately say what was on her mind.
Gathering her courage, Cordelia sucked in a deep breath and then blurted in one fast plea, “Iwantyoutosketchme.”
Even with vampire hearing, Angel hoped he’d heard that wrong. “You want me to do what?”
“Sketch me,” she repeated carefully and then waited and waited and waited for him to respond, clarifying the last part so that there was no doubt about her request, “in the nude.”
Finally, his question came in almost anti-climactic fashion. Nearly emotionless by its nature and simply seeking the truth, “Why?”
“This is important to the success of this mission, Angel. I’ve never posed for anything like this before, certainly not naked. I don— I don’t want to ruin our chances of figuring this out just because I’m nervous,” Cordelia grasped his wrist, staring up at him with pleading eyes. “Sketch me. I need to know what it feels like to…”
“To be leered at, lusted after, touched under the pretence of posing you?” Finishing for her, Angel found that he wasn’t angry at her for coming up with this idea. He was relieved. Because there was a lesson or two Cordelia Chase would learn tonight and by morning, he was certain that she’d back out of this whole crazy scheme.
Cordelia’s defensive shield slammed into place at the description. “Just think of it as on-the-job training,” she snapped back.
Turning, Angel immediately walked over to the case containing his drawing supplies. She stood frozen, realizing that he was taking her up on the idea. Suddenly, Cordelia couldn’t stand still. In a short path, she paced back and forth in the middle of the room, her skin tingling and a strange feeling settling deep down inside her at the thought that within a few minutes she would not be wearing this robe.
Her hand ran across her middle where butterflies flew in a merry swarm in her stomach, the terry cloth a solid link to reality even though Cordelia felt like this had to be some kind of nightmare. The prelude to one of those sexy Angel dreams she wasn’t supposed to admit she had.
Naked with Angel. Pfft! She could handle this. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t seen hundreds of naked women during his evil vampire days. That thought was actually a little eew and Cordelia resolved to keep thinking that she’d just be another female body in his eyes. After all, they were just girl parts, even if they did belong to her.
Angel put his lapdesk, paper and pencils down on a chair, moving it so that it was in a position closer to the bed. Resolve kept wavering as she met his dark gaze like a frightened doe caught in a predator’s trap. Blinking away the last vestiges of her fear, Cordelia tilted her chin up and stared back. “Ready?”
“Take the robe off, Cordelia,” Angel ordered, a husky octave deepening his voice as he tested her reaction. “Let me see you.”
It should be simple, she realized, but found that her hands trembled as they reached for the ties to the robe. Cordelia whirled around so that her back turned to him. This way she wouldn’t have to look in his eyes right away. Only the knot didn’t want to budge and she let out a little sound of frustration as her fingers refused to obey her commands.
Suddenly, Angel was there behind her, standing close so that his chest was touching her back. His hands slid around her waist reaching for the ties to the belt, slowly and deftly untying the stubborn knot. The belt fell loose as did the sides of the robe now hanging freely over the curves of her breasts.
Cordelia stood frozen, her attention all on the vampire standing behind her, waiting for him to step away, but he didn’t. His cool hands pressed lightly on her flat belly, fingers pointing in a vee just above the soft triangle of curls between her thighs.
“This is what you can expect,” Angel’s cheek brushed against her hair as his hands made a slow ascent, fingers skimming the curves of her breasts to close around the terry cloth lapels of the robe. “Any excuse to touch you and he will.”
Slowly, keeping his fingers in contact with her skin as much as possible, he pulled the robe off of her shoulders and let it drop to the floor. Cordelia glanced over her shoulder upon hearing the soft sound of her name emitted on a groan from Angel’s lips, “Cordy,” followed by the sensual sweep of his fingers trailing down her spine past her colorful tattoo along the cleft of her buttocks.
That hand captured her chin as she half-turned toward him. Angel had to give her one last chance to back out before it was too late. Eyes as dark as midnight devoid of all hints of his true emotions held hers captive, “Be damned sure you want this lesson, Cordelia.”
“You know I do,” she responded on a whisper though Cordelia wasn’t certain what she was telling him. She wanted something, but it was suddenly hard to remember that this was about preparing for tomorrow instead of simply being with him.
“Do you like it harder, Mr. Wyndam-Pryce?” the feminine voice inquired softly through the restful haze surrounding him.
A smile slowly appeared across his lips as he answered, “Oh, yes. Let’s do try it that way.”
Skillful hands kneaded the muscles of Wesley’s shoulders and upper back increasing in pressure. Draped in a towel on the massage table, he appeared to any who entered the room to be enjoying one of the many perks of being a guest.
In fact, he was sleuthing having discovered that Tasha was tasked with giving Vandemere’s models a massage at the end of a long day of posing. The masseuse was a talker and a few questions here and there gained Wesley quite a bit of information.
He would confirm his suspicions tonight, contact Angel with the news and they would put this investigation to an end before it ever became necessary for Cordelia to go to Vandemere’s studio in the morning.
Finally, Wes simply settled his brain and relaxed into the remainder of the massage.