Puzzle Pieces. 2

Hyperion Hotel

Coming downstairs the next afternoon, I fully intended to use my son’s natural baby appeal to open up to Cordelia. With the baby there between us, surely I could focus on our feelings of friendship rather than the lust that had certainly raised its head last night.

Only Cordelia wasn’t at work, nor Fred or Gunn for that matter. Lorne usually slept in even later than I did, so I didn’t bother to look for the Pylean, especially since he’d still be in the mood to talk about last night. Finally, I found Wes puttering around in the office with a glum look on his face.

“Where is everybody?”

I’d asked out of curiosity, but there must have been a little of that old boss’ tone in my voice because Wes gave me a pointed stare informing me, “I gave them the morning off. They’ll all be in this afternoon sometime.”

Wes explained that Fred and Gunn had gone off to have breakfast and hadn’t been seen since. He told me that with a stony expression that made me wonder if I was missing something, but I really didn’t care if Fred was gorging on stacks of pancakes again today.

I was about to casually inquire after Cordelia, but was still caught up in figuring out a way to ask subtly when Wes gave me the news that ruined my day. “Cordelia is at lunch with her new beau.”

“New what?”

Thinking that I must have gotten lost in translation, Wes rephrased, “New boyfriend. She was on the phone two minutes after I told her she could have the day off arranging to have lunch with him.”

To say that I reacted with jealousy over the news might have been an understatement. “Who the hell is this guy? What happened between last night and this morning? Did you meet him?”

“Cordelia was rather animated about telling me everything, actually,” Wes sounded bored with the idea. “Apparently, she met him at an audition ages ago and by some coincidence ran into him at Starbucks this morning.”

My eyes rolled back in Cordy-fashion and a huff of disregard left my throat. I was too focused on reacting to the ridiculous news to realize that I had picked up a few of her bad habits. “He’s an actor?”

I possibly made it sound like he was pond scum.

“No, actually,” Wes corrected me with a sigh. Talk of romantic interludes was not on his list of things to do today.

Just then Cordelia breezed in wearing a tight knit top and a low-slung filmy skirt that left her tiny waist bare to my view. The cascade of her silken hair flowed around her shoulders as she walked into the lobby, a smile on her beautiful face. Sing-songing her greeting, which told me lunch had gone well, she tossed her purse down on the countertop and immediately held her arms out in my direction.

It took me a couple of seconds to realize she wanted her first dose of baby snuggles for the day. Handing Connor over, I watched as Cordelia kissed his downy head and spoke to him with love in her voice as she told him she missed him last night. I wondered if she’d missed me too, but quickly realized the answer must be no.

Not if she’d been so eager to run off to lunch with Mister Hollywood himself.

Making a concerted effort to reign-in my jealousy, which I put down to remnants of the effects of the spell even though I knew that wasn’t the case, I tried to take a friendly interest in what Cordelia had been up to.

Wes was still hanging out around the front desk looking like he was setting himself up as a referee when I asked, “Where have you been?”

Yes, the question came out a little more demanding than it should have, but I have a right to be concerned when my best friend goes off to parts unknown with a practical stranger. The last time I let that happen, she ended up pregnant with demon spawn. The hell if I was gonna let some creep take advantage of her again.

Cordelia glanced up from taking in a deep breath of fresh baby scent, her nose tucked into Connor’s neck. She’d been making goo-goo sounds and had the baby gurgling and grinning right along with her until I opened my mouth to start my interrogation. It was in no way just a simple query and we all knew it.

Holding onto the baby, Cordelia continued to look down into his attentive little face and in that soft voice she gets when reminding me to watch my tone around Connor, she answered my question while actually directing her comments to him.

“Aunty Cordy has been to lunch at Locanda Veneta,” she cooed to Connor, but turned for just a second to give me a little smirk as if I was supposed to be impressed. My cluelessness might have been obvious because Cordelia went back to her explanation again, “Just an upmarket little Italian place nobody can get into without reservations…except certain Who’s Who.”

Meaning that her date made the list; I understood that quickly enough. “Who is he?”

Cordelia turned to me after that, no longer speaking to me through Connor. My overly casual voice and the completely fake smile on my face may have thrown her off a bit. I felt like demanding to see a full dossier on the guy, but I kept reminding myself that my best friend apparently wanted to get back to our routine. The date was evidence enough that she’d done as we discussed and already forgotten last night’s spell-induced indiscretions.

“Bartholowmew Cummings III,” her eyebrow arched knowing even I would recognize the name of the old Hollywood family. They produced films and had ties back to the beginnings of the film industry.

She included Wes in her eager account of the perfect details of their perfect lunch at the little Italian trattoria. I started to feel a bit angry about her actually enjoying the experience without me until I thought about the fact that I couldn’t have taken her there anyway. Hello! Daylight. Vampire, remember.

“It was a little crowded and noisy,” she explained with a brush of her hand in the air as if that only gave the place atmosphere. The terra-cotta walls and stone floors certainly did, Cordelia described before telling us all about lunch. I tried to look interested in lobster ravioli with saffron sauce, but frankly I could care less about the food.

This was all just a build-up to telling us more about her no-doubt also perfect date. I decided to get it over with. “Tell us about Bart.”

“He goes by Trey,” Cordelia corrected me as if to tell me he had a much classier name than that irritating cartoon character.

What kind of a name was that? Trey Cummings. Well there would certainly be no cummings of any kind around Cordelia. Not once twice or trey times. Not unless I approved.

Cordelia’s enthusiasm for her date made it clear that this was not a one-time event and she quickly confirmed that by explaining that Trey had arranged dinner for them tomorrow night.

Having convinced myself that Trey Cummings, no matter his Hollywood pedigree or his ability to withstand sunlight, would not lay a finger on my seer unless her desires were perfectly clear in the matter, I took it upon myself to ensure it. Just conceding that Cordy might have desires that did not include me had me on edge.

I could accept that she might not want me in that way if it meant maintaining the status quo, but the thought of her choosing to be with another man set off a possessive streak I wasn’t even aware I had.

I suggested to myself that Cordelia was simply trying to forget what happened last night by arranging this date today. I wanted to make sure she wasn’t going to get in over her head or put herself in danger. It was difficult to separate my feelings of friendship from the desire that was so easily brought to mind.

So I convinced myself that it was all about protecting her. From strangers. From things that go bump in the night. From overeager men who would seek to prey upon someone so beautiful. I guess I even added myself to the list, thinking that this was all about keeping our friendship exactly where it should be.

It certainly wasn’t a protective vibe I felt when I saw her step out of her apartment to greet Trey Hollywood Cummings. He matched her description exactly being tall, tawny-haired, well-built and suited in Armani. I admit that I drooled upon seeing his car. That was forgotten the moment I caught sight of Cordelia in that black mini-dress, her legs looking toned and impossibly long, feet strapped into high heels.

The elegant beauty who’d graced my arm at the ballet had transformed herself into a sexy siren. Only the fact that I wasn’t alone in my appreciation of her returned my focus where it needed to be: keeping her safe. They drove across town to a newer restaurant where they were immediately taken inside to their reserved table.

I had followed from a comfortable distance in the Plymouth, but found that getting into the place was even more difficult than finding parking. Then I watched from a carefully chosen spot inside the building as they had their dinner. From my location, I couldn’t hear their conversation, but I could tell from Cordelia’s body language and expressions that her initial excitement over this date had started to wear thin.

That didn’t mean she wasn’t going to give him a chance at fixing the situation or that Trey Hollywood wouldn’t try to recoup his investment in escorting Cordelia to dinner. As soon as I realized that they were headed out of the restaurant, I took advantage of my natural speed, made it to my car and was ready to follow. After the first five minutes, I could tell that they were headed straight back to Cordelia’s apartment instead of moving onto a club like I figured they might.

So I took a few of the usual shortcuts, picked out a covert parking place for my car and made it to Cordelia’s front door before they got close. Time enough for me to go inside and give Dennis a head’s up. I thought that I’d have time to make it out again after gaining the ghost’s cooperation but Trey must’ve hit every green light in Los Angeles getting back here.

Cordelia and Trey were standing at the door when I took the first step outside. The shock on their faces was probably no less than my own. Thinking fast, I had to come up with some excuse for being there. Telling Cordelia I’d been following her and her date all evening would not have gone over very well. As it was, I could already see the growing suspicion in her eyes once the initial surprise wore off.

“Angel, what are you doing here?” I noticed that Trey’s head quirked a little as if he recognized my name. Had Cordelia been talking about me or just the fact that she worked for Angel Investigations?

“Cordelia’s boss,” he gave me a look that suggested he was sizing up a rival.

Neither Cordelia nor I corrected him. She was still waiting for her answer while I was glaring back at Trey. Natural menace comes in handy now and then. I kept it up until his blue eyes darted away nervously.

“I didn’t expect you two back so early,” I commented smoothly giving myself credit for not stumbling over an explanation. “I just popped in to see if the refrigerator was fully stocked.”

Trey made an attempt at sounding suave and getting in a dig at the same time, “Putting champagne on ice for us?”

“No, I was headed to the butcher shop,” I snapped. At least I didn’t come right out and say I was checking my blood supply, but I knew that Cordelia would think it was a legitimate reason for my presence.

“Perk of the job,” Cordelia quickly explained. “Some people get Christmas bonuses and pension plans. I get Angel’s bl— meat.”

Trey’s jaw clenched and unclenched, trying to find his way to understanding Cordy’s words. “Your boss gives you his meat?” There was a hard emphasis on the last word as if he was trying to read between the lines.

“Every other day,” she rolled her eyes.

“As long as we’re talking steaks and hamburgers,” Trey chuckled as he read a little too much, “I guess that’s okay.”

Cordelia obviously caught onto the ribald turn in the topic. She faced me with a fury as she realized we’d somehow fallen into suggesting I was putting it to my secretary three times a week. Her hand curled into the lapel of my jacket as she pulled a little closer to ensure that I saw the emerald glint of anger in her eyes.

“So you’re Cordelia’s date,” I stated the obvious. Thinking he looked shorter than I did, I straightened my spine and stood as close to Cordelia as possible. “I’m Angel.”

Trey used his full name when introducing himself. We didn’t bother to shake hands. Both of us knew that we hated each other at first sight and that in a few minutes one of us wasn’t going to be standing on Cordelia’s doorstep. “Guess you better get going then, Angel. Butcher shop must be closing soon.”

“It’s open all night,” I informed him refusing to budge an inch away from the door. My shoulders were pretty much blocking either of them from going inside. “I’m not really in a hurry.”

Giving me another suspicious glance, Cordelia slowly released her hold on my lapel and turned back to Trey. “Y’know, it’s a good thing that Angel showed up tonight.”

“It is?” Both Trey and I asked only to glare at each other for doing so.

Letting out a huff, Cordelia dramatically slapped her hand on her forehead. “I can’t believe I forgot to tell you about the Harris-Rosenberg case.”

“The what?” Apparently my skill at lying was exceeded only by hers.

Her eyes popped open, staring hard, “See. I forgot to tell you. They’re coming first thing in the morning.”

“Xander and Willow?”

Cordelia stared at me with growing exasperation and I finally got it. She was trying to give Mister Hollywood the brush off and I wasn’t helping. I remedied that quickly enough. “Sorry, Trey. Looks like you’ll have to go. Can’t have you listening in on the case. Confidential investigational material.”

“I understand,” Trey answered as he stared down into Cordelia’s eyes looking a little sad. Not that I was going to feel sorry for him. Good riddance. Especially since Cordy seemed to want him gone too. His blue gaze flicked to me for a second before it returned to her. “Everything you said tonight suddenly makes sense.”

I got the feeling that Trey wasn’t the dumb ox I imagined him to be. Something that Cordelia had said to him had been about me and I burned with curiosity at knowing what it was, though not enough to delay his exit.

“Guess this is it, doll,” Trey commented ruefully as he bent down and stole a kiss from Cordelia knowing it would piss me off.

I heard Cordelia’s in-drawn breath just before he touched her and it was all I could do to suppress the growl that churned in my chest. I wanted to grab Cordelia by the arms and pull her away from the presumptive prick who dared to touch what was mine. Somehow, I managed to control the urge to rip him apart.

That hot, flaming possessive rage licked at my insides. It was only the look of fear that appeared on the man’s face when he lifted his head and saw my expression that finally calmed me down again. Though my face hadn’t shifted, I could tell that he’d seen something in my eyes that scared him. Trey hastily excused himself and made a quick escape to his very nice car.

Only after the car’s taillights disappeared in the distance did Cordelia turn to face me. She was silent for a moment, looking up and down at me as if expecting to find something. Then her finger poked into my chest and she pushed me back into the apartment. I backed up and we both waited for Dennis to close the door before we spoke.

Ladies first. “That was the most lameass excuse for being here, Angel.”

“Sounded good to me.”

“Pfft! It would,” Cordelia tossed her tiny handbag onto the couch and proceeded to remove her shoes one after the other sighing as her toes curled into the carpet. “It was nice that you want to check up on me, but I’m a big girl. I can handle things myself.”

Grateful that she didn’t immediately pick up on the fact that I had been following her or that I was as angry as hell that Trey kissed her, I decided to let her in on a small part of the truth. “I came here to talk to Dennis.”

Cordy pulled off her earrings, dropping them into the palm of her hand, fiddling with them as she contemplated my words. “To Dennis? Since when do you talk to my ghost? You barely spoke to him when you were staying here much less after you moved into the hotel.”

“True, but I wanted to make sure you’d be safe tonight. That he wouldn’t let Trey do anything you didn’t want.” Then I found myself saying, “You’ve had enough of that lately.”

Her lush mouth dropped open into a surprised ‘O’ as I brought up the forbidden subject of night before last. Ignoring it, Cordelia commented, “Dennis always keeps an eye on me.”

“Too close an eye,” I had to laugh at the sudden and irrational flash of jealousy that sprouted at the idea that Dennis could see Cordelia anytime and in any state of dress he desired. My stupidity in being jealous of a ghost wasn’t lost on me. Fortunately, I saw the humor in it too. “What was that you once said about a loofah?”

Cordelia grinned at me and I felt relieved at the thought she might not be mad at me for showing up. “Like I said…Dennis is the best. Next to you.”

Compared to a ghost. It could be worse, I suppose. At least it distracted me from thoughts of erasing Trey’s touch from Cordelia’s lips by kissing her. “How’d it go?”

My casual tone surprised even me. Cordelia dropped the earrings back and forth between her hands several times before answering. “I was bored. He talked about filmmaking and acting and all the things I thought I would love, but Trey went on and on about it. He wasn’t that way at lunch the other day.”

“What did you talk about then?”

“Me,” answered Cordy simply. “My acting career.”

It had been quite a while since she’d even mentioned it much less gone to an audition. I was quick to point out that he may have taken her as a job-seeking actress. Reminding her of Russell Winters, I suggested Trey might have thought to use the old casting couch ploy.

The fact that Cordelia did not immediately bite my head off for suggesting it made me think I’d been right. “I think I confused him when I started talking about Angel Investigations. We didn’t even get to dessert before I knew I wanted to leave.”

“You certainly got back here fast enough,” I commented only to realize that Cordy’s eyes narrowed in response.

“How’d you know?”

“It’s still early,” I shrugged hoping she’d take that as an answer. “Quick dinner.”

Cordelia nodded, “Yeah. Sorry to drag you into it, but I was trying to figure out a way to get rid of him when you opened the door.”

“So you won’t be seeing him again.” Did that sound smug? I hoped not, but I could not stem the tide of triumph that claimed me.

“No.”

I kept my mouth shut after that knowing that whatever came out would sound too pleased by the notion. I’d be able to relax now and we’d get back into that same old rhythm of our lives. We’d be friends, we’d take care of my son, and we’d train together.

There’d be no more dates with Trey Hollywood.

“I’d better go,” I told her. The longer I stood there looking at her, the harder it was to step away. Finding myself calculating the length of time it would take to get her out of that dress was a definite sign that I had to be out of there.

Reaching out, Cordelia touched my arm, just the gentle pressure of her hand against the sleeve of my jacket. “It’s still early. Stay a while. It’ll only take me a minute to get out of this dress.”

Five seconds, baby, with my help of course.

That wasn’t what Cordelia meant. No doubt she planned to cover that lithe body up in her favorite comfort clothes. She’d have Dennis popping popcorn in the microwave while we curled up on the couch watching a movie that would either make no sense to me or would leave me laughing in all the wrong places.

We hadn’t done that it a while and certainly never alone. The idea tempted me, but I knew that I couldn’t handle that so soon. Not when thoughts of Cordelia and couches brought up…far more than just a few lustful memories.

“Better not,” sounding deeper than usual, my voice was already starting to betray my desires. My hands, of their own accord, wandered up to touch her face. I saw the question in her eyes and only barely managed to redirect my path by pressing my lips to her forehead instead of where I really wanted to place them. “Goodnight, Cordy.”

“Angel,” she sounded out my name on the lush lips I’d wanted to kiss.

I didn’t wait for remonstration. Nor did I look to see if there was anger in those eyes that sometimes said so much. I left.

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