Cordelia glanced at the clock in the front hall again just to be certain. “Weren’t our reservations for nine o’clock?”
“Yes. The clock must be wrong,” Angel concluded only to frown when he looked at his watch. “That’s strange. My watch shows the same time.”
Was it something to do with the prophecy? First an earthquake, then that meteor shower and now a fast-forward time warp.
“Well that’s another one for Giles to figure out. At least we’re here now. I hope that Arturo hasn’t given our table away. That’s him over there.”
Pointing to a distinguished looking man with salt & pepper hair and a moustache, Cordelia added, “He’s a demon, by the way, so don’t go all grrrr on me the second you’re introduced.”
“Thanks for the warning. What kind of demon?” Angel kept his voice down as they approached the main room.
“No idea. Never asked.”
Angel’s eyes narrowed as he focused on the man in the pinstripe suit. “What if he’s dangerous? We should be suspicious of all demons right now. No telling if they’re a part of Amolon’s cult.”
Rolling her eyes, Cordelia waved off his concerns. “Not Arturo. He’s one of those good demons you told me about. I’ve known the truth about him forever. Since I was a kid. It’s not a big deal. Trust me when I say you can trust him.”
The fact that Cordelia never knew demons existed until a couple of years ago didn’t faze them. Her words felt like the truth to both of them, and Angel saw no reason to distrust a demon she had known for so many years.
“My dear Miss Chase, you are here at last,” Arturo caught sight of them, approaching with arms open wide. She called out his name and happily presented her cheek for their traditional air kiss. “Next time you must not stay away so long. You are far too beautiful to deprive an old man of such a vision.”
Cordelia gushed over the attention and proceeded to introduce Arturo to Angel. “Ah, yes, Mr. Angel. I do hope you will allow us to prepare something special for you this evening. My personal chef is a marvel.”
A subtle gesture summoned a waiter to their side. “Phillip, please see that Mr. Angel and Miss Chase want for nothing this evening. They are my special guests.”
Everything was just how Cordelia imagined it would be.
She was thrilled to be out of the mansion for the evening. It was so exciting to dress up for a change, to see and be seen. How long had it been now since she was able to take little luxuries for granted?
People kept staring, and honestly, who could blame them? They looked gorgeous together. One of these days Angel would have something with a little more color in his closet. For now, she had to admit to being a little more impressed with his style than she thought she’d be. The clothes might be monochromatic, but they were all quality, designer-made, and not the off-the-rack variety. A few items were severely outdated, but some of them were actually coming back into fashion again.
Trust Mr. Packrat to keep them all.
Keeping clothes a moment longer than was popular was not something she was used to. She had always the one who had the latest look. By the time the wannabes had been able to catch up fashion dictated a change and she’s not only be on it, but own it, too.
Times had changed, but there was a line Cordelia was determined never to cross. Even though she was practically destitute now, she would never, ever, bow down to the softer side of Sears.
Tonight, she was dressed in red. Last season’s designer wear, but it was gorgeous. Normally, she would not have worn it again, and it so hung in the back of the closet, practically forgotten until she realized that none of the necessities Buffy, Willow and Xander had stuffed into trash bags would be appropriate for her first real date with Angel.
The dress was perfect for the L.A. charity event that her parents had brought her to not long before their financial crisis hit. Talk about a turn around. All of a sudden, they had become the charity cases.
She glanced around at the faces in the restaurant a little nervous at whom she might spot in the crowd. Seeing only strangers, a relieved smile lit her face and the tension faded.
Angel noticed the shift of energy. His fingers reached over to touch her arm as they as they followed Phillip toward the center of the room.
Squeezing his arm, she smiled up at him. “Don’t be a dork. Of course I am.”
There was just one dark cloud hanging over their evening out together. She felt a lot like Cinderella dressed up for the ball, eager to have the time of her life with Prince Charming, but knowing that once midnight rolled around the fun would end.
No use in whining about it.
The fact remained that they were at the marina not only to have dinner, but because it was a potential route for Sacrifice #3 to arrive in Sunnydale. That was hours away. Frankly, Cordelia had better ideas than to sit around and think about all the ways an ex-con could sneak into town.
Their reserved table for two was a cozy spot near the center of the room equally distant from the front entrance as it was from the emergency exit in the back. Angel sat where he could keep a subtle watch on both, a fact that did not escape her notice when he kept scanning the room for potential threats.
“Eyes on me, Angel. You’re only a few inches away from the hottest girl in Sunnydale and you can’t stop staring at the door. There is something so wrong with that.”
A guilty shade darkened his eyes as they snapped back to hers. “We could’ve been followed.”
“I thought that was what the fast getaway and the sneaky circling the block was for,” she rolled her eyes. “Hey, maybe that’s the reason we got here so late.”
If it was, Angel wasn’t admitting it.
“Relax. In the letter he wrote you, Nicolau promised to leave me alone for a while.”
Angel glowered for a moment at the mention of the other vampire. His fingers slid up to the silverware on the table tracing the bladed edge of the knife. “He probably meant it at the time, indulging me in my desire for my pet. The moment he discovers I have no intention of joining his scheme all deals are off.”
“What are the odds he’ll figure it out tonight?”
It was impossible to say that Angel completely relaxed after that, but Cordelia had to give him credit for trying. They spent ten minutes looking over the menu trying to come up with something Angel would eat.
“No, you cannot just order French fries and ketchup. You might be undead, but sheesh, try to live a little.”
Defying Nicolau’s orders to stay put tonight, Isobel left the safety of their new lair. A subterranean cavern was hardly her style. It provided none of the comforts she was used to in her admittedly pampered existence.
It would be one thing if her sire had the time to distract her, but he was busy tonight. Summoned by Kalesh to the Altar of Amolon. Anytime the old hag crooked her finger in his direction that was all it took to steal him away. The fulfillment of the prophecy and their master’s plan was his obsession.
Isobel understood that.
Clearly, this summons was something to do with the impending rituals tonight, but that didn’t stop it from grating on her nerves. Anything that stole her sire’s attention away was enough to earn her disdain.
She could not fault him for his narrow focus on the job at hand because the promise of supreme power that lay nearly within reach was too close to ignore. The method being used to attain it disturbed her. Despite her century and a half with Nicolau, it was at times like these when she remained something of an outsider.
Affiliating with demons was acceptable if they were the ones taking orders. To see a master vampire like Nico submit his will to Kalesh angered her. Admittedly, the high priestess was unique.
Kalesh might look like an ugly old woman, but one glance into her ageless black eyes was all it took to understand her power. Every time she came close Isobel could feel it in her bones. As if eternity was crumbling to ashes from the inside out, death and decay following in her wake.
It frightened her.
So she stayed as far away from the demoness as she could get.
Unfortunately, their chamber was formed from the natural limestone of the cavern. Its walls dripped slime, the uneven ground was hell on her shoes, and the only place to sleep was the top of their steamer trunks.
Hardly a haven to escape to.
Anton was busy tonight, too. Out on a mission for Nico. He might have provided a few hours of distraction.
There were a few humans around, but they were off-limits for now. Everyone was under strict orders to leave them alone. Huh. Greasy and unwashed, they tended to turn her stomach. She wouldn’t want one of them anyway. Her tastes were much more refined than that.
The cavern’s main entrance was deep in the woods away from the normal paths taken by hikers, but it was not that far removed from the edge of town. Easy enough to sneak away for a few hours to find something to amuse herself.
That club was nearby. What was it called again? Something metallic. Oh, yes. Bronze. Just the kind of place she liked to go for some fun and a quick snack.
Wouldn’t it be fabulous if Angelus and his little pet were at The Bronze, too! Just the distraction she needed right now. Nico insisted on giving him what time they could to decide on joining them, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t play with them.
“Push him too hard and he’ll make you regret it, little dove.” Nicolau’s advice had come after she petulantly demanded to know why he was writing letters instead of going after the girl.
Isobel had other ideas. “Capture her and Angelus will follow.”
Her sire found that funny. “Do that and he will beat a bloody path to our door. Trust me when I say that won’t get you what you want.”
A shudder of anticipation brought a soft moan to her lips. Nicolau had kissed her, his mouth gently teasing. She wanted more, but there was no time to play. He had to go to Kalesh. Rituals, always more rituals. A bloodletting here, a group chant there. She was just happy that this would all be over soon.
Then nothing would stop her.