Season of Solace. 158

158:   The Beach, South Central Sunnydale, 11:46PM

Cordelia sensed his shifting energy a moment before he growled, “Isobel.”

The buzz of arousal distracted Cordelia for a few seconds where frustration at the interruption was more important than the danger it posed.

“Now?”

Now was so not the time for intruders, vampire or otherwise, but most especially the kind who lusted after your boyfriend.

Speaking of which, “Um, Angel, maybe you should put that away.”

He was already closing up his pants, but it was clear that Isobel had already gotten an eyeful. She approached slowly from the cliff side of the beach, amber eyes aglow from the vampiric contours of her face.

Except for the blond hair and ivory skin, she seemed more like a shadow against the sand dressed all in black. The collar of her coat gaped open into a deep vee hinting that there might not be anything underneath except her very stylish designer boots. Even if her designer boots did not belong on the beach, Cordelia found herself admiring them. They were European, and very couture— for a skanky, peeping, nymphomaniac.

“How long has she been there?”

“Long enough,” Isobel’s tinkling laughter grated on Cordelia’s nerves. Sharp ridges shifted into the soft human curves recognizable from Angel’s drawing. “I enjoyed the show immensely. This has been a deadly dull evening until now.”

Angel ignored the flirtation and got straight to the point by demanding to know if she had followed them. There were no signs as far as Cordy could tell of any other vampires around. If Isobel had come to the marina looking for the next sacrifice on the list, she had done so alone.

Chances were she had another target in mind, and Cordelia knew instinctively that Isobel’s interests were directed at Angel. Whatever she was doing here, it had to do with him and not the prophecy.

“Pure coincidence. I came to watch the storm,” she claimed while coming to a stop ten feet away.

Cordelia noticed that the wind had whipped up and the rain was starting to come down enough to be a distraction. Strands of hair clung in damp waves to frame her face. “We were here first, so you can head back to your secret lair. Wherever that is. Private estate this time?”

“I wish…,” Isobel looked perturbed enough to answer the question, but stalled as she realized what she was doing. With a glare in her direction, Isobel returned her focus to Angel. “Tell your pet to mind her own business. Better yet, tell her to leave. No one will bother her tonight.”

Cordelia fumed at not being addressed directly like she was not worth the effort. “No one tells me to shut up. And don’t think I’m about to let some vampire groupie tell me what to do.”

Angel sent her a sharp look, her name a warning on his lips. “Cordy.”

It was a good thing she understood that he didn’t want to provoke Isobel into doing something they’d regret or else she would think he was actually following through with the blonde’s demand by actually telling her to keep quiet. That would so not be good for his health.

Swiping a sodden strand of hair from her eyes, Cordelia picked up her shoes from the ground and took a step toward the restaurant. She hadn’t expected to get any further before Angel stopped her, but he seemed to think that putting some distance between her and Miss Fangs-a-lot was a good idea.

Right now, he just looked pissed and focused on Isobel, which was exactly where the vampiress wanted his attention to be. It was insane to feel jealous, but there was a twinge of it creeping along her spine where she probably should have been feeling fear. This was one of the vampires planning to sacrifice her to their Mole god. Fear would be normal.

All Cordelia could see was another female making moves on her guy, and that Angel was not in any hurry to stake her skanky ass.

“Angelus, we have much to talk about.” Isobel’s perfect pout promised more than just simple conversation.

Blondie still thought he was evil. That, or she just liked the sound of his name in her mouth. Cordelia narrowed her gaze and waited to see which way Angel was going to play this. She was cheering for the lure and dust approach.

“I got Nico’s letter.”

Excitement lit her eyes. She clasped a hand over her breasts, and let out a little gasp, as if Angel would really fall for that old trick. Hello, you don’t need to breathe. “Will you join us? There is so much to tell you. All you need do is turn your little pet over to Kalesh. You can have her back when we’re done—if you still want her.”

And turn out like Karla Brewer? No thank you.

“Maybe I like things the way they are. You can go back to Nicolau and tell him that I am keeping Cordelia. No negotiating. I don’t care what promises he’s making—she is mine and I’m not giving her up.”

Cordelia shuddered inwardly. God, he was so sexy when he was worked up like that. Apparently, she wasn’t the only one who thought so. “There are plenty more like her to play with, Angelus. There’s me, for one. You know what I can do for you that she can’t.”

That did it. Cordelia hurled a shoe at Isobel hitting her shoulder and doing nothing more than startling her. “Back off, bitch! Hello, I am standing right here. Take your probably-ridden-by-every-vamp-in-town ass elsewhere because there is no way I am going to let some boyfriend-stealing skank make a play right in front of me.”

Somewhere on her right, Cordelia heard Angel let out a low growl. Just what he was complaining about was not exactly her top priority at the moment. Gripping her other shoe, she drew back and aimed for Isobel’s nose.

A hot curl of triumph bloomed in her chest, but turned cold and died when Isobel’s hand whipped up at the last second to catch the shoe. Surprisingly, she did not vamp out or fly across the sand all fangs and claws to rip her throat out.

That laugh of hers grated on Cordelia’s nerves. “Your lover is a vampire. When you can give him the kind of pleasure I can or know what he really needs, then you’ll understand why I won’t back off,” her eyebrow quirked up in challenge. “In the meantime, pet, you should learn your place.”

Cordelia felt like exploding on the spot. Plus, she had a weird sense of déjà vu like she’d had this conversation about Angel before only the tables were turned.

Tight-lipped, Angel had not budged an inch. He probably had some plan, a strategy, and now that she thought about it, her little outburst was probably screwing it up, but what the hey. Honestly, she didn’t care. “And what do you have to say about that?”

Angel’s jaw tightened, his mouth narrowed into a firm line until he snapped suddenly, “Shut up, Cordelia.”

Hurt welled up so fast she felt like she was drowning in it. He might as well have slapped her across the face. Reeling back a step, Cordelia felt her eyes sting with salty tears. Her throat tightened up with the effort of swallowing down her feelings.

It had to be an act. She was certain that it was a show for Isobel’s sake, but it still hurt like hell.

Isobel practically purred at the sight of Angel’s ire. “She’s quite the feisty one. I think Nico would like her, but you seem so attached and he is so busy making preparations.”

“You’re bored.”

“Utterly. If you were there…,” she looked practically orgasmic just thinking about it.

Angel walked forward decreasing the distance between them by half and Isobel was not so far gone in her lustful haze that she did not sense the danger. Her eyes snapped open wide. She held out a hand to ward him off, not quite trusting his intentions. It happened to be the one with the shoe.

Noticing, Cordelia demanded she give it back. That only caused more evil laughter to bubble up. She dangled the shoe from its strap and started to back away down the beach. “Looks like your little pet wants this back, Angelus. Come get it.”

“I’m not going to play games with you, Isobel. Come here and give it to me.” He held out a hand, his tone demanding obedience.

Isobel seductively licked the rain off her lips. “I could give you so much more. Meet with Nicolau. Give him the girl and he will share everything we have been promised. The Order of Aurelius will be great again and the children of Solaris will step out of the shadows to claim what is rightfully ours.”

“Tempting,” Cordelia sing-songed. “Not.”

Disdainful of the interruption, Isobel glared her way, but continued on with her plea. “Nicolau will share everything.”

There was an extra incentive in there, Cordelia supposed, waiting for Angel’s reply, yet keeping a subtle watch on the way Isobel twirled her shoe around like a dangling carrot. Putting up with Isobel’s antics was bad enough, but the rain was pelting down steadily, running rivulets down her skin and soaking her dress.

Angel’s shirt was plastered against his chest, and despite its dark color gave Isobel another eyeful of salty goodness. A little jolt of lust returned when Cordelia looked at him. Well, she could not blame Isobel for wanting some of that, but not when Angel belonged to her.

Of course, the blonde vampire did not see it that way. She was all over the whole pet thing. Cordelia never liked it when people made that assumption before they were a couple. Now that they were, it really kinda ticked her off.

What did she have to do—wear a neon sign? Girlfriend. Not a pet. Say it at your own risk.

“There’s a flaw in your plan,” Angel ground out. “I don’t like to share.”

Isobel’s face darkened, eyes rimmed with amber, her mouth tightening up.

“Tell Nico I’ll expect him to contact me. You’re right. We need to talk face to face. Just one thing before you go, Isobel. I want to make one thing perfectly clear. Don’t ever approach me again when I’m with Cordelia.”

The threat only made her shudder. Isobel said nothing else. Sliding her gaze toward Cordelia, her upper lip curled scornfully. “Whether or not it is by your choice, the Pure One will be sacrificed on the altar of Amolon. Get in the game, Angelus, or Nico will take everything. You’ll be nothing. Less than nothing.”

“Pathetic, much?” Cordelia muttered under her breath, but apparently loud enough for a vampire to hear.

Isobel grabbed the shoe she was holding with her other hand curling it around the heel. With a quick flick of her wrist, the three-inch heel snapped leaving it hanging from a thin attachment. Petulantly tossing the shoe into the sand, she smirked in pure satisfaction.

“You so did not go there!” Seeing red, Cordelia grabbed the sharp piece of driftwood from the sand at her feet. Before she could say or do anything else, Angel’s big hand curled around her wrist as the other pried the makeshift weapon away.

Struggling futilely against his unbreakable grasp, Cordelia shoved hard against his chest, but she might as well have tried to topple a rock wall. “Let go of me! I’ll kill her. Angel! Don’t just stand there. Do something. She broke my shoe.”

There was that laughter again.

“I’ll buy you more shoes, Cordelia,” he said roughly. “Don’t concern yourself with it. Isobel belongs with her sire, and I want you back home in my bed. We can pick up where we left off.”

Caging her jaw in one hand, he bent down to claim her lips, the rain sliding between them. She hoped it was not all for show because it felt too good for that. Angel’s eyes lingered on hers for a moment asking for silence.

“You’re really letting her go—again?” This was the second time he was planning to let Isobel walk away. She understood that Angel did not want to start a fight while she was there. Overprotection was his thing.

In his haste to get rid of her he was also forgetting that she could be just as useful to them as a hostage. “Personally, I’d prefer to see her in chains.”

Angel obviously hadn’t considered the notion of capturing Nicolau’s mate to use as leverage, but she could practically hear the cogs churning in his head. Could he risk it with Cordy there? Would he be able to get Isobel back to the mansion and keep Cordy safe at the same time? Did he want to deal with the kind of hell Nico would rain down upon them?

Or maybe he was just thinking about the scary things the rain was doing to his hair.

“You wouldn’t dare,” barked Isobel angrily. One look at Angel’s face reminded her that Angelus would do anything he pleased. It was part of his appeal. “Nico would never forgive you for it. You would be throwing away everything that will be within his power to grant you.”

Angel shifted his weight in preparation to move. A streak of lighting hit the sand nearby leaving a static charge in the air. Cordelia let out a surprised shriek while Angel held up a hand to ward off the flash of brilliant light. When Cordelia’s eyes refocused she saw that Isobel was gone, but not so far that Angel couldn’t go after her.

“We need to get off the beach,” said Angel cupping his hand around her elbow to lead her back toward the car.

Pulling out of his grasp, Cordelia pointed toward the cliffs looming above the other end of the beach. “There she is! If you run I’ll bet you can still catch her.”

Ocean View Drive hugged the edge of the cliffs. They were steep, but probably not too dangerous for a vampire to traverse. Cordelia wondered if Isobel had a car up there. This end of the beach was at the far side of town.

Though it seemed like he might have gone through with it, Angel obviously had other ideas. “Cordy, we have to let her go. I am not leaving you alone to run after her.”

“Fine.”

It was not fine. Isobel had managed to turn her perfect night into a night of hell. Even the weather had turned ugly. Cordelia bent over to pick up her shoes. Holding up the broken one she let out a sad little whimper.

The thunder crackled overhead, the worst of the storm already past them, the lightning flashing further north. It had to be close to midnight by now, she realized. Except for Isobel and her bad timing, there was no sign of any stray convicts using the marina as an entry point into town.

Then again, they had been a little distracted by Isobel. Long before that, actually. She hoped the third sacrifice was not grabbed and nabbed by Isobel’s cronies when their backs were turned.

“Cordy…”

Angel hovered at her side, looking awkward and in danger of tripping over his tongue. His broad shoulders slumped with a sigh, but the action called her attention back to the clinginess of his wet shirt. Even soaked through and with crazy hair he was gorgeous.

“Okay, so it’s not fine,” she huffed. “It pretty much sucks to be told to shut up by my own boyfriend in front of some skeezy blonde bitch who wants me dead.”

“But Cordy, I—”

Poking him in the chest with the toe of her broken shoe, Cordelia cut in, “Oh, I know. You didn’t want her to think your little pet had opinions.”

Angel held up his hands in denial. Shaking his head, “That wasn’t—”

“Then why didn’t you say something, tell her to go to hell, or better yet just stake the bitch?” Cordelia’s bare foot stomped on the sand without the usual sound effect, but it got her point across. “You let her think she might have a chance with you.”

His hands came up to frame her face. “Cordy, I’m sorry. That deception might give us an advantage one day. I’m going to hold onto every card I can until this plays out.”

“But you told me to shut up.” She did not hide the hurt in her voice this time.

“Isobel thinks I’m Angelus, that I’m like her. Soulless. Cordy, in her eyes, by rights I should have slapped you down for daring to speak to her—or worse, give her the privilege of ripping out your tongue.”

Cordelia felt her tongue contract at the thought of it. She gulped. “So you’re saying I got off lightly?”

“As far as Isobel is concerned, yes,” Angel admitted, “but you know I would never let her hurt you.”

“That would be so much easier to believe if she was tied up in the trunk of the car, dontcha think?”

Angel leaned in until their foreheads touched, his hands sliding to her nape, thumbs caressing her cheek. “There’s got to be a way out of this that keeps you safe. Let me find it. Threatening Isobel is not the way to gain Nico’s trust.”

“I just wanted tonight to be perfect,” she sighed and felt the touch of his lips against her forehead.

He pulled back far enough that she could see the dark pool of regret in his eyes. “Me too, baby. I’m sorry it worked out this way.”

Tracing a fingertip from button to button on his shirt, Cordelia plucked at the one closest to his belt buckle. “When we get home, I suppose you’ll just have to spend the rest of the night making it up to me—a lot.”

Unfortunately, they were not likely to get home again for another hour or two. The mission still came first, and Cordelia knew that going in. The fact that Isobel had shown up without any henchmen suggested that the marina was not going to be tonight’s target—assuming they knew that information themselves.

Giles seemed to think the demon-worshippers had to follow the prophetic signs just as they did, which meant they still had a good chance of locating the next victim first. It had to be close to midnight by now, which meant something could be happening right now, or an hour from now.

If they did not get to him first, the guy would end up like Karla Brewer. So would she, if they ever got their hands on her. She shivered at the thought. Angel must have seen it because he pulled her close and rubbed his hands across her skin trying to create a little friction.

“We should get you dried off. Let’s get to the boat. They probably have some towels onboard.”

“Killjoy. Maybe I like the view from here.” Pulling him closer, she heard the squish of their clothing. A smile flirted across her lips as his mouth closed over hers in a kiss that was entirely for her and not for show. His lips were gentle and full of promise leaving her aching for more.

Any minute now, they would have to stop. Any minute. She felt the waves lapping at their feet, the storm surge and the tide rolling in. All the anticipation she had been feeling before Isobel’s interruption came rushing back. For a second she wondered if they were going to make it back to the car much less home again—then Angel’s head jerked up from its favorite spot.

“What’s wrong?” Cordelia looked around frantically, but the beach remained empty.

Angel grabbed her by the hand and nodded toward the restaurant. “It’s our pager. I left it in my jacket pocket.”

That meant, “Someone spotted our guy.”

They ran back to the deck. Cordelia was breathing hard when they got there. Even though she was in great shape again and her rebar injury was now fully healed, it was hard to keep up with a vampire running on wet sand.

Asking curiously, she panted, “What’s it say?”

Giles had added specific location codes onto their established system starting with the number ten. Each number represented tonight’s assigned entry port. A ten signaled them to meet at the bus depot to back up Buffy and Spike. Eleven was the airport.

Dread caused Angel’s voice to dip low. “Code six.”

That was one of their emergency codes. Instantly recognizing it, Cordelia knew that her perfect night had just gone from bad to worse. “Oh no! The hospital.”

Scene 159

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