While Cordelia herself was loath to speak of Wolfram and Hart in a positive light, there were some benefits that were hard to dispute. Money was one, but Caritas was another. Without the Fang Gang consistently needing his help, Lorne had a lot more time to devote to business (and a lot more capital to invest).
There were currently three incarnations of Caritas—the one on Sunset may have been sucked through a portal, but Lorne had hell dimension insurance and his agent assured him the absence was only temporary.
Nowadays Caritas was packed every night of the week. Anytime after midnight and the place was usually a crowded microcosm of L.A.’s finest…vampires, tourists, drunken college kids, demons, and C-list movie stars. They came for the affordable drinks and the non-violence spell and they stayed for the old-school ambiance and the mediocre karaoke.
Still, happy hour had never really caught on with the crowd that Caritas catered to, so at 6 p.m. on a Thursday, the bar was relatively deserted. There was an elderly man channeling Dean Martin onstage and two Tevlok demons who appeared to be on an awkward first date. And of course there was Lorne.
When Connor and Cordelia walked in the Pylean was sitting at the bar, drinking a mojhito and flipping through a magazine. He spotted them when they were halfway across the room, did a double take, grabbed the magazine and whipped it behind his back.
“Hey Brown Eyes,” Lorne drawled. “You’re looking particularly Cordelicious this evening.” Flattery usually distracted her.
Cordelia raised her eyebrows. “Watcha reading Lorne?” she asked in a deceptively innocent voice.
Lorne pretended to not hear the question and stuffed the magazine behind the bar in what he hoped was subtle fashion. “You know, nobody, but nobody, fills out a pair of Frankie B’s like you do sweetie.”
She tapped her French-tipped nails on the bar. “What were you reading?” she enunciated clearly, as if speaking to a child.
Bored, Connor leaned against the bar and yawned. He knew where this was going.
“Reading?” Lorne stalled. “I wasn’t reading. You know how I feel about reading. Why read when you can learn everything you need from Access Hollywood and Dr. Phil?”
“Was it porn?” Cordelia asked, narrowing her eyes.
Cordelia was determined to cover all the bases. “Was it weird porn?”
That got Connor’s attention. “What would weird porn be?”
“No, I wasn’t reading porn, weird or otherwise,” Lorne huffed.
Cordelia nodded, then in one quick move, leaned all the way over the bar and grabbed the magazine before he could stop her. “‘US Weekly’? You’re reading this trash?”
“You used to subscribe!” Lorne said.
“Yeah, but that’s before I found out they’re published by a subsidiary of Wolfram and Hart.” In Cordelia’s mind, it was all incredibly simple. There was a very distinct line between good and evil. Everything on Wolfram and Hart’s side was quite obviously evil.
“I don’t get it,” Connor commented. “I thought they were just a law firm.”
“But they’re a law firm bent on world domination,” Cordy informed him.
“Hey, if they keep putting the Olson twins on the cover dressed like that, they can dominate me any day,” Connor said, signaling for the bartender.
“I think what Princess meant is that the firm has a variety of business interests outside of law,” Lorne explained.
There was an almost imperceptible tic in Cordelia’s jaw. “Don’t call me Princess Lorne. You know I hate that.” Even as she said it, part of her recognized the lie. It wasn’t that she hated the nickname. She hated what the nickname reminded her of.
“But Angel always—”
“Don’t call me Princess,” Cordy said in an even voice that booked no argument.
There was a moment of awkward silence. Connor cleared his throat. This was his cue. Time to change the subject. He’d gotten awfully good at changing the subject in the last few years.
“So, they really control this magazine?” he asked.
Lorne smiled, glad the tension was easing. “Why do you think they make sure to mention Justin Timberlake in every single issue?”
“Justin’s a demon?” Connor was slightly excited. Technically, it was his job to kill demons. Well, not his job. Part time job. More like a hobby actually. But still…
Lorne shook his head. “No, but all those boybands signed a pact with the senior partners in the late nineties.”
“That explains so much,” Cordelia said. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Spencer walking in the door, the ubiquitous cell phone in his hand.
Spencer Kitteridge (“Spence” to his close friends) was a rare find. He’d attended MIT on scholarship before heading back to California, in hopes of finding a stable job in the tech industry. Instead he’d invented a brand new software, made millions, and began a virtual business empire. He was on his way to being the next Bill Gates.
But the best part was that he didn’t LOOK like Bill Gates. Just over six feet tall, with piercing blue eyes, the man was a full on hunk. His dirty blond hair was cut short enough to be professional but spiky enough to be trendy. And his body? His body was a temple. He lifted and ran six miles every day and supplemented with Spin classes and surfing and whatever the extreme sport of the week was.
Spencer’s eyes fixed on her and he gave a short wave and a smile. A pleasant warmth filled Cordelia, comfortable and calming. It didn’t light a fire in her belly or send tingles shooting up her spine. But who needed tingles anyway. Tingles were childish—they weren’t real. Spence raised a finger to say he would be over in just a minute and flicked some invisible lint off of his Polo shirt. Spence was real.
“Ahhh, there’s your betrothed. Cell phone still firmly attached to his ear, I see,” Lorne commented under his breath.
Connor ground his teeth and continued to flip through the discarded magazine.
“Shut up Lorne,” Cordelia said, but her tone was good-natured. “Even you have to admit that he is one gorgeous piece of man. I mean, can Cordy pick them or what?”
“Well, if you ask me—”
“Pretend I didn’t.” She glared at the green demon, and walked over to join her fiancé.
Angel shot her an amused glance. “Wow what?” He sat down on the king-sized bed. It was gigantic. Roughly the size of her entire bedroom back at her old apartment.
Cordy bit her lip, slightly embarrassed to admit to being so…emotional. “It’s just, she—the woman at the front desk, she called me your fiancé. That’s the first time someone called me that.”
“Well, I only asked you a few hours ago.” Angel leaned down to tug off his socks and shoes.
“I know. And now, here we are, on the top floor of the Bellagio.” Cordy put down her purse and moved to stand in front of the full-length gilded mirror. “It’s just a little…”
“Scary?” There was that tiny hint of vulnerability in his voice, the one that always plucked at Cordy’s heart. It spoke of her ability to hurt him, and his to hurt her.
Running off to Vegas with Angel didn’t scare Cordelia. That power, that potential to inflict and receive pain, that scared the hell out of her.
But now was not the time to have that talk. She wasn’t sure there would be a time to have that talk. Now was a happy time. And if she didn’t say something soon, Angel wasn’t going to be very happy.
“No, not scary,” Cordelia said, congratulating herself on the evenness of her voice. She smoothed out some flyaway strands of hair. “I guess when she said it, it just made it, I don’t know, real.”
“Is that a bad thing?” She couldn’t see Angel in the reflection of the mirror, but she could feel his eyes boring into her. “Look, Cor, if this is moving too fast, if you, if you don’t want to marry me…”
She quickly turned around to face him, this man, this amazing man who, miracle of miracles, wanted to spend the rest of his un-life with her. She needed to reassure him, needed to say something to make Angel understand the depth of her feelings for him. “Don’t be a dumbass.”
His jaw dropped open in that adorable, awkward way of his. “Huh?”
She smiled as the fear and anxiety swirled away, locked back in the tiny box she tried so hard to keep it in. She pushed the momentary weakness into the past and all that was left was overwhelming love. Dear God how she loved him.
Cordelia took her time walking over to the bed, knowing Angel was taking in every detail. The steady rise and fall of her chest. The twist of hip, the flash of thigh. She came to stand in between his spread legs.
She tipped his chin up so he was looking at her face. “Of course I want to marry you.”
And just like that, her vampire was back. The worry clouds cleared, replaced by that clever, sexy smirk of his. “Tonight?” Both of his large hands came up to clasp her waist.
The cool pressure of his fingers was enough to speed her heart rate. Cordelia lightly ran a finger down his cheek. “Tonight.” Her voice came out low and husky and she felt it when his jaw twitched.
“Right now?” Angel asked, although she knew that he knew the answer. Cordelia had seen his eyes, knew the very second he had scented her need. During their short courtship, Cordy had learned just how hard it was to keep secrets from vampires.
“No, not right now.” She stepped further into the cradle of his body and wound her arms around his neck.
“What would you like to do right now?” Angel’s hands tightened, pulling her closer and closer until Cordelia was forced to slide each leg up on the bed so she was straddling him. Not that she was complaining. “Cordy?”
“Hmmm?” She started brushing soft dry kisses over his face. Over his left eyebrow. High on his right cheekbone. A slow series along his jaw line.
“Right now. What do you wanna do?” Angel’s voice came out growly and rough and it made every part of Cordelia damp and hot.
She leaned up, away from his face. “You.” She pushed at his shoulders, sending them both sprawling down onto the bed. Angel rolled them both so that when they came to a stop, Cordelia was firmly trapped between his body and the mattress.
“Did I mention how much I love this bed?” she managed to ask before his lips came down on hers.
When they finally broke for air, Angel had somehow managed to remove his sweater and Cordelia’s skirt was twisted around her waist. “What did you expect, this is the honeymoon suite.” He scooted down to lave his tongue over her exposed décolletage. Cordy’s legs settled around his waist, bringing her flush with his burgeoning erection. “You don’t even want to know how much this room costs a night.”
“Oh God.” Her thighs clenched involuntarily around him. He always knew just what to say to make her hot. “Yes I do.”
Angel looked up from her cleavage. “You just want me for my money,” he teased. Cordy ran one hand through his hair, so it stood up in messy spikes. Her other hand had another destination in mind.
“That’s not true honey. I want you for your money AND your body,” she informed him. His laugh turned into a groan when she curled her fingers around his hardened penis.
“Cordelia. Cordelia?” Spence was standing in front of her, looking puzzled and slightly annoyed. “Where did you go just then?” he asked, when he finally saw her vision focus on him.
She swallowed rapidly in an effort to soothe her suddenly dry throat. Spence, good solid Spence, her good solid fiancé stood in front of her, smiling innocuously, while she fantasized about her ex-husband.
And what the hell was that about, she wondered. Angel had been gone for years. The last time they’d seen each other she’d ended up in the rose bushes. He was just another piece of Cordelia’s past that she didn’t like to think about.
But for the last two weeks, that was seemingly all she had done. Think about Angel. Remember Angel.
“Sorry honey, I guess I was day-dreaming,” she told Spencer and leaned up to kiss him. Spence had wonderful lips. Full and soft. So what if she knew he kept Clinique’s All About Lips in his glove compartment and the girlishness of the habit never failed to irk her. She shouldn’t complain. She was, after all, reaping the rewards.
“Whoa there.” Spencer’s hands grabbed her shoulders, stopping her mid-lunge. “Your lipstick,” he reminded her.
Cordelia smiled mischievously. She’d had the same problem with Angel. He was always whining about her lipstick rubbing off on him. Of course, she’d always respond by literally smothering his entire face in lipsticky kisses. It might be fun to see Spence’s reaction…
“I don’t want you to smudge your lipstick,” he clarified. “That color looks wonderful on you by the way. New?”
Cor nodded, slightly shocky. A body of an Adonis, an investment portfolio, and he noticed her lipstick? She had found the perfect man. She had grown up dreaming of a man like this. This was it. All of those years, all the mistakes…the past no longer counted. All that mattered was her future. With Spence. It would be perfect.
He gave her a light hug and brushed a cool dry kiss on the side of her cheek. “Besides, I know you feel the same as I do about public displays of affection.”
Cordelia felt her cheeks color slightly. She did?
“She does?” Lorne asked, strolling over and catching the last bit of conversation. Connor followed at his usual slackerly pace.
“Lorne.” Cordelia’s voice held more than a little warning.
“I didn’t know you were so anti-PDA,” he told her with a wide grin. “I guess I must have imagined that night you almost got arrested at the beach.”
“Probably,” she said in a flat voice.
Lorne’s eyes sparkled in that way of his, that way that made Cordy want to kill him slowly. “Just like I imagined when you got kicked out of a movie theater at the Beverly Center.”
“You were clearly hallucinating.”
“It’s been known to happen.” Lorne shrugged. “I guess I was also hallucinating when I innocently walked into the Hyperion and found you on top—”
“Yup,” Cordelia cut him off before he could do anymore damage. “You should see someone about that. It was one big hallucination.”
Lorne looked doubtful. “It was?”
She wondered how many threats it was possible to communicate by arching one’s eyebrow. “It was.”
“No it wasn’t,” Connor felt obliged to point out. “I was with him!”
“Well then you should see someone too because it appears the hallucinations are contagious.” Cordelia’s mind was made up. That boy needed a good slap upside the head. With a hammer.
Suddenly Spencer let out a hearty laugh. “I get it.” They all stared at him. “You almost had me for a moment there. You three are hilarious.”
“We are?” Cordelia asked.
“Sure. Always joking around.” Spencer clucked her on the chin. “That one was really good. It was a lot more believable than that bit about you being a demon incubator.”
Lorne snorted in his effort to control his laughter. Connor wasn’t quite as amused. “You thought that was a—”
“My future wife has one hell of an imagination, doesn’t she?” Spence interrupted.
“Actually,” Connor began. This time Cordelia did hit him on the head.
“So Spencer,” she said, taking his hand and pulling him towards the bar, “how was your day?”
“Perfect now that I’m with you.”
Cordelia couldn’t help herself from giving him a huge grin. “You always say the perfect thing. I think I’m going to like being married to you.”
“I’m going to spend the rest of my life making sure of that.” The vow was so sincere, so adoring, that it made her smile falter. Cordy wasn’t entirely sure why. She signaled for the bartender, and ordered the usual—a vodka tonic for her, bourbon on the rocks for him.
“Cordelia.” Spencer tapped her on the shoulder.
“Darling I don’t drink bourbon.”
Cordy didn’t need a mirror to know she was blushing. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry. I don’t know why…I’ll take care of it.” Spence’s cell phone rang, so he merely nodded and walked over to a spot further away from the stage.
She was such a liar. She knew why. She’d ordered bourbon because bourbon WAS the usual. Once. Because once there had been someone who drank bourbon.
“Did I just hear what I thought I heard?” Lorne sidled up to the bar next to her. Cordy shot a quick glance at Spence and double checked that he was still on the phone.
“Don’t make this a bigger deal than it is,” she hissed. “It was an honest mistake.”
“Actually, that is what we professionals call a Freudian slip,” Connor corrected, coming to stand on Cordelia’s other side.
“You are a professional moron.”
“Hey Danny,” Lorne called to the bartender. “You can skip the bourbon and just get Spencer’s usual Michelob Ultra.”
Connor snorted. “He drinks low-carb beer?”
“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Cordy huffed. “Every man in L.A. does.” That was basically true. Spencer had always drunk Michelob Ultra. And she’d never forgotten that before. So why, now, two days before her wedding, was she suddenly ordering drinks for her ex-husband?
“Sorry about that,” Spencer quickly apologized. He returned to the group just as Danny arrived with their drinks. “What are we talking about?”
Cordelia took a long slow sip of her vodka tonic while her mind searched for an appropriate topic. Finally, her eyes settled on one. She slammed the glass down on the bar. “Oh my God. Are you wearing jeans?”
Spencer quickly glanced down at his jeans. “Why yes, I guess I am.”
“But, but you never wear jeans,” she stuttered. It was true. Spencer wore suits to work, he wore beautifully fitted black pants when they hit the clubs, and he wore khaki to play golf on the weekends. Never jeans. He always worried people wouldn’t take him seriously in jeans. He called it the Ryan Seacrest effect. “I didn’t even know you had jeans,” Cordelia exclaimed.
“Well, I didn’t until yesterday. I figured I needed some grubby clothes.”
“Darling, I’ve been doing work for the wedding all day. I’m talking hours of back-breaking labor.”
Connor coughed. “You did hours of hard labor?” He sounded doubtful.
Spencer had the good graces to look sheepish. “Well, no, I supervised. But supervising can be very messy.” Connor nodded as if he agreed.
“They look awful,” Cordelia blurted out.
“Who?” Spencer glanced behind him, eager to see the walking fashion faux-pas his fiancé was referring to.
“Your jeans. They are wretched.” They were. “They look too short. And too new. And…and are they ironed?” Something had to be done. Cordy reached for her drink and then, cool as a cucumber, she poured it all over Spencer’s jeans.
“Danny, we’ll need another vodka tonic,” Lorne hollered.
“Cordelia! These are new,” Spence said, dabbing futilely at the spots with a cocktail napkin.
“No darling, they WERE new,” she told him with a giggle. “And they look much better now.”
Spencer sighed dramatically. “Honey, half the reason I worked so hard to make that first million was so I could have clothes that weren’t stained.” Cordelia just shrugged and flashed that small guilty smile of hers, the one they both knew he couldn’t resist. Danny came and brought her second drink, placing it on the bar next to the forgotten copy of “US Weekly.”
“Say, is there anything in there about the wedding?” Spencer asked, reaching for the magazine.
“What!” Cordelia nearly dumped a second drink on him.
“I just figured there would be more publicity,” he explained. “I mean, they always print pictures of you when you go out, and I’m not exactly unknown myself.” He looked up when Cordelia didn’t answer and noticed she was now standing several feet from him. “What’s wrong?” he asked, following after her.
“Chasing people around with cameras? Obsessing over the tiniest details of their private lives? What could possibly be wrong with that? Besides Spence, you know how I feel about that magazine and you know who owns it.”
Spencer put down the magazine. “You needn’t be so dramatic about cutting that law firm out of your life. They’re not bad contacts to have. I bet they could do wonders for my business.” Cordy turned to walk away again. He grabbed her arm before she could. “Cordelia, you know I haven’t completely ruled out politics.”
“So?” She didn’t how that related to the current topic of conversation.
He put his hands on her shoulders. “So, if I’m going to set my beautiful wife up in the governor’s mansion one day, I’ll need some powerful allies. What I’m saying is, I don’t think it’s wise to completely alienate Wolfram and Hart. They’re not that bad.”
Spencer smiled knowingly. “That’s what people say about every successful organization. Wolfram and Hart. Microsoft. The Yankees. They’re all supposedly evil.
Cordelia’s jaw dropped. “They tried to buy my eyes!”
“Honey that was just business.”
“When Connor was a baby, they wanted to dissect him” she pointed out.
“Yeah,” Connor said.
“I’m sure it was just supposed to be a check-up,” Spencer offered.
Cordelia still had plenty of ammunition. “They’re the ones who canceled ‘My So-Called Life’.”
“I knew it!” Lorne screamed. Everyone turned to stare at him. “I knew it,” he repeated in a quieter voice.
“My point is this,” Cordy told Spencer. “I’m done with that law firm and no one remotely connected to them is setting foot in my house.” She raised her glass to take a sip but Spencer grabbed her arm.
“Our house,” he corrected.
“Yes, of course,” Cordelia hurriedly brushed over. “That’s what I meant. OUR house,” she said carefully. “They’re not getting anywhere near our house.”
Meanwhile, across town, on the 23rd floor of a towering silver and black building…
Jennifer Braun was on edge. This was not a typical emotion for her. She’d been at Wolfram and Hart for almost four years now and she’d been Lilah Morgan’s secretary for the past two. She didn’t scare easily. Not only was Jennifer employed by a woman who was technically dead, but in the course of her work, she’d seen all types. Oily Harvard Law grads. Demons every color of the rainbow. One time there was this guy who had antlers that were dripping slime.
None of them set her on edge the way the couple sitting on the couch across from her desk did.
There were no antlers or slime. In fact, they both looked human. Jennifer struggled to rationalize her unease. It’s not that they were scary…it was power. They reeked of it. There was a quiet confidence about them that they shouldn’t have, knowing what Jennifer knew about their current situation. They weren’t exactly here by choice.
Still, there was this aura about them. Like they could snap their fingers and bring the entire building down in seconds. Jennifer had only met one other person who exuded power like they did. That hunky vampire who used to be the CEO.
Miss Morgan would want to know they had arrived. She picked up the phone and buzzed her employer’s office.
“Yes Jennifer?” Lilah’s voice was chilly and composed, as always, but there was something else to it, something new. An undercurrent of excitement. Like whatever she had planned for today was going to bring her immense joy.
“The freelancers you hired to deal with the Cordelia Chase situation are here,” the secretary said quietly.
“Perfect,” Lilah exclaimed. “I’ve got Governor Schwarzenegger on hold, give me five minutes to finish the call and then send them in.”
Jennifer hung up the phone and nervously watched the clock for the requisite five minutes. Then she took a deep breath and walked over to the sitting area.
“Excuse me. Miss Summers, Mr. Harris. Miss Morgan will see you now.”