Angel and Cordelia attend a Valentine Ball in order to catch a demon.
- CONTENTS: C/A in AtS
- CATEGORY: Holiday Fic / Valentine’s Day
- RATING: R/NC-17
- LENGTH: Short Story / 12,000 words
- STATUS: Completed
- CHALLENGE CREDIT: Pushydame / Valentine’s Day Ficathon at Stranger Things
- FICPIC CREDIT: Lysa
Saving those couples tonight at the Valentine Ball came with a steep price— the kind that couldn’t be paid in blood.
Because it wasn’t the four inch scrape reddening the pale skin along Angel’s side, or the deeper wound that Cordelia carefully probed as she knelt on the floor between his open thighs that cost him. It was Cordy herself.
Their friendship was about to be tested for the first time since his epiphany dragged him back from the edge of the abyss.
Angel had as much right as the others to feel pumped up about their win. They’d been a team out there tonight. Maybe he’d done the heavy hitting when it came down to it, but everyone chipped in during the fight, even Cordelia who probably shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
Tagging along was an argument he’d lost almost before he opened his mouth. There was no way in hell he wanted her out there in the middle of a fight, especially after what she described from her vision. Plenty of reasons existed on her part for going with them, and Angel couldn’t find a single response that explained away the fear rotting away in his gut.
In the end, he couldn’t deny her what she wanted. When she slid into her spot in the front seat of the Plymouth, Angel felt startled by the idea that she belonged there by his side. Then he remembered the way he’d pushed her out of his life, fired her to protect her from what he had to become. He’d cut her feelings to the core and that hurt him just as much knowing that he’d wounded their friendship.
One night he’d been tempted to forget their friendship existed, feeling his instinct to take what was his pushed to the limits. It had nothing to do with the damn book. Crowding her against that bookcase, he wanted to let her taste just how far into shadow he’d fallen. Let her see who he really was and imagined briefly what he might do if she kept defying him.
Angel wondered if Cordelia suspected just how close he’d come to dragging her down to that dark place with him. From her expression, he guessed that secret was safe. “Enough with the staring. It’s a ball. We’re supposed to dress up.”
Actually, it was a knock-down, drag-out demon fight held in a dank alley marked by the putrid scent of decay. No tuxedos required, but they all followed Cordelia’s suggestion to go early and mingle with the ritzy crowd in order to spot their target. It wasn’t the first time they’d gone undercover during a mission, nor was it that big of a deal to hide a few weapons on his person.
He had to wonder exactly where Cordelia was hiding hers.
The body-hugging crimson gown clinging to every curve didn’t leave much room for anything except the beautiful woman who filled it to perfection. Angel tried not to notice just how perfect, but failed. Vampire he might be, but he was still all male. He had eyes.
The upswept softness hair, the luscious curve of her lips, the dangling earrings along the line of her throat and the way the dress formed a distracting décolletage as it cupped her breasts, dragging his gaze lower.
Cordelia shifted against the seat, getting comfortable, but it caused the slit in her skirt to flap open exposing a glimpse of silken thighs— and the strap holding the retractable mini crossbow in place. The sight made his cock throb. This was hardly the first time looking at a gorgeous woman had gotten him hard, but this was Cordy. Thinking about what their friendship meant to him only made it worse.
The desolate emptiness he’d felt before his epiphany was like a stake he’d driven into his own heart. A gaping hole was left behind empty of feelings of love, friendship, family. Devoid of everything including her, especially her, because Cordelia was the one person who made him feel human. Doyle was right. She humanized him. And in order to become what he needed to be in order to deal with Darla and Drusilla, he thought he had to strip himself of that.
But he’d been wrong.
“Your hardware’s showing,” Cordelia leaned over to tug the sleeve of his tuxedo jacket down over the tipped edge of the double-ratcheted stakes strapped to his forearms.
The warmth of her hand lingered when she squeezed his hand and gave him a smile that would’ve stopped his heart if it wasn’t already stone cold in his chest. “So is yours,” he said with a nod toward her thighs.
“Oh!” After brushing the gown back into place, Cordelia flashed a grin toward the back seat where Gunn and Wesley had taken up their usual spots. “Like it? Wes helped me.”
His gut clenched at the picture forming in his head. Wesley bent on one knee in front of Cordy with his hands on her thigh as he helped her with the weapon strap. “No, I don’t like it,” he flicked a glance toward the back seat where his new boss failed to notice his icy stare. Reminding Cordelia, “You shouldn’t be here in the first place.”
“You’re not the boss of me anymore.” A smirk spread across her lips as she crooked one eyebrow up. “I don’t take orders from the hired help.”
Hearing it wasn’t quite as cutting as it had been the first twenty times. Now it was almost a game, even if it did have a hint of bite to it. Just enough for him to want to bite back, or make that smirk disappear. Since when did he picture himself doing that by kissing those glossy lips until they were red and swollen from taking her mouth again and again?
A low grunt escaped his throat. Cordelia took it as a response to her comment. “No need to get so grumpy about it. You begged to come back.”
Angel’s jaw tightened as he shoved the key into the ignition. “I never begged. I’m not the begging type.”
As he pulled the car away from the curb, Cordelia snorted, “Sounds like a challenge.”
Though he knew she was probably envisioning him begging for his life at some future training session if she ever managed to get the drop on him again, Angel had a different scenario in mind. When the words, “Beg for it, Angel,” came out of that luscious mouth, it would have nothing to do that kind of sword play.
It took all of his concentration to focus on what to expect when they got to the hotel. He glanced through the rear view mirror at Wes and Gunn. Unlike Angel, the guys weren’t in tuxedos. Dressed comfortably in their regular clothes, the plan was for them to cover the alley while Angel and Cordelia crashed the party. Once they identified the demon preying upon the unsuspecting guests, they’d lure him outside.
As plans went it wasn’t the worst they’d ever come up with, but somehow Angel couldn’t recall any other plans that required him to dance. He’d been comforted when told that the dancing would be of the ‘slow, waltzy variety’ rather than something faster requiring any boogy-woogying or head-banging.
There was only one kind of head banging that Angel understood and that kind involved smashing faces into brick walls.
Some of the dancing he’d seen at the Bronze and witnessed at other clubs was blatantly sexual. It was seduction on the dance floor, going through the motions without removing a shred of clothing. He’d long since mastered sex and the intricacies of seduction. So why couldn’t he put that to music? Because the intimacy of dancing was a dangerous temptation he’d long ago given up.
Tonight, for the sake of the mission, he’d be dancing with Cordelia at the Valentine Ball. Any attempt to convince himself that it wasn’t something more went the way of the dodo when she showed up in that dress. At least he wasn’t the only one picking his jaw up off the floor. Gunn and Wes were just as bowled over, though both men quickly gave Cordy quite brotherly compliments.
The three of them had bonded while he’d been away. Gotten even closer without him. He hated that, and the jealousy it caused. They treated Cordelia like their favorite sister and she ate up the attention. It occurred to him that she could have fallen for one of them— or anyone for that matter. A painful streak of possessiveness gnawed at that raw spot inside at the idea that Cordelia might one day leave him.
She’d promised to stay with him, he remembered. Because no matter what had happened between then and now, he intended to hold her to that.
The drive to the hotel that was hosting the ball went by in a blur. Wesley droned on about strategy and reminded them about exploiting the demon’s weaknesses during the fight. It wasn’t the demon that occupied Angel’s thoughts. In his mind he was slow dancing with Cordelia, their bodies brushing against one another as they swayed to the music.
Soon enough, that fantasy became reality. They arrived at the ball where Cordelia gave a convincing performance to get them in the door. The doorman’s gaze never went higher than her cleavage. Angel felt like decking him, but curtailed the urge only because they were trying to get into the ball rather than get thrown out.
After the doorman finally gave the okay for them to enter, and he looked up in time to see Angel’s dark glare, the goofy grin on his face vanished quickly enough. His eyes darted away. He gulped and turned back toward the line of people waiting to get in.
Angel scented sweat and fear, an instinctive human response when faced with a predator. Not their demon. Just a nervous boy who didn’t know when to keep his eyes to himself.
Palming the small of Cordelia’s back, Angel led her further into the ballroom. He leaned in close to growl, “Looks like your plan worked. We’re in.”
“It’s amazing what you can get with a smile and Oscar-worthy talent like mine,” Cordelia beamed at him.
On hindsight, maybe he should’ve dropped the subject. “That wasn’t what convinced him to let us in.”
Cordelia turned away from perusing the glittering gowns of the Los Angeles elite and propped her hands on her hips as she faced him. He expected anger, but her eyes showed surprise more than anything else. “You’re saying he was staring at my boobs.”
“What? No, I didn’t say that.” He suddenly felt as nervous as that pimple-faced doorman.
She shrugged. “It’s true. Why deny it? He’s a guy. Most guys actually notice when I look hot. Some actually, y’know, pay me compliments.”
Like Wesley and Gunn had done earlier. He hadn’t because he couldn’t speak. Because she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. His throat had dried up and his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth.
Women used to swoon at his compliments back in the day when he hadn’t meant half of what he said. They’d come easily to his lips. A sweet word, a soft whisper intended to seduce them into his arms. That wasn’t what he was trying to do, not with Cordelia. She was too precious to him for false sentiments, his friend. Something even more precious than that, if it even had a name.
Angel couldn’t think of any words that justified his feelings and that scared the hell out of him. Hesitating only caused Cordelia to roll her eyes as if his inaction had confirmed her expectations. She turned her attention back to the ball. “Maybe we should split up. Cover more ground.”
“No,” he snapped more harshly than intended. There was no way he was letting her out of his arms—sight—tonight. “We’ll stick together. It’s a couple’s ball. Less suspicious that way.”
Since that had been one of her arguments for tagging along, Cordelia agreed. “Then we should dance.”
When she stepped close, Angel folded his hand around hers. It felt so small within his grasp. Her breathing changed, a small catch sounding in her throat, her heartbeat picking up just a fraction. Long lashes shadowed her eyes as she looked down as he moved his other hand to clasp her waist.
Cordelia lifted her hand to his shoulder and simultaneously raised her gaze, light catching in her hazel eyes. “It’s our first time. We’ve never done this before.” Smiling, she meant it innocently enough, but Angel thought of other things they’d never done and other first times he’d like to have.
He pulled her closer into his arms as they joined the other dancers mid-song. It was an arrangement he didn’t recognize. Classical in style, but something new. “No, we haven’t. You once asked me to dance at the Bronze.”
“That was different,” Cordelia looked annoyed that he reminded her of her former crush. “You also turned me down, which never happens to me, by the way. I guess you were too into Buffy to—”
Angel stumbled one step at the sound of his ex’s name. She’d been so far off his mind at the moment that mentioning her felt like a kick in the gut. Not because of the memories, but because she was the last person he wanted to think about right now.
“Don’t,” he cut her off.
“Don’t what—talk about Buffy?” She was quiet for about thirty seconds, which was how long it took her to drum up a reason why. “Valentine’s Day sucks for all of us, Angel, but that doesn’t mean you have to dredge up the angst every time someone mentions Buffy’s name.”
That didn’t change the fact that Buffy had no place in that moment, their first time on the dance floor. Everything that was wrong about their relationship crowded his head and he struggled to rid himself of those thoughts. Because after Buffy, he’d decided relationships were something he couldn’t have. Not like that.
Yet here he was with Cordelia in his arms dancing to a dangerous tune that had nothing to do with the orchestra or the waltz. “We’re on a case,” he reminded with a harsh tone. “We need to stay focused.”
“Whatever.” Cordelia didn’t buy it for a minute, but for once she shut up.
Angel pulled her arms around his neck selfishly wanting to feel her closer. She melted against him, swaying to the music. The warmth of her body soaked through his clothes spreading across his skin like a wildfire. Her scent intoxicated him. The softness of her hair brushed against his cheek as he leaned in.
They had a mission, Angel knew, one that couldn’t be ignored. The song was almost over and he intended to indulge himself for those last few seconds while they danced their first dance. One that might be their last. Because it was too tempting to have her in his arms.
It was over too soon. Separating felt like being ripped in half. The warm imprint left by her body began to cool the moment she stepped away. Angel stared hungrily at her lips, his eyes dark circles of desire, wanting nothing more than to bridge the distance between them.
Recognition flashed in her eyes, urgent desire equaling his own, quickly clouded by a look of confusion. “You were right. Talking about Buffy wasn’t such a good idea. We should get to work.”
The clipped tone told him he was in trouble. Just how Cordelia made the leap between him wanting to kiss her and somehow thinking he actually wanted Buffy was a mystery. One of those female things he would never understand. This was the wrong time for such a big blunder.
Even if he could find the words to make it right they were supposed to be tracking down a demon. Angel couldn’t let it go. He started to shake his head, to try to say anything that would explain that she was dead wrong without actually having to tell her he wanted to kiss her— because that would be admitting too much. Her shoulders tensed and he saw that she was about to make a run for it.
He reached out for her wrist intending to drag her back into his arms until he thought of something appropriate to say. Cordelia instinctively snatched her arm out of the way an instant before he could grab it. She walked off the dance floor swiftly moving through the crowd that awaited the next song. Angel bolted after her.
They were supposed to be mingling, checking for visible signs that one of the ballroom guests was not human and somehow luring the demon outside. Neither one of them saw the red glow in the waiter’s eyes as they brushed past him.
Angel cornered Cordelia before she could reach the emergency exit. “Dammit, Cordelia, I asked you to wait.”
“That’s what I plan to do…wait outside with the guys.”
Somehow, he’d really screwed up without knowing if it was because he’d been paying her too little attention or too much. He tried to talk her into staying. “We haven’t found the demon yet.”
“You were going to do that without me.” She shrugged one shoulder, crossed her arms under her breasts. The added cleavage didn’t help Angel’s cause. He heard a snort. “And apparently this dress is distracting you.”
Dragging his eyes back up, Angel shook his head. “No, but the woman in it—she’s the one distraction I can’t do without.”
Cordelia gave him a hard stare. “Seriously? Ohhhh! I get it. Wes says the demon goes for dysfunctional couples. Phony compliments aren’t going to attract it, Angel.”
He was about to point out that there was nothing insincere about what he’d said when he felt a finger tap him on the shoulder. “Can I can help you?”
It was a tall, beak-nosed waiter carrying a tray of champagne glasses. “No. We’re a little busy.” Angel did not care that he sounded rude.
The waiter didn’t budge. “You’re not being very nice about this. I’ve got something for your obtuse little friend.”
Angel turned slowly, his senses suddenly on high alert. The guy didn’t smell human. It was the demon in an unexpectedly unimposing form.
“What did he call me?” Cordelia reached for a glass of champagne. “I don’t know what you think is going on here, buddy, but I’m perfectly safe and don’t need rescuing.”
“Cordy, I think you should go talk to our friends.”
Rolling her eyes, Cordelia deliberately downed half a glass of bubbly. “First you want me to stay and now you’re trying to get rid of me? Pfft! I came here to rub shoulders with the rich and famous and that’s what I’m gonna do.”
Cordelia moved over to the nearest empty table and set the champagne glass down. For a moment, Angel thought she really meant what she said, but as soon as the demon wasn’t looking, she met Angel’s gaze over her shoulder and nodded toward the door. Relieved, Angel considered the options for luring the demon outside without causing too much of a fuss.
“Do you have trouble connecting?” the demon inquired.
Angel’s hand curled into a fist at his side. “Not really.” He wanted nothing more than to punch the guy right now.
“I sense that you’re at odds with your feelings. You need harmony, balance.”
Over the demon’s shoulder, Angel saw Cordelia lift her foot onto one of the chairs in order to reach for the weapon hidden beneath her skirt. He sent her a look that told her not to risk it. There were too many people around.
“I sense that you have trouble communicating.”
Her bottom lip jutted out. She lowered her foot back to the floor and motioned with some sweeping arm movements for Angel to lead the demon toward the door. Cordelia glanced down at the table’s centerpiece and smiled.
“We communicate just fine,” Angel grunted stubbornly.
“I sense—ugh!” The demon grunted as Cordelia brought the heavy silver candlestick holder down hard on the back of his head. The tray of champagne glasses crashed to the floor as the demon fell forward into Angel’s arms.
Cordelia whirled around to face the crowd who turned their way, sent everyone a wide smile and claimed, “Just a little accident. He’ll be fine. I think he needs a little air.”
Dropping the candlestick, she ran to open the emergency exit as Angel dragged the semi conscious demon outside. She slapped the waiter’s head as they passed. “That’s what you get for calling me obtuse.”
Gunn and Wesley were waiting on the other side of the door, axe and sword at the ready. They both looked surprised to see the scrawny human specimen being brought outside. It certainly didn’t look like the vicious beast Cordelia had described in her vision.
“Man, I was all pumped up for a fight,” Gunn relaxed his two-handed grip on the axe and shouldered it, “and all you’re bringing me is some guy in a penguin suit?”
“Cordelia’s visions are not always exact, but usually can be depended upon to be a degree or two more accurate,” agreed Wesley. This humanoid demon didn’t appear dangerous at all.
Gunn headed back to the open trunk of the Plymouth to put the axe away. “You sure that Barbie didn’t just want to go to the ball?”
“I don’t fake visions just to get into parties.” Cordelia stuck out her tongue even though she knew he was just playing with her. The mission was a serious thing. “I don’t know what happened. In my vision, the demon was nothing like that guy. He was going all Dr Phil on us.”
“Terrifying,” Wes shuddered mockingly. “Good job that Angel knocked him out.”
Angel dropped the waiter to the asphalt where he landed with a thud. “Actually, Cordy did it— in the ballroom…with a candlestick.”
As soon as he said it, Cordelia, Gunn and Wes broke out laughing. Angel joined them by the car and waited for someone to explain what was so funny. “It wasn’t the most subtle move, but effective. There’s some rope in the trunk. We should tie him up.”
There was definitely something he was missing, but Angel didn’t have a clue. The three of them finally quieted down long enough to move out of the way. The silence was short. A human groan deepened into a demonic droning that wouldn’t end. They turned swiftly to face the captured demon only to see its innocuous human form reshaping itself into something larger, uglier and far more deadly.
Cordelia had only seen the bloodied corpses of its victims, not the creature itself, but she knew what it could do. “Um, guys—I’m pretty sure that’s what I saw in my vision.” The vague understanding of its purpose and the knowledge of where it would strike brought them to the Valentine Ball.
Letting down their guard had cost them time when the demon was most vulnerable. Now Angel’s worries about allowing Cordelia to come with them were coming back to haunt him tenfold. The middle of a fight was the last place he wanted her to be. Because he knew he couldn’t bear it if anything happened to her. The thought was almost paralyzing.
Then, just as he turned to order her to a safe distance, Angel watched Cordelia hike up her skirt and yank the folded crossbow from its leather strapping. The bow snapped into its open position, her skirt fell back into place and she was standing there in her crimson gown and high heels looking hell-bent on claiming first blood.
For a split second, he let the image freeze-frame in his head. A quirk lifted one corner of his mouth as he recognized that determined flare in her eyes from their training sessions. Pride tightened his chest. It couldn’t dislodge the fear he felt for her sake. There was only one way to ensure her safety.
Kill the demon.
Angel reached for his favorite broadsword and charged forward, skin and bone shifting as he morphed into his fanged form.
They’d won, but Angel wasn’t in a celebrating mood.
He’d failed at his main objective. Keeping Cordelia safe was difficult enough without her involvement in the fray. Normally, she focused on defense. Staved off whoever dared to attack her until Angel could take care of the bastard.
There had been other brawls, other battles. It wasn’t the first time Cordy had been around during a fight. This was different, somehow. When her crossbow ran out of bolts and she dropped it in favor of picking up a lead pipe from the stash of weapons in the trunk, he felt his heart jolt with fear.
Undead hearts rarely jolted with anything, but his was lodged in his throat giving him a hint of understanding as to why he had been in such a cold and desolate place during those months without her. Losing her then was his own stupid fault. Getting her back was still a work in progress. Losing her forever—the idea of it made him a little crazy.
He went for the kill. The demon punished him for his over-confidence backhanding him with a pounding blow that sent him flying ten feet through the air straight at Cordelia.
Alerted by her cry, he twisted to the right. The clank of the pipe hit the asphalt first. She dove in the other direction. Quick reflexes allowed her to escape the brunt of the impact, but Angel’s elbow clipped her cheekbone sending her crashing to the ground along with him.
Cordelia was alive no thanks to him. Stunned, she lay where she’d fallen. Blood red streaks of scraped skin across one shoulder and down the length of her arm. “Angel,” she muttered.
“Cordy!” With her name on his lips, he rolled to his feet ignoring the pain stabbing at his chest in order to get to her. Shouts of concern sounded behind them even as their friends continued to fight the demon. Without thinking about it, he asked, “Baby, are you okay?”
Dazed hazel eyes stared back at him. Her cheek was red and already swelling. “Fine,” she said shakily as he helped her to her feet. Tracing the bloody scrapes with his eyes, Angel knew Cordelia was lying. He could sense her pain, see it in her face. Added to lingering vision pain, it wasn’t so easy to fake it.
Guilt punched him in the gut. It was his fault that she had the visions in the first place. If he had stopped Doyle from taking that leap it would’ve been different. Doyle would still be alive and Cordelia would never have taken on the burden of the visions. Now he had physically hurt her.
Standing more steadily, she moved one step closer and raised her hand to his cheek even though it was hers that needed comforting. “I’m fine, Angel, but Wes and Gunn won’t be unless you get back in there.”
Good fighters, the two men held their own without him, but neither managed to gain an advantage. Angel provided the difference making quick work it. Afterward, both Wesley and Gunn made a fuss over Cordelia’s injuries, but she sounded more concerned about tar stains on her dress.
They dealt with the routine disposal of the demon parts in quick fashion and headed back to the Hyperion. This was normally the part of the night that Cordy dragged out her First Aid Kit and took care of them. What a long way she had come since the night he’d saved her from Russell Winters when she nearly got sick and fainted at the sight of his wounds.
“You’re bleeding.” Angel’s comment earned him an eye roll for stating the obvious as he climbed behind the wheel.
Cordelia shrugged her good shoulder. “I know, Mr. State the Obvious Vamp. Don’t freak out. I won’t get any blood on your precious upholstery.”
That wasn’t what he meant, but it was easier to let it go. He needed to get her home and that required paying some sort of attention to the road ahead.
When they arrived at the hotel, it was Wesley who helped her out of the car. “We should clean those scrapes immediately. You might need a few plasters.”
“Angel—,” she started to protest because she hadn’t actually had time to check him for injuries.
Cutting her off, Wesley emphasized, “Angel will survive until we are finished with you.”
Having sustained only a few cuts and bruises of their own, Gunn and Wesley were more focused on Cordelia than themselves, fussing over every little bruise and scrape. Angel felt his jaw tighten as he watched them tending her, his senses tingling as the scent of fresh blood hit the air. For a brief moment, he thought about tasting her. Not just a quick swipe of his tongue across those wounds, but having the right, the permission to taste her wherever he wanted.
That kind of thinking led straight to sex. Angel pictured it for a moment without trying to erase the image from his head. He let his eyes linger on her face, the curve of her lips and the delicate line of her throat. Smudged with dirt, her cheek was swollen and bruised, her dress damaged beyond hope of repair, but Cordelia was still alluringly beautiful.
Suddenly, her gaze flicked in his direction, catching him staring. He shifted away from the wall and walked closer, ignoring the pain in his ribs, aching muscles that screamed for rest and the multiple contusions serving as dully throbbing reminders that he had won the fight. Cordelia saw all of it, her expression changing to one of alarm.
“What are you doing? You should be upstairs already,” she lectured even as she held out her left arm for Wesley who dabbed cautiously at her skin with a wet cloth. “I’ll be up in a minute.”
Angel glanced at the stairs, but he wasn’t ready to go. He held out a hand for the First Aid Kit, catching Gunn’s eye and nodding in the direction of the door. “You two should get the weapons cleaned up. I’ll take care of Cordy.”
Gunn looked reluctant to hand over the kit. With just a hint of nasty, he was reminded, “You already blew that job once.”
“That wasn’t intentional,” Angel stated coolly while staring back, “and you know it.”
He had a long way to go to smooth things over with the guys. When he came back, Cordy had come right out and told him that he hurt her feelings. It was different with Wes and Gunn. They were guys. Even if his actions cut them to the quick, they had to work it out. Actions spoke louder than words. Angel preferred action.
A snort sounded from Cordelia, a couple of seconds passed, and finally Gunn cracked a huge grin. “Man, you’re easy. I’m just dissing you.” He pushed the kit toward Angel. “If Barbie wants you to play doctor, that’s fine with me.”
Wesley paused as he dabbed her wounds clean. “Actually, it’s not a bad idea. The faster it gets done, the sooner we can all go home to rest. Some of us are scheduled to meet with a prospective client in the morning.”
“You’re the boss,” Angel patted his shoulder perfectly content to let Wesley handle the task of meeting new people.
Cordelia gave that one-shouldered nonchalant shrug again. “Makes sense to me. He can’t even stand up straight right now,” her critical gaze swept down Angel’s body, “much less haul heavy equipment around.”
Hunched ever so slightly to dull the ache, Angel immediately straightened up his spine, cringing inwardly at the shooting pain that resulted. “It’s not that bad,” he lied.
“Then you should be able to haul your fat ass up the stairs,” Cordy said and then hissed again as Wes rubbed a little too hard. She slapped his hand causing him to yelp. “Right back attcha, Dr. Evil.”
Angel was already halfway up the stairs when Cordelia caught up with him. He glared at her over his shoulder, mumbling, “My ass isn’t fat.”
“You aren’t seeing it from this angle,” she joked. “Those pants are pretty snug.”
What was she doing staring at his pants? Angel’s mind raced at the idea that she might be checking him out. When it occurred to him that he was still wearing his long duster and Cordelia couldn’t even see the back of his pants, Angel realized that she was just having a little fun at his expense. A strange sense of disappointment accompanied him on the rest of his trek up the stairs.
Still, the subject bothered him. There was nothing wrong with his ass. He might be battered and bruised at the moment, but that was just temporary. Angel groaned. What the hell was he thinking? Cordelia wasn’t interested in seeing his ass. Kicking it for what he’d done to her tonight was more like it.
Overhearing his groan, Cordelia asked, “You okay?”
“No,” he said because he didn’t feel like lying anymore.
It took a second for his response to sink in. As if Cordy expected to hear the same ‘fine’ that she was used to giving him. Angel opened the door to his suite, leaned back into the doorframe and waited for her to pass. She stopped in front of him halfway between the hall and his bedroom. “So help me, Angel if you’re really hurt and you didn’t say a word to me…”
Grabbing the lapels of his coat, Cordelia opened it up to check for any visible injuries. A sharp intake of her breath was enough to let him know she’d found them. There were two punctures along his chest wall, one of them deep enough to cause the blood to soak through the inner lining of his duster. The other hadn’t bled as much, but it hurt like hell.
The wounds were the least of his worries. Cordelia was pissed. Well, she could join the club. Angel wasn’t exactly a candidate for the Cheerful Employee of the Month Award. He was still mad at her for insisting on coming along tonight. Not to mention being mad at himself for letting her.
Since when did he let Cordelia get away with anything she wanted? Oh, right. Like he’d ever had a choice.
Cordelia snatched the First Aid Kit from his hand and kept hold of one lapel in order to drag him into the bedroom. He made a move toward the bed thinking it would be great to dive onto it and sleep for about a year. By then he might have cooled down and forgotten everything that happened tonight.
“Not so fast, buster,” she stopped moving which kept him close. “Unless you want your sheets covered in blood we need to get you cleaned up first.”
These old hotel rooms were built for function. When they’d expanded his suite to include the room next door to provide him with a kitchenette and a space for his favorite leather armchair and books, they had left the bathroom alone. A single sink and the old tub with its showerhead had seemed perfectly adequate. The toilet remained lid down. He’d later added a cabinet for towels, shaving equipment, hair products, and other personal hygiene items.
Crowded together, there was just enough room to stand by the sink. Angel moved stiffly as he shrugged off his duster. He tossed it on top of the hamper and leaned back against the edge of the sink while Cordelia started unbuttoning his shirt. Lecturing him as she did it, “You should’ve said something about getting stabbed. There was nothing in Wesley’s research that said anything about spiny darts. What if they were poisonous? What if they caused hallucinations—or…or…”
“Obviously, they were just spines,” Angel cringed as she peeled his shirt away from the wounds. Congealing blood clung to the material and smeared his chest.
After giving him one of those arch-browed glares, she slid her hands underneath his shirt and over his shoulders, pushing it off, dragging it down his arms, undressing him. He’d never really thought of it that way. Before, it was just about getting to the wounds. Now every brush of her fingers and the warm slide of her skin across his were doing things to his equilibrium.
The scent of their blood amplified by the small space gave him a buzz even before Cordy touched him. He felt her fingertips trail down the length of his chest as she shifted over to examine one of the wounds. An experimental poke drew a low growl from his throat as a streak of pain arced out like lightning across his chest.
“Just what I thought,” Cordelia huffed sharply. “Bad. It’s deep. You need blood. No wonder you look pale.”
He didn’t need to be reminded when the scent of her blood was right under his nose. “I’ll deal with that later. Just get on with it.”
Taking a second to blow the hair out of her eyes, Cordelia fixed an arch-browed stare upon him. “What’s with the craptitude? No wonder Gunn and Wes chose cleaning duty instead of sticking around. Spill it.”
Valentine’s Day was one problem.
In the past, as Angelus, he’d mocked and degraded it turning love inside out because he knew only lust and obsession. He’d used love like a weapon to hurt everyone around him. When he saw it in others he’d killed any spark of hope for their future just like he’d killed Jenny Calendar and laid her body out on a bed of rose petals for her lover to find. Disgust twisted him up inside as he put himself in that position and pictured Cordelia in her place, posed so serenely, beautiful, broken and devoid of life.
The thought of it was hell enough much less the reality he’d put Giles through. He could never make up for that, but at least he understood the pain. The 14th stood for everything he wanted and couldn’t have.
That brought him to number two on his list of troubles. The fault wasn’t entirely his, he realized, staring absently at the way the light caressed her cheek as she tilted her head to get a better look at the wound— the rest was hers. “You’re my problem.”
“More like your worst nightmare if you don’t hold still,” Cordelia pushed at his hips to hold him in place. Either she wasn’t paying attention, didn’t take him seriously, or she could care less that he had issues that involved her. Reaching into the First Aid Kit lying open on the countertop beside him, she pulled out something reminiscent of a torture device.
The long metal clamp opened and closed when tested. “Perfect. You’ve got little bits of something stuck in there.”
A low grunt escaped his throat knowing that the deep wound probably wouldn’t be there if he had been paying attention to the demon instead of keeping an eye on Cordy.
Cordelia had insisted on going and he’d been too damned selfish about having her around to say no. “That’s the last time you’re going to risk your life unnecessarily.” Gritting his teeth against the pain as the probing clamp pulled out taking a jagged shard with it, Angel watched her mouth form a stubborn line.
“Tell that to the people we saved.”
He wasn’t finished. Having imagined any number of horrors that might have resulted from one misstep, Angel lightly brushed his fingertips through her soft hair, tucking a wayward strand behind her ear. Losing Cordy wasn’t an option he was willing to face, not after everything they had gone through to rediscover their friendship.
Angel almost didn’t recognize his voice as it thickened, “You got hurt.” She’d already been through so damned much because of him. It wasn’t right for her to be placed in danger that way, directly in the fight.
For an instant, Cordelia looked like she didn’t know what to say, which had to be a first. She nudged his hand away with her cheek. “Pfft! I’m not the one with the big hole in my gut. Now sit down.”
It was possible that she was the only person in the world he’d let get away with brushing him off and ordering him around at the same time. The slow descent onto the closed toilet lid wasn’t pleasant. It hurt like hell, but the pain was nothing when his senses tuned in to her. She stepped close again and then knelt on the floor between his legs.
Settling in for the business of cleaning his wound, Cordelia’s free hand dropped onto his thigh. The muscle beneath jerked her fingers as they inched higher sliding along the seam of his pants. Questioning hazel eyes flicked upward, but Angel put on his best poker face and strained to hold still. The space was cramped. Pushing at his leg was just her way of trying to make more elbow room.
He knew that Cordy was completely unaware what the warmth of her hand had just done to him. Angel usually enjoyed getting patched up after a successful fight. There was nothing sexual about it—most of the time. He just enjoyed the attention and the fact that it was Cordelia giving it to him made it more pleasant than perfunctory. As a vampire he didn’t really need antiseptics, gauze and medical tape.
Most of his wounds usually started healing before she had time to gather her things. The rest would eventually seal up on their own if left alone, but Angel knew that he healed faster this way, with her taking care of him. Whether it was true or not, he liked it.
Eyes closed, he titled his head back against the wall letting her do her work. She poked and prodded as carefully as possible, but the instrument’s smooth surface pressed against ripped flesh and exposed nerves. The streaking pain was nothing compared to the agony of having Cordelia so close.
A clink signaled the clamping device being returned to the tray. “This gouge is deep,” she told him as if he couldn’t already tell. Her finger penetrated the wound, pressing down on the reddened flesh. “A few steri-strips should hold it closed for now. It should be gone by tomorrow.”
The sensation caused him to growl softly, though it wasn’t entirely unpleasant this time. Fortunately, Cordy was too busy assessing the wound to notice his darkening stare. “I didn’t see when this happened. Guess I was too busy kicking ass to notice.”
Actually, it had been when the demon had gone after her when she was busy with the ass-kicking. Angel grunted, “Right.”
Only recently did he examine why he was so protective over Cordelia. He had fired her along with the others to save her from danger, to protect her from what he would have to become. Even so, he couldn’t stay away. The fight at their new office over that damn book proved it.
He often wondered what would have happened if Wes hadn’t been there that night. That would have been the end of it one way or the other. Had any harm come to her, Angel knew he would never have found his way back to this mission or into her good graces.
Cordy’s ability to hold a grudge was only surpassed by her capacity for forgiveness. They had come a long way since the team was reunited. Tonight hadn’t been the first time that she insisted in tagging along after one of her visions. He’d been dead set against it then, but was opposed by both Wes and Gunn who’d seen no harm in it.
Apparently, he was the low manpire on the totem pole and didn’t get a say in what Cordy did anymore. That hadn’t stopped him from trying.
“Let us take care of this,” Angel recalled the way she jerked away from his touch when his hand curled around her shoulder. “You look…,” he’d been surprised at how tired she looked, the strain of her vision still etched across her beautiful face.
Snatching up a crossbow from the weapons cabinet, Cordelia pushed at his chest with the unarmed bow. “What part of ‘I’m going’ don’t you understand? You’ve been back a few weeks and you expect me to fall in line. You’re not in charge around here anymore.”
Wesley had raised a finger in the air to call for their attention, “Excellent point,” only to be stared into silence a moment later when she turned on him, too. Looking to Gunn for a show of male solidarity only got a hands-off signal.
There was only one point to be made and Angel had gotten it. Cordelia didn’t fully trust him with her friends. They’d gotten past a lot of it. Buying out Rodeo Drive had been a desperation ploy. One she let him get away with. Smiles and hugs had been exchanged. Every second of warmth he could steal, the trill of her laughter, and the brilliance of her smile were burned into his memory.
Little by little Angel tried to earn her trust, to deserve the friendship that Cordy bestowed so freely and he had betrayed. He’d hurt her feelings. The broken hitch in her voice when she’d said so was worse than any battle wound. It left a permanent scar on his soul.
Redeeming himself in her eyes had become his first priority. Sometimes it seemed like he was making headway. She’d smile in a way that would knock him off his feet, sometimes literally. That usually earned him a, “Geez, Angel. Clumsy, much?” as she rolled her eyes in his direction.
Angel hastily explained it as a need to get back to a regular training schedule. Doing so had given Cordelia one of her brilliant ideas. The kind Angel knew would put him on the spot. “You’ve got the necessary skills, Angel. I want you to teach me.”
For half a second, Angel allowed himself to imagine she meant something else. Cordelia looked eager to get right to it. His chest felt tight. He rubbed at it with the flat of his hand while trying to form a coherent sentence. “Skills?”
Cordelia picked up the feather duster from the counter brandishing it in front of her like a sword. Advancing on him, she stabbed at the air sending a puff of dust flying. She waved it away from her face, coughing. “Y’know,” she shrugged, “skills.”
So they’d started training together. There was some logic to it. Angel could see that it would be a good thing for Cordelia to strengthen her defensive skills. Being part of this life meant being exposed to danger. While Angel would always look out for her, it was good to see that she could handle herself until he got there.
There was something so intimate about that time together. Just the two of them moving together harmoniously, mirroring each other’s moves. As Cordy jokingly liked to put it, “Getting hot and sweaty together only without the groiny part.”
That particular part was becoming increasingly familiar with cold showers. Brooding for days about the wrongness of it hadn’t changed a damn thing. He was falling for his best friend.
Angel tried hard to keep everything above board. There was a line he couldn’t cross even if he wanted to, but sometimes things just happened. By the end of their sessions together her scent was imprinted on his skin. He felt a growing admiration for her determination to succeed, and for everything about her.
They’d grown closer in some ways than they were before, but Angel felt a cavernous gap between what they had and what he wanted. He tried to compartmentalize his feelings. It wasn’t easy to ignore feelings that practically bowled him over every time Cordelia was in the same room. The best thing he could do was focus on the mission.
Right now it was next to impossible to think of anything but her. Angel didn’t budge until Cordelia finished probing his wound. Her scent surrounded him as she knelt on the floor between his thighs. It would’ve been smarter not to breathe it in, but it was an automatic reflex to take in that intoxicating mix of unique scents that identified her.
The pain was replaced by soothing strokes of a warm damp cloth as Cordelia wiped the wound clean. Felt good. Almost like being licked. “Hold still,” she complained when he shifted in his seat. The action caused her fall forward, the firm roundness of her breasts pressing into his lap.
Laughing about it, Cordelia grabbed his thighs and pushed back as she righted herself. “I think someone has a tickle spot.” Searching for other places, she teased her fingernails across his skin careful not to poke his injury.
Honestly, he wouldn’t have minded. The scent of his blood on Cordelia’s roaming fingers was getting to him. Angel grabbed her hand lifting it to breathe in the scent of skin at her wrist and palm, then her red-tipped fingers, closing his eyes for a moment. “Hey!” Cordy protested only to be pulled up into his lap before Angel even realized what he was doing.
Squirming around only caused him to clamp his arm around her waist. Angel opened his eyes, dark and needful, scoring her startled ones with an intensity she hadn’t seen since he’d gone beige. “Don’t move.”
The warning only spurred her on. She tugged and jostled to gain any advantage that she could. Angel made the mistake of releasing her hand. Cordy instantly grabbed his bare shoulders seeking the leverage to escape. Instinctively, his hands curved around her hips and held on.
“Dammit, Cordy,” he groaned low when her weight settled just in the right spot. “I told you not to move.”
Understanding caused her mouth to drop into a tempting circle. Angel knew she could feel his aroused state. There was no mistaking the hard bulge trapped between them. A slight flush crept up her neck drawing his gaze only making things worse.
“There was the blood,” he rushed to explain, “and the pain wasn’t all bad. Then there was the touching.”
His hold loosened, he banged his head back against the wall and only looked at Cordelia again when she spoke to him. The fact that it was an apology floored him. “I’m sorry, Angel. Maybe I should start wearing gloves.”
Angel felt lightheaded. He’d been lusting after his best friend and trying his damndest not to start moving beneath her, yet Cordy was talking clinically about wearing latex gloves. His body throbbed with want, confused by what he was sensing from her. He didn’t want to let her go, but when she slid back down to the floor between his open thighs it was all he could do not to adjust his fly.
“You should go home, Cordy.”
“When I’m finished,” she reminded him of the gaping hole in his side. “You still need patching up. Here,” tossing his discarded shirt at his lap, “hold this. We can pretend that didn’t happen.”
Simple…. except for one painfully hard reminder.
Angel should’ve insisted on her leaving, but couldn’t find the words. He leaned back to watch her finish her work noting the furtive glances toward his lap, the trembling hands that tried to keep the steri-strips straight. He couldn’t tell if she was turned-on or freaked out by his arousal.
“Done,” Cordelia announced with a relieved sigh a few minutes later. She used one of his knees to pull herself to her feet and then jerked her hand away. “You should, um, go and shower while I clean up here. I’ll put the outer dressing on when you get back.”
As much as he wanted her to stick around, Angel knew it was going to take him a while before he got out of the shower. “I can handle that part.”
“I think you’ve got enough to handle, Big Guy,” Cordelia’s gaze dropped down to the bunched up shirt in his hand. Her eyes opened wide as her brain finally caught up with her mouth. “I meant had enough. Tonight—before…you’ve handled enough stuff already. Not that you’re going to be handling anything else. Will you? Even if you were it would so not be my business.”
Angel struggled not to smile. He’d love to make it her business, but there was no way he could ever expect her to return the feelings that had been building up over the past few months.
Cordelia waited until Angel disappeared upstairs before letting her mental freak out take over. He was supposed to be a 250 year old no-bone eunuch vampire. A boring old fart into reading instead of clubbing and didn’t know a manolo from a flip flop. The guy with the blonde fetish. Yet there was no denying he was hot.
Out of necessity Cordelia had categorized Angel as untouchable. No matter that the old attraction she’d experienced upon catching her first glimpse of him still lingered. There wasn’t a choice in the matter. Bottom line: curse, loophole, Angelus.
What more did she need to know? Not a damn thing. Just her luck, too. Valentine’s Day and she was stuck patching up a horny vampire.
Looking down at the dried blood creating a patchwork of red streaks across her fingers, she wondered if it had just been the pain and blood that excited Angel. Would he get hard if it was someone else tending his wounds, like the looney physicist hiding out upstairs? That girl seriously had issues. She considered the fact that Fred was almost all neck. That might do it.
He’d mentioned the touches, too.
Cordelia was just having fun, trying to release some of the tension she sensed within him. He’d been angry about her going, but she wasn’t about to cave on that. She knew exactly what they’d be up against and didn’t want her guys fighting her vision without backup. It was for the victims, too, that she’d struggled with the initial aftermath of the vision pain.
But mostly, it was for herself. She wanted to feel useful instead of lying helplessly on the bed or couch awaiting Angel’s return and hoping that the pain would fade before he got back.
She’d felt so good about being part of the fight instead of just dealing with the clean up afterward. Unfortunately, she hadn’t come away without a scratch. Deciding she needed a quick shower and a change of clothes before she went anywhere else tonight, Cordelia headed upstairs. She still kept a room at the hotel just for this kind of situation though it had taken a while before she started leaving her good clothes here again.
Muttering, “Don’t go there, Cordy,” she reminded herself that they’d gotten past all of that now.
Was it wrong to look forward to their training time together? The guys were great, but it was nice to be alone with Angel once in a while. They kind of connected. Cordelia wasn’t even sure why their friendship was so important to her.
It just was.
So this little—okay, not so little—issue that had come up between them needed to be forgotten. Basically Angel was angry, in pain and excited by the sight of blood. Hello, vampire. Not a big deal.
It’s not like it really had anything to do with her. Cordelia closed the bedroom door and leant back against it. A sigh escaped. She was lying by telling herself that it didn’t matter. That much she was able to admit.
Anything else crossed into territory she’d promised herself not to think about. Wanting Angel could only lead to heartbreak. She’d had more than enough of that for one lifetime. It would be different if—
“Shut up, shut UP!” Cordelia kicked off her shoes and unzipped her gown on the way to the bathroom.
There was no use thinking about it. Falling in love with Angel—oh, God, had she really just used the L-word in connection with her best friend?
Cordelia stripped down to her skin leaving the rest of her clothes piled up on the cold tile. She reached in to turn on the shower full blast and waiting until the steam started to build before stepping inside.
It was Angel for chrissakes. A broody, emotionally stunted, prone to turning evil dork who thought Charlton Heston was a better actor than Jude Law. He slurped his blood, complained when she left her stuff lying around his room, and was tight with a buck. But he was still a solid hunk of salty goodness. Maybe he wasn’t human, but Angel had more courage than any ten guys she knew rolled together.
The more she thought about it, the more Cordelia wondered if it wasn’t already too late. Because she did love Angel and she had a sneaking suspicion that she was in love with him too.
The water rained down from above, steam billowing around her and fogging up the glass door of the shower stall. Cordelia tilted her head back letting the water stream across her skin washing away any evidence of blood.
Twenty minutes later, Angel emerged from his suite dressed in grey sweat pants and a white tank. He’d downed a couple of mugs of blood before getting in the shower. His wound was already looking better. The long scrape was barely discernable from the rest of his skin while the swelling had gone down considerably on the deep puncture. Cordy’s steri-strips might’ve ended up a little crooked, but the edges of the wound were straight.
He’d experienced a twinge of pain when putting on his shirt, but it was nothing. As usual Cordelia had done a great job patching him up. He figured she’d still be waiting to put on the outer dressing: a bit of gauze and some extra tape. That meant trying not to make a fool of himself when he tried to say he was sorry.
Practicing his apology in the shower was doubly effective. The cold water had been enough of a shock to his system that his rampant erection went away on its own without the need to handle the problem himself. It gave him time to think about telling Cordy he was sorry for what happened, which also made him realize that it wouldn’t be entirely true.
No mistake that Angel wasn’t thrilled with the timing. He was surprised about it, too. Yet he wasn’t. There was something about Cordelia that he couldn’t even put into words. He could draw her from memory, every beautiful curve. Trace the lines of her face with his fingertips. Try to capture the essence of her smile.
Drawings were only two dimensional and paled beside the real thing. He’d held her in his arms, stolen the warmth from her golden skin and felt its silken texture all under the flag of friendship. What happened tonight just proved that he wanted more. Angel could put it down to reflex, make it impersonal, but he’d be lying to himself and to her.
He decided to find Cordelia and tell her the truth: that he was falling in love with her. Because she deserved to know that much, even if he couldn’t expect her to return those feelings.
Hoping the words would come out as planned, Angel gave himself a pep talk. “Don’t screw this up.” After all, it wasn’t just their friendship on the line this time, but their future.
He’d started to head downstairs when he realized that Cordelia wasn’t there. The lobby was empty. For a moment Angel thought she had actually done as he’d asked and gone home. Following instructions would’ve been a first. His mouth twisted into a wry smile as he turned around and headed up to the next level where Cordelia kept her belongings. The ones he hadn’t given away.
The thought nearly had him turning around again. How could he expect Cordy to love him—the guy who’d gotten rid of anything personal that reminded him of her. He hadn’t done that with anyone else’s stuff.
Even then Cordelia was special to him. “Good point. You can use that,” Angel continued on his way. Focused on his thoughts, he only noticed the shower fresh scents emanating from the far end of the hall on a superficial level.
There were no obvious sounds to clue him in that it might be appropriate to knock before entering. She never knocked when barging into his room, or at least never waited for him to give the okay for her to enter. It never occurred to him to bother.
All Angel could detect was the steady beat of her heart somewhere on the other side of the door. Eager to see her and tell her what he’d discovered about his feelings for her, Angel turned the doorknob and walked right in.
There were several things Angel noticed right away as a shriek pierced the air. Cordelia was naked, beautiful. She was clutching something tiny, red and lacy to her breasts. He needed another cold shower.
He’d never seen her like this. That day at the commercial shoot when she wore the bikini, he’d seen more than enough to let his imagination fill in the blanks. Not like this. Angel was dumbstruck.
After the initial shock wore off, Cordelia whirled away from him only to show him the gorgeous line of her back. She hopped on one foot to put on the tiny scrap of material that had to be underwear then switched to the other foot before sliding them up over the curve of her ass.
“Angel, the door!”
Door. Something he could handle. Angel reached out his hand and slammed it shut. He noticed Cordelia’s heavy sigh as she walked toward the mirror over her dresser to smooth her hair away from her face. Focused on her reflection, she held a hand to her throat then let it trail down between her breasts.
Having moved up behind her, Angel let the image sink in for as long as he could before saying, “You’re so beautiful, Cordy,” his voice raw with wonder.
“Gah!” She made a dash for the bra draped across the edge of the bed. Clutching it so that it was covering all of the strategic parts, Cordelia whirled around again, this time with a furious look on her face. Uh oh. “I thought I told you to get out.”
She looked more tempting than he could ever remember and was ready for a fight. Angel thought about it for a few seconds and decided he wasn’t going to back away from giving her one if that’s what she wanted. As for getting out, he had no recollection of her saying those words. “You wanted the door closed,” he shrugged. “I closed it.”
Cordelia looked around for her discarded bathrobe, but it was on the floor behind Angel. “You were supposed to be on the other side, dumbass.” She tried to edge that way, but he was blocking the path. Finally muttering, “Fine,” while maneuvering into the straps and reaching back to fasten the hook. “If you’re finished staring, you can get out now.”
When she moved a few steps back to grab a pillow from the bed, Angel followed slowly, “I’m not finished.”
Her heart skipped a beat. “What?”
Idiot! Now Cordy thought he was a lecherous Peeping Tom. “I meant to say that I wanted to talk to you about what happened downstairs. To tell you—”
“It’s really not necessary, Angel.” She motioned for silence raising her fingers up to his mouth. “I understand. It was the blood.”
Angel captured her hand much like he had done before, his thumb sliding to open up her hand, this time to pressing a kiss into the heart of her palm. His lips lingered there for a moment, his eyes closed as he breathed in the natural fragrance of warm skin and vanilla scented soap.
Her breath hitched and then held until Angel opened his eyes again. “It was you. I never meant to embarrass you, Cordy, not then or now.”
Smiling, she moved a step closer so that the pillow was squashed between them. Her free hand curled around the nape of his neck, her fingers toying with the short ends of his hair. “So why are you still here?”
“Because—,” for an instant the words were there on the tip of his tongue and the next he was lost in the darkening depths of her eyes. Only one thought echoed in his head urging him forward.
Cordelia whispered his name against his lips just as he bent down to kiss her. So soft and warm, her pliant mouth opened to his. One kiss followed another. Gently, the way Angel treasured their friendship; hot and sweet because that’s how she tasted.
He watched the smile flirt across her lips in between as they gripped the pillow together and tossed it aside. They both moaned at the contact. Angel put his arms around her, just holding her there for a moment, soaking in her natural warmth, scenting the sharp tang of feminine arousal, letting her feel his body’s need.
Rubbing her forehead against his shoulder, Cordelia let out a little moan of frustration. He crooked a finger under her chin, lifting it until she met his gaze. With his eyes Angel promised that it would be okay. Then kissed her again until he knew fear and doubt were the last things on her mind.
His tongue darted along the plump curve of her mouth, lips closing softly. Cordelia’s hot hands were everywhere, clutching at his shoulders, his ass, tugging his shirt out of his sweats to press her palms on his skin. She accidentally brushed near his closing wound. Angel let out a half-groan that rumbled around like a growl against her throat as he kissed her there.
Then she did it again. The sensation shot straight to his loins. When Angel lifted his head to make sure Cordy realized what she was doing, he saw pure mischief. He let her tug his shirt over his head, watched her tug on her lower lip with her teeth and then followed to do the same teasing her with little nips and hard pecks that only grazed her lips because she seemed to be in the mood to play.
When her hand pushed beneath the elastic waistband of his sweats to grasp him, Angel wanted to watch. He dropped the pants to the floor leaving them pooled at his ankles because his attention was centered on Cordelia’s slow strokes. Dark eyes half closed with pleasure, he knew he couldn’t take much more.
Angel peeled her hand away. He picked her up, tossed her on the bed and crawled toward her like a panther ready to pounce. His sweats tangled around his ankles along the way forcing him to stop to yank them off completely.
Laughing, yet almost breathless, Cordelia fell back against the one remaining pillow. Angel caught her legs and pulled her closer. He reared up for a moment staring down at her, his hands smoothing up and down the length of her thighs. Things got serious again. Cordy wasn’t laughing anymore, just trembling under his touch, as his fingers slipped beneath her panties stroking across her wet folds, teasing.
He pulled them off slowly when she would’ve had him go fast, but Angel wanted to savor this, just in case he was wrong about the curse. Weeks of going over and over what he suspected to be true made him conclude this would be safe as long as he was aware of the risk.
Angel dropped her panties on the bed, but left her lacy bra on because he liked to see her in red. She writhed on the covers, hands chasing sensations across her skin as his fingers made her arch beneath his touch, slick and soft, ready for him.
Holding onto Cordy’s hips, he thrust into her smooth and deep, saying the words he knew she needed to hear, the words he had wanted to say all along. Taking her into his arms, he kissed her mouth, her cheek and the spot by her ear before telling her, “I love you.”
Before she could repeat the sentiment that showed in her eyes, Angel held his thumb over her lips keeping her silent long enough to explain. “Not right now, baby.” Cordelia was smart enough to understand why because they both knew what was at stake.
She snorted softly, “Baby?” following it up with a low grunt when Angel began to move.
He kept it slow because he wanted this to last, but she felt hot inside, slick, gloving him tight. Penetrating deep, he let the motion of his hips drive Cordelia down into soft covers now bunched across the bed. Arching beneath him she rocked in time to his rhythm, her eager cries demanding more.
Angel trailed hot kisses down her neck and the delicious curve of one breast, his fingers reaching up to peel away the slender shoulder strap and thin material covering his prize. A little hiss of pain sounded as the strap brushed against the scrapes on her arm. His eyes lifted to hers, concerned, and aroused at the way she arched toward him.
Her fingers threaded through his hair and she nudged him forward leading his lips toward the curve of her breast. “Beautiful,” he muttered against her skin. He cupped her there, plumped her with his hand while flicking at the dark areola and its budded nipple with his tongue.
When Cordy whimpered against his shoulder, Angel quit teasing. He dropped his hand between them as he pumped into her. Stroking inside and out until she came in a sudden burst of pleasure, his name a high-pitched shriek she tried to muffle against his shoulder.
He pulled her back to his mouth and savored the taste of her on his tongue before letting the kiss run wild. Cordelia clasped her legs higher around his hips and pressed her breasts against his chest, arms wound tightly around him. He thrust harder, faster than before, no longer controlled.
Cordy urged him on with her hands and words whispered in his ear telling him how good it was, that it was the best Valentine’s Day ever, saying anything except the phrase Angel wanted to hear the most because for them love could be dangerous. She arched beneath him again cresting with pleasure, her body signaling him toward his own.
They lay in silence for untold minutes curled up in each other’s arms with her heartbeat and breathing once again the only sounds in the room. Angel pulled her close and kissed the top of her head. “This changes everything.”
“In something other than the oh-my-God-we-had-really-hot-sex way?” Cordelia sounded like she was teasing, but Angel couldn’t see her face from this angle.
It unsettled him to admit his fears, but this was too important to let go. “You know I love you, Cordy. Making love with you—I never thought it would happen. Tell me I haven’t ruined things between us, wrecked our friendship.”
“Wrecked it?” Propping herself up on an elbow, Cordelia huffed softly. “You managed to do that once before. Trust me when I say this was nothing like being fired.”
Angel still worried that he’d crossed the uncrossable line. “Yes, but we’re friends again. I like that part of our relationship. Yet—the sex.”
He earned an eye roll. “You might be the only one who gets to say the words right now, but that doesn’t mean I’m just going to use you for sex. That could be fun, by the way, but I think I’d miss the other stuff if we spent all of our time in bed.”
“This was supposed to be an apology.” Angel traced a finger over the rounded curve of her shoulder following the line of her arm to where her hand pressed against his chest. “I should’ve knocked.”
Cordelia snorted again. “It’s a little late to worry about knocking. Besides, I forgive you for getting turned on, barging into my room when I’m naked, and telling me you love me.”
It didn’t sound quite so depraved coming from her, Angel mused, lifting her hand to press a kiss into her palm.
“Because I like the way you say you’re sorry,” Cordy added, grinning.
The Challenge by Pushydame
Dawn wanted: Post-Beige period, surprise, and sex.