Chapter 43: Claimed
Angel’s words echoed in Cordelia’s head signaling a ripple effect of electric shock waves coursing through her body. Sweetheart, in my eyes and the eyes of the world, you are now my mate. You own my heart if you will have it.
Her voice didn’t seem to work, Cordelia noticed as her wide hazel eyes took in the sight of the nude vampire standing before her. A hot breath of air whooshed out of her lungs at the way he held his hand out to her in silent supplication. Passion was still more than just a memory, so recent that the physical afterglow stayed with her almost as though she could feel his touch and his presence within her.
It wasn’t just his knowing hands on her heated skin or the rhythmic thrusts of his body, but the sharp sting of his fangs sinking into her neck and the soft suckling of her blood. Actions all born of desire where pleasure and pain and life and love were entwined into instinct and ritual. Despite the unintentional use of his fangs, Angel made no apology for it and Cordelia could read in his amber-tinted gaze that deep down he was glad that it happened.
My mate. You are now my mate.
“No,” the strangled sound left her throat almost before the thought grounded itself in her head.
Despite the vulnerable position Angel left himself in by revealing the depths of his feelings and opening himself up to further rejection, it was a risk he had chosen to take. One Cordelia inwardly acknowledged with the speedy cadence of her heartbeat.
You own my heart. My heart. My heart. You own my heart if you will have it. His words replayed even as she caught his almost imperceptible response to her single syllable denial. Hope’s light dimmed in his eyes and Cordelia found herself reacting defensively to her own burst of anxiety at its loss.
With a practiced flip of her dark chestnut hair, Cordelia stood regally despite her own nudity. Outwardly, there was nothing to hide. She felt his intent stare at the exposed turn of her throat where the twin wounds throbbed. Tendrils of pleasure curled in her belly as if she could still feel Angel’s mouth on her, a craving for his embrace nearly shattering her resolve.
“I’m not your mate, Angel,” she found denial difficult, but necessary for her sanity. Despite the way they came together with such blind passion, Cordelia was not yet prepared to accept more. “That takes more than just a mark of ownership— a visible claim. It takes my consent.”
“Which you aren’t giving,” the deep timbre of his words sounded steady in her ears betraying no emotions.
Cordelia raged at his cool response and her own conflicted feelings instantly bubbled to the surface. “Maybe it’s as simple as 1, 2, 3 for you— want me, claim me, love me, but I can’t skip ahead so fast. I’m still trying to understand who you are.”
“I’m not Santa Claus or the Energizer Bunny, baby,” his mouth twisted into a smirk. “Though I promise you I can keep going and going and going if that’s what it takes to convince you.”
Damn commercials. Cordelia’s cheeks flamed at the silken promise in Angel’s voice. Watching television had definitely been Angelus’ acquired hobby and it was his ribald humor that sounded in her ears.
Then he tacked on with all seriousness, “What does it take, Cordelia?”
“More than just incredible sex,” she answered swiftly despite the rush of arousal that left her rosy nipples visibly perky.
Missing none of her reaction, Angel slowly closed the distance between them to mere inches. That confident leer toyed with the corners of his tempting male mouth while focusing directly on her description. “Incredible?”
“Egomaniac,” Cordelia muttered. That hadn’t changed a bit despite the Moirae’s little manipulations. “You know it was perfect. I’m not denying that.”
“Even this?” Angel trailed a finger along the edges of his mark, his nostrils flaring as the move brought their combined scents to the fore.
The sight of his fangs appearing and then disappearing with that momentary lapse of concentration only increased his appeal. Combined with his touch, her body reacted instinctively. Cordelia’s eyes fluttered closed and her head tilted away subconsciously bringing her throat and Angel’s mark fully into his view.
“And yet you still say I’m a stranger,” Angel’s anger finally rumbled to the surface at her body’s silent plea.
Cordelia’s eyes snapped open at the realization of what she had done. Stepping back in alarm, she still had to admit, “No— not a stranger. Not that. You’ve proved it in the way you touch me. I can sense that it’s more than just their memories.”
Tempted to snatch her close again, Angel curled his hands closed at his sides. “If you can see that much, why deny me? You know that Angelus is a part of who I am, yet you continue to push me away.”
“I’m through pushing,” she admitted knowing that resisting his touch was no longer an option, “but I’m not ready for that kind of commitment again. Maybe I know what the Moirae have done— in my head I understand it, but my heart is still hurting.”
The muscles at Angel’s jaw clenched tightly. Cordelia wasn’t the only one with mixed emotions. Not the only one confused by what was going on between them. Memories conflicted with the present. Every moment with her was new despite familiarity. Still, Angel wasn’t about to let her return to her shell of denial.
“Now that I’ve had you, there is no going back.” He captured her gaze and held a finger along her jaw to hold her attention. “We’ve gone way beyond a hands-off relationship.”
Her eyebrows arched reflexively and she laughed wryly. “We had one? Pfft! When did you ever keep your hands off?”
Got me on that one, Angel admitted silently even as her lips pursed making him want to taste the smug curve of her mouth. “Don’t expect me to start now.”
Snapping at the rumble accompanying his response, Cordelia ignored the soft pull of his fingers threading possessively through the soft waves of her hair. “Don’t snarl at me. I’m not going anywhere.”
Her words suggested that Cordelia believed that going anywhere might be an option. Angel lifted a handful of her dark tresses to his cheek, turning his face into it to scent the hint of her strawberry shampoo. Telling Cordelia, “The only place you’re going is straight to my bed.”
“Our bed,” she stressed mindfully refusing to let it sound like she had no part in a decision to be there.
Desire filled his gaze, but there was also more to it. Something that Cordelia couldn’t quite fathom until he summoned up a sound that pulsed through her. Canceling out her response, Angel countered swiftly, “Mine. Everything in this place belongs to me. Including you, Cordelia since that’s the way you want to play it.”
Outrage warred with pure hunger at the possessive gleam in his eyes. Cordelia’s hands crept up to the solid angles of his chest seeking him out and tempted to push him away simultaneously. Adrenalin rushed through her veins, her hands trembling in a visible state of uncontrolled fury.
“This isn’t a game, Dorkula,” Cordelia turned his earlier words against him. “Playing Possesso-Vamp must come naturally, but my heart isn’t a prize to be won. You can’t claim it as easily as you did the rest of me.”
The defensive name calling only brought down the scrutiny of Angel’s full attention. Her words only sounded as a challenge in his ears and there was no hiding from his senses. “You don’t love me, but you do want me.”
Cordelia fumed, even angrier at her own response than him calling her on it. “So what if I do? I’m not denying it.”
Dropping his hands to his side, Angel leaned in closer feeling the touch of her fingers upon his chest. Cordelia’s nipples brushed against his cool flesh as the position of her arms pillowed the spheres of her breasts between them. Lifting his gaze back to her eyes from that momentary distraction, Angel decided that she had made her choice and would now have to live with her decision. His previously issued terms were no different now than they were before their lovemaking.
“Fine,” Angel responded decisively. “Want me and you’ll have me, Cordelia. You’ll have me by more ways and means than you can count.”
His sensual promise came with provisions. Cordelia knew it by his tone even before Angel added, “But you’ll have me by my want and whim.”
Defying the electric thrill that shot down her spine at his words, Cordelia’s hazel eyes sparked with defiance. “Is that supposed to scare me?”
“Let’s see how you like being a vampire’s mistress,” Angel suggested while reaching around to cup her bottom with both hands, “since you refuse to be my mate.”
“Don’t make it sound so sordid.” Cordelia glared back, squirming against him until he let her go.
“That’s what you’ve made it,” Angel countered with a tilt of his dark head. “Learn to live with it because your doubts and denials won’t change the fact that you want me.”
With an angry, “Grmph!” she twirled around turning her back on him. Then crossing her arms defiantly, Cordelia swished her mane of hair until the curling ends tickled at the colorful edge of her tattoo. When Angel’s curled fingers deftly circled the sun, she shuddered as her body yearned for more, but glared at him over her shoulder. “Don’t touch me.”
A deep-throated chuckle sounded in her ear. “You should give that luscious mouth a rest and listen to your instincts.”
“Conceited jerk!” Cordelia reacted instantly, her elbow connecting sharply with Angel’s rippled abdomen. She was already trudging across the blue mats toward the stairs when a hand curled around her arm and hauled her back. Swinging Cordelia around to face him, Angel fumed, “Why the hell did you do that?”
“I was listening to my instincts,” she quipped, narrowing her angry gaze upon him.
He sucked in an unneeded breath and let it out as a slow sigh trying to calm his fury. Angel found the technique wasn’t working. “It doesn’t have to be this way.”
“Maybe it does,” she snapped defiantly. Fury kept those scarier tender emotions at bay. She could deal with his anger and desire. Those she could give back in spades. It was heart that needed protecting. “I can only give you so much.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Angel palmed her face with both hands as he dared her to defy him. “Don’t expect me to settle for scraps, Cor. Just having your eyes on me, your lips, your accidental caresses— those are only teasers. I want it all. I’ll have it all.”
Angel’s lips swiped voraciously over hers devouring her mouth in a kiss designed for domination. His body shouted aggression, his arms moving to sweep her closer into his strong embrace. No clinging vine, Cordelia responded to his fiery kisses with an equal determination to give him nothing more than her heart would allow.
Apparently that included tongue-tangling kisses.
“Don’t think I’ll let you have it easy,” she panted heavily as he finally let her up for air.
Seeing the fire in her eyes, Angel smirked in the face of her defiance. “Go ahead and fight it. I don’t want you too submissive, sweetheart.”
“Lucky for you,” Cordelia smirked right back, “that won’t be a problem.”
“Didn’t think so.”
He was angry, Cordelia knew. All that barely controlled fury. His feelings twisted up inside him. She knew it, but couldn’t hold back her own feelings of betrayal. They plagued her still.
Maybe Angelus and Angel existed within this vampire, but still Cordelia knew he was not her mate. The claim didn’t make it so. That would happen only when she could freely give him her heart.
And that wasn’t happening. Wishing it for his sake didn’t make it so. Her heart was still tied up in the memory of Angelus.
Cordelia recognized the emotions mixed in with his lust and anger. Fury died under the heat of his gaze and a softness returned to her voice as it sounded out its plea for understanding. “Give me time, Angel. Love isn’t something I can promise you. Sorry if that hurts you, but I can’t turn it on like a light switch.”
“Keep your pity,” Angel returned harshly. The firm line of his mouth gave away nothing even though he said, “My heart is yours regardless.”
Hers was thumping madly in her chest. “Stop saying that.”
“You know how I feel. I lo—”
Panicking, Cordelia knew that an outright confession of love would be too much for her to handle right now. “Wait! Don’t say that.”
Clamping her hand over his mouth, Cordelia’s confusion showed in her eyes as she watched his silent response and felt his hands drop away. Her heart was breaking in two. Conflicting feelings warred within her. To want someone so much, to know that he loves you, to know that somehow you should love him, but are held back by the love you once held dear— that response was ingrained too deeply to be easily dislodged or replaced by other feelings.
“Don’t pressure me by saying those words,” Cordelia begged for mercy wondering all the while if it wasn’t too late.
Her hand slipped away from his mouth following a slow trail of descent back to the relatively safe harbor of his massive chest. She licked nervously at her lips waiting for his response. Finally, Angel summoned up a query, “Which words are those?”
The sudden turn from his fury to the teasing tone made Cordelia react with a vein of suspicion. God, he could put a spin on his emotions that kept her dizzy in a way that neither Angelus nor Angel ever could. “You know. Those words. Those three little words.”
Nodding knowingly, Angel’s mouth quirked at one corner. “Come to bed.”
“Not those words,” Cordelia rolled her eyes in exasperation. Then she thought about it for a few seconds. “Unless you— Was that a suggestion?”
Waggling his eyebrows suggestively, Angel’s mouth softened into the semblance of a smile. It tugged gingerly at his lips until Cordelia’s scrutiny opened it up into a wide grin.
“Are you laughing at me again?” Cordelia demanded suspiciously.
“About this? Never,” Angel answered sincerely and then placed a lingering kiss upon her forehead.
Cordelia closed her eyes briefly, her hands exploring the contours of his chest with a mind of their own. “Just checking.”
A little moan of need escaped her throat just before Angel started to explore the soft shape of her mouth with his own. Cordelia curled her arms around him clasping him closer with both hands roaming along the bunched muscles of his back. A renewed lust lit Angel’s eyes, his body stirring and hinting at his desires in ways that Cordelia could not ignore.
Nor did she want to.
Maybe it was a suggestion, Cordelia thought distractedly as his mouth moved to nip softly along the curve of her shoulder. One suggestion that certainly had an undeniable appeal, she also realized while giving in to her own desires. As her hands tangled in his hair, her mouth pressed close to Angel’s ear as she asked, “Want to?”
Angel simply swept her into his arms and headed up the stairs, gazing at Cordelia with a silent promise of pleasure. Winding her arms around his neck, she held on as they ascended to the main level. “Guess that’s a yes,” she couldn’t help the quiver in her voice as anticipation continued to build.
Carrying her as if she was a featherweight, Angel moved surely and steadily up the main staircase. Meeting her gaze briefly, the vampire decided that Cordelia shouldn’t go any further without realizing just what she was getting. What happened down in the basement was only a taste of his desire. “Just so you know, Cor. Don’t expect me to separate my feelings. The soul that loves you and the demon who wants you are one and the same.”
Latching on to that one word, Cordelia grumbled, “I told you not to say that. You just used more words.”
“I could say that in reverse and have it be just as true,” Angel pointed out. “Do you understand me?”
“You love me,” Cordelia sounded out the words that she’d been hiding from as Angel suggested his feelings for her had as much to do with his demon nature as it did the presence of his soul. The thought brought up flashes of memory of close encounters with the vampire’s demonic side.
Not strictly his, but as Angelus and Angel.
“You get all of me,” Angel issued his warning. “That’s what you want; to know all of me. Keep in mind that knowing who I am comes with some dark and deadly truths. Things that Angelus never wanted you to know.”
“I’m not afraid.” Cordelia answered with a soft, “Pfft.”
Angel paused at the top of the second floor landing, setting her down on the carpet. Standing close, Cordelia couldn’t understand his need to tell her this when she was simply eager to get upstairs to their bed. His fingers trailed along the curve of her face as she gazed up in confusion.
“It’s been a while since you faced my demon. Don’t make the mistake of forgetting what Angelus told you in the graveyard that night, what Angel told you at Harmony’s house, or what I told you the day of my first awakening and again today.”
A flash of understanding swept through her as Cordelia remembered each of those instances and the underlying meaning behind them. A trickle of fear curled in her breast, but not because of him or even the because she knew that his demonic side always talked to her in terms of possession and forever. It was a reaction to her own contradictory feelings of elation and acceptance of those terms.
“You’ll always be mine,” his words came out as an oath singeing across her flesh as invisible flames of truth. She swore the mark on her throat throbbed with a responsive need that underscored his claim. “Willing or not. In love or hate. Standing freely by my side or bound there. One way or the other. I’ll never give you up. Never.”
Angel looked as if he expected another well-timed elbow, but Cordelia found that his words didn’t rile her as expected. She blinked up at him with the growing realization that his words applied to him as well. She wasn’t ready to love him. To give him her heart as freely as he wanted, but he loved her. He’d said it in more ways than one.
Maybe she couldn’t love him yet, but he belonged to her and Cordelia wasn’t about to let him go just because her heart could not fully commit to loving him. She didn’t want to deny that and the possessive wave rising in her chest— that scared her.
Despite the gleam of want in her eyes, Angel’s senses dug deeper as he searched for a response to his message. What he found chilled him, drawing up his defenses and lighting another spark amongst the glowing embers of his anger. “You’re afraid of me.”
Her quick denial wasn’t unexpected. Avoidance was one of Cordelia’s best tactics. “I can smell it on you underlying the scent of your arousal.”
Flustered by his discovery, Cordelia raised another shield. Glaring, she pointed out, “That is so— eew!”
“I’m a vampire,” Angel spoke as if she needed another reminder. “That’s what I do. Detect those subtle weaknesses exploiting them to my advantage.”
“I’m not afraid of you,” she returned firmly, meaning it. Dumbass.
Catching on, Angel ignored the glowering stare that would have felled a lesser vamp at a hundred yards. “Maybe not me. Fear of yourself, then. Your own desires. Afraid of wanting me too much. Afraid that the cage you’ve built around your heart might not be strong enough to keep me out.”
Cordelia lunged past him with an infuriated ‘grmph’ reverberating in the air. Moving directly for the stairs to the upper floor, she found her progress halted by Angel’s iron grip. “This is getting to be a bad habit,” she grumbled as she was hauled up against his chest.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“I have a better idea,” Angel responded smoothly.
Cordelia didn’t think her idea to lock herself in the bathroom until she could keep her emotions to herself had anything to do with what he was thinking. “Oh?”
“It’s time to rattle your cage a little,” he told her while leading her down the second floor corridor.
There was only one place he could be taking her, Cordelia realized with a growing sense of panic. Neither one of them had gone there in the past two weeks: Angel because he felt that Angelus’ territory was more important as it also belonged to her; Cordelia for so many other reasons.
“Not in there!” Cordelia pulled futilely against his lead.
It seemed more sacrosanct a spot in Cordelia’s mind than the bedroom upstairs. The place where Angelus first made love to her. The bed that Angel slept in every night and fantasized of her. The forbidden space where her simple presence evoked hidden desire. The room where she discovered Angelus wanted her as his mate. Too many memories filled with them.
Turning back to her, Angel again swept her into his arms and kept walking until he reached the bedroom. Tossing Cordelia down on the soft surface of the comforter, Angel followed right behind. “What will it be? Sweet and vanilla— or something more in tune with the demon you’re determined to know?”
Determined not to give him any sense of victory over her, Cordelia locked her arms around his neck plundering his mouth before he could make another move. Leaning back on her elbows with a triumphant look in her hazel eyes, Cordelia wasn’t about to give him an inch. The challenge in her gaze only stoked the fire between them.
“Surprise me,” Cordelia quipped hoping that Angel paid no attention to the telltale tempo of her heart.
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