Women have been inexplicably disappearing in Los Angeles. The Angel Investigations team of Angel, Cordelia, Wesley, and Gunn are on the case. While undercover, Cordelia is targeted as the next victim. Angel helps her prepare for her role as an artist’s model by sketching her in the nude.
- CONTENTS: C/A in AtS
- RATING: NC17
- LENGTH: Short Story / 14,600 words
- STATUS: Completed
- CHALLENGE CREDIT: manders-21 / Challenge #7 AO’s ‘Lysa Says: Challenge Me’ thread
- FICPIC CREDIT: Lysa
- WARNINGS: Explicit Sexual Content
Walking around the far end of the Olympic-sized swimming pool, Wesley took one last sweep of the area confirming that nobody was around. The glistening water of the pool, the lounge chairs and the striped cabanas were all empty. Everyone was inside allowing him a moment of privacy to call in a preliminary report.
Angel picked up the cell phone on the first ring having been pacing across the lobby of the Hyperion for the past hour. There was no suppressing the growl in his voice, “Wes, I expected your call ages ago.”
“First opportunity,” explained Wes, his eyes still maintaining a close watch on his surroundings. “Our cover worked. The mystical glamour has everyone believing I’m a local art patron.”
Having had no doubts that Wesley could pull it off, Angel gave him his due, “Good job.”
“The estate is hardwired with high-tech security devices,” informed Wesley. Not that they expected any less after preliminary research on their target resulted in the discovery that Clayton Vandemere was a reclusive millionaire whose only public interests surrounded fine art. “Manpower is no less impressive. Guards are dispersed throughout the mansion and grounds, nothing unexpected. No immediate evidence of demonic influence.”
Staying behind during this first part of their undercover infiltration of the weekend gathering of artisans and their patrons had Angel on-edge. He preferred to be in the middle of it, especially when they knew so little going in. “What about the woman in Cordelia’s vision?”
Stepping back into the shadow of a marble Poseidon statue, Wesley told him, “Cordy has been sticking to her like glue, and enjoying every moment of it. Apparently they have similar taste in shoes.”
After a pause, Angel asked, “How is she?”
“Oh, no sign of any trouble at all. Friendly young woman,” Wesley sounded almost chipper as he spoke. Remembering that according to the vision she was supposed to disappear like all the other victims, his voice darkened as he revealed a few specifics, “Cordelia learned that Marnie Mitchell is the girlfriend of one of the artists. She has no previous connection with Vandemere. Never met him before last night.”
Angel frowned into the phone. “Interesting, but I meant Cordelia.”
Ah, naturally. Wesley knew there was a fine line between friendly concern and the overprotective vibe he perceived when it came to Angel’s feelings. Vampire instincts aside, Cordelia was important to him. Well, to both of them, but Wesley had argued the point in her favor that she could handle herself far better than either of them in these social situations.
Still, allowing Cordelia go off on this mission without Angel immediately by her side was most likely tearing the vampire apart with worry, Wesley realized. He’d barely agreed to the plan in the first place. Ever since the attack by Vocah that gave Cordelia never-ending visions and the pain that accompanied them, Angel had been excessively careful about getting her directly involved in their cases. They’d all grown closer since the incident, though it remained a mystery precisely what Wolfram & Hart was up to in arranging the nearly deadly distractions.
“Cordy is in her element,” Wes assured him that she was in no imminent danger. “It appears to be a never-ending party, with the rich rubbing elbows with the richer.”
After a heavy pause where Angel had nothing to say at all, Wesley added, “She is determined that we stop Vandemere from claiming another victim. Our only problem remains that we have no idea how he is involved in the disappearances of the eleven young women in Cordelia’s vision or how Marnie Mitchell may play into this scenario.”
“Sounds like you’re having as much luck as I am,” Angel commented drolly as he went on to explain that he managed to contact Detective Kate Lockley. “She’s still as angry and bitter as ever and made it perfectly clear to me that I shouldn’t be nosing into police business.”
Wesley sighed. How could he have expected otherwise? Now that the detective blamed Angel for her father’s death and for all of the deaths he had caused in his years as Angelus, she looked at him as an enemy. “So you didn’t get it.”
“Actually, I did,” Angel countered much to his surprise. “Not that it helps. Kate was willing to confirm that Vandemere has no police record. Only that his name shows up in connection with all of the victims. They all attended a party at his estate within a few days of their disappearances, but the evidence shows that they all made it home after the party ended.”
Based on Cordelia’s vision, they suspected that much already. What they didn’t know was how Vandemere was involved or how the women disappeared. “I’ve arranged for your arrival tonight as planned.”
Wesley felt a tap on his shoulder and nearly dropped the phone, “Yiiiaahh! Cordelia, what are you doing out here?”
He glanced around to see how it was possible that she snuck up on him. Cordelia was grinning, “Just practicing a few stealthy techniques.” She rolled her eyes and then held up the high-heeled shoes she had removed.
“Wes, put Cordelia on,” Angel’s voice sounded in his ear as he still had the cell phone in his hand.
Cordelia grabbed the phone away before Wes could even make a move, “Angel, hi! This is so great. My bedroom is to die for and the bathroom has a sunken tub and the food is like…well, I guess you wouldn’t be interested in the food, but it’s wow.”
“I thought you were focused on figuring out why Marnie Mitchell is in danger?” It certainly didn’t sound that way.
“Oh, I am,” Cordelia assured him. “That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy myself a little. Clay told me to make myself right at home.”
What was she doing talking to Vandemere or calling him Clay for that matter? As far as her undercover identity was concerned, Cordelia was supposed to be Wesley’s assistant, not spending time with their potentially dangerous host. “Be careful.”
With a laugh, Cordelia told him, “He’s a little heavy on the leering, but he has great taste.”
“You’re supposed to be gathering information,” Angel reminded her, raging inwardly at the idea that their target was leering at his seer, “not smooth-talking Vandemere.”
“He came to me, not the other way around. Marnie and I have been bonding. If you thought I knew anything about fashion, you should hear her talk. She’s not really into art— other than her boyfriend,” Cordelia added with a snort trying to assure him that she was doing her job.
Angel tried to redirect her back to the fact that she’d been involving herself in the more dangerous part of the case, direct contact with Vandemere. He heard her soft ‘pfft’ over the phone. “Don’t talk to him again, Cordy. Not unless I’m with you.”
“Sheesh! Overprotective much, Angel? Kinda hard to avoid the host of the party and even harder to make sure you’re there,” she pointed out. “What do you want me to do…hold the cell phone up so you can hear the conversation?”
Standing next to her, Wes gave her an exasperated look. “Will you finish up, please, Cordelia. We’ll be missed.”
“Mister Bow Tie is harassing me to get off the phone,” Cordelia said as she wiggled her feet back into her high-heeled sandals one by one. “See you soon.”
“Sooner than you think,” Angel commented grimly, ending the call.
Cordelia stared down at the phone now buzzing with a dial tone. Glancing at Wesley, she asked him, “You don’t think Angel would do anything silly, do you? Like find a way to come across town in broad daylight.”
Angel stood in the middle of a large foyer, his leather jacket still warm from the sun as it had acted like a blanket of protection all the way across town. Determined not to wait a minute more, Angel had called upon Charles Gunn to drive him across town and deliver the rest of his clothing and supplies. While Gunn wasn’t too keen on pretending to be the vampire’s lackey, he offered to help out where he could.
“Getting me here is enough,” Angel thanked him as they stood in the shadows of the columned entryway.
Now inside, he was immediately greeted by members of Vandemere’s staff who had already informed him of the newcomer’s presence. A minute later, the man himself appeared, tall and trim with longish golden-brown hair and a short beard. From the research, Angel knew him to be in his mid-forties, but he looked younger. He carried a confident air about him, as if nothing could touch him. Suited in expensive, yet casual clothes, Clay Vandemere still maintained a formidable presence.
His hand was cupped around the elbow of the beautiful young woman walking next to him, Cordelia, wearing one of those short little pieces of nothing that left her legs long and bare to his view. As Angel’s eyes swept over Cordelia and saw the way that their target touched her, he fought to maintain the mask of his human features. The demon in him shouted in rage that Vandemere had his hand on her, that once again Cordelia had defied him and put herself in danger and for some reason that Wesley was nowhere in sight to protect her.
Cordelia caught the dark glint in Angel’s eyes as he met her gaze. Keeping her smile as sunny as possible, she kept to the game. This was not a moment to get trapped in lessons that included the words ‘I told you so’. Grabbing the lead, Cordelia decided to make introductions before Angel skipped the whole investigation and ripped off Clay Vandemere’s head. Not that he would, but the look in his eyes wasn’t exactly the friendliest at the moment.
“Mr. Wyndam-Pryce showed me some of your work,” Vandemere commented as he took in the fact that the artist appeared to be short on manners. Dealing with any number of eccentric artists, he would normally brush off the fact as being something unworthy of his attention, but he’d seen the flash of gold in those dark eyes. “I have been looking forward to meeting you and seeing more. My instincts tell me you’ll be an interesting guest, Angel.”
“I’m paid to be here,” Angel got into character, his own instincts warning him that the man before him was talking in subtext. “Wyndam-Pryce keeps my wallet flush and gives me anything I want so long as he gets to play show and tell with my work.”
As the hand clutching Cordelia’s elbow started to move to a more intimate position along her lower back, Angel reached out and slowly tugged her toward him. She gave him a look of surprise, but Angel was too focused on staring directly at their host and making his point, a smirk twisting his handsome mouth at one corner as he added, “Anything.”
The too bright smile on Cordelia’s face wavered a bit as she felt Angel’s large hand close around her ribs, sweep along her waist and spread out over the rounded curve of her bottom. Plastered against his side, Cordelia felt her heart leap up in her throat as his iron grip held her in place. She was too busy counting up the number of ways to turn Angel into a dust pile to notice Vandemere’s reaction.
“Then I assume you will not require separate accommodations,” Vandemere nodded without blinking an eye. “My assistant will show you to Cordelia’s room shortly, but as your host, I must ensure you have everything you need during your stay.”
With a brief nod, Angel thanked him. The sooner they got to that room, the better off they would be. A storm of hurricane proportions was building up inch by inch in the tense woman in his arms and he wanted them out of hearing range before she let it blow. He’d just reacted and now it was all he could do not to squeeze the lush curves beneath his hand.
“You are a sketch artist with the eye of a master. The detail is superb,” Vandemere was quite free with the compliments. Then he quickly got to what he assumed would be the interesting part of this conversation, “I suppose that your only other medium is flesh— and blood. That is usually the way with vampires.”
Cordelia’s eyes snapped back to their host, wide with shock. She grabbed a handful of Angel’s jacket, promising, “I didn’t tell him.”
Vandemere laughed as he watched their reactions. Panic settled across that beautiful face as Cordelia nibbled on her lower lip realizing she should have kept her mouth shut and let Angel do the talking. There was a first time for everything.
“Do not fear that I will alert the other guests. May I say that I admire the bravado of your daytime arrival. The cloak of darkness would have been safer, but not seen as suspicious by this crowd. As long as you maintain your decorum amongst them, there will be no difficulty,” Vandemere assured smoothly.
“There aren’t many who can identify my kind by sight alone,” Angel commented, the danger signals glaring by this point. Their host was no ordinary human, but what he was Angel had no idea.
With a brief flash of a smile, “Money buys many connections in this community. I hear quite a lot and have learned to trust my instincts.”
“Well, I’m not here to snack on your guests, Vandemere,” Angel hoped to end this discussion soon. This required a little time for regrouping.
“I am delighted to hear that,” came the amused response. “However, I would be happy to arrange provision of a supply of fresh blood…unless you already have one,” his gaze drifted back to Cordelia. “I don’t see any obvious marks on that lovely skin.”
Cordelia snapped, “There are none,” and felt Angel’s hand tighten in response.
Telling another male that he let his property go unmarked did not produce a calming effect for the vampire. Even if Cordelia didn’t actually belong to him in the way that Vandemere suggested. Angel quickly explained, his emotions masked firmly behind a practiced poker-face, “Cordelia is unmarked because I choose to enjoy the perfection of her skin. I like her warm and willing.”
Angel felt her gaze burning into him. He’d guess she was pretty damn hot right now. Mount Vesuvius was going to blow no matter her professed acting skills. He hoped she realized he was trying to convince Vandemere that she was off limits to protect her, not that his words contained hidden truths.”
Barely maintaining her hold on her tongue, Cordelia kept repeating a mantra to hold off the urge to tell both of them exactly what was running through her head. Any other time, she wouldn’t hesitate, but there was a mission at stake.
“She is indeed lovely,” Vandemere’s blue eyes wandered down her frame despite the possessive hold of the vampire. Then joking, “Keeps your drawing pencil sharp, does she?”
Angel heard Cordelia’s soft, “Eew!” close to his ear.
“Your Cordelia will make a lovely model for my next commission. I have a yen to see her on canvas,” Vandemere tapped his finger to his chin thoughtfully.
Reminding him, “I don’t paint,” Angel closed that subject.
Or thought he did.
Clay Vandemere stepped within arms reach of the vampire and the beautiful woman he had claimed to be his. Ignoring the dark glare and possessive tone, he chuckled as his hand lifted to curl a finger along one of Cordelia’s silky chestnut tresses. “My dear Angel, I plan to paint her myself.”
“What the freakin’ hell did you think you were playing at?” Cordelia stormed up to Angel the moment the door to their room closed behind the servants who carried up his bags.
Their room, the thought resonated in her head. It was their room, not hers just because Mister Big Mouth Vamp had to go all Super-Psycho just because she was talking to the potential bad guy.
Rubbing the tension at the nape of his neck, Angel tried to get out of this without appearing to whine and beg forgiveness. Not that he was anywhere near feeling sorry for the fact that he’d tried to make it clear that Cordelia was off-limits to their host. If anything, his spontaneous strategy only seemed to draw more interest. Now Clay Vandemere was adamant about painting Cordelia and only after Angel’s assurance that he would consider allowing it did he allow them to head upstairs.
“Drop it, Cordy,” Angel told her, stance wide, hands on his hips and making his body appear even larger engulfing hers as she approached like an angry whirlwind.
“I’m not dropping anything,” she snapped, “until you tell me where that lamebrain act came from. Clay was behaving like a gentleman until you came along and turned him into Mister Male Chauvinist Pig.”
Nostrils flaring, Angel made an attempt to put a damper on his own temper. After all, if Cordelia had stuck with the girl instead of letting Clay Vandemere put his hands on her, this would have been a non-issue. “Think about it. Your own vision showed you that he’s the one behind these disappearances. So it stands to reason that he puts on a performance for the public. You just caught a glimpse of the man behind the façade.”
Raking both hands through her hair, Cordelia tucked it behind her ears. She swiped her tongue across her lips, glared at Angel and then poked him in the chest hard enough to make sure she had his full attention. “He’s a creep. I get that. For the record, I’m not some simpering twit who’s going to drool all over him because he’s kind of a hottie and has money to burn.”
The description startled Angel for a moment. She thought Vandemere was a hottie? Maybe it was the beard. Shaking off the flash of jealousy distracting him, Angel got back to the point of his whole charade. He didn’t care if his words cut too close to the truth that he hadn’t fully admitted to himself yet as he said, “I don’t want him near you, Cordelia. You saw how he looked at you.”
“What— like a man looks at a woman?” Cordelia questioned hotly, anger glittering in her hazel eyes. “Maybe it’s escaped your notice, but guys actually find me attractive. Just because you’re a eunuch doesn’t mean the rest of the male population has to be.”
Angel dropped his hands to his sides, balling them up into tight fists as the urge to grab hold of her hit him. Not notice? A eunuch? If she had any clue just how often and how much he did notice, he was certain Cordelia wouldn’t be screaming in his face and all, but daring him to show her just how wrong she was about that eunuch comment.
Jaw tight, Angel ground out the words, “I’m not a eunuch.”
“Pfft!” Cordelia crossed her arms, turned her head to one side and refused to look at him.
“You were there when Wes found the loophole that made my soul permanent,” Angel reminded her taking one step closer so that his towering form brushed against her. “Don’t yank that chain, Cordelia, unless you want it wrapped around you.”
The sound of her own pulse thundered in her ears as Cordelia slowly peeked up at him from the corners of her eyes. Teeth clamped down on her lower lip as she realized maybe, just maybe she’d pushed him just a little too far bruising his male ego in the process.
“That still doesn’t give you the right to paw me,” she took it down a notch, “even for show.”
Dammit, now he had to say it, “I’m sorry, Cordy.”
“You should be,” Cordelia told him not leaving well enough alone. “Personally, I think some serious groveling is in order here.”
Amazed that she’d actually suggest it, he could only question her sanity for doing so, “Groveling? You’re crazy if you think I’m crawling and begging to gain forgiveness for something that was your fault in the first place.”
“My fault! I’m to blame for that testosterone challenge in the lobby?” Her voice gave off a shriek as her temper flared again. “That was all you, buddy. And don’t talk to me about yanking your chains, Angel, because after that act, I think you need to take a hard look in the mirror.”
Angel’s jaw snapped shut again just as his hands moved with incalculable speed to pull her hard against his chest. One moved up to bury itself in her hair, tilting her head back and her face toward him. “Vampires don’t have reflections,” he reminded her, closing in on the soft circle formed by her mouth.
A short gasp was all Cordelia had time for, her eyes wide saucers as Angel closed in on her lips. Just as the distance between them vanished to naught but a sliver of light, a knock sounded at their door followed quickly by the turning of the handle. In the space of a second, Cordelia was left standing alone with Angel on the far side of the room leaning up against the wall and taking great interest in a crack on the ceiling.
Wesley entered quickly, shutting the door behind him. Noting Angel’s presence and immediately picking up the tense vibes, he had no doubt they’d been arguing. As he approached, the sound of their raised voices had been audible, but indecipherable. No doubt it had something to do with Cordelia spending more time with Vandemere than Angel thought safe and the fact that Angel had somehow arranged to get here in broad daylight.
“So you made it,” Wes said by way of an opening hoping the tension would dissipate.
Angel nodded without explaining the details. He was slowly forcing himself to calm down. Cordelia had him so stirred up he’d almost kissed her. Dammit, what the hell was he thinking? That was the problem, Angel realized, thinking had nothing to do with it.
Moving forward, Wesley noticed that Angel’s suitcases were lined up at his feet. This was potentially interesting. “Why are these not in your room?”
It was Cordelia who answered, her fake smile showing again. “This is Angel’s room.”
A furrow appeared on Wesley’s brow, “But this is your room.”
“Try explaining that to Don Juan the Artiste over there,” Cordelia nodded her head in Angel’s direction.
Pushing away from the wall, Angel stalked over to join them. “I thought it necessary to tell Vandemere that Cordelia wasn’t up for grabs.”
“Says Mister Grabby Hands himself,” she muttered and drew a wide-eyed look from the Englishman.
“So you’re saying that you informed our host that you two are sleeping together,” Wes deduced while attempting not to let his imagination run away with him. Since they had recently moved offices from Cordelia’s apartment to the Hyperion, he had hoped the building tension between the vampire and seer would cool off a little. That hadn’t happened and now Wes saw that it was reaching a boiling point. “Strangely, I have to tell you that I’m glad you made that inference.”
Cordelia’s nose crinkled in reaction. “Huh?” Even Angel raised a brow.
“I’ve garnered a little more information from our outside sources on the women who have disappeared,” Wesley explained. “All of them were the girlfriends of the artisans who have come here as guests.”
“So what?” Cordelia shrugged, not getting the connection. “You’re saying that Clay is the jealous type. There’s plenty of that to go around.”
Angel ignored the verbal barb to comment, “Maybe he covets what he can’t have as his own.” Then making a leap, “He paints them. Captures them on canvas.”
“He wants to paint me,” Cordelia’s hand crept up to her throat, remembering the way Clay commented on her unmarked skin.
Conceding that there could be a connection, Wesley pointed out, “That still doesn’t explain the cause of the disappearances.”
“Pack up,” Angel ordered decisively having never taken his eyes off of her. “You’re going home tonight. We’ll handle this.”
Turning on him and completely ignoring Wesley’s presence, Cordelia laid into him again. “Don’t pull the macho protective stuff with me, Angel. I’m part of this team— Vision Girl, not just your secretary and certainly not someone who’s going to run at the first sign that it’s getting dangerous.”
Then her voice softened, “I’ve come a long way since Sunnydale and I’m not going to let you endanger this mission because you think I can’t take care of myself.”
“Cordy…,” Angel couldn’t deny any of it and found that his words were suffocated by the truth.
After seconds of silence that felt like eons, Wesley cleared his throat. Addressing Angel, he put on a practical expression before saying, “I assume you’ll be sleeping on the couch.”
After that, it seemed like a non-issue to Wesley who informed them both that it might be a good idea for Cordelia to sit for Vandemere’s painting. This might be the only way they would gain access to the evidence that would prove him guilty of a connection to the disappearances. Angel was dead-set against the idea. No way was he going to let that happen. Just to prove her point, Cordelia took the opposite argument, even though the idea gave her the creeps.
“Two against one,” she quipped sticking out her tongue at Angel when the urge hit.
“Fine,” he ground out. “Just keep in mind that when you do this, he won’t have you wearing anything except your skin.”
Cordelia’s spine stiffened at the thought of those leering blue eyes, but she wasn’t about to back down now. “You don’t know that.”
A harsh laugh sounded from the vampire’s throat. “After the way he went on about your flawless silky golden skin? Bet on it.”
Just as Cordelia was trying to recall if Clay had used those words, Wesley decided he had heard more than enough. He didn’t like the idea any more than Angel, but if he had his way, things wouldn’t get that far. “This is a good time to snoop around a bit. Vandemere is supposed to be otherwise occupied until suppertime. Cordy, you might want to get back to Ms Mitchell.”
Cordelia didn’t even make it into the same room as Marnie Mitchell before Clay found her. He was anxious to learn about Angel’s decision in allowing her to pose for him. “I can assure you that your cooperation will only help him. My contacts in the world of art are innumerable. Through them, I can make your Angel a household name.”
“I’m a little nervous,” Cordelia admitted, pressing her lips together.
“No need, my dear,” patting her cheek, he commented, “I am a professional.”
Winging it, Cordelia accepted his offer. She was told that an assistant would take her to his studio at ten o’clock in the morning. Before he went, she had to ask, “Should I wear anything special or is there a costume?”
Amused by her naivety considering that Angel’s patron had basically pimped her out to the vampire, “The only costume you’ll need is that gorgeous skin.”
The fact that Angel had been right wasn’t lost on her, but Cordelia wasn’t about to back down now. This might mean finding out the truth.
Cordelia spent the rest of the evening making small talk with Marnie Mitchell who was enjoying her stay at the mansion and was completely clueless that anything might happen to her. When asked, she told Cordelia that Clay Vandemere hadn’t talked to her since the three of them were together earlier in the day. Interpreting the scenes from her vision, Cordelia had to wonder if somehow, she had replaced Marnie as Clay Vandemere’s next victim.
Dinner went by in a haze as Cordelia contemplated what would happen tomorrow morning. Neither Angel nor Wes had found anything during their brief search of this wing of the mansion. That meant she would have to go through with posing for Clay.
Oh God! What now? Just show up, drop her clothes in front of the potentially evil guy with leer-o-vision? How was she going to do this without freaking out? Cordelia had always thought she was comfortable with her body. Hello, cheerleader. That usually gave her the ability to ignore leering men, but not while she was bare-assed and posing for one.
Maybe this was a bad decision. Maybe she should change her mind. But no, that would be giving into Angel and confessing that he was right all along.
As soon as Marnie excused herself to follow her artist lover to their room, Cordelia made her own escape upstairs. The bedroom was still empty suggesting that Angel was either occupied in his role as artist extraordinaire or that he was busy snooping around the other wing of the mansion. Cordelia didn’t really care which it was at that moment; she darted into the bathroom, shed her clothes and turned the water on in the tub until hot steam covered her wide-eyed reflection in the mirror.
After a long soak, Cordelia finally climbed out, pulling up the stopper to drain the tub and took her time in drying herself from head to toe. The body lotion came next. She donned the terry cloth robe that hung on the back of the door having forgotten her pajamas in the rush to feel clean again, wrapping it around her slim form and then knotting the belt in place. She brushed her teeth until they were sparkly and her breath minty fresh. Afterward, combing and drying her hair until it fell in a mass of wavy tendrils down the length of her back, radiating a healthy shine.
Finally, Cordelia could find no other excuses to remain in the bathroom. She’d come to a startling conclusion while soaking in the tub. The steam had cleared her mind and she realized that there was only one way she was going to be able to pull this off in the morning.
Cordelia reached for the door, her breath catching in her throat. She could sense him beyond the wooden barrier. Angel was out there and she was about to ask him to do something that wasn’t exactly the normal thing one might expect between friends or between boss and assistant or between vampire and seer.
Angel had his back to her as Cordelia padded barefoot across the thick carpet, but turned just before she came to a stop. His eyes slid over her flushed skin and the determined expression. One dark eyebrow quirked upward in sudden expectation of a continuation of their earlier fight. He’d been thinking of what else he could do or say to convince Cordelia not to put herself in direct danger, but he knew there was nothing that his stubborn seer wouldn’t counter with that sharp little tongue.
“What is it, Cordy?” he asked when she didn’t immediately say what was on her mind.
Gathering her courage, Cordelia sucked in a deep breath and then blurted in one fast plea, “Iwantyoutosketchme.”
Even with vampire hearing, Angel hoped he’d heard it wrong. “You want me to do what?”
“Sketch me,” she repeated carefully and then waited and waited and waited for him to respond, clarifying the last part so that there was no doubt about her request, “in the nude.”
Finally, his question came in almost anti-climactic fashion. Nearly emotionless by its nature and simply seeking the truth, “Why?”
“This is important to the success of this mission, Angel. I’ve never posed for anything like this before, certainly not naked. I don— I don’t want to ruin our chances of figuring this out just because I’m nervous,” Cordelia grasped his wrist, staring up at him with pleading eyes. “Sketch me. I need to know what it feels like to…”
“To be leered at, lusted after, touched under the pretence of posing you?” Finishing for her, Angel found that he wasn’t angry at her for coming up with this idea. He was relieved. Because there was a lesson or two Cordelia Chase would learn tonight and by morning, he was certain that she’d back out of this whole crazy scheme.
Cordelia’s defensive shield slammed into place at the description. “Just think of it as on-the-job training,” she snapped back.
Turning, Angel immediately walked over to the case containing his drawing supplies. She stood frozen, realizing that he was taking her up on the idea. Suddenly, Cordelia couldn’t stand still. In a short path, she paced back and forth in the middle of the room, her skin tingling and a strange feeling settling deep down inside her at the thought that within a few minutes she would not be wearing this robe.
Her hand ran across her middle where butterflies flew in a merry swarm in her stomach, the terry cloth a solid link to reality even though Cordelia felt like this had to be some kind of nightmare. The prelude to one of those sexy Angel dreams she wasn’t supposed to admit she had.
Naked with Angel. Pfft! She could handle this. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t seen hundreds of naked women during his evil vampire days. That thought was actually a little eew and Cordelia resolved to keep thinking that she’d just be another female body in his eyes. After all, they were just girl parts, even if they did belong to her.
Angel put his lapdesk, paper and pencils down on a chair, moving it so that it was in a position closer to the bed. Resolve kept wavering as she met his dark gaze like a frightened doe caught in a predator’s trap. Blinking away the last vestiges of her fear, Cordelia tilted her chin up and stared back. “Ready?”
“Take the robe off, Cordelia,” Angel ordered, a husky octave deepening his voice as he tested her reaction. “Let me see you.”
It should be simple, she realized, but found that her hands trembled as they reached for the ties to the robe. Cordelia whirled around so that her back turned to him. This way she wouldn’t have to look in his eyes right away. Only the knot didn’t want to budge and she let out a little sound of frustration as her fingers refused to obey her commands.
Suddenly, Angel was there behind her, standing close so that his chest was touching her back. His hands slid around her waist reaching for the ties to the belt, slowly and deftly untying the stubborn knot. The belt fell loose as did the sides of the robe now hanging freely over the curves of her breasts. Cordelia stood frozen, her attention all on the vampire standing behind her, waiting for him to step away, but he didn’t. His cool hands pressed lightly on her flat belly, fingers pointing in a vee just above the soft triangle of curls between her thighs.
“This is what you can expect,” Angel’s cheek brushed against her hair as his hands made a slow ascent, fingers skimming the curves of her breasts to close around the terry cloth lapels of the robe. “Any excuse to touch you and he will.”
Slowly, keeping his fingers in contact with her skin as much as possible, he pulled the robe off of her shoulders and let it drop to the floor. Cordelia glanced over her shoulder upon hearing the soft sound of her name emitted on a groan from Angel’s lips, “Cordy,” followed by the sensual sweep of his fingers trailing down her spine past her colorful tattoo along the cleft of her buttocks.
That hand captured her chin as she half-turned toward him. Angel had to give her one last chance to back out before it was too late. Eyes as dark as midnight devoid of all hints of his true emotions held hers captive, “Be damned sure you want this lesson, Cordelia.”
“You know I do,” she responded on a whisper though Cordelia wasn’t certain what she was telling him. She wanted something, but it was suddenly hard to remember that this was about preparing for tomorrow instead of simply being with him.
“Do you like it harder, Mr. Wyndam-Pryce?” the feminine voice inquired softly through the restful haze surrounding him.
A smile slowly appeared across his lips as he answered, “Oh, yes. Let’s do try it that way.”
Skillful hands kneaded the muscles of Wesley’s shoulders and upper back increasing in pressure. Draped in a towel on the massage table, he appeared to any who entered the room to be enjoying one of the many perks of being a guest.
In fact, he was sleuthing having discovered that Tasha was tasked with giving Vandemere’s models a massage at the end of a long day of posing. The masseuse was a talker and a few questions here and there gained Wesley quite a bit of information.
He would confirm his suspicions tonight, contact Angel with the news and they would put this investigation to an end before it ever became necessary for Cordelia to go to Vandemere’s studio in the morning. Finally, Wes simply settled his brain and relaxed into the remainder of the massage.
The gentle pressure of Angel’s hand slid down from her chin along the smooth length of Cordelia’s neck to curl around her shoulder. He turned her to face him, noting the flash of nervousness in her eyes and the slightest shiver of her golden flesh. With a slow, deliberate drop of his gaze, Angel lingered on her every luscious curve fighting his own immediate response to seeing her fully unclothed for the first time.
Words of admiration of her beauty nearly tumbled from his mouth, but Angel held them back. This wasn’t the time to worship at the feet of his own personal Venus. This was a lesson and he was playing the part of the leering evil bastard who would have his hands on her in the morning. That was a role Angel knew rather well from days of old and it wouldn’t take much to call upon those memories just to give her a taste of what she would be getting.
“Say something,” Cordelia urged him to end the silent staring. It was all too clear he liked what he saw and a part of her relished the fact that looking at her body brought a spark of desire to those otherwise unreadable depths.
“We’ll take this step by step,” Angel informed her, ignoring the way his body felt taut and his sex twitched to unbidden life in his boxers. The seed of deep need planted in the back of his mind and he recognized its power. “Every painting or drawing needs a subject. To make it more interesting, we’ll give it a scenario.”
Cordelia was all for it if that would make her feel any less vulnerable. “It’ll be like auditioning for a commercial, only naked.”
“If that makes you more comfortable with the idea, then try it,” he told her doubting she could pull it off. Not with everything he was planning to throw at her to prepare her for what she would face in the morning. Angel’s hand slid down the length of her arm to her elbow before skipping down to her hip.
His thumb moved almost imperceptibly across her hipbone, but Cordelia felt its every minute motion as a little patch of heat built up beneath his touch spreading straight to her loins. Oh, crap! The idea wasn’t to have Angel turn her on. This was supposed to give her an idea of what their creepazoid host would do.
Cordelia lifted a hand to Angel’s chest, pressing it down on the smooth material of his shirt, but feeling the hard bone and sinewy muscle underneath. She’d meant to push him away, but instead found her fingers curling in to the red silk as she noticed for the first time that he wasn’t garbed entirely in black.
“Would you touch him?” Angel demanded she focus her wandering attention back on his face, his own dark eyes dilated to pitch black as Cordelia’s fingers slowly uncurled to leave behind the wrinkled proof that she’d been there.
Her answer came swiftly, “Eew, no!” Then Cordelia attempted a joke feeling the need to break the tension, “Though he is cute for a bad guy.”
“Get on the bed,” his voice dropped down low.
Letting out a huff, Cordelia pointed out, “Clay wouldn’t be mean and growly. So what is this scenario about?”
She knelt on the edge of the bed, facing him, not comfortable with being nude for this purpose, but no longer feeling the need to run from the room. Expectantly, she waited for him to explain how this was going to work. When Angel spoke again, there was a sensual thread to his words that left her with an underlying ache throughout her whole body.
“Your imaginary lover has just spent the last half hour kissing you, touching you and removing your clothing piece by piece,” Angel moved the hand from her hip to cup her face, his thumb now close to her lips. “Bite your lips, Cordelia. Lick them until they’re shining and swollen as if from my kisses.”
How had he moved from providing an imaginary lover to being the one kissing her? A shaky breath caught in her throat as Cordelia pictured that scenario in her mind, all the while staring at the firm male mouth tempting her and giving instruction. Her tongue swept across the curved plain of her upper lip and then her teeth closed around the plumper bottom one clamping down and releasing to let the blood fill the tiny capillaries turning her unpainted mouth a rosy hue.
Angel didn’t even notice his mistake. He was too caught up in the imagery in his head and suddenly wanting to see it come to life. “Just an easy pose, this first time. Vandemere will want several and would choose the one that pleases him the most for the painting itself.”
“Oh,” Cordelia hadn’t considered that.
“Lie down,” Angel nodded toward the mattress, “lengthwise on the bed and roll onto your stomach.”
Now prone, her body pressed down into the mattress and her head rested on her folded arms, Cordelia asked, “Like this?”
“Not quite,” Angel swallowed reflexively as his eyes traveled down her spine to the sun and moon tattoo entwined so meaningfully upon her skin. That brightly painted design might as well represent them, only no such harmony existed. Only tension and forbidden desire; he could see it in her eyes that she wasn’t immune to his touch, but he wasn’t here to take advantage.
This was a lesson; except Angel wasn’t quite certain that the lesson might not be for him, one in maintaining control.
“Keep your hands and forearms flat on the bed,” he told her even as his fingers kept up a light touch at the center of her back. “Now lift your shoulders; prop your upper body. Higher, Cordelia, so I can see the curves of your breasts.”
She didn’t need to peek at him from beneath her lashes this way to tell where his gaze had fallen. Cordelia could feel those eyes on the now-pebbled tips of her full breasts. Then the heat of his heavy gaze moved on as Angel’s hand trailed down to settle between her thighs.
Cordelia started to turn to see what he was doing, but Angel told her not to move. His hand was up so high her damp curls were ticking his skin. Saying nothing about the obvious signs of her early arousal, he only moved her legs slightly apart, his hand traveling further down one long limb and the other joining in to bend her legs at the knees. “Cross them at the ankles. Point your toes upward. That’s right.”
This part wasn’t so bad, except that Angel’s touch made it difficult not to squirm with need. He had her wet and aching and he’d barely touched her. Cordelia only hoped he hadn’t noticed her reaction, but considering his vampiric senses, what were the chances of that?
Moving at a slow pace back to the chair, Angel picked up the items he’d placed on the cushion and took a seat. Organizing the paper on the flat wooden lapdesk shaped like a large painter’s palette and his drawing pencils, Angel glanced up to find himself awestruck by Cordelia’s beauty. It must have shown in his face because her mouth curved into a hint of a smile, eyes bright and suddenly dancing with mischief.
Then the artist in him wrestled with the instincts that told him to forget this whole ploy. “Don’t move, Cordy,” he held out a hand. “You’re perfect.”
He meant it too. Every inch of her. Golden perfection. From the silky waves of her hair down to her polished toes. Angel wondered if he’d ever be able to look at her the same way again after tonight. If anything would be the same after tonight.
Holding still when she felt so antsy distracted Cordelia a little from the fact that Angel was drawing her. The soft sound of the pencil rasping across the thick paper was not enough to pull her focus away from his eyes. His glance was palpable upon her skin, touching every millimeter of flesh as Angel transferred her image into black and white.
Losing herself in the little scenario Angel had created, Cordelia pictured herself as waiting anxiously for her imaginary lover to join her on the bed. Except he wasn’t so imaginary, but sitting across from her staring hungrily into her eyes when they lifted up from the page or a random curve of her body.
Was that part of the act? Angel’s version of leer-o-vision designed to remind her that Clay Vandemere would be doing the same thing in the morning. Only she wouldn’t call it leering. Not the way Angel looked at her now. His gaze was more tender, more intimate than that and ringed by guilt, the one emotion Cordelia could easily identify in him as she had seen it so often in his eyes.
“Relax,” Angel told her as he completed the drawing, staring at it for the longest time before setting it down on the floor next to the chair. Forcing himself to remember that this was just part of her lesson, he tried to ignore the ache of his erection pressing up against the zipper of his pants. When he lifted his gaze to hers again it was once again distant. “Time for another pose.”
“Is that necessary? I think I get the hint,” Cordelia felt certain that whatever she was going to experience with Clay Vandemere, it wouldn’t be half as unsettling as being here with Angel.
“We’re not done here, Cordy,” he told her rising from his seat and walking over with grim determination to continue. “Do you think he’ll stop when you say no?”
Cordelia huffed, turning over onto her side, head propped on her hand and the other arm resting on her hip. “That’s different. This is you.”
Angel knelt on the bed beside her, pillow in hand in preparation for altering her pose, but it seemed Cordelia had all but done it for him. Face it, any way she turned was worthy of a portrait and it was time he stopped kidding himself one minute longer.
“You’re right, this is me,” Angel moved beside her, hovered over her mouth for a fraction of a second and then captured her lips under his, no longer willing to deny the reason he found the idea of any other man getting within leering distance of Cordelia so deplorable.
Without a doubt, he wanted her. His body craved to be buried deep inside her warmth. His hands ached to touch, to roam the peaks and valleys of her body and explore the secret dips and intimate curves that were only for him to know.
The hesitation of her surprise lasted seconds before Cordelia responded with a fervor that left Angel no doubt that she wanted him too, even if the soft womanly aroma of her arousal hadn’t been teasing him for the past twenty minutes. The heavy weight of his male body pressed hard into hers, his clothes sliding at points roughly or smoothly across her bare skin as she pulled him close. Her arms looped around his neck, hands curled around his nape and buried in the soft spikes of his hair. One leg curled up over his hip to bring him into contact with the center of her need.
Cordelia let out a moan at the sensation of the hard bulge pressing into her, writhing against it, but it just wasn’t enough. She covered the hand that glided over the soft plain of her belly pushing it low, their fingers tangling together through the forest of her curls as she shifted to make space between them. Murmuring against his mouth, “Touch me, Angel.”
The vampire smiled against her mouth. That was his Cordelia alright, not exactly the shy, retiring type afraid to ask for what she wants. His skillful fingers gathered moist heat from her creamy center to come back to circle around the hard nub of her clit. A lusty moan sounded from her lips as they peppered kisses across his face and her hands fumbled to unbutton his shirt.
Two of his fingers slid deep, her body clenching tight around them, his thumb taking up the teasing stimulation. Cordelia met him for another heated kiss, her eyes wide and wanton as his rhythmic fingering intensified, the friction building and driving her closer to orgasm.
Her hands bunched up the loose material of his silk shirt as Cordelia tried to pull it down over his shoulder. “Off,” she muttered wanting to feel his cool skin against her heated breasts.
A chuckle sounded in her ear as Angel leaned down to suck an earlobe into his mouth, tugging gently with his teeth. “I’ll have to stop to do that.”
“Don’t you dare,” Cordelia settled for rubbing her hands across the defined muscles of his chest as Angel lifted up to watch her come knowing that she was getting close. Watching wasn’t enough though as his chest rumbled with the sound of his need, “I have to taste you.”
Angel maneuvered between her open thighs with dizzying speed and before Cordelia could consciously comprehend the fact, his tongue made one long motion across the slick folds of her sex before flicking mercilessly against her clitoris. The unique taste of her exploded on his tongue as Angel greedily lapped up the creamy nectar clinging to her silken folds. She bucked hard against his mouth and fingers, but Angel never let up alternating sharp little sucks with that wild tongue and the endless plunge of his thick fingers.
“Geez, yes!” Cordelia called out, her head thrashing against the bed, now close, so close that she could do nothing more than react, her legs shaking, hands trembling and her voice sounding out words that fell with little control from her lips. “Likethat. Likethat. Nownownow. OhyeahomigodohAngel.”
A light sheen glistened along her skin, Cordelia’s eyes topaz against the light in the room as they bored into his as he looked up the long plain of her body letting his teeth clamp down gently over her clit followed by the wet slide of his tongue. Then it happened, all the built-up tension exploded into a million sparks and she was coming hard.
His fingers continued to work her, gathering up her liquid heat, swallowing it up like a starving man. He’d deprived himself of this far too long, the thought settled in the back of his mind as he continued to lap up every creamy drop her body released.
Moaning and stretching in catlike pleasure, Cordelia watched Angel through heavy-lidded eyes as he rose up on his knees above her, desire darkening his potent gaze. One hand swept across his chin, the index finger clearing away the last evidence of her orgasm before he sucked the thick digit into his mouth. Cordelia shivered at the sight of his big, male body towering over her, wanting it against her, wanting him inside her.
“Oh, Angel, I want you,” she nearly cried at the idea that she was saying that to him, so powerful were her emotions at that moment.
Ripping off his shirt, Angel left it in shreds on the floor. He couldn’t be bothered with removing anything else because he needed his mouth on hers. Kissing her wildly, their mouths met in a frenzy of passion, tongues darting wetly; lips pressing softly, firmly, teasingly while feeding the flames of desire burning bright between them.
Taking hold of her, Angel rolled them so Cordelia lay on top of him, allowing his hands the freedom to explore her slim body with those lush curves he’d admired so carefully from the short distance of the chair. His thumbs brushed the sides of her breasts as his mouth trailed down the defined cord of her throat. Then his hands wandered on moving around to her back sliding up and down her spine to cup both firm buttocks.
Opening her thighs, Cordelia gripped his hips, pushing her body up to straddle his and settling herself down over the straining erection she had yet to see. A naughty smile flashed across her lips before she moaned at the sensation of him moving beneath her, his hand clamped down on her hip to hold her in place. Angel sat up, not yet ready to give up his exploration. Cupping the nape of her neck, he nuzzled her throat pressing wet kisses along a path that led toward her neglected breasts.
Their succulent peaks tempted him and Angel waited, teasing the plump mounds with his mouth and teeth drawing out Cordelia’s panty little breaths into needy moans. He loved every sound she uttered, their womanly, earthy, lustful tones spurring him on. He sucked one hard nub into his mouth, his fingers plumping the firm pillow of her breast. The other hand giving equal attention to its mate as his fingers slid across the edge of her nipple, and then tweaked it before his thumb roved across the fine skin of her dusky areola.
When Angel moved to switch his mouth to the other side, Cordelia pushed at his shoulders sending the unprepared vampire tumbling back on the bed in surprise. “I think it’s my turn to play, greedy.”
“That depends on what you want to do with your turn,” a husky tone thickened his words to match the thick shaft pressing into her from beneath the annoying barrier of his clothing.
Her hands smoothed across the sculpted angles of his chest and broad shoulders, feeling the power of those heavy muscles under her fingertips. “If you don’t like it, you can always tell me to stop.”
Not like it? Hell, she could chain him up to the bed and have her way with him for a week and he’d still enjoy it. Angel tried not to let himself get too excited. After all, he had no idea just how much experience Cordelia had when it came to sex, though he knew she wasn’t a virgin.
“Take off my pants, Cordelia,” Angel knew there wouldn’t be any stopping. “You can start with that.”
“My turn to leer a little?” she teased as her hands floated down to his belt unbuckling it.
Smirking at the mischievous glint in her eyes, Angel answered, “Leer all you want as long as you touch me when you get there.”
Cordelia scooted off of his lap, kneeling beside him, reaching down to take off his shoes and socks, pausing to rasp her fingernails beneath the leg of his pants along one muscular calf. “Does that count? Or was there something else you wanted my hands on?”
Long past feeling a pleasurable ache, his hard cock strained against the pants that entrapped it. Restraint was wearing thin despite his desire to take things slowly and make every moment count. Her words, and the sight of her and the taste of her still on his tongue made it impossible to maintain a calm façade. “Teasing only gets you so far, Cordy. Then it gets you fucked.”
“Promise?” Her hands slid over the pants legs covering the hard muscle of his thighs.
She never even blinked as his eyes turned dark and rimmed with amber telling her that his demon lay so close to the surface, it wouldn’t take much to draw him out if she tried. It wasn’t as if Cordelia didn’t know what might happen here. The thought of him vamping out, of having the smooth sinewy muscle harden under her touch, become heavier, his frame thicker, bonier only gave her a thrill that made her insides throb.
Both hands swept up to cover the impressive bulge eliciting a deep moan from Angel as she cupped him. Reaching down, he stroked the back of his fingers along the curve of her face and the gentle move distracted her long enough to lean into that touch, closing her eyes. He spoke softly, his voice rough with passion, “Just let me make love to you.”
Cordelia’s eyes snapped open, protesting, “Not until I have my fun too.”
Groaning, Angel dropped his hand down to his washboard stomach. “Something tells me I may not survive your idea of fun. Not with my pride intact at any rate.”
“What happened to that vampire stamina thing I’ve read about?” Cordelia grinned as her fingers moved to his zipper slowly edging it down.
“It’s all a myth,” he lied…just in case, but a smirk tugged at the corner of his mouth as Angel promised himself that she’d discover the truth by morning.
One perfect eyebrow arched as Cordelia caught the little smile quickly hidden as Angel’s playfulness vanished behind an expectant look of lust. She tugged his pants down over his hips, working them and his boxers off at the same time. Her efforts made it only as far as his upper thighs before she paused to stare down at the erect shaft and heavy balls now exposed to her view.
Forgetting the pants, she reached out to curl a hand around him, feeling the cool muscle warm beneath her touch and the pulse of blood flowing through the distended veins.
Cordelia slid her hand up the length of his cock, hearing him moan low, but making no move to force her actions. Finally, she glanced up at him saying, “You’re so big.”
“There’s no reason to be afraid,” Angel frowned even as his hips shifted in response to her slow pumping action. It was difficult to provide reassurance when Angel could barely think.
“Good, cos I’m not,” she leaned down and circled her tongue around the broad tip of his cock.
Knowing Angel wanted her was a cure for any doubts and the magnificent male body before her was far too tempting to pretend to be shy. Besides, Cordelia wasn’t going to kid herself about what she wanted. Not anymore. She wanted all of him, starting now, with his manhood erect and raging with need. Wanted to feel him in her hand, her mouth, inside her.
Just the thought of making him let go control of that steel grip on his emotions made Cordelia shiver in anticipatory pleasure as her mouth opened to slide down over his hard shaft. Her fingers gripped the lower half of his cock, moving in the same slow motion as her mouth as she sucked him into the scorching heat at the back of her throat.
“Jesus, Cordy,” the guttural sounds churned from Angel’s throat at the sensation. It was all he could do not to grab her head with both hands and thrust repeatedly. He held a tight grip on the bedspread, forcing his eyes open to watch the slide of her plush lips moving rhythmically around him.
Her finger tips curled beneath his balls, drawing them into her palm, the warmth of her gentle touch as effective as her wet tongue flicking along the swollen vein on the underside of his shaft and her teeth carefully tugging on the supersensitive foreskin. When her wavy hair fell forward obstructing his view, Angel swiftly grabbed a fistful to push it back, opening up his hand to loosely cup her head, massaging her scalp in the same rhythm she used.
The salty taste of him filled her mouth as Cordelia curled the flat of her tongue over the crown and hollowed her cheeks as she went down on him again, the sound of her own pleasure reverberating in her throat. Through the rushing pulse of her own eagerness, Cordelia heard the earthy, sensual tones coming from Angel in the form of encouragement, instruction and simple animalistic pleasure.
Somewhere between a purr and a growl, his chest expanded with air and released a sound that drew her eyes open to stare up at Angel who captured her gaze returning it with such a look of lust that she nearly melted. Then her insides quivered as his words reached her ears, “That’s good. So damn good. Show me you’re mine, Cordy. Show me. Suck me off.”
Had Cordelia not wanted just that, she would have teased him a little longer. But the feral glint in his amber-rimmed eyes and the intense expression told her Angel was far too close to play games with him. He arched against the bed, the combined contact of her hands and mouth driving him insane with pleasure. Buttocks clenched tight as he started to piston his hips up in shallow motions. The hand in her hair now fisted again, pulling just a little as he reacted.
Her name ripped from Angel’s throat, followed by an incoherent cry as Cordelia’s slow rhythm became a fervent assault on his senses. She held him just a little harder, moved her hand a little faster, sucked him a little more furiously than before. The pressure built up deep in his balls, held back only by the wall of his resolve, finally broke free. Angel’s body flexed, his sinewy muscles bunching up and then he was coming in spurts of hot pleasure.
Cordelia greedily lapped up every drop, swallowing him down with as much delight as he had taken in tasting her. For the moments where he was completely distracted by his powerful orgasm, Cordelia let her hands wander free over the taut curve of his ass and the rippled muscles of his torso. Slowly, she slipped him free of her mouth, pressing a contented kiss on his hip and resting her head on his belly.
Before she could do more than take in a couple of breaths, Angel pulled her up into his arms. Palming her face, wordlessly staring down into Cordelia’s eyes with that same intense passion, Angel pressed his lips to hers. One soft kiss. Then another, this one long and unmoving as if branding her mouth with his own. Cordelia reached around to cup the nape of his neck, her body instinctively moving to fit more intimately against his as they shifted side-by-side.
Those soft velvet kisses gave way to pure hunger, lips swiping voraciously. Cordelia kept up with the whirlwind of sensations wrought by Angel’s kisses and his roving hands. Those slightly calloused fingertips trailing across her skin to worship every inch of flesh that he could reach. There was such tenderness in those touches, such restrained power as his hands moved down to open her thighs, to curl one leg up around his flank as he fit himself between the cradle of her hips.
Already hard, his cock fit up against her body, tight along the slick crevasse of her sex. Cordelia shuddered with the sudden need to feel him deep inside her. Shifting against him, she rocked her hips, moaning at the zinging sensation of the friction she had created along her tender flesh. She tried to fit her hand between them, to grasp him and put him just where she wanted, but he caught her hand and turned it to kiss the palm before pressing both her hand and his against the full curve of her right breast.
His mouth followed their fingers, teasing her to the point where she plucked at her own moist nipple. Moaning her desire, Cordelia rocked hard against him, the nub of her clit grinding up against his stiff flesh. Angel pressed his open mouth to her neck, sucking softly on the tender skin above her throbbing pulse point, his hips moving against her in the ultimate tease.
Then he pulled back, his hands sliding over her curves to settle on her hips. Cordelia gazed up at him, eyes bright with anticipation, her breathing irregular, skin flushed with arousal making her more beautiful than ever. Dropping his hand down to curl around his stiff sex, Angel let the tip slide along Cordelia’s moist folds. A dark smirk appeared as he circled her clit, teasing her one last time before his hands closed over her inner thighs, thumbs pressing along the sensitive fleshy petals, opening her up to him.
He entered her, moving their bodies together as one in a steady push past the inner muscles guarding her sex. Cordelia gasped, letting out a short cry in reaction to the way his body stretched hers wide open, filling her deep. Her arms and legs clutched him tightly, holding him to the point where he couldn’t move without adjusting them.
Murmuring words of reassurance against her mouth, her throat and the soft patches of her skin within kissing distance, Angel pulled out to the point where only the tip remained inside her. The fluttering of her tight channel nearly did him in as he thrust forward again, equally careful of his reentry, a deep groan escaping at the way she felt surrounding him.
“Cor,” he breathed her name on a guttural groan, “can’t do this. Not slowly. Not this time,” and before Cordelia could even tell him to forget slow, Angel began to thrust faster, his buttocks flexing, hips bucking hard against hers as he plunged deep over and over.
She grabbed him. Held on. Rocked wildly against him as the initial discomfort gave way to hot licks of desire swirling around her belly. She creamed around him, each thrust scraping against that hidden spot that sent her senses reeling. An incoherent reel of strung-together sounds came out as he held her hips and pistoned hard against her, each thrust bringing her closer to ecstasy.
Cordelia’s tongue tangled with his in a steamy kiss and when they parted for her to draw breath, she saw that look in his eye, now familiar, telling her that he held his demon back with only hairsbreadth control. Caught in the midst of her own wanton excitement, Cordelia didn’t want his control. She just wanted him. All of him.
Palming his face, even as her body clutched him tight below, writhing against the cover of the bed and the hard pounding of his heavy male body, Cordelia licked her lips and asked, “Let me see you. I want you that way too.”
Triggered by her plea, Angel let the mask of his human features fall away, his body mass shifting though he was still inside her. Cordelia yelped at the sudden change in sensation, his cock ribbed and even fuller than before, but it stimulated places she didn’t know she possessed. Her hands explored the ridges of his face, the powerfully thick shoulders and her eyes held his barely taking notice of the sharp fangs now inches from veins coursing with life.
Angel’s name sounded on her lips as her orgasm rippled through her, her tight channel milking his hard flesh in that intimate grip. Continuing to ride her hard, he buried his face in the crook of her neck, his mouth seeking out that living pulse, instinct driving him forward as much as desire.
Need. Want. Take. Have. Mine.
Thoughts rooted in that deep seed of desire sprouted to life and before reason could overpower instinct, Angel buried his fangs deep in her flesh, claiming Cordelia as his in the only true way a vampire can mark his woman. Blood spurted onto his tongue, flowing into his mouth as Cordelia cry of pain sounded followed by a deep moan of pleasure as the second wave of her orgasm came like a starburst. Angel came hard, his emotions and physical sensations making the feeling so powerful he had nothing else to compare it to.
Retracting his fangs, Angel lapped his tongue over the raw flesh of Cordelia’s throat, greedily memorizing the coppery taste of her enhanced by the erotic mix of arousal. Every precious drop of blood was cleared away. Angel carefully sealed over the holes permeating them with the saliva that contained his scent, completing the ritual as his body slipped from hers, gathering her close and awaiting the consequences of his actions.
Cordelia slowly came down from the natural high she’d been drifting on. So that’s what Cloud 9 looked like, all sparkly and completely wow. Her body ached all over in a way that still felt tingly and good. Even her throat where the sensations only made her think about the way Angel’s tongue had lapped against her skin. She stretched like a cat beneath him, their bodies still warm and damp, and then noticed Angel had slipped back to his human features, brooding silently with that guilty look in his eyes.
“What’s that for?” she questioned, wrapping her arms around his shoulders again.
Angel gave her a suspicious glance. Did she mean the bite? “Uh, what’s what for?”
“The guilty look, dumbass.”
Calling him a dumbass after he’d laid claim to her seemed to be letting him off easier than expected. “I didn’t mean to bite you. It just happened.”
Frowning at that answer, Cordelia asked sounding suddenly irate, “You didn’t mean it?”
“No,” Angel denied, shaking his dark head. “I meant it. Trust me, Cor. That bite isn’t just a set of fangmarks. It was just unplanned.”
Her fingers crept along the sore skin, “I’m assuming you didn’t suddenly feel like snacking, though I’ve gotta say you worked up my appetite. Kinda hungry now.”
Joking. She was joking. Angel figured that was either very good or a sign that she was trying to avoid what he needed to tell her. He moved onto his back, fingers raking through his hair as he tried to figure out how to say it. Cordelia curled up against him and he tucked his arm around her, holding her close.
“That bite, Cordy,” he began. “It’s not just a bite; it’s a mark.”
“Doesn’t that make me yours?” Cordelia’s eyes were sparkling with mischief as she stared down at him. “My Sunnydale education includes a lot of vampire lore. Think I read about that somewhere.”
Angel looked panicky in response. Then strangling his own doubts, he cupped her face and pulled her down to kiss her forehead leaving her lips tingly and devoid of his attention. But only for a moment. He met her mouth with a tender sweep of his lips across hers, the gentle pressure increasing until her lips opened. Gliding softly, their mouths melted into each other, increasingly passionate until Cordelia sounded out a little cry of complaint as Angel broke the kiss.
“Yes, you’re mine, Cordy. In nearly every way I can have you and want you, you’re mine,” Angel told her, his eyes unwavering from her own.
Tugging at her lower lips with her teeth, Cordelia latched onto the one part of that statement that left a little doubt. “Only nearly?”
After a moment of hesitation, Angel admitted, “I’ve marked your body, but I can’t control your feelings.”
Cordelia’s fingers strummed on his chest as she let out a long sigh. Apparently, he was skilled in taking wide detours around important subjects. “Just ask me, Angel.”
The question came out even before she finished saying his name, “Do you love me, even a little?”
“The sex was great. Wow, in fact. Double wow, actually,” Cordelia corrected trying to keep the grin from spreading across her face, “but my feelings for you have been around for a long time. I wanted you because I thought I could have you back in Sunnydale. Chalk that one up to harsh lessons. Then you became my friend and I loved you for the way you dove into your mission, for the way you helped people, for the way you protected me.”
Then she admitted, “I’ve had some rather naughty dreams starring you lately, but would it sound very bad if I told you that I think I’m in love with you and have been for about a minute?”
“No, because I think I can beat that by five minutes,” Angel smiled as he tucked her hair behind her ear, caressing the curve of her cheek. “I love you so much, Cordelia. It just crept up on me until it was just there and I had to act on it.”
An irrepressible smile of brilliant proportions lit her face, then she teased, “Well, this bite better work both ways, buddy.”
“Technically no,” Angel hedged on answering, but did so after she poked at his chest, “but if you want to think of it that way, we can bend the rules.”
“Pfft! As if I’d leave any guy of mine that kind of loophole,” Cordelia narrowed her gaze and despite the mischievous lit dancing in those hazel depths, swiftly straddled his waist, grabbed his head and sank her teeth along the cord of his neck.
Angel let out a grunt of pain, “Ow! I think you drew blood.”
Sitting back, Cordelia licked at the red liquid spread on her lips. It wasn’t really any different than sucking on your finger after a paper cut, she thought. With a smirk of pure satisfactions, she quipped, “Guess that makes you mine.”
“Guess it does,” Angel answered with a playful growl, pulling her back down into his arms.
Wesley crept down the corridor, his steps silent on the burgundy carpeting lining the hall. Electric sconces along the wall were dimmed as the hour was quite late. No sign of any guards, he noted, but that didn’t mean security wasn’t aware of his presence on the floor. Keeping to the shadows, he hoped that any hidden cameras would also miss his approach.
The talkative masseuse, Tasha, revealed quite a lot. He learned of that the servants spoke of a secret room on this level accessible through a piece of fake paneling, that contained Vandemere’s personal works of art. Believing that he might find a clue, Wes was determined to locate that room.
He did so in short measure, his Watcher’s training coming in handy. What he found overwhelmed him. From a purely artistic standpoint, the paintings that lines the walls from floor to ceiling were masterpieces of their kind. One theme was instantly clear.
All were of women. Most of them nude, though posed quite tastefully or draped in the sheerest cloth. He counted all eleven victims amongst the women depicted on the walls.
Catching a movement from the corner of his eye, Wes turned his head, but saw only the painting on the other wall. The female subject was beautiful, as were the others, her russet hair tumbling over her shoulder. Her pale skin almost touchable with its flawless beauty. Eyes of emerald green held Wesley’s attention. They held him fast, staring deep, almost pleadingly into his.
Blinking, Wesley turned his head away for a moment and then slowly lifted it again. This time, the eyes were turned away. In fact, the woman with russet red hair was posed in a completely different manner.
“Eureka!” Wesley exclaimed aloud, then cupped a hand over his own mouth to quell the excited noises threatening to gurgle from his throat.
Turning on his heel, he stared at another of the paintings. Then another. The images moved. Close inspection showed that they consisted of paint, not flesh, but the light in those eyes belonged to living beings. Wesley scowled as he realized the extent of Clay Vandemere’s involvement with the disappearances of the women in Cordelia’s vision.
After painting them, Vandemere had used powerful magick to draw their lifeforces into the canvas. A wall of living images resulted, their beauty immortal, never fading, and all for his eyes. This revelation couldn’t wait until morning. He needed to tell Angel and Cordelia now before she walked straight into Vandemere’s trap.
One last time, Wes looked up into the emerald eyes, planning to promise that this would all end here. Only the soft plea was replaced by intense fear and it was only when Wesley felt the presence looming behind him did he realize too late that the look was meant as a warning. A dull object crashed into the back of his head and Wesley fell to the ground unconscious.
“I can’t be bothered with you tonight, Wyndam-Pryce,” stated Clay Vandemere as he stared down at the prone form of the Englishman. “My strength and magicks must be conserved for the morning. After I have what I want, expect me to deal with you and your vampire appropriately. Until then, enjoy my beauties. I treasure each and every one of them.”
Exiting, Vandemere locked the door, closing the hidden panel behind him.
“What if I told you I don’t want you to go?” Angel leaned up against the table as she lightly buttered her toast.
Cordelia paused, silently pointing out that it was too early in their new relationship to play the you-have-to-do-what-I-say card. “We went over this yesterday. This is all part of the mission. I’m going.”
Grumbling, Angel commented that he didn’t want Clay Vandemere looking at her and thinking about sex. To which Cordelia countered, “I don’t care what he thinks, pervy man that he is. I don’t care about him. I love you. That’s the difference.”
Conceding that he wasn’t going to get his way, all Angel could do was plan to protect her if things got bad. Who knows what Vandemere did in his private studio. All of the models went home safely. It was afterward that they’d disappeared. That was what they were trying to discover.
“Where is Wes?” asked Angel, suddenly realizing that they hadn’t heard from him all night.
With a shrug, Cordelia swallowed her bite of toast. “Haven’t seen him. Wasn’t he going to come by this morning?”
Glancing at the bedside clock, Angel’s face darkened grimly. “He’s an hour late.”
“Wes is never late,” Cordelia rose from the chair in a hurry.
A knock sounded on the door followed by a voice announcing, “I’m here to collect you, Ms Chase.”
“Already?” Cordelia realized it was earlier than planned. Calling out, “I’ll be out in a minute.”
“Dammit,” Angel cursed low so that only Cordelia heard it. “You’ll have to go. Just be careful. I’ll look for Wesley. Something tells me this isn’t good.”
Cordelia grabbed onto Angel’s arms, staring worriedly into his eyes. “Look where?”
“Vampire senses go a long way when it comes to tracking down people,” Angel told her encouragingly. He didn’t bother to add that the trail might already be cold.
Sharing one last lingering kiss, Cordelia and Angel parted at the door, the servant blushing under the passion burning in that intimate caress. “This way, miss.”
Angel waited until they vanished around the corridor before heading up the back stairs to the third level of the mansion. He crossed over to the far wing believing that this was the area Wesley had been searching earlier in the day. After a few minutes of random searching, he picked up the familiar scent of Wesley’s aftershave and the other combined scents that were unique to his friend.
He stopped in the hall. Wes was close. He could sense it, but there was nothing here. No doorway, no indication of a room. Unless it was well-hidden. Angel experimentally tapped on the wall panel, a hollow echo sounding back.
A satisfied glint lit his eyes and Angel was about to turn the paneling into kindling when he discovered that he was no longer alone. Three burly security guards were standing at the end of the hall, armed with nightsticks and brass knuckles. “Nice to see you boys. I haven’t had my morning workout,” Angel quipped and waited for their attack.
Seconds later, the guards were piled up at his feet.
Angel broke the paneling into pieces, tossing it on the ground and revealing the hidden door behind it. Flexing his leg, he aimed one powerful kick at the door. The lock broke and the door flew off its hinges sliding across the floor and stopping just inches away from Wesley who was sitting on the floor holding a hand to the back of his head.
“Are you okay?” Angel asked as he rushed in to help his friend to his feet.
Wesley nodded and winced in pain. “I will be. Where is Cordelia?”
“We’ve got to stop him,” Wesley said, eyes wide behind the rims of his glasses. “He’s using magick to transfer the lifeforce of the models to the paintings themselves. Just look them.”
Following Wesley’s direction, he looked to the painting he was pointing at. Realizing that this was what Vandemere intended to do to Cordelia, to trap her in canvas for his own visual pleasure, he felt his demon pulling at his restraints. “Lucky for us that he can’t produce a painting even if he does manage to convince Cordelia to remove her clothes.”
“Angel,” warned Wesley who had all night to examine the rest of the room, “some of the framed art appear to be preliminary drawings. As if the models sat for him, but changed their mind about posing for the final painting. How long does it take to sketch one of those?”
Wesley stared after him as the vampire darted out of the room faster than he could follow. He realized the answer to his own questions was ‘not long’ and cried out to Angel who was already rounding the corner, “Wait for me!”
It didn’t matter where Vandemere had his studio. Angel knew he could find it with his eyes closed. Cordelia was there and that was all that it took to show him the way.
“You can remove the robe anytime, my dear,” Clay Vandemere offered smoothly. “I don’t bite, you know. Unlike your lover. I see you’ve been marked since I last saw you.”
Cordelia had discarded her clothes behind a large silk screen, taking her time doing so and donning an ivory robe that was draped over a chair. “Sorry if that ruins my flawless skin. Vampire thing.”
“On the contrary, Cordelia, that raw spot of flesh will give my painting a uniqueness that is solely you,” he told her waving a hand toward the chaise set up in one corner of the room.
She must have made a face, because he laughed, telling her, “Did your Angel think that by marking you, I would not want to look upon his property? I assure you that I find you just as beautiful. It will be a pleasure to paint you, to keep you as my own.”
“Just my image,” Cordelia tried not to snap at him. She was supposed to be stalling, not making him angry.
Fortunately, Clay Vandemere appeared as cool as a cucumber. Dressed simply, head to toe in white, he crossed the space between them and took hold of Cordelia’s arm, leading her to the chaise lounge at a slightly faster pace. She settled on it, feeling the soft seat give way to her slight weight.
Taking a seat across from her, the artist explained, “We’ll do some quick sketches to get started. After I decide which pose will be best, we’ll begin.”
Giving herself a silent pep talk, Cordelia kept telling herself that she could do this. It was part of the job. Later, she’d have a little discussion with the Powers that Be about her job description, but right now, if the mission required it, she’d do what had to be done.
As she reached at an infinitesimal pace toward the tie of the ivory robe, Cordelia looked around the room. It appeared to be full of props for the paintings. Objects both modern and medieval filled shelves lining the walls. Various drapes and materials hung in organized fashion in an open closet while several yards of sheer fabric were laid out across a table as if he had been making selections.
Cordelia stood, turning away from the watchful gaze of Clay Vandemere. The robe fell loose and she pulled back slowly so that it slipped off her shoulders, baring her back.
The door flew open, rattling against the wall with sheer force, and Angel burst through. “Get away from her, Vandemere. I know your game and you won’t be victimizing anyone else in the future.”
Closing and knotting the robe around her waist, Cordelia whirled around greeting Angel with a bright smile and then telling the painter, “You are so gonna get your ass kicked.”
“I am hardly defenseless,” warned Vandemere as he stood facing Angel. Words of magick sounded on his lips even as the vampire moved closer. Angel went flying into the wall, crashing into an old set of armor and knocking it to the ground along with a stack of books piled up on the bureau next to it.
Vamping out, Angel grabbed the stray sword knocked free of the armor and flipped to his feet, “Neither am I.”
As Vandemere prepared another spell, a ball of fire appeared to be growing in the palm of the hand held close to his heart. Cordelia saw the flames and knew the permanent damage that could result if they touched Angel, worse turning him to dust. She picked up a small metal urn on the table next to the chaise, one of the props Vandemere had set in place prior to her arrival, and struck out at his head.
Angel aimed the sword and threw it at the same moment, passing through the flames and sending Vandemere to the ground, his clothes afire, a screaming death stare and defeat lighting his now unblinking eyes. With his death, the mystic flames petered out.
Finally arriving at the artist’s studio, Wesley entered the room to the scent of slightly charred flesh and the sight of Cordelia and Angel kissing madly in the center of the room. Rubbing the knot on the back of his head, Wes closed his eyes, waited ten seconds and then opened them again. No, still kissing.
Clearing his throat, Wesley commented, “With Vandemere dead, his hold over the spells cast upon his victims has vanished. I presume that his private viewing area is now full of confused, frightened young women. Not to mention a house full of guests and such.”
Angel didn’t immediately answer. He swept Cordelia up into his arms eliciting a soft laugh from the brunette who wound her arms around the vampire’s neck as he made a move toward the door. Pausing next to Wesley, he leaned close to say, “You should handle the details, Wes. Cordelia and I have things to do.”