Buffy Summers glanced one way down the hall and then the other noting with a sense of satisfaction that it was empty. Everyone was in their classes and the hall monitor was not in sight. Stealthily, she made her way to the library. Giles had been late arriving at school this morning. A tardy Giles was a sign of a forthcoming apocalypse to be certain, but he had not been there this morning when Buffy stopped in to talk to him about what she saw last night.
Not that she planned to give her Watcher all of the shocking details, but just enough to let him know that Cordelia was back in town. No doubt she brought trouble with her. Angel had wasted no time falling under her spell. It hurt to think about it. Really hurt. After all of the love and care she had given Angel upon his return and despite his determination to be just friends, the fact that he was making love to Cordelia within five minutes of seeing her again was like a stake through the heart— her own crumbling broken one.
Entering the library, she realized that Giles had to be in his office. Calling out to him, she sighed in relief as he appeared. God, she had to get this off her chest.
“Giles—,” she began only to notice that, “you look like hell.”
Her Watcher looked rumpled and sleepy-eyed, holding his glasses in his hand and rubbing the bridge of his nose. “Thank you for pointing out the obvious, Buffy.”
“What’s wrong with you?” She approached him cautiously hoping that this was not the result of another set-back in mourning Jenny Calendar. Though it had been over a year, Giles occasionally fell back into periods of depression. Buffy knew that Angel’s return had set off the latest bout although she thought that had subsided.
“The most damnable thing,” Giles began, his puzzled expression revealing this was not a Jenny-related issue. “I’ve been awake half of the night.”
“No. Answering crank calls,” he admitted with a shrug. “Every time I got back to sleep the telephone would ring and it would be some giggling idiot saying the most insane things.”
Buffy was curious. School librarians weren’t normally the targets of prank callers. Mr. Snyder the school principle— definitely, but not Giles. “What kind of things?”
“Things that are not worth repeating they are in such bad taste,” Giles popped his glasses back on. As the room and Buffy came back into focus, he realized, “Shouldn’t you be in class?”
“Hmm. Is that the place you go when the bell rings and a teacher tries to force you to learn things you’ll never need to know again?” Buffy paused at his irritated look although that might simply be left over from his sleepless night. “Yeah, but I have a hall pass to the bathroom.”
“Which you used to sneak in here,” Giles nodded his understanding even if it did not meet with his approval.
Nodding, Buffy admitted it. “We need to talk.”
“It couldn’t wait until lunchtime?”
Giles didn’t stop long enough to wait for her response. He turned and went back into his office with Buffy following behind. “There’s stuff I have to tell you. It’s about—.”
“Mr. Giles! Are you in here?” The overly loud sound of Principle Snyder’s voice echoed from the doorway.
Buffy didn’t want to be caught outside class even if she did have a hall pass. She waved Giles out of the office and crouched under his desk. Though the action seemed a little like overkill to the librarian, Giles stepped out to the main section of the library to greet his odiously irksome boss. The man once told Buffy that he was judge, jury and executioner as far as she was concerned. No doubt Snyder would pull out all the stops to give Buffy detention or suspension if he found her out of class.
Trying to sound chipper, Giles greeted the man. “Good morning, Principle Snyder.”
“Wipe the grin off your face,” Snyder returned with a tight-lipped expression. “I have received three very disturbing calls from concerned parents this morning.”
“Oh?” Surprised, Giles wondered if any of the demonology books had slipped out of the library when he wasn’t looking. Parents tended to be a bit off-put about them. Normally, they remained in the school purely for reference.
“What can you tell me about your relationship with Cordelia Chase?”
Giles blinked, reminding the principle, “Cordelia went missing nearly a year ago. It was rumored that her parents took her out of the country.”
What was Giles supposed to say? That Cordy was a vampire whose sire had nearly killed him and sucked the world into hell?
“That tells me nothing. I asked about your relationship to her while she was a student here at Sunnydale High,” Snyder gave Giles the full in-your-face intimidation mode despite his smaller stature. There was just something about the man that reminded him of a Nazi commandant with trollish tendencies.
“Cordelia was a student who rarely checked out a book.”
“I meant your personal relationship.”
Giles was getting wary. He was suddenly connecting this interrogation with the crank calls he received last night. Someone was out there spreading rumors about him and— Cordelia Chase. “That is a ridiculous notion! C-Cordelia Chase? She was the girlfriend of one of my— uh, research assistants.”
“I know all about your after school activities,” Snyder told him. “Late nights here in the library with your little Crime Club. I should put an end to that. It’s not an official school club and its members seem to have dwindled over the past year. Down to two, if I’m not mistaken.”
Giles wondered, did the man have eyes in the back of his knobby little head? He had to admit, “Yes, just Buffy and Willow.”
“Summers and Rosenberg.” The principle actually bared his teeth with a semblance of a snarl. “The trouble-maker and her eager sidekick.”
Giles was going to protest that description when Snyder added with another sneer, “Both young impressionable girls like Cordelia Chase.”
That wasn’t exactly how Giles would describe any of them, but Snyder was obviously on a tear. “Just hold on one minute, Mr. Snyder. I get the feeling that you are accusing me of something terrible. Tell me what it is so I can get back to work.”
“The calls I received indicated that you were involved with Ms Chase.”
“Sexually involved,” the principle lifted an eyebrow. Then he added, “With a minor, a student.”
Giles was flabbergasted. As he stumbled around for an answer, Snyder heard a sound coming from the office. He started to move around the librarian to check it out, but Giles backpedaled into the small room and sat down in his chair. Buffy leaned back as far as she could get seeing Giles lower legs swivel the chair around so that his body blocked her from the principle’s view.
“I can assure you, Mr. Snyder,” Giles tossed his glasses down on his desk and was back at rubbing away the tension gathered between his eyes, “that I have never touched any student that way. Certainly not Cordelia Chase.”
Snyder continued to poke about the office looking at the books and piles of notes atop the desk. His gaze moved to the floor which was equally covered in piles of books. Then he noticed a brightly colored piece of laminated paper recognizable as a hall pass caught under the wheels of the librarian’s desk chair.
“That’s not what she had to say,” Snyder revealed.
“What? Cordelia is in town?” Surprise sounded in his voice, but it only made Snyder more suspicious. As he leaned down to take the hall pass— which the librarian should not have— he added, “Several students saw her at the Bronze last night. She is apparently here to see you.”
Letting out a long sigh, Giles told the principle, “I received several crank calls last night which could be related. I’m thinking that someone’s bad prank has developed into a bad situation.”
With an indeterminate grunt, Snyder thought about the possibilities. There were quite a few bad apples he could think of that might be capable of pulling this off. If it was only a prank, he would track down the jokester and have the kid out on his ear. He’d just bypass suspension altogether and go straight for expulsion. Maybe there would even be more than one. Snyder was almost smiling at the thought as he bent down to pick up the hall pass.
Catching sight of soft blonde hair in the shadows under the desk, Snyder recognized the girl it was attached to. Then he was smiling with the grim knowledge that he had been right all along. There was add apple involved, just not how Rupert Giles had suggested. “
“Well, well, well,” Snyder sounded almost smug, “if it isn’t Miss Summers.”
“Buffy,” Giles gasped aloud having almost forgotten her presence due to the shock he had just received. Now he knew why she was so anxious to see him. No doubt she had gotten the news that Cordelia was back in town.
“That is an interesting position you’re in, Missy,” Snyder commented then looked up at Giles with disgust. “What is that you were saying about never touching students?”
“No, no! You have it all wrong,” Giles was turning red and looking guilty at the same time, which wasn’t helping his case.
Buffy crawled out from under the desk instantly taking on a defensive stance in front of her Watcher. “Giles would never do that. He’s a good man, not some letch that preys on high school girls.”
“Of course you’d deny it, Summers,” Synder pointed out. “If this is so innocent, tell me why you are under the desk.”
Grabbing the laminated card from his hand, Buffy waved it in his face, “I had a hall pass. I was skipping class and then ran in here to hide from you.”
“Get back to class, Summers,” ordered Snyder not believing a word of it. “We will talk later. As for you, Mr. Giles, I think it’s time we took this discussion to my office.”
“I think Giles is in major trouble,” Buffy told Willow at lunchtime.
Willow sipped at her chocolate milk. “Why do you say that? Has the Council complained about his training techniques again?”
“No. It’s nothing to do with them,” Buffy pushed the food around on her plate having not taken a single bite. “Principle Snyder dragged him to his office this morning after some ridiculous accusations of sleeping with students.”
Willow choked on a bite of her food and managed to cough out, “What?!”
“Yeah. I’m one of them,” the Slayer wondered how she was going to get out of this one without her mother finding out. Though it was probable that her mom would believe her, if Snyder got hold of her first there was no telling what she would do.
“That’s stupid,” Willow set her milk carton down on the table. “I mean you do spend a lot of time alone with Giles, but he’s not the type to take advantage or anything. Who put that idea into Snyder’s head?”
“I have my suspicions,” Buffy grumbled. “Snyder kept mentioning Cordelia as the prime victim.”
“Cordy?” That came as a shock to Willow. Just going on rumors and innuendo, she’d have to believe that Giles and Buffy would be doing it long before Cordelia ever got into the picture. Not that she believed it. As Buffy’s Watcher, Giles had a uniquely special relationship with the Slayer and Willow knew that he was just not Cordelia’s type.
No, Willow knew exactly what type Cordelia Chase preferred and it was currently tall, dark, handsome and brooding.
“How did that rumor get started?” Willow asked tentatively. She wasn’t really certain that she wanted the blame placed in the direction it was likely to go.
“Cordelia is back in Sunnydale. Vamp Superbitch showed up at the Bronze last night not long after you left,” an angry flush crept over Buffy’s cheeks.
Willow gasped at the reference. “I know, but it’s not very nice to say that about Cordy.”
Buffy stared at her friend like she had suddenly grown two heads. “Cordelia murdered Xander and tried to kill me. Why the hell would I want to be nice to her?”
“You went after her, Buffy,” countered Willow as though it was obvious. “Besides, you told me that Cordy was only defending herself against Xander. That he had a crossbow. It was Xander’s fault that he got killed.”
Grabbing up Willow’s half-empty milk carton, Buffy asked, “What drug have you been drinking?”
“Lay off the stuff,” suggested Buffy. “It’s giving me the wiggins hearing you talk about Queen Slut that way. You should have seen her last night with Angel.”
“I did see them.”
Buffy doubted they were talking about the same thing. There was no indication of a blush on Willow’s ivory skin. Even now, Buffy felt herself getting angry. Not only at the two vampires, but at herself for getting aroused by the sight.
“When was that?” Buffy had gotten out of the alley as soon as her brain freeze ended.
“Last night at the mansion.”
Sitting up straight, Buffy was agape at the news that Willow had gone over there without her. Then the implication hit. “Cordelia was at Angel’s house?”
Willow shrugged, “Where else would she be? I don’t think Community Property Laws apply to vampires, but it’s sort of her house too.”
“Is Angel trying to lose his soul?” From what she saw in the alley, Buffy figured Angel didn’t really care. If Cordelia was at the mansion, she doubted that it was to borrow the couch. “So why were you at my ex’s house?”
“Cordy asked me to help her set up her computer network,” Willow explained as she scoffed down the last of her lunch. The bell was about to ring and she had a test the next period.
Buffy let out a sardonic laugh. “Cordelia owns a computer? Do you think she remembers how to turn it on?”
“Oh, she won’t be using it,” Willow told her standing and picking up her tray. “Jude told me that was his job. He’s really smart, but networking apparently isn’t his thing.”
Buffy was following Willow back to the tray disposal area of the cafeteria. “Hmm? Jude is one of Cordy’s minions. She has five— all hunks of course. Cordelia always had good taste in men. Well— vamps in this case.”
As her full lunch tray dropped to the ground covering her shoes in macaroni and cheese, Buffy stared at the redhead. “Cordelia has minions?”
The bell sounded ending the lunch period. Willow glanced down at Buffy’s shoes. “Sorry Buffy, but I have to run.”
“I’ll see you after school, okay?” Buffy bent down to pick up the spilled food. “We can talk to Giles about all this and see what Snyder told him.”
Willow shook her head. “Uh. I can’t.”
“This is Giles we’re talking about,” Buffy ignored the food and her shoes and stood up to face Willow who kept looking over her shoulder like she wanted to escape. “We can’t let Cordelia sweep into town and steal Angel or ruin Giles’ reputation without getting back at her.”
“Test. Now. Going now.”
It was mid-afternoon when Cordelia opened her eyes. She was lying sideways on the couch half on top of Angel, both of them stretched out naked. After what must have been her fifth orgasm last night they had fallen asleep in each other’s arms too exhausted to climb the stairs.
Angel was already awake and watching her, she sensed his attention directed upon her. Was he brooding about what happened or as delighted to have her back as she was to have him in her arms? It could go either way with that pesky soul in place. Why hadn’t the stupid curse kicked in? There was definite bliss going on if the look on that roguishly handsome face had anything to say about it.
Try and try again, an inward giggle sounded in her head. Oh, yeah. She could definitely handle that. Cordelia looked up to see a sparkle in his warm chocolate gaze that actually surprised her. She would have bet on the brooding. Her mate greeted her with a soft kiss on her forehead, “Hello, tigress.”
“Hello, my Angel,” Cordelia smiled taking a line from Dru’s book. That was how the other vampiress liked to refer to their sire. My Angel. It sounded right. Good thing Dru was a thousand miles away right now. Throwing her leg over his, Cordy curled her arm around his chest and lowered her face back into the comfortable crook of his shoulder.
“Are we going to get up anytime soon?” Angel asked her as he ran a hand along the arm that held him.
“No,” Cordy refused to be rushed away from this as she snuggled closer into his chest.
They lay together in silence for a while until Cordelia suddenly started to laugh. It started out with only a hint of a giggle and then rolled into an endless stream of amusement. She lifted her head again and Angel caught the megawatt grin that always jolted him from his solar plexus to his groin. Warily, he asked, “What’s so funny?”
“Something you said to me last night,” Cordelia leaned over to nibble on his earlobe.
“What were we doing when I said this?” His frown deepened. “Hopefully not having sex, because that would just be too much on my fragile ego.”
Snort! “You’ve never had a fragile ego, Angel. Alter-ego or otherwise. Besides, the way you make me cum— you’ve got nothing to worry about in that department.”
“Glad you admit it,” he smirked.
“Dumbass.” Swinging herself on top of Angel so that she was sitting back on his upper thighs with his stirring loins in front of her, Cordelia traced her fingers over his sculpted torso. Then she reminded him before they got sidetracked, “Back to the funny. We were arguing about Willow last night.”
Angel vaguely remembered the conversation. He was too busy thinking about the feel of Cordelia’s hands on him again and the direction those wandering fingers were taking. “I said something?”
“Uh huh.” Cordelia leaned her body down across his letting out a sigh at the sensation of her breasts pressing down against his hard chest. It combined with the upward thrust of his rapidly growing erection beneath the soft curve of her belly. “You told me my place was in your bed— with you. That neither one of us would be sleeping on this couch.”
“How was I to know the couch had such good possibilities?” Angel grinned back at her. “We’ll try out the bed later.”
“Mom!” Buffy called out after opening the studio door with more strength than it called for. The door banged loudly against the back panel shaking the shatterproof glass in the frame.
Startled by the noise and the sound of her daughter’s distressed voice, Joyce Summers held a hand to her chest and met the equally surprised faces of the two clients she was with. Offering them a smile of apology, she asked, “Would you excuse me for just a moment?”
The two looked rather irritated that their discussion had been interrupted, but did they really have a choice in the matter? The female rolled her eyes, “Teenagers.”
“Buffy, what is going on? School isn’t over for the day. Are you okay?” Joyce took hold of Buffy’s shoulders and gave her the once over. It was a little early in the day for Slayer problems. No signs of bruises or other nasty wounds.
“No, I’m not okay. I need to talk to someone,” Buffy’s eyes were pleading.
Joyce felt her throat tighten up. “You’re coming to me?”
A flash of guilt racked Buffy at the sound of her mother’s astonishment. So the two of them had never been much for sharing. In fact, Buffy had gone out of her way to keep secrets from her mother until she no longer had a choice in the matter. With both Giles and Willow not only out of the picture this afternoon, but part of the problem, her mom was the only one left to confide in. Telling her that she was the last option was so not the thing to do right now.
“Yeah, Mom. Do you have time?”
“I always have time for you, Buffy,” Joyce told her hoping that her daughter realized it was the truth.
Turning to her clients, Joyce told them that there was an emergency and she needed to close the studio for the rest of the afternoon. “If you come back tomorrow, I’m certain that I can evaluate the artifact then.”
The man gazed down at the box in his hands, “Maybe I should leave it here so you can look at it later tonight?”
“No,” Joyce told him. “The studio can’t take on that liability without signed documents and I’m afraid that I don’t have time for that at the moment. Please come back tomorrow. My partner is also going to be here then, so if I can’t help you he will be happy to do so.”
The clients exchanged a look that was missed by Joyce, but her daughter stared at them suspiciously. Her Slayer instincts were tingling. Then again, she had the wiggins all day long, so it could have been overkill. Meeting her gaze, the two made a quick exit out the front door.
“They were creepy,” Buffy commented glad they were gone.
Joyce sighed as she watched the two disappear out the door. “Just a couple of foreign art dealers— from Mexico, I think.”
“Have they been around before?”
“No,” Joyce told her. Refocusing her thoughts, she closed and locked the door flipping over the sign that indicated the studio was no longer open for business. Asking Buffy to tell her what was troubling her, Joyce took her back to the office.
“I-I don’t know where to start.”
Buffy let it all spill out in one long confusing sentence, “Cordy is back, Angel is all over her, Giles’ job is down the toilet, Willow is weird and now I’m gonna have to stake her minions.”
“Willow has minions?” Joyce asked catching on to the last thing Buffy had said. “What exactly are minions?”
Grmph! “Cordelia’s minions not Willow’s,” she clarified. “Cordelia is back in Sunnydale and brought her fledgling vampires with her. They’re the minions— her formerly human now undead followers.”
“Oh.” Joyce let that sink in a moment. Yes, she had forgotten for a moment that Cordelia Chase was now a vampire. There were just some things Joyce tried really hard to forget. “What does that have to do with Willow?”
“She can’t stop jabbering about Cordelia.”
That didn’t seem unusual. “Willow tends to jabber.”
“Not in a nice way about the evil vampire who killed her lifelong friend,” Buffy pointed out. “She’s going over to the mansion to help Cordelia with her computer thingy.”
Joyce was still somewhat confused about the whole Slayer/Vampire reality. “That seems odd, unless Cordelia has turned over a new leaf. Maybe she is like Angel and has a soul now.”
How long had Buffy spent trying to convince her mother that Angel was a good vampire even though he took her virginity and was evil for a time? Joyce knew that Angelus had been the one stalking Buffy and killing her friends. She had never liked the tall handsome man— vampire. Sometimes a mother’s instincts were on-target. Recently, after nearly a year, Angel had returned to Sunnydale with his soul intact and was back in Buffy’s good graces. That left knots in her stomach.
“No! Cordelia doesn’t have a soul,” Buffy assured her, “she’s just evil. And Angel won’t have one much longer if the bastard keeps it up.”
Literally, she added with a silent scowl.
Thinking back to what little information Buffy had explained to her at the time, Joyce knew that her daughter’s former boyfriend had become evil again once his soul left his body. He had killed Cordelia Chase and turned her into a vampire like himself. The pair left a bloody trail of victims across Sunnydale including one of Buffy’s teachers and Xander Harris.
One night, Buffy had returned home both triumphant and somewhat sad while revealing that she had defeated the vampiress. Misery followed soon after when Angel disappeared from Buffy’s life. It was a subject that Buffy would not talk about and Joyce had decided to respect her daughter’s wish thinking that the vampire had left town.
Now both vampires were back in Sunnydale causing her daughter anguish. Joyce felt the anger rise up in her at the thought that Buffy had to be mixed up in this dark, dangerous underworld.
“So are you suggesting that Cordelia came back for Angel?”
“What?! No.” Buffy stopped suddenly. “How would she know he was back?”
Joyce looked startled. “You’re asking me? I know nothing about the creatures other than seeing Interview with a Vampire. Maybe they have some psychic mental connection or powers like Dracula.”
“Get real, Mom.” Buffy rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. “This is just Sunnydale, not a movie theater. Dracula doesn’t exist and while Tom and Brad make very hot vampires, I haven’t seen much of their kind around these parts— except Angel.”
“It always comes back to him, doesn’t it?” Joyce covered her daughter’s hand giving it a gentle squeeze. First love was supposed to be sweet, tender and memorable not twisted and wrong and evil. She would never forgive Angel for that no matter that he had a soul.
“After all I’ve done to help him, Angel ran off last night with Cordelia. She had the nerve to come to the Bronze. Can you believe it?” Buffy looked incensed at the idea.
Joyce had no opinion on the vampiress appearing at the club, although she supposed that Buffy considered that her territory. She did have words to say about Angel, though Joyce figured she had better keep her opinion to herself on being thrilled at the idea that there was someone else to distract the vampire away from her daughter.
“Maybe Angel and Cordelia are supposed to be together,” Joyce dared to suggest. “They are both vampires, after all. When he didn’t have his soul, weren’t they together?”
“She is Angelus’ progeny,” Buffy ground her teeth together. “His creation. His mate.”
Oh, that actually sounded promising. Joyce couldn’t find fault with that. “So Angel is just back with his— wife?”
“Vampires don’t marry,” Buffy pointed out. “They mate through blood rituals. They claim each other for as long as the dominant vampire wants to keep the relationship.”
“What happens when it’s over?” Joyce was suddenly curious. Her daughter learned so much about these creatures. Most of it was downright scary and straight out of a horror film, but her personal interest in ancient art and cultures found a few tidbits fascinating.
“One of the vamps— usually the female— is given to the lower ranking members of the clan, kicked out of the lair or staked.”
Joyce sat there with a strange look on her face. “And I thought divorcing your father was horrible, but that would be hell.”
Snorting, Buffy knew that her mother didn’t know half of it. “Vamp Cordy is evil and she deserves what she gets for her part in Xander’s death.”
“What about Angel’s part?”
“That was Angelus!” Buffy snapped then lowered her voice as she remembered it was her mom that she was yelling at. “Angel has a soul.”
“Humans with souls do evil things everyday,” Joyce pointed out.
No, apparently Buffy thought he ran around town with wings and a halo. Joyce decided that it was time to ask her daughter, “What are you so concerned about, Buffy? That you will have to face Cordelia again and bring an end to her existence for good? Or that Angel wants to be with his mate instead of you?”
Launching herself out of the chair, Buffy never noticed as it hit the floor behind her. The stinging sound of her mother’s words kept ringing in her ears. Without responding, Buffy ran out of the office and struggled with the locked door. Throwing it open, she dashed out into the street and kept running.
Back in the studio office, Joyce Summers let out a long sigh and then realized there was one subject they had not gotten around to discussing. What was it that Buffy had said about Rupert Giles? Something about his job being in jeopardy? While Mr. Giles was not particularly on her list of favorite people as he constantly kept pushing Buffy into danger, he did his best to keep her safe as well. Not to mention the fact that Buffy treated him like a father-figure in the absence of her own.
She was about to pick up the phone and call Mr. Giles when it rang beneath her hand. It gave her a start causing Joyce to lurch dangerously in her chair. “Haven’t I already had enough torment today?”
Answering the telephone with the usual opening greeting for the studio, she added, “This is Joyce Summers. How may I help you?”
“Ah, Mrs. Summers,” the voice was instantly recognizable as the principle of Sunnydale High School.
“Mr. Snyder.” Her stomach clenched into knots in reaction to his voice.
“There is something we need to discuss right away concerning your daughter.”
It was probably the fact that Buffy had skipped out on her afternoon classes. Still, Joyce wasn’t going to give away the fact that she had seen her. Snyder would give his eyeteeth to catch Buffy in doing something wrong. Joyce tried to sound clueless, “Her history grades?”
“Not the kind of chemistry a teenager should be learning from one of her teachers, Mrs. Summers,” Snyder added with a sneer in his voice. “I think you should come down to the school right away. I know that it is still during your business hours, but this is important.”
“Actually, I have already closed up shop for the afternoon.” Joyce told him. “I’ll be at the school in about twenty minutes.”
“Good. I’ll be waiting.”
The door to the mansion opened to admit Willow who greeted the minion with a smile. Her voice was eager, “Hi! It’s me. I’m here to see Cordelia. She’s expecting me.”
“My mistress awaits you in the study,” the vampire waved her inside.
Racking her brain, Willow just couldn’t remember if this was Mel or Keanu. “Which one are you again?”
Dropping his formal tone, the vampire leaned in, “I’m Mel, tasty bit.”
Eep! Mel was looking at her like she was good for an afternoon snack. Suddenly, Jude appeared from the study and issued a warning to the other vamp. “Willow is not for you, Mel. Keep your hands and fangs to yourself.”
Scurrying over to Jude’s side, Willow added her agreement with a stern nod. “What he said. No snacking.”
Mel laughed and walked back into the living room where some of the other minions were watching television. Over his shoulder, he winked at Willow. “See you later, pet.”
“Jerk,” mumbled Willow as she followed along behind Jude.
“Best to stay away from Mel unless someone else is around,” Jude suggested. “Mistress Cordy hasn’t yet whipped the fight out of him. He occasionally tries to think for himself.”
Whipped? “Y-you mean that figuratively, right.”
Jude gave her a surprised look, but answered, “Riiight!”
The redhead suddenly forgot all about Mel as she hovered at the door of the large study. There were boxes and boxes of computer components— a hacker’s dream. She couldn’t wait to dig in and find out the details of the project.
Catching movement out of the corner of her right eye, Willow saw that Cordelia was in the corner with Angel and in the process of being rather thoroughly kissed. Her leg was high on his hip while the vampire’s hand was curled around her leather-garbed butt cheek. A soft gasp left her throat, almost too quiet to be heard by her own ears.
Then she changed her mind about what she was seeing. Maybe it was Angel who was being thoroughly kissed, because Cordelia certainly seemed to be playing an equally intense role. Willow found it hard to tear her eyes away even when Jude nudged at her arm. She looked up to see him lift a finger of silence to his lips and then nod toward the large L-shaped mahogany desk.
They were supposed to work— now?
Come in Willow. Come to me.
Jude tried to stop the girl from interrupting, but Willow ignored him and walked right up to Cordelia and Angel. Yanking on the vampire’s shirt sleeve, she commented dryly, “I wouldn’t barge in like this normally, but you vamps might not come up for air anytime soon since you don’t need to breathe.”
“Willow,” the sound of frustration in Angel’s voice was obvious as Cordelia returned her leg to the floor and stepped away. “I thought I told you to stay away.”
“Don’t be mean,” Cordelia poked him in the chest. “I invited Willow. I told you why she’s here.”
“You gave me one reason,” Angel lifted a dark brow telling his mate that he knew she was up to something. Willow and Cordelia had never been friends. This seemed like a strange time to strike up a relationship with a girl who now fit into the category of prey.
Looking down at the redhead, Cordelia sent her a bright smile. “Ignore him. He’s just being his usual growly self. Why don’t you start unpacking the boxes? Jude will help. I think my Angel need some more attention. Your little interruption left him as hard as steel.”
“Cordelia,” protested Angel as her hand came down to cup the bulge in his pants. Jerking her hand away might have been a mistake, because now Willow had a direct line of sight. Her green eyes darted up to his and Angel noted the faster pace of her heart and heavier breathing.
“It’s just Willow, silly vamp,” Cordy nibbled at his ear even as Angel tried to push her away. Her mouth brushed across his cheek. “Just a little longer. I need your kiss.”
Angel gave in deciding that it wasn’t any worse than a couple making out at a public park except that he knew someone was watching. Besides, she was so damn addictive. Like a drug in his system, she kept him wanting more. Willow was close, still hovering around at their side despite Cordelia’s suggestion to start unpacking the computers. The scent of her increasing arousal was mixing with the air and that simply seemed to make Cordelia all the more eager.
See something you like, pet?
“Yes,” Willow whispered her answer obediently.
Cordelia plastered kisses over Angel’s face and neck until he suddenly pulled her up to take her plush mouth with his own. Their kisses were earth-shattering and sensual and far sexier than anything Willow had ever seen. They were moaning against each other’s lips and it was all she could do not to echo the sound. Cordy’s lips were wide and soft as they smooched at his.
In fact, the redhead realized that she didn’t have a problem with fact that for some reason. Willow’s finger crept up to her own mouth running its tip along the moist inner curve of her lower lip. “Okay.”
Somewhere in the back of his lust-filled mind, Angel recognized the fact that Willow was conversing with herself and not Jude who quietly leaned up against the desk. Yes. Okay. Was it a voyeur’s encouragement to watching him kiss Cordelia up close and personal? Yes. Okay. Then it suddenly clicked— he knew what was happening. Yes. Okay. They were responses to his mate’s mental cues.
Pushing Cordelia away from him so that she tumbled to the floor, Angel let out a growl. “What the hell are you playing at, Cordy?”
As she licked her kiss-swollen lips, Cordelia simply smiled. Her eyes swept over his body noting that he was still hard. “I know you want me.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about,” the vampire returned towering over her. Grabbing the still-hovering Willow by the arm, he yanked her close. She slapped at his hand, but he ignored it. “It’s Willow. I know what you were doing, Cordelia and it’s pissing me off.”
“She wasn’t doing anything except kissing you, stupid vamp,” Willow tried to force him to release her, but her arms was encased in his iron grip. The girl’s attitude was different than usual, noted Angel as she told him threateningly, “You shouldn’t touch me.”
“Why is that Willow?” Angel turned his dark gaze upon her.
Willow paused in thought as if she knew the answer, but couldn’t put it into words. “I-I— don’t think I can say.”
“Then get to work,” Angel suggested darkly, “while I take Cordelia upstairs and paddle some sense into her.”
Cordelia let Angel lift her to her feet. On the way out the door, she asked eagerly, “Are you really going to spank me?”
“No. You’d enjoy that.”
Pouting, Cordelia followed him up the stairs to their bedroom. “Then why are we here?”
“You’re going to tell me what you’ve got up your sleeve. Willow is an innocent despite all that she has seen at the Slayer’s side.” Angel warned her again that he would be her protector if necessary.
“What will you do, Angel?” Cordelia trounced over to the bed and sat down. “Stake me?”
Frankly, he didn’t know how he would react. He wasn’t a fool to think that Cordelia and her minions were suddenly going to take on a diet of pig’s blood. As long as they were here in Sunnydale, people were going to die. “Willow has seen enough death. I don’t want her to be the victim.”
“Victim? For helping me with my computers?”
“Enough of that bull! Give me a straight answer. I don’t know all your tricks, tigress, but I do know that your abilities include projecting your thoughts. Turning the will of another to your own.” Angel moved closer with a lethal gaze in his dark eyes. “If vampires are susceptible to your suggestion, I assume that humans are easy prey for enthrallment.”
Cordelia’s lips curled into a smile, the tip of her tongue peeking out from between her white teeth as her eyes flashed mischievously. “Willow has been part of my life since the sandbox at kindergarten. Is it so wrong to keep her around?”
“You were her nemesis, Cordelia,” reminded Angel. “She had every right to be jealous of you, especially when you allowed yourself to be claimed as Harris’ girlfriend.”
“Claimed? That’s an exaggeration. Xander didn’t get much past the kissing stage,” Cordy told him.
“I remember,” Angel recalled exactly how Cordelia had described it to him on the night that Angelus turned her. “The boy is lucky he lived as long as he did.”
Smirking at him, Cordelia relished the fact that his demon drew so near to the surface at times like these. “Xander never gave Willow any reason to think that he would want her. Not as a lover.”
“Not that you know of, Cordy.”
Oh. She hadn’t thought about it that way. “Willow will tell me if I ask her.”
“Then ask her. Don’t yank the information from her mind,” Angel doubted that she knew of the risks involved. “There are dangers for you as well as Willow if you keep up with this little game of yours.”
Pfft! Dangers? She had been perfecting her abilities for the last year. Nothing strange had happened. The only results seemed to be her growing financial status and the cherry red Corvette on the front driveway. “Such as what?”
“Your gift is rare, Cordelia,” he admitted. Now he knew the result of allowing a turning childe that much blood, though it had to combine with something innate in her own being— some predisposition. She possessed something even more powerful than her sire. It was something he could not control unless he bent her to his will alone.
“I thought so,” she smirked.
“Rare, but it’s not unique,” Angel wiped her smile away. “I have seen the like over the past two and a half centuries. Continued contact with the vampire creates a dependence upon the part of the human. A need they cannot understand. It can lead to madness if it’s not managed right.”
Angel continued, “The vampire is also at risk to a lesser degree. It may start out as simple enthrallment. Forcing a human to answer to your wishes. Keeping them near— a pet.”
He’d noticed her shoulders stiffen. “Does that word bother you, Cordelia?”
Then Cordelia looked a little defiant. Angel wasn’t going to talk her out of her plans for Willow Rosenberg. Just imagine Buffy Summer’s face when Willow dumped her best friend for the sake of being near Cordelia instead.
“I’ve never had a pet. My parents wouldn’t allow it. Willow is smart and funny even if her sense of style needs a change, but that is right up my alley.”
“Dressing Willow might sound like fun,” Angel’s eyes narrowed slightly at the thought, “but it rarely stops with sharing thoughts. Soon it’s about sampling blood. Later comes something that I warned you I will not allow.”
Cordelia stood up abruptly which put her within inches of his hard body. “Thanks for the warning, sire. I’ll try to be a good girl, but just so you know— I’m keeping her.”
Taking hold of her waist, Angel knew that he could not stop her once her mind was made up. This was probably going to piss Buffy off more than he could imagine. “Just keep your minions away from Willow.”
“They know the score.”
Jude assisted Willow with the placement of the heavier computer parts though most were sleek and streamlined. It looked like Cordelia had bought the best. Or acquired the best.
After half an hour, Willow kept glancing at the door every couple of minutes before she asked the vampire, “When is Cordelia coming?”
He laughed with a sparkle in his eyes. “Mistress Cordy is probably coming right now.”
Blushing, she clarified herself, “I meant arriving here.”
“I know that,” he told her he was just teasing. “Despite the soul, I think my sire is pleased with finding her mate again. It is certain that they find pleasure together.”
“Uh— well, I don’t need to know about that,” Willow muttered. “None of my business.”
Jude looked at her slyly. The little redhead was completely clueless. Mistress Cordy had warned them to be careful around Willow. The vampiress had informed them that Willow was smarter than most humans, could bulldoze you into bewilderment in ten seconds flat, and was not only a computer whiz, but a fledgling witch. While his brethren were curious as to the reason their sire did not simply turn the girl, it would be interesting to have her around.
“Cordelia would want you to feel at home, Willow,” he told her. “Everything that goes on here at the mansion is your business now. Do you want to know what I hear when I listen to this place?”
Since it seemed like she would not get to talk to Cordelia anytime soon, it was as good as anything for killing time. “Okay.”
Shifting in her seat, Willow thought it a little strange that a vampire was being so nice to her. Then again, Cordelia would not let her fledglings harm her. Jude told her so himself. She did feel a little curious about Angel and Cordelia, but that was only natural. It wasn’t her own curiosity that concerned her, but the flare of arousal that made her loins ache as Jude turned his attention toward the other parts of the mansion. His voice was deep and sensual as he described what he was hearing.
“The television is loud in the living room. My brethren are watching— uh, the Romance Channel.”
Willow snorted, turning redder. “I can hear that part myself. It’s not the Romance Channel.”
“Okay, so it’s cable porn. We haven’t gotten out much while planning this move,” Jude admitted with a laugh. Then he returned to his descriptions as Willow’s eyes became a dark circle of green in a sea of white. “I hear the slap of skin on skin, grunts of pleasure, but it’s not coming from the television.”
“Don’t be shocked, Willow,” warned Jude. “We are vampires. Things are different than in the human world. The other vamps will not hurt you, but they will certainly heckle you if you show any sign of fear at what you see here.”
“Angel—,” she started to say that Angel would not allow heckling, but knew he wouldn’t be around all of the time. Willow did not even realize what she was thinking. It was just a natural acceptance that she would be spending a lot of time here at the mansion.
“Mistress Cordy’s sire is powerful and dangerous. Though he is bound by the weakness of a soul, they rightfully fear him. Angelus is the master of the Order of Aurelius— that is our line of descent and to the extent that we do not betray our sire’s wishes, we must answer to him.”
Willow’s voice stuttered as she repeated the name he used. “A-Angelus?”
Waving his hand in the air, Jude brushed away the distinction. “Angel— if you are more comfortable with that. It’s the same thing. He is the same vampire. At least that is what he spent last night convincing my mistress to accept. That he is her sire and mate.”
“You eavesdrop a lot, don’t you, Jude?”
Amused at her expression, Jude shrugged. It made things more interesting. The others were content to sit in front of the glowing orb that was the television all day. Jude much preferred computers, but as they were not set up yet he kept himself otherwise occupied.
“Last night wasn’t my fault. I returned from walking you home only to find my mistress and her sire naked on the couch. At first, I watched to ensure that he was not hurting her, but it quickly became apparent that it was pleasure rather than pain.”
“I thought vampires liked pain,” Willow commented then clapped her mouth shut. So not the right direction to take this conversation. Not that she should even be having anything to do with this naughty talk with Jude. This wasn’t like talking about a movie where the actors had a love scene. It was people— vampires— that she knew.
“We do,” he grinned as he leaned over the desk, “under the right circumstances. Depends on who you’re with and if the purpose is pain alone or if it culminates into pleasure.”
“Oh.” More blushing followed and the vampire’s eyes wandered over her skin.
Distracting himself, Jude let out a sigh at the memory of seeing Cordelia and her sire together. It had been so easy to picture himself there with her rather than the master vampire. Not that it was going to happen since it was made extremely clear that Cordy was not going to let them touch her in a sexual way, though she did not seem to mind if they brought home a victim or two now and then.
“My mistress is so beautiful,” he had a far away look in his yellowing eyes that made Willow a little wary.
Still, she had to agree, “Yes.”
“As is Angelus,” Jude added without any sign of jealousy. He said it with equal interest as he did in describing his mistress. “They were quite mesmerizing together. I must have watched them for ten minutes before either of them realized I was there.”
Willow let out a little gasp, surprised that Jude wasn’t a huge pile of dust on the floor. Her imagination was filling in quite well for her lack of experience and she wondered exactly what the vampire had seen. Unfortunately, when she asked, “What happened?” He misunderstood her.
“Nothing,” Jude shrugged. “They preferred to be alone. So I returned to my room and took care of the— problem that had developed.”
“Problem?” Willow asked with her wide green eyes full of ingenuous ignorance even though she knew what he was referring to. She had the sudden urge to hear him say it. Gosh! How naughty was that?
“My mistress may be mad at me for corrupting you,” Jude moved back to sit upright on the edge of the desk as he ignored her question.
Silence filled the void as Jude sat in stillness and Willow fiddled with the computer. After five minutes, she asked, “What else do you hear?”
With his back to her, Jude smiled. “I hear the flutter of your heartbeat. The quickening of your breath. Upstairs, I hear water sloshing against the side of the bathtub. They are there together, my mistress and her sire.”
“No.” The girl wasn’t that innocent. If so, she would have already run screaming from the mansion and he would have been left to explain the reason to his sire. “Perhaps that is a part of the reason they are there, but if Cordelia’s moans suggest anything to you I think something else is going on.”
Willow was squirming in her seat again, only this time it wasn’t from embarrassment. It was because her panties were sticking to her in a way that wasn’t quite comfortable and because moving around just a tiny bit helped ease the tension there. She let out a little moan of her own as she pressed herself hard into the seat of her chair and rotated her hips against it.
It wasn’t as if Jude could see her. His back was turned. “I think it is time for you to leave, Willow.”
“But Cordy—,” Willow protested that once again she had gotten to spend just minutes with Cordelia when it was her invitation that brought her to the mansion in the first place.
“Our mistress is still with her sire,” Jude turned suddenly and placed his hands upon the desk. His eyes were pure gold as he stared at her from his vampiric face. There was anger in his voice and a sound that signaled he was reaching the limit of his control. “You need to learn to wait your turn, pet.”
“Go home, Willow. Now, before you regret coming.” He looked like a beast on the edge. “You know vampires. It’s not just our hearing that is enhanced. I can scent your arousal, hear the shifting of your skin against your skirt and the slight squeak of the chair. See the blood flushing your skin.”
Jude stared down at her with lust in his eyes. He could practically taste her on his lips— the blood and sweet essence of her. What a scrumptious little treat Willow would make if only she wasn’t off limits. So much for warning her about Mel, he thought with a leer.
Staggering to her feet, Willow edged toward the door. “I-I think I’m going now. It’s still light outside.”
Jude called out to her as she reached the door and asked knowingly, “I’ll see you again tomorrow?”
Cordy would want her to be there. The network wasn’t finished yet. “Yeah. Tomorrow.”
“Where have you been?” Buffy demanded as Willow strolled up with a lost look on her face.
“I told you.” Willow shrugged, adding a sigh of frustration. “At the mansion.”
Grabbing her narrow wrist, Buffy ordered her, “Come here.”
Willow found herself dragged onto her own front porch as Buffy lifted her red hair away from her throat. “What are you doing?”
“Looking for bite marks.”
“Nobody has been biting me,” Willow pushed Buffy’s hand away. “Why would you even think that?”
Buffy crossed her arms over her chest. “You’ve been in a vampire lair for the past couple of hours.”
Protesting, “I was at Angel’s house.”
“Which had vampires in it.”
Willow shrugged, “Angel is a vampire. That only makes sense.”
“Does it make sense for you to be there?”
“I was working on the computers.”
“Huh. No doubt Cordelia gave you an earful about me while you were there. Bragging about stealing Angel away?” Buffy crossed her arms over her chest.
Tucking her hair behind her ears, Willow stalled for time. “Uh— no. Cordelia didn’t even mention you.”
That surprised Buffy who continued to question her, “And Angel? What did he say?”
“Your name didn’t come up, okay?” Willow heaved a sigh and grabbed for the doorknob. “I didn’t even get to see Cordy for more than a couple of minutes.”
“Oh?” Buffy’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “In the middle of the day? Where was she?”
“Doing what? Filing her claws into sharp points? Flossing her fangs?”
“Geez! Stop pestering me.” Willow was getting rattled. “She was with Angel. What do you think she was doing?”
Willow didn’t bother to wait for Buffy’s answer. She let herself into her house and shut the door behind her.
“Eternity looks beautiful on you, my dear,” Richard Wilkins held out both hands to Cordelia in greeting.
“Tell me that in a hundred years or so,” Cordy laughed. She had dressed more demurely tonight since the mayoral candidate disapproved of showing too much skin.
“Welcome to my home. Please come in.”
“Should I invite your friends in?” He looked over the three muscular guys wearing suits and ties.
Glancing back at Mel, Brad and Tom, she flashed them a smile. “No, I think not. Better that they remain outside and keep an eye out.”
They chatted for a while catching up on things since they last met in Los Angeles. Then the discussion finally turned to business. “Things are going quite according to my plan,” Wilkins told her with a satisfied smile. “Your help in my election campaign will be very valuable. Between my natural charm and your— persuasive skills, the voters will have me in office by a landslide.”
Cordelia rolled her eyes as if her part was miniscule. “Richard, I told you that Sunnydale could be yours. The Hellmouth is exactly what you needed.”
“My Ascension will follow soon after the election. There are still a few pieces that need to fall into place.”
“For me as well,” Cordy nodded. “Although things seem to be running smoothly for the moment if my sire doesn’t dig too deep.”
“Ah! Mr. Trick explained that Angelus has returned.”
“Yes,” she did not bother to correct him on the name. Cordelia figured that he didn’t need to know the fearsome Scourge of Europe was bogged down by a soul. Let Trick tell him if he was that interested.
“Does he know of your plans?”
“Not all of them and I’d like to keep it that way.”
Raising an eyebrow, Wilkins gave her a little lecture on keeping secrets from one’s lover. “That never ends well, my dear.”
“He’ll know soon enough,” Cordelia responded with a curl of her lips. If he doesn’t dust me for it afterward, things will be just fine.
“Are you certain you won’t change your mind about remaining in Sunnydale after the Ascension?” He was offering her more power in the demonic rule that would follow. “I can set you up with a little something.”
Cordelia had no interest in his offer or in Sunnydale for that matter. No, he could have the town. She would hand it to him on a platter and let him lord over the Hellmouth if that is what he desired. “Thanks, but no. As long as my own interests remain safe and secure while this goes down, Sunnydale is yours.”
NEXT CHAPTER: Chapter 9
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