Soulbound – Book 2: Chapter 9
“Doyle is a dead man,” Cordelia grumbled to Angel. “First he makes me dress up in that black leather slutwear—”
Angel interjected, “You did lose your bet.”
Not that it stopped her from finishing, “— and then he has the nerve to get drunk and burst into the bathroom while I’m naked.”
“I can think of worse things.”
Angel’s mouth curled upward. “It was just Doyle. That has to be better than Spike seeing you naked.”
“Eew!” Cordy scrunched up her nose. “You’re right. Like I’d ever let that Bleach Brain near me.”
The vampire thought of a time that Spike had been closer to Cordelia that was healthy for him. Despite that he was soulless at the time, Angel remembered doling out punishment to the blond vampire—and Drusilla, who had been equally guilty— for daring to touch his mate without permission. Though he was certain of it at the time, it was nice to hear it from her lips that Spike did nothing for her.
Berating himself for letting his thoughts slip back to Sunnydale, Angel sometimes wished that Willow had also cast her memory-erasing spell on him too. Then, like Cordy, he would remain ignorant of what they once shared. It had to be this way. One of them had to be cognizant of the facts. The connections binding their bodies and souls remained in place, therefore creating potential for dangers that Angel could not ignore.
Just as he could not ignore her beauty, her smile or her innate goodness— Angel loved her and that was a feeling he cherished. The irony was that it took a Vampire Slayer to teach him how to love— and he loved Buffy still. Holding that love in one chamber of his undead heart. It would not let go of him.
Angel did not regret his decision to leave Buffy behind in Sunnydale. As the guardian of the Hellmouth, she could not desert her post— though she had at one time just after she sent him to hell. Such love and trust and innocence— until the curse kicked in and he lost his soul. Angelus—
Suddenly, Cordelia was standing next to him having moved from her desk, snapping her fingers in front of Angel’s face. “Pay attention, Angel.”
Realizing that he had drifted off into his thoughts in the middle of their conversation about Doyle and Spike, Angel apologized. “Sorry.”
“Geez, what were you thinking about?” Cordelia queried. Then she worried that Angel had broken their deal about keeping things on a platonic level. “Not me naked?”
As far as Cordy was concerned, even thinking about nakedness was a breach of protocol.
“Actually, I-I was thinking about Buffy,” he answered honestly.
“Oh.” Cordelia tried to sound like that answer hadn’t cut her to the core. Buffy! Talk about a stake through the heart. Even from Sunnydale, Buffy Summers could dish it out.
Then remembering that she had placed Angel off-limits to herself, Cordelia supposed that meant he could still belong to Buffy. Even if the big breakup supposedly kept them apart. Something else occurred to her that brought a thoughtful frown to her face.
“Angel?” She wondered if this was why he had been thinking about the other girl. “Do you suppose the Ring of Amara also protects your soul?”
He shrugged a non-answer.
“If— if it does, then maybe you and Buffy could—”
Seeing where she was going with this, Angel cut her off, “No.”
“I destroyed the ring last night, Cordy,” Angel told her point-blank. “If it gets into the wrong hands—”
“What?! You destroyed something that makes you invulnerable? That lets you walk in sunlight?” Cordelia grabbed onto his arms. “Are you insane?”
The non-committal shrug came again.
“Yes!” Cordy answered for him thinking of all the dangers he put himself in for the PTB. All the times he might be killed in some future apocalyptic battle. “You dumbass!”
Unable to contain her emotions, Cordelia turned and walked out of the office. As it was streaming daylight outside, Angel was unable to follow— hah! Maybe that taught him a lesson. She couldn’t believe he would give away a chance to be with Buffy again. Angel was sometimes impulsive that way— acting without fully planning it out.
Obsessive, possessive, compulsive— and impulsive. Yeah, that was him alright. Angel got lucky most times, his skills as a fighter overcoming the odds set against him. What would happen when Lady Luck, as Doyle called it, turned a blind eye? Having a ring that makes you invulnerable might, say— give a vamp a distinct advantage.
Cordelia eventually arrived at her apartment, still hopping mad. She turned on the light switch, glancing up at its doubtful flickering. Finally, it stayed on.
“Stupid vampire,” she muttered. “Doesn’t think about himself or his friends. Not allowed to be a little selfish! Can’t chance some other evil vamp trying to get it— as if they could get past Angel.”
Removing a water glass from her cabinet, Cordelia turned on the cold water faucet and saw dingy brown water pour into the sink. It rebounded off the spoon in one of the unwashed dishes to splatter across her white shirt.
“Speaking of rotten luck,” Cordelia held the grossly stained shirt away from her body.
Glowering at the sight of the messy living room, Cordelia had to admit that the apartment really sucked. Her rent had already gone up once and that was just after the first six months. And now, having lost the bet to Doyle, she couldn’t afford to have it repainted. Not that she was going to pay him— just use him as slave labor.
Plopping down on the couch, Cordelia picked up the television remote that was on the cushion beside her. As the screen brightened, it lit up three cockroaches crawling along the flat surface.
“Ugh! Not again!”
Picking up the phone, she called the apartment manager. He was supposed to have the exterminator in today, but obviously that had not happened. The guy— who was a pig, by the way— stated that the entire apartment had been sprayed earlier that morning.
Figuring he was trying to put one over on her, Cordelia sat up. “I think I could tell if—”
Her foot connected with something on the floor— another cockroach. Looking grossed out that she had stepped on it, Cordelia glanced down only to scream in horror as she saw the floor littered by dead bugs.
Slamming down the phone, she reached for her address book. Going back to Angel’s place and begging for help after their argument was not happening. Doyle had once offered to help her out. Flipping through the book, she came to his name and number. After several attempts, there was no answer. Darn that Irishman! He was probably at a bar somewhere. Well, she wasn’t going to stay here a minute longer than necessary. If that meant eating crow with Angel— she’d just have to bite down hard and get it done.
Angel was in the shower standing under the spray, letting the water wet his hair. He felt some of the tension drain out of his shoulders. Telling Cordelia that he had been thinking about Buffy had not been the smartest move he ever made. Despite her memory loss, she possessed the same binding link to him as he did to her. On that subconscious level, he knew she reacted to him mate to mate— with just a tiny hint of jealousy in her eyes.
When she suggested that the power of the Ring of Amarra might bind his soul and protect it from loss if he and Buffy ever got horizontal again, Angel felt bereft. Though he could not deny himself the memory of the pleasure that he and Buffy shared, it was all because of Cordelia. She was his soulmate and the fact that the Ring of Amara might protect him was irrelevant. For a while he had considered Buffy to be the mate of his heart— while Cordelia was his body and soul.
But Cordy invaded every nook and cranny of him. It was her right and until his decision to force her into a normal life, it was also his pleasure.
Now she was back in his life through some incredible whim of fate. Without her memories and without the knowledge that he loved her— that he wanted her beyond anything she could imagine. Back on that beach, Angel had given her a taste of what he wanted and she had responded with all the passion she possessed.
Angel rubbed the soap along his chest and down across his stomach. He closed his eyes at the memory of that kiss. It was all he was likely to get, but just the thought of her made him hard. His fingers moved again—
Then the sound of banging on his apartment door startled him out of the haze he had fallen into under the hot spray of the shower. It had to be Doyle, Angel figured. Cordy had been pissed at him over the ring’s destruction. Maybe Doyle would just get the hint and leave.
But the pounding continued. Turning off the shower, he threw a towel around his waist and trudged toward the door.
“Doyle! What the hell do you—,” Angel’s eyes widened at the sight of Cordelia looking less than her usual perky self.
Barely sparing a glance at his naked flesh, Cordy let out a deep breath. “Thank God! You took long enough to answer the door. I can’t believe that you would just let me stand out in the hallway like that.”
Angel held up a hand, indicating his state of undress. “I was in the shower.”
“So I see, Mr. Clean,” she rolled her eyes. “Take these bags. I have another one in the hall.”
“What happened?” Angel was trying to balance the bags and his slipping towel.
Cordy dragged the other bag inside. “My apartment. It’s like Disney World for bugs! They’re having a field day in my living room. It’s like living in the barrio— or the projects. I’m like the girl from the projects!”
Nearly dropping one of the bags, Angel demanded, “Why didn’t you tell me you were living like that? What happened to the condo on the beach?”
“Denial, Angel. It is a condo on the beach— in my dreams, maybe. In reality, it is a crappy hole in the wall where the plumbing is broken, the lights don’t work and I have bugs. An army of big, huge, gigantic, Jolly Green Giant-sized cockroaches.”
Angel was revolted at the description. No wonder she had not had them over to her place. “Does Doyle know?”
“Yeah, but his apartment is not much better,” Cordelia said. “I tried to call him. I have actually sunk that low. Despite the bet and him seeing me naked.”
Suddenly, Angel’s towel slipped to the floor causing Cordelia to hold her hand over her mouth. The look on his face was hilarious and he was standing there strategically holding her suitcase in front of him. “Need some help with that bag?”
The glint in her eyes nearly got him. Angel almost dropped one suitcase to the floor. “Got it.”
Oh, my! Cordelia watched with interest as Angel maneuvered himself at an angle toward the bedroom door. Reaching it, the vampire found that the two bags in his arms were at an awkward angle. He would have to lift them— oh, to hell with it. Angel turned his back to her and quickly stepped into the bedroom giving Cordelia a full view of his muscular back, buttocks and legs.
What was it about a wet naked vampire that made Cordelia want to curl herself around that tall, solid frame? Moving her hand from her mouth, her fingers slowly trailed off pressing a little longer than necessary over her lips. She slipped her index finger into her mouth, nibbling on its tip for an instant with her eyes still on the open bedroom door.
The scenery at Angel’s apartment certainly was an improvement over her place. Giggling softly, she set those thoughts aside. Then Cordelia called out to him while hovering near the door. “The apartment manager is clearing out the bug patrol, or so he says. I’ll check back with him tomorrow.”
“The hell you will,” Angel emerged wearing boxers under a short, open bathrobe. “If the lease isn’t up, we’ll break it.”
Angel picked up the other bag from its place at her feet. “I’m not having my— secretary living in a dump like that. You’re staying with me.”
A secret thrill zipped along Cordelia’s spine whenever he got that protective he-man tone to his voice. At the same time, she was too independent to allow it. “Angel, I can’t do that to you. Trust me, you have no idea what sharing a bathtub with me will be like.”
“Bathtub?” Angel wondered if he’d misheard that.
With a gasp, Cordy cursed at her Freudian Slip, correcting herself. “Room! Bathroom! I m-meant bathroom.”
Sharing a bathroom was one of the things Angel missed the most, especially the tub. “I hear you, Cordy. We’ll try to come up with a schedule.”
“Then you won’t mind me being in your bed again?”
Was she saying these things just to make him crazy with lust? Angel’s head filled with images of Cordelia precisely in that position— in his bed. The waves of her chestnut hair falling over his skin, teasing him with her hands and mouth, tasting his flesh. Silk scarves tied loosely about her wrists as her hands gripped the wrought-iron railing as he pleasured her until her shattered cries filled his ears.
“My bed is yours.”
Looking deeper into his gaze, Cordy thought his brown eyes flashed with an amber hue. Blinking, she smiled her thanks. Angel could have argued that he was taller and therefore needed the bed rather than taking the couch. She was glad that he didn’t and wondered whether it would be dreams or nightmares she would find there tonight.
“Were you finished with your shower?”
No, actually. Angel had other things planned for that shower until Cordelia showed up. With a shrug, he answered, “Done for now.”
“Then do you mind if I—,” Cordy pointed in that direction.
She took the slight nod of his head as an affirmative answer. Upon turning to go, Angel caught her wrist to reel her in a little closer. “Don’t ask me, Cordy. You don’t need to play houseguest. If I had known about your apartment, you would have been here sooner.”
“Angel, you’re so good,” she touched her hand to his damp chest, just over his heart. “Just to warn you, it won’t be easy. I know you like to brood quietly in the dark. I don’t.”
“The brooding is less when you’re around.”
Grinning, Cordelia followed as Angel led her into the bedroom where he put the last of her three suitcases on the floor. “You packed this for a two-day stay?”
“A girl has to be prepared,” she pointed out. “A lot can happen in two days.”
That was a loaded statement, Angel decided. “Just remember what I said, Cordelia. While you’re here, this is your home, too. If you see something you want— just take it.”
If only it was that simple. Looking at Angel, she knew exactly what she would take if she could. If things had been different. For now, she would take the only thing she could get, “Okay, Angel. Close the door on your way out. I’m taking a shower.”
Doyle emerged from the elevator about thirty minutes later. He had finally come up with an apology that was the middle ground between groveling and saving face. He’d come here drunk, thought some nasty things about the vampire that were probably all his own sick imagination and then barged in on a drop-dead gorgeous naked Cordelia just as she was getting into the shower.
Cautiously, Doyle called out. “Angel, you around?”
He stepped into the kitchen area to find Cordelia combing her fingers through her wet hair while checking out her reflection in a metal vase. Her terrycloth bathrobe gaped open just a bit to reveal her damp cleavage.
“Hey, Doyle!” She was smiling, so that was probably a good thing.
“Cordy, you’re here.” Doyle wondered if she had ever left.
Then Angel came around the corner in his boxers and the partial covering of a short robe that left his chest and his legs exposed. Both of them were in bathrobes looking shower fresh. Doyle found he couldn’t speak as his mind processed back to his thoughts on sex and perfect happiness.
Letting out a sigh, Cordy asked Doyle, “You ever get that feeling that you just can’t shower enough? Like there’s never enough hot water?”
Angel didn’t bother to address Doyle, passing by him and moving straight for Cordelia. Leaning in, he sent her a sharp glance. “You got peanut butter on the bed.”
“Really?” Cordy was the picture of innocence as she met his flashing gaze. “I don’t think so. Then again, I never did find the lid. It may have rolled somewhere.”
“Onto my pillow,” Angel held out his sticky finger as proof pointing it at her face.
Grabbing his wrist, Cordelia sucked the waving digit into her mouth. Her tongue swept around it, licking off every remaining trace of peanut butter. Then she pulled his finger out leaving a loud, wet smacking sound behind it.
“No evidence left,” she shrugged getting up out of the seat. “You can’t prove it now.”
Cordelia’s shoulder nudged the vampire as she strategically retreated into the bedroom. The moment the door closed behind her, Doyle forgot all about his planned apology and drove straight down the path to his own personal insane asylum.
“No, no, no, no, no. Angel man, how could you?” Doyle’s protest caused Angel to realize what his seer had just witness. “This is crazy behavior.”
Holding up his finger, the vampire had to comment, “I think she won that argument.”
“That’s the problem. Cordy always wins,” Doyle told him. “Don’t you get that by now? She’s a lot like you— muddled in the head when it comes to things you shouldn’t have, but take just because you can get it.”
“We’re not talking about peanut butter,” concluded Angel wondering what he was getting at. The guy was practically seething, just this side of anger and Angel had no clue why.
“No, Cordelia!” She was right. The vampire was a dumbass— at least when it came to her. “I was crazy about her, and I was wearing her down, too. But no, the handsome, brooding vampire guy has to sweep in, all sensitive mouth and overhanging forehead.”
Angel rubbed a hand against his forehead, waiting for Doyle to finish.
“How about leaving some scraps for us homely looking fellas who don’t turn evil when they get some?”
There was a predatory look on Angel’s face that made Doyle realize he’d said one thing too much. Like looking at a crouching jungle cat, he sensed Angel was ready to pounce. A subtle shudder of his shoulders brought some stability to the vampire’s stance, but Doyle did not let himself relax.
“Don’t talk about Cordelia with disrespect, Doyle,” he fumed, “and don’t presume too much about me. I don’t know what the Powers that Be revealed to you when you showed up, but it can’t be more than a fraction of my life. Because if it was, you would already know that I would never give her up to another demon.”
“Give her up?” Doyle thought about the pictures in the small frame now sitting at his apartment. If only he had brought it with him, just to show Angel how much he figured out on his own.
“She’s mine!” Angel didn’t care if he sounded possessive. “Cordelia is my mate, Doyle, but has no memory of that fact. If you breathe a word of this to her, I’ll snap your neck.”
There was too much truth in the words to hope the vampire had not meant what he said. Doyle dismissed the threat of death, considering that he wouldn’t be saying anything to Cordy after that image popped into his head. Besides that, Angel and Cordelia were his friends and he wouldn’t press the issue if it was going to get someone hurt— especially him.
“Easy now, man,” Doyle held up his hands in mock surrender. “Just tell me what you can before she comes back. I’ll be silent as the grave.”
Angel actually felt relieved to talk to Doyle. The only one who knew the truth before now was Willow Rosenberg. Though growing in her power as a witch, she was still young and unworldly in her interactions. She could not provide the empathetic ear that came from another male perspective.
“So she knows nothing,” Doyle gasped. “A year of her life smothered by fake memories. Why did you do it?”
“For her own safety. To ensure that I never let her go too far.”
“That’s a load of crap, man!” Doyle tried not to yell. Cordy was only in the next room. He heard the distant sound of a blow dryer and figured they were still safe to talk. “You may have intended to stay away from her when you left Sunnydale, but look at the mess you’ve gotten yourselves into.”
Angel couldn’t deny it.
Throwing up his hands in the air, Doyle continued, “I knew that there was some cosmic connection here. The PTB are making your lives their playground, Angel. You are their Champion and Cordelia is— well, I don’t know what other than your mate. If that means anything to them, I guess they figured to arrange a few visions and throw her back into the mix.”
“Cordelia and I are soulmates. My soul is grounded when we’re together,” Angel told him.
So much for worrying about Angelus! “That’s a relief. I thought I was gonna have to start staking out the place— literally.”
The vampire’s mouth quirked into a brief smile at Doyle’s joke. “Just keep an eye on her. You accuse me of brooding too much. I know that I close myself off to the world, Doyle, but Cordelia is my world. I’m only trying to protect her.”
“Then why do you keep letting her back in?” His voice held that last remaining shred of jealousy. “From what you’ve said, Angel, having her so close can be dangerous; that she responds to your demon’s needs. Can you honestly tell me that the safest place for her is in your bed?”
“Not with me in it.” Then Angel revealed, “That’s why I’m going to be sleeping on the sofa for a couple of days.”
“She booted you out of your own bed?” Way to go Cordy! Then Doyle had to ask, “Why is she here? Did she stay after— after I walked in on her?”
“No. She had trouble with some things in her apartment,” Angel told him. “Actually, that gives me an idea. I need you to find her a new place.”
“I’ll do my best.” Doyle knew a few guys who knew some people in the apartment rental business.
“Do it quickly, Doyle,” advised Angel. “Having Cordelia here for a couple of nights will be enough of a challenge. Any longer than that and I’ll never let her leave.”
Just like the vampire did not let her walk away when Cordelia invited herself to join them in starting Angel Investigations. Doyle asked him, “Do you ever wonder if that’s what’s supposed to happen?”
SOULBOUND – BOOK TWO – THE NEXT CONNECTION: CHAPTER LINKS