A Convenient Marriage, Part 10

Author’s Notes: This is AU.

Yeah, okay, so I may have some teeny, tiny Nina issues I’m exercising in fic. It happens.

Sorry this took soo long to get out! Big thanks as always to LJ and Copper.

Rating: Adult; explicit sex

Disclaimer: Own nothing. All belongs to Joss, ME, Fox, et.al.

Pairing: Initially C/A, ultimately B/A.

Feedback: gia@everysixseconds.com

Distribution: My site, EverySixSeconds; sites currently with permission to host my fics; all others please ask.

Originally posted: Mar 12, 2004

Buffy smiled, half listening to the joking barbs that were being bantered back and forth between the guys as their ritual poker game gradually grew more competitive. It was the first time that she had been home when Angel hosted the monthly poker game, so it was the first time she had a chance to hear the friendly – but loud – rivalry that went on between the guys.

She was baking chocolate chip cookies to take over to Willow’s as a comfort present of sorts since Oz was going to be gone over a week. The Dingoes were playing a few gigs in Northern California, and Willow seemed particularly down about his absence this time, particularly with Buffy spending more of her free time with Angel.

Putting the bowl that had contained the cookie dough in the sink, Buffy rinsed it out then set it aside to wash.  She glanced over her shoulder as Angel entered the kitchen. It was apparently his turn to retrieve another round of beers.

“Cookies smell great. Are you going to leave me some?” He teased, veering from his path to the refrigerator to stand in front of her.

“Maybe. If you’re good.” She smiled up at him, reaching around to grab the oven mitt from the counter behind him.

“I’m always good, sweetheart. I thought you knew that… though I’d be happy to refresh your memory later,” he murmured suggestively, stepping forward until she was backed up against the counter, his arms braced on either side of her. Buffy looked up at him and he lost himself in the radiant hazel green of her eyes.

Without thought, he lowered his head and touched his lips to hers. Her lips felt petal soft beneath his and she tasted like a delicious combination of cookie dough and rich coffee. Nudging her lips open with his tongue, he savored her warmth, her taste. A now familiar jolt of fire shot through him and he leaned closer, pressing her firmly against him and the counter. Yet even this wasn’t close enough. He wanted to be closer.

With a smooth economy of motion, he lifted her effortlessly and sat her on the edge of the counter. Buffy automatically clasped his hips with her thighs, her arms encircling his neck to cling even closer to him.

“Angel?” She gasped breathlessly when his lips finally lifted and moved to her neck, kissing the sensitive flesh beneath her ear.

Behind them a laughing cough erupted. “I, uh, was sent in to see what was taking so long. Doyle was right about why it was so quiet in here.”

Blushing slightly, Buffy peeked over Angel’s shoulder to see Wesley standing in the doorway, a grin on his face.

Angel sighed, resting his forehead against Buffy’s for a lingering moment before helping her down from the counter. Smiling, he dropped a kiss on her nose then stepped back and over to the fridge, reaching inside to take out four bottles of Corona. “It’s only been two minutes; you boozers are just impatient.”

“Two minutes? According to my watch it’s been more like ten,” Wes countered with a grin, winking at Buffy who, with lightly pink cheeks, was watching them. “And I have to say it looked like it was going to be at least another ten – though I hope you’d have more consideration for you wife than that.”

“With a watch that bad, it’s a wonder you get anywhere on time. How do you manage to get to your classes, anyway, doc?” Angel shot back jokingly as he followed Wes back to the dining room. Calling him ‘doc’ had become a recent joke among the guys now that Wesley was in medical school.

Buffy shook her head as the teasing camaraderie continued for several long minutes after the guys returned to the poker game. When the last batch of cookies came out of the oven, she placed them on a plate that she slipped into a zip lock bag. She drew a little heart next to Angel’s name on a piece of paper and propped it next to the plate.

She gathered up the rest of the cookies along with her book bag. Waving goodbye to the guys, she left for Willow’s.

The poker game was still in full swing when Buffy returned almost two hours later.  Shaking her head, she said her hellos and, shortly thereafter, her goodnights, then made her way to the bedroom.

She was cocooned in the bed long before the game broke up and the guys made their way out the door. She wasn’t asleep; rather she was waiting and listening for Angel’s footsteps as he finally made his way down the short hall. She could only hear faint sounds from the bathroom next door as he went about the nightly ritual of washing up and brushing his teeth for bed.

A short while later he slipped into the room, a shadow moving carefully in the murky darkness. He stopped by the bed and took off his shoes and socks, taking care to be quiet since he thought her to be asleep.

Buffy moved then, shifting on the bed as she watched him.

Hearing the small sound, Angel glanced toward her. “I’m sorry, did we keep you up?”

“No,” Buffy replied, her voice a low whisper. She watched him undress with avid interest, her eyes adjusted to the dark. His shirt was unbuttoned with a habitual ease before he shrugged it off and tossed it toward the basket near the closet. He unbuckled his belt, and stripped off his pants leaving him standing near the closet in only a pair of black boxers.

“I was waiting for you.” Her voice sounded husky to her ears. She lifted the blankets back in invitation.

“Oh?” Angel answered with interest as he moved to the bed, stopping to strip off his last remaining article of clothing before he slid into bed next to her. Without waiting for a response, he cupped her cheek in one hand and kissed her. It was a sensual, thorough kiss that sent her senses soaring and her mind whirling. It was exactly what she had been waiting for; exactly what she had been craving.

Beneath the covers, he settled his body against hers. His hand moved from her cheek to her neck then down over her shoulder to slip beneath the sheet and caress the smooth skin of her back that was revealed by the low cut of her chemise-style nightgown. His hand continued lower, gliding over the rounded swell of her bottom covered by the satiny material. He tugged her closer, his hand brushing the back of her thighs before slipping beneath her gown. He caressed her leisurely, his hand roving over her behind with a possessive languor.

After a few minutes he tugged on her gown, pulling it upward. Breaking off their kiss, he helped her remove the tiny garment, dropping it off the side of the bed.

Their lips met again, fused, melded together and his hands once more swept over her warm, smooth skin. One hand slipped between her thighs, stroked and then pressed in. Angel stifled a groan. She was wet, ready for him. Rolling slightly, he leaned over and reached for the nightstand, pulling open the drawer. Mentally he noted that he’d need to buy more condoms soon; they were going through them at a pretty steady pace – not that he was in any way, shape, or form complaining. Ripping open the package impatiently, he donned the condom with the speed of considerable practice.

Buffy opened her arms to him as he pressed her back in the bed. She lifted her face eagerly for his kiss as he parted her thighs with his own and slid into her damp heat. He moved with a slow, hard rhythm, glorying in how much she wanted him, how hot and tight and wet she was for him and how she tilted her hips to take him deeper with each stroke then rotated them slightly in teasing friction as he withdrew.

With mouths fused and tongues tangled together, they moved together easily, in a fluid, now familiar, rhythm. The sound of their panting breaths, the small mewls and deep groans of pleasure and the swish of the sheets on the bed were the only sounds in the darkened room. Slick, hot skin slid across equally hot skin as the heady pleasure spiraled, pushing them ever closer to the tumultuous edge.

With steady but slow and powerful strokes, Angel moved between her thighs, feeling Buffy arch beneath him and lift her hips to meet each thrust, urging him on. Even as the urgency built, he continued to pace himself, moving slowly, wanting to draw out the rapturous pleasure. Closing his eyes, he concentrated, attempting to savor every small touch of her hands on his body, the taste of each sweet, delicious kiss and the sensual brush of her skin against his.

He thrust harder, deeper, and Buffy gasped. She felt the tension coiling inside her as release drew steadily closer. Bending her legs, she lifted them and wrapped them around his hips. Her fingers skimmed his hips, his back, clutching at him. Her hands drifted up his back to his neck. She sank her fingers in his hair as he sucked hard at the erratically beating pulse in her throat.

She was teetering close to the glorious edge, struggling for breath. Her eyelashes fluttered and her eyes opened. She tugged at his hair, bringing his face back to hers. Her panting breath mingled with his own as they writhed together, Angel intent on maintaining his steady, driving rhythm. Their eyes met in the dim light before he lowered his head once again to kiss her.

Buffy gave a small shuddering gasp and Angel felt the tremor ripple through him. The tension in his body increased and he moved forward again, his cadence faster, more urgent, more compulsive. They moved together in feverish abandon, the blankets slipping off the bed and falling to the floor unnoticed.

In the next instant, Buffy felt the peaking desire consume her, the sensation overwhelming; she sank her teeth in his shoulder as she reached her glorious, explosive climax.

Angel felt the scalding heat of her body stiffening beneath his, convulsing around him in tiny, quivering shudders. It was the last test of his tenuous control; gasping, he joined her, plunging forward with barely suppressed violence and propelling them both upward on the bed. Heedless to all but carnal satisfaction, he felt the rush of orgasmic pleasure sweep through his entire body for a fiercely long, endless moment before he collapsed over her, sated and content.

Long after Buffy had fallen asleep in his arms, Angel lay awake feeling curiously different. The pleasure was familiar, but anything he experienced before paled by comparison. It was a feeling of contentment, of belonging and of something stronger, something he wouldn’t quite name.

He brushed a kiss on her hair as she stirred in his arms, snuggling her nose against his chest and mumbling slightly in her sleep. Buffy had become immeasurably important to him; he could no longer see his future without her in it.

And that frightened him more than he cared to admit.

With his book propped on the arm of the couch, Angel’s concentration was focused on the text as he studied for his Criminal Evidence mid-term. He absently caressed the small, bare feet that lay in his lap, Buffy stretched out on the couch next to him half-dozing, her Chemistry notes having fallen to the floor almost an hour ago when she first drifted off to sleep.

It was well after midnight when the phone rang, startling them both. Buffy sat up groggily and watched as Angel rose to answer it, a concerned frown on his face. A call this late during the week usually was not good news.



“Speaking,” Angel replied politely, not recognizing the feminine voice on the other end of the line. With the portable phone cradled between his ear and shoulder, he returned to perch on the edge of the couch.

“Hi Angel, it’s Nina.” She stated in a friendly tone, a hint of a smile in her voice. “I thought I’d see if you’d like to get together. I have tickets to the Dave Matthews concert next week and I would really like your company.”

“Uh, I don’t remember…” Angel began hesitantly, glancing over at Buffy who was watching him curiously, if somewhat sleepily, from her position on the sofa. Without a second thought, he amended his reply, “Thanks for the invitation, but no. I’m not interested.”

“If Dave Matthews isn’t your thing, we could just get together for dinner… Or… something. You know, whatever you might want to do,” she insisted suggestively, “I’m up for anything, and I’d really like to see you.”

“I’m sorry, Nina, I’m not interested. Maybe we met months ago, but things have changed since then. I’m married now.”

Buffy perked up slightly with Angel’s words; the mention of a woman’s name and that he was married. She was trying not to appear too interested in his conversation, but it wasn’t exactly working.

“Married? Really?” Nina echoed with a laugh, “That’s pretty extreme to get out of a date, isn’t it?”

“It’s the truth,” Angel answered plainly.

“Whatever, Angel, really. That doesn’t have to matter to me; I don’t have any ridiculous scruples. I just want to have a good time,” Nina declared congenially, looking up and smiling at her friends that were watching and listening as she made the call.

“It matters to me,” he declared unfalteringly, watching Buffy who was now studying her fingernails with interest.

“That surprises me. I’ve heard that you were up for… anything.” A pout evident in her tone, Nina tried a different tactic, “But then, if your wife has you by the balls, I understand. That happens to a lot of men when they get married; the wife runs the show. It’s sad really, how emasculating that is and so unattractive. I just never thought you were the type, but…”

“Wait!” Angel suddenly snapped, afraid that she was going to hang up. On the opposite end of the phone, Nina smiled and gave the thumbs up to her friends, indicating success with her insinuation. Men were so easily manipulated by ego, or so she thought. His next question, however, took her by surprise, “Where did you say we met again?”

“You don’t remember?” Nina replied after a moment, hedging.

“No, I’m sorry, I don’t,” Angel murmured smoothly, “maybe you could remind me?”

“We met at… work.”

“Work? Yours or mine?” He asked, his eyes still on his wife. Buffy was now pretending to read her chemistry notes, which were upside down in her lap. He smiled.

“Your work. I came in the office there to see a friend and you were very insistent on getting my number,” she purred, unaware that Angel’s thoughts had gone in a different direction than she expected. “And since it’s been a while and you haven’t called, I thought you must have lost the number so I decided to call you.”

“I see. And this was where again?” Reaching out, Angel lifted a strand of Buffy’s hair and let it slide through his fingers. At his touch, she turned and looked up at him.

“Does it matter?  Why don’t you just meet me at the Bronze tomorrow night, and I’ll refresh your memory.” Nina insisted, attempting to hide the annoyance from her voice. She rolled her eyes and shrugged at her friend who was gesturing to know what was being said.

“Sorry, I was just curious where we met, that’s all. I’m still not interested. Good night,” Angel said bluntly, clicking off the phone.

“Who was that?” Buffy asked, trying hard to keep her tone casual.  She had told herself she wasn’t going to ask, but the words were out before she could recall them.

“Someone named Nina,” Angel replied, his brow creasing in concentration as he stood. He was certain that he had never met the woman before, but he was admittedly curious why she would say otherwise. His instincts told him that it wasn’t as simple as it appeared; it was too similar to the phone call from someone named Kate that he had also never met, but he wasn’t sure yet how to explain it or why the pretense from either woman.  Making a mental note to change their number, he returned the phone to the cradle.

“You knew her? Or you didn’t?” Buffy queried softly, her gaze never leaving him as he walked toward her.

“No, I don’t.” He sat down with a puzzled frown. Wrapping his arm around her shoulders, he drew her closed and planted a kiss on her hair. “I didn’t. I don’t. I admit I wasn’t a monk before we married, but… I honestly can’t say that I ever met this Nina. Something tells me that she was lying.”

Buffy snuggled next to him, resting her head on his shoulder, “Lying about what?”

“About us having ever met; about me asking for her number.” Idly, he played with her hair as he sorted through the various, unsettled thoughts in his mind.

“Maybe it’s a joke?” She ventured unconvincingly, aware of his discontent.

“Maybe.” He replied, distracted. His expression was still serious. “What do you say we change our phone number?”

“If you want too.” Her fingers drifted over his ribs as she pushed back to look up at him. She shrugged and smiled, her expression without a trace of doubt or censure. “Of course, then you realize that I’ll have you all to myself. At least until everyone gets the new number.”

Angel studied her face. When she smiled at him, his worries seemed to vanish and he forgot all but the tantalizing promise in her smile. “You do already. Now what do you say we go to bed?”

She stretched up against him, looping her arms around his neck. “Did you finish studying?”

“I’m finished for tonight. I’ll read the rest in the morning.”

“I thought you had a mid-term tomorrow.” Buffy moved so that she was straddling his lap.

“I do, but I’m ready.” He returned, his hands coming to rest on her hips.

“For the test?” She wiggled, feeling the rise of his erection beneath her.

“For you,” he murmured as he guided her hips down and forward in a slow, rocking glide.

She shivered at the heated murmur, anticipation warming her senses. Leaning down, she ran her tongue over the curve of his lips. “Really,” she whispered provocatively, reaching for the string tie on his sweats even as she slid back to drop to the floor between his knees. “That’s good because I’ve been ready for you since you got home.”

Buffy’s caressed the hard length of his erection through the soft cotton material of his sweats, a teasing light in her eyes as she watched his face. Her hand was warm on his stomach as she brushed his shirt out of the way before easing the material of his pants down to expose his cock.

Angel brushed a fingertip over her eyebrow, thinking not for the first time how beautiful she was and how lucky he was to have met her. Curling forward, he took her face between his hands and kissed her, a long, slow, delicious kiss that expressed the feelings for her that he had yet to fully acknowledge. When he leaned back again, he had forgotten about the disconcerting phone call only minutes earlier.

When Buffy lowered her head, Angel closed his eyes. Her mouth was warm and soft surrounding him; her stroking hands, teasing and eager.  A delicate scene of vanilla drifted to his nostrils, along with the faintest trace of hazelnut from the nearby candles, the room seemed to drop away and his focus centered solely on his wife, and the intense, exquisite sensations she was evoking with her mouth, lips and tongue.

His size and hardness intoxicated her, a tantalizing reminder of the paradise that he brought so readily. Buffy felt her own temperature rise, restless desire surging through her blood to pulse between her legs. Along with desire, a sense of power rose bringing with it a new degree of enchantment; she was growing increasingly confident in her ability to bring him to the height of pleasure with her mouth.  She could hear his harsh breathing and feel his fingers flexing in her hair as she took him deep in the back of her throat. His hips lifted slightly when she withdrew and he seemed to growl in satisfaction when she returned, sucking him deep and swirling her tongue around the sensitive ridge below the head of his shaft.

Angel’s fingers tightened reflexively in her hair, wanting to grasp the incredible pleasure in his hands. He tugged, suddenly aware that he was close to the brink. “Buffy-”

She shook her head, pulling free. “I’m not finished,” She murmured, looking up at him through tousled strands of blonde hair. She licked the swollen crest of his erection suggestively, causing Angel to groan before taking him in her mouth again and continuing her actions.

Long minutes later, he was overwhelmed with glorious sensation. The explosive pleasure broke, shocking and intense, and he came, a low guttural growl sounding deep in his throat. Buffy swallowed willingly, thrilled to have brought him such pleasure.

Blissful moments later, Angel lifted his head and met Buffy’s smile as she lay with her arms draped over his lap, her cheek resting against his thigh.

“My turn,” he said with a satisfied but playful smile. He leaned down and brushed her lips with a kiss. “But I think you’ll have to call Faith to teach your class in the morning,” he murmured, his breath warm on her skin as his lips drifted over her cheek, “because I plan to keep you up late.”

Before Buffy had a chance to reply, Angel had scooped her up in his arms and had deposited her in his previous position on the couch, switching their positions. He quickly stripped her shorts and t-shirt from her, his own clothing joining hers on the floor short seconds later.

“Mmmm… that sounds perfect,” she whispered in reply, her arms twining around his neck and wrapping her legs around his hips. “As often as I’m calling her lately,” she purred against his throat, “I think I’m going to have to permanently change my schedule.”

“Good,” Angel rumbled in absolute agreement, his tongue tracing the delicate shell of her ear.

Good wasn’t precisely the word, Buffy thought, her eyes closing as her husband’s hands and lips drifted with deliberate intent over her body. No, it was something far better than good, but her mind was unable to find the right words as passion and lust and the ache of want took precedence.

It wasn’t until after two am that they finally made their way down the short hallway to the bedroom. Sated and replete, they curled together in the big bed and slept.

Angel waited patiently in the UC Sunnydale  Arts & Sciences’ Dean’s Office for the next available clerk. He was understandably paranoid about paperwork now, and so wanted to make sure that he checked and rechecked all the requirements and formalities necessary for his graduation in the spring. His thoughts preoccupied, he didn’t see the woman standing next to him until she touched him on the arm.


“Cordelia,” Angel returned politely, unconsciously shifting his stance slightly away from her. Glancing over her shoulder he saw Harmony standing just inside the door, a bored expression on her face. “What are you doing here?”

“I was just passing by on my way to the gym to meet Devon. I saw you come in, thought I’d stop in and say hi.” The brunette smiled widely, leaving out the fact that she had just dragged Harmony across most of campus at a near run in order to stage the ‘accidental’ meeting after she had spotted Angel from a distance.

“So how are you? You look… tired.” Cordelia schooled her features into a friendly, but worried expression, her fingers dropping from his arm as he moved still further away from her. “I’m sure adjusting to married life has got to be draining. And I know you – you really work yourself too hard, what with work and classes and all.”

“I’m good. And no, it’s not. Things are good actually,” Angel replied carefully, studying Cordy’s expression. Mentally he smiled, not about to elaborate on the real reason why he hadn’t got much sleep last night. Until the BCIS investigation was complete however, he couldn’t risk pissing her off. If she were to tell the BCIS that she arranged the marriage, it would be disastrous. Now more than ever he didn’t want to do anything that would jeopardize his relationship with Buffy or put her at risk in any way.

“Oh. Well, that’s… so great,” she said insincerely. It was obvious by her tone that she didn’t believe him; that he was giving her the answer that was expected rather than the truth. With a small lift of her shoulders, she whispered understandingly, “But if you ever want to talk about it, or just need somewhere to go for awhile and hang out to get away from. things, you know where I am.”  Stepping forward and reaching out, she gave his arm an affectionate squeeze. “After all, what are friends for?”

“Angel O’Connor?”

The clerk’s voice calling his name saved him from having to come up with a sufficiently bland reply. Cordelia as confidant was laughable; still, he wasn’t taking any chances at angering her. Until Dr. Walsh declared the case closed, he felt he had no choice but to be civil to Cordelia. And unfortunately, in reading through the BCIS online FAQs, he found a mention that it could take up to two years to complete an investigation of this type.

“Uh, thanks. I have to go.” Angel gestured behind him where the grey-haired clerk was now waiting for him.

“I have to go to meet Devon anyway. We’re going to dinner again tonight and then some new club; he just wants to be with me twenty-four seven it seems.” Cordelia said airily, “You know Devon, right? Lead singer of the Dingoes? Oh, of course you do. Oz and all. They’re playing at the Bronze next Friday, maybe we’ll run into each other there. Devon insists that I be at all his gigs. He’s so-”

“I have to go.” Angel interrupted, cognizant of both the clerk and the other students waiting in the office as well as uninterested in hearing the latest about Cordelia’s love life.

“Fine, go then. See you around.” The brunette muttered, unable to completely hide her displeasure at the dismissal and Angel’s apparent lack of concern.

Nodding slightly, Angel turned and walked away.

“Remember what I said!” Cordelia called, lunging after him and narrowly missing capturing him by the arm. “If you want to talk or something, call me!”

As Angel disappeared behind the tan cubicle wall, she cursed under her breath and flounced back to where Harmony still waited near the door.

“So how’d it go?” Harmony asked as the two women exited the building. “Did you mention Devon? And did he get all jealous like you thought?” The blonde mused almost as an afterthought, “He didn’t really seem jealous. but then I guess guys are weird about that stuff. My blondie bear is more the obviously jealous type. Maybe Angel is the more of the quietly jealous type. And is he so totally hating being married to Bunny like you thought, or what?”

“Harm…” Cordelia warned softly, her nerves on edge.

“Oh, I wonder if she’s all pissed at him because of Nina’s call. Did he say anything about it?” The blonde rattled on, unaware of her friend’s growing annoyance. “I guess he might not mention that. Or maybe he would. I mean if my Spikey was getting calls in the middle of the night from women asking him out on dates, you’d better believe I’d be a little upset. Especially if they interrupted something, if you know what I mean. That whole thing was inspired, Cordy, really. Bunny has to be-”

“Harmony, please, just shut up!” Cordelia snapped, putting her sunglasses with a brisk jerky movement. “I need to think.”

“Well, excuuuse me.” Harmony muttered, watching her friend stomp away, her heels making a staccato rap on the pavement as she strode angrily away.

Images of Angel and their sexual exploits on the living room couch last night filled her at various moments during the day and Buffy’s lips would curve upward in a dreamy little smile, making her classmates and later her coworkers and customers wonder about her thoughts.

At Patina, Anya teased her relentlessly, much like Faith had when Buffy had called her that morning to ask that she substitute teach her class again.  After Faith teasingly agreed, Buffy had gone back to bed with Angel for another two hours, though this time purely for sleep.  Around eight, they showered together and had breakfast before driving over the UC Sunnydale campus. Angel went to the library to study for his mid-term while Buffy went to her classes.

When her last class ended for the day, Buffy stopped in the student health center and made an appointment to see one of the nurse practitioners. She had decided that she wanted to go on the pill, though she hadn’t yet told Angel about her decision, preferring to wait until she had more information. She was disappointed to find out that the next available appointment was three weeks out but she went ahead and took it anyway. They put her on the cancellation list, and also made sure to advise her that she’d need to make sure to schedule the appointment around her period.  With a faint blush for not having considering that little detail before, Buffy made a quick mental calculation and double checked the date of her appointment. Nodding at the woman behind the counter, she reassured her that the date would be fine then took the offered card with the neatly written date and time.

Willow had dropped her off at Patina around five because Angel had gone straight from class to his volunteer job at the Sunnydale Police Department. On the drive over, the red-head had asked her a dozen different questions about married life and how things were working out. Buffy had answered most of them with candid honesty and more than a few grins, having shared confidences with her best friend for more years that she could remember. There were a few things she kept to herself though, things that seemed somehow too precious and intimate to share with anyone other than Angel.  One such small fact was that she was wildly in love with her husband.

“Francis Doyle?”

“That’d be me. And you’d be Ms. Maggie Walsh from the BCIS.” Doyle squinted at the woman standing on the small landing to his apartment door, the sun bright behind her.

Dr. Maggie Walsh.” The stern and rather formidable woman insisted, her gaze trained on the man that had finally opened the door to her insistent knocking.

“Well Dr. Maggie Walsh, what can I do for you?” Doyle questioned, leaning casually against the door frame.

“I take it Angel O’Connor told you that I would be contacting you?” The BCIS Agent said curtly, her words more a statement than a question. She raked him with her gaze, her disapproval obvious. It was after nine-thirty in the morning yet it appeared like the man in front of her had just rolled out of bed to answer the door. The loud patterned shirt was rumpled and unbuttoned, revealing the white tank he wore beneath it. His dark grey slacks appeared to be well worn, as were his shoes.

“He may have mentioned something like that, yeah.”

“No doubt he told you to lie for him.” Maggie Walsh’s lips pressed together tightly in displeasure.

“No, he left that part out.” Doyle’s mouth twitched into a smile, which was quickly repressed. “All he said was that a Ms.- I mean a Dr. Maggie Walsh from the BCIS would be calling me because he gave out my name as a reference.”

“May I?” Dr. Walsh gestured toward the interior of the apartment.

“This gonna take a while then?” Doyle asked, one eyebrow quirking upward in question.

“My questions won’t take long, Mr. Doyle, but I do have a job to do, and I can be very persistent. If you’d prefer, I can come back at a time that is more convenient for you if you would just let me know when that would be.” Maggie Walsh insisted with a tight smile.

“No, not necessary. Come in.” With a resigned sigh, Doyle stepped back from the door and swept his arm wide in a gesture of invitation. After Dr. Walsh passed by him, he closed the door and followed to where she stood waiting next to the cluttered couch. He moved the books and papers, setting them on the also cluttered coffee table.

Maggie Walsh looked at the couch with distaste before she carefully chose a clear spot and sat down. She flipped open the black notebook that she always carried and deliberately thumbed through the pages until she reached a blank page.  Pulling her glasses out and slipping them on, she glanced over the rim to where Doyle now sat in a chair adjacent to her. “How long have you known Angel O’Connor?”

“Let’s see. Well, that’d be almost our whole lives.” Doyle replied matter-of-factly, running a hand through his rumpled hair.

“Were you surprised when he married?” Looking down, she drew out a pen and jotted some notes on the blank piece of paper in front of her.

“Honestly? Yes.”

“Really?” Dr. Walsh glanced up from her notes in surprise. “And why is that?”

“Well, naturally, when a consummate bachelor up and marries – a young one at that – it’s bound to raise a few eyebrows. I had thought that Angel would be sowing oats for many a year, so married now?  Yeah, it was a pretty big surprise.” Doyle answered with shrug. He flicked a spec of lint off his trousers.

“And?” Maggie Walsh prompted eagerly.  This might just be the break in this case that she needed.

“And so the conclusion that I came to was that he musta knocked up some sweet young thing with some very influential parents.” He shifted on the chair and propped his feet up on the coffee table. A haphazardly stacked pile of books teetered precariously as the table shook but seemed to defy gravity and so stayed put. “That or there was some other reason behind it, if you know what I mean?”

“I think I do.” The BCIS agent nodded, smiling a superficial conspirator’s smile. “Please continue.”

“Not much more to it really. I met Buffy. No baby, no influential parents, no cunning ploy to trap him,” he grinned and gave her a wink, “though she’s not without her own persuasive capabilities.”

“I don’t understand, Mr. Doyle. What are you saying?” Dr. Walsh’s brow creased in to a frown.

“I’m not the most observant man, but I think I woulda noticed by now if she was pregnant so that wasn’t the reason for the quick wedding.  I considered that maybe she knew about his trouble with his visa, but Angel… well, he’s just not the type to be manipulated by a woman – no matter how clever she might be. He’s damn stubborn in fact. Which leads me to only one thing.”

“Which is?” The BCIS agent pressed impatiently, leaning forward.

“As a confirmed bachelor myself, it pains me to admit this, but I think maybe Angel just went and fell in love and so, got married before she got away.” With feigned gravity, he added, “Not that he’ll just come right out and admit it, you know. Old habits die hard and all that.”

With an exasperated sigh, the BCIS Agent countered belligerently, “I find that reasoning highly unlikely, Mr. Doyle. I believe that Mr. O’Connor married because he was at risk of deportation, and I believe you and I both know that. As a naturalized citizen yourself, I think you would resent others that attempt to cheat the system. You went through the right channels, did the paperwork, took the tests. Doesn’t it gall you to see someone else try to take the easy way out?”

Doyle pursed his lips for a moment and then said, “I have to say no, not in this case. Angel’s the closest thing I have to a brother and quite honestly, I’ve never seen him take the easy way out of anything.” Unflinching, Doyle returned Maggie Walsh’s cold, blue-eyed stare as though he could see behind the mask of her expression.

Dr. Walsh contemplated the man across from her for almost a full minute before she snapped her notebook closed. “I’m sure you believe that it’s commendable to cover up for your friend, however, I can assure you that this will only hurt you both in the long run. Thank you for your time, Mr. Doyle. I’ll see myself out.”

“Suit yourself.” Doyle returned with a wave of his hand. He didn’t move from his spot until long after the door closed behind the irritated agent.

From the seat that was fast becoming his usual spot at the bar, Angel sat and watched the group of guys across the restaurant with steadily growing anger. He had noticed them immediately after he arrived, the boisterous group talking and laughing loudly enough for everyone in the restaurant to hear them. Finding out that they were seated in Buffy’s section was grating; more so when he caught a glimpse of the cavalier attitude they had toward her as she approached their table to drop off their check. As it was it already took considerable effort for Angel to restrain himself from going over to the table and knocking a few heads together in an effort to teach them some manners.

“That,” Anya pointed out caustically, “is Parker Abrams. I think you were asking about him a few weeks back.” She strolled casually over to where Angel sat, reaching out to pluck a cherry from the tray of garnishments that sat on one end of the bar. She popped it in her mouth and glanced at Angel curiously, wondering what he was going to do. His expression was forbidding, making her glad that she wasn’t in Parker Abrams’ shoes.

Angel simply stared, his eyes dark and glittering furiously. He watched as the guys tossed a stack of bills on the table then made their way toward the restaurant exit. Still laughing and talking loudly, they showed little regard for any of the restaurant’s other patrons, many of who cast annoyed and relived looks at the group as they passed.

Purposefully, Angel stood and strode out behind them. After they had gone through the exit and halfway down the block, he called, “Parker Abrams?”

Parker stopped and turned around. He tensed when he saw the less than friendly face of the man calling his name and glanced around nervously.  Reassured by the presence of his friends, he folded his arms negligently over his chest and managed to reply, “Yeah? Do I know you?”

“No, you don’t.” Angel’s tone was cool as he continued to advance toward the group. It was to Parker’s favor that he hadn’t actually attempted even a casual grope of Buffy, as he had often done in the past, while her husband had been watching; still, Angel hadn’t forgotten what he had overheard Buffy and Willow talking about weeks ago. “My name is Angel. Angel O’Connor.”

“You want something or what?” Parker asked sardonically, glancing at his friends with a slight roll of his eyes.

“I want you to stay away from my wife,” Angel declared bluntly.

“Your wife?” Parker questioned with a smirk. “Dude, with so many hotties around, why would I be interested in your used goods?”

“Let me make this simple enough so that even you can understand.” Angel stated, his lips curving upward in a slow smile, “I want you to stay away from Buffy. Summers. O’Connor.”

Parker’s eyebrows lifted in surprise. “Buffy? She’s your-”

“Wife.” The taller dark-haired man interrupted emphatically, taking another two steps forward so he was within only a few feet of his prey. “You see, I don’t like what I’ve heard about you and your behavior toward her.”

“Whatever, man. She’s obviously told you a bunch of lies.” Parker shrugged dismissively, his confidence bolstered by his three frat brothers standing around him. “That or she still has the hots for me. She’s a real piece of work, that girl.” He concluded the sentence with a lewd thrust of his hips.

“I’m not going to ask you again.” A muscle in Angel’s jaw clenched; his fingers curled in palm tightly. He couldn’t believe that Buffy had actually gone out with this guy, not once but twice.

“Or what?” Parker taunted mockingly, “You’ll kick my ass?”

“Yes.” The single word was uttered low and emphatically. To anyone listening, there was no question about the seriousness of the threat contained in that single word.

Parker paled. He wanted to back up a few steps away from the larger man, but he somehow managed to muster up enough courage to hold his ground. He was aware that his friends were watching them closely; he dared not let them see his fear. Through lips that trembled slightly, he managed to squeak out a response, “Whatever, man. Patina’s a public place. I can go there whenever I want.”

“Hey, Parker. Just let it go.” Larry urged calmly, his eyes moving between the two men. Six foot two and a tackle for the UC Sunnydale football team, Larry wasn’t afraid of much, but there was something about the intensity of the man in front of them that made him think twice. There was also the small fact that he hadn’t really liked Parker’s continued harassment of Buffy, but he went along just to be part of the group and avoid having their teasing barbs turned on him. Now seemed like a prime opportunity to call an end to the game; something that was long over due. Turning back to Angel, Larry added, “It’s cool. We’re cool.”

“You can’t tell me what to do.” Parker blurted again, his voice a childish whine. Jutting his chin out, his eyes flitted from Larry back to Angel. At his waist his hands clenched into fists. He completely disregarded his friend’s attempt to extract them from the situation.

Ceding defeat, Larry shook his head, held up his hands slightly and backed up, indicating that he wanted no part of Parker’s continued ignorance. After a second, the two other frat guys backed off as well, moving to stand next to Larry a few feet down the sidewalk. They watched with interest, but it was obvious that they had no plans to intervene.

“No, I can’t.” Angel returned contemptuously, “I can’t tell you to stay away from Patina, or campus or anywhere that Buffy is likely to be, but I can advise you that you’ll be a lot healthier if you make an effort to go out of your way to avoid being anywhere my wife happens to be.” Taking a menacing step forward, an insolent smile on his face, he added, “But to be honest with you, Abrams, I think I’ll be a lot happier if you do insist on being an idiot. I wouldn’t mind teaching you a lesson.”

Realizing that his friends had stepped aside, Parker’s courage faltered. He unclenched his hands and back up two quick steps. “Yeah, well, whatever.” He stumbled slightly as he turned around and started to walk away. He’d only gone two steps when he turned and muttered over his shoulder, “That place sucks anyway.”

In a cold crisp voice, Angel called after him, “Don’t forget what I told you.”

After Parker disappeared around the corner, Angel turned and walked back to Patina.

“You work too hard,” Angel murmured with a touch of censure in his voice.

“Kennedy went home sick and Andrew needed the help. Besides, I could use the extra money.” Buffy replied, walking into the bedroom. “I’m just sorry you had to wait so long. You weren’t in your usual spot talking to Clem when I went to tell you I was going to be late.”

“I didn’t mind waiting. Besides, I brought a book,” he offered, following her. “It’s just… I worry.”

“You do?” Buffy turned to glance at him. Leaning against one tall, carved bedpost she scrutinized him as though the truth of his words would be discerned on close inspection. Other than playful love words during sex, it was the closest he had come to telling her how much he cared. Her heart seemed to skip a beat.

“Of course I do.” Angel shrugged, his emotional state still slightly skewed after his confrontation with Parker Abrams now almost two hours ago. He couldn’t recall ever wanting to hurt someone quite as much as he had wanted to hurt Parker; it was a near-blind jealous rage combined with a feeling of protectiveness toward Buffy so strong he could almost taste it. It was discomfiting to a man who never before considered fighting over a woman. Still, he hadn’t mentioned his little conversation with Parker to Buffy yet. Not that he was hiding it. he just wasn’t sure how to approach the subject, particularly since she had never mentioned Parker’s harassment to him directly. He wasn’t sure she’d be too pleased that he interfered.

Buffy smiled, reaching up to unbutton her blouse. “That’s so sweet.”

“Wait,” he ordered softy, his dark eyes watching her intently. “Let me.”

Pausing, she looked up at him, her brows quirked. “You don’t have to.”

“I know.” He grinned, advancing toward her. “But I want to.”

“What makes you think I’ll let you?” She gave him a coy glance from under her lashes.

“I’ll make it worth your while,” Angel murmured as he gave her an impertinent half-smile. Reaching out, he began to unbutton the remaining buttons on her shirt. “Or if you won’t let me take your clothes off, I can just slide your skirt up, bend you over the bed and have my way with you.”

“Oh.” Buffy gasped, her eyes flaring wide as a sudden jolt of lust swept through her senses at his suggestive words.

Turning her around, Angel pressed her between his body and the bed, holding her firmly against him with his arm wrapped around her waist.  Slipping one hand down, her tugged her skirt up her thighs. “Maybe I should do that first anyway.”

Buffy closed her eyes and squirmed restlessly, the long fingers slipping between her legs intoxicating, his whispered words effectively provocative.

“Would you like that, hmm?” His mouth was close to her ear, the length of his body pressed firmly into hers, his erection blatant and hard against her bottom.

“Yes.” Buffy breathed, the throbbing between her legs intensifying with each tantalizing stroke of his fingers. She leaned back into him, the familiar scent of him filling her nostrils as the heat of his body warmed her even through their clothes.

“Tell me what you want.” Angel whispered, nuzzling her neck as she turned her head aside to accommodate him. Reaching up, he cupped a bra-clad breast in his hand, his thumb sweeping over the jewel-hard tip of her nipple through the smooth satin.

His words evoked another feverish rush of desire as did the questing fingers between her legs, which had now slipped beneath her lacy panties to slide inside, teasing her, filling her.

Reaching up, Buffy tangled her fingers in the soft mass of his hair. Tugging his head down as she turned in his arms, she opened her eyes and looked into his with a smoldering gaze. “I want you.”

“You want me to what, babe?” He asked, easing his fingers from between her thighs and turning her more fully to face him. His gaze roved lazily over her face, down her neck to the open shirt where her white bra peeked out between the sides of the gaping material. With one finger, he traced the outline of the material teasingly, as if to nudge it off her shoulders. Instead though, he simply waited.

A scant few seconds later she caught on to what he wanted. Her smile was inviting. “Undress me.”

Returning her smile, Angel removed her clothing slowly, taking pleasure in their game and stopping to kiss or caress sensitive spots with increasingly blatant and erotic touches.

“Mmmm… very nice,” he murmured softly, his gaze proprietary as he looked her over from head to toe when she finally stood nude in front of him. Her skin was lightly flushed, her breathing deep and slightly erratic, her eyes half-closed, all giving added evidence to her desire. He wanted her, as he always did, with unrestrained lust.

“Kiss me,” Buffy whispered as she tilted her head back and leaned into him. The feel of his clothing against her bare skin gave her an added thrill as his mouth covered hers in an intrusive, forceful kiss. His hands grasped her shoulders, pulling her into him.

Twining her arms around his neck, she swayed closer, rubbing against him sensuously. The taut peaks of her nipples scraped along the soft material of his shirt and she cooed softly in pleasure.

Angel’s hand slid down her back to cup her bottom, lifting and tilting her so that his aching erection pressed hard against her. In turn, Buffy rocked back, rubbing persistently as his tongue mimicked her rhythm, thrusting into her mouth. His hands roved over her body, his caresses blatant and explicit.

“Your clothes,” she murmured between kisses, tugging at his shirt to help him pull it over his head before reaching impatiently, urgently for the button of his pants until, finally, he was as naked as she.

Her eyes on his, Buffy tugged him forward as she slowly sank down on the bed and parted her legs. Angel followed, lowering his weight over her, reveling in the soft feel of her body undulating seductively, wantonly beneath him.

She parted her legs wider as he reached between them, feeling the slick heat of her desire.  Bending his head, he kissed the taut crest of one nipple, his mouth closing over it and sucking gently. When he lightly bit the turgid sensitive tip, Buffy gasped softly and her hips lifted against his hand.

“You like that?” Angel whispered against her skin, his lips tracing a path to her other breast.

“Yesss.” Buffy hissed softly in reply, feeling the blunt edges of his teeth close around the previously neglected nipple. Arching her back and lifting her arms, she sank her fingers into his hair wanting him closer as he leisurely nibbled and bit, licked and sucked.

“Ann-gelll.” she whined softly in frustration, reaching down with one hand to run her fingertips along the hard, jutting length of his cock.

“Mmm…?” he questioned innocently, his hand closing over hers to guide her motions before he let go leaving her to continue the stroking pattern on her own.

“I want you.” She breathed. The pulsing between her legs was intense, the slightest motion of his hand between her legs adding to the already heady thrill racing her senses.

“Here?” He murmured, parting her thighs wider and adding a third finger to the two already buried inside her.

“Now.”  She demanded, her voice husky and low.  She squirmed in wanton anticipation, her craving for him growing with each passing second. “I want your.” she paused, uncertain of her next choice of words even as a lascivious thrill swept through her when she mentally finished the sentence.

“My what, sweetheart?” His voice was gruff, his eyes sweeping over her possessively as he too anticipated her words. His control wavered as desire flared hot. “Tell me. I want to hear you say it.”

“Your cock,” Buffy whispered, the basely carnal words turning her liquid inside. She lifted her hips to meet the deft movement of his hand, the motion adjunct to her fevered urgency. She was nearly insensible to all but the heightening pleasure.

“You want me to fuck you?” Angel murmured, his voice low and filled with obvious heat. An incredible lust was pounding through his veins, his body poised and taut over hers.

Her lashes fluttered. Her green eyes, sultry and heated, met his. Her desire was ravenous, sharp-set and urgent; his blunt words only sparked her passion. “Yes. Fuck me, Angel.”

Before she finished the sentence, he was already reaching for a condom; as he tore the package open, Buffy reached to help him roll the latex sheath over the swollen crest of his erection.

“Mmm… fast or slow?” he whispered as he entered her with a slow steady thrust. He clenched his jaw and gritted his teeth, feeling her warm heat close around him tightly.

“Slow… Haaarrd,” Buffy murmured decisively in response, lifting her hips to draw him deeper. Would she die of lust? she wondered, all sensation seemingly centered in the shimmering, heated core of her body, every pulsing nerve quivering in anticipation.

Angel plunged deeper, suddenly impatient to possess her and dangerously out of control. As if he needed any additional encouragement with the rapacious urgency burning through his blood and spiking in his brain. Tightening his hands on her hips and withdrew marginally, only to thrust back forward, going deeper still.

Sweeping her hands down his back, Buffy traced the muscles along his spine, down to his hips and over the curve of his ass. She exerted pressure, pulling him toward her as she once again raised her hips to meet his downward stroke. He slammed into her again, following her murmured demand to the letter.

A low, exultant sigh escaped her lips.

The enticing sound added to the fierce need, his control slipping away as he settled into an unbridled, pounding rhythm that brought them quickly to a tempestuous, shuddering climax.

Too quick, Angel thought disgustedly.

“More.” Buffy breathed in his ear, clutching at him just before he rolled away to discard the condom. He smiled; they were obviously in accord.  Her words were an answer to his own feelings of discontent, of famished, insatiable desire.

He returned to the bed quickly, his lips crushing hers even as he rolled them so that she was sprawled atop his large body.

Minutes later, a new condom in place, Buffy lowered herself impatiently on his erection.

Beginning a slow, bewitching rhythm, she began to glide up and down on him. She was ravenous for him it seemed, eager and impatient.  Angel watched her through half-closed eyes, marveling at the sexy picture she made, her breasts bouncing slightly with each thrust, her peaked coral nipples hard and jutting toward him, begging to be touched. His eyes moved lower, down her firm abdomen to where their bodies joined, his erection disappearing between her thighs as she moved.

Leaning down, she nuzzled his throat, tasting his skin with her tongue. On each downward thrust, she paused, savoring the sensation. She felt gloriously full, as though she was meant to be filled by him, with him.  She purred deep in her throat, expressing her pleasure. The passage of time seemed momentarily arrested as the riveting sensation became her sole focus.

She came once then twice more in a sweet flood of pleasure before Angel joined in her release, holding her close as she collapsed in a sweaty, sated heap on his chest.

Not taking her eyes off the computer screen where she was currently placing a bid on eBay for a replica ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ gold coin, Amanda flipped the answer button and spoke into her telephone headset, “Morgan and McDonald, how can I help you?”

“One minute please, I’ll see if he’s in the office.”  Placing the caller on hold, she finished typing in the information necessary to complete her bid then leaned back to peek through the door just to left. Lindsey was reclining at his desk, his shoeless feet propped up on the edge revealing white athletic socks. A stack of folders sat on the desk at his elbow; one thick folder was open on his lap.

“Linds? It’s Ethan Rayne.” Amanda shouted, smacking her gum slightly. “Or rather, Eve wanting to get you on the phone for him.”  She’d had this job for just over four months, and it was by far one of the better temp assignments that she had. She liked both Lilah and Lindsey; they were smart, friendly and easy to work for and the work itself wasn’t at all taxing; answering the phones, doing the occasional filing, and serving as office receptionist. The latter was probably the easiest part of all given that in all the time she’d been there less than a dozen people had ever walked into the small, sparsely furnished office suite.

Lindsey McDonald and Lilah Morgan, partners in the PI firm, spent a significant portion of their time out of the office, and when they were there, they were usually in one office or the other with the door closed in deep discussion. Ethan Rayne had been a regular client of the PI firm for as long as Amanda knew and was obviously one of their more important ones; she had been given explicit instructions to contact Lindsey without delay whenever Ethan or his secretary called. That didn’t mean Lindsey always took the call or even called back right away – it just meant that he knew about each and every call when they happened.

Nodding that he’d take this particular call, Lindsey waited for Amanda to transfer it to his office.  He set the documents he had been reviewing aside and reached for the tattered legal pad that was partially covered with scrawled notes and an occasional random odd doodle. He flipped another couple of pages over and coiled them with the rest before jotting the date and time on the top of the next blank page.

“Ethan.” Lindsey greeted as he tapped the button on his speakerphone then just as quickly hit the mute button. His gaze landed on Lilah Morgan as she walked into his office and quietly closed the heavy door behind her.  She had overheard Amanda’s shout from her office immediately next door, and so, as was their typical pattern, joined Lindsey in his office for the call. Taking the chair on the opposite side of the desk, she crossed her legs and opened her elegant leather portfolio notebook on her lap.

“McDonald.” Ethan returned gruffly, his voice sounding hollow as it echoed through the room. “Have you completed the research on the vendors that I asked you for? I’m looking to close the deal by end of the week.”

“Several of the names you asked me to check out seem viable; we’ll have a FedEx package in the mail to you tomorrow with all the details and the financial statements you requested, including the personal profiles of the company officers.” Lindsey replied, making eye contact with Lilah who simply nodded. Ethan was referring to a request he had made to check out several manufacturers of cell phones equipped with smart-card technology. Immediately Lindsey had been suspicious of the motive behind the demand. The use of such technology had become a recent trend in cyber-payment money laundering schemes; schemes that often proved to be rapid and efficient, not to mention difficult to trace.

“Excellent.” Ethan’s voice reverberated through the office, followed by the muffled sounds of paper shuffling as the wealthy investment banker obviously moved some papers around on his desk. Dryly, he added, “No doubt your bill will be included.”

“Now, Ethan. You know I wouldn’t do that.” Lindsey answered cheekily, “Our bill will be mailed separately. Can’t have it getting lost in all that other paperwork, you know.” Mouthing the question, Lindsey asked if the invoice for the job had, in fact, been completed. Lilah, in return, wrote the figure “$37,500” on a piece of paper that she held up for Lindsey’s inspection.

“Quite.” Ethan snorted acerbically, having no doubt that the enormously expensive yet extremely competent firm would send a hefty bill for the work that he had demanded. Picking up a note on his desk, he continued thoughtfully, “I have yet another small task for you. I need anything you can find on a Devon MacLeish.”

“New employee?” Lindsey asked, scrawling the name on the paper in front of him.

“Does it matter why I need the information, Mr. McDonald?” Ethan inquired impatiently, turning slightly in his chair to glance at the Dionysus wall sculpture that Cordelia had brought back from her recent trip to France, claiming to have purchased the expensive object only because it was so perfect for his office.  He found the gold painted object rather tasteless, but had hung it up to humor her.

“Of course not, Ethan.” Lindsey returned smoothly, his lips curving up in a smile as he reclined back in the chair, “We’ll start by pulling up his birth certificate, his school records from kindergarten on and all of the rest of the easily available public information then we’ll fumble around until we figure out what else might be relevant about Mr. MacLeish that you might need to know. I’ll set it up on our normal hourly fee schedule, and we’ll get started first thing tomorrow.”

“Very well,” Ethan sighed exaggeratedly, his fingers drumming on his desk. “Devon MacLeish is the young man that my granddaughter is currently seeing, and I need to know his standing. It’s nothing you haven’t done for me before, so I don’t expect excuses for enormous fees on this one.”

“Ah.”  Lindsey lifted his eyebrows at Lilah who only shrugged in question. “So if the lovely Miss Chase has a new beau, are we dropping our work on the O’Connor case then?

“I thought you were close to wrapping up your work on that,” the investment banker countered, a touch of sarcasm evident in his tone, “Or have you been billing me for a job that you have not done?”

“No, no, now Ethan, when have we not come through for you?”  The handsome PI contradicted, “I’m sure I told you that the O’Connor situation wasn’t quite as you explained it. In fact, let me be clear in telling you that I don’t think it’s what you thought it was at all.”

“What are you saying, Mr. McDonald?” Ethan inquired wearily, suddenly feeling every bit of his seventy-three years. He opened his desk drawer and reached for a bottle of extra strength aspirin.

“Honestly? I think the O’Connor marriage is about as legit as they come. They’ll probably have your two-point-five kids and the requisite divorce by the time they’re thirty-five just like everyone else, but I don’t see any reason to waste your time or money to get Angel O’Connor deported.” Lindsey exhaled slowly, his green eyes meeting the golden brown ones of his partner, who was obviously somewhat surprised by the candor that he had demonstrated with his blunt statement.

“Fine.” Ethan said after almost a minute of consideration. His eyes were closed as he leaned his head back against the soft leather of his chair; his head was beginning to pound and he still had several hours of meetings planned for that evening. He hadn’t actually heard his granddaughter mention O’Connor’s name lately, and there were no suspicious expenses from her bank account; likely she had lost interest in the young man and moved on as she was wont to do. And there was the possibility that his extremely well compensated PI was right.  With a resigned sigh he continued, “I’ll defer to your judgment then. Though, do understand, Mr. McDonald, I will expect a return of all fees paid in addition to a significant monetary recompense should your advice prove unwise. Do we have an understanding?”

Lilah shifted on her seat, careful to avoid making a sound. She watched Lindsey carefully, waiting for his reply.

Sitting upright in his chair, Lindsey replied with all seriousness, “I don’t think that’ll be a problem, Ethan. If I’m wrong, I’ll take care of the situation personally – and at my expense.”

“Then we’re agreed.” Ethan returned coolly, massaging his temples with one hand. “I’ll be in touch.”

The phone clicked off abruptly as expected, Ethan never one to linger over small talk once the purpose for the call was concluded.

“So what do you think?” Lindsey asked as he tossed the yellow notepad on the desk haphazardly.

“I think we’re close, but we still have some work to do. We have the wire transfers, the fictitious accounts and the names of plenty of non-existent persons that cashed the checks – but not enough to tie them back to Ethan Rayne specifically, just to banks that he happens to hold a controlling interest in.” Lilah stood and paced across the room as she voiced her thoughts out loud. “That means money laundering charges aren’t likely to stick. The deal with the smart card vendor will help – particularly if we can get in there and get the serial numbers of the phones and cards that are distributed. Even so, it’ll take time because possession alone isn’t illegal.”

“The racketeering angle is pretty solid,” Lindsey offered, “I think we can indict on at least twenty-three counts, maybe twenty-eight if we can nail down that last lead. In addition, we’ve got at least four counts of extortion as part of the deal.”

“True,” Lilah mused thoughtfully, “but we’ve been working this for almost three years, Linds. I want to nail that bastard to the wall. You and I both know that Ethan’s been behind more than a few inexplicable disappearances and unsolved murders in Sunnydale and even in Los Angeles. He may not have pulled the trigger himself, but damn it, he’s guilty.”

“I’m sure he is.” Lindsey’s eyes narrowed speculatively. Slowly, he smiled, “I think I have an idea.”

“Oh?” Lilah returned his smile with one of her own. Once again, she sat down in the chair across from him. “So tell me.”