DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. The song, “I’ll Never Smile Again,” was written by Ruth Lowe and was recorded with Frank Sinatra in May, 1940.

PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Retired hitman William Rook, aka Spike, has taken a job to kill the NYC crime figure known as the Mayor, succumbing against his better instincts to blackmail tactics on the part of the law firm that has hired him…

*************

Chapter 2: The Lady from Nowhere

He didn’t want to admit it to himself, but Spike had missed New York.

Maybe it was the smell---the exhaust from the daily traffic fading to a pungent undercurrent that tickled his nose, reminding anyone who cared to pay attention that this was a city that thrived on life teeming above and below its concrete floors.

Maybe it was the tactile darkness that coated his favorite corners of the island, layers of grit and sweat etching its history for those who walked the night, evaporating with the rising dawn as the sun broke over the jagged skyline.

Maybe it was the fact that New York City was the only place he knew where it was possible to both disappear and stand out, all depending on which side of the street one stood.

And maybe it was a combination of all of the above.

It was cooler here than in California, the beginnings of autumn nipping at the air, but Spike was oblivious to the slight chill as he sauntered down the sidewalk, his hands thrust deep into his pants’ pockets. If it wasn’t for his hair, he would’ve disappeared into the shadows of the street, loose-fitting black clothing melding his form into nothing to anyone who might’ve paid attention. Not that he was. Less than twelve hours in the city, and he was already lost in the memories, blue eyes flickering to the looming buildings that lined the street, ghosts of previous haunts dancing before his mind’s eye. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing for him to be wandering so on his first night in town---except it wasn’t really wandering because he had a specific destination in mind---but the way Spike figured it, it would take a day or two for his presence to become known to those who might wish him ill-will, granting him a slight reprieve on his anonymity. After that, it was anybody’s money how long he lasted. If he lived to finish the job, he would be one very surprised individual.

It had been four days since Spike had agreed to kill the Mayor, four days of planning, making phone calls, nightmares, and more planning. They had learned little additional information on the target, in spite of Willow’s persistent digging, and so it had been decided that a little extra undercover work would be necessary prior to making any move. Apparently, the Mayor and his son spent a good number of their evenings at one of their clubs, a place called Heaven, and so Giles had used his connections to get Willow in as the new coat check girl. As one of the employees, she would be privy to doors that neither of the Englishmen could access, hopefully gathering what more information they needed to make the hit as clean as possible.

Convincing Xander had been cake, not even needing Giles’ intervention. Before the words were even out of Spike’s mouth, the young man was jumping at the opportunity to help, in spite of the very vocal protestations from his wife in the background. “Just say the word,” Xander had said over Anya’s slight whine. “I’m there.”

And he was, or he would be, Spike thought. At that moment, Giles and Willow were waiting at the airport for Xander’s flight to arrive, ready to whisk him away to the fourth of the hotel rooms they’d booked for the duration of their stay. That was a strategy the platinum blond had insisted upon. Each member of the team was staying at a different hotel situated in far-reaching corners of the city; splitting them up, he felt, would not only give anyone who might be after them divided targets to conquer, it would also provide additional places to hide, should the heat get too high on any one person.

Frankly, Spike was convinced that person was going to be himself.

Which was why he was looking to spend his last night of freedom before the job started getting as drunk as possible.

The bar appeared before him, its windowless front deceptively obscure, and Spike pushed open the door, listening to it creak as he stepped noiselessly across the threshold. Willy’s had been his secret hideaway when he’d lived in New York before, the one place he knew he could go without having to worry about running into someone he knew. It wasn’t like that just for him, though. It was a Mecca for anyone wishing to disappear for a few hours, offering a no questions asked, no prejudices barred sort of atmosphere. Willy only requested that everyone’s personal baggage got checked at the door. A disturbance within the walls of the bar was enough for permanent eviction, a sentence any of the regulars were ready to enforce, and so for the price of a few drinks, Spike knew that he could find a night of escape without fear of recourse. He couldn’t say that about much else these days.

Nothing had changed. Still dimly lit, still with its tables tucked away as close to the walls as possible, as if its occupants feared the potential of mingling. The strains of Frank Sinatra crooning “I’ll Never Smile Again” emanated from the radio perched on a shelf behind the counter, while Willy’s slight form was scarcely visible as he worked at drying some glasses. The owner barely tossed Spike a second glance as the blond slid onto the stool farthest away from the door.

“What’ll it be?” Willy asked, not even bothering to look up.

“Whiskey,” Spike replied. “Neat. And bring me the bottle.”

It was the accent that caught his attention, jerking the bartender’s beady eyes up to squint at the most recent arrival. A long moment of study, and then a grin split his narrow face, recognition opening the gateway of his welcome.

“You almost had me with the hair,” he said, setting the tumbler down before shaking an admonishing finger at him. “You lose a bet or something?”

With a wry smile, Spike ran his fingers through the bleached curls. “Did it for a job a year or so back,” he explained. “Kinda liked the attention it got me from the dames.”

“Well, I almost didn’t recognize you. You hadn’t opened your mouth, I’m not sure I’d’ve piped on that William the Bloody was sitting in my bar again.” Willy grinned as he poured out the drink. “Was that the plan? You doin’ some undercover work here in the city again? ‘Cause I can keep my mouth shut about it, you know I can.”

Spike sipped at the alcohol, suddenly weary of playing reminiscence with the bartender. “I go by Spike now,” he said. “William the Bloody’s dead and buried to this town.” Another sip and the tumbler was empty, the bottle automatically in his hand to refill it. “You have another of these stashed away somewhere? ‘Cause something tells me I’m goin’ to be through this one right quick.”

“Whatever you want, Spike.” Willy returned to cleaning the glasses. He wasn’t a stupid man. This was the game; he could play it better than anyone. “Whatever you want.”

*************

As her heels clicked along the sidewalk, she pulled her wrap closer around her shoulders, speeding her step until Willy’s loomed in front of her. Should’ve picked a different dress, the blonde thought irritably. Something with sleeves might’ve been nice. But it was too late now to turn back. She’d had this plan in motion for a week already, deliberately picking a neighborhood where no one knew her, scoping out the bar’s clientele to assure that she would get what she wanted. Willy’s offered anonymity, with customers who seemed a cut above the norm that usually frequented that type of dive, and while they were hardly up to the standards to which she was accustomed, they would serve for her purpose for this single night.

Pausing just outside the door, she inhaled deeply, steadying her racing nerves. She didn’t know why she was nervous about this; it wasn’t like anyone was ever going to find out about it. And she needed this. After tomorrow night, she thought, I’m officially hooked. No way can I pull something like this after then. It’s all right. Everything is in place.

As she entered, she caught the last few lines of the song playing on the radio---I know I will never start to smile again, until I smile at you---and had to refrain from turning and bolting as the emotion welled in her throat. It’s not the same thing, she had to remind herself. Even if the words do hurt. Instead, she stopped just inside the entrance, allowing the heavy door to creak to a close behind her, her eyes adjusting to the dim lighting. Her ebony wrap had already slid halfway down her shoulders by the time she could see again, but it didn’t make a difference. She had already spotted him.

He was sitting as far from the door as possible, his back to the wall, a bottle of whiskey on the bar in front of him. Though his form was mostly hidden by the counter, it was obvious he was leanly built, his whole body exuding a pent-up power begging to be unleashed. Long fingers were wrapped around his glass, elegant and sleekly dangerous at the same time, and she suddenly flashed on those pale digits sliding along her flesh, the thoughts raising a flush to her chilled cheeks. It was only when he lifted his gaze to meet hers, though, that the extent of the stranger’s beauty truly hit her.

Sculpted cheekbones. A shock of white-blond hair made unruly by nervous hands. A nose that had been broken at least once. Minute scars that testified to a life that had seen more violence than the norm. And the eyes…those eyes…stormy blue…penetrating…staring at her as if they could see down to the bottom of her soul.

Oh yeah, the blonde thought, all hints of melancholy from the song now banished. He’s the one.

*************

It was reflex that made him look up when the door opened, instinct honed by years of walking along the edge of danger, but it wasn’t impulse that kept his eyes riveted on the new arrival. Women at Willy’s were a rare breed; the only females that tended to wander through the doors were pro skirts needing to get off their feet or older boozehounds looking for a new joint to get smoked in. It also wasn’t the type of place where one brought a date, so seeing this woman come strolling in all of her own accord was enough to spark even a little bit of interest.

That, however, was not why Spike stared.

He stared because, frankly, she was the most beautiful creature he’d seen in a very long time.

Lady, he corrected himself. This dame’s most definitely a lady.

Perfectly coiffed, with golden hair that fell in carefully arranged waves past her shoulders, her golden skin seemed luminescent next to the midnight of the wrap around her small frame. She was a tiny slip of a girl, with grey-green eyes that almost seemed too large for her face, shining with an intelligence no amounts of hair coloring was going to deny. It was when she smiled, though, full lips spreading in a delicious curve that made Spike want to respond in kind, that her face lit up, some secret joy dancing across her features, bringing them to life.

He could’ve stared at her face all night, lost in her eyes, he realized, until the wrap fell from her body, exposing the creamy expanse of her bare shoulders. She was overdressed for the place, her strapless black dress hugging small but very much there breasts, before flaring in gauzy layers at the waistline. An ivory lace inset at the bust accentuated her cleavage, lending her curves an unnecessary boost to their appeal, and Spike watched as she draped her wrap over a toned arm before strolling deliberately to the bar. The end of the bar. His end of the bar.

He tore his eyes away as she slid onto a stool just three seats down, dropping his gaze to stare into the amber liquid in his glass. Her delicate perfume cut through the scent of the whiskey---jasmine, he realized, with just a hint of clove---and the arousal that had been threatening him since she walked in followed through on its promise, forcing him to shift his weight imperceptibly in his stool to accommodate its hard length. Though he hardly lived the life of a saint, it had been a long time since he’d had such a visceral reaction to a complete stranger; usually, he fell for the dames with a spot of the personality, the ones who sparked him to use his brain just a little in talking to them. Dru had been like that. Of course, Dru had been a complete nutcase, but that was an entirely different story.

“Martini, please,” he heard her say.

Inwardly, Spike chuckled. Doubt Willy gets many calls for those these days, he thought, and wondered abstractly if the bartender even knew how to make one. Through his lashes, he watched as she waited patiently for her drink, mildly surprised when Willy threw the thing together in record time, biting the inside of his cheek to restrain the quirk of his lips when she lifted the glass and drained it in one gulp. He was about to reconsider his assessment of her---maybe she is a boozehound---when she swivelled in her seat to look directly at him.

“It’s the only way I can drink them,” she said jokingly, referring to her now empty glass. “It’s all or nothing for me.”

“Why drink ‘em at all then?” Spike asked, trying to keep his tone neutral. Part of him felt like a teenage schoolboy, both thrilled and nervous at being spoken to by the prettiest girl in the room, and he chastised himself for the weakness. She’s just makin’ conversation, he told himself. And it’s not like you don’t know how to talk. “Sounds a bit of a waste, if you ask me.”

Her smile was apologetic. “Liquid courage.”

He couldn’t stop gazing at her eyes. “Somehow, I find that a little hard to believe,” he replied, and wondered how much of his arousal was apparent in his voice. “You don’t seem the sort who’s got problems bein’ brave.”

“I needed it to talk to you.” Her confession was soft, the tip of her tongue darting out to moisten her lips, sending his pulse to race with its promise, but the realization of what she was drove Spike’s attention back to his drink.

“Sorry, doll,” he said coolly, his illusions shattered in the cold, hard face of reality. “Not lookin’ for that kind of company tonight.”

For a moment, the blonde’s smile didn’t waver as confusion flickered behind her eyes. Then, her jaw dropped. “Oh!” she said in a bluster. “I’m not…” She turned to the bartender. “Tell him I’m not what he thinks I am, Willy.”

“She’s not what you think she is, Spike,” Willy said dutifully.

“And what is it I think you are?” he asked, surprisingly amused by this turn of events.

She blushed, and the color that rose in her cheeks brought a shiny glitter to her eyes. “You think I’m a…a…” She leaned forward, lowering her voice as if she was about to say a naughty word. “…pro skirt or something.”

“And you’re not?” Not that he didn’t believe Willy---he did---but this was obviously a possibility that hadn’t occurred to the pretty blonde when she’d approached him, and frankly, Spike thought it was hysterically funny watching her discomfort.

“No,” she protested. “I just…you looked…I don’t make it a habit to talk to strange men,” she finished lamely.

“Well, this strange man seems to be gettin’ his fair share of your tongue,” Spike replied, unable to contain his smile any longer. “Care to tell me why?”

She seemed to be gathering up all her strength, levelling her gaze at him as she took a deep breath. “You looked kind of like how I’m feeling,” she said, hazel eyes boring into him.

“Oh? And how’s that?”

“Like you just want to be lost.” The words were soft but clear, floating across the distance between them to reach into Spike’s chest and suck out all the air in his lungs with their candor.

His smile faded, blue darkening in contemplation as they searched hers, scanning for any sign of duplicity. His guard was up. Either she’d gotten lucky in her favorite pick-up line actually meaning something to him, or somehow, someone had figured out he was in town already and sent her after him. There was no way they could’ve met before---Spike was certain hers was a face he would remember, no matter how drunk he got---which ruled out her using personal knowledge in tossing that line at him. So, since he pretty much considered relying on luck a fool’s paradise, he was settling on option number two. Why do they always send the pretty ones? he thought as he shifted again his seat, imperceptibly moving his leg to give himself easier access to the knife strapped to his calf should the need arise.

There was a third possibility, but the far-reaching ludicrousness of it made Spike shove it to the back of his brain, even as it reared its head to make its presence known. She could’ve been genuine. She could’ve honestly looked at him, measured the depths of his soul with an acumen usually reserved for Red or Ripper, and said exactly what she was feeling, that she felt a connection, a familiarity borne of kindred spirits.

But that was even more ridiculous than thinking she was just lucky.

“What’s your name?” Spike finally asked quietly.

She smiled, obviously relieved that he wasn’t running away. “You can call me Anne,” she said.

He didn’t miss the sharp glance from Willy, but he didn’t need the notice of the bartender to know she was lying to him. Yet another reason to consider her dangerous, he thought, and found himself oddly disappointed that it really looked like she was some dropper out to get him. He’d actually believed her for a long moment there.

“I’m Spike,” he said.

“I know.” At his suspicious frown, she gestured hurriedly toward the bartender. “That’s what Willy called you.”

“Right,” he drawled, and watched as she stood up and moved down to the seat right next to him. Up close, he could see the imperfections to her beauty---the slight bump on her nose, the smattering of freckles marring the otherwise flawless complexion---but he could also see the small laugh lines at the corner of her mouth, and thought she looked even more stunning because of it. Her scent was stronger as well, renewing his desire even in light of who he suspected she was. For a brief moment, he saw her hand tremble, but as he looked again to confirm what he witnessed, she quickly tucked it into her lap, out of sight, turning her torso to focus on him.

She was nervous.

Why, he had no idea. Any pro would know better than to let their nerves show in front of the mark, so unless she’d been exposed to repeated horror stories about him---of which there were many, Spike knew---there was no reason for her to be anxious about doing her job.

Unless she wasn’t actually on a job, and he was sitting there, chatting with a woman who just happened to be interested in him as a person, who seemed to see into him and recognize something of herself.

Stranger things had been known to happen.

*************

An hour later, he felt like he was intoxicated, except neither of them had touched their drinks since she had moved seats. He was alternating between being utterly convinced she was a hired gun, softening him up before taking him down, to being totally certain that she was the real deal, a lonely young woman just trying to lose herself for a single night. It had been a long time since he’d been unable to put his finger on someone, and the more time he spent with her, the more intrigued Spike got.

Per some unspoken rule, they studiously avoided talking about anything too personal, no “where are you from,” “what do you do,” “what’s your favorite color.” Though she’d been silent at first, when he’d casually made a reference to her resembling a young starlet he’d seen around LA---though much prettier, of course---Anne had launched into an animated discussion about the career of Sonja Henie, and over the course of the next fifteen minutes, Spike had learned more about the ice skater turned actress than he’d ever thought imaginable. The details of what she was saying didn’t particularly interest him; what captured his fancy was the passion with which she spoke, the fervor that lit the hazel depths of her eyes and made them dance even in the dim light of the bar. When he dared to attempt to argue the validity of an athlete trying to have a go at it in the entertainment business, she had jumped on his words in a flash, delivering her case with an unfaultable logic he couldn’t help but smile and shake his head at.

“I give, you win,” he’d said. “But I’d still take a Jimmy Cagney flick any day.”

A veil seemed to drop over her face at the mention of the actor, and she ducked her gaze, slim fingers playing with the stem of her glass. “Gangster movies don’t really do anything for me,” she’d commented. “Too much violence.”

“Don’t like him for that.” At her raised eyebrows, he’d elaborated, “There’s more to Cagney than meets the eye. Good ol’ Jimmy started out as a song-and-dance man. Betcha didn’t know that.” He’d grinned, delighted in being able to trump her argument. “It’s all about the layers, right?”

Their conversation had shifted after that, sparking debate after debate after debate. Sometimes he won; sometimes she won. The end result didn’t really make a difference to Spike. It was the dance that mattered, and for the first time in a very long time, he was enjoying the steps too much to care about the final destination.

When she casually asked him what time it was, Spike surprised himself by being disappointed when she immediately reached for her wrap on the stool next to her after hearing his reply. Disappointment shifted to suspicion, however, when she laid a careful hand on his forearm.

“I don’t suppose you’d do me a favor, would you?” Anne asked.

Even through the sleeve of his shirt, her touch scorched his skin, but Spike remained impassive as he looked up at her. “And what’s that?” he asked warily.

“I didn’t mean to stay out so late,” she said, and if she hadn’t already been flushed from their conversation, she would have blushed even deeper. “And…this neighborhood’s not exactly the safest place for a lady to walk after dark.” Her eyes fell, almost as if she was terrified of making the request. “I don’t suppose I could ask you to walk me back to my hotel?”

He’d known it was coming. No amount of pretty talk, or harmless flirting, or intoxicating perfume had distracted him from the question of why she’d approached him in the first place. Still, he still hadn’t made his mind up about her. Until now. Of course she wouldn’t try anything in the bar. She’d get him outside, probably pretend to stumble so that she could reach wherever it was she’d hidden her gun---and didn’t picturing that just send his body into overdrive---and then drill him on the street. In this neighborhood, nobody would probably even hear the gunshot.

He just hoped he got a chance to ask her who hired her before having to take her out himself.

He rose without saying a word, pulling a crumpled bill from his pocket and tossing it onto the counter, ignoring Willy’s curious glances between the pair of them. “Where’s your hotel?” Spike asked, stepping back to wait for Anne to lead the way.

“Just…around the corner,” she replied, and the smile she gave him was laced in relief.

She’s a smart one, she is, Spike thought as he followed her out onto the street. Knows not to make it too far away.

The distant hum of traffic undercoated the silence that hung between them as they strolled along the walk, side by side but hands very much to themselves. Though he appeared nonchalant, he kept one eye on the small blonde, watching her as she played with the ends of her wrap, her eyes locked on the path before them. She seemed to be lost in thought, and while he was grateful for his sobriety that would no doubt allow him to stop her, Spike was beginning to wonder if she was ever going to make a move at all, if maybe he’d made up his mind too quick. It wasn’t like he hadn’t been doubting himself for the hour before they’d left Willy’s.

When she stopped in front of the building, he frowned, eyes lifting to note the cheap neon sign announcing St. Christopher’s Hotel for passers-by to see. The front desk was in full view from their position before the door, and Spike could clearly see the dog-eared copy of “Pocket Detective” in the clerk’s hands as the squirrely young man thumbed through its pages. Well, this doesn’t make any bloody sense, the blond thought, eyes narrowed. If I can see him, he can sure as hell see me. She can’t mean to plug me with a witness, can she?

He almost didn’t hear the soft question come from her lips. “Would you…like to come up?” she asked.

When his eyes fell to her face, Spike could’ve sworn he could smell the nerves radiating from her skin. Now that’s called moxie, he thought with more than a hint of admiration. She wants to do it where she can control the mess. Won’t be a heater then. Too much noise. Probably a shiv or something. His lips curled into a smile, in spite of himself. Too bad a dame like this is on the other side, he thought. This is someone I want on my team.

She was waiting for him to answer, to say something, even just acknowledge that she’d posed the invitation in the first place. Instead, Spike took a step back, craning his neck to look up the front of the building. “How up is up?” he asked casually.

“Huh?” The reply took her by surprise, and she stared at him blankly.

“How up is up?” he repeated. “’Cause the way I figure it, you’re on a lower floor. Otherwise, you’ve got to worry about lugging my body past too many prying eyes. Joint like this probably doesn’t have a service elevator for you to use.” He lowered his head to look steadily at her. “Maybe you should’ve thought of that before you picked it out.”

“What are you talking about?” Gone was the slight flirtatious manner that had characterized the latter part of their conversation at Willy’s. In its place lay a penetrating strength only some of her earlier words had hinted at, and her gaze, though questioning, met his with a directness Spike found himself thrilling with.

His smile faded, and Spike took a languorous step toward her. He’d expected her to back away---it would’ve been the natural response of fear from any woman in her position---but instead, she held her ground, staring him down as he closed the distance between them. Nostrils flared as he drowned in her perfume, and he reached down to take her wrist between his fingers. “I know what you’re about,” he murmured, leaning in to breathe the words into her ear.

Her body was pressed against the glass next to the door, while the intimate angle of his against hers would’ve fooled both someone walking by and the clerk inside, should either take any notice of the couple. She didn’t have a response to his statement, but watched him, the only sign that he was hurting her wrist the tiny lines between her brows, the tightening of her lips.

“Gotta have ‘em hidden somewhere,” he whispered, and let his left hand slide down the side of her body, tugging at the fullness of her skirts to allow his touch to slip beneath the hem.

His grip was preventing her from moving, but that seemed to be the last thing she wanted to do at the moment anyway. Her breath was coming in gasps, pupils dilated to swallow the green. “What…what…what’re you doing?” she finally managed, each stroke of his fingertips up the gossamer fabric of her stockings driving her lids down, then up, with excruciating slowness.

Though his search was merely a self-preservation tactic, Spike couldn’t help his arousal as his hand skated over the firmly muscled thigh. He pulled back, suddenly needing to see her face, and saw the corresponding desire darkening her own aspect. “Can’t kill me without a weapon,” he said softly. “And this…” Strong fingers probed across the top of her stockings, seeking the sheath or holster he fully expected to find. “…is the only place for you to have it.”

She froze at his words, using what leverage she had to pull her upper body away from him. “Why would I want to kill you?” she asked. Her voice was slightly louder, bewildered shock driving up its volume. “You don’t even know who I am.”

Not I don’t know who you are, he realized. The thought corresponded with the discovery of perfectly smooth skin, no awkward bulges from secret weapons, just silken sinew encased in lace-trimmed nylon. His muscles stilled.

He’d been wrong.

She hadn’t approached him with deadly motives.

And now here he was, and there she was…

Spike jerked back as if burned, releasing her wrist, allowing her dress to fall back down naturally into its folds. Shame burned his cheeks. He’d never been the type to force his attentions on a member of the opposite sex; even at his worst, it had never been necessary. A cheeky smile, some well-placed compliments…the dames had always been more than willing, inviting him for more. Never him having to push his way through.

Now, if he’d actually found a piece on her, that would’ve been different. However, as far as she was concerned, she had merely been sincere in wanting some conversation, someone to walk her back in safety. And he’d abused that trust by---.

“I’m sorry,” he muttered, and took another step back. “I just…back in the bar…” He frowned, shaking his head. Time to go back to Willy’s and get good and thoroughly drunk. “I’m sorry,” he repeated.

He’d only managed to turn himself around when her small hand appeared on his forearm, repeating her gesture from earlier, stopping him vanishing into the night. “Don’t you…want to come up?” she asked. When he glanced back at her, her smile was gone, but her eyes still burned into him. “The offer still stands.”

“Why?” Spike blurted. “What’re you playing at here? Truth, this time. No more lines.”

“Truth…” Her snort of laughter was derisive, quickly swallowed as her gaze fell to the ground. Blond waves fell against her cheek, hiding her face from his view, but it took only a moment for her to regain her composure and look up at him. “Truth’s relative, Spike. I would’ve thought you were the type to know that already.”

She had changed right before him. The last of the coyness had been stripped from the persona he now realized she’d been affecting, leaving only the resolute strength he’d seen from the start. His eyes glittered. If it was possible, this Anne---or whatever the hell her name was---was actually more appealing to him, and his tongue ran quickly over the edge of his teeth as he edged his way closer to her. “So…I’ll ask again. Why aren’t you runnin’ from the Big Bad Wolf here, pet? I’m not a very nice man.”

“I’ve seen worse.”

“Doubt it.”

“You didn’t do anything that I didn’t want you to do the second I saw you at Willy’s.”

His nostrils flared. “That’s a helluva thing to tell a bloke,” Spike growled, and took yet another step.

“You asked for truth.”

He wanted to ask why she wouldn’t share her real name, but held his tongue, letting his eyes deliberately slide over her form. “What’s this all about?” he queried instead.

“Does it have to be about something?” she shot back. “Why can’t it just be about one night? I just…needed to…feel something tonight. Something…good.” She swallowed before adding, “You looked like you needed that, too.”

His lips crashed down on hers, one hand curling into her waist, its mate burying itself in her tresses as he pulled her against him. Maybe not so ludicrous, a small voice said in the back of his head. And there was nothing wrong in trying to forget everything for just one night, not when she was willing, and wanting, and needing it just as badly as he was.

And beautiful. Don’t forget beautiful. Tasting like sunshine and syrup. With eyes he could drown in.

They were both gasping when he pulled away, and Anne reached behind her to push the hotel door open, taking his hand in hers to lead him inside. The clerk didn’t even look up as they passed by the counter, and it wasn’t until they were inside the narrow elevator that she spoke again.

“Spike---,” she started, but was stopped from continuing when his lips came back to hers, strong arms yanking her against his wiry form. Her wrap fluttered to the floor as her own arms came up around his neck, and she felt like she was floating as his tongue swept the corners of her mouth, tangling with hers, coaxing the moans from her throat.

She was stronger than she appeared, he decided, as she clung to him, her hands curled into the hair at his nape. Her heart was pounding through her chest, almost setting her entire body to vibrating, and he slid his lips from hers to nibble along her jaw. Each bite sent a shudder across her skin, and Anne swallowed compulsively as she fought to maintain control.

“My…floor…” she breathed as the elevator eased to a stop, the doors sliding open.

Spike broke away, bending over to retrieve the ebony wrap that had fallen to the floor. “Onward and upward,” he said with a tilt of his head in the direction of the doors.

She smiled, and as he watched, scooped up the other end of the silky fabric, using it to guide him along the hallway. He let the distance grow between them, the wrap stretching taut, as his gaze travelled over the slight form he’d been so wrong about. Red would be scolding me about right now, he thought. Too much of a risk, she’d say. You don’t even know who this person really is.

But he did, though he didn’t know how. OK, so he didn’t know the particulars, or even her real name, for that matter. And if somehow he ended up on the wrong end of a knife some time before the night was over, he’d be laughing at himself for being a stupid git all the way to hell. But something about this one called to him. From her first real words---like you just want to be lost---to her resolute pursuit for what she really wanted, each moment spent in the golden aspect of her audience did something to him that hadn’t happened since long before he’d left Dru and the Conti family behind.

It reminded him what it felt like to feel alive.

He stood behind her as she fumbled with the key in the lock, fixated on the tremors that seemed to have taken over her hands. Spike had no doubts that she was attracted to him---he’d been with enough women over the years to be able to tell when a kiss was put upon---yet she remained nervous about what was happening, and that knowledge drove him forward, the need to reassure her suddenly overwhelming.

“I won’t hurt you,” he murmured into her ear, hands skimming over her bare shoulders.

There was a moment of tension as her body stiffened, and he briefly wondered if she was going to turn around and tell him to forget the whole deal. She didn’t. Instead, she silently pushed open the door and stepped inside, leading him by the midnight tether that bound them, not even looking behind her as he pushed the door closed with his heel.

It could’ve been any hotel room, in any city. A double bed in the middle of the room, cheap carpeting underfoot that allowed anyone walking over it to feel the floorboards underneath, the narrow dresser pressed against the wall. A row of her cosmetics lined the top of the bureau, and he inhaled sharply, the scent of her perfume from when she’d doused herself earlier still lingering like a pungent appetizer in the air.

Letting the wrap fall from her hands, Anne stood at the end of the bed, her back to him, her head down. The butterfly bows of her shoulder blades were visible above the bodice of her dress, and Spike stepped forward, bending his neck to skim his mouth over their delicate lines.

A small cry gurgled from her throat, and he felt the goosebumps speckle her skin beneath his tongue, his lips curling into an unbidden smile. His fingers settled at her zipper, tugging gently downward, allowing it to fall and pool at her feet in a midnight cloud, and Spike curled his arm around her waist to pull her against him, her feet lifting from the ground as he buried his mouth in the curve of her neck, leaving the dress behind.

Her clothes had hid her too well. Though he’d felt the promise of those legs when he’d searched her for weapons, seeing the tanned skin peeking out above the lace of her stockings only served to arouse him more, if that was possible. “Spike…” he heard her murmur, and she twisted against him, deftly turning herself around in his embrace.

Face to face, their lips met again, this time more gently, taking the time to explore the other without fear of interruption, shuttling the world around them to a dim void where nothing else mattered but them, and their need, and the bed upon which they tumbled.

Seconds stretched into minutes as they just lay on their sides, feeding from their kisses as if they’d been starved. Without the encumbrance of her clothes, Spike let his hands roam over the curves of her flesh, nimble fingers releasing the catches on her garters, the hooks on the strapless bra. The tiny catches that came in her breathing when his palms skimmed the tips of her hardened nipples renewed his attention to them, and he finally tore himself from the luxury of her mouth to let his lips slide downward.

Lazily, his tongue traced the circlet of the aureola, savoring its texture as it made his body prickle for more. When he sucked her nipple against the roof of his mouth, Anne gasped, back arching to drive it deeper, hands flying to his back to claw at his flesh through his shirt.

“Off, off,” she panted, tugging at the stiff cotton. “Take it off.”

Her request was the only way he would’ve torn himself away from the glory of her skin. Sitting up, Spike’s fingers undid the buttons in record time, stripping the dark shirt from his pale skin.

Even before he was bare, Anne smiled, eyes glittering as her gaze swept over him. “More,” she demanded, and sat herself up to reach the waistband of his pants.

Bloody fuck, he mentally groaned, eyes fluttering shut as her tiny hand wrapped itself around his freed erection. Guess I was right about the hidden strength and all.

When his eyes opened, she had divested herself of the rest of her clothing, dropping her undergarments to the growing pile on the floor. A wicked smile played on her lips, and he let himself be pulled forward as she fell back against the mattress.

“No more playing,” she said softly. Her legs parted, hooking around his hips, and Spike felt the tip of his cock tease along her wet opening. Though the desire to just slam himself into her was almost overwhelming, his earlier promise leapt like a fire before his mind’s eye, and instead, he slowly sheathed himself in her heat, feeling her inner walls stretch around him, her fingers clawing into his back as if to pull him even closer.

Even before he was completely inside, Spike’s head ducked so that his lips grazed her cheek. He didn’t want her to see him. One night, she’d said. Doesn’t have to be about anything. And here he was, drowning in a stranger, forgetting all the haunting guilt, and nightmares that segued into daymares, and broken promises that had littered his past with more dead bodies than any single person should be privy to. And all because this lady from nowhere had offered him a lifeline.

Even if it was for only one night.

Each languid thrust brought shivers to her skin, her nerves a racehorse desperate to reach the finish line. When he felt her mouth move against his neck, Spike thought it was merely a caress, and was surprised when her words floated to his ear.

“Please…” she begged. “Just…I just…just…” The excruciating slides of his cock inside her pussy broke her efforts in coherence, and she swallowed, holding him even tighter as her body raged out of her control. “Just…want to feel…beautiful…”

It was the plaintive ache in her voice that froze his limbs, and he lifted himself up on his forearms, still buried deep inside her, to look down at the shine in her eyes. “Oh, pet,” he crooned, and brushed back the damp strand of hair that clung to her forehead before settling his own against it. “You are beautiful.”

Their mouths joined then, hungry and desperate, refusing to disengage as he resumed his pumping, in and out as the sweat slicking their bodies eased the friction of her nipples against his chest. She came long before he did, and though her body writhed beneath him, the continuance of their kisses prevented her keening to be more than a muffled cry that filled the small room, fingers knotted in his hair to keep him with her as she forced him to quicken his pace.

His orgasm when it came was just as silent as hers, his body going rigid as he slammed into her for a final thrust, more violent than any of its predecessors but somehow beneath the notice of either of the two blonds. When he finally lifted his head to look down at her, he was startled by the enigmatic smile that curved her lips, the softening of her gaze as it settled on his mouth.

“I like the way you kiss,” she said softly. A slim finger came up to trace the outline of his lip. “The way you give it your all.”

He smiled then, and rolled himself to the side, stretching like a slumbering cat as she rested her head on his chest. He didn’t want to speak, fearful of breaking the spell that surrounded them, and instead reconciled himself to running a lazy finger up and down her spine, her contented sighs cooling the sweat across his skin the only impetus he needed to let his lids flutter shut.

The last thing that drifted through Spike’s head before he fell asleep was the remembered notion of how stranger things were known to happen.

*************

It had been a long time since he’d been roused by the sounds of New York City waking itself up, and Spike groaned as he buried his head under the pillow. Just want to sleep, he thought grumpily. Why does everyone need to wake up so damn early?

As he shifted atop the sheets, the scent of her perfume tickled his nose, and memories of the previous night came flooding back. Her laughter as they’d argued at Willy’s. Her body as it had pressed against him right before they’d both drifted off to sleep. The bottomless pools of her eyes as she’d asked him to come upstairs. He smiled, and reached, searching for her lithe form next to him.

When he was met with an empty space, Spike lifted his head and stared at the creased cotton, eyes settling on the folded note that was resting on the pillow. He didn’t need to read it to know what it said. She’d said one night.

Obviously, she’d meant it.

 

To be continued in Chapter 3: Friends and Enemies