There was no going back.
Not from last night. Not while her warmth surrounded him. Not while the heat from her skin still had him sizzling. Not while he was still drunk on her kisses. Not while his cock was still nestled against her ass, hardened with the memory of how her pussy had felt around him. She’d gasped and clawed at him, squeezed him until he popped, and she’d looked him in the eye the entire time. She’d whispered his name. She’d held onto him. And she’d asked for more.
Now she was in his arms and he had no idea how long she’d let him hold her. When the day broke against the sky, would she remember what she’d asked? Would she remember how she’d wanted him? Would anything remain with her? Had any of it been real at all?
Spike inhaled sharply, running a hand down her arm. He’d been around long enough to identify next-to-perfect moments, often mistaking them for the true thing until something else reshaped his vision. Until he had a new appreciation for what perfection truly was. It wasn’t with Dru; it had never been with Dru. It wasn’t in the taste of human blood or even a really good brawl. It wasn’t even in the thrill of snapping slayer necks. It was here. Right here. With Buffy. Buffy beside him. Buffy curled in his arms, believing in him without betraying a thing. He could do whatever he liked to her now and she couldn’t stop him. She’d allowed him into her world and trusted him not to hurt her—and she didn’t even realize it.
She had to know. Before they parted ways—hell, before they went any further with each other—she had to know.
A soft little moan spilled across her petal-pink lips. Spike buried his face in her hair, drew in her scent as he tightened the arm he had wrapped around her middle. He wasn’t letting go without a fight.
She awoke slowly, but the transformation had him spellbound. She was peaceful and still one second, then light touched her cheeks and her body began to stir. Buffy blinked sleepily and yawned, stretching her luscious curves against him. She paused when she encountered his erection, hesitated, then offered a grin and wiggled her delectable ass. “Good morning.”
He murmured in response and dropped his mouth to her throat, irrevocably drawn to the mark he’d given her. Where his fangs had pierced her over Angel’s mark—where he’d truly tasted perfection.
“Mmm…” Buffy shivered, then twisted in his arms. She didn’t balk when their eyes clashed. Rather, it was as though her face had kissed the sun for as bright as she smiled. “You realize if we have to kill things today, I’m completely out of luck. My legs lost all functionality sometime between the third and fourth time.”
“That’s being gracious, kitten,” Spike retorted with a smirk. Then, sobering, he seized her lips in a long, delicious kiss. There could never be enough of this. “Taste so sweet…”
She scrunched her nose. “Kissing me is icky first thing in the morning.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.”
“Morning plus Buffy plus no toothpaste equals massive ick.” She frowned, then kissed him again in an almost methodical manner, as though she was conducting an experiment. “How do you taste so yummy?”
Spike grinned. “No breath. No morning breath.”
“No fair. I’ve seen you breathe.”
“Voluntarily,” he replied, tucking a lock of blonde hair behind her ear.
“Well, no more kisses until I make my breath user-friendly.” She scooted to the edge of the bed, dipping her hand over the side in search of clothing. A soft smile crossed her face when she located his discarded tee. “Be right back.”
Christ, she did more for his clothing than he ever could. Spike licked his lips, eyes absorbing the way the black cotton contrasted with her creamy skin. He groaned when she slipped off the bed entirely. The hemline hit her at the hips, concealing her pussy and teasing him with glimpses of her ass. She was so bright this morning, so much lighter than he would ever have dreamed. There was no reason to believe it would last or that it meant anything beyond what she was giving him, but against his better judgment, he hoped. He hoped.
“I love you.”
The words were out before he could think to stop himself. It was what he wanted—what he needed. He needed this between them before they went further. He needed her to know what was at stake.
The look she gave him would remain with him forever. She turned around slowly, astonishment blanketing her face, her wide eyes drinking him in before falling into the softest warmth he’d ever known. It touched her lips, her cheeks, colored every inch of her skin. She had him drowning without effort. No one had ever looked at him like that.
He thought she would speak; she didn’t. Instead, she drew in a deep breath and stepped forward, hands crisscrossing at the hem of the tee and drawing it over her head, nothing left of her former shyness. Spike sucked in his cheeks. Fuck, she was a goddess. A warm, living, breathing goddess. A goddess the likes of which he hadn’t known existed until she’d stumbled into his life. It had just taken him a long bloody time to realize what should have been obvious.
She climbed onto the bed and crawled up his body, hissing when the length of his cock dragged along her slick pussy. His hands found her breasts, a shuddering breath rocking through his chest. “Perfect,” he whispered. “So fucking perfect.”
“I’m not perfect,” Buffy replied, seizing his cheeks and drawing his mouth into hers. He moaned loudly against her lips, gripping her hips to anchor her into a hard thrust. She explored him eagerly, licking every crevice of his mouth, sucking on his tongue with desperate, reckless need. Her kisses were enough to inebriate the strongest of men. And when her hand slipped between them to position his cock at her opening, he would have sworn his entire existence had been a prelude to this moment. In Buffy’s eyes, he was finally made whole.
“That’s it, kitten. Take me inside.”
She smiled shyly. “I’ve never done it like this,” she replied. “On top.”
“Bloody right. The less you’ve done with any other bloke, the better for me.” He lifted his head to suck her lower lip between his teeth. “Fewer gits I gotta off.”
Buffy arched an eyebrow. “You’re gonna kill all my old boyfriends?”
“They touched what’s mine.”
There was no response to that. No acknowledgment. No rebuttal. No rejection. Nothing. And the nothing both invigorated and offended him. She wasn’t denying it, refusing it as she had the night before, but after he’d proclaimed his love for her, he wanted something tangible. Something to solidify that what he had here—what he was touching now—was something he would have forever.
Instead, she kissed him. He just hoped her kisses were her way of saying what she couldn’t.
“What happened to morning breath?” he asked when they parted before nipping at her lips.
“I figure you can deal with it. Buffy want now.”
“Buffy want what?”
She merely grinned and sank down, and god if the sight of her pussy swallowing his cock didn’t rattle him to the core. Spike swallowed a moan and slid his hands up her legs, clutching hard as she began rolling her hips against him. It was slow and delicious, and even if he yearned for a hard rutting if only to demonstrate how very much his she was, he knew this was important for her. Buffy needed to know how this sort of control felt. She needed to know how she could steer his cock with the slightest jerk, wrangle him with a squeeze of her sweet slayer muscles. She needed to know this brand of power.
And he wanted to be the one to show her.
He wanted to be the one to show her everything.
“You have such a pretty pussy.”
Her creamy skin turned a cute shade of red. “Do not,” she argued, her head rolling back.
“Mhmm. And I’m gonna show you everything it can do.”
“It doesn’t do magic tricks.”
Spike smirked, slipping his fingers up her sides until his hands were hooked under her shoulders. “Oh, baby,” he purred, encouraging her forward so he stretched deeper within her. “Fuck yeah. So hot. So wet. So bloody tight. You’re perfect, love. And everything you do is a magic trick.”
His grin widened and he stole a kiss from her lips. “On your sweet cunt.”
She blushed harder. “Spike…”
“That’s it, baby. Moan for me.”
And she did. She moaned. She whimpered. She came apart.
And she knew he loved her. She knew it.
But she didn’t say it back.
Spike loved her.
Giddiness bubbled in her chest, searing her skin with newfound life and inspiring her heart to wild, erratic bursts every time she replayed his declaration. Every time her mind brought her back to his eyes and the achingly desperate way he looked at her. She had words, now. She'd felt it with every thrust, every whimper, every delicious moan. Spike loved her, and he'd given her the words.
The rest was up to her.
So much had changed in the past few days. Things she never would have thought of herself were emerging in an astonishing new light. She'd left Sunnydale with a mission and a broken heart. She hadn't been looking for anything beyond ridding the world of an apocalypse-happy demon. A fling had been out of the question, which was fine, because whatever she felt for Spike surmounted the place where flings lived.
Looking back, she felt the years with Angel had imprisoned her in a fantasy world. There had been no happy medium for them—it was one extreme or another, and at one point it had been terribly romantic. Her girlish heart had loved him completely. But even after he returned from Hell, even before he’d shattered her world, a part of her had understood it couldn't last. Fantasies never did.
Strange. Nothing about Spike embodied fantasy. He was harsh. He was dark. He was real. And he loved her. He'd grown to love her over their tumultuous relationship. He'd seen who she was and fallen—he hadn't merely decided to love her, as Buffy was sometimes convinced Angel had. And that was the kicker. In so many ways, Angel's love had been conditional—a choice he’d made against his better judgment. He'd loved her best when she was in her element. When she was Buffy, however, he tended to scowl and get preachy on her lack of important priorities. He loved nothing better than to tell her what she should be rather than what she was.
When she was just Buffy with Spike, she made him laugh. Their conversation was lively and entertaining, their interests—boiled down to hard basics—frighteningly similar. They shared personality and humor, superficial cares, and attention spans. Her calling might have brought them together but it wasn’t what had kept them together since their unlikely alliance.
Her calling wasn’t why he loved her. He loved her in spite of it, not because of it.
Spike’s loving her changed everything. Everything. Things she wanted to be changed. Things she feared changing. He kept her grounded but sent her flying in the same beat. And when the Reaper was behind them and they were ready to part ways, she didn’t know what would happen.
All she knew was the thought of leaving him made her insides twist and her heart ache. Returning to her regularly scheduled life held little appeal. Not after last night—after what had happened here. Not after spending hours in Spike’s arms as his hands and mouth loved every crevice of her body. Not after hearing the words.
She wasn’t made for flings and wouldn’t walk away unscathed, but dragging Spike along with her wasn’t fair, especially if he loved her. Her thoughts were too jumbled, too confused, too out there to be given a label. She couldn’t offer him anything at the moment—she wasn’t ready to make the leap.
Fool me once.
Buffy sighed. From the other room she heard the shower shut off, which meant in mindless seconds she’d be presented with pure temptation, and this time she had to be strong enough to say no. Five times already they had both tried to get clean, thrice together and twice separately. Showering was fruitless when they jumped each other’s bones the second they flashed each other with naughty parts. And though there was nothing she’d love more than to spend the day entangled in Spike’s arms as he made her body sing, the Reaper remained at large, and she couldn’t hide in her room forever.
Better to distract herself now so Spike couldn’t when he reentered the room. Buffy reached for the phone and punched in Giles’s number. She hadn’t updated him in over twenty-four hours, which meant he was probably crawling up the walls and checking flight schedules for the quickest route to Mississippi. Silly watcher. Trust her to protect the world, but one little cross-country trip and he was Mr. Dad.
Sure enough, he didn’t disappoint. “Buffy?” he demanded upon answering.
“The one and only.”
Giles sighed one of those full-body sighs that could be felt as well as heard. “Good lord, Buffy, do you have any idea what you’ve put me through the past few hours?”
“I have a feeling you really want to tell me, but really, can’t listen at the moment.” Buffy glanced up as Spike padded into the room, a towel wrapped around his scrumptious hips, flecks of shower-water splattered across his chest. His hair was wet and tousled, his eyes sparkling mischievously. Instantly, her mouth ran dry and her brain short-circuited. Guh. Honestly, there ought to be laws against looking that good. Buffy inhaled sharply and pressed her thighs together, doing her best to ignore the sinful outline of his swelling cock.
Her ears must have stopped working, for when sound returned, Giles was practically screaming at her. And she hadn’t noticed.
Spike dulled her senses, reprogramming her to be receptive to only him.
“Giles! No, I am still here. Giles!”
“What the devil happened?”
The words rolled off her tongue before she could stop them. “Spike stepped out of the shower.”
She froze. Spike merely blinked at her before a smirk drew across his lips. Right. He would find this funny.
“Spike? He’s still in your room?”
“Buffy, have you completely lost your mind?”
“Not completely!” she protested, scowling at Spike, as though it was his fault she couldn’t come up with a decent lie. “I told you he’s helping me.”
“I don’t see why he needs to be in your room to help you!”
Buffy’s jaw fell slack, her mind blanking. Dammit. If she said anything resembling the truth, Giles would be pounding on her door quicker than Dorothy could click her heels. Though he’d given her every sympathy when Angel had left town, she knew he’d busted out the happy dance once all was said and done. Buffy getting involved with another vampire would put her watcher at DEFCON 1.
Though honestly, he had to suspect something. Spike had been in her room two days running. And their past was too colorful for the sleepover excuse, especially since Buffy’s attitude toward Spike had always been stake-on-sight. Nothing in that regard had changed until she left Sunnydale. She could certainly comprehend why her new mindset raised eyebrows. She didn’t understand what had happened, either.
“Look,” Buffy continued, determinately ignoring Giles’s Spike-related squawking. Let him think what he would. Her love-life was not up for debate. “Something happened last night.”
Spike perked his eyebrows, his tongue making play with his teeth. Buffy scowled at him and turned away. “The Reaper’s thingamajig triggered Spike’s…otherworldly senses. Or whatever. We ended up at some place called The Myrtles.”
Mention of the Reaper had a calming effect on Giles, and he switched comfortably into shop-mode. “The Myrtles?” he repeated. “Really? The home in Louisiana?”
“Right. That one. But when we got there, Spike felt nada.”
“Perhaps he was luring you there for other means.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. So did Spike. “No,” she snapped. “We were supposed to hit hot-spots in town but when we got in his car, it kinda—I dunno—dragged him there. I think the Reaper was trying to take me out and needed a place with lots of energy to do it.”
“What do you mean?”
“He attacked me, Giles.”
At that, Spike’s patience snapped. “Bloody hell, how thick can you get?” he yelled. “Would you shut your gob and listen to the girl?”
“Yes, Giles,” Buffy retorted dryly. “Spike attacked me. He attacked me so bad I decided to let him sleep it off in my room last night. Would you get real?”
“Well, I’m sorry if your choice in bedfellows has me on edge, but honestly, Buffy, what are you—”
“The Reaper, attacked her, mate,” Spike barked. “Haven’t bloody figured out how, but he did. Attacked her from the inside.”
There was a long pause at that. Then, quietly, Giles asked, “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” Buffy said. “But I’m thinking if he’s upping the ante to personal attacks, we must be getting close to the full shebang. Do you have anything that might tell us where he’s planning to unleash Pandora’s Box?”
Giles cleared his throat. “Yes, actually—”
“And you were planning to tell her when?” Spike shouted at the phone. “Wanker.”
Buffy batted at him. “Shush!”
A pause. Giles exhaled deeply, the continued, “Willow was able to pull up some modern theories on the Reaper’s modus operandi. Apparently, he has quite a following among the demon world and his progress is being tracked on assorted demon-run websites by fanatics who, as you might imagine, are very eager to see the world’s natural order reverse itself. Using…well, means I’m not entirely comfortable with, Willow was able to extract a few key details. Pandora’s Box must be let loose before the new moon. Which, if you’re keeping up to date on your lunar cycle, is—”
“Tonight,” she finished, sighing. “He’s doing it tonight?”
“You knew tonight was the new moon?”
“Giles, my best friend is dating a werewolf. I do pay attention.” Buffy huffed. “Some details would be helpful, please.”
“It will be haunted ground,” the Watcher continued. “The Reaper requires a sort of…prism. An establishment where he can concentrate the contents of Pandora’s Box into one energy. It will be a haunted house or a mausoleum. Or—”
“No,” Spike said sharply. “Haunted house means rot to the ground it stands on.”
“A cemetery, then,” Giles said.
Spike glared at the phone. “No.”
“What the bloody hell do you know?”
“Cemetery’s aren't haunted for shit. It’s the people you put in it who give it energy. Not the ground itself. Haunted ground doesn’t mean the obvious, Rupes. I’m bloody ashamed of you.” Spike shook his head, turning his eyes to Buffy. “We’re looking for a place that’s been touched by fire.”
“Fire?” Buffy repeated. Giles was silent, therefore she assumed he was brooding that he hadn’t reached the same conclusion.
Spike nodded. “If it’s haunted ground we’re aiming to find, we need a place that’s been dead, see. Fire kills the ground. Marks it. Leaves an impression. Can’t bloody do much with a cemetery except collect ghosties, and if he’s done doin’ that, we need to look beyond cosmetics and find a place where the land itself’s been dead.”
That did make sense. Even Giles begrudgingly admitted so.
Buffy’s brow furrowed. “If that’s true, though, we have a major problem.”
“What’s that, pet?”
“We’re in the American South surrounded by fire traps. If I took anything away from US History, it’s that the North pretty much torched this place in the war.” She sighed. “Also, these old houses? I heard Jerome telling Edith that three caught fire last year alone. There’s one really big one off Main that’s just a big…house skeleton. If we’re looking for a place that’s known fire, that narrows it down to every piece of land south of the Mason Dixon Line.” Buffy grumbled and pinched the bridge of her nose. “We are royally screwed.”
Spike blew out a deep breath. “Well,” he drawled. “I reckon we better start looking.”