replacing the spoon on the table.
a sip of her coffee.
Melanie just kept on eating.
Inhaling a deep breath, Buffy went on. "He wants to take
around the outer rim of the bowl with her spoon. "Are you
threw her for a moment. "No, sweetie, not tonight. This
would let it go at that.
Melanie looked up. "Then you'll be all by yourself."
Well, there was no getting around it. Buffy knew that if
on her own she'd fret about it.
Melanie surprised her by smiling brightly. "Are you
going to go?" she asked eagerly.
face. "Yes," she said slowly. "But I'll make sure I'm
ran upstairs to brush her teeth.
the little girl's mind. Melanie was still heavily into the
she was in love with him.
ten days. How could she possibly be in love with him?
table and carrying them out to the kitchen. She twisted
the bottom of the stairs.
about love to her. Yes, he'd MADE love to her, wonderfully
Of course....SHE hadn't said anything either. Maybe he
before meeting her. That meant that he did indeed consider
wasn't the same as her's. What if.....
smiling at her daughter as she skipped down the stairs.
waiting on the porch for Buffy to lock up the house. She
at Melanie in the rear view mirror. "Flaps down?"
"Check!" her daughter responded brightly.
headed for Sunnydale Elementary School.
kept her moving and busy.
washed, conditioned and trimmed. While she was there,
she decided to splurge and have her nails done as well.
visit a real farm. Apparently, the opportunity to milk a cow
as the chance to see baby chicks hatching.
gave her a bath, then supervised her choice of wardrobe.
hair neatly brushed.
video into the VCR and dashed back upstairs to bathe.
fragrant water. Too on edge to linger, she washed
her hair till it gleamed in the lamplight.
done. "For an old mom, you look pretty darn good."
been hanging in the back of it for months. She'd bought
an opportunity to wear it.
than she normally cared to.
black bra and panty set that she'd hardly ever worn. A
an elastic band of lace on her upper thighs.
pleased with the results.
into it, ignoring the comment.
clock strike 6:00 p.m.
went with no sign of him.
up once to replace 'Cinderella' with 'The Lion King'.
to stir inside her.
"Maybe he forgot," a little voice piped softly.
It was a stretch, but she managed it once again. "I
over the child's curls. "He might be stuck in traffic."
into the driveway. She turned on the couch and moved
six months ago.
front of the house.
Buffy opened her eyes. No amount of counting or
wishing was going
to get her out of this one.
Both William and Angel had arrived.
At the same time.
voice was taking on the fretful note
Buffy recognized all too well. It was the tone she
most often heard when the
little girl was distressed
about something and was close to tears.
She couldn't fall apart about this. Not now,
Melanie sitting here.
And the more she thought about it, the more she was
certain that there was no earthly
reason for her to fall
apart. She was a grown woman, and she had absolutely
no obligations to Angel anymore. She was
to go out with whomever she chose, whenever she chose
to do so.
Pasting a smile on her face, she
took Melanie's hand and
walked her over to the door. "Nothing's wrong, baby," she
said, kneeling beside her daughter
and smoothing her hair.
"Daddy's here to get you. Do you need to use the bathroom
before you go?"
Taking a deep breath, Buffy stood up and turned the
doorknob. "All right, then," she said
Her heartbeat picked up its pace considerably when
she saw William. He looked wonderful;
in black and it suited him.
Black silk trousers, with a perfectly cut button down shirt
into them that must have been tailored for him, it
fit him so perfectly. He had a pair of expensive looking
on that hid his eyes from her scrutiny, but
he was definitely looking at Angel and probably sizing
was returning the favor. Dressed in one of his
ridiculously expensive suits that he'd never allowed
Buffy to have cleaned
by anyone other than an exclusive
and obscure laundry service clear on the other side of
town. As she watched, he began
walking a bit faster,
obviously trying to beat William to the front door.
But William hung back a little, not allowing
make a contest out of their arrival.
Holding Melanie's hand, Buffy stepped out onto the
Angel," she said, pulling the child around in
front of her.
"Hey, babe," he said casually, climbing the porch
and leaning down to brush a kiss across her
cheek before she could pull away. His eyes traveled
up and down her body.
"You look sensational."
She ignored the compliment and heard him laugh
softly before he turned his attention to
"Hi there, kiddo," he said, his voice a touch too
jovial in the manner used by a person who wasn't
that good with small children.
"Hi," she answered him, so quietly that it was almost
inaudible, pushing back against
By now, William was standing on the bottom step of
the porch, leaning against the railing. Buffy could
that he was preparing to give an Emmy award winning
performance that would completely disguise the truth
his opinion regarding her ex-husband.
Angel stepped back and gave William an appraising
once over. "Angel Conner,"
he said, extending his right
Buffy's cheeks turned pink. Introducing them had been
her job. She was allowing
herself to get flustered.
After a hesitation that anyone with eyes could see was
quite deliberate, William stepped
up onto the porch and
shook Angel's hand. "William St. James."
Angel's head tilted slightly. "St. James," he mused.
where have I heard that name before?"
"On television," Melanie supplied helpfully.
Thinking it over
for an insultingly long time, making it
clear that he felt William to be of such little importance
that he had to search
his mind high and low for recog-
nition, Angel finally nodded. "Ohhhh...yeah. Now I've got
it. You're on that Star
Trek wanna-be show, right?"
William just smiled. "Something like that," he said,
visibly dismissing Angel from his
mind. He knelt down
beside Melanie and smiled. "Hello, pixie. How's my
if he'd known nothing about Angel Connor before
this moment, William would have wholeheartedly
oozed smarmy, arrogant superiority, the kind
that blared, "Hey, notice me! I only wear and drive
the very best! You
WISH you were half as important
as I am!"
When he'd observed the way Angel had picked up
speed to beat him
to the porch, he'd hung back,
refusing to play 'King Of The Hill' with Melanie's father.
His deliberate calm had
only wavered for a moment
when Angel had leaned down to kiss Buffy's cheek,
whispering some kind of comment in her ear
intimate way that William detested.
It was restored after seeing her reaction to it...the
her head and the way she'd pulled back
William had no trouble seeing just what kind of show
was going to be putting on. He'd dealt with too
many of the same types of phonies not to recognize one
when he saw
it. Lawyer or not, the man was no actor.
His surface charm, which was being laid on a little
too heavily to be real,
was pretty much all he had.
Even though he had no intention of playing whatever
game Buffy's ex was starting up,
some small and
childish part of him was more than a little pleased to
note Melanie's reaction to her father. She was
going along with all this just because she felt she
The child's wide blue gaze lingered on her
face, then glanced around the yard, then stared down
at her shoes. She never really made eye contact with
father at all, even when he spoke directly to her.
Hating himself just a bit for it, he decided to make a
of his own. "Hello, pixie," he said, turning his
back on Angel and kneeling next to Melanie. "How's
my best girl?"
little face bloomed as she returned his smile.
Tousling her soft curls, he stood up and met Buffy's
he added softly, "how's my other girl?"
To his intense delight, Buffy smiled and lifted her
face. He took immediate
advantage of the opportunity
and dropped a kiss on her lips.
William pulled away and looked
down at her. "And just
what's so funny, giggle box?" he asked, tweaking the
tip of her small nose.
Mommy," the little girl said, then tilted
her head up and looked at her mother.
William looked from Melanie to Buffy,
forgot all about Angel. "I did, didn't I?" he said quietly,
caught up in the intense emotions rising
emotions he could see reflected in her eyes.
The moment was far too brief. Before he could analyze
he was seeing and sensing, Angel Connor once
again made his presence known.
"So," he said, a little too loudly,
"how long have you
two been...seeing each other?"
Buffy answered first. "Not long."
"Ten days or so," William
Angel shoved his hands in the front pockets of his
trousers. "Is that a fact? Where did you meet? I mean,
not exactly the type to run with the Hollywood
elite. She's kind of a small town girl....aren't you, babe?"
Melanie jumped into the conversation.
"We went to the convention," she announced. "And then
we had dinner...and
then we had ice cream....and we went
to see his house...are the doggies still there?" she asked
pixie, they're still there. And speaking of the conven-
tion...I have something for you in my car." William held
one hand and Melanie finally pried herself away from
her mother and walked back down the sidewalk with him.
didn't give Angel a chance to say anything. "I'll get my
keys and you can get Melanie's booster seat out of my car.
make sure she's buckled in right."
"I will." Angel yanked his hands out of his pockets and
checked his watch, a
new one that Buffy had never seen
him wear before. "Christ, Buffy....she's my kid, too!"
They stood there, staring
at each other for a long moment,
and Buffy was on the verge of pointing out the numerous
occasions when he'd forgotten
the very point he'd just made.
"Mommy! Lookit, Mommy!" Melanie's voice was bright
with excitement as she ran back
up the sidewalk, holding
a large manila envelope in her hands. "Lookit! It's our
Buffy accepted the
envelope from her daughter and removed
the contents. "Already?" she asked, remembering the
fine print at the bottom
of the form she'd signed, the one
warning her that the pictures probably wouldn't arrive for at
least four to six weeks.
William shrugged, rejoining them on the porch. "Pulled a
couple of strings."
The three glossy 8X10s
taken at the convention had come
out beautifully. Melanie's smile in the one she'd had taken
with William was incandescent.
Buffy wasn't thrilled with the
one of her and William alone. She definitely looked nervous
in that one.
was the picture of all three of them. Seeing
it now reminded Buffy of the moment it was snapped,
when she had looked
at William instead of the camera,
and had found him looking back at her.
Melanie, in between them, was glancing
and it gave her the look of a small angel petitioning
the Lord for a big favor.
**Which....in a way....was
pretty much what she was
doing** Buffy thought.
"I think," she said, smiling down at her daughter,
have these framed. How about you?"
"Okay...I do, too."
Angel, who was apparently getting tired of being ignored,
his neck to see the photos. "Cute," was his only
Buffy glanced at him, then looked at William for a possible
He simply smiled, pretending to take Angel's terse
statement at face value for Melanie's sake.
"Let me just put
these inside, baby." She slipped the
pictures back into the envelope and placed it on the coffee
table, then grabbed
her purse. "Here," she said, handing
Angel her keys.
Buffy watched as he moved Melanie's booster from her car
his own. Taking a deep breath, she knelt beside her
daughter. "You have fun with Daddy, okay? I have my cell
if you need anything and he has the number."
Melanie nodded, then looked up at William. "Will you be
I get home?"
The longing in the little girl's voice was plain to hear, and he
had no intention of disappointing
her. Without caring one iota
as to how Angel might feel about it, he picked Melanie up and
gave her a hug and kiss.
"Of course I will, pixie. Cross my
Melanie, who had little faith in the promises made by her
father, believed him utterly and without question.
"Okay," she said as he set her on her feet.
By this time,
Angel had returned to the porch. "All ready
to go?" Melanie nodded, and he looked at Buffy. "I'll have
her home in a
couple hours" he said, returning her keys.
She nodded. "It's a school night," she reminded him.
"Yeah, I know.
I take it you're going out, too? You should
probably tell me where you're going to be, just in case."
"I have my
"Veronique's," William interjected smoothly.
For the first time since his arrival, Angel looked
dumbfounded and a little envious...and Buffy knew why.
Veronique's was a highly exclusive restaurant, with
servation list at least six months in advance.
William had obviously pulled more than one string.
she asked, honestly surprised.
"Of course, really." He slipped one arm around her
waist and pulled her close. "Only
the best for you,
For herself, Buffy couldn't care less about impressing
Angel, but she understood William's
need to show him
up a bit.
She leaned down and exchanged a kiss goodbye with
her daughter. "See you in a little
"Okay." Melanie accepted her father's outstretched
hand and walked with him to his car.
buckling her in, he closed the door and gave
Buffy a brief wave.
William copied the gesture with a wide smile.
don't like him one bit," he said softly. "In fact, I may
even hate him."
"I can see that," she replied,
her own smile painted
on a little too brightly.
Angel glanced at the street. "Nice car."
"Your's too," William
replied in a friendly way, then
under his breath again,still smiling, "Driving around
in a new sixty-five thousand
dollar car while the mother
of your child has one that's falling apart, you selfish
Buffy bit her lip
to keep from laughing.
"I really...fucking...hate him."
The waiters at Veronique's were dressed
as though they were about to perform in a
After turning over his car keys to the valet,
William took Buffy's hand and walked her up a
purple and black carpeted path. He pulled open
a large frosted glass door with a 'V' etched into
it, and was greeted instantly by a hostess dressed
every bit as elegantly as the waiters were.
The whole restaurant staff functioned liked a
team, smoothly and effortlessly, addressing William
as "Mr. St. James". They were shown to a secluded
booth on the far side of the dining area, set back into
the wall and surrounded on either side by large
He ordered wine from one waiter and their food
from another. A third one placed expensive crystal
glasses before them. The wine arrived, and the
waiter hovered anxiously waiting for William
to sample it.
Buffy took a sip from her glass as the waiter
disappeared. "What do you suppose they do
with it if the wine doesn't get a thumbs up?"
William chuckled. "Maybe they take it back into
the kitchen and polish it off themselves."
It was clear that the wait staff was accustomed to
serving well recognized clientele. They made
obvious and, for the most part, successful efforts
to keep anyone from approaching their table in
search of an autograph.
One or two fans did manage to get past the barrier,
but William was unfailingly polite and pleasant,
signing whatever they asked him to sign and even
posing for a woman to take a photograph with her
"Does that ever bother you?" Buffy asked, taking
another sip of wine.
He grinned at her. "Actually....it doesn't. I suppose it
might, somewhere down the road, but it's still fairly
new for me." He shrugged. "I kind of like it, and they're
the reason the show is successful in the first place.
Doesn't matter how good the acting or writing is if
no one's watching it."
"That's true. I never thought of it like that." She sat
back in her chair as the waiter set a plate in front of
her, cautioning her that it was a bit hot to the touch.
They talked while they ate, making nothing more than
causal conversation. She told him what was happening
at 'Melanie's Garden' and he told her more about the
season finale of the show, informing her that there was
going to be a hell of a cliffhanger, but refusing to di-
vulge any further information about what it might be.
"I made reservations at the hotel," he said, wiping his
mouth with a linen napkin. "I thought we could drive
down on Friday evening, and that would give Melanie
all day Saturday and Sunday. My secretary told me that
it's impossible to "do" Disneyland in only two days. I
guess they've added a lot on since the last time I was
there, but I thought we'd just stick to the main park."
"Two days will be fine," Buffy said. "She's going to be in
He looked pleased, she noticed, and she couldn't help
wondering if he was subconsciously trying to compete
with Angel in a 'let's see who can score more points
with Melanie' contest.
"I reserved a suite," he went on. "There are two bedrooms,
but if you'd rather have a separate one for you and Melanie,
I can arrange it."
It was a sticky situation. On one hand, she'd like nothing
better than to put Melanie to bed in one room, then join
William in the other, but she knew she'd be opening a
Pandora's box of questions from her daughter if she did,
questions there were no answers for just yet.
"I think....as long as there are two bedrooms, the one
suite will be fine," she told him.
"You sure about that, love?"
No. No, she wasn't. But it was the right thing to do at
this point, so she nodded and smiled. "Very sure."
He reached across the table and took her hand, raising
it and placing a kiss on her palm. "It's going to be very
hard sleeping in one room while you're right behind the
door of another one, so close to me." Looking up at her,
he winked devilishly. "Very...very...hard," he added,
making his double meaning clear as to what would be
the 'hardest' thing about it.
Buffy caught her breath at the feel of his lips caressing
her hand. "I know," she said softly. "For me, too."
"But we have to set a good example for Melanie."
"Uh-huh," she nodded again, staring into his eyes,
nearly gasping out loud when he teasingly bit the
tip of her fingers. Her skin prickled with awareness,
and a warm flush suffused her entire body. She picked
up a glass of ice water to cool herself down, trying to
decide whether it would be more effective to drink it
down fast or dump it in her lap. "We definitely do."
"It wouldn't look right."
"No, it wouldn't."
"She might not understand."
"So...do you think we can get a little time alone
together before we go?"
"You can count on it."
"This is a nice car."
William turned to look at her, waiting for the traffic
light to turn green. "Thanks. I like it, too. It's the first
thing I bought when I landed the job on 'Outpost Space."
"Really? I would have thought the house."
"Um...no. I didn't buy the house until I was sure the
show would be picked up."
"You're very sensible," she said.
"Not really." He made a face. "I was so overwhelmed
by having that kind of money for the first time that I
wasted a ridiculous amount of it. The house and the cars
were the ONLY sensible things I bought."
Buffy shifted a little in her seat, settling herself into
it. "What else?" she asked.
The light turned green. "A lot of things I didn't
need, although I managed to convince myself that
I did," he said, neatly merging into freeway traffic.
"Well, tell me," she insisted.
"Oh....that huge home theater system that I hardly
ever use. Clothes I've never worn. Hundreds of
DVDs I've never watched. Two other cars that I
never drove. Then, after I was done indulging
MYSELF, I moved on to indulging my family and
friends. I bought them expensive gifts for no reason,
sent them on vacations all over the world, picked up
every tab. It went on like that for a long time."
"And then you stopped yourself?"
"No, my mother stopped me. I was at my parent's
house for Christmas, passing out more loot than
Santa ever dreamed of, and she made me go into
the kitchen with her and asked me exactly who I
was trying to impress."
Buffy smiled widely. "You're kidding!"
"Oh, NO, I'm not," he insisted. My mother is a
very practical, 'both feet planted firmly on the
ground' type. She teaches school part time and
doesn't put up with much. So, then she told me
to stop being such a show off, that I had no
use for four cars or a watch that cost more than
her annual salary, and had I ever heard of open-
ing a savings account."
"What did you do?"
"I sold two of the cars, returned the watch, and..."
"....opened a savings account," they said at the
same time. "That's a great story," Buffy added.
Turning onto Revello Drive, there was no sign of
Angel's car. William parked in the driveway,
leaving no room for her ex to pull in behind him,
proving to Buffy that even a modern and civilized
man could be prone to bouts of territoriality.
He shut off the engine and released his seat belt,
then did the same for her. "You know," he said,
kissing the senses right out of her, "I wish I'd
driven the Lexus tonight instead."
"Why's that?" she asked, kissing him back.
"The seats recline." He nuzzled her ear,
biting playfully. "I could lay you down faster
than you could say 'I didn't sign up for this'."
"Very funny," she said, giving his shoulder a
"Oh, come on," he coaxed her. "They'll be
back any minute, and we haven't had any
quality time all evening."
"Going out to dinner wasn't quality time?"
"That was a different kind of quality."
Between the tone of his voice, the look in
his eyes, and the nearness of his body, Buffy
was finding his words seriously tempting.
His lips captured hers and they kissed hungrily,
moving their mouths together with demanding
But it soon became clear that the Carrera just
wasn't designed for that type of activity. Too
small for any real abandon, the gear shift kept
digging into Buffy's thigh.
"Why don't we just go in the house?" she
suggested. "We'd be a lot more comfortable."
He beat her to the front porch, then stood behind
her while she searched for her house key. His arms
wrapped around her waist, he rubbed himself
against her, kissing the back of her neck and
mussing her hair.
"You're distracting me," she told him.
"Good. I'm glad I have that effect on you." He
pushed her hair aside and continued his
attentions to her neck.
By the time she found her key, her hand was
almost shaking too hard to use it.
William saw her predicament and placed his
hand over hers, guiding the key straight in and
then turning the doorknob.
They almost fell into the house, then William
closed the door, pulling her close.
Much to her surprise, he suddenly stiffened all
over, staring over her shoulder into the living
room, the smile fading from his face.
"What's..." Buffy turned and followed his gaze,
her eyes widening with shock. "....going on?"
Sitting on the couch was a middle aged woman
Buffy had never seen before. She had a hard,
not particularly friendly face, and she looked
highly put out about being there.
On the opposite side of the room, as far away
as it was physically possible for her to go,
Melanie sat curled up in an armchair, shrinking
back into it as if she were trying to sink into the
very fabric of the cushions. Her face was soaked
with tears, her eyes red and swollen. "Daddy....had
to go," she whispered, her voice nearly inaudible
and hoarse from crying.
"What? I don't under....who are YOU?" Buffy
demanded, frowning, barely hearing it when
the woman told her that she was a legal secretary
at Wolfram and Hart, that Mr. Connor had called
her at home, had asked her to.......
William said nothing. He crossed the room in
three long strides and scooped Melanie up in
his arms, rubbing her back as she buried her
face against the side of his neck and clung to
He had already deduced what Buffy was just
beginning to realize.
Angel had brought Melanie home, then left
her here with one of the secretaries working
at his firm.
A complete and utter stranger.