Buffy goggled at William, her eyes so wide it felt like her eyeballs might tumble right out. “Wh-what?”
“Pretend to let me seduce you,” he clarified quickly. To her surprise, his expression turned hesitant, rather than the carnal leer she’d expected of him. “Gotta make Liam believe it, though.”
She had to stop squeaking like that around him. It wasn’t very dignified. And she definitely had to stop thinking about how she maybe wouldn’t mind if William seduced her for real. Just because he was handsome, and smelled fantastic, and made her skin goose bump, just because she was the very definition of lonely…
“Look, I told you he knows me, right? He knows I’m… not innocent. And you represent something to him, Buffy. You represent that innocence and purity he craves. That he wishes he could have back. Liam never once suggested anything remotely kinky during your lovemaking, I’d wager.”
Buffy shook her head. “No. Definitely no kink for us. Buffy’s bed was a kink-free zone.” She blushed as she realized she’d just admitted something very personal to a relative stranger.
Shutting up now would be good.
But it was true - they’d rarely even varied out of the missionary position, and then only when Buffy had insisted she wanted to try something different. Liam had always discouraged her from any kind of experimenting, and she was beginning to understand why. “So…”
“So. He’s going to be worried sick about me despoiling you. Debauching you good and proper. Especially after you and I leave before the evening is through, all cozied up together.”
“Do…” Buffy swallowed her question. Do you think he’ll come after me? No need to sound so pathetic. And anyway, what would she do if Liam did try to play the rescuing hero, intent on saving her virtue? Take him back, wedding ring on his finger be dammed?
“Do it,” she said instead.
William considered the woman in front of him. After her virulent reaction to his wandering hand, he’d half-expected Buffy to denounce his proposal in no uncertain terms. But to his surprise, she seemed game for it. Pretending to seduce her wouldn’t be much of a hardship; no, the hardship would be remembering it was no more than a ruse. He was more than willing to take sweet Buffy to bed. William suspected there was a wild, passionate woman hidden beneath the demure persona she projected, and the mere thought of being the one to encourage her to explore her naughtier fantasies was making him harder than he’d been in a long while.
He shifted in his chair to hide the evidence of his arousal, reluctant to give his attraction away. Despite his considerable expertise when it came to the kinkier side of sex, he didn’t have much experience with women outside of Dru. The girls he’d known during adolescence hadn’t wanted nice-guy, head-in-the-clouds William for anything more than homework help, and when the time had come to go to university across the pond, in America and away from his over-protective mum, the change in scenery hadn’t done much for his luck with women.
It wasn’t until his sophomore year that he managed to lose his virginity. Under the influence of copious amounts of warm beer, he’d let slip he’d never even been snogged to a semi-drunk coed at a sorority party, which had earned him a fumbling, awkward pity fuck in somebody’s dark and messy bedroom, along with a case of the clap. The next year, a slightly more self-confident William managed to ask out a fellow history major. They hadn’t made it past a handful of dates and some desperate groping before Dru had ensnared him in her web, and being loyal by nature, the only time William had ever had sex with another woman since was at her command. After seven years with his dark princess, he still barely needed two hands to count his sexual partners.
So, what with his lack of experience in picking up the fair sex, he was grateful his grand plan to seduce Buffy was only a charade. Knowing she wouldn’t turn him down no matter how pitiful his attempt, not unless he managed to piss her off completely, gave him the courage to play the part of a Lothario with confidence. William knew he had more to offer a woman than he once did, but still. His ego had never quite recovered from the humiliations of his youth.
Buffy watched him expectantly, waiting on his move.
Right. Quit agonizing over what a pathetic wanker you are and get on with it already.
It wasn’t as if he even had to pretend very hard. Liam couldn’t hear what they were saying; it all came down to touch. And William was more than willing to touch the beautiful woman staring at him with big, hazel eyes. He started by scooting his chair closer. “Too bad the dancing hasn’t begun yet. This would be right easy, then.”
“You think you’re that good a dancer, huh?”
William curled his tongue behind his teeth. “Oh, I‘ve got the moves, sweetheart. It’s all in the hips, and these hips? Know just how to bump and grind. Vertically and horizontally.” He waggled his eyebrows for good measure, and Buffy turned an interesting shade of red. He was probably going to go to hell for teasing the poor girl so, but she made such a pretty picture, he didn’t care.
If only you knew.
“Sorry, love. Sometimes my mouth runs ahead of me.” He paused, and when Buffy smiled faintly, he felt safe to continue. “Come on then, lean forward a bit. Put your hand on the table, so I can hold it.”
“I feel so silly.”
“Didn’t you ever act? Or perform?”
Buffy shook her head. “Nope. I mean, I guess I ice skated, but not really the same. Getting up on a stage? So not my thing.”
She leaned towards him nonetheless, and placed her hand where he could reach it. William overlaid it with his, thumb stroking the sensitive pad of flesh between her thumb and forefinger. He smiled reassuringly. “Consider this your acting debut, then. ‘Sides, shouldn’t be so tough to pretend a handsome, charming devil like myself has caught your eye.” He winked at her, and Buffy laughed.
“Oh, who’s full of themselves now? I think my mother warned me about men like you.”
“Good thing she’s not here, then, isn’t it?”
Her smile dimmed. Uh-oh. Obviously he’d put his foot in it, somehow. Before he could figure out how to apologize, she spoke. “So. If you’re going to be debauching me later, I insist on knowing a bit more about you first. Favorite food, astrological sign, if you have any siblings. You know, the usual things.”
William took the reprieve offered, and they made idle chitchat for a few minutes while the catering staff began to serve the meal. He learned her favorite food was chocolate ice cream to his spicy chicken wings, she was an Aquarius to his Virgo, and that she had one younger sister to his none. By the time their meals were set before them, he’d also discovered they lived on opposite sides of Los Angeles, and she lived with and worked alongside her father at an insurance company.
He had to let go of her hand so they could eat, but he made up for it by feeding her bites of his dinner and encouraging her to do the same. They couldn’t easily continue their conversation since the wedding party was busy making their speeches now, but neither of them paid any attention to the head table. Instead, they continued to whisper and giggle together, and share bites of their meals. William hammed it up when she offered him a taste of her fish, sucking in his cheeks and moaning indecently around her fork. Buffy laughed and smacked him on the shoulder, and he ducked out of her reach, using the opportunity to sneak a glance at the newlyweds.
And, oh, had Liam’s attention ever been caught. William was surprised the back of his head hadn’t caught fire from the man’s blazing gaze. He smirked at the groom and Liam’s mouth thinned, expression promising retribution. Angling himself so Buffy couldn’t see what he was doing, William made a rapid series of crude gestures behind her back, indicating to Liam all the things he ‘intended’ to do with her later on.
The older man half-rose from his seat, an ugly snarl etched upon his handsome face, but Drusilla shot William a dirty look and caught her new husband about the arm, refusing to let go. The groom resettled himself in his chair, obviously unwillingly, and William blew him a mocking kiss before turning back to Buffy before she could clue in to the silent exchange.
“Can’t believe I’m saying this, but the evening’s turning out to be one of the better ones I’ve had in a long while,” he told her. And it was true. Not only had he found a way to stick it to the newlyweds in a most satisfying manner, Buffy was enjoyable company in her own right. Even though the comfortable numbness of his earlier quality time with Mr. Jack Daniels had faded to no more than a gentle buzzing in his head, William still felt surprisingly content.
Buffy nodded, smiling. “Who’d have thunk it? I’m actually having fun.”
William grinned back. “Me too.” He reached out to run his hand down her bare arm, enjoying the feel of her soft skin against his fingertips, and was delighted when he heard her breath catch. At least he wasn’t the only one affected by their little dance. “Knowing there’s no need to actually impress each other helps take the pressure off. Let’s us just have fun.”
“Yup, it sure helps with the whole awkward tension thing.” She gave him a mischievous look. “But just so you know? You haven’t impressed me one bit, yet.”
“Oh ho! You either, missy!”
“Good!” he repeated. She stuck her tongue out, and William darted his hand out and caught the end between his fingertips before she could retract it.
“Uh! ‘Ey! Yet oh!”
“Not unless you promise to put that tongue to better use.”
Buffy glared at him. “And I suppose you have ideas on how I can do that,” she said when he released her. “Pig.”
He hadn’t been thinking along those lines, but now that she’d mentioned it, all kinds of naughty images ran through his head. Buffy on her knees, those pretty, pouty lips worshiping him. Maybe with her hands tied behind her back, his hand fisted in her hair. Fuck. The erection that had waned over the course of dinner returned with a vengeance. “Not what I had in mind,” he said in a low, deep voice. “But if you’re offering…”
William leaned closer to whisper in her ear. “Maybe I do.”
She jerked away. “Are – are we still just pretending?” Hazel eyes, wide and round and unsure, begged him to say yes.
“’Course we are.” Buffy had turned as skittish as a colt, and it wouldn’t do to unnerve her. Not when they’d been getting along so well. “Just playing with you, love.”
Lips pursed, she nodded, but kept her new distance. William sighed, and the blood that had been diverted to his nether regions returned to his brain once more. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s fine. It’s just been a long time since I’ve flirted with a man. Not that we’re flirting!” she said quickly. “But, you know. Kinda out of practice. I’m not really that much of a prude. I can handle a little innuendo. Usually.” She kept her eyes trained on the table the entire time she was speaking, and William knew she was more discomfited than she’d let on.
“Hey.” He bent so that he was in her line of vision. “You should never let anyone make you feel uncomfortable, even if it is just playing around. When I go too far, tell me to sod off and I will. No hard feelings. Can’t properly call it playing if you’re not having fun.”
“Thanks.” She fiddled with her napkin, then jerked her head towards the other couple at their table. “I’m going to stop being rude Buffy and socialize for a minute. Maybe we could think about leaving soon? If you still wanted to leave together? I don’t… I’m starting to get kinda tired. Too much drama for one day.”
Stupid, stupid big mouth. William’s only consolation was that she intended to continue on with their ruse. He hadn’t chased her off entirely, although it didn’t escape his attention that he’d just blown it with the girl and she was only still talking to him thanks to their prior agreement. He bit back a sigh. “Just say the word when you’re ready.”
Buffy wrapped up her conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Lomato when the muted clinking of silverware against dinner plates died down to a restless rustling, the shift in noise signifying the expectation that something else was about to happen. She wasn’t up for whatever came next – more toasts, dancing, and – ugh – the cake. Nope. To hell with her crazy plans for toppling the sucker. All Buffy wanted to do was get out of there. She hadn’t been kidding when she’d told William she was done. So long as Liam had realized his mistake in leaving her, mission accomplished.
Squirming a little in her seat, she wasn’t sure what to say to the man next to her after the uncomfortable note they’d ended their last conversation on. Buffy hoped he didn’t think she was nothing more than an uptight stick-in-the-mud. She certainly didn’t think of herself that way – once upon a time, she had known how to flirt with a man. How to give as good as she got in the innuendo department. What had happened to her? When had she become this mouse of a woman? A frown crossed her face as she wondered if this was why she’d lost Liam. Maybe she hadn’t been playful enough for him? She certainly hadn’t been talented enough. Some part of her protested the idea – Liam had liked her this way. As William had said, her ex had wanted her to play the sweet and innocent for him, had wanted to be her protector, and she had the feeling his observations were on the nose.
So why hadn’t it been enough? Buffy twisted in her seat, just enough to peek at the newlyweds out of the corner of her eye.
Just enough to see that, yes, Liam was watching her.
She swiveled the rest of the way, a sharp stab of longing making her stomach clench and her eyes tear up. Desperate to hide her emotions, she tried to flash Liam the same dazzling, careless smile she’d managed earlier, but it felt more like a pained grimace. Her ex smiled in return, half toasting her with his champagne glass, and Buffy spun away before she could burst into tears.
“I’m ready,” she said sharply, without preamble.
William looked up, startled, and must have seen the tears she was holding back because he reached to take her hand. “What is it?”
“I’m ready,” she repeated. “Like, really ready. I – I can’t be here anymore.”
“What about the cake?”
“I don’t care!” The backs of her eyelids burned, and Buffy bit the inside of her cheek. She would not cry again, not tonight. Not in front of Drusilla. She reached for her purse, ready to leave with or without him.
Once again, he grabbed her by the wrist. “All right, love. We’ll go. Let’s do it right, though. Can you hold it together just another minute or two? Make it look good?”
Buffy was about to say no, and then she heard Liam’s laughter booming across the room. Her partner-in-crime was right. If her ex could still laugh like that, then he wasn’t hurting enough. She and William had to make an exit that would be noticed. She took a deep breath. Let it out. Did it again. “Okay.”
After one more deep breath, this time for courage, she leaned forward, napkin in hand, and used it to wipe an invisible speck of food from the corner of William’s mouth. He gaped at her, blue eyes wide with shock, and Buffy somehow managed not to jerk away despite his obvious surprise at her daring, surprise that nearly outmatched her own. She dabbed again, more slowly this time, and placed her other hand on his thigh to steady herself as she moved closer.
“Bloody hell. Now you’re getting it,” he breathed. His leg muscles bunched and trembled under her hand, and Buffy felt a thrill of pride run through her when she gave a small squeeze and he swallowed visibly in response.
Maybe sweet little Buffy had something to offer after all. Encouraged, she scooted to the end of her chair and fluttered her eyelashes at him, fingers still kneading his firm thigh through the fabric of his trousers. “You know, I just can’t seem to get this sauce off.” She was so close now, she could feel the heat radiating off his chest. With careful deliberation, she dropped the napkin in his lap and used her thumb to rub at the invisible speck, then let her fingers stray along his lower lip. His skin felt soft, and kissable, and Buffy discovered that she wanted to know what his mouth tasted like. Nostrils flaring, William closed his eyes, eyelashes long and dark against his cheek. He looked so delicious that her desire to press her lips to his came close to overwhelming.
With a gulp, she jerked back, hands to herself once more. Several seconds passed before she dared to look up. William’s eyes bore into hers, stormy and intense, and all of a sudden, it didn’t feel like they were acting. It felt very, very real.
And very, very dangerous.
Buffy slid further backwards. “So, how was that? Did I make it look good?” Damn, she’d sounded all breathy, not firm and casual like she’d meant to.
“Made a believer out of me.” The deep reverberations of William’s low, rough voice had her repressing a shiver. She couldn’t repress the way her nipples tightened, though, or the way her thighs clenched.
Shit, shit, shit. What had just happened? A line had been crossed, and Buffy didn’t know how to un-cross it. Maybe she could distract him. Play it off. “And the Emmy goes to me!” she chirped, desperately hoping he would believe her, or at least play along.
William stared at her for a long minute, eyes dark and heavy-lidded. His tongue darted out to lick the corner of his mouth, then followed the path her fingers had taken across his lower lip. Buffy found herself unable to breathe, and when he leaned forward, closing the space between them, she thought he was going to kiss her. Part of her hoped he would. Instead, he whispered, “Liam is a goddamned fool.”
She didn’t have a response, and he spared her the need to think of one by standing up and shrugging on his jacket. “Time to make our getaway, love.” Buffy nodded and rose as well, and it didn’t take any effort on her part to keep her eyes locked on William’s face. Standing next to him, she found he was only a little taller than she was in her heels. Liam had always towered over her, but William would be just the right height for leaning up on her tippy-toes and kissing.
Bad Buffy! No more lusty thoughts!
Despite her inner monologue, she tucked her arm into William’s without any encouragement on his part, and he grinned at her. “Shall we, my lady?”
A sudden concern struck her. “Is everybody staring at us?” Buffy was positive all eyes had focused on them, these fringe guests who were daring to leave before the festivities were through. If there was one thing she couldn’t stand, it was causing a scene, and she was about to do just that.
“Who the bloody hell cares? Chin up, and whatever you do, don’t let on that it bothers you. I’m the only one here that matters to you at the mo’, remember?”
She smiled weakly. “Not caring. All wrapped up in you instead. Right. I can do that.” Buffy gripped his arm and together they navigated the outskirts of the reception hall, eyes straight ahead or on each other. Her legs shook more and more with each step she took, and it required all of her willpower to keep from glancing toward the head table before they stepped through the doors and out into the hallway. She sagged the minute they were around the corner, only William’s strong arm keeping her upright.
“Shit. I can’t believe I actually did it.”
William tipped her chin up. “You were incredible.”
Buffy tried for a laugh, but it wouldn’t come. “Wow. Just. Okay.” She shook herself, and straightened. “Thank you, William. You made this night bearable. More than bearable.”
“The pleasure was all mine, Buffy.” He fidgeted a moment before adding, “Night’s not through, though.”
He shook his head. “Can guarantee the newlyweds will be stopping by my hotel room before they head off to theirs. Take a gander at whether I managed to seduce you after all. Think how much better it’ll be if you’re actually there.”
Oh. Oh. He was inviting her back to his room? Buffy gulped at the images coursing through her brain. Just her and William, all alone, with nowhere to sit but on a huge, soft bed? Guh. Hello, temptation. With the way her body was reacting to the man beside her, Buffy could easily envision herself letting him take away the heartache, if only for one night.
“This – this is still just part of the game, right? Just… pretend?”
William hesitated a split second. “Just pretend,” he agreed, and she swallowed again. He didn’t sound so sure himself, and while she might be tempted, casual sex was not something Buffy Summers had ever engaged in. Certainly not with a near stranger.
“I – I better not. I have a long drive ahead of me, and –”
“Of course. No worries.” He squeezed her hand and let go. Buffy was disappointed when he moved away, but an instant later, he’d turned back. “It probably wouldn’t be that long. Bet they’ll be by in an hour. Less, even.”
She opened her mouth to decline a second time.