For months the bastard had stayed out of his hair, pretending that he didn't have a score to settle and allowed Spike the freedom of the night—well, within reason obviously, being that the chip hampered his ability for true freedom

Prologue

For months the bastard had stayed out of his hair, pretending that he didn't have a score to settle. He'd allowed Spike the freedom of the night—well, within reason obviously, being that the chip hampered his ability for true freedom—and his burgeoning conscience was tighter than any collar on the market. Months when Spike had avoided the pull that wanted him to make the Slayer's playground his permanent home, and months where Angel had conveniently not acted on his appearance in the City Of. It rightly cheesed him off no end that the pillock would choose the very minute he was about to zoom out of the place to collect on his right for vengeance.

Would wait until he'd made the decision to risk everything he knew just to be close to Buffy.

Not that being pissed off did him a damn bit of good now that he was chained to a wall and starved of light from even the barest bulb. His belly grumbled hungrily and Spike could feel the pinch of fangs against his gums, fighting an irrational yet escalating fury he had no one on which to take it out. No chance to do damage to anything but himself against the unrelenting strength of stone wall.

Angel had left him to stew. Other than that first malicious sneer, Spike had been deprived of further sight of his host. It hacked him off. He had things to do, places to be, and once again Angelus made him feel more helpless than a kitten. A more cynical vamp might even wonder if he'd been forgotten—left to fester in the dark like the inconsequential vamp granpappy obviously thought him to be.

Good thing Spike wasn't a cynical vamp.

Spike snorted.

No two ways about it, the Grand Poobah Of All Things Righteous had thrown him into the dungeon and marched off for a sale on hair gel. Bastard never could get enough of the stuff. The punishment was wholly unlike anything Angelus had dished out in the past and Spike was left to surmise what event had apparently derailed his grandsire's obvious intent of revenge.

Not that he wasn't grateful. As fun as it had been to poke the poof full of holes, he hardly felt the amusement in the act being reciprocated.

It was too quiet in this damp, underground pit. Other than his own exclamations of irritation, Spike had gone days, if not weeks—time was hard to judge without even the scent of the sun to guide him—without one meaningful sound.

It was harsher torture than any he'd ever experienced before.

The first days had seen his struggle to pull himself free of metal and rock—and his failure. Time since, his strength had waned—hunger dug deep into his belly until his whole body screamed to be fed.

Unfortunately for him, no one was listening.

Thoughts of Buffy barely kept him focused on his objective: to get out and away from Angel and return to her—whether as her lap dog or her lover. Right now he wasn't particularly choosy. Just the thought of seeing her gorgeous face again brought pangs of bittersweet torment. Only some painful smacks of his head against stone stopped his inner wanker from sprouting forth and turning his prison into a scene of unmanly waterworks.

On what appeared to Spike to be a fairly regular revolution of time, he relived his certainty that someone would eventually come for him.

Friend or foe? He just wished he bloody well knew.

She was being followed.

Memories of her mother's clipped and terrified warnings slipped into the background of her mind as she crept forward, adrenaline thundering through her body and giving her that strength she needed to make it out of the alley alive. Her mother was wrong, anyway. This was what she was meant for—what she'd been born for. Sure, that she'd been an accident—implied with embarrassment on more than one occasion—couldn't register when she was feeling like this. When death was baring down on her back and a vampire was sharpening his claws just waiting to get a piece of her.

When she stopped and turned, the proximity of her prey made her breath catch. No matter how fast she moved, they were always faster. Always stronger.

They never expected the stake—no matter they were close enough to breathe their cold, harsh breath against her cheek.

Charlotte wasted no time, an imperceptible shiver of warning telling her that this was not a fight to be prolonged. When her wooden stake ploughed deep into the vampire's chest, his look of shock was almost more reward than the smattering of his dust on her hands.

A slow hand clap echoed from deeper down the alley and Charlotte waited, her breath caught in anticipation.

"Superb work, my darling girl. I've taught you well it would seem."

All pretence of being a slayer dropped from her shoulders and Charlotte whooped in excitement.

"Ethan!" she squealed before launching herself into her guardian's arms. "I've been waiting so long for you to come home."

The grief that flashed through her was short-lived and pushed immediately to the back of her mind. Her mother was dead and now the father she should always have had was here to take her away from this horrid city. Ethan had promised fresh air and lots of sunshine and she was determined to make sure he delivered. Determined to prove to him that she was everything he believed her to be—and more besides.

"You know I've had preparations to make. For what I have planned, ignorance would be the downfall of fools." His lips twisted into a self-satisfied smirk and he allowed his imagination to run wild.

"And you are never that." Charlotte preened against the man she'd always considered her father, despite her mother's numerous assertions that he wasn't. It didn't even matter anymore. The name of the man that had given her blue eyes and dry wit was a mystery on which she'd long given up. All she could see now was her future and she was happy to traverse it alongside Ethan for as far as he wanted to take her.

"You are too forgiving, my sweet." He clasped her hand in his and then tucked it through his arm, indicating they should move out of the darkened alley and into a more populated area.

Charlotte snuggled up to his side, almost too cosy for a mere daughter, but there was no mistaking her doting look. Ethan chuckled at the stars in her eyes and patted her hand reassuringly. He had important plans for his dear Charlotte and now that he'd seen how she handled herself without the benefit of slayer powers, he was even surer that his scheme would work.

"I hope you've packed?" Her quick nod reassured him. Ethan couldn't quite wipe the confident grin from his face. They'd swing by the flat and pick up what small amount of baggage he was sure Charlotte would have selected to accompany her for life and they'd be off. A plane trip away from the States, the Hellmouth and Rupert.

None of the three had a clue what was about to hit them.