June 2000 – post-Initiative.

Never been the paranoid sort before, but that was before the Slayer pretty much crawled up my ass after the Initiative left town.

Apocalypse in the can, it was summer vacation—normally a time when vamps that knew what was good for 'em headed for climes with less sun. I would have, too, but there was the matter of 1) having no cash, and 2) the principle of not letting that bitch run me out of town. Until I could find a way to make her boy toy scare me up a surgeon, I was staying right where I was.

Restfield Cemetery. Spacious crypt for one.

"Blondie Bear…"

As soon as I ran Harmony off again.

"What?"

"I'm bored," she whined. "The college guys have all gone home. Take me somewhere."

I ignored her, sitting in my cozy chair and staring at the late-night movie on the telly.

"Spike!" God, that woman had the most annoying voice invented.

"For the last time, Harm—piss off!" I heard her approach my chair.

"We can play 'stake the Slayer'…" she offered.

Tempting, but even Harmony's lack of inhibitions in the bedroom wouldn't sway me this time.

"Not. Interested. Take your candy-colored ass out of my home and don't come back."

She stomped her stiletto-heeled foot. "Fine! But you'll be sorry, Spikey! Mark my words!" She slammed both doors on her way out, setting my teeth on edge.

Ear drums? Who needs those intact?

For once, I wished the Slayer would do her job and stake the bint. Never understood why she left Harmony alive.

"Spike, you need to install a good lock," I told myself. Maybe the kind with a magical password.

I hated summer. The nights were too short, the days too long, and everything was in reruns.

######

As much fun as L.A. hadn't been in decades, boredom in Sunnyhell was worse. The next night, I stole a car after sunset and drove south until a neighborhood looked interesting.

Lady Luck smiling down on me tonight, I found an underground fight club in an old warehouse. I ordered two fingers of Jack at the bar and made my way to a decent vantage point of the ring. Two human females were in the center duking it out with no protective gear.

One was a bulky dirty-blonde with a face even her mother probably didn't love. The other could double for an action star—wiry, stacked, and gorgeous, with the best damn legs I'd seen in a long time. I hoped she could avoid Ugly's ham-fisted swings at her face. It'd be a bloody shame to ruin something that beautiful.

Ugly over-swung, gettin' tired. Gorgeous took advantage, grabbed the arm, swept Ugly's leg, and put the blonde's shoulder in a nasty submission. Ugly tapped before she got somethin' broken and the fight was over.

"Winner: Grace Ramirez!" A balding little sweaty man held her arm up.

So that was her name. The crowd cheered and money was exchanged around me. Ramirez bent over the corner of the ring to accept congratulations from some bloke, probably her manager.

"And now, ladies and gentlemen! The second challenger: Tomiko Kujihiro!"

A tiny Japanese chit climbed into the ring, a scar down one side of her mouth visible fifteen feet away. Ramirez, maybe five-foot-six, towered over her next opponent. I still bore a scar from a petite Asian, though, so I wasn't going to count the pint-size combatant out before the round started.

That fight lasted to round two, but, again, ended in submission. The crowd was on their feet chanting her name, "Grace! Grace! Grace!"

Ramirez drank some water and slicked her short-shaggy hair out of her face. She breathed more heavily now and her limbs had slowed toward the end of the last fight. I wondered if she had the gas to beat a third woman.

I tapped a bloke next to me on the shoulder. "What happens if she wins this one?"

"Winner of three takes home a grand and gets the chance to fight in Superfight tomorrow night."

"What's Superfight?" I asked.

"One round until it's done, best chick against the best guy from later tonight."

"And what's the winner get?"

"$10,000 and hopefully not a hospital room."

Heh. Mortals. They'd do anything for cash. Still, I admired a woman willing to take on an unknown without superpowers. Took balls, metaphorically speaking.

When it looked like Ramirez would squeak out her third victory, I waded through the crowd to the corner with her coach. The smell of hot, sweaty humans filled my nose and I held my breath. They handed her a tiny cheap trophy for the night and she climbed down under the ropes. Her coach handed her a bottle of water; she spit out her mouthpiece.

"Congratulations," I said, making sure she could hear me over the din of the crowd.

"Thanks!"

"Might've been more impressive, though, if you hadn't pulled your punches. Are the matches rigged, or do ya just like to toy with your opponents?"

She paused in lifting the bottle to her mouth again, black brows raised. "Excuse me?" She stepped toe-to-toe with me. "Are you calling me a cheater?"

"Sayin' what I saw, love."

She was even more beautiful up close, with a model's cheekbones and full lips. Coffee-brown eyes with flicks of amber framed by full dark lashes. Not a single blemish on her skin. I'd put her no older than twenty-five.

The coach put a hand on her arm. "Save it for tomorrow night, Grace."

She shrugged off the hand. "This skinny punk? I can take him."

My lips formed into my trademark smirk. "Not a fight I'm after, gorgeous. Buy you a drink?"

She crossed her arms under her full breasts. "I don't drink on weekends."

I shrugged and started to turn away. "Your loss."

Five, four, three…

"You've got some nerve, buddy." She grabbed my arm and turned me to face her. "I oughta punch you in the face just for your lack of manners."

I sighed, sounding bored. "You could try."

She jabbed. I caught her fist with ease. Leaned in and let the demon change my irises to gold.

She took a step back. "You're a-"

"In the flesh."

"What do you want?"

"Bit o' fun and excitement. I like you. Got talent. Could be better, though."

She crossed her arms again. "And what would you know?"

A sudden step put me face-to-face with her again. "I've forgotten more than you'll ever know, little girl."

Ramirez stared up at me. "Yeah? Heard that one before, right before I put the guy on his ass."

I smiled. "Like I said, I like you. There's just one question."

"What's that?"

I leaned in to murmur in her ear, "What are you afraid of?" Her natural scent was intoxicating.

"Nothing that could happen in that ring."

"And out of it?"

One corner of her mouth turned up. "Not afraid of you."

"Good answer." I grabbed her around the waist and sped out the nearest exit before she could blink. The supernatural speed wasn't something I used often anymore, but it was a nice perk.

Alone in a back alley, I set her down. She looked around, confused.

"What…?"

"Still not afraid?"

She stepped back and winced when her bare foot landed on something sharp. "I'll scream."

"Go ahead," I said from behind her.

She jumped, rotating to face me again. "Don't do that."

"Make me."

"You really are a vampire?"

The bones shifted in my forehead as my demon visage came to fore. "Boo."

Instead of screamin' and running away like other females, she reached out her hand to touch my face. I dodged her searching fingers.

"Why?" she asked.

"Why what?"

"Why approach me?"

Good question. I meant to charm her into sharing a drink or three and the nearest bed. What was I doin' giving the bloody game away?

I frowned, then shrugged. "You're hot and I was bored."

"Thanks."

"You asked."

She turned for the door. "Men are all alike."

"'M not a man!"

She glanced over her shoulder. "You're a eunuch, then?"

"No!" Silly bint. "Vampire. Demon."

She rolled her eyes. "Same difference."

"You really don't drink on weekends?"

"Not when I have a fight the next day. Alcohol slows me down." She sighed. "Look, if you really have a tip for me, buy me a sundae."

"A sundae?" I laughed. "You've gotta be kidding."

"Fuck you. I'm done." She opened the door to the warehouse, flooding the alley with the sound of voices.

"Wait." I charged after her.

What are you doing, mate? There are much easier ways to get laid.

Shut up. I have a plan.

Oh, like those always go so well.

I grabbed her arm and received a warning twinge from the chip. "Let me start over. My name is Spike, and it was a lot of fun to watch you fight."

She paused and didn't pull away from my grip. I took that as a good sign.

"I'm glad you were entertained. Can I go now? I'm tired, grungy, and could eat a horse."

I took a bill out of my pocket and placed it in her hand. "The sundae's on me. See you tomorrow, Grace."

I melted into the crowd before she could reply.

Okay, I was a little rusty, but the game wasn't over. It was just beginning.

#####

I woke in an L.A. motel room the next afternoon with a smile on my face. Whistled a happy tune while I showered—with hot water—and picked out my best shirt. I'd nicked a full wallet the previous night, so I tipped the maid on the way out and went in search of a nice bottle of champagne.

Call me an optimist.

The Superfight was held at a different warehouse. A square cage stood in the center of the open room. I butted my way to the fence and flashed a bit of fang at anyone that objected.

Ramirez arrived wearing a Nike spandex tee and knee-length shorts. Her hair framed her face, the longest layers brushing her jaw with the ends turning in random directions. Brown eyes sparkling, she stretched and waited for the bout to begin.

Her opponent was of some sort of Latin descent, slightly taller than her, but noticeably wider and thicker. The pronunciation of his name said he was Brazilian.

Uh-oh.

She'd beaten the women last night because they were mainly kick-boxers, limited to stand-up fights. The Brazilian was likely to be an expert in Jujitsu for a bare-knuckle underground fight, and I'd bet Mr. Johnson's wallet Ramirez wasn't a black belt, yet. I'd watched a few tournaments down there while Dru was off galavantin' with Chaos demons and enjoyed the nearly-no-rules way of it…those boys really knew how to cause some damage.

They were in the cage maybe thirty second when someone in the crowd yelled, "Cops!" The humans scattered.

Ramirez and the Brazilian paused, looking around in confusion. I went to the door and wrenched it open.

"Time to go, lamb." I grabbed her hand and ran for the exit nearest my stolen car.

"What's going on?" she yelled.

"Raid."

"Shit."

Coppers had perfect timing. Glad I called in the tip when I did. Ramirez got in the car without a fight and I drove us clear of the building before they could block all the exits. She watched out the back window for several minutes.

"Think we're clear."

"'Course we are. Survivin' another day is my specialty."

She shifted to sit proper in the passenger seat. "Where are you going?"

"Does it matter?"

"Of course it matters! For all I know, you're kidnapping me."

"Except you came willingly, love."

She frowned at my point of logic. "Special circumstances. It was a fight or flight situation."

I stopped at a red light. "Would you rather be in the back of a squad car right now? 'Cause I could turn around-"

"No. Don't be stupid. It's just…you're a stranger. A very strange stranger."

"Who brought a very nice bottle of champagne to celebrate your win-that-will-never-be tonight."

She looked around in the car. "You did?"

I took a turn for the coast. "I did."

The girl had yet to fasten her seatbelt. "Are you going to hurt me?" she asked.

"No." I pulled over to the curb and put the shifter in "park". "Let you in on a secret? I can't." I pinched her arm and grabbed my head as the instant migraine spread through my brain.

"What was that?"

"My leash," I replied through gritted teeth. "I get shocked if I try to cause pain to human beings. Happy?"

"That sounds so cruel. Who would do such a thing to a sentient being?"

Huh? I shook off the last of the pain. "Say what?"

"I don't know much about vampires, but I don't believe in punishment through pain. Even if you do deserve…that, there are better ways."

Was this girl for real? "This coming from an illegal cage fighter?"

"I'm not licensed, yeah, but I fight fair. Every opponent who steps in the ring with me knows what they're getting." She laid her hand on mine. "Can you get it reversed?"

I stared at that warm hand, still feminine and pretty despite the scars on her knuckles. Was this…compassion? No wonder humans were easy prey.

"I don't know. Requires a brain surgeon."

She took her hand back. "Oh."

I put the car back in drive and pulled back onto the road. Stick to the plan, mate.

Ramirez sat quietly, watching the street signs go by. Don't know why she didn't ask me to take her home. She surely had a home.

She sighed and reached for the radio. The dial spun past a Spanish station, talk, easy listening, and stopped on classic rock. My kind of girl. Too bad L.A. radio thought of "classic" as anything starting at ten years old.

"Nice coat," she said.

I smiled. My leather duster was a source of pride. "Thank you. Had it a long time."

"How long is long?"

"1977."

"Wow. It's older than me."

I winked at her. "Figured." Deciding she wasn't going to bolt, I relaxed a bit and dropped my right hand from the steering wheel. Patting my pockets, I found my smokes and took one out, then my lighter.

"Ew."

"What?" I asked, the cigarette between my teeth.

"Those things are gross. Some people have to breathe?"

"Roll down the window." I lit the cig and inhaled.

"Asshole," she muttered. She rolled down the window and leaned her arm on the sill.

The station finally played some British rock'n'roll and I hummed along. Hadn't felt this good in a year, minus that one day with the Gem. God, that thing would make the night about perfect. How hard could it be to get a sorcerer to make another one?

"It's Spike, right?"

"Yep."

"Would you mind pulling into a drive-though or something?"

"Did you bring cash?" I asked.

"Doesn't it look like I have any stashed on me?" she replied, gesturing to her skintight outfit.

I grinned. "Nope."

"What's your plan—drive all night and let me starve?"

"Nope."

"Ugh! You are the most infuriating-"

"Careful, pet. I could always drop you off with someone less likable than me."

"You said you can't hurt me."

"Can't do it myself. Have no problem watchin' somethin' else do it." I caught the arm she tried swinging at me. "Ah-ah…temper, temper, love."

"Bastard." Such fire in those chocolate eyes.

"Sticks and stone, baby. Look, I'm only askin' for a bit of company. Be a good girl, and you'll be just fine."

She folded her arms under her breasts and glared at me. "What kind of company?"

"What kind would you like to be?" I teased. She huffed and turned her face away, and I laughed.

Ramirez gave me the silent treatment cold shoulder routine all the way to Malibu. I parked at a bungalow motel.

"Coming?" I asked.

"Sure," she said. "I can use their phone."

"You can try." I grabbed the champagne and my duffle bag from the trunk and walked to the office to get a room.

The half-breed behind the counter gave me a warm smile. "Your key, Mr. Johnson."

"Thanks, mate."

Ramirez walked inside and I watched the mellowing spell take effect. Her eyes glazed over and she smiled at both of us. I offered her my arm and she took it without comment.

Said I wouldn't hurt her. Never said I wouldn't manipulate her.

The group of bungalows probably belonged to an artist colony or some such at one time, but now demons rented them for holidays of their own, usually with a live snack in tow. The half-breed at the desk never judged, just asked that we kept the maiming down to a dull roar so the neighbors wouldn't call the authorities. That said, they were lovely rooms with big beds and claw-foot tubs, and a quiet private beach.

I let my companion in our room and dropped my bag by the door. "How's a little bubbly and a bath sound?"

"Nice," she replied, running her fingers over the furnishings.

"Start the water, then, would you, pet?"

"Okay." She walked into the bathroom and did as I requested.

I could get used to this, I thought with a chuckle. Worse things in immortality than gorgeous and limber slaves.

I hung my coat on the hook next to the door, then found two glasses and popped the cork on the champagne. Ramirez walked out in a towel.

"One of those for me?" she asked.

"Yep." I handed her the glass, then said, "Don't let the tub overflow."

"Okay." She walked back into the bathroom. I heard the water shut off a second later.

The sparkling wine wasn't bad. I downed the glass, refilled it, and set it aside to strip off my boots. Once I was down to my jeans, I followed her.

She sat in the tub already, eyes closed and head leaned back against the rim.

"Started without me, eh?" I dropped my jeans to the floor. "Good?"

"Mm-hmm," she said. She didn't open her eyes until I sat across from her. "Hi."

"Hello." Her foot slid along my leg. I picked it up and started massaging the instep.

"Oh my god…" she moaned. She licked those perfect full, pink lips.

"Did you know the nerves in your feet are linked to your whole body?"

She shook her head. The theory was that the end of the big toe was linked to the head and the map for the rest of the body spread down to the edge of the heel. So, stimulating her lady parts was right…

Ramirez squirmed in the water, nearly arching her tits above the bubbles. Oh, yeah, this weekend was going to be fun.

"Feel good, love?"

"Uh-huh…"

Dru hated her feet touched. If I so much as brushed them accidentally, she'd kick me. Granted, that usually just turned me on, but…still. Everything had to be her way. Always her way. Nice to be in control for soddin' once.

"Spike…"

"Yes, pet?"

She opened her eyes. "Stop teasing and fuck me already."

Well. "All you had to do was ask, baby. Come here."

She waded across the tub onto my lap, her hands feeling for my body. She set her ass on my thighs and squeezed my prick with her hand.

Someone's not as tame as I thought.

All the better, really. Rather have a woman want me in truth than by magic.

I threaded my fingers into the hair at her nape. "Climb aboard, Grace, or we'll see how long you can hold your breath."

She stared into my eyes as she rose on her knees and positioned herself to sink down on my dick. She took her time, her head falling back as she reached halfway. The silky, hot feel of her quim made me want to surge the rest of the way in, but I held onto my control, tightening my grip on her hair instead. She hissed at the slight pain but didn't try to pull away.

"I don't go to bed with strange men," she said.

"We're not in a bed."

She laughed, the sound rich and throaty. "You know what I mean. Maybe I had too much champagne."

"One glass?" I teased.

"I'm a serious athlete. No alcohol, low sugar, low salt, clean food…" The lecture was adorable.

"Whatever you say. You gonna move, or do I have to drive?"

Ramirez squeezed her inner muscles. "So bossy." She started riding me.

When was the last time I had a human? Woodstock? I had some psychedelic memories of an orgy in a tent with Dru and a few flower children. Came close with the Slayer under that spell—shudder—but thank all that's unholy the chit was too much of a prude after Angelus to let me do more than cop a feel. After Dru and Brazil came Harmony, so…bloody hell.

Three decades.

What the hell was I thinking, denying myself the feel of pumping blood and delicious heat? Oh, yeah, I was in love. Gag me. Faithful to one bint for a hundred-twenty, and what does she do?

I fanged out, like I always did when I thought of that cheating bitch. Ramirez's eyes widened. I snapped my teeth at her nose, daring her to recoil from the demon.

Instead, she lifted her right hand to trace the ridges on my face, her expression void of anything but curiosity.

"Reminds me of a lion," she admitted.

"Pffft."

"Fine, mock me." She rolled her hips at the same time she squeezed those muscles again.

My eyes rolled back in their sockets. Who's in control, here? I growled at her.

"You sound like one, too," she insisted.

"I'm way bleedin' scarier than a cat."

"The cat's bigger."

"Mouthy little bitch, aren't you?"

The water was coming dangerously close to spillin' over the edge, now. She'd sped up in response to the growl, bouncin' on my lap like a pogo stick. Her breaths came in rapid pants and I could feel she was close.

Oh, no, you don't.

She was going to come when I said so and not before. I stood in the tub, my hands under her ass, and carried her to the bed. Laying her down, suds and all, I started pounding into her, my thrusts angled to avoid her clit.

"Spike…"

"Want somethin'?"

"I'm so close…"

"And?"

She glared at me. "Make me come, you dick."

"No." My balls began to tighten. Just need to stall her for thirty seconds.

"No? Who the hell do you think you-?"

"Beg."

"What?"

"Beg." Three, two, one—

She tried to shove me off before I came inside her, but she didn't have the leverage. I shot my load and sighed.

God, that felt good.

"Bastard. Get off of me."

I pressed her hands down to the mattress above her head. "Not done with you, yet."

"Too bad."

"Squirm all you want, baby. Only gonna make me harder."

"You are such an asshole!"

"And you like it." I held onto her wrists with one hand and snuck the other between us to rub her slit. "Look at how juicy you are." I licked my fingers. "Tasty, too."

"Pig."

"Oink, oink, love."

Thing was, I did know her body loved this. She was just pissed off I didn't take orders like the pussy-whipped humans she was used to.

I dipped my head to taste her firm bouncy tits.

She arched toward my mouth, holding her breath.

Baby wants to be touched.

I put one nipple between my teeth and let tension pull it out.

She bit her lip, bringing blood to the surface beneath her white teeth.

Little girl wants to be teased.

"Grace. Look at me. All you have to do is ask."

"I don't beg."

I chuckled at her naiveté. "Oh, you will if I want you to, love. Nothin' you can do about that."

"Have you always been this arrogant?"

"Since I can remember." No sense bringing up the William days, though even he carried his own brand of arrogance.

Her thighs were tightly wrapped around my hips to prevent me moving inside her, a futile attempt at denying my pleasure until I granted hers. She didn't know how patient I would be; couldn't know how much enjoyment I got just from teasing her. Or how acutely I felt every miniscule wiggle she couldn't help making. The human body wasn't capable of being that still until life no longer coursed through its veins.

God, this girl was a feast for the senses! My fangs longed to pierce her tender neck, my taste buds salivating at the promise of her hot, sweet blood. Damn this soddin' chip. Holding a real, young, human woman in my grasp made me so bleedin' hungry.

"Hey, Space Cadet." She patted my cheek.

I must have loosened my grip in my daydreaming. "Huh?"

"Do something or get off of me. I'm getting bored."

Bored? Bored? I hadn't bored a woman since the night I was sired!

I bit her throat and felt little more than a warning from the chip. She cried out and slid her legs higher, around my waist. The taste, the scent, the pounding of her heartbeat in my ears… Both of her hands free, she wrapped her arms around my shoulders, her nails digging into my back as I sucked her blood down my throat. He hips writhing beneath me; I soon felt the tightening of her quim around my prick to signal her climax.

"Don't stop, don't stop," she chanted.

No worries, there—only the Powers That Be could make that happen now.

She shuddered around me with a scream in my left ear. I angled my thrusts to prolong her orgasm, holding nothing back.

"Spi…I'm…dizzy…"

Almost over, love.

######

I sensed her waking when the full moon was high in the sky. I'd been watching it head toward the horizon, its silver light reflecting off the calm ocean.

"Did I fall asleep?" she asked.

"In a matter of speaking," I replied, and returned to the bed.

Ramirez looked around the dark room with gold eyes. "I think I'm hung-over. Everything's really loud."

I smiled at her innocence and caressed her hair. She nuzzled my hand. "Are you hungry?"

"Yeah. Starved."

I bit my wrist and offered her my blood. Her nose wiggled immediately, sniffing the air. She reached for my wrist, hesitantly, and brought it to her mouth, then licked the pooled blood. Moaning, she latched her lips over the wound and sucked on my skin. I felt the pull in my veins and wove my fingers in her hair, massaging her nape to show my approval.

Most beautiful fledge I'd ever created.

I tugged at her roots when she'd had enough. She released my wrist and looked up at me with trusting eyes, the bond between sire and childe solidified.

"Come, love, let's find you someone to eat."

She rose to her feet and smiled around her fangs. "I think I should get dressed first."

My eyes trailed down her naked body. "True," I sighed. "Though such a waste." I went to my bag and retrieved something for her. "Here."

She held up the black silk. "You had a dress for me before the fight last night?"

I shrugged. "What can I say? I'm an optimist. Slip it on. Pretty sure it'll fit."

She pulled the dress over her head and let the length slide down her body, positioning the tiny straps on her shoulders. The hem stopped about an inch above her knees.

"Gorgeous."

Looking down at herself, she said, "It's a nightgown."

"I did not snag it from the lingerie department."

"Well, it looks like a nightgown."

"Sweetheart, that's the point. No prey will be able to resist you."

She looked back up at me. "I didn't ask for this."

I knew she didn't mean the dress. I wrapped my arms around her waist to hold her. "I know. Call me impulsive. Do you have family, someone waiting at home?"

She glanced away. "No."

"You live a long time; you get an instinct about people. I saw you and knew you were meant for something greater, something glorious. How do you feel?"

"Strong. Powerful." Her brows furrowed in the middle. "Unburdened."

I stroked her smooth human face. The ridges had slipped away without her realizing it. She sighed at my touch.

"That's what this means, love. Freedom awaits you. You can do anything you want, go anywhere you can think of."

She wrapped her arms around my neck. "Any plans in mind?"

"A few." I kissed her straight little nose. "Ever heard of Sunnydale, California?"

The End.