**Part Nine**

January 2004

"Oh, hey, check it out. Some big wig must be meeting with the powers that be," Tiny said with a nod toward the stretch limo parked outside of Topline's office.

"I guess," Buffy said.

She and Tiny had just finished their session with the trainers to be sure that they kept up to Topline's physical fitness standards. The follow-up sessions weren't as difficult as the initial process was, but she'd known a couple of people who'd lost their jobs for failing the follow-up exams.

"What's on your agenda for the night?"

"The usual. Home. Dinner."

"Time with the man."

"That, too."

"Things going well there?"

Buffy shrugged. "As well as can be expected."

"Any word from the big guy?"

Buffy smiled. Tiny couldn't bring himself to say Matty's father's name. It was like he thought it would bring him bad luck or something.


"So, no gifts?"

"No, maybe he forgot."

"I doubt that."


"Mrs. Demaret."

Buffy glanced at the guy dressed in a suit. No one called her that except Matty's people.

"Yes. Is Matty all right?"

"Yes, ma'am. I've been instructed to pick you up from work today."

"I'm sorry. My car's right outside. And who are you?"

"You can call your husband to confirm, ma'am. I'm Walter."

"Okay, Walter, I'll just do that." Tiny was at attention Buffy noticed as she pulled out her cell phone to call Matty.

"Matty Demaret's office, may I help you?"

"Hi, Amanda, this is Buffy Demaret. Is he in?"

"Just a moment, let me check."

Buffy rolled her eyes. Like Amanda didn't know. She knew when Matty went to the bathroom.

His voice came on the phone. He sounded harried.

"Hey, babe, what's up?"

"I've got a Walter here. He says he's supposed to pick me up."

"Oh, yeah, please."

"Mind telling me what this is about?"

"I can't right now."

"Okay," she said, followed by a pause. "Is everything all right?"

"Yes. I'll see you in a little while. Just do as Walter asks. Okay?"

"Do as he asks? What's he going to ask me to do, Matty?"

"So suspicious."

"That's what I'm paid for."

"And it seems I have to keep reminding you, I'm not your client."

"Yeah, yeah. So, go with him. Do as he says. Anything else?"

"Anticipate seeing me?"

"Now that's an easy one to do." She smiled widely, ducking her head. Not before spotting Tiny shaking his head at her. She was busted. She was so into him it was scary. And there was nothing she could do to deny it or hide it anymore.

"See you in a bit."


"Oh, Mrs. Demaret," Tiny said in a fake snooty voice.

"Shut up, Tiny. Okay, Walter. I'm supposed to go with you and do as you ask."

If Walter had teeth, Buffy hadn't seen them yet. At least none evidenced by the fact he smiled, because he didn't smile.

"Let me see some ID," Tiny said, stepping between Buffy and Walter.

"Tiny, it's okay. Matty said he's fine."

"How do we know he's Walter?"

"Oh," Buffy said. Duh!

The man pulled out his driver's license. Sure enough, his name was Walter and the picture matched.

"Good enough for me. Good enough for you, Tiny?"

"I guess it has to be. Enjoy whatever you're doing."

"I'll try." Buffy waved as Tiny went toward where employees parked as she followed Walter.

"Where are we going?"

"I'm not supposed to tell you that."


He held the limo's door open for her and she got in. She'd never been in one before. Not this big. She'd been in one for her mom's funeral. This was nice. Super nice.

"There's something for you to put on over there."

"You want me to change in the car?"

"Yes, ma'am. The divider will be in place."

"All right," she said with a frown.

"There's champagne chilled if you'd like some."

"No, but thanks."

He shut the door. Buffy went to the garment bag, saw a note pinned to it. She guessed she was supposed to read it, though Walter didn't mention it. She took the note off the bag and opened it.

Put this on. See you soon. Relax and enjoy.

"Enjoy? Enjoy what?" The car started moving after Walter did as he said and put the divider up. She unzipped the garment bag and gasped. It was beautiful. She'd had her prom dress, but this was. Well, it made her prom dress look like child's play. She noticed there was a shoebox and presumed it had shoes.

It took some finagling in a moving vehicle, but she managed to dress herself. She was thankful that she'd showered after her session. Sometimes she didn't. At least she wouldn't be a smelly fairy princess. And that's what she felt like as she slid into the shoes. There were even gloves! The dress was low cut and she debated about taking off her necklace. Out at night, though, and with no weapons on her she decided against it. The cross Angel gave her years ago had saved her life at least once.

Once she was dressed she decided to go ahead and have a glass of champagne since Walter didn't seem to be turning off the highway anytime soon. She sat in the back of the limousine, sipping the champagne and watched the scenery as they passed it. She wondered what the passengers in the cars they passed thought.

Eventually, they stopped. She waited, not sure if she was supposed to get out. Walter opened the door for her and offered her a hand in getting out. Dressed as she was, she gladly accepted it.

"Thanks for the ride, Walter."

"My pleasure, Mrs. Demaret."

"So, where am I? What am I doing here?"

Walter cocked his head and, just like that, Matty appeared. One minute he wasn't there, the next he was in front of her offering her his arm. He was dressed formally in a tuxedo. She took his offered arm, thinking he looked better than any man she could remember tonight.

"Where are we?"

They were at a marina. She'd guessed that much. She just didn't know what they were doing there.

He didn't respond, merely continued walking along the pier.

"Okay then. Why are we here?"

"Can't you just enjoy something?"

"Well, yeah," she said and decided to be quiet.

He led her to a boat. Well, boat was being conservative. Her mouth almost dropped when he handed her onboard.


"It's not mine. A friend is letting us borrow it for the night."

She turned around, taking it all in. There were candles and roses everywhere.

"For the? Why? You weren't at your office when I called were you?"

"Mm, you caught me."

"That's why Amanda was so evasive."

"Could be she just wasn't sure she'd get me on my cell."


He walked with her to the galley where soft music was playing from somewhere. The table was set with what looked like real china, silver and crystal. Way more expensive than what she'd eat with on a boat. Rose petals were strewn over the tablecloth. The air was heavy with the scent of them. It was a nice smell. To go with a nice scene.

"Matty, this is. Amazing. Beautiful. But that doesn't begin to describe it. Why?"

"Well, someone let it slip that it was your birthday."


He laughed lightly. "Your sister."

"You talk to my sister?"

"Yeah, she's called a few times when you were at work and we talked."

"Oh. And she told you, huh?"


"Well, but why?"

"I wanted to do something special for you. She mentioned you haven't had real good luck with birthdays until now."

"No, I really haven't."

"Luck is shining on you tonight then."

"I think she is. Thank you. This is."

"You forgot something, though."

"I don't think so."

He lifted his hand from the table. She couldn't see what he did but the hand reappeared a moment later with what was obviously a jeweler's box.

"Matty." She felt the tears in her eyes start even before she opened the box. "Pearls." It was a necklace and earrings. "They're beautiful."

"I've heard that every bride deserves pearls for their wedding. I wasn't able to go with that tradition, so I figured your first birthday with me could suffice."

She took the necklace out of the box, admiring it. "Put it on me?"

"Happy to," he said and stood. It took him a minute to get the clasp. "I don't have a mirror for you to look at."

"That's okay, I'll look later." She took the earrings out and put them in. "It's all so beautiful. Thank you."

"Are you hungry?"

She swiped at her hand with a gloved fingertip and laughed. "You want me to eat now?"

"If you're hungry. It can wait if you're not."

"There's food?"

"Yes. Plenty. Should get us through until tomorrow anyway."


"We're staying here tonight."

"Oh. Is there anyone else here?"

"Just someone above navigating."

"So, it's just us?"


"I like that!"

"I thought you might. That's actually how the idea started. I was just going to give you a night away from the house. I know you don't like it."

"I'm getting used to it."

"Believe me, I've been there for close to two years and I'm still not used to it."

"I know."

"So, if you're not hungry. Would you like to dance?"


"Why not? There's music, we're here."

He offered her his hand, which she took and stood. She went into his arms. The space was pretty small, but the music was slow enough that they didn't need much.

"How did you know what to get me? The sizes and everything are perfect."

"Your sister helped a little. And Maria."

"I'll have to thank her."

"She'd appreciate that. She was a little nervous when I asked her to look through your things."

"I bet."

"Did I get it all right?"

"Yup, everything fits. Good thing I didn't gain any weight, or the dress would be too small."

"It looks perfect on you." He tugged her closer, resting his palm against her bare back. "It feels nice, too."

"That's not the dress."

"It's not?" He brushed her lips ever so lightly with his.

"Mm, nope," she murmured.

"Hmm, well, I'd better make sure."

He leaned in to kiss her again, Buffy met him half way. They continued slowly moving to the music, though she wasn't sure they were dancing to it or their own music at the moment. It didn't really matter.

"That's not the dress either," she murmured when he drew away.

"Man, I'm really bad at this, aren't I?"

"Terrible," she said, tugging him to her for another kiss. She'd been very careful not to lead him on or be overly suggestive since the day in his office. She'd stepped over the line they'd been toeing, and thankfully he hadn't pushed her into doing so again.

Tonight, though, as she realized what he'd done for her – and it was for her. He had no ulterior motives. She knew he just wanted to give her a happy birthday. Tonight, she wasn't so concerned about lines. In fact, she thought lines were kind of ridiculous.

Her kisses became more urgent, demanding and she pressed against him. She still wasn't sure if she loved him, but she knew she liked him a lot and that unless something bizarre happened in the next nine months she wouldn't be leaving. She didn't want to leave. It had nothing to do with his house, his father, or anything like that. She just liked Matty. This man she'd met one night in Vegas had managed to get her to drop the armor around her heart and let him in.

She slid a hand down from his neck, along his chest, lower to his abdomen and the front of his pants. She squeezed, groaning into the kiss when she felt his bulge pulse beneath her palm. He bit her tongue playfully and she giggled softly when he stroked the same spot with his tongue as if soothing the bite.

"Buffy," he murmured as she continued stroking him through his pants.

She lifted her hand, meeting her other one at his bow tie. She unhooked it, glad it was that kind and not the kind that actually tied. She groaned softly, deepening the kiss as she worked the buttons on his shirt.

He drew away and she whimpered softly in protest. He took a deep breath and tipped her face so their eyes met.

"How much of that champagne did you have?"

"Not even a full glass."

"You sure?"

"Positive. I'm not drunk, Matty."

"I didn't do this for that."

"I know, and that's why I'm ready to."

He groaned softly. "I can't tell you how many times I've dreamt of you finally saying that."

"Oh, I have an idea."

"I bet," he murmured before kissing her again.

The dress was strapless and almost completely backless with a zipper at the side. He was lucky she had the figure to pull off wearing a dress like this. Much bigger in the chest area and it would have been iffy. When he slid one hand from her face, along her neck and collarbone she felt incredibly naked just then. All of that skin there for him to touch.

He didn't seem to be in any sort of hurry, which just reassured her that this was right. He broke their kiss, his mouth following his hand, making a slow descent along her neck, over her collarbone, lower still to the tops of her breasts.

She groaned, running her fingers through his hair in an attempt to draw his mouth closer as he darted his tongue along the side of her breast. It had been a while, even longer without depression and anger mixed in. She wasn't even sure she knew how to really make love anymore.

His hand found the zipper at her side. She was about to find out if she could, she realized as he slid the zipper down. The dress stayed up only because he held it in place with his arm. His mouth found hers again as one hand slid under the dress, behind her to her back, cupping her bottom. She pressed against him, working the buttons on his shirt again until it was completely open.

He lifted her into his arms and carried her through the galley. Vaguely, she was aware of the luxurious room. She'd always wondered what rooms on a boat looked like. When she caught a glimpse of his bare chest, though, with just a hint of hair thoughts of what the room looked like faded. She'd never been a big fan of chest hair, but a little was fine. And his was a nice chest. They had an exercise room at the house, which he used often. And it showed. She supposed a sports agent had to keep fit to some degree.

He set her down, letting her dress fall to her feet. He, or more probably Maria, had even thought of a matching bra and panties. It was a good thing, too, because she hadn't worn anything worthy of a formal gown today.

She reached for him, intent on helping him get rid of his shirt but he stopped her. Her eyes met his, uncertain.

"Just let me look at you for a minute."

"Okay," she said. Now she felt self-conscious.

"I'm sorry. It's just. I went to bed that night assuming I'd see you in the morning so I didn't stare like I wanted to. So, now I want to be sure I memorize what you look like."

"You'll see me again, Matty."

"I know. I just want to really look at you this time. And I'm definitely going to see that tattoo up close and personal."

"If you stand there and keep talking you're not."

"Hmm, I suppose you have a point."

He let her resume what she had been trying to do before. He helped take his shirt off while she kept her hands busy unfastening his pants.

"Such a waste getting all dressed up," she murmured as she slid her hand inside his waistband.

"We'll put them back on."

"In the morning."

"Not even to eat."

"Is the guy steering this thing going to come down?"

"Not a chance."

"Then I say who cares what we wear while we eat."

"I like your plan, Mrs. Demaret."

"Me, too."


Buffy woke the next morning. She kind of had a feeling of déjà vu, waking up in a strange bed. Only this time, she wasn't surprised to see Matty there sleeping beside her. They had eventually gotten around to eating, on the floor in the galley they used their fingers and fed one another. It was messy, but fun. And sexy as hell in a way.

She leaned up, her intention to watch him sleep. Only this time, he was the one who had been watching her.

"Good morning," she said, leaning in to kiss him.


"How long have you been awake?"

"Not too long. Long enough to memorize the outline of your tattoo."

"That's what I felt!"


"It's okay. I'm teasing."

"How did you sleep?"

"Good. A little weird being on the water. You?"

"Same here. We're back, by the way. My car should be out there already, so we can leave whenever we want. We have the boat all day, though."

"Really?" She kissed him again, smiling. "I like the thought of that."

"I thought you might," he said, drawing her on top of him. Their eyes met as they joined once again. There had been no pain, no anger, no frustration involved in their lovemaking last night. Only good, old fashioned sex. She slid him inside of her, glad to know she did know how to make love.

"God, you're amazing," he whispered. His hands were tracing patterns up and down her back, waist, and hips. Gentle, loving, and it was all for her. She knew then she'd have to tell him her secret. There was no way she was going to walk away from him. Not now, not after sharing this with him.

She rolled off him, using her slayer strength to pull him on top of her. "Love me, Matty," she whispered.

"My pleasure," he quipped sinking into her once again.

"Pleasure's definitely mine," she cried out when he hit a really good spot.

The day was a leisurely one. And very pleasurable for Buffy, even when they weren't in bed. She couldn't remember the last time she'd had a day to just be. Years maybe. Matty had surprised her by having extra, more casual clothes for both of them to wear for the ride home.

"You thought of everything, didn't you?"

"I tried to."

"Shouldn't we, like, clean up?"

"Maria's coming out to do that."

"Oh," she said simply. She felt a little bad about that.

"Buffy, she offered. I know it goes beyond her normal job."


"She's been kind of nervous about us I think, so she wanted to help. She likes you."

"I like her, too. She's very nice, and she's so willing to teach me stuff."

"Yes, and she wanted to do what she could to be sure you stick around."

"Well, I think I'm sticking. So, she got her wish."

"My wish, too," he whispered, kissing her.


"Oh, hey, I almost forgot, I was supposed to give this to you over dinner." He handed her an envelope.

"What's this?"

"I don't know. It's from Pop. He sent it overnight to my office. I guess to be sure you got it."

"Oh God, Matty."

"Just open it."

It wasn't a very thick envelope, so it couldn't be anything truly hideous. Could it?

"Oh, Buffy, come on. Do you want me to do it?"

"No, no, I just."

"I know. Maybe it's just a birthday present. I told him it was your birthday."

"Okay. So, a card then. Right?"

"I don't know. The only way you're going to find out is if you open it."

Buffy wasn't prone to fainting or anything, but when she opened the envelope and saw a check for a huge sum of money slide out of the card she almost did. She read the card, blinked, glanced at the check and then read the card again.

"He's, Matty."

"What? What did he do? Buffy, if it's that terrible, send it back."

"No, no. Matty, he's paying for me to go to school."

Their conversation in her office came back to her. It made a little more sense then. He was feeling her out, seeing what would constitute an appropriate and useful gift to her. Well, that and threatening her with bodily harm.

"Well, that's great! That means you don't have to work so hard."

"Matty, I can't accept this."

"Buffy, come on." He took the card from her and read it. "He's right, you know?"


"This day and age, kids need to know that college really is important."

"Matty, we don't have any kids."

"Not yet. I'd like to one day. Wouldn't you? Do you want them to see that you quit school and never went back."

"I quit for a very good reason."

He took her into his arms. "I know you did, babe, I'm not saying otherwise. I'm just saying, wouldn't you like to finish what you started."

"Well, yeah." She'd never thought finishing college was important to her. She didn't think she'd live long enough for it to matter. With hundreds of other slayers, though, she supposed her lifespan just got ramped up by a few decades.

"Buffy, take it. You can not work if you don't want to while you're going to school. Only work weekends, breaks. Hell, you could quit and I could get you work with my clients locally when you can."

"It doesn't start until the fall, so we have time to work it out."

"You'll do it? Take it?"

"Yeah, you're right. Even if we don't have kids. I want Dawn to see that I can do it."

He kissed her before releasing her from his arms. "That's more like it."

In theory, it sounded like a great idea. Things didn't always go the way they should, though, in Buffy's life. It was the standard for her rather than the unusual. It was nice to think about, though. College, all expenses paid. The check Benny sent had to more than cover it all, even at a pricey college like UCLA.

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