"Once upon a time, there were three little girls who went to Sunnydale High School-"
"Little girls? Is that a crack about my height, cause I will so kick your British butt."
"And hello?! Patronizing much, Giles?"
"I didn't really go to the school, I just hung out there a lot."
"Good point, Anya."
"Thank you, Buffy."
"Yes, well, be that as it may...I took them away from all that, and now they work for me."
"You didn't 'take us away from all that'-we graduated."
"You tell him, Willow. And we do not work for you!"
"I just stopped by to resign."
"Resign? As in leaving...forever?"
"That would be the classic meaning of the word 'resign,' Willow...and you don't have to look so happy about it!"
"If I may continue?"
"Sorry, Giles...please continue your bizarre monologue."
"Thank you. My name is Giles."
"Yeah, we know," Buffy huffed, looking around the apartment. "Who are you talking to anyway?"
"Why are you hiding?" Willow asked in the direction of the voice.
"Are you naked?"
"Certainly not, Anya! I'm...looking for my tea cozy." The item in question was held aloft over the lip of the kitchen counter, to a chorus of 'ahh,' 'ohh,' and 'is that what that thing is?'
Buffy flopped back down on the couch. "Not that we don't all love your stereotypical obsession with all things tea, Giles, but did you ask us to come by for a reason?"
"You know, I don't appreciate your sarcasm, Buffy. And yes, I asked you to come round to discuss Anya's replacement, as she's apparently decided to go back to work for her former employer," Giles bristled.
"Oooh, Desmond Hoffryn is hiring?" Willow asked, belatedly cringing as Giles cleared his throat. "Not that I would accept an offer from him...a really, really good offer thaaaat...he never made 'cause why would I be talking to him in the first place?"
Willow stepped into the kitchen in full 'still-love-me?-puppy-dog-face,' but Giles was nowhere to be seen. She shrugged and opened a cabinet to retrieve several glasses.
"It's bad enough I have to find one new Angel-" Giles called from the bathroom.
"Oh, but I've already taken care of it!" Anya interjected. "In fact, Xandersley should be here any minute with her."
The door opened at that moment, and a harried Xandersley stumbled in, clumsily juggling two suitcases and a golf bag.
"It's okay! I got it!" he insisted, calling out over his shoulder. As he set down the cases, the golf bag swung over his side, smashing the faux-Tiffany lamp on Giles' desk. "Oops."
"Not again," Giles' voice muttered.
"Angels, I'd like you to meet my sister," Anya announced, indicating the blonde standing in the doorway in maroon bell-bottoms and a scoop necked navy blue t-shirt. "Tara Munroe. Tara, this is Buffy Garrett, our martial arts expert."
Buffy waved from the couch and smiled.
"You've already met Xandersley, our master of disguise. Giles is around here somewhere."
"Hello!" A disembodied voice called.
"And that's Willow Duncan in the kitchen."
Tara turned in the direction indicated and locked eyes on the slender redhead, dressed smartly in a white silk shirt, the top three buttons opened to reveal a gold chain glimmering against her freckled skin.
"H-hi," Tara stammered, walking between the two bar stools and extending her hand across the counter.
Willow's eyes widened as the blonde approached, and with a panicked glance she looked at her own right hand, which held a bottle of tonic water, and her left, which gripped a fifth of vodka. She hastily set the bottles on the counter and wiped her hands on her grey slacks. Her fingers slid across the blonde's warm palm and she opened her mouth to say "nice to meet you." She frowned at the gravelly husk of her voice. 'Geez, I sound like I've been smoking a pack a day for twenty years.' She cleared her throat. "Can I get you a drink?"
"No thanks," Tara replied, as she hopped onto a stool and watched the redhead fill two highball glasses with ice. "So what's your area of expertise?"
Willow perked up at the question, her left hand gesturing animatedly while her right continued making the drinks. "I'm research gal. You name it: computers, chemistry, physics-"
"Biology?" Tara asked with a sly grin.
"Oh sure," Willow replied, seemingly oblivious to the innuendo. "We had a case last year where someone accused the local swimming coach of turning his team into fish-monsters." She paused to put the bottles away and exit the kitchen, passing one glass to Buffy before joining Tara at the counter. "Turns out one of the boys just had ichthyosis lammellaris, and the accuser was a rival coach who was tired of his team losing. Unfortunately, the boy was so traumatized he and his family left town."
Tara's eyebrows rose above her wide eyes.
"So you're the smart one," she concluded.
Willow blushed and took a sip of her drink, nodding slightly. She waited for the mocking to ensue.
"Cool," Tara assessed, smiling widely when Willow looked up in surprise.
"Are you sure you're related to Anya?" the redhead blurted out.
"Hey!" Anya protested, smacking Xandersley on the arm to move out of her way. She shook her perfectly feathered hair and placed her hands on her hips. "There's no need to get snippy, just because you're the nerd and I'm the pretty one!"
"What?!," Buffy protested, rising from the couch. "I'm the pretty one...you're the slutty one!"
"HA! Everyone knows I'm the pretty one! You're the...sporty one," Anya snorted dismissively.
Willow and Tara watched the exchange in amusement for a moment, but when it showed no sign of stopping anytime soon, they turned back to each other.
"So, you and Anya?" Willow prompted.
"Half sisters," Tara admitted. "Our father was a traveling preacher. Before he got arrested, he'd married four women that we know of. They formed kind of a support group...that's how I met Anya."
"Wow. Do you have other siblings?"
"The only other one I've met was a half brother, Donny. He's kind of an ass, so I stopped trying to find any others."
"Sounds like Anya," Willow grumbled.
"She's okay," Tara said. "Her mom was our dad's original wife, and I think she was the most bitter about it. Anya had to grow up listening to how all men are evil, and I think it made it hard for her to trust people, but she's really a good person at heart."
The pair turned in unison to look at Anya and Buffy, who each had two fistfuls of the other's hair and were frozen in a deadlock.
"She keeps it well hidden," Tara added.
The sharp clang of the doorbell startled everyone, and Anya twisted out of Buffy grip.
"I'll get it, since I'm leaving," she growled. She picked up her purse and gave Tara a quick hug. "Say hi to your mom from me. Oh, and this is for you," she added, tossing an object over her shoulder as she stepped toward the door.
Tara caught it deftly and looked down at her palm. A wide grin spread across her face.
Buffy bent over double and stood upright quickly, her hair whipping up and falling into perfect place over her shoulders. Willow rolled her eyes and leaned close to Tara.
"For the record, I think you're the pretty one," she whispered.
Before Tara could respond, Willow was already moving to the door to usher their guests in, and the blonde settled for gazing wistfully at her back, a lazy smile spreading across her face.
A man and young woman stood in the doorway as Anya brushed past, the clicking of her heels on the courtyard stones fading away. Willow turned to their guests.
"Can I help you?"
The man's lips curled into a cold smile, and he walked past the redhead without a second glance, continuing to talk into a cell phone. A diamond studded gold pinky ring sparkled on his manicured hand.
"Yes, we've just arrived," he spoke into the mouthpiece. His voice was deep, his accent British. "I'll let you know."
He flipped the phone shut and slipped it into the breast pocket of his Armani suit jacket. "I believe you're expecting us," he stated, looking over each woman in turn, all of whom looked back in confusion. "My name is Ethan Rayne, and this is-"
"Cecile Orso Della Veccia!" Tara exclaimed.
Willow looked curiously at Tara, who stared at the young woman in the doorway.
"I was in Palm Springs when you won the amateur championship! That shot you made out of the water was...amazing."
Willow frowned at the star-struck reverence in Tara's voice and sized up the brunette. She was of average height, with brown eyes, and brown hair pulled up in a loose ponytail. With her glasses, she could almost be mistaken for a librarian, but her bronzed skin and toned arms and legs-well displayed by her white halter top and matching shorts-clearly screamed 'athlete.' Willow crossed her skinny arms over her skinnier chest and pouted.
"Thanks," Cecile replied, smiling. "Do you play?"
"Oh well, a little...but I'm not very good," Tara demurred, dropping her head so that her hair curtained her face.
"Hey, it's all about having fun," Cecile stated warmly. "That's what matters."
Rayne scoffed. "Really, Cecile, you could try to take it seriously."
Cecile reached into her handbag and pulled out a folded piece of paper, which she brandished in the man's face. "I'm taking this seriously, Ethan."
"I know," he answered, his voice gushing concern. "That's why we're here."
"How can we help you, Mister Rayne?" Giles said, his voice carrying down the stairway.
Tara looked up in surprise, her eyebrows knitting as she glanced from the loft to the back hall, to the loft again. "How did he-"
"Don't ask," Willow whispered.
"It's a thing," Buffy shrugged.
"I am Cecile's manager, and as you may know, she is scheduled to play in the tournament here this weekend. She started receiving phone calls last week, suggesting she should stay away. I wanted to inform the police, but she insisted it was just some crank." He took the paper from Cecile's hand and passed it to Xandersley. "Yesterday that was slipped under her door at the hotel."
The Angels gathered around Xandersley and read 'QUIT THE TOUR OR DIE!' typed in the middle of the plain white sheet.
"Why not go to the police now?" Giles queried, after Xandersley read the threat aloud.
"We were going to," Rayne explained, "but first I asked the tournament organizer if she'd heard of any threats to other players. She said she hadn't, but that one or two had dropped out recently, with only vague excuses. She was understandably worried about bad publicity, and it was she who suggested we contact you. She claims Angel Investigations is the best."
There was a pregnant pause, and Willow and Xandersley covertly eyed Buffy, who gritted her teeth.
"They left town," she growled.
"We're Giles' Angels," Xandersley said. "Well, not me...an Angel, though I guess I'm Giles'."
"Do shut up, Xandersley," an arch voice snipped from upstairs.
"Well, this is most embarrassing," Rayne said. "So sorry to have bothered you. We'll just-"
"No, Ethan, I want them!" Cecile insisted, blushing as all eyes turned at her outburst. "I mean, we're already here...right?"
"Of course, Miss Orso Della Veccia," Willow said in her most professional manner. "We'll get to the bottom of this."
"Please, call me Cecile," the young woman insisted, winking at the redhead.
Willow nodded bashfully. Tara narrowed her eyes.
"Well then," Giles' voice stated. "Tell us everything that's happened."
An hour later, Buffy showed their clients out while Willow booted up her computer. Tara retrieved a slide projector from Giles' closet and placed it on the sturdy desk while Xandersley struggled to set up the screen. Buffy found the packet of slides in the envelope Rayne had provided and handed them to Tara, who slid each one into the slide carriage. Once everything was ready, Xandersley turned out the lights and took his seat on the couch next to Buffy. Tara looked from the empty space on the couch to where Willow was seated in the lone chair, still typing on her laptop. She casually folded her arms on the back of the chair and leaned forward.
"Movie time," she whispered.
The redhead jumped and swiveled her head to see Tara grinning down at her. The blonde nodded toward the screen, and Willow turned back in a flustered haze to see the first slide appear. Giles narrated from the darkness behind the projector.
"Our client, Cecile Orso Della Veccia."
The slide showed a laughing Cecile hoisting aloft a trophy and holding an oversized check for $25,000 made payable to the 'Orphaned Kittens and Puppies Welfare Society.'
"Why isn't the check made out to her?" Buffy questioned.
"Oh, it's because she's still classified as an amateur," Tara replied. "She can play in pro tourneys, but any winnings over expenses have to go to charity."
"Not to sound all Anya, but why doesn't she turn pro?" Willow asked.
"From what I've heard, she doesn't care about the money; she just wants to play," Tara continued. "She's turned down a number of endorsements: Subaru, Birkenstock, Olivia Cruise Lines."
"Yes, and I don't think her manager is entirely happy about it," Giles said, clicking to the next slide, which showed Ethan Rayne getting out of a limousine.
"I don't trust that guy," Buffy stated.
"Indeed," Giles responded cryptically. "Xandersley, I think you should keep an eye on Mister Rayne this weekend."
"But he's seen me...shouldn't you-"
"No, I think you can handle it. You'll need a disguise, naturally."
"Oooh!" Xandersley gushed. "I could break out my army uniform...or my Bond suit...swim trunks?"
His suggestions were all met with the same amused expressions, and Xandersley looked blankly at each Angel until the next slide appeared.
"The Catherine Madison Memorial Pro-Am Miniature Golf Tournament Weekend, from Sunnydale, California," Giles intoned, reading off the banner strung across the Sunnydale Resort Hotel.
"Hey, wait! Isn't that a big lesbopalooza?" Xandersley asked, not liking where this was going.
Buffy paled, her wide eyes darting to Willow for confirmation. The redhead smirked and shrugged.
"It's not all lesbian," Tara assured, stifling her laughter at Buffy's visible relief. "But it has gotten that reputation. The only men allowed are managers and hotel staff. All the event staff are women."
"Great! I can be a...a...busboy!"
"Xandersley, you can't exactly follow Rayne if you're waiting tables."
"We get to play girly dress-up with Xandersley!" Buffy squealed.
"Giles!" Xandersley whined.
"Our prime suspect," Giles said, ignoring the outbursts. The photograph had captured the lean brunette in black crop-top, black shorts, and black wristbands in the act of licking an enormous gold cup.
"Faith Lehane, number one on the tour for the past three years, undefeated this season, and our prime suspect. She has the most to lose, and several sportswriters have suggested that our client stands a good chance of breaking Miss Lehane's win streak. Buffy, I've arranged for you to enter the tournament as an unseeded Swedish pro, and you've been assigned to stay in Miss Lehane's suite."
"What?! I'm not rooming with that cleavagey slut-bomb! Why can't Will?"
"Willow and Tara will be protecting Miss Orso Della Veccia. They will be staying in the suite adjoining hers."
'Woohoo!' two brains rejoiced as one.
Giles advanced the slide, then rapidly ducked under the desk as bright light filled the room.
"I, err, suppose that was it for the slides," he said.
"Giles, go back to the last one," Willow ordered, pushing out of the chair to stand by the projector screen. When the previous slide reappeared, she pointed to a young woman standing off to the side, half hidden behind the well-loved loving cup, which she was eyeing jealously. "Who's that?"
Giles peered over the desk. "Amy Madison, the daughter of the tournament founder, and a moderately talented putter in her own right. She turned pro several years ago, but has yet to make a name for herself beyond her famous surname."
"Her mom was a phenomenon," Tara said appreciatively. "They called her Catherine the Great. She once scored seventy-two hole-in-ones in a row. Some of the other players were reduced to tears."
"Anyone who would hold a grudge against the tournament?" Willow asked, returning to perch on the arm of her chair. "Maybe it's not about Cecile. Didn't Ethan say several others had dropped out? Maybe someone wants the tournament to fail."
"Excellent thought, Willow. I'll look into it, but the rest of you should get moving. Check in with me this evening."
Willow rose at the dismissal and noticed Tara looking at her, one side of her mouth curled into a grin. "What?"
Tara leaned close to Willow's ear. "For the record, smart is very sexy."
Later that morning, Tara pulled to a stop in the underground guests' parking garage at Sunnydale Resort Hotel. She shut off the ignition and climbed out of the car, pocketing the key in her baby blue satin warm-up jacket. She popped the trunk and was hefting her bags out when an orange Ford Focus edged slowly into the space next to her.
Willow shut her door and ran a hand through her short red hair. She took a moment to enjoy the sight of Tara leaning into the trunk of her car trying to un-wedge the golf bag from the cramped space.
"Need a hand?" she huskily rasped, again clearing her throat and making a mental note to buy some lozenges as soon as possible. She cringed upon belatedly realizing she'd startled the blonde, who stood up sharply, banging her head on the trunk door.
"OW!" Tara exclaimed, reaching up to rub the sore spot.
"Oh, I'm sorry!" Willow gushed, raising her own hand to Tara's head. "Are you okay, is it bleeding? You might have a concussion-what day is it? Come on, I'll take you to the hospital!"
Willow half dragged Tara to her car and was fumbling to retrieve her keys when Tara's giggles stopped her cold.
"Oh no, you're going into hysterics...this is bad, very bad."
"Willow, I'm fine," Tara stated, meeting Willow's concerned gaze evenly. "Just a bump, I'm not used to driving a car this short."
"Well, if you're sure," the redhead acquiesced. She looked down at her hand, still curled around Tara's forearm, and quickly removed it, covering up the sudden motion by pointing at the car.
"I can't believe Anya gave it to you."
Tara followed Willow's gaze to the white Audi TT coupe emblazoned with twin royal blue racing strips across the hood, over the roof, and trailing down the trunk.
"I know! Hoffryn must have offered her the roadster, or she never would have parted with this baby. It's so-" Tara looked back at Willow, noticing for the first time what the redhead was wearing: a dark green jumpsuit that hugged her in all the right places, the front zipper opened almost dangerously low. "-zippery. I mean...um...zippy."
Willow noted the slight blush creeping up Tara's neck and winked. "So you like it fast?" she teased.
Tara recovered from her momentary embarrassment and grinned. "Fast...slow...as long as it handles well."
Willow watched Tara's fingers tracing the arch of the rear bumper and her eyes drifted up to the swell of Tara's chest. "Nice curves."
"Mmmm," Tara purred, "she is beautiful, though it's what's under the hood that counts."
"Maybe you can show me sometime," Willow said.
"Only if you show me yours," Tara countered playfully.
Willow blinked first and turned to snatch her suitcase from her trunk. Tara laughed silently and picked up her own bags before following Willow to the elevator.
Buffy was dreading the next few days as she followed the porter down the mauve-carpeted hallway to her room.
Why do I have to be Swedish? I don't speak Swedish. I'm going to look like an idiot.
"Here we are, Miss Garret, room 314," the man beamed, unlocking the door with a key card and gesturing her inside.
"Ja, ja...danke," Buffy replied, rolling her eyes at herself and letting out a relieved sigh at finding the suite's spacious living room empty. The porter dragged her bags into one of the two bedrooms and departed with a smile, staring at the large bill in his hand.
Buffy looked around the main room, which was tastefully appointed with several overstuffed loveseats in white chintz, surrounding a low glass coffee table. She meandered over to the wet bar and was mixing herself a Bloody Mary when the door opened.
"Who the hell are you?" the woman Buffy recognized as Faith Lehane asked. "You gotta be shittin' me, they gave me a roommate?" she scoffed.
Buffy made no reply but simply watched as the brunette peeled off her leather jacket and threw it over the back of one couch, while leaping over the other one to land sprawled out the length, on her back.
"So what's your name?"
Buffy thought for a second before smiling widely and answering: "ja, ja." She almost gave her charade away by laughing at Faith's expression.
"Your name is Yaya? No...you...you don't speak English? This is just great."
Buffy starting mixing a second drink and continued to smile and nod as Faith sat up to dig the cell phone out of her jacket and hit speed dial.
"Put Dick on the phone. Did I ask if he was in a meeting? Go get him! I don't care who he's talking to! Fine, you do that." She threw the phone aside and shook her head. "Bitch."
Buffy sat on the unoccupied loveseat and held out a glass to Faith, who eyed it warily before taking it with a sigh.
"Don't get too comfortable, Blondie, 'cause you aren't gonna be here that long." When her comment was met with another oblivious smile, Faith grinned. "So you don't understand a word I'm saying, do you? Sooo...if I told you you've got a nice pair of legs, I wonder how'd they'd look wrapped around my neck...you wouldn't have a clue, huh?"
Buffy's face began to ache from trying to maintain her vacant smile. 'Giles is so going to pay for this.'
Willow tipped the porter and followed Tara through the suite, noting the chic decor, breathtaking view, and the welcome basket of fruit. They walked side by side through the open French doors into the bedroom, where all eyes were drawn to the heart shaped bed draped in a quilted red satin coverlet.
"We seem to have gotten the honeymoon suite," Tara mussed.
"Well, Buffy did tell the lady at the check-in desk that we were together," Willow pondered aloud. "And it would make a useful cover story, seeing as how we're going to be working closely all weekend."
"Of course," Tara concurred.
"This way we don't have to worry about getting separated while we're guarding Cecile," Willow continued logically. "You know, like at the party. If someone tries to dance with you, I can just step in and say 'hold on there, Big Bertha, she's with me!'"
"Big Bertha?" Tara asked with a raised eyebrow.
"So you're the butch?" Tara asked, dropping her overnight case on one side of the bed. She paused appreciatively as the water within began to undulate, and trailed her hand over the bed rail as she walked towards Willow.
"Well, I, uh," Willow let her own bag slip from her fingers. It hit the corner of the bed and fell to the floor with a thud. "I don't have to be...if you'd rather...um."
Tara stopped just outside of Willow's personal space and looked up through her lashes at the redhead. "I'll be your femme. I just want to make sure we have our story straight-so to speak."
"Uh-huh," Willow squeaked, her chest heaving as her eyes darted between Tara's eyes and lips. "You know, if we're going to make a convincing couple, we might want to practice some coupling-I mean, couple-y type stuff."
"Mmm," Tara purred, licking her lips. "What did you have in mind?"
"Knock knock! Willow? Tara?"
The Angels' shoulders slumped in unison, and they wore matching expressions of chagrin as they reentered the living room to find Cecile sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of one couch, tearing into the fruit basket with gusto.
"Ooh! Kiwis! This is the life. I tell you, they could pay me in kiwis and I'd be happy. Maybe an occasional pineapple."
Tara helped herself to a bunch of grapes while Willow selected a ripe peach. Cecile continued her exuberant banter as she hopped up to grab a putter out of her golf bag and practice her swing.
Tara lifted the bunch to her mouth and cupped one succulent grape with her tongue, rolling the fruit in small circles before closing her lips around it and popping it off the stem. Her eyes never left Willow's.
Willow stood like a statue, the peach frozen halfway to her mouth. Her eyelids fluttered as Tara swallowed the grape and moaned in satisfaction. Willow ravenously attacked the peach with a wide bite. Her eyes remained locked on Tara's while she noisily slurped the sticky juice, which coated her fingers and ran down her chin. Tara's eyes darkened, and she reached blindly for the fruit basket. She looked at the banana in her hand and tossed it aside.
"Hey, I think there's still time for a practice round before the cocktail party; who's up for it?"
Willow and Tara blinked and looked at Cecile, who smirked back and pointed at Willow. The redhead's face and neck were coated with peach juice.
"You might want to hose down first."
Buffy kept her arms crossed tightly over the towel wrapped around her torso and glowered at Faith's back. They shuffled across the locker room, Faith articulating a never-ending litany of things that would shock any English speaking person, which Buffy unfortunately was. A young woman walked around the corner and bumped into Faith.
"Watch it, Amy," she said testily.
"Faith, I should have known. I heard you from the other room and thought someone had let some truckers in here."
Faith leaned nonchalantly against a row of lockers. "Nope...just us top rated athletes. And you, of course."
Amy scoffed at the brunette and picked a piece of lint off her pristine white sweater. "Bite me, Lehane. I'm taking that trophy home tomorrow, and then I'll be number one."
"Whatever you say, princess. Just make sure you polish it and have it back here in time to present it to me."
Faith brushed past Amy and pulled open the sauna door, gesturing for Buffy to enter.
"After you, hot stuff. I want another look at that luscious ass."
Buffy walked around Faith in as wide an arc as possible, her nostrils flaring in painfully suppressed anger.
Tara watched as Cecile teed up a purple ball and lined up her shot. The course was largely deserted, making it easier to keep the area under surveillance. Tara watched their client's ball roll perfectly through the center of the metal loop, sliding to a stop scant inches from the hole. Whistling her approval, Tara set down her own blue ball and stepped up to the green. Her shot made it halfway up the loop before it lost momentum and rolled back down, skidding to a stop by her shoe. She pushed the ball into place and lined up again.
Three shots later, Tara sighed and looked over to where Willow stood on the cement path, nervously shuffling from one foot to the other. The blonde had thought it strange when her fellow Angel had refused to play, insisting that someone should keep an eye out for danger. The farther along the course they got, the tenser the redhead seemed to become. If Tara had to guess, she'd say that Willow was frightened.
She shrugged off the thought and whacked at her ball, sending it clamoring noisily through the loop and out the other side, where it ricocheted around the green before falling directly into the hole.
"Hole in one!" Cecile shouted. "Way to go Tara!"
"Hole in one...if you don't count the four shots before that one," Tara laughed and shook her head, her twin pigtails flopping around her shoulders.
Cecile putted out the hole and moved on to the next. Tara let her eyes graze the surrounding area before walking over to where Willow had mangled their scorecard into a tight cone.
"Willow, are you okay?"
"I'm fine!" the Angel said too loudly. "Finey McFine fine. Are you done? Can we go now?"
Tara furrowed her brow. "Willow, what is it? You've been acting weird ever since we started playing."
Willow pursed her lips and kicked a rock off the path. "It's embarrassing."
"You know, whatever it is...you can tell me," Tara said sincerely, reaching out to squeeze the redhead's freckled forearm.
"I had a bad birthday party putt-putt experience when I was four," Willow mumbled.
"I was on the eighteenth hole, and you had to hit the ball up this ramp and into this big plastic horse's mouth, and if you hit it just right, the horse's mouth would close and it's eyes would light up. I...I hit the ball, but nothing happened, and...I wanted to see where it went, so I climbed up the ramp."
Willow's voice began to quiver, and Tara leaned her putter against the wooden fence to rub the redhead's arms in long, soothing strokes.
"I reached into the horse's mouth, and all of a sudden the eyes lit up. I tried to pull my arm out, but my sweater got stuck, and it trapped me. I've never played putt-putt since."
Willow sniffled, and Tara pulled her into a hug, shushing away her tears. She looked over the redhead's shoulder and saw Cecile continuing her round. After a moment, she withdrew and reached for her putter and offered it to a wide-eyed Willow.
"You can, Willow. I'll help you."
Tara led Willow to the tee and set down her ball. She motioned to Willow, who shuffled hesitantly into position. The redhead took a deep breath and looked down the green. Halfway up the carpet loomed a large white windmill, its slowly rotating blades crossing the hole in its base at regular intervals. She felt her palms start to sweat.
Before Willow could verbalize her dismay, she felt Tara's body press into her back. Firm hands ran over her shoulders and down her arms to wrap around her hands. The Angel shivered when Tara's warm breath tickled her left ear.
"Relax," Tara whispered. "Aim for the hole, watch the timing of the blades...can you feel it? Pick your moment, and take your shot."
Willow could barely concentrate, but she did as directed, reveling in the sensation of Tara's arms around her as she swung the putter, connecting solidly with the ball.
"Willow! Hole in one!"
The Angels jumped apart, startled at Cecile's voice. The brunette balanced on the short wooden rail surrounding the green, smiling at the blushing pair. None of the three noticed the windmill blades speeding up until the entire structure was shaking. Cecile teetered on the rail, flailing her arms to maintain her balance. The blades ripped off the windmill with a crash.
"Cecile! Look out!"
Willow was already springing forward before Tara's shout, and tackled Cecile to the ground just before the blades went crashing past them and into the fence.
Xandersley teetered on his chunky heels as he lunged away from the safety of the ballroom doorway. He made it to the bar and eased his bulky frame onto a stool, sighing in relief as the weight left his feet. He silently cursed Buffy's insistence on the footwear--'you can't wear flats; it's a cocktail party, for God's sake!'--which not only made gravity his enemy, it also made him stand out as the tallest 'woman' in the room.
An attentive bartender appeared, looking only moderately startled when his patron grunted out 'beer' in a gruff baritone. Xandersley was fumbling through his purse when he saw a manicured hand reach past him, waving a twenty-dollar bill at the barkeep.
"Allow me," the smooth voice of Ethan Rayne oozed. "And I'll have what the lady's drinking."
Xandersley looked up at Rayne's predatory smile and gulped.
"May I join you? I hate to see a lovely lady drinking alone."
Xandersley looked around for the lady in question, while Ethan slithered onto a neighboring stool.
"Ethan Rayne," the man introduced himself, holding out his hand. "And who might you be, my dear?"
"Alex-ahh," Xandersley clamped his mouth shut, belatedly realized he forgot to think up a name for himself.
"Alexa. Lovely," Ethan gushed, clasping Xandersley's hand in both of his own. "Alexa what?"
"Xan-ahh," Xandersley cursed himself again.
"Alexa Xanadu. How exotic. Would you care to dance?"
Panicked, Xandersley shook his curly blonde wig, but Ethan was already dragging him off of the stool and onto the ballroom floor.
"It was definitely sabotaged. The motor had been tampered with and those bolts were barely attached."
Tara closed the door to Cecile's room and sat down on the couch as Willow filled Giles in on the recent events. The golfer had been understandably shaken by the incident, but had steadfastly refused to drop out of the tournament, despite her manager's pleas upon hearing what had happened. Rayne had finally stormed out of the room in a huff. Tara had convinced Cecile to stay in the rest of the night while the Angels planned their next move.
"No, we haven't seen or heard from Buffy since we checked in. Xandersley's probably already at the party, and Cecile's safe here. We'll check out her room."
Willow hung up the phone and turned to Tara.
"Ready for action?"
Tara pulled the elastics from her pigtails and shook out her hair.
"Let's do it."
Faith reclined on her side on one of the wooden benches, leering at Buffy. The Angel kept her eyes averted from the brunette's nude form and tightened her hold on the towel still firmly wrapped around her. Breathing had begun to become painful in the humidity of the room, but she refused to relinquish her modesty.
"Loosen up, Blondie. You're going to turn into a puddle. Or maybe you have already?" Faith ran her hand down her own hip and back up her inner thigh. "All this steam...gets you all hot...wet-"
"Okay, that's it!" Buffy shouted, much to Faith's obvious shock. "I've had just about enough of you."
"What the hell? You little faker," Faith guffawed. "Who are you?"
Faith jumped off the bench and stalked toward Buffy, who reached for the door handle and twisted hard. The handle came off in her hand.
"Are you with The Tattler? The Blabber? Golf Gossip Weekly?"
"None of the above!" Buffy yelled. "I'm a private detective. I was hired to find out who was threatening one of the competitors."
"And you thought it was me?" Faith laughed.
"Well...yeah. But that was before I concluded you're just a big perv. And since we both seem to have been locked in here, I guess you're cleared."
Faith looked at the door handle in Buffy's hand. Steam continued to fill the sweltering room as the two women pounded on the door.
The Sunnydale Resort Hotel's head bartender pushed open the door to the storeroom and flipped on the light. He had half filled his rolling cart with cases of champagne when he spied a pair of size 12 ladies' shoes sticking out between several aisles of liquor boxes. Peeking around the corner, he stared agape at the large woman lying on the floor, unconscious.
Willow and Tara found Buffy's room was deserted, but upon thoroughly searching the missing Angel's three suitcases, Willow concluded a swimsuit was missing.
"Let's hope when we find that swimsuit, Buffy's in it!" Tara stated.
The Angels made a quick detour to their room to change clothes and retrieve their weapons. Using a discarded foil gum wrapper and one of Tara's hair pins, Willow gained access to the service elevator and pressed the button for the first floor. The doors opened to reveal a dimly lit, deserted hallway. Making eye contact with Tara, Willow pressed a finger to her lips and pantomimed 'I'll go first.' Tara nodded her understanding. Willow ducked her head out of the elevator car and looked left, then right, then left again. She gave Tara an 'all clear' wave and they crept stealthily down the hall towards the swimming pool.
Blue waves danced across the ceiling, reflected up from the lights at the base of the water. The room was deserted, but before the Angels could continue their investigation, they heard muted voices and footsteps approaching.
"Quick!" Willow cried insistently, ripping her black turtleneck sweater over her head to reveal a green bikini top.
Tara shucked off her long sleeved black t-shirt and black jeans and slipped into the pool in her modest blue one-piece. Willow joined her, ducking down and straining her ears to catch the somewhat heated conversation between the man and woman.
"-sure it was him?"
"Positive," the male voice replied calmly. "He's taking a little nap right now; I don't think we need to worry about him."
"That's Ethan!" Willow whispered to Tara.
"You'd better be right. It's bad enough you hired those damn detectives, but if they upset my plans-"
"Yeah, well they already saved Little Miss Perfect from her windmilling, so excuse me for having doubts."
"The contingency plan is already in place. I managed to intercept her fruit basket, and injected enough Rohypnol into that banana to render an elephant unconscious for a week."
"Good," the woman replied, her voice cold.
"Trust me, I'm just as anxious as you to be rid of Miss Orso Della Veccia. All that promise and she refuses to capitalize on it. I should be rich by now!"
"Once I win tomorrow and am number one, the endorsements will roll in and we'll both be rich." Willow and Tara peered over the pool rim and gasped. Standing just outside the open glass doors to the hall was Ethan Rayne and Amy Madison.
"What about Faith?" Ethan asked.
"I took care of her," Amy said casually. "Her and her little blonde friend. Let's just say they'll be good and steamed."
"Blonde friend? Short, hazel eyes?"
"That's Buffy Garrett-another one of the detectives."
"Looks like I got two for the price of one. Lucky me."
In her outrage and fear for her fellow Angel, Willow lost her grip on the side of the pool. Tara turned sharply, sending a splash of water slapping out onto the tile.
"Did you hear that? Someone's here."
Tara and Willow froze at Amy's voice. Their eyes locked, and then they were launching themselves at each other. They collided in an embrace they submerged them both, and only the fact that their mouths were clamped tightly together in a passionate lip lock prevented them from swallowing gallons of chlorinated pool water. Upon surfacing, Tara and Willow clutched at each other with frenzied hands and deepened their kiss.
"Eh, just a couple of women going at it in the pool," Ethan surmised. "Shall we go draw up your contract?"
Ethan and Amy's footsteps retreated down the hall. Tara and Willow slowed their movements, hands still stroking wet skin, lips pressed lightly together.
"You think they're gone?" Tara breathed.
"They might come back," Willow speculated, dropping her face to Tara's neck and caressing the soft skin with her lips.
"What about Buffy?" Tara gasped, arching her neck and pulling Willow closer. "Amy said she and Faith would be-"
"Steamed," Willow finished, her fingers toying with the swimsuit straps over Tara's shoulders. She stiffened and jerked away, her eyes wide. By the time she reached the ladder, Tara had already hoisted herself over the poolside and grabbed two towels. She threw one to the redhead and voiced their mutual conclusion.
"They're in the sauna!"
Buffy sank to the floor, her back sliding along the door that she continued to weakly rap on with her bruised knuckles. Faith had collapsed moments before, and Buffy knew they couldn't last much longer in the hellish atmosphere of the steam room. Her lids drooped over her unfocused eyes as consciousness began to slip away.
She hit the floor with a thud, and it was several minutes before she registered the cool air prickling her damp skin. Opening hazy eyes, she saw Tara looming above her, dragging her out of the sauna. Lifting her wobbly head, she spied Willow grabbing Faith.
Fifteen minutes and several bottles of water later, Buffy finished getting dressed while her fellow Angels filled her in on Ethan and Amy's plan. Tara and Willow retrieved their clothes, and the foursome raced to the ballroom, where they found a wig-less Xandersley holding an icepack to his head and explaining to several security guards why he was there. With Faith's assurance that he was cool, the guards let Xandersley go with a warning. The Angels sent him to check on Cecile while they searched for their suspects.
An hour later, they stood in the underground parking garage.
"It's like they just...poof...disappeared," Willow huffed.
"They can't just disappear," Buffy snorted. "Faith, you know Amy. Where would she go?"
Faith shrugged. "If she thinks she stands a shot of winning tomorrow, she should be practicing."
"Of course," Tara said. "She's on the, um...course!"
The squeal of tires echoed though the garage, and the women were just able to jump out of the way of a black Corvette racing past them.
"That's Ethan!" Buffy shouted, running over to a canary yellow Mustang with 'BUFFY 3' license plates. Faith followed, sliding into the passenger seat, much to Buffy's obvious dismay. "We'll get him. You two go after Amy," Buffy directed over her shoulder.
Tara frowned. "That was awfully bossy. And what happened to 'BUFFY 1 and 2'?"
Willow jerked Tara out of the way of the Mustang, which sped out of its parking space and backed into a concrete pillar. Both Angels cringed at the grinding of gears before the car lurched forward and raced away.
"Never mind. I can guess," Tara muttered.
Willow grinned and the two ran back to the stairway.
The golf course was dark, and seemingly deserted, save for the obvious sound of a putter tapping a ball. Clouds parted, allowing silvery moonlight to bathe down on Amy's form, teeing up a shot on the eighteenth green. The Angels crept silently towards her, but Willow was unable to contain her shudder at the enormous fiberglass frog that straddled the hole; its gaping mouth large enough for someone to crawl into. Amy hit her ball into the mouth of the beast and listened to it swirl into the cup.
"Yes!" she pumped her fist.
"Game's up, Amy," Willow said, startling the woman.
Amy gripped her putter and spun around, her swing aimed to connect with Willow's head. The Angel ducked in the nick of time, and Amy's momentum carried her in a full circle. Tara rushed forward and shoved with all her might, sending the villain head first into the frog's mouth. The beast's eyes lit up and a tinny automated voice cheerily chirped 'ribbit.'
Xandersley closed the door to Giles' apartment and carried an enormous fruit basket over to the coffee table.
Buffy plucked the card from the cellophane wrapping. "Oh, it's from Cecile!"
"She was amazing yesterday," Willow said, walking out of the kitchen and distributing drinks before joining Tara on the couch. "I never knew putt-putt could be so exciting, but when she beat Faith in sudden death...wow."
"And Amy and Ethan are in jail where they belong," Buffy stated.
"Yes, about that," Giles called from the hall closet. "How did you say your car was destroyed?"
"Oh," Buffy said, biting her lip. "I think they must have planted a bomb under it or something. But hey, I caught Ethan, right?"
Willow leaned over to whisper in Tara's ear. "'BUFFY 1' was supposedly a bomb victim too."
Tara's mouth curled up on one side and she grinned at Willow's dramatic eye rolling. She selected a tangerine from the basket and began peeling off the rind.
"I'm just glad Willow and Tara pulled me out of the sauna in time," Buffy hastily said, pleased to change the topic from her vehicular mishaps. "How did you know we were there?"
Blue and green eyes met, glazing over slightly at the memory.
"Just good undercover work," Willow replied, winking at Tara.
"You two make a great team," Buffy continued, oblivious. "Willow and Anya could barely be in the same room together."
"I don't think that'll be a problem," Tara said, prying the tangerine apart and offering half to Willow. Their fingers lingers together before each raised a segment of fruit to their mouths.
"So, another case successfully closed," Buffy assessed, flopping down on the overstuffed chair and inspecting the array of fruit. "Hey, there's no bananas."
Willow and Tara smirked at each other.
"I don't think Cecile um, goes for the bananas, Buffy," Tara said.
"Well, I do," Buffy pouted.
"Yeah, me too," Xandersley chipped in, settling for a strangely elongated pear.
"So Giles, what did you do all weekend?" Tara asked. Buffy and Xandersley looked toward the closet, and she took the opportunity to press a slice of tangerine to Willow's waiting lips. The redhead's tongue darted out to catch a drop of juice, cleaning Tara's fingers for good measure.
"Oh, didn't you guess?" Giles said excitedly. "I was there the whole time! I was the porter!"
"Oh, the fortyish man with graying brown hair and glasses, wearing tweed?" Tara asked.
"That's Giles," Willow agreed.
"What?" Giles sputtered.
"You were our librarian for four years, you big dummy," Willow scoffed. "We know what you look like."
"Yeah Giles, come out of the closet already," Xandersley added.
"And I want my fifty dollar tip back," Buffy said.
Giles peeked around the door and stepped into the room. The Angels smiled warmly at him before pelting him with fruit. Giles scowled and scraped a smear of pineapple juice off of his glasses. The Angels erupted in laughter. Giles pulled out his handkerchief.
"Good work, Angels."