Many thanks to
Glassslipper for beta reading this.
Lilah had forgotten it was Valentine’s Day. Completely, utterly forgotten. The rash of red and pink spreading over shop displays from December 29 onwards was, by now, so familiar to her that she tuned it out as she drove to work. The receptionist in the lobby of Wolfram and Hart always had fresh flowers on her desk so the extra vase of scarlet sweetheart roses simply blended into the foliage. The swollen eyes of some, the smug smiles of others; again, too commonplace to be worthy of comment. February the fourteenth simply meant one thing to her. The chance to humiliate Gavin as she gave him his monthly appraisal.
Today, he seemed strangely oblivious to her darting gibes and subtle sarcasm. He always pretended not to care, of course, but this seemed genuine. When he casually studied the gold watch wrapped around his slim wrist for the third time, she abandoned any pretence of patience and asked, “Gavin? Are you late for something more important than me telling you what a failure you are? Because firing you could free up your schedule really well.”
He smiled at her, perfect teeth flashing briefly. “Sorry, Lilah. Just - well, it was a Valentine present from a rather special lady and you know how it is...” His eyes wandered over her desk, bare and businesslike. “No cards? No flowers? Don’t the English go in for all that sort of thing?” His mimicry of a cultured English accent was pathetically overdone but Lilah was too busy throwing up shields to care. Tight lipped and smiling viciously, she responded the only way she knew how; by attacking.
“Gavin, if your mother was kind enough to spend her money on you I think that’s sweet.”
“It wasn’t from my mother!”
“Of course not,” she said, nodding with insincere agreement.
Gavin stood up abruptly. “Top model, as it happens.” His smile turned smug. “We ...own her contract. Own her, in more ways than one. I persuaded her to date me and it seems she’s fallen for me.” He flicked invisible lint from the cuff of his suit, brushing his fingers over the watch again. “Sweet of her, isn’t it?”
“Get out, Gavin,” Lilah said tightly. “Just in case sappiness is catching.”
The door closed and she let her head sink into her palm for a second. Wesley. He’d been out of town on business – oh, she knew just where he was, always did. He’d been back for two days without calling her and remembering the argument they’d had before he left, she wasn’t sure he would.
Melancholy replaced anger. Valentine’s Day. Stupid to care, or to think that he’d send flowers to a woman he – no, he didn’t hate her. Maybe he had once, but now –
She remembered his breath, hot against her neck as he drove himself into her in slow, languid strokes that had her begging him to go faster, as her body cried out for more, her voice hoarse and keening. He’d laughed, low and victorious, as primal as he ever got, and she’d hissed with fury, dragging her nails down his back to his ass, pushing him into her, making him move as she wanted. He’d let her control him until she was just at the point of coming and then he’d pulled out and stared down at her, eyes dark and dangerous.
“‘Don’t try to control me, Lilah and don’t beg.”
His mouth went to her breast, teasing at her hard nipple with tongue and teeth. “Just say ‘please’,” he said mildly.
And she couldn’t and she wouldn’t and he’d gone, dressing and leaving in unbroken silence, ignoring her hand, sliding down between her thighs to finish what he’d started, ignoring her not entirely fake moans of pleasure, because, yes, she got off on knowing he would remember this...
And now she was paying for it. Paying in lonely nights and digs from self- satisfied pricks like Gavin.
The door opened and she looked up angrily, not ready to compose herself enough to deal with anyone. The messenger flinched visibly and stammered something incoherent before leaving a parcel on her desk. She looked at it casually and felt a reverberant pluck at her heart strings. From Wesley. That dark, firm handwriting, neat and smooth, was unmistakable. Tearing the parcel open, she frowned as a small book fell out onto the desk. The spine was too faded to have a legible title, so she opened it and leafed through to the title page.The Language of Flowers
“But no roses,” she murmured. Well, Wesley never did anything the way other people did. A small piece of paper was sticking out of the book and she turned to the page it marked.
The engraving on the page was of an iris, tall and stately, and underneath in flowing copperplate was the meaning.
I have a message for you.
Intrigued, her spirits rising, Lilah leafed through the pages, but found nothing else. The engravings were exquisitely detailed and delicately coloured; the book clearly one that had been read often. Pursing her lips, she placed the book carefully to one side and began to work, her mind for once not completely occupied with the task to hand.
An hour later, her computer beeped, signaling a new message. Lilah glanced at it and felt a tingle deep down when she saw the return address. Wesley had set up an account for her to use to speak to him, separate from his business address. She clicked the e mail open. ‘Page eighty’ appeared on the screen.
Raising her eyebrows and reflecting that it wouldn’t have killed him to throw in a ‘Dear Lilah’, she picked up the book and stared at a tuberose with the caption, ‘Dangerous pleasures’ under it.
Lilah felt her breath quicken. Seducing Wesley had been a challenge. Keeping up with him even more so. He’d lost the contemptuous edge he’d slashed her with so often in the early days; she guessed that had been his own version of a defence until he was sure of her – well, as sure as he ever would be – but he was still capable of an inventive harshness that would soften to tenderness with every kiss they shared. Arousal turned her skin hot, fizzing and stinging like the champagne he’d once poured slowly over her heated skin, swirling a finger and a tongue through the puddle on her stomach, waiting for it to stream down between her legs and fucking her through it until it was inside her with his cock and when she’d pushed him out and over and slid down the bed, he tasted exhilaratingly sharp in her throat as he came.
The phone rang and she found herself poised between irritation and anticipation. Work or Wes?
“Lilah Morgan,” she said crisply.
“Seven,” said Wesley, his voice husky and low.
A click ended the conversation and Lilah bit her lip with frustration. Just hearing him was making her squirm in her seat like a teenager with a crush on a teacher. He’d used the phone to bring her off too often for her body not to respond to his voice. She’d sat here knowing that she was being spied on by the hidden cameras and come in silent, careful shudders as he told her what he had planned for her later.
Seven...thorn apple ...deceitful charms.
Before she had time to feel more than a pang of hurt that he still didn’t trust her, a second e mail arrived. Page nineteen; Daphne Odora. ‘I would not have you any other way.’ She grinned. She’d outwitted Wesley more than once but it was nice to see that he wasn’t holding grudges.
The morning went by without any further messages and she wondered if that was all he had to say to her. Then she got back from a lunch break, still hungry and carrying the remnants of her meal in a bag, because she kept looking around for a tall, dark-haired figure instead of eating, and found a small bunch of paper flowers on her desk; four single flowers, tied with a green ribbon. They weren’t made by Wesley; Lilah knew his hands could be patient and painstaking but she couldn’t see him crafting these careful representations of flower and branch. She wasn’t even sure what they all were, but they were beautifully made, vivid splashes of colour, each petal perfectly shaped. Lilah tugged the ribbon free, letting it slip through her fingers in a cool slide of satin. Each flower was tagged with its name and a page number and nestled at the centre of the bunch was a card saying, ‘Work it out.’
Lilah rolled her eyes automatically but she could feel her lips curving upwards into a smile as she did it.
Taking her time, she looked up each flower, scribbled down the meaning on a scrap of paper and then rearranged the words.
Fleur-de-lis:I burn. Lotus:forgetful of the past. Witch hazel:a spell is on me . Purple heartsease:you occupy my thoughts .
Lilah’s eyes went to the clock, impatience filling her. She wanted to see Wesley – but they’d never met much during the day and never anywhere outside their apartments. She sighed and tried, once again, to concentrate on business. It was as if Wesley could see her and was determined to distract her from any thought that wasn’t centred on him, because a minute later her computer told her that she had mail.
Not a request and Lilah felt herself begin to respond to his order with a determination to disobey ... then a second message arrived.
The use of that particular word was just like him, she reflected; disarming her with courtesy as he rubbed in the reason they’d argued last week.
Having the initiative handed to her sparked her competitive streak. She leafed through the book and began to jot down useful phrases, a grin spreading across her face. When she was ready, she hit reply, sent her message and waited. The phone rang three minutes later.
“You regret our quarrel?”
“It sounds so formal when you say it with flowers,” Lilah said wryly.
“And I do not have a hasty temper.”
“Do. But if you channel it I won’t complain. God, just reading this book is turning me on. Listen to the meanings; ecstasy, desire, pleasure and pain...where did you get it from?”
“My grandmother actually,” said Wesley, his voice quivering with amusement. “I really doubt she viewed it quite in that light, though.”
“Oh.” Lilah ran a finger over the binding. “Do you – do you want it back then?”
“No,” Wesley said. “But I have one last –”
“Game?” Lilah offered.
“If you like,” Wesley said. “Come to me and bring me whatever you think represents the way I see you, using the book.”
“Some of these flowers aren’t exactly getable, Wes,” Lilah objected. “And I can’t just leave the office in the middle of the afternoon. I have work to do.”
Wesley’s voice dropped. “Isn’t one of your tasks my seduction and corruption?”
Lilah ran her tongue over her lips. “I think it’s commonly known I’ve achieved the first and the second might be beyond me.”
“Oh, I don’t know...I’m feeling particularly vulnerable to temptation right now. Might be your lucky day.”
Lilah shook her head. “You’re incorrigible.”
“Is that a perennial?”
“Very funny. I’ll be there as soon as I can. The way you see me? Going to give me a clue?”
“No. But you’ll get a prize if you guess right.”
“An incentive? How motivating.”
“I’ve always found it so,” Wesley agreed.
This time Lilah hung up first. She couldn’t stop smiling, the ripe, rich taste of being wanted and desired sweet against her tongue and lips. The puzzle Wesley had set her teased and tickled her mind. So many possibilities...her eyes travelled down the index of meanings; white poppy, ‘my bane,’ or honey flower for ‘sweet and secret love’... but Wesley wanted her to come to him quickly and he must know that even in a city this size she couldn’t just magic up – well, maybe she could, but she wasn’t going to. So it had to be something simple. Two entries held her and she frowned with indecision for a moment and then shrugged. If he laughed at her, she’d have him killed painfully. Always reassuring to know you could do that.
Lilah tidied her desk, didn’t bother checking her face because she knew she looked good, and sauntered to the elevator. Stepping out into the lobby, with the book in her hand, she paused by the receptionist’s desk. “Red roses; know what they mean?”
“My husband fears my wrath?” she said dryly.
Lilah smiled. She liked this woman. “Mind if I take one?” she asked on impulse.
The woman hesitated and then shrugged. “Sure. I can spare one, I guess.”
“Thank you,” Lilah said, taking the time to make it sound sincere as she pulled out the nearest rose and shook it free of water. “I’ll remember you helped me.”
The woman didn’t look entirely appreciative and Lilah grinned as she turned away and opened the door. Alliances and allegiances could be so dangerous.
Wesley opened the door and she felt a hum of approval vibrate gently in her throat as she took in the sight of him. “You look well,” she said lightly.
“You look as beautiful as ever,” he replied. He hesitated and then put his hands on her shoulders and drew her to him, kissing her with a familiar hunger and an entirely new tenderness. “I missed you,” he said softly, before stepping back.
Lilah met his eyes. “You being back, well, it doesn’t make my day worse, you know?”
Wesley’s lips twitched into a smile. “Say it.”
Her lips parted teasingly as he waited and then she relented, lifting her hand and tracing the curve of his mouth with one finger. “I missed you, too,” she admitted.
“So, what did you bring me?” Wesley asked, taking her hand and walking with her to the couch.
Lilah opened her purse. “Two things,” she answered.
“Two?” Wesley shook his head in pretended disappointment. “Lilah, that’s cheating.”
“Evil doesn’t cheat. It just maximises opportunities to win.”
“Whatever you say,” he replied solemnly, his eyes glinting with amusement. “So what did you decide on?”
Lilah reached into her capacious purse. She’d never seen the point of the tiny, one tube of lipstick and they’re bulging, kind. She pulled out an apple from her lunch and held it up.
“Temptation,” Wesley said, his hands not moving. “Fits with your name, too.”
Lilah tilted her head. “But you’re not taking it? Lucky I brought a back up.”
With a hand that she kept as steady as her voice, she took out the red rose. Wesley’s eyes widened. “’I love you’? Lilah, tell me –”
“No, Wesley. Your game. You tell me.”
He extended his hand and she laid the flower across his palm. The weight of the head made it tilt and slip and Wesley closed his fist instinctively, holding it tightly. He winced and opened his fingers again, looking down at the small gouges in his flesh.
Lilah caught her breath as blood drops welled up, an exact match for the shade of the petals. “I’m sorry,” she murmured. “Guess that’s a postscript or something. Or a warning.”
Wesley blotted his hand clean with the Kleenex she passed him and said softly, “It’s part of the flower, Lilah, that’s all; like the scent, and the feel of the petals. I wouldn’t strip the flower of its defences and I wouldn’t have you any other way.” He picked up the rose and closed his hand on it again, this time grasping it loosely. “See? It doesn’t hurt this way.”
“Did I guess right then?” Lilah said, looking at him challengingly, waiting for him to laugh at her.
Wesley simply lifted up his other hand and showed it to her. It was laced with tiny cuts. Lilah frowned and he stood up and led her to the bedroom.
“I read about it in a book once,” he said. “I won’t bore you with the logistics of getting that many red roses at this time of year, or the labour involved in stripping the petals from the stems ... but all I thought of as I did it was you lying against them, with your dark hair and pale body, and the rose petals clinging to you as you moved.”
Lilah stared at the bed, the dark cover hidden by thousands of curved, velvety petals, their summer-sweet scent rising up to greet her.
“You were this certain I’d bring a rose?”
“Yes,” Wesley said. “I can’t believe you don’t know I love you. You know me too well for that.” He took a shallow breath. “I suppose, if I’d been really brave, I’d have asked you to bring something that showed how you feel.”
Lilah lifted his cut hand and turned it so that she could kiss the palm, feeling the rough, hot skin against her lips. Wesley pulled his hand away gently and held her shoulders, looking at her, waiting patiently, expectantly.
“I did,” she said.
As Wesley kissed her, she let herself wonder what she would have brought if the people set to watch Wesley hadn’t told her about the delivery of roses to his apartment. By the time she was naked amongst the petals, with Wesley looking at her as if she was everything he’d ever dreamed of, she knew it wouldn’t have made any difference.
She’d still have given him the rose.
A/N The flower definitions are real and a complete list of the meanings is here:
Paper flowers, like the ones Wesley sends Lilah, can be very detailed and, in a link to the current season, are used in the Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations. Here’s a link to a page with some lovely ones;
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