The moment Bruce entered the McNeill house, he glanced at the grandfather clock standing in the foyer. Eighteen minutes past midnight. He hated working as head chef during the Golden Horn's evening hours. But with Arnold Gondorf on vacation during the past two weeks, he really had no choice. Thank goodness Gondorf was scheduled to return within another week to supervise the 5-11 PM shift. The other chef would give Bruce and Barbara enough time to plan the last minute preparations for the wedding. After that, they should be in Maui, enjoying a month long honeymoon.
Despite his strained muscles, Bruce managed to climb the curved staircase to the second floor. He made his way to his bedroom, entered and leaned against the wall. A sigh left his mouth. Sanctuary. Then he closed the door and began to remove his clothes. No sooner had he stepped out of his trousers, Bruce spotted the red light flashing on his answering machine. Damn! Who had called?
He walked over to the desk and turned on the machine. "Bruce, this is Livy," his sister's voice echoed. "Please call me as soon as possible. It's urgent!" Bruce switched off the machine. Urgent, huh? Not at twelve twenty-three in the morning. Bruce decided he would call Olivia in the morning. Right now, he needed sleep. He removed his jacket and shirt. After he slipped out of his shoes, the cell phone inside his jacket rang. For crying out . . . Suppressing his annoyance, Bruce retrieved the phone and answered, "Hello?"
"Signor McNeill?" The bell-like voice struck a familiar note. "This is Portia Della Scalla." Oh yes. HER. "I realize that it is a bit late . . ."
Bruce's lethargy immediately vanished. "Oh no! Uh, how may I help you, Miss Della Scalla?" he replied enthusiastically.
The Italian woman continued, "Yes. I merely wanted to confirm the time of our next interview."
Bruce replied, Oh, uh, yeah. I forgot. How about tomorrow afternoon, around three? At the Golden Horn?"
"Well, I had thought . . ." She paused. "Never mind. Tomorrow afternoon should be perfect." Then she gasped. "Oh!"
Concern filled Bruce's voice. "Is there a problem?"
"No . . . uh, yes." Another pause followed. "More like a request."
"Of course. What is it?"
Before he could grasp any further thought, a string of words in Latin filled Bruce's ear. Words that his brain had little time to translate. Then the bell-like voice added, "I want you to remove the protection spell around the house."
"As you wish," Bruce replied in a disembodied voice.
"Once you remove the spell, call me at this number - 445-2783. Comprendere?"
"Yes, signorina." Bruce disconnected his cell phone.
Without any hesitation and dressed only in a T-shirt and boxers, Bruce left his room and walked toward the end of the hallway. There, he spied a sprig of Mallow, resting on the window sill. Bruce gathered the sprig into his hand. Then he automatically went to every corner of the house where a Mallow sprig rested. After gathering all of them, he placed the sprigs into a small bowl inside the kitchen. As he burned the sprigs, he whispered a chant and the house's spell vanished.
Bruce returned to his room, retrieved his cell phone and dialed the number given to him by Portia. "It's done," he said to her. "I have removed the spell."
"Bueno. Now go to sleep. Sonno."
Before he had a chance to disconnect the phone, Bruce fell back on the bed and slipped into a deep sleep.
* * * *
Seconds later, Portia materialized in the middle of Bruce's bedroom. Dressed in a light blue sheer nightgown, she approached the sleeping figure on the bed. Portia could not help but admire the lean and muscular body underneath the dark T-shirt and gray boxer shorts. She slipped out of her nightgown and crawled upon the bed. "Bruce, wake up," she whispered into his ear. "Wake up."
Blue-gray eyes flickered open, looking somewhat glazed. "Barbara?" the man beneath Portia murmured.
"Ssh! Yes, it's Barbara," the succubus whispered in an American accent. "I'm here. For you." Portia flickered her tongue over Bruce's left ear. "Take me, Bruce. Now."
Strong arms wrapped around Portia's waist and positioned her flat on the bed. Bruce removed his T-shirt. The succubus marveled at the lean, sinewy muscles on his arms and chest. Breathing heavily herself, she gently planted her hands on each side of his face and drew it toward hers. Their lips met.
Bellissima! Portia thought. She had mated with scores of men - mortal or otherwise - over the past two hundred and thirty years, yet Bruce McNeill seemed destined to be one of those rare ones who possessed a talent for inflaming passion. Warm, supple lips began to explore her neck. The mortal's hands slowly rose up her waist, until they cupped her breasts. A low moan escaped her mouth. Thumbs gently pressed against her nipples. Portia's moans grew louder. Louder than she had expected.
* * * *
Harry's eyes flew open. Did he just hear a moan? He sat up and switched on the lamp on his nightstand. Then he heard it. A second moan. And it seemed to be coming from Bruce's room.
Frowning, Harry slipped out of bed and donned his robe. He paused. Yep, another moan. Not only was it louder, it sound as if it came from a woman. A woman? In Bruce's room? Harry's first thought was that Barbara had decided to pay his brother a little nocturnal visit. Until he remembered that Barbara was pissed at Bruce, regarding that Italian journalist.
Harry left his room and stopped in front of Bruce's room. He hesitated. What if he end up interrupting something personal? Like Bruce fooling around with another woman? Or watching porn on television? Then Harry remembered that it was past midnight. Bruce would be too tired for any kind of nighttime activity, whatsoever. He also remembered that Big Brother did not care for porn. Abnormal, but true.
Finally, Harry knocked on the door. He whispered, "Bruce? Are you up?" When no one answered, he reached for the doorknob and twisted it. The door swung open. Harry stepped inside the bedroom and found . . . nothing. Well, aside from a bare-chested Bruce sprawled on the bed. And a cell phone on the floor. Harry shivered. San Francisco at night can be chilly. And it certainly felt chilly now. So why was Bruce bare-chested? Why could he detect the essence of another presence? And why did the air smell like gardenias? Unable to answer these questions, Harry covered his slumbering brother with a blanket, placed the cell phone on the nightstand and left the room.
* * * *
"Muerda!" Portia cried after she reappeared inside her hotel suite. "Why is this man so difficult to entrap?"
The moment he saw the anger and frustration stamped on the succubus' face, Nick heaved a weary sigh. "What happened?"
"A telepath! The witch's brother is a telepath!" Portia shot back. Clad only in the sheer nightgown, she marched back and forth in front of the sofa. Her statuesque figure quivered with fury. "He had interrupted us before we could have sex." She sighed and flopped down in one of the chairs. "We were so close. And he was so . . ." A mournful expression replaced the anger on her face.
Nick stared at the succubus. Frowning. "I don't . . . what exactly happened?" Portia explained. After she had convinced Bruce McNeill to remove the protection spell, she paid the mortal a visit to his bedroom. Set about seducing him, they had been interrupted by her impending victim's brother. Portia managed to disappear before the latter walked into the bedroom.
"And you did nothing?" Nick demanded.
Portia glared at him. "What do you mean by that remark?"
"You're a succubus, for heaven's sake! One of your powers is the ability to make anyone within a few feet of you, fall asleep!"
The succubus inhaled deeply. "I know what my powers are!" she snapped.
"Then why didn't you simply put Harry to sleep when he entered?"
Portia retorted, "Because I sensed that he was a telepath!"
Rolling his eyes, Nick demanded, "And?"
"And I have difficulty . . ." Portia's voice slipped into a murmur. "I have difficulty dealing with telepaths."
Nick wondered if he had heard correctly. "You . . .?"
"It happened over ninety years ago," she said. "Just before the First World War. I had encountered a Streghone, who also happened to be a telepath. I tried to put him asleep, but he resisted and ended up deflecting my power and using it against me. He would have succeeded, but my sister intervened and rescued me." Portia added rather smugly, "She also killed him."
The only question that Nick could ask after that story was, "You have a sister?"
"An older sister. She's also a succubus. As for your Bruce McNeill, I will bring him here, the next time. I cannot risk trying to sleep with him at his home."
Nick asked, "And how do you plan to do that? Aren't you supposed to meet him at the restaurant?"
A sly smile touched Portia's lips. "Tomorrow afternoon. But I'll be paying Signor McNeill a visit a lot earlier. When he is alone at his home."
"But his grandmother is sure to be there," Nick protested. "And she's also a telepath."
Portia's smile widened. "Bruce and I will not be staying there, very long. Do not worry."
* * * *
It seemed too early to leave for work at six forty-three in the morning. But with thoughts of DeWolfe Mann's murder, Portia Della Scalla, Paul Margolin and Cole whirling in her brain, Olivia could barely get any sleep. She had finally given up around five-thirty and slipped out of bed.
Within an hour, Olivia had managed to shower, dress and prepare an omelet for breakfast. After she finished eating, she noticed a full bag of garbage on the kitchen floor. Before she left the apartment, she snatched the garbage bag, along with her purse and suitcase, and quickly left.
The elevator conveyed her to the building's underground parking lot. Upon her arrival, she dumped the bag into the large garbage container and started toward her convertible. She had just slipped her key into the car's door, when she spotted a familiar black Porsche entered the parking lot. To Olivia's disgust, she felt her heartbeat increase rapidly.
She should simply climb into her car and drive away. Now. Instead, Olivia stood beside the BMW. Something inside her wanted . . . no, demanded to know why a certain Mr. Cole Turner was arriving home at six forty-nine in the morning.
The black Porsche eased into Cole's parking space. The engine switched off. Dry-mouthed, Olivia watched as the half-daemon climbed out of his car. He was dressed in semi-formal eveningwear - dark blue suit and a light blue shirt opened at the throat. He slammed the door shut, glanced up and seemed surprised to find Olivia standing nearby.
"Olivia," he mumbled. "What . . . uh, what are you doing here?"
The red-haired woman assumed a cool poise. "Going to work. I might ask the same about you. Isn't it a little late for you to be coming home? At six-fifty in the morning?"
"I was out," Cole quickly explained. "Visiting a friend."
"Oh." Olivia paused. "What friend?"
A frown darkened Cole's countenance. "Are you now giving me the third degree?"
"No, I'm merely being curious," Olivia coolly answered. "You said something about a friend?"
The frown disappeared. Cole cleared his throat. "More like an acquaintance. I met with a daemon named Riggerio, last night. Wanted to know if he knew anything about . . ."
". . . Portia Della Scalla," Olivia finished. Then it was her turn to frown. "Riggerio? That name sounds familiar. Did this Riggerio know her?"
Shaking his head, Cole replied, "No. He's not that familiar with the mortal names of daemons. But he did promise to look into the matter. For a price, of course."
Now, Olivia remembered where she had heard of the name. "Riggerio, huh? He must want his coven's sigil. The Crotona Ring."
Blue eyes flew open in surprise. Cole demanded, "How did you . . .?"
"I recognized the name," Olivia said before he could finish. "Aunt Carla, Mom's friend, once told us about a coven of daemons or high-level sorcerers in Italy. The Congrega de Crotona."
Admiration shone in Cole's eyes. "You really know your daemons, don't you?"
A smile nearly tugged at Olivia's lips. "I try." Then she spotted a pinkish-red smudge on the left side of Cole's throat. Lipstick. She added in a cool voice that drew a frown from the half-daemon, "I also know that you don't need a car to meet someone like Riggerio."
Cole warily replied, "He owns a jazz club here in San Francisco."
One of Olivia's auburn brows quirked upward. "Really? And yet, you still needed your car? Or maybe you had hopes of finding someone else at your friend's club." She reached out and took a swipe of the lipstick with her finger. "Someone of the female persuasion?"
Cole's mouth flew open. He looked like a fish that had just been pulled out of the water. "Oh. I uh, . . . I met this . . ."
"So, who was the lucky lady?" Although she spoke softly, Olivia regarded Cole with a chilly stare.
His eyes pleaded with Olivia to understand. She failed to respond and Cole's handsome face became a cold mask. "Someone I just met. Speaking of last night, how was your date with Leo's prized pupil?"
"Fine," Olivia replied shortly. "And we had enjoyed ourselves. Immensely." Which was a lie. Her evening with Paul Margolin had been pleasantly and nothing more. The only excitement Olivia felt during the evening had been her ephinany regarding Portia Della Scalla.
Cole's lips tightened. "Well, I guess I can say the same."
Jealously struck Olivia like a fist to the gut. She wanted to strike back at Cole. Or place a curse upon his head. Incinerate him with her pyrokinesis. Or perhaps that bitch with whom he had spent the night. Instead, Olivia's gaze became icier. "By the way, I'm afraid I'll have to cancel another exercise session. I have some paper work I need to do for the DeMatteo case."
Disappointment, followed by anger, jealousy and resignation seemed to flash in Cole's eyes, one by one. "Oh. Another evening with Mr. Margolin, I see."
"That's funny. I don't recall mentioning Paul." Olivia hated the defensive tone in her voice.
"You didn't have to."
Realizing that their conversation seemed to be going nowhere, Olivia decided to end it. Now. She glanced at her watch. Three minutes after seven. "I better get going, or I'll be late for work."
"What are you talking about?" Cole demanded. "You usually don't leave for work until . . ."
Olivia interrupted, "If your friend, Riggerio, ever find any information on Miss Della Scalla, could you let me know? I think she may be after Bruce."
Cole frowned. "Why?"
"I don't know. Revenge, perhaps?" Olivia climbed into her BMW. "I'll see you later. Oh, and one more thing." She switched on the car's engine and fixed Cole with something like a cross between a smirk and a sneer. "The next time your libido gets the best of you, try to find someone who doesn't overdo it with the perfume. Anyone could easily smell you, down-winded."
Ignoring Cole's embarrassed expression, Olivia slipped her car out of her parking lot and drove away.
END OF PART 14