Inside one of the Omni Hotel's suites, Nick watched Portia pop two aspirin tablets into her mouth. "I don't believe this!" he declared heatedly. "It's been nearly two hours since you snatched Bruce. When are you going to get on with it?"
Portia shot him a contemptuous look. "Get on with what? Sex? How very vulgar that sounds! And how American. Can you not see that I have a headache, thanks to that telepath?"
Nick rolled his eyes. "Harry? Harry McNeill gave you a headache?"
"He damned well nearly killed me!" Portia protested. "He is a very powerful telepath and it is a miracle that I had managed to escape. And take Bruce with me!"
The Streghore responded with a contemptuous snort. "Yeah, and that's all you've managed to do since I've summoned you! I mean, I'm the one who killed DeWolfe Mann, so you could get close to Bruce! Hell, I might as well kill him myself!"
"Fine," the succubus shot back. "Kill him. But do not think I am simply going to leave without any compensation."
Nick could not believe what he had just heard. "Compen . . . Compensation for what? You haven't done a damn thing!"
Sherry-brown eyes blazed with frightening intensity. "May I remind you that Signor McNeill is right now in the bedroom, in an unconscious state? You would have never been able to get this close in order to kill him, without my help! Or without his family standing in your way!" She stood up and walked slowly toward Nick. "In other words, I want compensation of some kind." Portia paused before him.
Aware of the sinister expression on the succubus' face, Nick warily asked, "What exactly do you want?"
A gust of breath left Portia's mouth. "The Soma plant you had earlier mentioned."
"Are you crazy? It's probably somewhere in the McNeill home. I couldn't possibly get it without your help?"
Portia shot back, "Then we'll get it with my help!"
Nick struggled to remain calm. "What if . . . what if they find out about the protection spell? They must know that it's gone, since you were seen in . . ."
The succbus' eyes became ferocious. "I don't care! I want my compensation! The Soma plant! As soon as Bruce is dead!"
Fear suddenly gripped the Streghone. Not even the elixir smeared on his forehead failed to give him a sense of protection under Portia's unrelenting stare. He finally caved in. "Yeah, yeah, I'll get it for you. Somehow. I just don't know how . . ."
"Find a way!" Then Portia closed her eyes. Took a deep breath. "Ah! I do believe that my headache is going away. It is time to awaken Signor McNeill with a little kiss." She paused to stare at Nick. "Unless you still want to kill him, yourself?"
Intimidated, Nick shook his head. "No, uh, you . . . you go ahead and do what you have to do. I'll . . ."
Portia snatched an empty bucket from a nearby table and tossed it to Nick. "You can fill this up with some ice. Please."
"Yeah. Sure." Nick watched the succubus strode toward the bedroom door. "Anything else, your highness?" he mumbled under his breath. Fortunately, Portia did not hear him.
* * * *
Olivia, Cole, Darryl, and Barbara materialized in an alley, next to the Omni Hotel. Barbara strode ahead, drawing stared from the other three.
"And where in the hell are you going?" Cole demanded.
As she continued out of the alley, Barbara shot back, "To find Bruce. And to save him from that bitch."
Cole grabbed Barbara's arm and stopped her. "Hey, look I understand that you're concerned about him, but let us handle this. Olivia and I can deal with this Portia woman and Darryl will handle Marcano. And if Bruce looks like he might need first aid, you can . . . rush in like gangbusters. Okay?"
"Gangbusters? What is that? Your new outlook on life?" Olivia grumbled.
Rolling her eyes, Olivia continued, "Meaning, what's with the grab-and-snatch act? Not only did you grab us before we could do or say anything, you grabbed me, instead of Harry! And he's a lot better equipped to deal with Portia." Cole responded with a blank stare. Olivia sighed. "Hello? We're facing a succubus here! You know, ability to put others to sleep? Better a telepath to face her and not me. Namely, my little brother."
Cole dismissed her argument. "She's not exactly the first succubus I've ever faced. Don't worry. She won't be able to affect me."
"Yeah," Olivia sardonically shot back, "I'm sure you said the same thing about that siren you faced, last fall. And Barbas."
"Those two were high-level . . ."
Barbara cried out, "Hey! We have a witch to save! Argue later!" She again started out of the alley.
Darryl heaved a sigh and followed. "Oh God, this is turning out to be a hell of a day." Both Olivia and Cole stiffened momentarily, before following the other two.
The four people eventually strode inside the Omni's elegant lobby. While Cole and Barbara hung back, the two police officers approached the front desk. A desk clerk warily eyed the pair and greeted with forced cheerfulness, "Good afternoon, may I help you?"
Both Olivia and Darryl flashed their badges. The clerk became more attentive. "I'm Lieutenant Morris of the San Francisco Police Department. And this is Inspector McNeill," he said, nodding at Olivia. "We're searching for a suspect in a homicide. Actually, two suspects. And we have reason to believe that they may have checked into this hotel."
"Oh, that's impossible," the clerk said, shaking her head.
One of Olivia's brows formed an arch. "And why is that?"
Flustered, the clerk continued, "Well . . . because . . . I mean, well, this is an exclusive hotel. One of the city's finest. I doubt that you would find a sus . . ." Her voice drifted into a whisper, underneath the partners' stares. Then she sighed. "What are their names?"
Darryl said, "Nicholas Marcano."
After making a few entries into the computer, the desk clerk responded, "I'm sorry, but no one by that name has checked into this hotel." Relief shone in her eyes.
"What about an Italian woman named Portia Della . . ." Olivia began.
The desk clerk interrupted. "Oh. Her. Miss Portia Della Scalla. Tall, dark-haired woman with brown eyes and an Italian accent?" The two cops nodded. "Oh yes, everyone knows about her. She had checked in with some loser, last Saturday. She had no reservation, yet she managed to get a suite. Weird."
Exercising great patience, Olivia asked, "And the suite number?"
Again, the clerk turned to her computer. "Here we go. Suite 1574. On the 12th floor."
The two partners thanked the clerk and returned to where Cole and Barbara stood. "They're inside Suite 1574, on the 12th floor," Darryl announced. "Let's go." The quartet climbed a wide marble staircase that led to a balstrade above.
After making sure they were alone, Olivia said, "Okay, now that we're here, Cole can take us to the suite. That way, we can surprise them." She faced her future sister-in-law. "Except for you, Barbara. You stay in the lobby." The blond woman opened her mouth to protest, but Olivia added, "It's for your own safety." Then without another word, Cole beamed her and Darryl out of the corridor.
* * * *
The trio materialized inside the living room of a luxurious suite. "Not bad," Darryl murmured. He glanced around. "No one seems to be here. Are you sure that Phoebe is right?"
"Well, according to the clerk, they had checked into this suite." Olivia added, "Unless they're back at Nick's apartment. Or else . . ." She broke off and began to circle about the room.
Cole finished her sentence, "Or else Portia took Bruce to some demonic dimension." He paused and cocked his head to one side.
Olivia stared at him. "What is it?"
"You hear that?"
Darryl frowned. "Hear what?"
Instead of answering, Cole strode toward a closed door. Olivia figured that it led toward one of the suite's bedrooms. "Where are you going?" she asked. "Cole?"
The half-daemon pressed his ear against the door. "Someone is inside." He flung the door open, using his telekinesis. The trio stepped forward and gasped at the sight before them. Namely, Bruce dressed only in boxer shorts, stretched out on the bed, flat on his back. Astride him sat Portia, wearing only white panties and stockings held up by garter belts.
"Jesus!" Darryl cried out.
The succubus glanced up, wearing a surprised expression. "Wha . . .?" she began.
Olivia flung the succubus off her older brother and against one of the walls with her telekinesis. Looking somewhat dazed, Portia transformed into a demonic creature with a tail. "Darryl!" Olivia cried. "Get out of here! Now!"
For once, Darryl did not argue and immediately left the room. Olivia and Cole returned their attention to the daemon, who seemed to have recovered from Olivia's attack. And regained her human form. Electricity crackled at her fingertips and within a blink of an eye, sent a bolt toward Olivia's direction.
"Olivia!" Cole cried out her name. Then he quickly shoved Olivia aside. The electrical bolt struck him squarely in the chest, forcing him back against the wall.
* * * *
Barbara paced back and forth, across the hotel's lobby. Another minute passed before she realized that she had enough. Unable to simply stand by and wait for the others to rescue Bruce, Barbara decided to help. With clear determination, she marched across the lobby one last time and toward the nearest elevator.
* * * *
The electrical bolt failed to inflict harm upon Cole's chest. It had merely stunned him. He recovered quickly enough to send a fireball at the succubus. His aim proved to be perfect. Only, the target failed to remain in place. Portia disappeared in a cloud of smoke and the fireball struck a wall.
The succubus reappeared on the bed, next to Bruce. She reached out for his arm. But before she could disappear with her intended victim, Olivia once more flung her away from the male witch. Portia hit the wall, again. She disappeared. Again. And reappeared behind Olivia. Cole tried to alert the redhead to the succubus' presence. But Portia waved a hand before Olivia's eyes before he could sleep. He watched with horror, as the witch slumped to the floor. Unconscious.
Anger rose within Cole. He shot another fireball at Portia. And once again, she disappeared just in time. Cole glanced around the room in confusion. Where in the hell did she . . .?
"Looking for me?" a voice whispered in the half-daemon's ear. Cole turned to face the voice's owner and instead, a pair of supple lips pressed against his own.
Cole tried to fight off the succubus' seductive assault. Tried and failed spectacularly. "Get . . . off me," he murmured. "Get off . . ." He tried to push her away, but the touch of her lips against his, and the scent of cinnamon sapped his will. Cinnamon? Only one woman he knew smelled of cinnamon. Cole opened his eyes.
He saw the red hair, slightly tanned skin dotted with freckles, the high cheekbones and luminous green eyes. Olivia. Wha . . .? "Love me," she whispered in Olivia's California accent. "Kiss me. Now." And Cole did. Willingly.
* * * *
Still muttering curses under his breath, Nick walked away from the ice machine, carrying the bucket in his hand. He should have called room service for a bucket of ice. Hell, he should have done a lot of things. Like get rid of Portia with a banishing spell. Or kill Bruce himself. Instead, he had allowed the egotistical succubus to intimidate him into becoming her personal servant.
Nick reached a juncture for two corridors and paused. He had sensed a presence before he saw the figure around the corner. Namely one Inspector Darryl Morris of the San Francisco Police Department. And if Morris was here . . . Nick felt a surge of panic. He had to get out of here. Fast. Leave San Francisco. Only, the good inspector stood between and freedom. He would never be able to reach the elevator without being spotted.
If only he possessed a power to use against Morris. If only . . . Nick then remembered the switchblade that he kept inside his trouser pocket. The same blade that he had used to kill DeWolfe Mann. All he had to do was wait for Morris to face the other way.
Nick peeked around the corner. Relief washed over him. Sure enough, Morris' back now faced him. He reached inside his pocket for the knife. The blade clicked out. Nick stepped into the main corridor and surreptiously approached the police officer from behind.
* * * *
The elevator stopped on the 12th floor. The doors slid open and Barbara stepped into the corridor. Ahead, she spotted Darryl Morris pacing back and forth in front of a pair of double doors. Doors that probably led to Bruce.
Barbara continued briskly along the corridor. Just as she opened her mouth to call out Darryl's name, a figure emerged from around the corner. Nick. Shock and surprise overwhelmed her. Along with anger. But when she spotted an object in Nick's right hand, anger became fear. "Oh my God," she murmured. "What? Oh my . . . Darryl! Darryl, look out!"
Her warning came out just in time. Darryl whirled around. His eyes widened at the sight of Nick. Then with lightning reflexes, he blocked Nick's thrust, forcing the latter to drop the switchblade. He followed up with an uppercut to the other man's jaw, knocking the latter to the floor. When Nick made a quick grab for the knife, Darryl whipped out his service pistol. "I wouldn't, if I were you," he growled. "Drop the knife. Now! Unless your wrist is faster than my trigger finger."
Nick dropped the switchblade to the floor. His shoulders sagged with defeat. Darryl sharply ordered him to stand up. As he struggled to his feet, Barbara marched toward him. She saw his eyes light up with hope. "Barbara," he begged. "Barbara, I'm sorry! I know this looks . . ."
His words cut short, as Barbara's open palm slapped his face. Hard. "You son-of-a-bitch!" she growled. "You better hope and pray that Bruce is still alive!"
Another slap from her silenced Nick. "Shut up!" Barbara fixed him with a contemptuous glare. "Whatever in your sick mind made you believe I would ever love you, Nick?" She turned to Darryl. "What about Cole and Olivia? Have they vanquished Portia?"
Darryl whipped out a pair of handcuffs. "I heard some noise coming from inside the suite. Almost like a battle royal. But then it just stopped. Maybe they finally got her." He snapped the handcuffs around Nick's wrists.
"I'll check on them." Barbara started toward the suite.
"Be careful." Then Barbara overheard Darryl read Nick his Miranda rights. "Nicholas Marcano, you have the right to remain silent . . ."
Upon reaching the suite's double doors, Barbara carefully cracked open one. Seeing that main room was empty, she stepped inside. Silence greeted her ears. Well, except for the sounds of low moaning coming from another room. Barbara frowned. That did not seem right. What was going on? And what happened to Olivia, Cole and Bruce? She strode inside what turned out to be a bedroom.
The first sight that greeted her eyes was Bruce clad only in his boxers, struggling to climb out of bed. Relief flooded Barbara. She started toward her fiancé, when she spotted Olivia sprawled on the floor, unconscious. "Livy!"
"He . . . help her," Bruce stammered. "Hel . . ."
One glance at Olivia's rising chest told Barbara that her friend was still alive. But where was Cole? What happened to him?
A loud moan greeted her ears. Barbara whirled around and let out a gasp. Cole stood against the opposite wall, locked in a passionate embrace with a nearly naked Portia Della Scalla. Barbara noticed that the succubus had managed to remove his jacket and tie and unfasten the buttons to his shirt, leaving his chest exposed. "What the hell?" she cried.
Neither Cole nor Portia seemed aware of her cry. The succubus had apparently found another victim to seduce. Powerful half-daemon or not, it seemed obvious that Cole was also susceptible to Portia's charms. Barbara snatched the nearest object - a white ivory statue of a horse - and rushed toward the kissing couple. "Get off him!" Barbara barked. "Now!" She wrenched Portia away from Cole's embrace and struck the other female on the side of the head. Stunned, the succubus stumbled back. Meanwhile, a dazed Cole slid to the floor.
"You bitch!" Portia snarled angrily at Barbara. "You have interfered for the last time!" She raised one hand threateningly, her fingertips crackling with electricity. Barbara's anger immediately vanished leaving a strong residue of fear. Oh Goddess! If only she could remember a banishing spell.
A voice from the bed cried out, "No! Don't!" Barbara glanced at the bed and saw a horrified Bruce stretch his hand out. A gust of wind filled the room. It eventually caught hold of Portia, lifting her from the floor. Barbara stared in fascination, as the wind tore the succubus' body apart, until it exploded in a burst of light.
Darryl burst into the bedroom, hauling a morose Nick in tow. He stared at the destruction caused by Bruce's aero kinesis, the unconscious Olivia and a rather stunned Cole. "Damn!" he declared out loud. "What the hell happened?"
END OF PART 18