"WHATEVER YOU DESIRE"
The two sisters climbed the steps that led to a large, Victorian townhouse on McAllister. "Nice place," Paige commented. Her eyes swept appreciatively over the three-story house. "I didn't realize it would be a lot bigger than our place."
Once the pair reached the front door, Phoebe rang the doorbell. "What do you expect? The woman is a best-selling writer. She can afford a place of this size."
"So can you," Paige added. Phoebe shot her a dark look.
Seconds later, the front door opened, revealing the townhouse's owner. Strains of 'Lady Marmalade' blasted from inside the house. The tall, dark-haired witch greeted the newcomers with a smile. "Paige! Right?" Nathalie and Paige shook hands. Then the former glanced at the older sister. "And this must be your sister . . . uh . . ."
"Phoebe," the middle Charmed One said with a brief smile. "Phoebe Halliwell." She paused, wondering if their hostess would recognize her name. When the older woman failed to respond, Phoebe added uneasily, "I . . . uh, nice to meet you. I've read some of your books."
A wide smile appeared on Miss Gleason's face. "Thanks. Nice to meet a fan. Now, c'mon in, you two. And enjoy the party." She flung the door wide open, allowing the two sisters to step inside. They followed her through the foyer and into a wide drawing-room, decorated with balloons and streamers. Phoebe's eyes took in the number of guests who were forming little cliques, sampling food and drinks from the refreshment tables or dancing in the middle of the room.
The song ended and another immediately followed. "Now that's new," Paige commented. "What is that song? Sounds like some disco song that was around before I was born."
Nathalie answered, "It probably was. It's one of my dad's favorite songs - 'Don't Leave Me This Way' by Thelma Houston." She faced the two sisters. "As for you two, why don't you go enjoy yourselves? While you're at it, try the punch. It's an old recipe from my grandmother. Raspberry Sunset."
Paige asked warily, "Does it have any alcohol?"
Nathalie's eyes widened. "Yeah. Raspberry cordial. Why?"
A deep flush colored Paige's cheeks. "I'm a . . . recovering alcoholic. Sorry."
"There's nothing to be sorry about, honey. I understand. If you're thirsty, I have soda and bottled water, as well. Now, go enjoy yourselves, you two." Nathalie walked away to greet another guest.
Phoebe longingly glanced at the refreshment table. "I don't know about you, but I'm hungry. Let's get something to eat."
"You go on ahead," Paige replied. "I just saw Barbara and Bruce and want to say hello. I'll see you later." The youngest Charmed One walked away, while Phoebe went in the opposite direction.
Her stomach rumbled slightly, as she reached the refreshment table. Judging from the array of food on display, Phoebe found it difficult to make a selection. She finally settled upon an open-faced salmon and scrambled egg sandwich, marinated artichoke hearts and mushrooms and some Turkish bean salad.
"Try the Pepper-Herb cheese," a man's voice suggested.
Phoebe glanced up. Her heart did a back over flip at the sight of her ex-husband standing next to her. He was impeccably dressed as usual - a dark-blue suit with a royal-blue shirt opened at the throat. "What are you doing here?" Phoebe demanded.
One of Cole's dark brows quirked upward. "Attending a party?"
"I mean . . ." Phoebe flushed with embarrassment, recognizing the accusatory tone in her voice. "I mean, do you know Nathalie Gleason?"
Cole nodded. "Yeah. Olivia had introduced us, last fall." He dipped a spoon into a bowl of caviar, sprinkled with chopped boiled egg. "Hmmm, caviar. Nice touch."
Phoebe commented, "Yeah, I guess she can afford it." She paused. "So. You were invited. Right?"
Blue eyes bored into Phoebe's, causing her body to shiver. Damn. "To be honest, I managed to convince Nathalie to invite me. I plan to cast a spell over all of the witches here. Create my own following, so I can take control of the Source's Realm, again." His voice tinged with sarcasm.
"Never mind. Sorry I asked." Phoebe glanced away, feeling foolish. An awkward moment passed before she continued, "Did you say that the Pepper-Herb Cheese is good?"
Cole replied, "Yeah. You should give it a shot."
Taking up Cole's suggestion, Phoebe reached for a sliver of cheese. "What about the punch?" she asked. "Raspberry something. Have you tried it?"
"No, I hav . . ." Cole broke off. His attention seemed focused elsewhere. Phoebe turned around and saw who had caught her ex-husband's attention. Namely one Olivia McNeill, arriving with Paul Margolin. The jealousy stamped on Cole's face ignited a similar emotion within Phoebe's breast. She tried to remind herself that she was over Cole, and should feel grateful that he had learned to move on. Unfortunately for her, she only felt pain that he seemed more interested in another woman.
Maintaining a cool façade, Phoebe nudged Cole's arm. "You what? Tried the punch? Haven't?"
Cole's eyes snapped back to Phoebe. "What?"
"The punch. Did you try it?" Phoebe struggled to keep her irritation in check.
"No. Uh . . . I don't like raspberries very much."
Phoebe grabbed a handful of crackers and tossed them on her plate. "I think I'll try a cup of punch."
"That's nice," Cole murmured. His gaze returned to Olivia and Paul.
Realizing that her ex-husband's attention was not focused upon her, Phoebe heaved a frustrated sigh. And moved toward the large crystal punch bowl.
* * * *
"Olivia!" Nathalie greeted the red-haired witch. "Oh sweetie, it's good to see you, again! How are you?"
The two friends hugged. Olivia answered, "I'm fine. Welcome back!"
"Oh, it's good to be back." Nathalie turned her attention toward Olivia's companion. "And who is this?"
Olivia replied, "This . . . is Paul Margolin, a friend of mine." She noticed how Nathalie's gaze swept appreciatively over the good-looking ADA. "And he's also that witch I had told you about. He and I share the same whitelighter. Well used to, since I no longer have one."
"Really?" Nathalie offered her hand to Paul. "Nathalie Gleason. Nice to meet you."
Paul took the offered hand and shook it. "Nice to meet you. And my name is Paul Margolin. I've . . . uh, I've read one of your books, by the way. 'THE NATURE OF MAGIC'."
"And how did you like?"
Paul hesitated. "Uh, very well written. And very unorthodox. You seemed to have a more . . . ambiguous view of magic."
Nathalie's eyes widened. "Ambiguous?"
Olivia nudged Paul with her elbow, before he gave the dark-haired witch a disarming smile. "Sorry. What I meant was that you seemed to view magic in an interesting way. As neutral. It's not . . . exactly how I've always viewed it."
One dark brow formed an arch. "Oh."
Realizing it was time to jump into the conversation, Olivia added, "Paul doesn't view witchcraft in the same way we do. He's not Wiccan."
"I'm a Methodist," he added. "Although there are certain aspects of Wiccan beliefs that I do practice."
Nathalie smiled. "Hmmm, a flexible man. I like that."
Sensing her friend's interest in her date, Olivia spoke up. "Down girl! You're starting to drool."
"Don't be silly, Livy! I'm not drooling over Mr. Margolin, here." Nathalie turned appealingly wide eyes upon the ADA. "Am I?"
A red flush colored Paul's face. "No . . . um, no you're not. In fact, you look perfectly lovely."
Nathalie threw her head back and laughed, attracting the attention of others. "Good grief, Livy! Your taste in men is absolutely delicious! And speaking of delicious friends, your Mr. Turner has arrived." A sly expression flitted across Nathalie's face. "Or is he still your Mr. Turner?"
Olivia immediately sobered. "Cole? He's here?" She noticed the scowl on Paul's face.
"He had arrived about forty minutes ago," Nathalie said. "I'm surprised that he didn't arrive with you two, considering that he's your neighbor."
"Where is he?"
Nathalie pointed to a large table, at the opposite end of the room. "Over there. At the refreshment table. Looks like he's with Paige's sister. What's her name? Phoebe?"
Olivia glanced across the room. Sure enough, there stood Cole and Phoebe - side by side. Cole's eyes met Olivia's. She glanced away. An arch smile formed on Olivia's lips. "Yeah, that's Phoebe all right. Did they arrive together?"
According to Nathalie, Cole had arrived alone, and Phoebe with Paige. Barbara, Bruce and Harry had arrived together. Olivia barely heard a word coming from her friend's mouth. She was too busy observing the divorced pair that stood next to the long table. Fighting the jealousy that threatened to arise within her. "That's nice," Olivia murmured, her thoughts still on Cole and Phoebe.
Nathalie added, "By the way, I've made my famous Raspberry Sunset punch. Your favorite. I suggest you sample a cup before it's all gone."
"Sounds like a good idea," Olivia said. She strode toward the refreshment table, with Paul and Nathalie close at her heels. First stop - the punch bowl. There, she found Phoebe sampling a cup of Raspberry Sunset. "So, how is it?" she asked the Charmed One.
Phoebe's eyes widened at the sight of the red-haired witch. She removed the cup from her lips. "Hi . . . uh, Olivia. The punch is great." She squirmed with discomfort. "You should try it."
Olivia turned to face Cole and noticed that he also held a plastic cup. Only it contained something different. Nathalie also noticed. "No punch for you?" the dark-haired witch asked. She reached for a cup and filled it with punch.
Before the half-daemon could answer, Olivia said, "Cole doesn't like raspberries." Again, her eyes met Cole's. "Raspberries and Coconut cake. Isn't that right?"
A frown appeared on Phoebe's face, as she glanced sharply at Cole. "Coconut cake? That's one of Piper's specialties. And Grams'. You never said that you didn't like . . ."
Nathalie thrust the cup of punch into Olivia's hand. "Here, Livy. Take a sip."
Olivia did as her friend ordered. The punch, as usual, tasted delicious. However, Olivia detected a flavor other than raspberry. "Say Nat, did you add something else into the punch? Like boysenberries?"
A sigh left Nathalie's mouth. "You noticed it, too? So did Bruce and Barbara. I had accidentally added some of my boysenberry cordial into the punch. I was on the phone, at the time."
"More cordial?" Cole said with a smirk. "You're a regular little moonshiner, aren't you?" Nathalie merely smirked.
Then Paul asked his hostess for a cup of punch. Nathalie filled another cup and handed it to him. Paul took a sip. "Hmmm, delicious. You sure you don't want to try a sip?" he said to Cole. "Or maybe you would prefer some Coconut cake?" A smirk appeared on his lips.
Olivia had to refrain from rolling her eyes at Paul's lame joke. Cole, on the other hand, merely responded with a cool smile. Then he turned to Nathalie. "By the way, I had noticed some old acquaintances of mine. I didn't realize you were familiar with any daemons."
"Demons?" Phoebe's eyes grew wide with alarm. "You have demons, here?" She scanned the room.
Nathalie shrugged. "Only a few. Along with one or two warlocks. I got to know them, while researching for my last book. They had provided me with some interesting stuff."
Olivia glanced around. She spotted a familiar face among the crowd. It was Riggerio, talking with a pretty young woman. "Well, look who's here," she said, nodding at the daemon.
Paul frowned. "Isn't that . . . what's his name . . . Riggerio?" He gave Nathalie a sharp look. "You really do have demons here, other than Turner!"
"Well, yeah." Nathalie's mouth stretched into a dreamy smile, as she regarded the Italian speaking daemon. "As for Riggerio, he's such a sweetheart. He gave me a lot of information on daemons known in the Stregheria world. Charming man."
Olivia smirked. "You're not the only one who thinks so." Her comment drew stares from both Cole and Paul. She ignored them.
Paul, on the other hand, seemed disturbed by the presence of daemons at the party. "I can't believe that you . . . I mean . . . aren't you disturbed by the idea of having demons here?" He shot Cole a baleful look.
"It depends upon the daemon," Nathalie replied shortly. Before Paul could respond, the doorbell rang. "What do you know, more guests." She smiled at the three witches and half-daemon. "Why don't you guys help yourselves to more punch and some food. It's time for me to play hostess, again. Catch you later." She immediately walked away.
Cole heaved a sigh and gathered his plate of food. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm going to have some fun. I have a few friends to get reacquainted with." He flashed Olivia a quick smile that seemed to bother both Paul and Phoebe.
As Paul watched the half-daemon walk away with hostile eyes, he grumbled, "What the hell kind of party is this, anyway? Witches and demons mixing together?"
"Don't forget warlocks," Olivia added. She reached for a canapé. "But that's Nathalie for you. Always the equal opportunity hostess."
* * * *
The Doobie Brothers singing 'What a Fool Believes' blasted from the nearby CD player. Paige sat in one of the empty chairs against the far wall, eating lamb kabobs and watching some of the guests dance in the middle of the room. She could not help but wondered if Nathalie Gleason had some kind of fixation for music from the 1970s. Or if any of the guests were aware how badly they danced.
At least two of the dancers did not seem lacking in talent. Paige focused on one particular pair - Barbara and Bruce. Not only were they dancing in rhythm, they seemed . . . Paige's eyes narrowed. If her eyes were not deceiving her, she could have sworn that Barbara and Bruce were grinding their bodies against each other. In a very suggestive manner. How odd.
Paige caught sight of another couple . . . locked in a sexual embrace. They seemed to be literally devouring each other's lips. Then she caught sight of a familiar figure - Riggerio. Paige frowned. What was 'he' doing here, and why was he crying? Before Paige could satisfy her curiosity, she saw Phoebe shooting wary glances at Cole, who was engaged in a conversation with a female witch. Poor Phoebe. The older Charmed One seemed torn between fear, wariness and desire. Weird. Then again, perhaps Phoebe's attitude was normal. Unlike a good number of other guests.
It took Paige a moment to allow that last thought to sink in. She realized that many of the guests - save a handful - have been acting very strangely over the past half hour. Emotions seemed to be running high. Exposed. Then Paige spotted Olivia re-enter the drawing-room, wearing a determined expression. And heading straight for Cole.
Paige dumped her plate on the empty chair next to her and stood up. She strode toward Cole and Olivia. Trouble seemed to be brewing in the air and she had to stop it. Stop it before Olivia caused a . . .
"There you are." A pair of hands caught hold of Paige's waist and drew her back against a man's body. What the hell? "What do you know? I've finally been able to catch you alone. Are you trying to stay away from me?"
Huh? Paige frowned. The voice sounded familiar. As if it belonged to . . . She whirled around and found herself facing a tall man in his mid-twenties. A tall man with red hair, green eyes and a light sprinkle of freckles on a handsome face. "Harry?"
The youngest McNeill grinned broadly. "The one and only. Miss me?" Hands still on Paige's waist, drew her closer to Harry.
"Harry, what the hell are you doing?" Paige cried. "Let go." She struggled to wrestle out of his grip.
"I'm facing the truth, for once." One hand began to travel up from Paige's waist. Slowly. "About us."
"What are you talking about? There's no . . ."
"Oh come on! Stop pretending! I admit I'm attracted to you. Have been for a long time." Soft lips planted a light kiss on Paige's neck, sending an unexpected thrill throughout her body. "And I know you've been attracted me."
Paige fought down her desire. What the hell made Harry attempt something like this? And how did he know about her . . . ? "Where did you get this delusional idea that I was interested in you?" she cried out.
"I'm a telepath," Harry replied smugly. "Remember?" And before Paige could protest any further, the other witch's lips crushed against hers.
Her first instinct was to escape from Harry's embrace. Push him away. Unfortunately, Paige found herself unable to resist the warm lips that pressed against hers. Or the surge of passion that suddenly sprang within her, as his tongue slipped into her mouth. Caught up in Harry's kiss, Paige was unaware of her arms sliding around his neck. As their lips parted momentarily for air, Paige heard herself murmur, "Oh . . . oh God! What am I doing?"
"Kissing me," Harry murmured back. Then he pressed his lips against hers, once more.
The kiss would have lasted longer, but the sound of voices penetrated Paige's mind. She gently broke away from Harry's embrace. "Wha . . . what's going on?" she asked.
Harry replied breathlessly, "Nothing. Just us." He tried to kiss Paige again, but she pushed him away. "Paige, why are you pushing me away?" Desperation tinged his voice.
"I thought I heard voices," she replied. "My sister." Paige glanced over Harry's shoulder. Her eyes fell upon a disturbing scene of her sister flying over the shoulder of one Olivia McNeill. Holy shit! "Oh God! Something has gone wrong between Phoebe and Olivia. I have to stop them." She quickly walked away, her mind no longer focused upon Harry and his tantalizing lips.
END OF PART 2