"WHATEVER YOU DESIRE"
Loud voices and laughter mingled with the music coming from the CD player. Cole continued to nibble his food, as he watched the guests enjoy themselves. A couple walked past him, sank into a pair of nearby chairs and began to kiss each other. He glanced at the others guests and noticed that they all seemed to enjoying themselves . . . a lot.
Cole picked up a slice of cucumber and popped it into his mouth. As he chewed, he spotted Bruce and Barbara dancing together in the middle of the room. If one could call what they were doing . . . dancing. Their movements seemed more like stimulated sex. Moans came from the couple next to Cole. He glanced to his right and nearly choked on the cucumber. The couple was no longer merely kissing. They had progressed to outright grappling. And the man seemed intent upon opening his partner's blouse. What in the hell was going on?
"Hello." A lithe figure appeared before Cole. She plopped down upon the chair to his right. She was an attractive woman in her late twenties, with blonde hair and hazel brown eyes. She smiled at him. "My name is Winifred. What's yours?"
The half-daemon shot back a friendly smile. "Cole. My name is Cole."
"Hmmm. Nice." Hazel-brown eyes swept appreciatively over Cole's face. "It suits you." Winifred's smile widened in a laviscious manner that made him feel uneasy. "So, how long have you known Nathalie?"
Still uneasy over Winifred's suggestive scrutiny, Cole replied, "Uh, not that long. I had just met her, last fall. Before she left for . . ."
Winifred leaned forward, her face barely an inch away from Cole's. "Wanna fuck?"
The question took Cole by surprise. He blinked momentarily. "Uh . . . what did you say?"
"I asked if you want to fuck. That is . . . fuck me." Winifred's pink tongue flickered between her lips. "We can go upstairs, together. Find ourselves an empty room and . . ."
A third voice interrupted the intimate moment. "Well, well, well! If it isn't Winifred McKenna. Finally showing your true nature, aren't you Winnie?" Olivia loomed before the pair, hands on hips. "Chasing after anything in trousers." Her green eyes shone hard with malice. And jealousy.
Winifred tore away from Cole and glared at the redhead. "What do you want, Olivia?" she demanded.
"At the moment, to stop you from getting inside Cole's pants," Olivia shot back. "And to spare him from any future trauma."
Hazel-brown eyes narrowed dangerously. A malicious sneer curled Winifred's lips. "If I didn't know any better, I'd swear that you were interested in him, yourself."
Olivia's next words practically stunned Cole. "So what if I am? Besides, he would probably be better off with a ten-dollar whore than any time spent in your company. Then again," her eyes swept over the other witch in a contemptuous manner, "I don't really see that much difference."
Winifred shot out of her chair, with eyes blazing. "Listen, you conceited bitch! I've had enough of your insults and your petty comments. I've had to put up with them for years! If you want to make more trouble, I'm more than ready to take you on!"
"You couldn't take on a living soul, unless sex was involved!"
The blond witch started toward Olivia, her hands balled into fists. Before a potential fight could blossom, Cole stepped between the two women. "Uh ladies," he began, "maybe it's time for you to take a breath and part ways. Before you end up hurting each other."
"I certainly wouldn't mind hurting her," Winifred snarled.
At that moment, Phoebe appeared before the group, causing Cole to heave an inward sigh. "What's going on?" she demanded. "Why is everyone fighting?" She cast a suspicious look at her ex-husband. "Did you say or doing anything to them?"
Annoyed . . . no, angered by Phoebe's accusation, Cole snapped back, "No! I didn't! I was simply minding my own business when . . ."
"The question you should ask yourself, Phoebe, is why are you here?" Olivia snidely interrupted. "This is between Cole, Winifred and myself. We didn't ask for your . . . help."
Resentment darkened Phoebe's eyes even further. "Look, I'm only here because I thought I had spotted some trouble!"
"Trouble caused by Cole, right?" Olivia accused.
Cole watched Phoebe squirm with discomfort. "Well, it wouldn't exactly be the first time." Her words cut the half-daemon to the quick. And made him wonder if Phoebe would ever let go of the past - real and imagined slights.
Olivia - on the other hand - had another question on her mind. "Excuse me Phoebe, but what exactly brought you to this ridiculous conclusion? Or were you simply making another conclusion in true Halliwell fashion?"
Phoebe's body bridled with anger. "And just what in the hell did you mean by that?"
"What do you think?" Olivia retorted. "From what I know about your family - especially Prue - you practically have a history of jumping to conclusions."
In a dangerously low voice, Phoebe growled, "Don't you dare even mention my family. Especially Prue."
"Or what?" Olivia challenged. "You'll kick my ass?"
Before Phoebe could react, Paul Margolin materialized. Cole rolled his eyes in disgust and sighed. "Olivia! There you are!" the ADA declared breathlessly. "Why did you disappear on me, like that?"
Looking slightly annoyed, Olivia replied, "To have a good time."
"How can you treat him like that?" Phoebe demanded in an outraged voice. "Paul is probably the best thing that will ever happen to you!"
A sardonic smirk curved Olivia's lips. "Is that what you saw in a premonition? Or are you simply assuming again?"
At the same time, Winifred leaned toward Cole and whispered in his ear. "Hey! About my offer - are you still interested?"
Cole stared at her. "What?"
"Do you wanna go upstairs and fuck?"
"No!" he shot back, sounding more annoyed than he had intended.
A grimace marred Winifred's pretty face. "What's your damage, pal?" She turned to Paul. "Hey handsome! You wanna fuck?"
Margolin's eyes grew wide. "What the hell?"
"I believe that she had asked if you wanted to . . ." Cole began.
"I heard what she had said!" Paul cried. "And the answer is no!"
Disappointment flicked in Winifred's eyes. "Fine! See if I care!" She walked away, muttering, "Bunch of goddamn prudes."
Meanwhile, Olivia and Phoebe's quarrel had grown to mammoth proportions. "I think that I know enough about romance to figure out that you're making a mistake with Paul!" Phoebe was declaring out loud. "I am an advice columnist, you know!"
"How did someone whose idea of romance is at the level of a fairy tale for children, ever become an advice columnist?" Olivia retorted. "And I don't recall ever asking for your advice!"
Phoebe shot back, "I happen to give great advice! And I don't see how you can ever consider Cole as a friend or a boyfriend, especially after all you had put up with that warlock you were engaged to!"
Green eyes became stunned. "What? Are you talking about Richard?"
Phoebe continued, "Of course I am! Leo told us all about him. How you two were engaged and how he had ended up killing your aunt."
Cole wondered if Leo really knew the true story behind Richard Bannen's death. Judging from Olivia's reaction, apparently not. "Sounds like Leo has been telling another one of his whitelighter fantasies!" Olivia retorted. "He doesn't know what really happened. He wasn't there and he didn't want to find out! Your brother-in-law was too busy being relieved over Richard's death to bother! As to how I can bear having Cole in my life? Well, that's simple! Because I love him! I'm in love with him!"
Olivia's words brought about a stunned silence within the room. Strains of 'I Will Survive' filled the air. Cole stared at the red-haired witch, wondering if he had heard right. So did Phoebe and Margolin.
"You're . . . you're in love . . . with him?" Margolin demanded. "With Cole? I don't . . . why him? Why are you with me?"
Phoebe recovered from the moment and replied spitefully, "Because she knows that Cole is still in love with me. Right Cole?" Dark eyes sought out Cole for confirmation.
Cole barely heard Phoebe. Olivia's confession continued to reverberate in his mind. "I . . . uh . . ."
"What?" Phoebe demanded. "You still love me. Why don't you say it?"
Aware of the pairs of eyes upon him, Cole felt a surge of embarrassment. And a stab of pity toward his ex-wife. Six months ago, he could have easily replied with a resounding 'yes'. Now . . .
"Hmmm, something tells me that Cole can't answer your question the way you want, Phoebe," Olivia said with a sneer.
"Cole!" Phoebe's eyes grew wide with outrage. "Say something!"
Cole looked away and focused his attention on the refreshment table. "God! I'm hungry. I hope there's still some more food left."
"Why won't you tell Olivia that you still love me?" Phoebe's voice rang loud and clear in Cole's ears.
Very reluctantly, Cole faced his ex-wife. He struggled to keep the pity away from his expression. "Uh, Phoebe . . . I, uh . . ." He cleared his throat, nervously. "Of course I still love you, Phoebe." The Charmed One's lips curved into a triumphant smile. Cole continued, "But not in the way you think. I'm not . . ." Shit! He took a deep breath. "I'm just not in love with you. Anymore."
Cole continued, "Look Phoebe, I can't help how I feel. I . . . it's just not the same." He paused. "Sorry."
Outrage and disbelief replaced the triumph in Phoebe's eyes. "What do you mean that you're . . . I don't believe you! When did this happen?"
"Perhaps when you had decided to push him away, instead of dealing with your marriage problems," Olivia taunted. "Pretty typical of you, isn't it? 'Run For Your Life' Halliwell. She would rather run to the bosom of her family than deal with any problems in her relationships. That's about right, isn't it?"
Phoebe's eyes slit with pure dislike and anger. "Okay! That's it!" she retorted. "I've had enough of your shit!" One of her fists snaked out to punch Olivia, followed by the other. Unfortunately for Phoebe, the older woman possessed quicker reflexes. Olivia managed to easily block both punches, grab one of Phoebe's arms and flip her onto the floor.
Seconds later, Paige appeared by Margolin's side. She glanced down at the sprawling Phoebe, whose eyes were wide with shock. A frown appeared on her face, as she declared, "Oh God! What the hell is going on?"
* * * *
"What the hell is going on?" Nathalie demanded, repeating Paige's question without realizing it. She stared down at Phoebe. "What the . . . why is Whatshername . . .?"
Paige interjected, "Phoebe." She began to help her sister stand up.
"Yeah. Why was she on the floor?"
Both Cole and Olivia's other friend began to talk at the same time. At least Cole tried to explain. The other man - Nathalie recalled that Olivia called him Paul - seemed bent upon blaming the half-demon for the whole fiasco.
"Ask Belthazor!" Paul accused angrily. "He started this whole mess by setting Olivia and Phoebe against each other! I wouldn't be surprised if he had planned it all!"
Cole stared at the witch, as if the latter had lost his mind. "What the . . . How in the hell did you drum up this delusion?"
"I'm not delusional!" Paul retorted. "You know damn well that you had started the whole thing by cozying up to that slut!"
Nathalie blinked. "Slut? Who are you talking about?"
"He's talking about Winifred McKenna. She was . . ." Olivia rolled her eyes. ". . . making a play for Cole. And I stopped her." A smug smile tugged the corners of her lips.
Nathalie wondered if she had heard right. "Winifred? Are you talking about Tight-Ass McKenna, who once raised a fuss over a male stripper at a bridal shower?"
Olivia snorted with derision. "Oh please! That little prim attitude of hers is just an act! Winifred would jump into a guy's pants at the crook of a finger."
Not even Nathalie could deny Olivia's words. She was well aware of Winifred McKenna's true nature, behind the high moral act. Apparently, Winifred had finally decided to show her true colors. Only Nathalie could not understand why.
"And this all started because of this Winifred person?" Paige asked. "So how did her hitting on Cole lead to Phoebe laying on the floor?" A pair of arms wrapped around her waist. Nathalie saw Harry McNeill's head appear on Paige's shoulder. She let out a squeal. "Hey! What the . . .? Harry?"
The youngest McNeill grinned. "What's going on?" His arms remained fastened around Paige's waist.
"Harry, do you mind letting go of me?" Paige demanded.
"Not until we finish our kiss."
All eyes fell upon Paige and Harry. "Kiss?" Phoebe said, frowning. "You two were kissing?"
"We weren't . . ." Paige said with a sigh. "Okay, he did kiss me."
Olivia's green eyes grew wide. "He kissed you? Harry?"
Suspicion tingled at the back of Nathalie's neck. "Okay, what in the hell is going on?" she demanded. "Harry kissing Paige? Winifred openly hitting on men? What the hell is this?"
"That is what I would like to know," Cole added in a voice tinged with suspicion. "And the sooner we find out, the better. That means . . ." With a wave of his hand, Olivia, Phoebe, Harry and Paul all disappeared. ". . . we find out with less trouble, as possible."
Paige cried out, "What did you do with them?"
"I sent them upstairs," Cole explained. "To separate rooms. Now," he faced Nathalie with a stern expression, "what is going on?"
Feeling slightly intimidated by the half-daemon's questioning, Nathalie protested, "How the hell should I know? Why are you asking me?"
"Because nearly everyone at this damn party is acting strange," Cole shot back. "They're all acting so . . ."
Paige added, "Emotional?"
Blue eyes widened in realization. "Yeah," Cole replied in a distant voice. "That's it. Not only emotional, but very open. It's like everyone is being open about their feelings." His eyes focused upon Nathalie, once more. "What was it that you said about Winifred?"
Nathalie shrugged. "That she's known as Tight-Ass McKenna? And that she had once raised a fuss about male strippers?"
"Yeah, but she wasn't acting like a tight ass, tonight. In fact, she was all over me." Cole glanced to his side. Nathalie's gaze followed his. She saw a couple engaged in the act of tearing off each other's clothes. "Like them. Why would someone like Winifred start acting so promiscuously? "
Paige shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know. Booze?"
"Hold on there!" Nathalie protested. "Are you talking about my punch?"
"Well, I haven't drank any."
Cole added, "Neither have I."
"And me," Nathalie said. "But if you're talking about my raspberry cordial, you're mistaken. The amount of alcohol in it was very little."
Cole pointed at the couple. "Then how do you explain them? Or Olivia and the others? I mean, there must have been something wrong with the punch. What about that boysenberry that Olivia had detected?"
"That was simply boysenberry cordial," Nathalie explained. "I'll show you." She marched toward the kitchen, with Cole and Paige close at her heels. Once inside, Nathalie opened one of the cabinets and reached for her bottle of boysenberry cordial. She handed the bottle to Cole. "That is what I had accidentally put into the punch."
"Are you sure?" Cole thrust the bottle back into Nathalie's hand. "This bottle looks as if it hasn't been opened."
Nathalie stared at the bottle. "What?" Sure enough, not only did it looked filled, the top seemed screwed on tight. As if it had not been opened. "I don't understand," she said with a frown. "This is the only bottle of boysenberry cordial in the . . ." Then she remembered. Her plans for her upcoming book. The potion she had planned to use. "Oh Goddess!"
"What?" Paige demanded.
Cole's eyes narrowed. "What potion?"
Reaching inside the cabinet, Nathalie retrieved another bottle. It matched the bottle of boysenberry cordial in size and color. She took a deep breath and continued, "Uh, remember that book I had told you about? The one I plan to write on mythology and the Western psyche?"
Paige nodded. "Yeah, I remember."
Nathalie hesitated before she continued, "Well, I had also planned to conduct an experiment, involving a potion I had created." She paused dramatically. "A potion made from boysenberries for flavor. And bluebells."
"Oh shit!" Cole murmured. He obviously knew for what bluebells were used. Paige stared at him questioningly. "Bluebells are used to free a person's inhibitions. Allow them to be truthful about their emotions and desires."
Realization lit up Paige's eyes. "Oh shit!" She reached for the bottle of potion. "Oh my God! Nathalie, you must have put some of this in the punch by mistake. No wonder Harry was all over me." Her eyes widened even further. "Wait a minute! Harry has a thing for me?"
"This also explains Olivia and Phoebe's little bitch fest," Cole grimly added. Again, his eyes bored into Nathalie's. "Is there something you can make to counter this potion?"
The force of Cole's stare caused Nathalie to take a step backward. "Uh . . . well, no." Noticing the vexed expressions on both Cole and Paige's faces, she continued, "But I do know a herb that can cleanse the potion out of their systems. I can make a tea or another kind of drink from it."
"Then I suggest that you start preparing whatever you have in mind," Cole coolly added. "Now."
Intimidated by the half-daemon's displeasure, Nathalie responded with a wan smile. "Right." She returned to the cabinet. "Now, all I have to do is find my herbs."
END OF PART 3