"SPELLS, LIES AND REMORSE"
The bell over Ostera's front door rang, signaling a new customer. Both Paige and Barbara glanced up from the inventory sheet spread over the counter and were surprised to see Olivia enter the shop. "Hey!" Barbara greeted cheerfully. "What are you doing here?"
Smiling, Olivia walked over to the counter. "Just a little shopping, today. For some herbs and resin."
"New spell?" Paige asked.
Olivia's smile tightened. Which made Paige feel slightly uneasy. "No, not really. Just stocking up."
Barbara asked, "What do you need?" Olivia handed her a list. "Huh. Interesting." She handed the list to Paige. "Honey, why don't you and Maddy get this for Livy?"
Very reluctantly, Paige headed for the stockroom, where she found the other shop assistant, opening a large box. "Hey Maddy, we've got a job to do." She showed the younger woman the list. "We have to get this stuff for Olivia." The two women commenced upon finding the requested herbs.
"Italian Cypress seeds?" Madeline declared out loud. "What the hell?"
Paige sighed. "I know. This is a strange list. Yarrow, garlic, willow evergreen." Her eyes widened at the sight of one item. "Nightshade?"
"Hmmm," Maddy commented. "Deadly."
It took the two women nearly fifteen minutes to gather all of the supplies on the list. They returned to the store's front room, where they found Barbara dealing with a new customer. Olivia remained standing in front of the counter, patiently waiting for her supplies.
"Here you go," Paige said, as she and Maddy dumped the items on the counter. "Do you want to wait for Barbara?"
Olivia shook her head. "That's okay. I have to get back to work. You can ring it up."
After scanning the items, Paige announced the total sum. "Twenty-seven dollars and thirty-two cents." Olivia handed her thirty dollars. "So," Paige continued, as she took the money, "what's all this stuff for?"
Olivia gave the younger witch a cool look. "Like I said . . . stocking up."
"Oh. Yeah." Paige arched a dubious brow. "I forgot. Well, you sure know how to pick some interesting stuff for stock." She placed the last item into a plastic bag.
"Hmmm. Well," Olivia picked up the bag. "Gotta go. I'll see you."
Paige added, "Will you be at your parents' brunch, tomorrow?"
"I don't think so. I've been feeling a little tired, lately." Olivia started toward the door.
Impatience stamped on her face, Olivia hesitated. "Yes?"
"Um, have you seen Cole, lately?"
Green eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Why do you ask?"
Feeling slightly intimidated by Olivia's odd manner, Paige murmured, "Well . . . uh, I haven't see you guys . . . together. I mean, I heard . . ."
"We broke up, if you want to know," Olivia stated bluntly. "Actually, I broke up with him."
The news sent Paige into a state of shock. "Wha . . .? Why?"
Olivia's face assumed a cold mask. "Excuse me?"
"Uh . . . nothing." Paige took a deep breath. "Well, I guess you have to leave, huh?"
Once more, Olivia stared at the younger woman. "I guess so." Then she smiled. Somewhat. "I'll see you later, Paige."
"Yeah. Later." Paige watched nervously, as the red-haired witch left the shop. She murmured under her breath, "Oh my God! What the hell happened to her?"
"Oh my God! Not again!" Darryl Morris nudged his wife. It was the following Sunday evening, and the couple sat inside the House of Prime Rib, one of San Francisco's more popular restaurants. They had left their sons to spend the week with Darryl's parents. He pointed at a couple sitting inside a booth, on the other side of the dining room.
Sheila frowned at the couple. "What are you talking about? What's wrong?"
Darryl sighed. "Oh yeah. I guess I never told you about last Thursday. Or was it Friday?"
"Friday?" Sheila stared at her husband. "What happened, last Friday?"
"Olivia made a date with Paul Margolin. For dinner."
Disbelief shone briefly in Sheila's dark eyes. "What's the big deal?" she finally said. "He seems like a reasonably good-looking man. Decent. And didn't you once tell me that he was a witch? Like Olivia?"
"Yeah, but I thought she had grown bored with him, last spring." Darryl frowned, as a thought came to him. "Now that I think about it, she hadn't seemed all that interested in him, during the trial. It wasn't until after we had lunch . . ."
Sheila asked, "Is it true that Phoebe and Cole have reconciled? I was at Ostera's, when I heard the news."
Darryl shrugged his shoulders. "That's what I had heard. Maybe that would explain those two." Husband and wife continued to stare at the couple. "Man, I can't believe it. Was Cole and Phoebe the reason why Olivia got interested in Margolin, again?"
"Should we drop by and say hello?"
Darryl contemplated his wife's question for a minute. Then he saw their waiter approaching their table. "Nah, maybe we should let Olivia and Margolin have their privacy. Besides, I think our food is ready."
Inside Cole's penthouse, Phoebe took a sip of her Manhattan. "Hmmm, not bad." She glanced around the living room. "This place looks a little different. What did you do to it?"
"Nothing really," Cole replied. He sat next to Phoebe, holding a martini. "You just haven't seen it in a long time."
Her eyes now resting on the row of plants resting on the shelf above the fireplace, Phoebe said, "Are you sure? I don't recall seeing plants in here."
A heavy silence fell between the pair. When Phoebe had first received Cole's invitation, she had felt overjoyed. Thrilled. Now, she began to wonder if this date had been a good idea. Both she and Cole seemed wary in each other's company. Perhaps those fifteen months apart had taken a toll on their ability to feel comfortable in each other's presence.
Cole cleared his throat. "Phoebe, I . . ." He paused, and glanced toward the kitchen. "Uh, the reason I wanted to see you tonight . . . Well, it's about your question. You know . . ." He coughed slightly.
Phoebe decided to help out. "I understand," she said gently. "You wanted to work it out with Olivia, first."
"Actually, I was going to say yes."
Phoebe nearly choked on her cocktail. "Huh?"
Smiling briefly, Cole continued, "I don't see why we can't give it a shot." He quickly sobered. "But I have to be honest. Olivia had recently decided to end it between us. A couple of days ago, I would have been upset. Now," he sighed, "I guess I wasn't really that surprised."
"I'm so sorry, Cole." Phoebe's voice oozed sympathy. Another silent pause followed. "Um . . . how do you want . . .?"
Cole placed his martini glass on the table and removed the Manhattan from Phoebe's grip. He placed that next to his martini. Then he covered Phoebe's hands with his own. The touch of his skin sent a warm flush throughout her body. "Why don't we just take it one day at a time?" he quietly suggested. "I think it would be best for both of us. Okay?"
One day at a time. Although Phoebe found the suggestion a little too slow for her taste, she realized that it would do. Especially if it meant getting Cole back into her life. She gave him a warm smile. "One day at a time sounds great to me."
Leo orbed into one of the seats around the dining room, taking both Paige and Piper by surprise. "I'm home!" he declared. "What's for dinner?"
"Where have you been?" Piper demanded. "It's almost been two days!"
"Honey, you knew I had business to attend to. Another charge." Leo reached for the pitcher of iced tea. "And it was a difficult case, I might add."
Paige stared at her brother-in-law. "Who was the charge?"
"Paige, you know better than to ask me."
"How about this?" the younger Charmed One asked. "When was the last time you saw Paul Margolin?"
Leo frowned at Paige. "What . . . what are you getting at?"
Piper cut in. "Paige! It's nothing, Leo. Just some crazy idea that Paige has come up with."
"It's not crazy!"
"Paige, Leo hasn't been home in two days. Let him eat!"
But the younger woman refused to give up. "C'mon Piper. I only want to know what's going on between and Paul. And what does Olivia has to do with it?"
Leo's blue eyes expressed confusion. "Paige, what are you talking about?"
"Harry and I saw Olivia and Paul at the Golden Horn, last Friday night. And they were looking quite chummy." Paige hesitated. "I had . . . I had talked Harry into reading Paul's mind. To find out what was going on . . ."
Leo exclaimed, "My God, Paige! What were you thinking? You should have known that Harry isn't allowed to use his telepathy like that! It's a breach of privacy!"
"Yeah? Well, so is what you and Paul have been scheming in regard to Olivia!" Paige shot back. "According to Harry, Paul said something about some plan going well, and your name came up."
Not only did Paige continue to stare at Leo, but so did Piper. "Leo?" she said. "Is there something going on we don't know about?"
An exasperated sigh left Leo's mouth. "It's nothing. Paul . . . he merely wanted my advice regarding Olivia. Apparently, he's still interested in her. I told him that if he was still that interested, he should give it a go."
"And what did he do to Olivia to make her interested in him, again?" Paige demanded.
Leo cried out, "He didn't do anything! Maybe Olivia's finally tired of Cole! Or maybe, she didn't like the fact that he and Phoebe are friends, again. I don't know!"
Piper spoke up. "Paige, maybe we ought to give this a rest. I don't think you have anything to be suspicious about."
Paige slumped into her chair. "Fine."
Piper rolled her eyes and handed a platter of meat to her husband. "Pork chops, Leo?"
The whitelighter hesitated, before he grabbed the platter. But his eyes continued to stare uneasily at Paige. Which failed to dim her suspicions. Judging from Leo's unease, he was worried about something. And Paige intended to find out.
Harry hung up the telephone and rejoined his family inside the drawing room. The McNeills, along with Paul Margolin, had retired there, following a sumptuous meal prepared by his mother.
"Who was that?" Gran asked.
"Paige." Harry returned to his seat. "She, uh . . . her brooch is missing and she wanted to know if I had found it inside my car."
Gran continued, "Well, did you?"
"I'll check later."
Olivia's green eyes sparkled with mischief. "So, you and Paige had a date. Strange, she didn't say anything to me."
Harry gave his sister a thin smile. "It was nothing. I took her out, last Friday night. To the Empress of China, in Chinatown."
A brief frown flitted across Bruce's face. Fortunately, their usually uber-observant sister had not noticed. Olivia smiled. "Very impressive. How was your date?"
"Uh . . . interesting."
Olivia continued, "Paul took me out to dinner that night. At the Golden Horn." She smiled warmly at the ADA.
Harry choked back his bile, and smiled. "Hmmm, isn't that nice?"
After Olivia and Paul had departed over an hour later, Jack turned to his younger son. "Okay Harry, what did Paige really want to talk to you about?"
"Leo's back," Harry grimly replied. "She tried to question him about Livy and Paul, but it didn't go anywhere. She also wants to question him again." He hesitated. "I told her to lay off, since Bruce and I have a plan."
The oldest McNeill sibling looked surprised. "We do?"
"Of course. Don't you remember what Paul had told us, earlier?" Harry asked. "About his upcoming lunch with the D.A.? It's supposed to be tomorrow."
Bruce shook his head silently.
Harry sighed. "Okay, I see you weren't paying attention. While Paul is having lunch with his boss, you'll be meeting Leo inside his office."
"What makes you think that Leo is going to talk to me?" Bruce demanded.
Harry smiled. "Don't worry, Big Brother. Leo will think he is meeting with Paul. And thanks to your shapeshifting ability, you'll make sure that he will."
Monday morning dawned bright over San Francisco. Olivia stood inside the kitchen, as she prepared a potion that she believed would become a final solution to a problem . . . a problem that came in the form of a certain daemon named Belthazor.
While she hummed, "Nobody Does It Better" under her breath, she reached inside one of the cabinets and retrieved a small, black cauldron. Olivia filled it with water - straight out of San Francisco Bay - and placed it on top of the stove. She turned on the flame and the water inside the cauldron began to boil. Next, came the ingredients she had purchased at Ostera's - jasmine, yarrow, garlic and willow. Olivia also added the Nightshade. A puff of black smoke exploded above the cauldron and she allowed the mixture to continue boiling.
Leaving the kitchen, Olivia headed back into the living room and toward the altar she had previously set up in a small corner. She removed the pentagram, sketched inside a circle, from the altar and replaced it with another circle - which contained a heptagram. Then she lit both of the altar's candles and placed sprigs of evergreen around the altar. Finally, she poured the Italian Cypress seeds into the cauldron. Satisfied that everything had been prepared, Olivia returned to the kitchen, removed the cauldron from the stove and placed it over the heptagram.
Olivia then donned her ceremonial robe, retrieved the Aingeal staff from her closet and stood before the altar. Holding the staff in her left hand, she grabbed a stick of tree bark and mumbled an incantation in Celtic - invoking the names of Hecate and Pele. While she continued to chant, she added a piece of earthworm, a piece of water snake, a dried up spider and a sliver of salamander flesh to them mixture inside the cauldron. Then using prongs, she retrieved a small lump of mercury, dropped it into the mixture and finished the incantation with a flourish. The red carnelian stone in her staff shone bright red. And another puff of red smoke exploded above the cauldron.
Once the smoke had cleared, Olivia returned the staff to her bedroom closet and removed her robe. She retrieved the cauldron and returned it to the kitchen. After spreading a white, cheesecloth over a small cooking pot, Olivia poured the cauldron's contents upon the cloth. After the liquid had seeped through, she squeezed the last of it into the pot and placed the cloth on the kitchen's counter, allowing the contents to dry. Then she poured the liquid from the pot into several small bottles - ammunition for another day - and washed her hands in the kitchen sink.
Now that her task had been completed, Olivia picked up her cordless telephone and dialed a number. "Hi, Paul. It's me, Olivia. I'm finished with that potion we had discussed. Well, almost. I have a little dehydration to complete."
"When do we use it?" the other witch asked.
Olivia glanced at the clock on the kitchen wall. It read ten twenty-three. "How about in a few hours? Meet me at Cole's penthouse around two-thirty, this afternoon. We would have to get there before him."
Doubt clouded Paul's voice. "Are you sure you don't want to try, tomorrow? This afternoon seemed to be cutting it a little close. I have that lunch with the D.A., don't forget."
"You won't be finished before two?" Olivia asked.
A pause followed before Paul continued with a sigh. "I guess I can. If it begins to stretch too long, I'll just tell Coleman that I have an afternoon appointment. I'm sure he'll understand."
"Good. I'll see you this afternoon. Bye." Olivia hung up, allowing herself a satisfied smile. If all went well, Cole Turner aka Belthazor would no longer exist by the end of the day.
END OF CHAPTER 7