"BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR"
The doorbell rang. Olivia heaved a sigh and stared at Cecile. "Oh God," she murmured. "It's time."
Cecile rolled her eyes. "Get serious, girl. You act as if we're about to attend the wedding party from hell."
"We're talking about my half-daemon fiancé, his daemonic mother and uncle, and my prissy Uncle Brion in the same room." Olivia paused. "You do the math."
With a snort, Cecile added, "Now if you add Daddy and Andre, who can barely stand each other, then you're talking about a hellish night." She grabbed Olivia's arm. "And by the way, since when, as a Wiccan, did you start believing in hell? Time to go downstairs and meet the guests."
The two friends left the bedroom that they shared and headed downstairs toward the large drawing room. Seconds later, Davies ushered in Cole, Andre, Nimue and Marbus. Olivia greeted her fiancé with a kiss. "Ready for tonight?"
"Would you be upset if I said 'no'?" Cole murmured back.
Olivia shot him a quick grimace and made the introductions. "Cole, Andre . . . I'm sure that you two remembered my grandmother, Bronwyn Llewellyn Morgan. From Bruce's wedding."
The half-daemon and the former bokor greeted the elderly witch with warm smiles. Olivia's grandmother literally gushed over the pair. "I must say that it's lovely to see you two, again." She sighed. "Makes me wish I was fifty years younger."
"Mother!" Gweneth admonished.
"How about forty years?"
Barely smiling, Olivia continued the introductions. "Nana, this is Elizabeth Turner, Cole's mother. She's also known as . . . uh, Nimue."
The elderly woman's dark eyes grew wide at the sight of the demoness. "Good heavens! So, you're the one who . . ." She glanced at her son. "Brion, is the daemon who had . . .?"
Olivia's uncle stiffened. "Yes," he muttered.
An amused smile curved Nimue's lips. "Yes, I'm the one who had taken Aeronwyn's Grimoire. I still have it, by the way. Nice to meet you again, Mr. Morgan."
Brion's mouth tightened even further. His mother peered closely at Nimue. "Good heavens! I don't mean to be rude, but why do you speak with a Dublin accent?"
"I was born in Dublin," Nimue explained. "And my family are descendants of the Tuatha Dé Dannan."
Bronwyn exclaimed, "Bloody hell!"
"That was more or less my reaction," Margaret Ferguson added.
Nimue's smile widened, as she nodded at Marbus. "By the way, this is my elder brother, Marbus. I'm sure you know him as . . . um, Miles Farrell. Like me, he was born . . ."
"Miles Farrell?" The outburst came from Olivia's uncle. Who wrote 'VISIONS OF RAGE' and 'TIME OF THE PHOENIX'?"
Looking slightly embarrassed, Marbus nodded. "That and a few others." He held out his hand to the Welshman. "Nice meeting you, uh . . .?"
"Brion Morgan." Olivia's uncle shook the daemon's hand. "I understand that you're also a Gimle daemon?" Nimue rolled her eyes.
Marbus replied, "Aye. For over 140 years or so." He shook Bronwyn's hand. "Lovely to meet you, Mrs. Morgan."
"It's a pleasure," Olivia's grandmother replied.
After Olivia finished with the introductions, a heavy silence filled the room. Nimue's next comment caught the others off guard. She turned to the Welsh visitors and said, "I suppose that Gweneth must have told you the news."
Brion peered suspiciously at the demoness. "What news?"
"About Jack's family, of course."
Another deadly silence followed. Dread filled Olivia's mind. She feared that her future mother-in-law was about to reveal the McNeills' family secret. "Oh, Nana and Uncle Brion already know about the daemonic wedding ceremony, Nimue." She shot an uneasy look at Cole. "If that's what you're talking about."
The half-daemon stepped forward. "Mother is probably referring to the news about your shop."
"What?" Nimue frowned at her son.
Cole deliberately repeated himself. "Olivia's new shop, Mother. Isn't that what you mean? She plans to open it after the New Year."
"Hopefully in early February," Olivia added, grateful for Cole's quick thinking. She turned to Mrs. Dubois. "I thought you might like a peep at it, before you leave."
A wary smile appearing on her face, Mrs. Dubois replied, "Yeah. Yeah, Andre told me all about it."
Once again, the room fell silent. From the corner of her eye, Olivia noticed that Nimue seemed interested in the room's décor. So did Gweneth. "I realize that this room looks a bit old-fashioned, but I've always been a fan of the old Spanish Colonial style. Ever since I first arrived in California."
"So have I," Nimue replied. "Of course that was 120 years ago. Although I must say that this room looked slightly different, back then."
Everyone stared at the demoness. Including Olivia. "You've . . . been here, before?"
Nimue hesitated. "Well . . . yes. After all, the Turners were a well-to-do family, back then."
"That would make sense," Mr. Dubois said. "Considering that Cole is . . ." He paused and turned to the half-daemon. "Sorry, but I remember Cecile and Andre telling me that you're . . . 115 years old?"
Cole corrected him. "I'll be 119 years, next month."
"That's right," Nimue added. "Oh, how I remember that day. Deirdre had to act as midwife, while Benjamin and William waited downstairs for . . ."
Uncle Mike interrupted. "Wait a minute. William? As in William McNeill?"
"Of course," Nimue coolly replied, nodding her head. "He and Benjamin were close friends. As a matter-of-fact, Belthazor was his godson."
Gasps filled the room. Eyes grew wide with shock. Olivia and Cole's eyes met. Then Jack McNeill turned to the family's boggling manservant. "Uh, Davies, perhaps you should serve another round of drinks."
Several hours later, a furious Cole paced back and forth in front of the penthouse fireplace. Olivia, Nimue, Andre, Cecile and Marbus observed his action with wary eyes, from the comfort of nearby chairs and the sofa. The half-daemon finally paused, as he angrily turned on his mother. "Exactly when did you plan to deliver this little bombshell to the rest of us, Mother?"
"This . . . what?" Nimue coughed slightly. "Oh, you mean our little family connection? Well, I didn't exactly have any plans, Belthazor. Especially since I've been a bit pre-occupied by the engagement and the wedding. And before that, I had not seen you in months."
Cole retorted, "And why didn't you tell me, last summer?"
"Because I was too busy trying to prevent you from making a grave mistake." Nimue's eyes - so similar to her son's - shone with resentment. "You remember, don't you, Belthazor? When you had planned to give up your powers?"
"Mother . . ."
Cecile spoke up, "I don't want to get involved in a family spat, but I don't see why you're upset." Mother and son stared at the Vodoun priestess. "Yes Cole, I'm talking to you."
"What the . . . I . . ." The half-daemon felt speechless. He turned to his fiancée for support.
Olivia merely added, "Cecile has a point, Cole. I don't really see why you're upset. Didn't you once say that you had the feeling that you've been inside my parents' home before? And considering your mother's news, I thought you would be thrilled about being the godson of my great-great-grandfather."
Shit! Cole glared at his mother, who looked slightly amused. His anger increased. "I would be," he growled, if Mother . . . had not deemed it necessary to keep this a secret."
"In Capsiel's name! I did not keep this a secret!" Nimue protested. "I simply forgot to mention it! Bloody hell! I haven't set foot inside that house since 1892!"
Marbus drained the last of his whiskey and stood up. "I don't know about the rest of you, but it's time for me to leave. I need to get home."
"Before you leave Marbus," Cole said in a deceptively soft voice, "how long did you know that I was William McNeill's godson?"
"Who me?" The older demon regarded his nephew with innocent eyes. "Not until tonight."
Nimue added, "He never knew, if you must know. I never told Marbus about our connection to the McNeills. Don't forget Belthazor, he first met you in the Melora Dimension, when you were four."
Cole remained silent, but continued to regard both his mother and uncle with suspicion. Marbus said, "Well, I guess I'll be seeing the rest of you, later this week. Uh . . . when is the bachelor's party?"
"This Friday," Andre replied. "At the Vornado Club. On Powell Street. The party begins at 7:30."
"Right. The Vornado Club. I reckon I'll see you lads there. Goodnight everyone." And the daemon teleported out of the penthouse.
Nimue stood up. "It's time for me to leave as well."
"Making your escape as well, Mother?" Cole murmured in an insinuating voice.
The demoness sighed. "You really amaze me sometimes, Belthazor. You're about to be married in a few days. Someone has recently tried to kill your bride-to-be . ."
"I had hoped everyone had forgotten that," Olivia added.
Nimue finished, ". . . and you're creating a fuss over something I had forgotten about for years." She shot a friendly smile at Olivia and the two New Orleans visitors. "It was lovely seeing you all, again. And I'll be seeing you two ladies, Friday night." Then she glared at her son. "Belthazor." She shimmered away.
Cole stared at the other three, who deliberately avoided his gaze. "Okay. You might as well say what's on your mind."
"Oh, you mean that you've been acting like a complete ass?" Olivia volunteered. "Or that once again, you've allowed your feelings toward your mother to overcome any sense of forgiveness?"
Frowning, Cole shot back, "Olivia, is it your goal in life to make me feel like a complete shit?"
With a sigh, Andre answered, "Hey man, you're doing that all on your own."
"No kidding," Cecile added. "You really need to make up your mind about how you feel about that mother of yours. Apparently, you still have a grudge against her, because of what happened to your daddy. Yet, you've allowed her to become involved in your wedding. What's up with that, anyway? Have you forgiven her or what?"
A gust of breath escaped from Cole's mouth as he sat down on the sofa, next to Cecile. "I don't know. I mean, I want us to move on, but . . ." He paused, as a gasp left the Vodoun priestess' mouth. Everyone stared at her. "What?" Cole demanded. "Something wrong?"
A frown appeared on Cecile's face. "I don't know. Are you familiar with a dark-haired woman who looks like a second-rate Vegas showgirl?"
Idril. The moment Cecile spoke, he recognized the demoness' description. "Yeah," he said warily. "I think I know her. Why?"
The frown remained stamped on Cecile's face. "Because sooner or later, I think the two of you will end up as husband and wife."
Idril climbed the stoop of a Baltimore townhouse and rang the doorbell. Seconds passed before a man's voice answered. "Yes? Who is it?"
"My name is . . ." Idril hesitated. She had considered using her mortal name, but decided against it. Why bother when Wheeler happened to be familiar with the supernatural world? "My name is Idril." She paused. "I'm a daemon."
The door immediately swung open. An attractive man with conservatively cut blond hair and light-blue eyes appeared in the doorway. He stood at least an inch under six feet tall. And Idril could not help but admire his compact, muscular body - especially his wide shoulders. "What do you want?" he demanded in a suspicious voice.
Idril took a deep breath. "I understand that you have an object - an amulet that I might be interested in. Evendril's Amulet. I would like . . ."
"Who told you that?" Wheeler regarded the demoness with hostile eyes.
"Valindal of the Anduin dimension."
Wheeler muttered through his teeth, "That bitch! Can't keep her mouth shut. I'll never do business with her, again." He glared at Idril. "If you think that you can take the amulet from me, think again."
Idril retorted, "I could have simply killed you and taken the amulet. Which I assume is hanging from your neck."
"I doubt it." Wheeler glanced at an object that hung from the doorway - inside the house. Idril's eyes followed his gaze. She saw a white pouch hanging from above. "Protection ward. Angelica Root."
A frustrated sigh left Idril's mouth. "Look, I understand that you have to be close in order to use the amulet on the . . . person in question. Which is something I won't be able to do. Not with the person I have in mind. Which means I need someone to get close to this person." She paused. "Namely you."
Silence followed, until Wheeler finally agreed to cooperate. "Okay. Fine. I'll help. But for a price." His eyes hardened.
"How much?" Idril asked.
The warlock hesitated. "One hundred thousand. I want half before I do anything."
"Fine. One hundred thousand is chump change to me." Idril glanced at the protection ward. "By the way, may I finally come in? We need to make plans and that's not gonna happen with me standing on this stoop."
Reluctantly, Wheeler removed the protection ward from the doorway. He stood back. "C'mon in," he said. With a tight smile on her face, Idril entered the townhouse.
END OF CHAPTER FOUR