"BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR"
The front door swung open and Piper entered the Halliwell manor, followed by her companions. "Here we go," she announced cheerfully. "Home sweet home."
A sigh left Victor Bennett's mouth. "I don't know if this place was ever home to me, sweetheart."
"Dad," Piper gently admonished the older man. "I'll show you to your room. And then you can clean up and get dressed." She headed toward the staircase.
Victor followed his daughter. "Get dressed for what?"
Piper began to climb the staircase. "For the wedding dinner at the McNeills." Then she shouted, "Phoebe, we're here!" She and Victor paused outside of Wyatt's nursery, where they found the middle Charmed One rocking her ten-month old nephew.
"Phoebe's here?" Victor gaped at his youngest daughter. "In San Francisco?"
Phoebe smiled. "Hey Dad! Welcome back."
"What . . . what are you . . .?"
Piper jerked her father's arm. "Not now, Dad. Later. You need to get dressed, first." She led him to his bedroom.
"What is Phoebe doing here?" Victor demanded. "I thought she was in Hong Kong. With that Jason fellow."
Phoebe appeared in the doorway. "I was," she said. "Jason and I had also received wedding invitations."
"From your ex-husband?"
Piper added, "And Jason's ex-girlfriend."
Victor frowned at her. "What . . .?" He glanced at Phoebe. "What's going on? Look honey, I know that you and Cole had made your peace. And I know that he was as much a victim of the whole Source mess, as you were. But why on earth would you attend his wedding to another woman? And did I hear right? Olivia McNeill was Jason's . . .?"
". . . ex-girlfriend," Phoebe finished with a sigh. "Yeah, that's right. In a nutshell, Olivia and Jason had also made their peace. Then she and Cole had sent wedding invitations to the both of us. I think they were just trying to be polite. Unfortunately, Jason had decided to accept on behalf of both of us. And I couldn't say no . . . because I didn't want Jason to think I was jealous. About Cole's upcoming wedding."
Concern and sympathy mingled in Victor's eyes. "And are you? Jealous, I mean." Before Phoebe could answer, he added, "Sweetheart, it would be okay if you were a bit jealous. It's only natural. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if Jason is wondering why he and Olivia didn't work out."
Piper glanced at Phoebe and noticed that the younger woman did not care for her father's last suggestion. Then she glanced at her watch. "Uh-oh, I hate to cut this short guys, but we've got less than three hours to get ready. Now, if only I knew where Paige . . ."
A sharp bang signaled someone slamming a door. Then a voice cried out, "Hey! I'm home!" It was Paige.
"Well," a slightly relieved Piper continued, "I guess we now know. Okay guys, let's get busy." She grabbed Phoebe's arm and pulled the younger woman out of their father's bedroom.
A sigh left Claude Dubois' mouth. He stood in front of a large mirror as he struggled to adjust his tie. His wife frowned. "What was that about?" she asked.
"What?" Frustrated by the tie, he turned to Vivian for help.
The middle-aged woman calmly finished the task. "That little sigh of yours. What was that all about?"
"This whole wedding thing," Claude finally confessed. "There's just a whole lot of . . . I don't know . . . craziness going on. Olivia is marrying a half-daemon. Okay, he's now one of the good guys, but still . . . his past makes Andre's look like nothing. And that mother of his . . ."
Vivian interrupted. "Evil or not, she seems like an interesting person. And she obviously loves her son and has no problems with him marrying Olivia."
"Is it any wonder? She knew Jack's great-granddaddy," Claude reminded his wife. "Who also happens to be her own son's godfather. And then there's this whole mess about Jack and his family being related . . . to daemons?"
Rolling her eyes, Vivian pointed out that the Dubois family knew about the McNeills' blood connection to an incubus. "And you're complaining now?"
Claude sighed. "What about the other two daemons they're supposed to be kin to?"
Vivian shot him a hard look. "If you wanna leave now, Claude . . . you can go back to New Orleans, now. This isn't about the McNeills or Cole . . . or even those daemons that Jack is supposed to be related to. This is about Andre becoming your son-in-law, next month. If Jack and Gwen can accept a former daemonic assassin in the family, surely you should be able to accept a former bokor into yours. Or do you wonder if you can?"
He hated it when Vivian exposes his true feelings. It made Claude feel vulnerable and guilty. Yet, his wife's bluntness happened to one of her traits that he valued. "I hope I can," he finally said. "For Cecile's sake. It's just that . . . well, it's hard." A sigh left his mouth. "It's hard to just dismiss all that I've been taught in my life. But I don't want to become like Gwen's daddy. Or her brother for that matter."
"Good," Vivian said with a final pat on his arm. "Now let's go downstairs. We have a party to attend." The couple linked arms and left the bedroom.
Brion Morgan stood on a balcony that overlooked San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and the bay in the far distance. His eyes barely acknowledge the panoramic view. But his mind seethed with disturbing thoughts.
A slight cough interrupted his reverie. "Ready to leave now, darling," his mother announced. When he failed to move, she added, "Brion?"
"Yes Mother." Brion returned inside Bronwyn's bedroom and found his mother dressed in a deep blue cocktail dress. "You look lovely," he announced.
Bronwyn smiled. "Thank you. You look handsome yourself. Now, let's go." Brion sighed as they linked arms. The elderly woman frowned. "What is it now, Brion?"
Son and mother stopped short near the doorway. "Nothing . . . Mother. It's just . . ." Unable to remain silent, he burst out, "This entire wedding is a mistake! It's wrong! Completely wrong! In two days, a powerful daemon, who happens to be a notorious assassin, is about to become my nephew-in-law! A notorious assassin who was once the Source. Doesn't this disturb you?"
Bronwyn sighed. "I admit that when Gweneth first told us about Olivia and Cole, I was a bit . . . flabbergasted. But she and Jack have convinced me . . ."
"Convinced you? One would think after that debacle with Richard Bannen . . ."
With surprising speed for someone her age, Brion's elderly mother whirled around, blocking his path to the door. "Look here, Brion," she said in a low voice. "It is time you realize that the only one truly responsible for your sister's death was Rhiannon, herself. She had allowed her grief over Tony's death to veer out of control. And if your father and the others can forgive her little . . . murderous spree, you can certainly do the same over Olivia's attack against Dafydd. How long do you plan to bear a grudge against her?"
"I don't . . ." Brion pressed his mouth together and shook his head. "This is not about what Olivia had done to Dafydd, Mother. I'm just concerned over this upcoming marriage to Belthazor. A former daemonic assassin! Aren't you concerned?"
Bronwyn shot back, "After meeting him . . . no. Olivia is in love with him. And it's obvious that he feels the same about her. Gwen and the others seem to regard him as a member of the family."
"Yes, but . . ."
Again, his mother interrupted him. "Brion, when you had asked to accompany me to this wedding, I assumed that you wanted to make your peace with Olivia." The elderly woman's eyes nearly resembled black marble. "Am I wrong?"
Brion wanted to convince his mother that it was wrong to support Olivia's marriage to the notorious Belthazr. But what could he say? She seemed perfectly convinced otherwise. He finally murmured, "No, you're not wrong."
"Good. Now," the elderly woman extended her arm to her son. "I'm ready." Brion linked his arm through hers and led her into the hallway.
Olivia reached for a glass of champagne from one of the refreshment tables. She took a sip, as her eyes scanned the crowd inside the McNeills' large drawing-room. She felt thankful that her parents had only invited friends and family, and not invited half of San Francisco's high society to this engagement party. It would have been difficult dealing with them. And the only non-magical mortals attending the party were Darryl and Sheila Morris, Carlotta and Marcus from the squad, along with Veronica Altman from Cole's office. And dealing with those three mingling with magic practitioners seemed bad enough.
In the past three or four hours, Olivia had tried to become involved in tonight's celebration. She tried to be happy when Dad had toasted the engaged couple. She tried to be happy when some of the presents were opened. She simply wished that she could enjoy the party. But Cecile's vision about Cole and Idril had left her in a state of anxiety and confusion.
Olivia simply could not understand why Cole would be willing to marry someone like Idril. Someone whom the half-daemon apparently harbored a low opinion. Olivia could understand if Phoebe Halliwell had been in Cecile's vision. Or even a blast from the past like another one of Cole's former girlfriends - Christine Bloom. But Idril? Why would Cole change brides in the first place? Will something happen to break up their engagement?
Longing to clear the cobwebs of questions from her mind, Olivia left the party for a few minutes. After retrieving a coat to ward off the December chill, she headed for the garden, outside. She sat down on her favorite bench. And continued to brood. But not even the garden's scented sanctuary could offer escape from her anxiety. Olivia realized that sooner or later, she would have to face . . .
"Mind if I join you?" a soft, masculine voice asked.
Olivia's heartbeat increased, as she recognized the voice. She glanced up and sure enough, Cole's tall figure loomed before her. "Sure," she said with a dim smile. "Go ahead."
After Cole had filled the empty spot next to hers, he commented, "Why are you sitting outside, like this? Aren't you cold?"
"It's not that cold," Olivia said with a shiver. "And I have a coat." Dammit! Why did he have to remind her?
One of his dark brows formed an arch. "Oh really? Then I can only assume that your reason for being out here in 50 degrees weather is that you're trying to avoid me."
A sigh left Olivia's mouth. "I'm not trying . . . I mean . . . maybe I . . . All right! Maybe I have."
Olivia seared the half-daemon with a sardonic look.
Cole shrugged. "Of course. Idril." He paused before adding, "Here's another question." His blue eyes pierced into Olivia's. "Do you honestly believe I would dump you for someone like Idril?"
Strange. Olivia had expected Cole to ask such a question. Yet, she still found herself taken by surprise. "No, I . . ." She paused - and sighed. "I don't know, Cole. Normally, I would say no. But . . . you have to understand."
Another sigh left Olivia's mouth, as she realized that she would finally have to reveal a certain aspect of her life. "I, uh . . . I haven't had much luck with men in life. And I mean with guys I've been serious about." She told Cole about her first love, a high-school football player named Ronnie Whitelaw. He had dumped her about a week or two, after he took her virginity when she was seventeen.
"And then there was Richard," she continued.
Cole frowned. "I know that Richard's death had been difficult for you," Cole said with a frown. "But I don't see how . . ."
Olivia shook her head. "I guess that in a way . . . I felt that he had abandoned me. You see . . . he . . . I had to watch him die."
"But I thought you had been unconscious at the time," Cole insisted. "Because of your aunt's attack."
Closing her eyes, Olivia replied, "Not really. I . . ." She felt Cole's gaze upon her. "I guess that when it came to Richard, I've always found it difficult to talk about his death." She paused. "Especially about that moment when he finally died. I had to watch him die. Slowly. I didn't mean to lie about it, when we first met. It's just . . . we hadn't known each other . . ." She sighed again. "Never mind. I guess the truth is that I had lied."
"I see." Olivia barely heard Cole's voice. Anxiety clenched her heart. Did he really understand her reluctance to discuss that moment of Richard's life? A sigh left the half-daemon's mouth. "Olivia," he added wearily, "I understand. Okay. I mean . . . I'm sure there are other matters that neither of us have brought up. There are some . . . aspects of my life I probably haven't revealed, yet." He gently pressed his hand against one of Olivia's cheeks. "I understand."
"I know," Olivia said with a sigh. "I mean . . . now, I do. It's just . . . well, Richard's death was a horrible moment for me."
Cole added, "Which is why you tend to be insecure when it comes to romance."
The red-haired witch surprised her fiancé when she answered, "Oh, Richard's not the main cause."
"He's not?" Cole said with a frown. "I don't under. . ."
Olivia then proceeded to tell Cole about Adrian Chambers, a witch she had dated during her first two years in college. "Adrian's mother was the first in his family to practice witchcraft. Which meant, he had no problem accepting a whitelighter as his guide. Like the Halliwells, he was really into daemon hunting. And I guess I was, too. I think I mainly did it to please him."
Cole snickered, "I bet Leo must have loved this guy."
"Are you kidding? Leo was crazy about Adrian. In fact, one of his friends happened to be Adrian's whitelighter. Someone named Natalie. But she's dead, now. As for Leo, he thought that Adrian and I made the perfect couple - you know, two witches battling evil daemons, together." Olivia hesitated, as she recalled the last days of her college romance. "But . . . Adrian put an end to all that."
The half-daemon drew Olivia closer into his arms, as she shivered. "What happened?"
With a sigh, Olivia explained, "Cecile, Barbara and I had this friend who majored in archeology. He found this artifact that belonged to a daemon named Rashik. Unfortunately, Jared had unintentionally turned it over to another daemon. Someone very unpleasant. We helped Rashik recover the artifact."
"I've heard of Rashik," Cole said. "He wasn't a subject of the Source's, or belonged to anything like the Gimle Order. He was an independent, like Riggerio."
Sadly, Olivia concluded that Adrian had been appalled by her willingness to work with a daemon. "In other words, he had dumped me. Told me that he couldn't remain involved with someone willing to work with 'evil'."
Cole rolled his eyes. "This guy sounds like a prick."
"Prick or not, I was crazy about him. It had really hit me hard, when he dumped me." Olivia paused. "So much so that I tried to win him back. I even began stalking him, but Cecile and Barbara put a stop to that. Even Leo was upset. And that's when Bruce and I had decided that we no longer wanted a whitelighter." She shook her head and sighed. "It took me a long time to get over Adrian. He had a talent for undermining my self-esteem, back then. In fact, I didn't get seriously involved with anyone else for ten years . . . until I met Richard."
Cole said, "And you think that I'll dump you, just as this Adrian had done." Olivia opened her mouth to speak, but the half-daemon continued, "Okay, there was that matter with Phoebe, last summer, but I was on the rebound . . . after you had dumped me, because of that spell Margolin had cast upon you. Remember?"
Olivia nodded. "Yeah, I remember. But this thing with Idril . . . I just don't understand why Cecile would have a vision of you marrying her. You barely like her."
"Hell, I don't like her at all," Cole corrected. "In fact, the only way I could see myself marrying Idril, is for her to cast a spell on me. And . . ." He broke off and stared at Olivia.
Olivia's own eyes grew wide with realization. "Oh Goddess!" she exclaimed. "You think that's it? Is that how she'll end up marrying you? Through a spell?"
"I wouldn't put it past Idril," Cole muttered. "That's how Leo and Margolin got to you." He gently rubbed Olivia's arm, as she snuggled even closer to him.
Olivia planted a light kiss on his jaw. "I wonder . . ." she began.
"You wonder what?"
"I wonder if your mother was right about Idril." Olivia's gaze met Cole's. "That she was behind the attempt to kill me during our engagement party in the Melora dimension, and had poisoned that warlock."
Cole grunted. "I wouldn't be surprised. Poison had always been Idril's forte. But if she comes near any of us again," his voice hardened, "she'll end up one dead daemon."
Again, Olivia kissed his jaw. "Hmmm, my hero."
"Speaking of which, how about rewarding your hero?" Cole said in a suggestive voice. "I . . . wouldn't mind becoming familiar with your old bedroom, again."
A light chuckle escaped from Olivia's mouth. Sometimes, her fiance's audacity never failed to surprise her. "You really amaze me sometimes, Cole."
"Does that mean . . .?"
"Nana is using my old room, right now. And I'm sharing another with Cecile."
A long, silent pause followed before Cole whispered in Olivia's ear, "How about my place?"
Olivia stared into Cole's eyes, which glimmered with desire. She pressed her mouth against his for a passionate kiss. After a brief, yet wet exploration of each other's mouths, she murmured, "Hmmm, now that sounds more promising." And their lips met once more for another kiss.
Phoebe had planned to stick by Jason's side throughout the evening. But when he drifted toward Cecile Dubois in order to discuss business, the Charmed One decided that she would prefer to be elsewhere. She eventually joined her father, who was in deep conversation with Olivia's dad and Uncle Mike, along with Cecile's dad, Claude Dubois.
". . . that you're not uneasy about Olivia marrying . . . well, you know . . . Cole," Victor was saying. "Considering his past."
Jack McNeill stared directly at the other man. "I'm as uneasy as any father who's about to lose his daughter to another man." He glanced at Mr. Dubois. "Right Claude?"
"Fortunately, I won't have to experience that until next month," Mr. Dubois mumbled. "And if Gabrielle ever get married . . . I'll have to go through it, again."
Victor stared at the New Orleans man. "Two daughters, huh?" Then he glanced at Michael McNeill. "What about you, Mike?"
"Two," the younger Mr. McNeill replied. "One is in college right now. And not concerned with marriage, thank God. And the other is too young. Sixteen."
Nodding, Victor continued, "But at least none of your daughters are involved with a daemon. Or a half-daemon."
"Dad!" Phoebe grasped her father's arm.
But Victor did not pay her any attention. "One who used to be evil, I might add. When Phoebe had married Cole, we all thought that his powers were gone."
Unfortunately, Victor seemed to be on a roll. "But now, he's more powerful than ever. I mean . . . aren't you a little uneasy?"
"Well, sure I am," Jack finally replied. "Just as I'm sure that Cole's mother is uneasy about Olivia. After all, she nearly killed him, last summer." Victor stared at him. "Didn't Phoebe and Piper tell you about what happened between Leo and that Margolin witch?"
Claude Dubois spoke up. "I had heard about that. From Cecile." He shook his head. "Bad business, robbing someone's control like that. Might as well be stealing a person's soul."
His comment stirred up memories of the Valhalla incident for Phoebe. And guilt for what she and Paige had done to Darryl Morris.
Victor replied gruffly, "Yeah, they told me. Let's just say that my opinion of whitelighters took a nosedive . . . again."
"Dad," Phoebe admonished. "Don't forget that Paige is half-whitelighter."
"She's different," Victor said with a wave of his hand. He then paused. "But still . . . Olivia marrying a . . ."
A heavy sigh from Jack interrupted Victor. "Look . . . Victor, I'll give you a few reasons why I have no problems with this marriage. One, I liked Cole from the moment I first met him. Two, the reason is that my gut instinct told me that he would be good for Olivia - although I haven't told her this. Three, he had saved her life when they first met. Four, he happens to be my late great-grandfather's godson." Phoebe gasped. Victor's eyes flew open in shock. Jack continued, "Apparently, the McNeills and the Turners knew each other for quite some time. Five, his Uncle Marbus had started out as a top daemonic assassin and ended up spending the last 143 years helping others as a member of the Gimle Order. Which means that Cole is capable of doing the same. And six, my family has recently discovered that we're descended from three daemons, and not just some 10th century incubus. One of the daemons had been an assassin for the Source. And another is still alive."
From the corner of her eye, Phoebe saw Michael McNeill wince at his brother's last words. Her father, on the other hand, looked flabbergasted. "Oh God," she murmured.
"Say that again?" a dazed Victor asked.
Phoebe jumped in. "Uh, Dad . . . maybe you should get a drink, or something."
But Victor did not seem to be listening. "Did you say that you're descended from three demons?"
Closing her eyes, Phoebe sighed. She did not want to hear anymore of this. "Excuse me," she said. "I'll just . . . oh boy. Excuse me." And she quietly walked away.
The Charmed One decided that she needed a breath of fresh air. Badly. After retrieving her trench coat from a nearby room, Phoebe squared her shoulders as she attempted to find a door that would lead her outside. She finally came upon one of the smaller drawing-rooms that had double French doors that led to the garden. Just as she stepped out on the terrace, she encountered Olivia. "Oh!"
"Hi Phoebe!" the red-haired witch said with a bright smile. "Taking a walk?"
Phoebe smiled feebly. "Just getting some air."
"Okay. See you later." Olivia strolled into the house, wearing an unusually pleased expression.
Phoebe glanced over her shoulder to observe the other witch, who turned right to walk the length of the terrace. Where was Olivia going, and why was she looking so . . .? She turned around and bumped into a tall figure. At that moment, visions of Cole and a dark-haired woman standing before a very familiar man with hooded eyes and a beard. All three stood before a reddish stone altar. Phoebe had the distinct impression that she was witnessing a demonic wedding.
"Phoebe?" Cole's soft voice broke Phoebe out of her trance. She opened her eyes and saw the half-demon staring at her with concerned eyes. "Are you okay?"
"Huh? Oh . . . sure. I'm okay." Phoebe inhaled sharply.
Blue eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Are you sure?" Cole demanded. "Because you look a little dazed for a minute. Almost as if . . ." He paused. "Did you just have a premon . . .?"
A third figure appeared on the terrace. "Phoebe?" The Charmed One's heart sank at the sound of Jason's voice. The blond man glanced at Cole and looked taken aback. Phoebe's stomach made a 360 degree somersault. "Oh . . . uh Cole." The millionaire obviously struggled to look nonchalant. "Um . . . what's going on, here?"
Phoebe sighed. "Nothing, Jason. I was on my way to the garden, when I bumped into Cole."
"Uh-huh." Jason shot another glance at the half-demon. "Tell me Turner, are you in the habit of wearing lipstick?"
Cole's eyes grew wide. "Huh?"
"On your chin. And lips."
Sure enough, Phoebe spotted dark streaks on Cole's jaw and lips. Olivia.
"It's Olivia's lipstick, Dean," Cole replied in a cool voice. "Not Phoebe's."
Phoebe added, "He's right, Jason. Didn't you run into Olivia?"
"No, I didn't," Jason replied in a hard voice.
Cole sighed. "That's because she probably walked along the terrace and entered the house through another room." A sneer appeared on his face. "And if you would bother to check, you would see that the lipstick on my face and that on Phoebe's lips do not match."
Jason blinked momentarily. "Oh . . . uh . . ."
"Excuse me." Cole turned away and headed in the same direction as Olivia.
Phoebe sighed, as she grabbed her boyfriend's arm. "C'mon Jason. I think we might both need some fresh air. Badly." And she steered him down the terrace steps.
Unbeknownst to the three people on the terrace, a fourth person had witnessed the entire scene from one of the French doors in the direction opposite from where Olivia and Cole had gone. Once everyone else had disappeared from the terrace, Brion Morgan walked toward the terrace's balustrade.
A perplexed frown marred the aging witch's handsome face. He had seen that expression on Phoebe Halliwell's face before - the gasp, followed by a deer-in-the-headlights look. On numerous occasions, Brion had seen that same expression on one Gilbert Llewellyn's face. And he knew for a fact that his cousin was a seer. Which could only mean that Miss Halliwell possessed the same abilities.
Brion also recalled something else. Miss Halliwell's "vision" may have struck her the moment she bumped into Bel. . . Cole Turner. Had the Charmed One foreseen something horrifying in store for the half-daemon? Or had she learned something worse - that he might be a future threat? Brion had to find out as soon as possible. Before the half-daemon marries his niece.
END OF CHAPER SIX