Cole stood in front of one of the large windows that overlooked San Francisco Bay, from his penthouse. Today had been something of an emotional roller coaster for him. First of all, the firm had just given him a new assignment, and a prestigious one, at that. It involved a lawsuit filed by one of the firm’s clients against a rival company, over the purchase of some valuable real estate in Napa Valley. Despite his “mysterious” disappearance last year, the law firm that he worked for seemed willingly to keep him on their payroll. And allow him to maintain the plush penthouse and black Porsche.
But despite keeping his job, Cole had lost something he considered a lot more valuable. Namely his wife. A long sigh escaped from his mouth. Cole flung himself on the sofa. Perhaps a divorce had been the best thing for him and Phoebe. After all, he had been possessed by the Source at the time of the wedding. When one thought about it, Phoebe had been married to the Source in all but name.
Thoughts of the former evil entity brought forth the anger and resentment that Cole had been harboring for the past nine months. And not just toward the Source. Why did Phoebe fail to understand that she had not been the only one who had suffered? Or that he was no more responsible for what happened than she? Okay, he could kick himself for allowing the Seer to trick him into using the Hollow. But he had done so to save the Charmed Ones.
And why could Phoebe and her sisters understand and forgive if one of them had ended up possessed by evil? But for some reason, they could not extend him the same regard. Was it too much for them to . . .?
A faint noise or vibration from beneath his feet interrupted Cole’s bitter musings. Music. Great! He had to deal with another noisy neighbor for the second time since his return to the penthouse. And from the same damn apartment! Keeping his irritation in check, Cole left the penthouse to pay his new neighbor a visit.
He found himself standing in front of a door marked 716. Cole knocked. Seconds later, music blasted from the apartment’s interior. And a figure appeared in the doorway. And immediately took Cole’s breath away. She stood somewhere at 5’8″ tall. Her stylishly cut hair was red – naturally red and very curly. Freckles sprinkled across the bridge of her nose and on certain parts of her delicate, yet slightly tanned face. She stared at him with eyes green as emeralds. “Hello there,” she greeted in a slightly husky voice. “May I help you?”
A moment or two passed, while Cole stared at his new neighbor. He finally rediscovered his tongue and replied, “Uh . . . I . . .” Cole shook his head. “Sorry. Uh look, I’m your new neighbor. I live upstairs in the penthouse.”
“Well, hello new neighbor,” she added, sticking out her hand. Cole took the hand and shook it. “My name is Olivia McNeill. Call me Olivia. What’s yours?”
Again, Cole hesitated. “Oh, uh Cole. Cole Turner.”
“Hi, Cole Turner.” Olivia paused and frowned. “Say, have we met before? Your name sounds familiar.”
Suspicion clouded Cole’s thoughts momentarily. How could she have known . . .?
“Excuse me, Cole?” Olivia’s voice cut into his thoughts. “Um, is there a reason why you’re on my doorstep?”
Cole immediately formed a stern expression. “Yeah. Look, I’m sorry to do this, but it’s about your music. It’s a little too loud.”
A touch of frost glazed over the neighbor’s green eyes. “Too loud? You’ve got to be kidding! I live ‘below’ you. And I’m keeping the music as low as possible.”
“Obviously it’s not low enough. I can hear it. Loud and clear.”
Her voice now tinged with sarcasm, Olivia shot back, “Considering that you’re standing outside my apartment, is it any wonder you can hear it?”
It took all of Cole’s self-control not to zap the irritating woman with a demonic bolt. “I can also hear it from my penthouse. Now, will you turn that damn music down?”
“You can hear it from . . . Okay, I’ve got to check this out, myself.” Taking Cole by surprise, Olivia brushed past him and marched toward the elevator.
The half-daemon quickly followed her. “Where are you going?” he demanded.
“To your penthouse. I want to see just how loud my music is.” The pair entered the elevator. They waited in silence as they were conveyed to Cole’s penthouse. Once outside his door, a pair of keys appeared in Cole’s hand, hidden behind his back. He had beamed to Olivia’s apartment – without bothering to collect his keys.
Once inside the penthouse, Cole cocked his ear. Yep, he heard music all right. Some tune from the mid-1970s. His neighbor must be one of those Oldies fans.
The redhead whirled on Cole, her eyes flashing accusingly. “I don’t hear anything. I feel a little vibration, but I don’t hear any music.”
“That might be vibration to you,” Cole protested, “but I hear music. And I want you to turn it down.”
Green eyes stared at him with disbelief. “What are you? From Krypton or something? You’ve got super hearing?” Cole glared at Olivia. Who returned his glare with equal heat. Then she let out an exasperated sigh and rolled her eyes. “All right! I’ll use my earphones, if it will get you off my back. Jeez!”
“Thank you,” Cole said politely.
“You know, for a walking male hormone, you’re pretty damn touchy! Good night!” Olivia glared at him one last time and stomped out of the penthouse. Cole allowed himself a triumphant smile. Mission accomplished. And he managed to do it without incinerating anyone. Phoebe would have been proud.
* * * *
The thump woke Cole from an uneasy sleep. He shot up into a sitting position. Did he just hear . . .? Another thump followed, along with a cry. What the hell was that? Whatever it was, it seemed to be coming from the apartment below. Olivia McNeill’s apartment. Strange.
Maybe his new neighbor had invited a boyfriend to spend the night. And the couple was engaged in some kind of sexual S&M thing. Cole began to lower himself back on the bed, when instinct – a gut feeling – took over him. He snapped back into a sitting position. Wait a minute. He felt something. An evil presence. Not demonic, but . . . Cole took a deep breath. A warlock? What was a warlock doing in the apartment below?
Twenty-one months of helping the Charmed Ones fight evil took hold of Cole. Without thinking, he climbed out of bed and beamed out of sight. A second later, he appeared in his new neighbor’s living room. The sight that greeted his eyes took him completely by surprise.
A suited man with long dark brown hair and thin features hung in the air, literally gasping for air. And right below him stood Olivia McNeill, clad in a thin T-shirt and gym pants. Judging by her stance and the manner in which her arm flung outward, she seemed to be responsible for the man’s present position. In other words, she was either another warlock. Or a witch.
“What the hell?” Cole cried out.
Her attention diverted by Cole’s outburst, Olivia stared at him and gasped. She dropped her arm and the man fell to the floor with a thump. “Cole!” Olivia’s face grew pale, despite the tan. “What are you . . .?”
Cole’s warning came to late. The man . . . or one should say, warlock flung out his hand and sent Olivia crashing against the wall with a cry on her lips. Her head made contact with the edge of a picture frame. Before the warlock could inflict further damage, Cole seared him with a fireball. Seconds later, the warlock exploded into oblivion.
A groan escaped Olivia’s mouth. She struggled to rise to her feet. And failed. Cole stepped forward to offer his assistance. “Oh God!” she moaned. “What happened?”
Cole grabbed her hands and gently forced Olivia to her feet. “I believe you were attacked by a . . . by a warlock, I think.”
“Warlock?” Olivia’s eyes narrowed with suspicion. “How do you know about . . . Hey! You vanquished him!”
Cole gave his shoulders a quick shrug. “Well, yeah.”
“Wait a minute!” The suspicion in Olivia’s green eyes deepened. “What are you a witch, or something? Or are you something else? I’ve never heard of a witch who appears and disappears like that.” She now expressed fear. “What are you?”
Feeling a mixture of dread and déjà vu, Cole heaved a sigh. So much for that new life. “All right, I might as well tell you that I’m a demon. Well, half-demon.” He paused. “Then again, I really don’t know . . . it’s a long story.”
Olivia winced as she moved her neck. Cole grabbed hold of her shoulders and forced her to turn around, so he could examine her. A thin red line of blood trickled from the back of her head and down her neck. “This is bad,” he murmured. “Maybe you should call your whitelighter.”
Green eyes radiated confusion. Along with lingering remnants of suspicion. “I . . . how do I . . .?”
“Look, if I wanted you dead, I would have killed you by now.” Cole led Olivia to her sofa. “You really need to call your whitelighter. The bleeding is getting worse.”
Still staring at her savior, Olivia mumbled, “Yeah, sure. Uh, Leo? LEO!”
Now it was Cole’s turn to look surprised. A familiar cluster of blue lights materialized. Leo. Cole’s eyes expressed shock at the sight of his bro . . . his former brother-in-law. “Leo?”
“Cole?” The whitelighter was dressed in a gray T-shirt and pajama bottoms. He looked equally stunned. “What . . .?” His eyes focused on the groggy-looking woman who sat next to Cole. Shock gave way to concern. “Olivia! What happened to her?”
Cole explained how Olivia had been attacked by a warlock. “I think she took a serious blow to the back of her head.”
Leo immediately sat on the other side of the red-haired witch. He examined her head, placed his hand over the wound and healed it. “There,” he said, “she should be fine.”
Green eyes blinked momentarily, before they settled upon the whitelighter. “Leo! Thanks. I . . .” She touched the spot of her former wound. “Huh. No blood. Nice job.”
However, Leo did not seem to be listening. Instead, he regarded Cole with wary eyes. “Cole! What are you doing here?”
“He’s the new neighbor I had told you about,” Olivia answered, instead. “But I am curious to know how you two know each other.”
Leo took a deep breath. “He’s my former brother-in-law.”
Cole grumbled, “His ex-brother-in-law. Haven’t you ever heard of Belthazor?”
Olivia’s eyes grew round. Realization made them seem even greener. “Oh! Of course! I thought your name seemed familiar! You’re the half-daemon who . . .” Her face fell into a frown. “Did you say ex-brother-in-law?”
Cole glanced away, suppressing the anger that had ignited within him. He replied coolly, “Yeah, I did. Pho . . . I’ve been divorced since 9:45 this morning.”
“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.” An embarrassing pause filled the room. Olivia broke the silence, as she cleared her throat. “Anyway, thanks for coming to my rescue.”
Surprise reverberated in Leo’s voice. “Cole saved you?” The moment after the words came out of his mouth, Cole glared at him. “Sorry. Of course you did. Uh . . .”
“Why don’t you go home, Leo? I’m fine and you’re wife, Whats-her-name, must be wondering where you are.” Olivia patted the whitelighter’s arm and stood up. “Meanwhile, my neighbor and I will get to know each other.” She gave Cole a bright smile.
Which Cole responded with a fleeting one of his own. He glanced at the clock on the mantle above the empty fireplace. Twelve thirty-four. “I’d like to stay and chat,” he said politely, “but I have work, tomorrow. And I really need to get some sleep.”
Disappointment flickered in her eyes. “Oh.” Cole had to admit that he felt a similar pang. Although he found Olivia McNeill fascinating, the last thing he wanted was involvement with another woman. Especially another witch. Besides, he could not see himself falling in love with anyone. Not after Phoebe.
“Uh, if you’ll excuse me, I should be going.” Cole nodded at the whitelighter. “Leo. Miss McNeill.” Then he beamed out of his neighbor’s apartment, with the memory of her face imprinted in his mind.
END OF PART 2
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