“Return With a Vengeance” [PG-13] – 7/18

“RETURN WITH A VENGEANCE”

CHAPTER 7

Inside the Halliwells’ Solarium, Leo withered under Piper’s glare. “Don’t . . . you . . . ever ask me to interfere in your job like that, again!” she coldly demanded. “Ever! Unless it’s an emergency.” 

“Emer . . . what happened with Mrs. McNeill?” Leo asked.

Piper cried out, “What happened? I’ll tell you what happened! Both Paige and I nearly ended up feeling like complete idiots! We tried to warn Mrs. McNeill – old Mrs. McNeill – and Mr. McNeill about Cole. But they simply dismissed us like . . . like a bunch of simpletons! They even had the nerve to question our actions when we vanquished that son-of-a-bitch, last spring!”

Noting his wife’s agitated state, Leo tried to calm her. “Take it easy, Piper! You don’t want to get upset, what with the baby and everything.”

I’m already upset, Leo! I’ve been upset ever since we left the McNeills!”

At that moment, Phoebe and Paige entered the Solarium. “Paige told me what happened with the McNeills,” Phoebe grimly commented. “So much for warning them.”

“I’m sorry, honey,” Piper cooed, suddenly looking contrite. Ever since her pregnancy began, her mood shifts have never failed to amaze Leo. And keep him off guard. “I guess they weren’t willing to listen.”

Phoebe shook her head. “You know, it seems as if Cole may have brainwashed them all with that mind manipulating power of his.”

“He’s never used that power on us,” Paige quietly added. “Even when he had the opportunity to do so.”

The other two Halliwells stared at their sister with disbelief. Leo frowned. “What do you mean by that?” Phoebe coolly asked.

Paige’s usually pale skin turned pink. “Nothing. I . . . I don’t know. I guess I have this feeling that the McNeills genuinely like him. They don’t exactly strike me as the conventional types, anyway. And after all, Olivia was once engaged to a warlock.”

“That only means they have bad taste in friends,” Piper caustically replied. Her eyes grew uneasy. “You’re not buying that nonsense that the McNeills were telling us about the Source, are you?”

“Of course not!” Paige’s response came a little too quick to suit Leo. He had the oddest feeling that the youngest Charmed One was beginning to doubt the family’s opinion on Cole. Both Phoebe and Piper continued to stare at Paige. “Why are you two staring at me, like that?”

Piper cleared her throat and glanced away. “It’s nothing, Paige. Right Pheebs?”

To Leo’s dismay, the middle Halliwell turned her back on the others and left the room. Leo did not say it out loud, but the oath rang in his mind, loud and clear. Damn Cole Turner!

* * * *

Darryl Morris heaved a sigh, as he stretched across the living room sofa. His wife, a beautiful woman with light-brown skin and sharp cheekbones, regarded him with a concerned expression. “Baby, why don’t you go to bed? You look pretty tired.”

“I’m fine,” Darryl replied, stifling a yawn. “Besides, it’s only ten after ten.”

Sheila Morris walked over to a nearby closet. She returned seconds later, holding a blanket. “The way you look, right now, it might as well be midnight. Go to bed, Darryl. You’re not going to last very long.”

Darryl sighed. In this age of feminine enlightenment and two-income marriages, it amazed him that he managed to end up married to a bona fide mother hen. Sheila had her own career as a computer software consultant. Yet, she possessed a maternal instinct that Piper Halliwell would envy. And Darryl could not have been any happier.

“Look Sheila, I want go over this police report before I turn in. It shouldn’t take long.” He reached for the brown accordion file, situated on the coffee table.

A frown creased Sheila’s brow. “Is that about the man found in the alley, this morning?”

“Yeah.”

Sheila continued, “Do you and Olivia have any idea who had killed him?”

What could Darryl say? That a warlock, who had once been a pebble, was responsible for the man’s death? Sheila would immediately suspect him of losing his mind. Even after three years, Darryl had yet to reveal the Halliwells’ secret. Or Olivia’s secret in the past three weeks. Then again, Sheila did believe in aspects of New Age religion like past lives, horoscopes and psychic abilities. Maybe he should tell her . . . one day.

“We don’t know yet,” Darryl finally lied. “We think this killing might be linked to those from last month.” Darryl stifled another yawn.

Sheila handed him the blanket. “Here. Even if you don’t fall asleep, it’s going to be a cold night. And it’s supposed to rain. Here’s something to keep you warm.” She leaned down and planted a light kiss on Darryl’s lips. “I’m going to bed early, myself. Good-night, baby.” Darryl murmured a quick goodnight and returned his attention to the police file.

Within five minutes, Darryl found himself becoming groggy. He struggled to keep his eyes opened, but in the end, he slipped into a deep sleep.

* * * *

Suzanne Crozat glanced at the rosewood clock resting on the fireplace mantle, inside Cole Turner’s penthouse. It read ten twenty-five. She and the half-demon had just finished a late supper – a delicious meal that consisted of Rock Cornish Hen with Raisin Sauce, herbed rice and Peas Amandine. Who knew that the infamous Belthazor also happened to be a first-class cook? Or so good-looking? She only recalled how he looked in daemonic form.

Fearful that she might become too comfortable, thanks to the delectable meal and the attractive company, Suzanne focused her mind on the task at hand. Namely slipping the potion to Belthazor. It galled Suzanne that she had not remembered to do so, during the meal. Belthazor – or should she say Cole – returned to the living room, carrying two snifters filled with brandy. The perfect nightcap to a perfect evening. Suzanne frowned. Perfect? What the hell was the matter with her?

“Is there something wrong?” Cole asked. He placed the brandy on the coffee table, in front of Suzanne.

She stared at her host. “Huh?”

“You’re frowning. I was wondering if . . .”

A brief smile struggled to form on Suzanne’s lips. “It’s . . . business,” she finally said. “I’m, uh, I’m having trouble finding the right real estate agent. For the venture I had told you about.”

“Oh yes. Look, why don’t you leave it to me to find an agent?” Cole smiled.

Suzanne returned his smile. At the same time, she felt a jolt of desire throughout her body. An idea popped into her head. One that would appall her cousins. She found herself playing with the idea of enjoying a night of sex with Bel . . . Cole Turner. The idea swam in her mind for a minute or two. Suzanne reminded herself that Turner was a half-daemon who had betrayed the Source’s Realm, more than once over the past two years. One who had consorted with witches and whitelighters. The only thing he deserved was death . . . after the Crozats take his powers, of course.

Suddenly clutching her stomach, Suzanne let out a fake gasp. “Oh! Oh God! Do you have any antacid?” she asked.

Concern etched across Cole’s face. “Are you ill?”

“Huh? Uh, no. No, I’m fine. It’s just . . .” Suzanne paused dramatically. “I guess the meal turned out to be a little too rich for me. An antacid pill would help. Do you have one?”

Cole shot her a quick smile and stood up. “I’ll be right back.” He strode out of the living room. The moment he disappeared, Suzanne rummaged through her purse, until she came across a vial of green-colored liquid. The potion. She uncorked the vial and poured the contents into Cole’s brandy snifter. And not a moment too soon. Cole returned with two white tablets, the moment she slipped the empty vial back inside her purse.

“Here you go.” He handed Suzanne the two tablets. “They’re chewable.”

With a smile, Suzanne thanked Cole, took the tablets, and popped them into her mouth. Cole returned to his seat, next to her. “Now, about that list of agents . . .” Apparently, he still had business on the brain.

“Don’t you think it’s a bit late to be discussing business?” Suzanne leaned forward, making sure that Cole had a clear view of her best attributes – her eyes and full lips.

Cole’s blue eyes grew wide. “Well,” he said in his usual soft voice, “what exactly do you want to discuss?” He did not bother to draw away. Interesting.

“For starters, how about this brandy?” Suzanne picked up her brandy snifter. “I’m something of a wine connoisseur.”

Cole stared at her. For a brief moment, his eyes expressed confusion. Then he smiled and reached for his snifter. “Well, if you must know . . .”

The doorbell rang, cutting him off. Suzanne bit back a frustrated growl. Dammit! She had been so close. Cole stood up and headed for the door. From her view of the front door, Suzanne saw a shock of red hair. “Olivia?” She heard Cole say.

Olivia McNeill. Suzanne felt a flash of anxiety. Cole’s neighbor and one of the McNeill witches. What was she doing here?

“I wondered if you had any parsley,” the McNeill witch said, answering Suzanne’s question. She followed Cole into the penthouse. Her green eyes fell upon Suzanne, and she paused. “Oh. I forgot that you had a guest, this evening.”

Forgot, my ass! Suzanne suspected that this red-haired bitch had purposely interrupted Cole’s date. Why, she had no idea. But the witch’s presence made Suzanne feel anxious.

Cole nervously cleared his throat and introduced the two women. “Suzanne, this is my neighbor, Olivia McNeill. Olivia, this is Suzanne Maxwell, one of my new clients.”

“How do you do?” Olivia greeted with a smile.

Suzanne tried to be just as friendly, but it took a great deal of effort on her part. While Cole headed to the kitchen to retrieve the requested herb, Olivia McNeill continued to make conversation. “So, you’re a new client of Cole’s. What exactly do you do for a living?”

“I, uh . . . I’m managing my late husband’s holdings. You know, investments, real estate . . . that sort of thing,” Suzanne replied politely. “Since I’m new to San Francisco, Cole is helping me manage everything.”

Auburn brows shot upward. “This is your first time in San Francisco? Where are you from?”

Nosy little bitch! Suzanne struggled to keep her irritation in check. “Canada. I’m from Canada. Vancouver.”

Green eyes developed an intensity that disturbed Suzanne. “Really?” the McNeill witch said in a reflective voice. “You don’t sound Canadian.”

Panic gripped Suzanne. How in the hell did this woman know the difference between an American and a Canadian accent? Suzanne took a quick breath and added that she was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. “But my husband was a Canadian. I’ve been living there for the past seven years.”

“Hmmm.” The McNeill woman’s green eyes remained glued to the warlock’s face. Then she smiled. “Sorry about the twenty questions. I’m a cop and sometimes my conversation tends to turn into an interrogation.”

Suzanne feebly returned the smile. “It’s okay.” Now, she thought, if only Cole would return with that bottle of parsley. Just as she began to relax, the McNeill witch bumped into the coffee table. And knocked Cole’s brandy snifter onto the table. To Suzanne’s horror, the snifter’s contents spilled out onto the carpet-covered floor.

“Ooops!” A mild grimace stretched the witch’s mouth. She turned to the approaching Cole. “Oh God! I think I just spilled brandy on your carpet.”

Cole glanced at the spot on the carpet and shrugged. “No problem. I have something that will clean that spot out. Here’s your parsley.” He handed a bottle of the green herb to the McNeill witch.

Suzanne was barely paying attention. Instead, she was doing her level best not to give in to anger and kill the red-haired witch. She glanced into the latter’s eyes . . . saw the calculated gleam and simmered down. Now was not the time to fly into a state of rage.

“Suzanne?” Cole’s voice broke into her thoughts. “Are you okay? Or is your stomach still bothering you?”

Was she okay? That damn McNeill bitch had just ruined her coven’s chance to steal Belthazor’s powers, tonight! Only the gods knew when they would get such a chance, again. The warlock took a deep breath. “I’m fine. Somewhat. I . . . my stomach is still a little heavy from that meal.” Suzanne feigned a wan smile. “I guess the antacid didn’t work. Maybe I should go home and get some rest.”

“Well, there’s no need to leave on my account,” Olivia protested.

Suzanne quickly shook her head. “It’s not that. Really! My stomach has been doing flip-flops during the past twenty minutes.”

Frowning, Cole retrieved Suzanne’s coat from the closet. He helped her put it on. “I hope my cooking didn’t make you sick.”

“Oh no! Dinner was great! I think I may have eaten just a little too much. And it was a bit rich.” Suzanne gave the pair another wan smile. Then she said to Cole, “Give me a call when you find what I’m looking for.”

Cole nodded. “Of course.”

Suzanne flashed her host one last smile, and left just as fast as she could.

* * * *

The dark figure materialized into the middle of the Morris living room. Holding a reddish-brown urn, Edward Crozat quietly sat the urn down on the coffee table, and stared at the slumbering figure on the sofa. He smiled. The perfect opportunity.

Edward quickly stepped away from the table. He moved to an empty spot behind the staircase. Using his telekinesis, the warlock removed the urn’s top. Seconds later, a cold chill permeated the room, followed by a dark cloud that rose ominously from the urn. Edward watched the cloud drift toward Darryl Morris, hover briefly and finally invade the latter’s body.

Another minute passed. The police inspector’s eyes flew open. The man on the sofa sat up, gazed around the room, and spotted Edward behind the staircase. “Who are you?” Morris’ deep voice resonated with a West African accent.

“Edward Crozat at your service, your eminence.” The warlock stepped forward and bowed deeply. “I’m a warlock.”

Morris rose from the sofa and stared imperiously at Edward. “‘Your eminence’? You know who I am?”

“Why yes, the great Dahomey sorcerer, Dako.” Edward fell upon his knees. “Welcome to the 21st century.”

END OF CHAPTER 7