“Obssession” [PG-13] – Chapter 1

“OBSSESSIONS”

PART 1

Ignoring the stares of a few co-workers, Phoebe Halliwell left her office and strode across the main newsroom of the SAN FRANCISCO BAY-MIRROR. Her destination? The elevator, and eventually the office of the BAY-MIRROR‘s new owner and her new boyfriend, Jason Dean. Her purpose? To learn about his alleged past with one Olivia McNeill. 

Phoebe still recalled that night when Jason had appeared at the manor to take her to the Lowe-Choiset party. Everything seemed perfect. Until Olivia and Cole dropped by. The redheaded witch wanted to retrieve a package she had left at Ostera’s – the herbal shop where Paige worked. It had been bad enough seeing Cole looking handsome as ever, in Olivia’s company. But when the latter and Jason expressed shock at seeing each other, Phoebe immediately knew they were old acquaintances. Even worse, Cole came the same conclusion and seemed rather upset. Phoebe eventually demanded an explanation, which Jason only responded with reluctant silence. In the end, it was Paige who informed her that Jason and Olivia used to date.

But she needed to learn more. She needed to hear from Jason’s lips, everything about his past relationship with Olivia. The elevator reached the fourteenth floor. Once she reached the reception area outside Jason’s office, Phoebe strode past his secretary, ignoring the other woman’s protests. And strode inside Jason’s private office.

Jason Dean was a tall man. Like her ex-husband. Only Cole stood at least an inch or two taller and possessed broader shoulders. Yet, Jason still possessed a commanding presence with his handsome features, dark-blue eyes and shock of dirty-blond hair. He also had a boyish enthusiasm, mingled with moral righteousness that Phoebe found refreshing after Cole’s own moral turpitude. Jason seemed like the epitome of light, in compare to Cole’s darkness. Upright. Honest. Forthright. At least until three days ago.

Phoebe slammed the door shut and faced her boyfriend, hands on hips. Jason glanced up with wary eyes. “Phoebe, uh what are you . . .? Is there a problem?”

“Yes, there is,” she stated quietly. “Olivia McNeill.”

Jason heaved a long suffering sigh. “Oh God! Are you going to bombard me with questions again? Because I’m getting tired of this.”

“Too bad!” Phoebe shot back. Hands on hips, she marched around Jason’s desk, until she stood next to him. “You know, you could have at least told me that you and Olivia had dated a few years ago. Would that have been so hard? Why the silence, Jason? Something more happened between you two?”

The young newspaper publisher dropped his head in defeat. “All right! Yes, we dated three years ago. We dated for a month or two and then we broke up. End of story.”

End of story? The memory of Jason’s reaction to Olivia flashed in Phoebe’s mind. Not likely. Instinct told her that Jason had been strongly affected by his romance with Olivia. “End of story, huh?” Phoebe said. “So, why do I feel that . . .?”

“Why am I getting the third degree, here?” Jason protested. His eyes flashed with anger. “So, Olivia and I once dated. So what? She’s only an ex-girlfriend. Cole Turner was a hell of a lot more to you!”

Phoebe’s eyes widened from Jason’s outburst. He rose from his chair and brushed past her. “Why is it that you’ve never talked about your marriage?” he demanded. “Was it that traumatic? Did you have problems seeing him with Olivia that ni . . .?”

The intercom on his desk buzzed. “Mr. Dean,” his secretary’s voice announced, “DeWolfe Mann is demanding to see you. He has an urgent matter to discuss.”

Phoebe recognized the name. DeWolfe Mann happened to be one of the BAY-MIRROR‘s featured food columnists and one of San Francisco’s top restaurant critics. Phoebe saw this interruption from her fellow columnist as an opportunity to beat a hasty retreat, following Jason’s outburst. “I better go,” she said quietly, before starting for the door.

Before she could leave, Jason stopped her. “Wait! This shouldn’t take long.” Then he ordered his secretary to usher in the new visitor.

Seconds later, a portly man of medium height walked into the office. With thick dark hair that reached slightly past the nape of his neck, a mustache and goatee, he was not someone a person would easily forget. His dark eyes spotted Phoebe, before he greeted her with a nod. Some of Phoebe’s colleagues viewed her office romance with a tolerant eye. DeWolfe, miraculously, happened to be among that group – considering his virulent dislike of Jason.

“Mr. Mann,” Jason coolly greeted. “How may I help you?”

Again, DeWolfe glanced at Phoebe. Who immediately resumed her intention to leave. “You don’t have to go, Phoebe,” the food columnist assured her. “I won’t take long.” He turned his attention to Jason. “I just spoke to my editor, Milo O’Keefe. He tells me that you’ve scotched the Golden Horn restaurant story that I had suggested. And Milo had approved.” Phoebe nearly winced at the mention of Gweneth McNeill’s restaurant. “Why?”

“The Golden Horn has been around for nearly twenty-five years,” Jason shot back. “In other words, it’s old news. I’m sure that other local papers and news organizations will be doing a story about it, since it will be celebrating its Silver anniversary. I don’t think that the BAY-MIRROR should join the crowd.”

DeWolfe retorted, “First of all, no other paper is writing a story about it. I’ve checked. Second of all, this Silver anniversary is the perfect time to write about it and . . .”

“I’m not interested.” Jason sounded adamant.

Without thinking, Phoebe spoke up. “Why? I think Wolfie’s idea is great.”

Jason’s dark blue eyes coolly pinpointed hers. “I feel otherwise. And since when were you ever interested in the paper’s Food section?”

“Well pardon me, but I can’t help but wonder why you’re not interested in Wolfie’s idea,” Phoebe retorted. “Especially since he’s just confirmed that no other paper will be doing a story on the restaurant’s anniversary. Or is there another reason why you don’t want to do this story? Like the fact that the restaurant is owned by a certain family?”

Strained silence filled the office. Jason glared at Phoebe. She glared back. DeWolfe Mann merely observed the pair, obviously trying to appear inconspicuous. To Phoebe’s relief, defeat glimmered in Jason’s eyes. “All right,” he said with a sigh. “You win.” He faced the food critic. “I’ll tell O’Keefe that you can go ahead with the story.”

DeWolfe flashed a grateful smile and left. Phoebe started for the door. Jason called out her name. She stopped in her tracks and faced him. “Yeah?”

The newspaper publisher gave her a grave stare. “I have very strong feelings for you, Phoebe. I care for you very much. But that doesn’t give you the right to tell me how to do my job. As your boss, I have that right, not you. Understand?”

Resentment flashed through Phoebe’s mind. “Yeah, Jason. I understand. But at least I know how to separate my feelings from my job,” she retorted. “I think that’s a lesson you need to learn. I know why you didn’t want Wolfie to do that story. It’s just a shame that you can’t admit it out loud.” She seared him with a hard look, before turning away. “See you later.”

* * * *

Blue lights appeared in the middle of a half-furnished living room of a large apartment. Seconds later, Leo Wyatt materialized. He glanced around, expecting to find a familiar figure. “Hello?” he cried out. “Paul? Are you here?”

A good-looking man of medium height, chestnut hair and mesmerizing brown eyes strode into the living room. “Hey Leo!” The man broke into a smile. “My first visitor!”

The whitelighter shook hands with his host. “Just wanted to welcome you to San Francisco. And that it’s a relief I don’t have to orb all the way, across country, just to see one of my most reliable charges.”

“That’s right,” Paul added with a shrewd look. “Most of your charges are here in Frisco. This was your hometown, right?”

Leo nodded. “It’s also my wife’s hometown. And her sisters’. And we call it San Francisco, not Frisco.”

“Ah yes! The famous Charmed Ones! Lucky you!” Paul Margolin’s smile broadened into a grin. A native of Buffalo, New York, he had moved to San Francisco after obtaining a position as Assistant District Attorney, at the city’s D.A. Office. Not only was Paul a talented witch, but also a promising prosecutor with a ruthless reputation for pursuing justice.

Smiling, Leo added, “Yeah, lucky me, all right. Especially now that Piper and I have a son. Wyatt will be two months old, soon.”

“I’d like to meet him,” Paul said.”

“That’s why I’m here. To invite you over for dinner, tonight. Piper and I thought it would be a great chance for all of my other charges here in the city, to meet you.”

One of Paul’s eyebrows formed an arch. “All? How many charges are we talking about?”

“Well, there’s you and the girls. That makes four. And there are the McNeills . . .” Leo hesitated. “Actually, Bruce and Olivia used to be my charges. As for Harry, well he had never accepted me as his whitelighter. But they do work with Piper and her sisters, every now and then.”

Paul let out a low whistle. “I didn’t realize you had so many of them in this city, alone. And what do you mean that they used to beyour charges? What happened?”

Leo sighed. “About thirteen years ago, Olivia and Bruce had ended our whitelighter/witch relationship. You know, all charges have the right to do so. But I’m still a close friend of theirs.” He continued, “And I also had a charge named Amelia Theissen. But she was killed by a warlock, two years ago. Three months after Amelia’s death, Prue – my wife’s older sister – was killed by a demonic hit man named Shax.”

“Oh yeah,” a sombered Paul added, “I remember hearing about that. It’s too bad that I’ve never met Prue and Amelia. Now about these McNeills, their name sounds familiar. Who are they?”

Jack and Gwen McNeill’s offspring flashed through Leo’s mind. “Two brothers and a sister. They’re also very talented witches . . . although a little unorthodox. Actually, they’re probably more unorthodox than the Charmed Ones. Hopefully, you’ll get to meet them as well. The sister is a cop.”

Again, Paul smiled. “Hmmm, she sounds very interesting.”

“You have no idea how much.”

* * * *

The man and the woman stood side by side, inside Ostera’s stockroom, examining the merchandise on the shelves. The woman, who also happened to be the shop’s owner, sighed. “This is going to take forever,” she moaned.

Nick glanced at Barbara and felt a rush of love. She was so beautiful! The most beautiful creature on the face of this earth. When he had stopped by Ostera’s during his lunch break, he had no idea that he would be spending such precious moments with Barbara – alone.

“Maybe we should just forget . . .” Nick began, hoping that Barbara would dismiss his words. Sure enough . . .

Blonde hair fluttered like a flag, as Barbara shook her head. “No! No, I’m sure that I have a bottle of Shepherd’s Purse somewhere. All we have to do is look . . . ah! I found it!” Barbara reached for the desired bottle.

Nick felt a surge of disappointment. He had hoped it would have taken Barbara a little longer to find the Shepherd’s Purse. But alas . . .

The returned to the store’s showroom, where more disappointment awaited Nick. He and Barbara found Paige Matthews, Barbara’s assistant, in deep conversation with Bruce McNeill. “. . . excited to finally get my wedding invitation,” Paige was saying. A frown appeared on her face. “But the others didn’t get theirs. What happened?”

Barbara replied, “Perhaps their invitations haven’t arrived in the mail, yet.” She threw her fiancé a suspicious look. “Bruce mailed‘all’ of them, last Saturday.” Then she lightly kissed his cheek, causing Nick’s heart to lurch.

Nodding, Bruce added, “Don’t worry. They’ll get them. And if they don’t . . . they’re still invited.” He rolled his eyes, while Paige became distracted by a new customer. Then he spotted Nick. “Hey, look who’s here! Again!” Giving Nick a curious stare, he added, “If I didn’t know any better, Nick, I’d swear that you’re practically becoming a daily visitor here. Soon, you’ll be camping out in front of the store.”

Nick nervously said, “I’m . . . I’m uh, working. On a project to create a new spell.”

“Oh.” Bruce turned away and focused his attention on Barbara. Who ignored Nick, all together. His heart sank. Anger and despair threatened to flare within the Streghone. But he kept his emotions in check and bid the distracted couple good-bye.

* * * *

“Inspector McNeill, San Francisco PD. May I help you?”

The voice on the other end of the phone line replied, “Olivia? It’s me, Leo.”

“Leo?” A call from her whitelighter took Olivia by surprise. “What can I do for you?”

The whitelighter continued, “Um, Piper and I are having a dinner, tonight. For one of my charges. He’s just moved here from Buffalo and I would like him to meet my other charges . . . and friends in the area. Are you available tonight?”

Olivia hesitated. “Just me?”

“Uh . . . well, yes. Bruce has already said yes, and I’ll be calling Harry, next.”

In other words, Olivia surmised, Cole was not invited. Her first instinct was to say no. But curiosity overcame her. “Okay,” she said. “What time should I be there?”

* * * *

It had been the last straw for Nick. Seeing Barbara with Bruce, this afternoon. When he had made the private vow to win Barbara’s affections, he had imagined using friendship and love. But seeing them discuss the upcoming wedding, together had made him realize that he would have to go ahead with his plans to use drastic measures.

Four hours later, Nick left work and made his way to the city library’s central branch. After nearly searching the Theology Department for nearly a half-hour, he found an old book on Demonology, dated 1932. The book listed nearly every daemon known in the world’s religions. Not only did it provide information and statistics on each daemon, but methods on how to vanquish them. Even more important, the book also provided spells to summon each daemon.

Ignoring the librarian’s curious stare, Nick checked out the book. He decided that the only way to win Barbara Bowen was to get rid of the competition. Namely Bruce McNeill. And since he had no desire to end up in prison for murder, he would resort to summoning a daemon to get rid of the man.

* * * *

Olivia eased her dark-green BMW convertible into her assigned parking space and stopped. The red-haired witch switched off the car’s engine and glanced at her watch. Five forty-three. Goddess! She had less than two hours to get ready for Leo’s little dinner party.

Grabbing her suitcase, Olivia climbed out of the convertible. As she made her way across the underground parking lot, a familiar black Porshe entered. Cole. Olivia continued striding toward the elevator. There she waited for her neighbor to join her. When he did, the pair greeted each other with quiet hellos.

“So, how was your day?” Cole Turner asked, as they entered the elevator.

A sigh left Olivia’s mouth. “Not bad. Darryl and I must have spent the better part of the day preparing our report for the DiMatteo case. Hell, we’ve been working on that damn case since last November.”

Smiling, Cole gave her arm a reassuring pat. “Well, at least the end is near.”

“Until the trial.” Olivia paused. “Mike Velo from the DA’s Office was suppose to prosecute, but we’ve heard that he has resigned to join some law firm in L.A.”

Cole nodded. “I remember Mike. Well, barely. Who’s been given the case?”

“We don’t know yet.”

The elevator continued its climb up. Two more passengers boarded and deposited them on the eighth floor. Then Cole turned to Olivia, “Say, why don’t you join me for dinner, tonight? I can prepare one of my best dishes – Broiled Lemon Chicken.”

“Oh.” Leo’s invitation came to Olivia’s mind.

Cole frowned. “What? Not feeling well?”

“No, it’s just . . .” Olivia hesitated. “Uh, I had received a dinner invitation, today.”

Jealousy briefly flicked in Cole’s blue eyes. “Oh? From whom?”

“Leo.” Now Cole looked surprised. Olivia continued, “One of his charges had just moved out here, recently. And Leo . . . has invited us to meet him. Bruce, Harry and me. Along with the Halliwells, of course.”

“Of course.” Silence enveloped the pair, as the elevator reached Olivia’s floor. Both stepped out, as Cole added, “I guess that invitation didn’t extend to me, huh?”

Oh God! Olivia thought despairingly. “He didn’t . . . Leo didn’t mention you.”

A wan smile touched Cole’s lips. “Hmmm, not surprised. “Oh well.” He tried to broaden his smile. And failed. “Hope you enjoy yourself.” He turned away and pushed the elevator button.

“Oh, hey!” Olivia cried. “Can I take a rain check on that Lemon Chicken?”

Cole nodded. “Yeah. Sure.” He flashed another wan smile and disappeared into the elevator’s closing doors.

Olivia sighed. Heavily. This damn dinner party better be worth the disappointment, she thought.

END OF PART 1

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