Less than a minute before Cole had spotted them, Phoebe and Jason stood at the entrance of Morgan’s dining room. “Thanks for joining me for lunch,” the BAY-MIRROR’s owner said. “Although I wish you had chosen another restaurant.”
“Jason,” Phoebe gently chided. “Just because this restaurant is owned by Olivia’s family . . .”
Nodding, Jason admitted, “I know, I know! I’m letting her get to me, again.” He sighed. “Besides, the reason I had invited you to lunch was because I wanted to tell you about her . . . and me. And I thought it would be best to do so away from the office.”
“I understand.” Phoebe gave her boyfriend’s arm a reassuring squeeze. “And I’m glad that you finally wanted to talk.” She and Jason followed the casually dressed maitre’d across the dining room. They were halfway to their destination, when a familiar voice cried out Phoebe’s name.
“Phoebe!” She glanced to her left and spotted Darryl Morris waving at her. He sat inside a booth with Paul Margolin, Olivia and . . . Phoebe’s heart fluttered out of control . . . and Cole. “Hey Phoebe,” Darryl greeted as she and Jason approached the inspector’s table. “How are you?” The other three stared at her.
Stifling the need to take flight, Phoebe responded with a wan smile, “I’m fine.” She turned her attention to Darryl’s lunch companions. “Paul, it’s good to see you. Again. Olivia.” And in an even less enthusiastic voice, she added, “Cole. Wha . . . what are you four doing here?”
The red-haired woman and Phoebe’s ex gave her stiff nods. Paul Margolin merely stared at her – like she was a specimen under a microscope. Weird. Only Darryl responded with any kind of friendliness. “Celebrating!” he said. “I’ve been promoted to lieutenant.”
“Hey! Congratulations!” Phoebe’s smile became more genuine. Then she remembered her companion. “Oh, you all remember Jason Dean, right? Jason, I guess you already know Olivia and Cole. And this big handsome man over there,” she said, pointing at Darryl, “is Darryl Morris – Olivia’s partner. He’s also an old friend of the family.” Then she nodded at Paul. “And this is Paul Margolin. He’s an . . . old friend of Leo’s. And he’s also an ADA.”
Jason greeted both Darryl and Paul with friendly nods, deliberately ignoring Olivia and Cole. But his former girlfriend spoke up, anyway. “Jason, it’s good to see you.” A small smile appeared on Olivia’s face. “Although, I am surprised to see you, here. I didn’t think you would ever step foot inside a McNeill restaurant again, after we broke up.”
The BAY-MIRROR‘s publisher grew red in the face. Phoebe gave his arm a reassuring squeeze. “I’ve decided to let bygones be bygones,” he said with a stiff smile. Then, “Uh, well don’t let Phoebe and me interrupt the celebration. We need to get going. Nice meeting all of you.” He tugged at Phoebe’s arm.
Ignoring the smirk on Olivia’s lips, Phoebe said her final good-byes and with Jason, walked over to the table, where the maitre’d waited. Once the couple was seated, Phoebe shot a glance at Darryl’s table. The new ADA seemed to be in a state of shock over something. Olivia seemed to be hovering over him with concern, while Cole regarded the whole scene with a mixture of annoyance and jealousy. Phoebe’s chest grew heavy. Jealousy? Cole?
” . . . wasn’t so bad,” Jason said. “Seeing her again.”
Realizing that her boyfriend was talking, Phoebe blinked. “Huh?”
“Olivia. Seeing her again wasn’t so bad,” Jason repeated. “Despite her little comment.” He sighed. Heavily. “At least I didn’t have some unpleasant little flashback. Like the last time.”
Phoebe devoted her full attention to Jason. “I didn’t realize that seeing her again would be so difficult for you. You really must have loved her.”
Jason paused. “Love?” He shook his head. “It wasn’t so much . . . I mean, I don’t think I was ever in love with Olivia. Or she with me. Maybe I was infatuated with her. Olivia was . . . well, an exciting woman.” He stared into nothingness. “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like her.”
“Oh?” Jealousy crept into Phoebe’s voice.
Smiling, Jason continued, “Don’t worry. I can easily say the same about you. In fact,” he leaned closer, “I’m glad that you’re nothing like her. One Olivia was enough to last a lifetime, thank you.”
Phoebe leaned forward and covered one of Jason’s hands with hers. “I hope this isn’t your idea of a pick-up line.” The pair shared a private laugh, before leaning back into their chairs. Phoebe glanced to her side, wondering if Darryl and the others had noticed her little private moment with Jason. She could see that Darryl had. Olivia and Paul seemed deep in conversation. And Cole . . . shot unhappy looks in their direction. Phoebe could not decide whether to be relieved about the latter. Or disappointed.
“About Olivia,” she continued, “was being with her that difficult?”
Jason heaved another heavy sigh. “What can I say? She was exciting, smart, temperamental, amusing, cruel and perverse. All at once. I think she only saw me as a part time guy. And Olivia had a . . . well, she still has it, I think.”
“Her what?” Phoebe asked.
“A talent for making me feel very small. Or an idiot.” Jason paused. “You heard the comment she made to me about coming here. Like I said, she can be cruel.”
Recalling Olivia’s rant against the Halliwells over Cole last fall, Phoebe understood. Perfectly. That little conversation at one of the McNeills’ Sunday brunches had left her feeling worse than an idiot. Almost criminal. And Paige’s discovery about Cole and the Source had not helped.
Jason continued, “After two months of dating, I just couldn’t deal with her crap any longer. And Olivia had grown tired of me. So, we mutually decided to break up.”
“Hmm, I wish my marriage had ended like that,” Phoebe muttered.
Sympathy gleamed in Jason’s eyes. “Was it really that bad?”
Phoebe nodded. “Let me tell you about the horror that was Phoebe and Cole.” Leaving out any references to the supernatural world, Phoebe spilled out her official version of the failed Halliwell-Turner union.
* * * *
Upon his return to his apartment, Nick commenced upon his plans to get rid of Bruce McNeill. First, he concocted an elixir made from the Angelica Root he had purchased at Ostera. Next, he formed a circle on the floor, using a white chord. Then he placed three black candles next to the circle, in equal distance. He created a circle outside the white chord, using more crushed protection herbs.
Nick lit the black candles, before stepping away from the circle. After taking several deep breaths to calm himself, he placed a smudge of the elixir mixture on his forehead. He finally placed his body on the floor, in a pentagram position – arms straight out and legs apart. Then he summoned the succubus in Italian.
For a few seconds, nothing happened. Nick recited the chant again. The air grew heavy. Gray smoke materialized in the middle of the circle, until it finally formed into a bi-pedal, demonic-looking creature with horns, a tail and . . . breasts. Breasts? Nick let out a gasp and sprung to his feet.
The succubus frowned. A very frightening sight for Nick. “Did you just summoned me?” she demanded in Italian. “Who are you?”
After a moment’s hesitation, Nick stammered in English, “Uh, I’m . . . my name is N-Nick.” He cleared his throat nervously. “Nicholas Marcano. I had sum . . . summoned you. But not for me,” he quickly added. He peered harder at the daemon. “Um, is that how you always look?”
The demonic form magically transformed into a beautiful, statuesque woman with long, curly black hair, soft sherry-brown eyes and a creamy complexion. “Is this better?” Now she spoke English, with an Italian accent.
Nick’s eyes drank in the beautiful face and the curvaceous nude body. “Much better,” he replied in a breathless tone. “What’s . . . uh, what’s your name?”
“Portia. Portia Della Scalla.” She stepped forward. “So, are you ready to make love?”
Nick opened his mouth to say yes. Until he remembered what he was facing. Thank goodness for the protection herb on his forehead and on the floor. “No! I mean, I didn’t summon you to have sex. I mean . . .” He shook his head, feeling slightly confused. “I did summon you to have sex. But not with me. With someone else, so that you can steal his soul.”
“His?” A delicate brow formed an arch. “You want me to seduce someone else?”
“Yes.” Nick sighed with relief. “His name is Bruce McNeill. And he’s a witch. One of those Wiccans.”
Portia tried to step out of the circle and encountered a force field. She pointed at the circle of herbs. “Do you mind? I do not want to stand here forever.”
“Oh.” Nick scrambled to sweep away the crushed herbs.
Portia made a second attempt to leave the circle. Succeeding, she walked over to the sofa and sat down. “Bruce McNeill,” she murmured. “Why does that name sound familiar?” She looked at Nick. “If you want this Signor McNeill dead, I will require something in return.”
“Huh?” Mindful of the intense pair of eyes upon him, the realization of the succubus’ question struck Nick. “Oh. Yeah. Compensation.” He paused. “Have you, um, ever heard of a Soma plant?”
Portia’s eyes lit up. “Of course! A Hindu shrub. Cures diseases of all kinds. And grants the owner, immortality. Even a daemon such as myself will be immune from being vanquished. Where is this Soma plant?”
Nick shook his head. “Not so fast. First, you help me kill Bruce McNeill. Then I’ll tell you were you can find the plant. I’ll even help you find it.”
A long pause followed. Nick tried to ignore the sherry-brown eyes contemplating him with such intensity. Don’t look at her. Don’t look . . .
“All right! I will seduce and kill this Bruce McNeill for you,” Portia said with a huff. “Where can I find him?”
Nick rushed over to his desk and scribbled an address on his notepad. He ripped the top sheet from the pad and handed it over to Portia. “Uh, do you read English?”
An impatient sigh left Portia’s mouth. “You mean to say that you have not figured that out, by now?” She snatched the piece of paper from Bruce. “Of course I read and write English! And by the way, I am familiar with San Francisco.”
“Ah. Well. Then you should have no troubles.” Nick hesitated, as he stole a surreptious glance at the succubus. “Uh, by the way, do you think you could find some clothes?”
* * * *
“A demon!” Paul’s voice rang throughout the Halliwells’ first floor. “I sat and had lunch with a demon, today! A demon who had married into your family, Leo! I can’t believe that you had allowed a demon to spend time with your charges, let alone marry one of them!”
Leo took a deep breath and reached out for his charge. “Paul, calm down. Getting excited won’t help. Phoebe told me that you had met Cole, today. I just didn’t . . .”
“Did the Elders’ Council know about him?” Paul demanded.
In one of those increasingly rare moments, Leo had found himself at home with his family, when Paul Margolin dropped by to pay a visit. It was nearly nine o’clock. Leo, Phoebe and Paige had just finished dinner. Baby Wyatt was upstairs, asleep. And Piper was at P3, supervising the club for tonight. No sooner had he stepped inside the manor, Paul demanded that Leo tell him everything about Cole.
“Yes, the Elders knew about him,” Leo calmly replied. “How did you . . . how did you find out that Cole was . . .?”
Paul interrupted. ” . . . a demon? The infamous Belthazor? Or the fact that my whitelighter had once worked with this guy? And said nothing when this demon married another charge? Who happened to be one of the Charmed Ones? My God, Leo! A demon? And now he’s with another one of your charges!”
“Look, Olivia hasn’t been one of Leo charges in years. And she and Cole aren’t romantically involved,” Paige added. Leo glared at her. “But I am keeping my fingers crossed.” This time, Phoebe glared.
Paul merely regarded the youngest Charmed One with disbelief. “This doesn’t bother you? Being associated with a notorious demon? I mean, this guy . . . I’ve heard about him! Belthazor was one of the Source’s most notorious killers for nearly a century!”
Smiling, Paige replied, “If you had asked me this four months ago, I would have said yes. Yeah, I was once bothered being associated with Cole. But not anymore.”
“He ended up becoming the Source! The Source of All Evil!”
Paige calmly continued, “And we killed him. Only we didn’t realize at the time that Cole had been possessed by the Source’s essence.”
“Po . . .” Paul shook his head. “Possessed? What do you mean?”
“Why are we answering your questions?” Paige demanded. “You don’t know Cole. You don’t even know us!”
Leo admonished his sister-in-law. “Paige! There’s no need . . .”
“Look, I’m sorry if I come across as rude, but . . . you seemed to assume a lot without knowing what really happened,” Paige said to Paul. “And to be honest, I see no reason why we have to explain ourselves to you.”
An embarrassing silence filled the living room. Leo glanced at Paige, who seemed cool and slightly resentful toward the male witch. Who looked absolutely deflated by Paige’s words. And poor Phoebe looked as if she wanted to crawl away somewhere and die. Leo began, “Maybe Paul was just concerned . . .”
“Concerned about what?” Paige demanded. “That his whitelighter might be under the influence of a demon? Or consorting with one? Or has this all to do with someone else?” She glared at Paul.
Every now and then, Leo would find himself wishing that Cole Turner had never entered their lives. Tonight was one of those moments. Taking a deep breath, he said, “Listen, I think we’re all getting a little ahead of ourselves. All this over a half-demon, who is no longer involved with us.”
A nervous laugh escaped Phoebe’s mouth. “Thank goodness for that.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that.” Paige gave Paul a pointed stare. “Cole is still in Olivia’s life.” Then she gave both Leo and Phoebe a defiant stare. “And in mine.” She turned on her heels and marched upstairs.
Feeling embarrassed over the outburst, Leo shrugged his shoulders. Judging from Paul’s outraged expression, the damage had been done.
* * * *
Portia Della Scalla materialized on the McNeills’ front lawn. She gazed approvingly at the Colonial Spanish villa. Bellissima, she thought. And very tasteful. Unlike most American homes. Portia harbored an opinion that the majority of Americans, including the very wealthy, were vulgarians.
Unbeknownst to Nick Marcano, Portia had heard of Bruce McNeill. She had also heard of Gweneth McNeill, as well. One world-renowned chef, and the other, an up-and-coming talent – and both came from a wealthy San Francisco family. During her previous visits to San Francisco, Portia had visited the famous Golden Horn restaurant on several occasions. She had no idea, however, that both mother and son were witches. Or that the illustrious McNeill family had anything to do with the supernatural world.
Closing her eyes, she could detect the presence of four men inside the house. Four. Portia heaved a frustrated sigh.Wonderful! How was she supposed to figure out where her intended victim slept? Thankfully, the Streghone had provided a photograph of this Bruce McNeill. Glancing at it, Portia could not help but admire the subject’s face. Very handsome. And the perfect man to act as progenitor to a powerful adamitici, if the Streghone was correct about Signor McNeill being a powerful witch. She pressed one hand against her belly and sighed with content. This would be the perfect time for her to breed.
Portia transformed herself into gray smoke and wafted toward the villa. A second later, she found her solid body being flung back on the lawn. Damn them! The McNeills must have cast some kind of protection spell around the house. Damn! Now how was she supposed to get to the witch?
* * * *
“Is he dead?” Nick asked, after Portia returned to his apartment. “Have you done it?”
The dark-haired succubus rolled her eyes, contemptuously. “And I thought you knew something about us. We have to mate with our victims several times before we can take their souls completely.”
A hopeful Nick asked, “Well, have you begun? Have you, uh . . .?”
“Mated with him? Had sex?” Portia sunk onto the sofa, pouting. “No. Someone cast a protection spell on the house. I could not enter.”
“Damn!” Nick began to suspect that this whole scheme to get rid of Bruce might be a big mistake. Maybe he should give up. Or consider another way to stop the upcoming McNeill-Bowen nuptials.
Portia’s bell-like voice cut into his thoughts. “You are not changing your mind, are you?
Nick stared at her. “Huh? Uh, no. No, I . . .”
“Because I do not relish the thought that I had been summoned for nothing.” Her brown eyes flashed with intimidation. Then they softened. “Of course, I do not have to seduce Signor McNeill in his bedroom. I can always lure him here. Or to some other place.”
Some other place. The words reverberated inside Nick’s mind. Of course. All it took was to find a way for Portia to get close to Bruce.
The succubus continued, “Why did you not tell me that you wanted Bruce McNeill dead? The Bruce McNeill from the Golden Horn restaurant?”
“You’ve heard of him?”
Nodding, Portia continued, “Of course. I may be a succubus, but I have moved about in the mortal world for a long time. Why, I remember when the Golden Horn first opened.” She heaved a heartfelt sigh. “Ah, bellisima! The food was exquisite!”
“So, you don’t mind that I want him dead?”
With a shrug, Portia added, “Why should I? He is just another potential victim to me. And there are other five-star restaurants. The culinary world will not suffer from his death.”
Nick glanced shrewdly at her. “Say, do you know much about the . . . uh, culinary world? Or anything about professional cooking? Maybe we can find a way to get you a job . . .”
“I do not cook!” The succubus stated most adamantly. “I dine.”
Okay. “Well, what have you done, besides fucked a lot of men?”
Searing him with a dark glare, Portia replied angrily, “I have worked in the mortal world, before!” Her delicate nose rose an inch higher. “I once worked as a secretary at a trading firm in Marsailles, forty years ago. I ended up seducing the owner. And back in the late 1880s, I was married to a Bavarian count. I also worked for an Italian fashion magazine in the 1970s. As a writer, I might add. And while working as a reporter for a Quebec newspaper, I had seduced a newspaper magnate. And I . . .”
Reporter? “Wait! Did you say . . . writer?” Nick asked. “You can write?”
Portia’s eyes radiated with pride. “Of course. Writing happens to be one of my natural talents . . . aside from seduction. Why, back in the 1980s, I wrote a series of bestselling novels. Romantic fiction. They were very popular. Even with the demonic world. Perhaps you’ve heard of them? There was . . .”
“You’re a writer!”
“That is what I said!” The succubus stared at Nick, as if he had grown a second head. “Haven’t you been listening to me?”
The Streghone shook his head. “No, you don’t understand. You’re a writer. And I’ve heard that Bruce McNeill will be interviewed by some food columnist from the BAY-MIRROR.”
Portia frowned. “The BAY-MIRROR. Is this some kind of newspaper?”
Nick nodded. “Yes. And since you’re a writer, maybe we can find a way for you to hold the interview, instead.”
Comprehension dawned in Portia’s sherry-brown eyes. “Ah yes! I understand! But first, we must get rid of this columnist. Do you know his or her name?”
Nick pondered on the question for a moment, recalling Paige Matthews’ words. “Wolf, something. Wait! DeWolfe. DeWolfe Mann!”
END OF PART 4
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