“A Wedding in Four Acts” [PG-13] – Act 3 (Part 1)

 

“A WEDDING IN FOUR ACTS”

Act III – Part 1

“Great party, last night,” Paige declared, as she entered the Halliwell kitchen. “A big hit, as far as Livy and the others are concerned. They really loved the male stripper.” 

Piper commented, “And I bet you did, too.” Paige wrinkled her nose. “Anyway,” Piper continued, “I’m also satisfied. With the business P3 made last night. Plus, Mrs. McNeill . . . the Younger . . . had asked me to prepare some hors’derves for the wedding reception.” She indicated the spread of food on the kitchen table. “I’m making Broccoli Quiche, Shrimp Canapes and Deviled Ham pinwheel sandwiches. And I need your help.”

“Swell,” Paige grumbled. “I come down for breakfast and end up being the kitchen help. I supposed you don’t care that I’m one of the bridesmaids, today.”

Removing a plastic bag filled with cooked shrimp from the refrigerator, Piper replied, “Nope, I don’t. Besides, I only have to make the canapés. Phoebe went to the store to get some more mayonnaise and Swiss cheese.”

The kitchen door swung open. “And Phoebe is here,” the middle Charmed One announced breathlessly. She entered the kitchen and closed the door. Dumping her purchase on the table, she added, “Here’s the Swiss cheese, Piper.”

Paige sat in one of the chairs. “So, what are we having for breakfast?”

Piper shook her head. “Sorry, I haven’t had time to make breakfast, yet.”

“I could go to McDonald’s,” Phoebe volunteered. “Who’s in the mood for an Egg McMuffin?”

Paige grimaced. “Thanks, but no thanks. I’d rather have a Sunrise sandwich from Carl’s Jr. With bacon?”

“Carl’s Jr. sounds fine with me,” Piper said. She handed the bag of shrimp to Paige. “Sweetie, do me a favor, while Phoebe gets breakfast. Start peeling the shrimp for me?”

Phoebe added, “And I’ll be heading for Carl’s Jr. Besides a Sunrise sandwich with bacon, what do you guys want?”

Before Paige or Piper could answer, Leo burst into the kitchen. “Leo honey,” Piper began, “Phoebe’s getting breakfast from Carl’s Jr. What do you want?”

“I’ll have orange juice and toast,” Leo replied absent-mindedly.

Paige frowned at him. “Toast? From Carl’s Jr.? Don’t you mean French Toast?”

Leo’s blue eyes focused upon the youngest Charmed One and chilled slightly. “Never mind breakfast,” he said. “I just want to know Paige – why did you tell Cole that I had recommended that ADA job to Paul?”

“Huh?” Paige stared at her brother-in-law with wide eyes. “Leo, what are you talking about?”

Grim-faced, Leo leaned against the kitchen counter. “Last night, I ended up in a fight with Cole . . .”

“Did he hurt you?” a concerned Phoebe asked.

Leo shook his head. “No, it was all words. But he told me that Paige,” he coldly returned his gaze upon the youngest sister, “had told him how Paul found out about the ADA job opening. Through me. And now, Cole is convinced that I had done it to play matchmaker with Olivia and Paul.”

“Well excuse me, Leo!” Paige retorted. “But it was Paul who told me at Nathalie Gleason’s party, last week! And judging from that little dinner party you and Piper gave nearly a month ago, and your expression every time we saw him with Olivia . . . can you really blame Cole for suspecting that you’re playing matchmaker?”

The other two sisters stared at the whitelighter. Piper asked, “Paige, are you suggesting that Leo helped Paul get a job out here, simply to . . . break up Cole and Olivia?”

“There is no Cole and Olivia to begin with!” Leo hotly insisted. “They weren’t even dating!”

Paige spoke up, “But you did tell Paul about the job opening. Right? So that you could hook him up with Olivia?”

“I see nothing wrong with that,” Piper commented. “Paul has a new job with a higher salary. He and Olivia seemed to get along.” She shot her husband, an acidic look. “Of course, someone could have told us what he was up to.”

Phoebe added, “And Olivia could do a lot worse than Paul. Say . . . my ex-husband?”

“Well that’s great, Pheebs,” Paige shot back, “except I don’t see how Paul can be good for Livy, when she doesn’t even love him. And besides . . . I think there’s something a little off about our friendly neighborhood ADA. Like he’s in dire need of a good psychotherapist!”

Leo protested, “What are you saying? That Paul’s crazy? And as Olivia’s whitelighter, I think I did the right thing by . . .”

“Interfering with Olivia’s love life?” Paige suggested sarcastically. “Yeah, I’m sure you feel that way. Only . . . you haven’t been her whitelighter in years!”

“Paige . . .”

The youngest Charmed One rounded on her whitelighter. “If you’re worried about Cole knowing about your little scheme, Leo, don’t bother. Because you might have a bigger problem on your hands. Like a pissed-off witch, if Olivia ever finds out.”

Leo’s face paled.

——–

Slowly, light poured into the darkness of Barbara’s mind. When the darkness finally disappeared, the blond witch blinked her eyes several times, before opening them.

The room looked very unfamiliar with its wood-paneled walls and expensive Louis XV furnishings. Filled with panic at the unfamiliar surroundings, Barbara jerked into a sitting position. Where in the hell was she? The last thing she remembered was encountering the male stripper, who had transformed into a . . .

The door opened and in walked a tall, good-looking man who possessed dark hair and a slender, yet wiry physique. The same man who had once been a blond-haired stripper, last night. “Oh God! It’s you!” Barbara sprung off the bed and back away, bumping into the night stand. “Stay away from me!”

The man smiled. “Do not worry, Signorina. I will not hurt you.” His dark eyes grew threatening. “Unless you give me a reason.”

“Who in the hell are you?” Barbara demanded. “And where am I?”

Bowing, the man continued, “My name is Alessandro. And you’re at the home of Signorina Claudia Della Scalla.”

Barbara grew cold at the mention of her hostess’s name. “Della . . .?” she whispered. Then, “Oh my God! Della Scalla! Olivia was right!”

“There is someone who wishes to speak with you.” Alessandro opened the door and stood aside, while a second figure entered the bedroom. Nick Marcano.

The Stregheria witch smiled broadly. “Barbara! It’s good to see you!”

Barbara marched toward Nick and punched him in the jaw. Hard. He sprawled onto the floor. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, Nick?”

Rubbing his jaw, the Streghone protested, “Me? This is not my doing!” He stood up. “I’m . . . Signorina Della Scalla had me sprung from jail. She thought I had killed her sister.”

Searing the other witch with a furious glare, Barbara hissed, “And I bet you made sure that you told her what really happened. Didn’t you?”

“I had no choice!”

Barbara shot back, “If that’s true, why am I here?”

Nick hesitated. “Well . . .”

“Signor Marcano had provided much needed information to the Padronessa,” the incubus explained smoothly. “And he is being rewarded for his troubles.”

“Rewarded?” Barbara frowned. “How?” She turned to Nick. “What exactly did you tell her?” Recalling how Alessandro had captured her in the first place, a horrifying epiphany struck the blond witch. “Goddess! You told her everything about us, didn’t you? About the wedding!”

Nick added, “Signorina Della Scalla needed the information to get close to Bruce. But don’t worry. She won’t kill him before the wedding. She’s going to marry Bruce in your place . . . and then kill him. Eventually. As for us . . . well, how do you feel about becoming Mrs. Nicholas Marcano?” He stared at Barbara with hopeful eyes.

Barbara decided to give Nick an answer that best expressed her feelings. Her fist snaked out and smashed against Nick’s jaw. For the second time. And for the second time, he went sprawling upon the floor. “Does that answer your question?” Barbara coldly replied.

The incubus helped Nick to his feet. “Signorina, I suggest that you refrain from such behavior, again. You should consider yourself lucky that the Padronessa has decided to spare your life. For Signor Marcano’s sake. Meanwhile, you can shower and dress. There are some clothes in the closet. And a servant will bring you breakfast. Good day, Signorina Bowen.” Alessandro left the room, dragging along a semi-conscious Nick.

Once the door closed behind the pair, Barbara rushed forward. She re-opened the door and tried to leave the bedroom. But she was unable to, thanks to a force-field blocking the doorway. In other words, she was trapped. And unless she could escape in time to warn her family and the McNeills, Bruce will end up dead by the time his honeymoon ended.

———

The pounding on the door awaken Claudia from her deep slumber. She rolled over to her right side, heaved a sigh and tried to resume her sleep. The pounding resumed. Then the doorbell rang. “Barbara! Hello? Wake up!”

Barbara? Claudia blinked several times before her eyes flickered open. She sat up, glanced around the bedroom, and remembered. Oh yes. The bedroom belonged to the Streghone’s little Wiccan witch. Claudia’s eyes swept over the room. Very tastefully furnished. The succubus could not help but feel impressed by the witch’s taste.

Ding-dong! The doorbell rang for the second time. Claudia waited for a servant to respond . . . until she remembered that the Bowen witch did not have servants. How barbaric. Heaving a sigh, she forced herself out of bed and started toward the apartment’s living room. A quick glance at a mirror hanging near the door informed Claudia that she was not in disguise. She morphed herself into the image of the blond-haired witch and opened the door.

“Here comes the bride! Here comes the bride!” sang two women, as they entered the apartment. One of them, the Vodoun priestess, swept her eyes over Claudia. The latter’s hand immediately flew to the small amulet hanging from her neck. “Damn Barbara! Are you just getting up? It’s a quarter past ten!”

Claudia stared at the other two. “After ten? Get ready? Why should . . .?” Her mind immediately grasped the situation. “Oh! Yeah. The wedding. How long do I have?”

“Man, you have lost it this morning!” the redheaded witch declared. “I thought you would have been eating breakfast by now. Where’s your wedding dress?” She swept past Claudia and into the bedroom.

Wedding dress? Several seconds passed before the succubus realized that she did not know where to find it. “I . . . uh . . .”

“I’ve got it!” the McNeill witch cried. She re-entered the living-room, carrying two plastic-covered garments. “I’ve got your going-away dress, as well. Why don’t you take a shower and get dressed, so we can leave? We can get breakfast at my parents’ house.”

Claudia blinked. “Oh. Okay.” She started to turn away.

“What’s that?” The Vodoun priestess pointed at the amulet hanging from Claudia’s neck. The same amulet that contained a spell to block any power from another telepath.

Being the quick-witted creature that she was, Claudia immediately came up with an answer. “Oh. That.” She fingered the amulet. “It’s a good luck piece. For the wedding.”

The priestess, whose name Claudia recalled was Cecile, continued to stare at the amulet. “That’s an interesting symbol for good luck. What language is it? Where did it come from?”

Panic quickly became relief when the other woman interrupted. “Hello? Ladies? We have a wedding to attend. We don’t have much time.”

Claudia used the warning to excuse herself and return to the bedroom. Once inside, she summoned her right-hand man, Leonardo. The incubus materialized after her third cry. “Yes Padronessa?” he responded with a bow.

Throwing off her robe in a theatrical manner, Claudia said, “One of the women in the other room – the black woman . . .”

“The Vodoun mami, Dubois,” Leonard added.

Claudia continued, “I want you to find someone to keep an eye on her. Get Giancarlo. She has developed an interest in my amulet. And I’m not sure that it is blocking her power, completely.”

Leonardo said, “I will summoned him, right away.”

Nodding Claudia added, “Bueno. Now all I want him to do is observe her. But if she becomes a problem . . . have Giancarlo kill her. If necessary.”

———

The solid redwood door swung open and Cole, along with his companion, found themselves facing a surprised-looking major-domo. “Mr. Turner,” Davies greeted, staring at the woman clutching the half-daemon’s arm, “welcome back. Come in.”

The pair entered the McNeills’ house. Veronica Altman glanced around the foyer with admiring eyes. Cole noticed that her lips had puckered for a whistle. Fortunately, not a sound came out. Especially since Gweneth McNeill chose that moment to enter the foyer.

“Cole!” The middle-aged redhead embraced her new visitor. Then she pecked his cheek. “Darling, I’m so glad that you’re here. Jack needs help supervising the set-up for the ceremony in the garden. Harry is upstairs, babysitting the groom.” Her green eyes fell upon Veronica. “Oh. Who is this?”

Cole responded with a slight cough. “Uh Gwen, this is Veronica Altman. She’s a fellow attorney at my firm. Veronica, this is Gweneth . . .”

“Gweneth McNeill.” Veronica eagerly shook the chef’s hands. “I’m a big fan of yours. In fact, I even have two of your cookbooks.”

Flattery lit up Gweneth’s eyes. “Really? How lovely! Which two books do you have?”

An excited Veronica continued, “Well, I have the one on British cooking and the Fifty Simple Recipes cookbook. They’re great!”

It took all of Cole’s efforts not to wince at Veronica’s adulation. Or kick her in the shin and tell her to ease up on the celebrity worship. But since the other attorney was doing him a favor, Cole remained silent. A few minutes later, the subject of cookbooks finally ended. “I would really love to chat a little longer, Ms. Altman,” Gweneth said, “but I have a wedding to organize. Would you excuse . . .?”

The front door swung open and three women entered the house – Cecile, Barbara, and Olivia. “We’re here!” the latter declared loudly. “Mom, Cecile and I finally got Barbara . . .” She stopped short at the sight of Cole and Veronica standing next to each other. “Oh. Cole.” A tinge of jealousy crept into her voice – much to Cole’s satisfaction. “Who’s your friend? She looks familiar.”

Suppressing a smile, Cole replied, “You remember Veronica Altman from my firm, don’t you? I believe you two had once met at some office party.”

“Actually, we’ve met twice,” Veronica said, offering her hand to Olivia, who coolly regarded it. “At the Christmas office party and at the firm’s charity benefit, last February. Nice to see you, again, Olivia. It is Olivia, right?”

A cool smile touched Olivia’s lips. She finally shook Veronica’s hand. “Oh yes. I remember you. From the charity benefit.”

Cole turned Veronica’s attention to the other women. “By the way, this is Cecile Dubois. She’s a friend of Olivia’s. And so is Barbara,” he said, indicating the blond-haired woman. “Who happens to be the bride.”

Veronica shook Cecile’s hands and smiled at Barbara. “Congratulations on the wedding. I hope you’ll be happy.”

The bride-to-be responded with a wan smile. “Thanks.” To Cole’s surprise, he felt a familiar tingle at the nape of his neck. The last time he had felt such a sensation . . .

“I hope that you’ll enjoy the wedding, Ms. Altman,” Gweneth said, interrupting Cole’s thoughts. “I believe it will be quite different from what you’re used to.”

Veronica’s smoky gray eyes widened. “Oh?”

“Our family and Barbara’s family are into what is known as New Age religion. It’s a new kind of religion based on some old Celtic Pagan one.”

Nodding, Veronica said, “That should be no problem. I mean, this is San Francisco. New Age religion has been around for the past 30 or 40 years in this town. At the last wedding I had attended, the bride and groom were married in a some kind of old Romanian ceremony.” She turned to Cole. “Remember Cole? It was at Stefan Schroeder’s wedding, nearly two weeks ago.”

Cole became aware of eyes staring at him. “That’s strange,” Olivia said thoughtfully. “You never mentioned anything about attending a wedding to me.”

Despite the intensity radiating from Olivia’s green eyes, Cole maintained his composure. “You weren’t available that day. I believe you and Paul had taken a trip to Napa Valley.”

Olivia’s eyes flickered. “Oh.”

Tension surrounded the six people like a heavy fog. Mercifully, Gweneth broke the silence. “Well, I’m sure we would all love to stand around and talk, but I have a wedding to supervise. Jack is waiting for Cole, and I’m sure that you girls need to get ready.”

Her words did the trick. Gweneth exchanged a few more words with Veronica and left. Olivia, along with Cecile and Barbara started upstairs. As they climbed the staircase, Olivia shot a quick glare at Cole and Veronica.

“Looks like your plan is working,” Veronica commented, after the three other women disappeared upstairs. “Did you see the look your friend gave us?”

Cole sighed. “Oh yeah. I saw.” Only now, he began to wonder if he had gone too far with this jealousy scheme.

END OF ACT III – Part 1

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