“A FAMILY AFFAIR”
SUMMARY: The latest battle against a powerful demon becomes a family affair for Cole and the Charmed Ones. Set after “Lessons in Witchcraft VI” – AU between S5 and S6.
FEEDBACK: – Be my guest.
DISCLAIMER: The Charmed Ones, Leo Wyatt, and Cole Turner belong to Constance Burge, Brad Kern and Spelling Productions. The McNeills and Marbus, are thankfully, my creations.
Four men sat inside one of the large conference rooms that belonged to the corporate office of the Giovanni Winery. A long table divided the men into two pairs – like adversaries facing each other before a battle. Three large bay windows overlooked the city of San Francisco and the Bay Bridge, beyond.
“My client is willing to offer you a more than generous sum for the property, Mr. Giovanni,” Cedric Lloyd politely said to an elegant, dark-haired man around forty. “At least nine million.”
It took great effort on Cole’s part not to whistle out loud. Instead, he calmly faced his client and waited for the latter’s response. Surprise and desire mingled in Mark Giovanni’s eyes. Cole realized that Lloyd’s offer had strongly appealed to the wine grower. And no wonder, considering that Giovanni’s Oakville property had been valued at six million dollars, one-third less than Lloyd’s offer of nine million. By accepting Magan Corporation’s offer, Cole’s client stood a chance of making a profit of three million dollars.
Giovanni leaned back in his seat with a sigh. “Well, nine million dollars is certainly generous,” he finally commented. “However, . . .” He turned to Cole.
The half-daemon spoke up. “However, a three million dollar profit is minor compared to what my client could earn by producing wine on the property. After all, Mr. Giovanni’s product is world-renowned. So, I’m afraid that my client will . . .” He glanced at the wine grower, who nodded approvingly. “. . . have to turn down your offer.”
Disappointment flickered in Lloyd’s gray eyes. The other man – formerly introduced as Elliot Clements of Magan Corporation – frowned. “I don’t understand,” the latter said. “Our offer is more than generous. You have a better chance of making some kind of profit from our offer than growing grapes. Surely you can see . . .”
“My final answer is no,” Giovanni firmly interrupted. “Thank you . . . but no. I suggest that we leave the matter with that answer. Perhaps the Magan Corporation should consider other properties for sale.”
Mr. Clements’ expression hardened. “Or perhaps you should re-consider our offer, Mr. Giovanni. You just might realize that accepting our offer could have been the best decision to make.”
Cole gave Lloyd a hard stare. “I hope that Mr. Clements’ words were not a threat, Cedric.”
“Of course not!” Lloyd replied with false smile. “I believe that Mr. Clements’ temper had simply got the best of him. Mr. Giovanni’s answer had been a . . . a bit of a disappointment.” He stood up. So did Mr. Clements, who regarded Cole and Giovanni with a stony stare. Lloyd faced the wine grower. “Mr. Giovanni, if no is your final answer . . .”
Giovanni coolly replied, “It is.”
“Well,” Lloyd’s smile chilled slightly, “I can only assume there is nothing else to say. Good day, gentlemen.” Upon reaching the door, he paused and turned to stare at Cole. “By the way Cole, give Olivia my best regards.” He nodded and left the conference room. Clements, now wearing a forced smile, quickly followed.
Once the door had closed behind the two men, Giovanni turned to Cole. “Now, that was interesting. Nine million dollars? Hagan Corporation must want that property very badly. It’s too bad they will never get it.”
“I hope you’re right,” Cole replied, as he gathered his documents.
A frowned marred Giovanni’s handsome face. “What do you mean? It’s obvious that Hagan has failed in its claim to my property. Especially after you had discovered that old family land grant. What else can they do, aside from this latest attempt to buy it?”
Cole heaved a sigh. “As far as I know, nothing. But considering the corporation’s willingness to pay for more than the property is worth, I wouldn’t put it past them to try something desperate.”
“So, you’re saying that I should have accepted the offer?”
Shrugging his shoulders, Cole replied, “I don’t know. Normally, I would have said yes. But this is the Hagan Corporation we’re speaking of. And from what I’ve learned, it doesn’t have the greatest reputation, considering the numerous lawsuits filed against them. And there have been a few rumors about a few . . . shady incidents regarding past business deals.” He paused, as his eyes stared into nothing. “My question is – why are they so interested in your property?”
Arthur Winslow stood before the large glass window that overlooked San Francisco Bay and beyond. Standing at exactly six feet tall, Winslow possessed thick curly brown hair – partially gray, a wide U-shaped face with a hard jaw, and piercing hazel-green eyes. The image he projected could be described by anyone as forceful . . . commanding.
What the general public – especially San Francisco’s society – did not know was that Winslow happened to be a 275 year-old daemon named Artemus. Not only did he serve as the Magan Corporation’s CEO and major stockholder, he led one of the most infamous organizations in the demonic world – the Khorne Order. At the moment, he did not feel particularly pleased by Cedric Lloyd and Elliot Clements’ report on their meeting with Mark Giovanni.
“He said no?” Artemus coolly asked. “Giovanni threw the nine million dollar offer back into my face?” He whirled around to face his employees.
Both Lloyd and Clements squirmed with discomfort . . . much to Artemus’ annoyance. Did these two have any balls? “Uh . . . well yes, Mr. Winslow,” Clements finally answered. “I don’t understand it, myself. I felt certain that Giovanni would accept the offer.”
“For a moment, it seemed as if he would,” Lloyd added. “But . . . in the end, he changed his mind. I suspect that Giovanni realized he could make a bigger profit by using the land as a vineyard and winery. The soil is in excellent condition. However, if something should happen to the soil . . .”
Artemus knew what the attorney was suggesting. Contaminate the Oakville property’s soil. Giovanni would sell the land without breaking a sweat. Lloyd’s plan seemed sound. However, Artemus had one problem with it. “Once I use the land for my own purpose,” he said, “I would be stuck with a piece of property that is no longer valuable. Unless I build a couple of homes upon it. I may not be a seer, Mr. Lloyd, but even I can foresee future problems with various governments regarding pollution. Magan Corporation does not need another lawsuit.”
Lloyd nodded. “Of course, Mr. Winslow. I understand. However, there is one last suggestion.”
“Mark Giovanni has a wife and two children.” Lloyd paused dramatically. “I’m sure they would be willing to sell . . . upon inheriting the property.” His eyes never wavered, as they stared at the daemon.
Deep admiration welled within Artemus’ chest. He could never understand some of his fellow daemons’ disregard for humans. Artemus had never bought the standard theory that only daemons and very few humans were capable of pure evil. His encounters with the other species over the past two-and-a-half centuries had led the daemon to believe otherwise. He discovered that humans not only possessed a great potential for evil – mayhem, bigotry, perversions of all kinds, and murder included – they were also among the most corruptible beings he has ever encountered. Including the pair who now stood before him.
“Mr. Lloyd, are you suggesting that Mr. Giovanni’s time on Earth should be shortened?” Artemus asked.
With a careless shrug, Lloyd replied, “Perhaps.”
Clements added, “What about Turner?”
“What about him?” Lloyd shot back. “What’s he going to do? Act as Giovanni’s bodyguard? He’s an attorney.”
Artemus allowed himself a private smile. If only they knew. “Mr. Lloyd is right. Cole Turner cannot watch his client’s back at every waking moment. Besides, I believe the best time to strike, is when Mr. Giovanni is off-guard. Thank you, gentlemen. I’ll see to the matter, myself.”
The moment the two humans left his office, Artemus contemplated Lloyd’s suggestion to get rid of Giovanni. Clements was right about one thing. Cole Turner, aka Belthazor, could prove to be a problem. Especially since the half-daemon had become more powerful than ever after his return from the Wasteland. Ever since he had heard of Belthazor’s fate, Artemus had been curious about how the half-daemon accomplished such a feat.
If he was going to send an assassin after Giovanni, Artemus decided that a low-level daemon within his order would perform the deed. Only a daemon would have a chance of escape before Belthazor could intervene. The daemon reached for the telephone and summoned his assistance to his office.
The California sun broke through the low clouds to beam rays of sunshine upon the gathering being held on an expensive lawn, below. The lawn stretched out behind a large three-story mansion, located in San Mateo, not far from the McNeills’ home. The cream of San Francisco society, along with a few local celebrities, had been invited by one of the city’ top socialites – Cordelia Morton.
“God, I am bored out of my mind!” Cole murmured fiercely, as he strolled through the crowd with Olivia beside him. “Please explain, again, why I had bothered to accept this woman’s invitation?”
Smiling broadly at a passing guest, Olivia replied, “Because Leland and Cordelia Morton are among your firm’s biggest clients. And you handle their account.” She patted Cole’s arm. “Just be grateful that dear Cordelia doesn’t have you targeted as a future son-in-law.”
“Like poor Harry, huh?” Cole replied. He shot a glance at Olivia’s younger brother near the bar. Harry seemed to be struggling to suppress a bored expression, while listening to the soiree’s hostess. “How long has this thing between him and Dana Morton been going on?”
Olivia heaved a sigh. “It seems like forever. Actually . . . ever since Harry had made the mistake of asking Dana out for a date, nearly two years ago. It’s been on-again, off-again between them, ever since. The idea of Morton millions married to McNeill money must have sent both Dana and her mother into a state of rapture.”
The couple continued their stroll, until they came upon Mark Giovanni and a woman, standing near a refreshment table. The wine grower’s mouth broke into a wide grin, at the sight of his attorney. “Cole! Good to see you!” You remember my wife, Pamela, don’t you?”
A slender woman with blond, thick hair pulled back into a chignon, nodded at Cole. The wine grower’s wife possessed a long, equine face that nearly seemed devoid of any color. She was regarded throughout San Francisco society as a socially ambitious woman. Pamela Dean Giovanni looked upon Cole with cool disinterest.
“It’s nice to see you again, Mrs. Giovanni,” Cole greeted politely.
Mrs. Giovanni’s pale eyes flickered briefly. “Have we met?”
“Of course you have, Pam!” Giovanni replied in Cole’s stead. “Last February, at Adele Hopkins’ charity benefit.”
“Oh.” Mrs. Giovanni dismissed the half-daemon and diverted her attention to Olivia. “Olivia! Darling! It’s been quite a while! Where have you been?”
Olivia shot Cole a sardonic glance, before she replied, “Well, other than Europe last June, here in San Francisco.”
“But darling, Mark and I hardly ever see you at any of the latest parties, anymore,” Mrs. Giovanni protested. “Have we, Mark dear?” The wine grower opened his mouth to speak, but his wife continued. “In fact, it’s been over a year.”
Since Richard Bannen’s death? Cole wondered.
“Well, Cole and I were at Warren Mitchell’s New Year’s Eve party,” Olivia said. “And at Vanessa Probst’s charity ball, when you first met Cole, last February.”
Pamela Giovanni’s voice chilled slightly. “Oh yes. Certainly a party to remember. Oh well, perhaps I haven’t been keeping up with everyone, like I should.”
With a smile, Olivia added tartly, “Perhaps.”
The older couple nodded politely and moved on. Cole released a gust of breath. “Whew! Talk about a chilly encounter. And I thought she had forgotten.” The moment his last words left his mouth, he regretted them.
“Forgotten what?” Olivia asked.
Cole pretended that he had not heard her. “Did you say something?”
“You heard me, Turner.” Olivia’s green eyes penetrated his. “What was Pamela’s little cold shoulder all about? What did you hope she had forgotten?”
He sighed. “Okay.” Memories of an unpleasant encounter with his client’s wife, flashed through Cole’s mind. “Remember Vanessa Probst’s ball?”
Reluctantly, Cole continued. “Well that night, Pamela Giovanni had cornered me alone in some empty room.” He paused. “And tried to . . . you know . . . put the moves on me.”
Laughter immediately erupted from Olivia’s mouth, drawing stares.
“And what the hell is so damn funny?” Cole demanded, feeling slightly insulted.
Still chuckling, Olivia patted his arm. “Don’t worry, honey. I wasn’t laughing at you. I was thinking of Pamela. I swear that woman must have chased after half the men of San Francisco.” Her mouth curved into a wicked grin. “And with minimal success.”
“So, what you’re saying is that I’m part of a long line of failures.”
Snorting with derision, Olivia added caustically, “A very long line. Of course, she’s had her successes. Does . . . ummm, Mark know? About what happened?”
Cole sighed. “Well, I never said anything about what happened, but according to Jackman, Mrs. Giovanni tried to convince her husband to drop me as his attorney and get me fired from the firm.” A smile touched the half-daemon’s lips. “Instead, he regarded the entire matter as a joke.”
“Oh! Poor woman. Not only does she suck at infidelity, her husband is a lot better at it.”
A familiar presence assailed Cole’s senses. He frowned, and glanced around the lawn. “There’s someone . . .” Then he sensed another presence. Although not familiar like the first, it possessed an air of danger.
“Who?” Olivia asked. “Do you mean those two?” She pointed at two figures strolling toward the terrace’s edge.
Cole frowned. “Phoebe? And Paige? What are they doing here?”
“You don’t know?” Olivia replied. “Both Cordelia and Dana Morton are ardent fans of the ‘DEAR PHOEBE’ column.”
The two sisters stood near the edge of the terrace, as their eyes swept over the lawn, beyond. “This is so cool!” Paige declared happily. “Reminds of that picnic at Castle Dunleith.”
“I don’t think you can call this an ordinary picnic, Paige,” Phoebe replied.
The younger woman shot back, “Neither was the one in Scotland.”
Phoebe continued, “Besides, I wish that Jason was here.”
Paige rolled her eyes in disgust. “Don’t tell me that you’re nervous!” she protested. “C’mon Pheebs! It’s not like you never been to one of these swanky functions, before.”
“I’m not nervous,” Phoebe retorted. “I just never . . . well, I’ve never been very comfortable attending these kind of functions.” The two sisters descended the terrace’s steps and merged into the well-dressed crowd. “Unless I’m with Jason.”
An exasperated Paige asked, “Then why did you bother to come here?”
“Because I had no choice! Elise had insisted that I come. Especially since Leland Morton happens to be one of Dean Industries’ shareholders.”
“I thought that Jason owned the newspaper,” Paige asked.
Shooting wary looks at the guests, Phoebe replied, “The paper is part of Dean Industries. Although Jason is the major shareholder, he’s not the only . . .” A tall man bumped into Phoebe, cutting her reply short. She glanced into a pair of eyes that struck a familiar chord.
The stranger steadied her, by placing his hands on her shoulders. And then the vision appeared, taking Phoebe by surprise. He slowly morphed into an orange-and-black demon that bore a strong resemblance to Belthazor . . . before returning back into human form. “Excuse me,” the stranger mumbled in a foreign accent and moved on.
It took another minute before Phoebe finally recovered from being disoriented. She blinked and took a deep breath. “Where . . . where is he?” she demanded.
“Where’s who?” Paige frowned at her.
Phoebe continued to scan the crowd. “The guy who had bumped into me. Where is he?”
“Phoebe, what’s the big . . .?”
“He’s a . . .” Phoebe lowered her voice, as she hissed at Paige, “He’s a demon! I saw him. I mean I saw him demonic form. In a vision. Where is he?”
Anxiety flitted across Paige’s pale face. “Oh my God! What’s he doing here?”
“I don’t know,” Phoebe said, as she shook her head. “But we’ve got to find him. Fast! And vanquish him.”
Paige hissed, “Are you crazy? In this crowd? Besides, what if we need . . .?”
Another voice added, “Need what?” The two sisters whirled around and found Jack McNeill and a middle-aged woman with dark hair and sharp features, slowly approaching them. Phoebe quickly fought back a surge of panic. She recognized the woman as Cordelia Morton, their hostess. Mr. McNeill continued, “Are you two ladies looking for someone?”
Phoebe hesitated before she finally answered, “Uh, . . . we, uh . . . Paige and I thought we had spotted someone familiar.”
“Oh, you mean Cole?” Mr. McNeill added. “We just saw him with Olivia, at the bar.”
Paige blurted out, “Cole’s here?” Phoebe surreptiously jabbed the younger woman in the side.
Mrs. Morton frowned. “But didn’t you just say that you had . . .”
Phoebe quickly added, “I saw him. Paige didn’t. I guess I was right.” She chuckled nervously.
“Well, if you want me to summon him . . .”
Shaking her head, Phoebe protested, “No! I mean, that’s okay. Uh . . . Cole and I . . . Let’s just say that the divorce is still a bit soon. For me.”
“I see. Well, I hope you’re enjoying yourself, anyway.” Cordelia Morton smiled brightly. “And I want to just say that I’m a big fan of your column. Now if you’ll excuse me.” She walked away.
Phoebe sighed with relief. “I didn’t think she would ever leave.”
“I gather it wasn’t Cole you had saw,” Mr. McNeill said in a dry tone.
“It was a demon,” Phoebe exclaimed. “I had a vision of his demonic self, when I bumped into him.”
One of Mr. McNeill’s brows rose questioningly. “Him?”
Phoebe described the man. “He was tall . . . about six feet or six-one. Handsome, auburn hair mixed with gray. He looked as if he was in his early or mid-fifties. About 185 or 190 pounds. Broad shoulders, and blue eyes. In fact,” she paused, “his eyes looked familiar. And his demonic half looked . . . a lot like Belthazor. Only, he had orange-and-black skin.”
“Boy, that’s a pretty good description for a brief encounter,” Paige added.
Mr. McNeill frowned. “There’s also something familiar about that description. Where did this guy go?”
“I don’t know,” Phoebe said. “I was feeling a little dizzy from the vision.” She turned to her younger sister. “Paige?”
The youngest Charmed One shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. I think I may have seen some guy head toward the beach.” Mr. McNeill started across the lawn. “But I may have been wrong.”
But the older witch continued to weave through the crowd and the two sisters followed closely at his heels. They came upon a curved staircase made of stones that led to the beach. Upon reaching their destination, the three witches found Phoebe’s demon approaching a couple – a dark-haired man whom Phoebe recognized as Mark Giovanni, and a blond woman.
The demon waved his hand and the couple froze. Actually, Giovanni did. The blond woman whirled around, anger and surprise simmering in her eyes. An energy ball formed in her hand. The female demon threw it at the other demon. The latter quickly lifted one hand and the energy ball shot back at the woman. She incinerated on the spot.
Phoebe gasped out loud. The surviving demon whirled around and stared at the three witches. “What the hell?” he exclaimed.
Knowing that Mr. McNeill’s second power was the same as Piper’s, Phoebe cried, “Kill him! Before he kills us!”
Mr. McNeill merely continued to stare at the demon, as he murmured, “Don’t worry. He won’t.” He added in a louder voice, “Marbus? Is that you?”
“Bloody hell! Jack McNeill!” Instead of attacking the witch, the demon rushed forth and shook the former’s hand. Much to Phoebe’s surprise. “How long has it been?”
Smiling, Mr. McNeill replied, “Too long. Almost sixteen years. When you had given me information on that New Zealand sorcerer, back in ’87 I believe.”
Phoebe and Paige stared at the two males, open-mouthed. “Excuse me!” Phoebe’s voice exclaimed. “Mr. McNeill, what are you doing? He’s a demon!”
“Yes, I know. Marbus. Don’t worry, Phoebe. He’s one of the good guys. I first met him back in ’67. Didn’t Olivia and Cole once tell you about the Order of Gimle?”
“Yeah, but . . . That ‘good’ guy had just killed . . .” She paused, recalling the energy ball in the woman’s hand. “What . . . what was she, anyway?”
The stranger replied, “A daemon.” Phoebe realized that he possessed an Irish lilt. “A low-level demonic assassin named Cassandra. I recognized her the moment I spotted her.”
Phoebe gave the stranger a suspicious stare. “And who are you, again?”
“My name is . . .”
“Marbus?” Phoebe and the others glanced at the top of the staircase, and spotted Olivia and Cole. The latter stared at the stranger, wearing a stunned expression. “My God! Marbus! What are you doing here?” Cole rushed down the stairs and enveloped the other demon into a bear hug.
The older demon’s lips broke into a happy grin. “I’m here to visit my favorite nephew. What else?”
Phoebe and Paige exchanged confused looks. Nephew?
END OF CHAPTER ONE
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