"BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR"
Paige, Harry and Cecile sat at one of the half-empty tables, inside the McNeills' large ballroom - one of the very few inside a private home in San Francisco. At the room's extreme east end, a live band performed an old Swing tune that the Charmed One did not recognize. All three watched the bride dance with her Welsh-born uncle.
"So, they've finally made their peace," Paige observed. "Livy, I mean. And your uncle."
Harry nodded. "Yep. It's about time, too. They must have done it before the ceremonies. It's only too bad that . . ." He broke off with a sigh.
"It's too bad that your granddaddy couldn't have done the same," Cecile added.
Paige shook her head. "I don't get it. Is there some kind of feud going on with your mom's family?"
Leaning back into his chair, Harry heaved another sigh. "Like I had once told you, the Morgans had not been thrilled by Mom marrying Dad in the first place. And then, there was the matter regarding Aunt Rhiannon and Richard."
"Yeah. I heard about that. They had killed each other." Paige paused. "So, what about that? I mean, you once told me that Leo had got the story all wrong."
Cecile snorted derisively. "You mean to say that Leo still doesn't know the truth?"
Harry replied, "I don't know. You'll have to ask him. Maybe Olivia did finally tell him the truth."
"What truth?" Paige demanded.
The music finally stopped. The dancers applauded the band. Who commenced upon another tune. Harry took a sip of champagne, which Paige regarding with a little longing. "Richard wasn't trying to kill Olivia, Mom or Aunt Rhiannon." He then revealed a sad story about how grief over a husband murdered by a warlock (one of Richard Bannen's cousins) had led Rhiannon Morgan Davies on a murderous rampage. One that ended with the deaths of Olivia's fiancé and also the grieving widow.
Cecile added, "I remember that both Livy and her mom had to take counseling over that whole mess."
"Counseling?" Paige frowned. "With a whitelighter?"
Harry sighed. "With the Wiccan high priest who had just married Livy and Cole." He paused. "Actually, I've counseled a few people, myself. As a witch."
"So have I," Cecile added. "Olivia had at least four to six months of counseling before she was ready to accept Richard's death."
Paige exhaled loudly. "Wow! Leo really doesn't know the whole story."
"Apparently," Cecile dryly commented.
Then Paige's gaze returned to the dance floor, where she spotted Olivia dancing with Jason Dean. "Now, when the hell did that happen?" she muttered.
"What?" Harry asked.
Paige pointed at the dancing couple. "Those two." She turned her head and saw Cole staring at the couple. "I wonder what they're talking about."
A small grunt escaped from Harry's mouth. "Probably nothing. After all, they've already buried the hatchet between them. Of course, Jason is probably wondering why Olivia had never fallen for him." Cecile shot him a sharp glance. "What? Don't worry. I'm not reading his mind."
"Why would Jason even think about that?" Paige asked, frowning. "Wasn't their breakup mutual?"
Cecile stared at Paige in disbelief. "Is that what Jason said?"
"Well . . ."
Rolling her eyes, the New Orleans woman continued, "Good grief! Olivia had dumped his ass! I'm not saying that she and Jason had been in love or anything like that. But I think Jason's ego had taken a little blow when she dumped him before he had any say in the matter." She added in a caustic voice, "Nice to see that he's finally getting over it."
"But he told Phoebe that the breakup was mutual!" Paige protested. Cecile merely shrugged. "You know, I'm almost inclined to tell Phoebe."
Harry added, "Why don't you?"
"Because she's been keeping one or two secrets from Jason, herself."
With a nod, Harry said, "Like the fact that she practices magic?"
Paige added, "And that she and Cole had a brief summer romance, while he was in Hong Kong. If you can call that a romance." She glanced nervously around the room. "You think Phoebe saw Jason and Livy?"
Cecile shook her head. "I doubt it. I saw Phoebe head for the refreshment table in the other room." She glanced at her watch and sighed. "Time for me to do my job and remind the bride that it's time for her to start her honeymoon."
"Ah yes," Paige said in a slightly caustic voice. "The honeymoon. At Disney World. Cole must be beside himself." She smugly imagined the elegant half-demon languishing at the famous amusement park resort.
"Actually, he and Olivia had managed to make another deal regarding the honeymoon," Cecile said. "Nine days at Disney World and a five-day Caribbean cruise. Plus, the first night at the Palace Hotel. I'll be back."
"A cruise?" Stunned by the news, Paige watched the other woman leave the table. She turned to Harry. "Did she say a cruise?"
Artemus took a deep breath, as he carefully removed a few seeds from his Rhizanthella Slateri Orchid and placed them on a white handkerchief. "At last!" he murmured triumphantly. Before he could remove any more seeds, Prax burst into the greenhouse of his private home in the Draconis Dimension.
"I'm so sorry to interrupt Artemus," the other daemon apologized breathlessly, "but I have some disturbing news. Idril is dead!"
The older daemon stared at his subordinate in disbelief. "What? How?"
Prax continued, "I've just received a visit from one of her minions. A daemon named Andros. It seems Belthazor had killed her, several hours ago."
Panic threatened to overwhelm Artemus. If Belthazor and Nimue had learned of Idril's deal with him . . .
"According to Andros," Prax added, "Idril had hired some warlock to cast a spell upon Belthazor. A telepathic spell that would coerce him into marrying her. She almost succeeded. But Belthazor's new bride, Nimue and a few others had intervened."
Artemus rolled his eyes in disgust. That stupid, lovesick bitch! "New bride, huh? May I assume that Miss McNeill is the bride in question?"
"Yes Artemus. She and Belthazor were married, earlier today."
After a long pause, Artemus plopped down into a nearby chair. "And who is this warlock that Idril had hired?"
"Gary Wheeler." Nervously, Prax continued, "The warlock possessed an amulet that can telepathically manipulate others, along with a spell. Andros . . . uh, didn't know the name of the amulet. However, he was certain that this Wheeler person no longer has the stone."
Shaking his head, Artemus murmured, "I can't believe this. I can't . . . This is my fault, Prax."
"I had a feeling that stupid bitch was up to something," Artemus continued. "Especially after someone had tried to teleport her out of my office. But this is . . ."
Prax asked, "Do you think that she and Belthazor would have killed us if she had married him?"
"Of course, Prax!" Artemus retorted. "Don't be an idiot! For once, I'm grateful to Miss McNeill - or should I now say . . . Mrs. Turner for stopping Idril's plans." He paused and frowned at his subordinate. "What about Andros?"
Prax relaxed. "I killed him. I figured that Nimue would eventually find him. After all, he could link Idril to the Order."
"Good man." Artemus stood up and returned to his orchids. "About this warlock, I want to find out if he's also dead. And if he's not, kill him. Might as well tidy up any loose ends. And I would consider it a bonus if you could find that amulet for me."
"Yes Artemus." Prax bowed and left the greenhouse. And Artemus returned his attention to his orchids.
The voice took Phoebe by surprise. "You must be one of the Charmed Ones." She glanced up at the tall man who stood beside her, near one of the refreshment tables. Her hand froze above a platter canapés.
"Uh, sorry but do I know you?" the middle Charmed One asked.
The man smiled, reminding Phoebe of a wolf in need of a haircut. "No, we haven't met before. My name is Ascaroth. I believe I had met your sisters at Belthazor's engagement party in the Melora Dimension."
It figured. A demon. "Oh. Well, nice to meet you." Phoebe turned her back on the demon and picked up a canape with a pair of tongs. She moved along the long table.
Unfortunately, the man - or demon - followed. "I believe I did not get your name," he said.
Phoebe gave the demon an insincere smile. "No, you didn't." She placed a stuffed artichoke on her plate and continued to move.
At that moment, Piper rushed forward, shouting her name. "Phoebe? Have you seen Paige or Harry? I think they have Wyatt with them."
A sigh left Phoebe's mouth. "Dad has Wyatt. And I last saw Paige and Harry sitting at one of the tables in the ballroom."
"Ah, so your name is Phoebe," the demon exclaimed. "Phoebe Halliwell." He turned to Piper. "And now we have the other Miss Halliwell. It's good to see you, again."
Piper's eyes widened momentarily. "Oh. Ascaroth. I didn't know you were here."
"Yes, I came here with Nimue." The demon sighed. "I must say that I never thought I would witness a Wiccan ceremony. Although, it did seem a bit longer than any of the daemonic ceremonies I've seen."
Phoebe regarded the demon with wary eyes. "I'm surprised that demons would bother to marry in the first place. At least those who had served under the Source."
"Well, of course." Ascaroth paused. "Were you not once the Source's own Queen?" For a brief moment, Phoebe fought a sudden urge to stick a knife into the demon's gut. Why did he have to bring up that sorry period in her life? Ascaroth continued, "The Source did not frown upon political marriages or anything of that sort. But he did frown upon romance." He sighed. "Let's just say there were a great number of daemons who were relieved that they no longer had to pretend . . . after his death."
To Phoebe's surprise, Piper expressed interest. "Wow! I've never heard that before. I mean, I had always been told that demons didn't have feel . . ."
"Trust me, we do," Ascaroth added.
"So, are you saying that many demons . . ."
Phoebe's interest in the conversation dimmed, as she spotted a familiar figure pass the opened door. Cole. She dumped her plate on the table and murmured, "Excuse me." Ignoring Piper's surprised expression, she left the room. Once inside the ballroom, she saw Cole head toward the exit and quickly decided to follow him.
She eventually caught up with the half-demon in the wide foyer. "Cole! Wait up!" Phoebe cried after her ex-husband.
Cole paused near the foot of the curved stairway. He glanced over his shoulder and frowned. "Phoebe? Is there something wrong?"
"No, I . . ." Phoebe halted in front of her ex-husband. "I . . . uh, I just wanted to know if . . . you're all right. I saw you leave in a hurry."
A tentative smile touched Cole's lips. "Don't worry, I'm fine. I've fully recovered from last night."
"Well, I'm . . . glad." Phoebe exhaled forcibly. The pair fell into a long, uncomfortable silence.
Then Cole mumbled, "I better get going." He started upstairs.
"Um . . . Cole?"
The half-demon paused once more. "Yeah?"
Another gust of breath left Phoebe's mouth. "I, um . . . congratulations. On your wedding, I mean."
For a brief moment, happiness flashed in Cole's blue eyes. It sadly reminded Phoebe that she would never be able to make him feel that way, again. "Thanks," he replied in a soft voice. "That means a lot to me."
"We really messed things up, didn't we?" Phoebe inwardly winced at the despairing note in her voice.
This time, Cole exhaled loudly. "Yeah, I guess so. However," he smiled for the second time, "hopefully, we'll be a lot better as friends."
"I have to get upstairs, Phoebe." Cole climbed another step. "I have to change for our honeymoon. Olivia is already upstairs."
Honeymoon. Phoebe's stomach began to churn. "Oh. Well . . . uh . . ."
Cole returned to the foot of the staircase. He bent over and gently kissed the Charmed One's lips. "Bye Phoebe." Then he flashed one last smile and headed upstairs.
Phoebe gently touched her lips that now burned from Cole's kiss. Her eyes followed his climb to the second floor, as she mumbled, "Bye Cole."
A cry of pain escaped from Gary's mouth, as the alchemist applied a poultice to his stab wound. The alchemist then tied a bandage over the poultice and around Gary's waist to keep it in place. "There," he said. "Make sure that you change the poultice everyday. Your wound will heal a lot faster and you won't have to worry about an infection."
Through gritted teeth, Gary demanded, "What's in that poultice, anyway?"
"Yarrow," the alchemist replied calmly. "Along with some Garlic and Boswelia. The wound should heal within a week."
After being stabbed by one of Belthazor's friends, Gary Wheeler had used a teleportation spell to escape from Idril's estate in the Kenotês Dimension. The spell led him to Boston and a local alchemist named Maxmillian Ulrich. A trip to a local hospital in Baltimore seemed out of the question, especially if he wanted to avoid the police. And he could not risk returning to his hometown and chance Belthazor or the McNeill witch tracking him. With a sigh, Gary asked Ulrich where he could find room and board for the next several days.
"I own an apartment building in the South End," the alchemist replied. "It's furnished and you can stay there as long as you like."
Heavily, Gary replied, "Thanks, but I'll be only staying there for a week or two."
Ulrich frowned. "And after that?"
Gary's face hardened. "After that . . . I have some stolen property to recover. Like a certain magical amulet."
END OF CHAPTER 15