A shocked Jack McNeill stared at his oldest offspring. "They've found someone to replace DeWolfe Mann? Already?" Disbelief tinged his voice. "And who is she, again?"
The McNeills had gathered inside the large sitting room, waiting for Davies to announce that dinner was ready. Bruce, who had just entered the room a few minutes ago, sat down on the sofa, next to his mother. "Portia Della Scalla," he answered. "She's Italian. And she's got a very sexy voice. Rather bell-like," he said thoughtfully.
"Sexy voice?" a third voice asked tartly. The McNeills turned their heads and found Barbara standing in the doorway. "Exactly how sexy did this Miss Della Scalla sound?"
Bruce shot to his feet, his face hot with embarrassment. "Hey! Barbara! I didn't know you were here. What . . . uh, what are you doing here?"
The blond woman strode into the sitting-room. "I came to deliver a package to your grandmother." He handed a white plastic bag to the McNeill matriarch. "Here you go, Mrs. McNeill." Chilly blue eyes stared pointedly at Bruce. "So, she has a sexy voice. I didn't realize you had noticed."
"C'mon Barbara," Harry protested good-naturedly. "Bruce isn't dead, you know. He's still a guy." The eldest McNeill sibling had a sudden desire to knock his younger brother unconscious. Harry continued, "Besides, you have nothing to worry about. He still loves you. Right Bruce?"
Bruce glared at Harry. "Yeah. Right. Thanks Harry."
Elise McNeill spoke up. "So when will you and Gwen meet this Miss Della Scalla?"
"Tomorrow, during lunch," Bruce answered. He turned to his mother. "If that's all right with you?"
Gwen nodded. "I'll be there. Perhaps I will allow Henderson take a day off, tomorrow. And I might as well act as executive chef for the lunch crowd, while I'm at it."
A concerned looking Jack McNeill said, "Don't any of you find it strange that this woman pops up to take over DeWolfe Mann's job, just five days after his death?"
"I do," Barbara commented. Bruce shot her a dark look.
Jack sighed. "Thank goodness someone is thinking around here. I mean, c'mon people! This woman suddenly pops up to replace Mann. And she also takes over the story about the Golden Horn."
"What's wrong with that?" his wife demanded.
"I thought that Jason Dean was against the idea of a story on the Golden Horn, and that it was Phoebe Halliwell who convinced him to convince him. Now that there is a new writer aboard, why is he willing to continue with the story? Why not just kill it?"
Gwen suggested, "Perhaps Jason is more open to the idea. Granted he and Livy had a messy breakup, but I'm certain that he has put the past behind him. Now that he's dating Phoebe." Her husband shot her a withering look. "Then again," she added, "perhaps not."
Harry said, "So what are you saying, Dad? That is Della Scalla woman is trouble? I mean, I don't see how, considering it was Jason who probably hired her."
"I don't know," Jack said, heaving a sigh. "Perhaps I'm imagining things. It's just . . . something doesn't feel right about this whole matter."
Barbara crisply spoke up. "I heartily agree. Maybe you shouldn't do this interview, Bruce. Or maybe you should let your mother take care of it."
"Barbara!" Bruce glared at his fiancée. "This is getting ridiculous! All I did was comment on her voice and you're acting like a jealous shrew! Stop it, will you?"
The blond woman rolled her eyes and looked away. At that moment, Davies entered the room and announced that dinner was ready. Much to Bruce's relief.
* * * *
Phoebe slammed the door shut and cried out, "I'm home!" When no one answered, she headed straight for the Solarium and found Leo and Paige watching television. Wyatt was snuggled in his father's arms. "You'll never believe what happened!" she declared.
Both Paige and Leo glanced up from the television and stared at Phoebe. "What?" Leo asked.
"Wolfie has been replaced."
Paige frowned. "Meaning?"
Phoebe sighed and sat down in one of the wicker chairs. "Wolfie? DeWolfe Mann? Jason has hired someone to take his place. Some Italian lady named Portia something."
"Why is that news?" Leo demanded. "He was bound to be replaced."
"Five days after his death?" Phoebe leaned forward, barely able to contain her excitement. "And both Jason and O'Keefe hired her. Right on the spot."
Sarcasm tinged Paige's voice. "Again, what's the big deal? So were you."
"Yeah, but I spent most of the day working on that column, because you guys had to keep the previous owner safe," Phoebe explained. "That's when Elise realized I was right for the job. Jason and O'Keefe had hired this woman not long after meeting her."
Leo shook his head. "And that's your reason for being suspicious? Phoebe, for all you know, this woman probably has a reputation for being a top food critic. Or do you know who the top food critics are?" His blue eyes bore into hers.
For a moment, Phoebe wondered if she had overreacted. Or that Leo and Paige had every reason not to feel suspicious. Until she remembered her encounter with Cole. "No Leo, I don't. And neither does Cole."
"What does he have to do with this?" Leo demanded.
Phoebe explained, "He was at the office, today. With Wolfie's sister, Deborah Mann."
"I've heard of her," Paige said, nodding. "From Olivia."
Phoebe continued, "Well, they were there to clean out Wolfie's personal belongings. And they also met this Portia woman. Needless to say, Cole is very suspicious. He wants me to keep an eye on her."
Paige immediately became alert. "Really? Now that's interesting."
"C'mon!" Leo declared. Sounds of whimpering came from Wyatt's mouth. Leo rocked his son a few times, and the infant fell back into a deep sleep. "Just because Cole is suspicious . . ."
"If Cole's suspicious," Paige said, interrupting her brother-in-law, "I'd say that was a good reason to keep an eye on this Portia."
Phoebe fell back into her chair with a satisfied look on her face. "Precisely. Maybe I'll ask around the other newspapers in the city. Find out if anyone has ever heard of her."
"Heard of who?" Piper appeared in the doorway, wiping her hands with a white towel. She glanced at the others. "What's going on?" All at once, Phoebe and the others proceeded to tell her of the new woman who had replaced DeWolfe Mann.
* * * *
It had been another long day for Olivia. After four or five days of investigating DeWolfe Mann's murder, the investigation seemed to have come to a halt. With no results. Not even from Forensics, who now possessed the button found inside Mann's apartment. At the moment, she and Darryl were stuck with a body found inside a locked apartment, no weapon, a button that Forensics seemed to have forgotten and no suspect.
If her professional life seemed to be in a rut at the moment, her love life was in worse shape. In short, she had no love life. During the proceeding months, following Richard's death, Olivia had seemed willing to deal with the lack of romance in her life. She, in fact, practically embraced her celibacy. But that all changed after a certain half-daemon became her new neighbor. Slowly but surely, Olivia found herself falling in love with Cole Turner - aka Belthazor. But there seemed to be a problem and it had nothing to do with Cole's demonic status. The problem centered around the fact that Cole seemed determined to keep their relationship on a friendly footing and indulge in one-night stands with other women, at the same time. Olivia knew the reason behind his actions - Phoebe Halliwell. Cole was still in love with his ex-wife. And if he could not have Phoebe, he apparently decided to sleep with unattached women, leaving Olivia, sexually and emotionally frustrated.
A new romance had seemed possible with the arrival of one Paul Margolin, witch extraordinaire and San Francisco's newest Assistant District Attorney. But once Paul had learned about Cole's identity, Olivia had not heard a peep from him. After she learned from Paige about Paul's confrontation with Leo, Olivia came to the conclusion that she might as well face a future without a nice, steady companion. Then again, perhaps there might be someone other than Cole or Paul for her in the future. At least she hoped.
Upon entering her apartment, Olivia snapped on the lights. Then she tossed her purse and briefcase on the nearby sofa. Before she could head for the bedroom, the doorbell rang. Olivia peered through the door's peephole and was surprised to find a certain attorney standing in the hallway, outside. She immediately opened the door and cried out, "Paul?"
The New Yorker flashed a bright smile. "Hi! I uh . . . I dropped by to . . . uh, I was hoping," he sighed, "hoping to see you. I meant to call. Earlier. But I've been . . . busy." His voice became low.
Olivia widened the door and allowed her visitor to enter. "So, what do you want to see me about?"
"A cup of coffee?" Paul's voice expressed hope. He sat down on the sofa. "And I was also wondering if you were available for dinner, tomorrow night. At the Golden Horn." Another smile lit up his handsome face.
Returning the smile, Olivia replied, "I'll see what I can do about that coffee. As for dinner," she shrugged, "sounds like a great idea. I accept. Excuse me." Olivia proceeded to the kitchen. There, she poured cold water into the coffee machine. As she reached for the jar of coffee, the doorbell rang again. "I'll be right there!" she cried. Olivia rushed back into the living room, flashed Paul a quick smile and peered through the peephole. Her heartbeat increased tenfold. It was Cole.
"Something wrong?" Paul asked.
Olivia shook her head. "No, it's . . . it's just a neigh . . . it's Cole." She noticed how Paul's face quickly tightened and she opened the door.
The half-daemon stepped inside the apartment. "Hey! Ready for some exercises?" He paused at the sight of Paul, sitting on the sofa. His expression assumed that of a cold mask. "Oh. I see you have a guest."
"You remember Paul, don't you, Cole? He only dropped by for some coffee. What are . . ." Olivia glanced at Cole's outfit - black gym pants, black sneakers and a gray T-shirt that accentuated his muscular frame. "Oh! Oh God! I forgot! We were supposed to do exercises this evening."
"Exercises for what?" Paul demanded. He stood up and walked over to the couple.
Olivia replied, "Uh, to help me control my new power. It's . . ."
"You have more than one power?"
Cole replied coolly, "She has two - telekinesis and pyrokinesis, a fire power. The latter carries quite a punch." His mouth formed a sardonic quirk.
Paul's mouth dropped open. "You have a fire power? But that's . . ."
Glaring at her neighbor, Olivia added, "It's pyrokinesis and nothing more, Paul." She faced the ADA. "It's not a demonic power, if that's what you think. But it is quite strong. Very strong. And since it involves fire, I need Cole's help in teaching me how to control it better."
"Oh. Well, I guess since it involves fire . . . a demon would be the best person to help you control it." Paul coolly raked his eyes over Cole. "Especially since he would have much experience dealing with fire."
Cole's blue eyes became hard as marbles. "And what exactly is your power?" he asked.
"Cryokinesis. The ability to freeze," Paul replied. "Literally."
Cole's brows formed two small arches. "Really? I knew at least three daemons with the same power."
Anger flared in Paul's eyes. Before an outburst could follow, Olivia stepped between the two men. "Uh, look Cole," she said to the half-daemon, "could I get a rain check on the practice session? Perhaps we could meet on Wednesday?"
"I'll be having dinner with a client on Wednesday evening. How about tomorrow?" Cole paused momentarily. "If you're available."
Longing and regret surged through Olivia. She shot Paul a quick glance, mindful of his dinner invitation. "Sorry, I have another engagement, tomorrow."
"Dinner," Paul added. "With me."
The half-daemon's expression became even more business-like. "Oh." Olivia thought she had spotted a brief flare of pain in his eyes. Then it disappeared. "Well, so much for that. As for that practice, I'm sure that we can postpone until next Monday."
"What about this upcoming Sunday?" Olivia asked. "At my parents' house."
Coolly, Cole replied, "I'll be out of town that day. Next Monday will be fine." He turned away and started for the door. Then he halted. "Oh, by the way," he said, facing both Olivia and Paul, "did you know that the BAY-MIRROR had hired someone to replace DeWolfe Mann?"
The news took Olivia by surprise. "What? I mean no . . . no I didn't know. When did you find out?"
"This morning. I was at their office with Deborah Mann to help her collect her brother's belongings."
Olivia could not believe this. "And exactly when were you planning to tell me?" she demanded. She could not believe Cole! All day long, she and Darryl had been busting their asses to find a break in the Mann case and Cole had been holding out on them, since this morning!
Cole rolled his eyes. "Well, I thought we would be practicing this evening. Especially since I have been busy all day. With a job?"
"And I suppose you've never heard of that wonderful little invention called the telephone?" Olivia shot back. "Or a cell phone?" She sighed, as she struggled to keep her frustration in check. "You know what? Never mind. I don't suppose you know the name of this newcomer?"
"Portia. Portia Della Scalla." Cole walked over to the door and reached for the doorknob. "She's Italian and very beautiful. I'll see you later." He opened the door, spared both Olivia and Paul a cool look and left.
Paul let out a long gust of breath. "Man! That is one cool customer! I realize that you all consider him a close friend of yours, but . . ." He paused and shook his head. "I don't know. Who am I to judge? I hardly know the man."
Glaring at the closed door, Olivia muttered, "You're not the only one who feels that way, sometimes. He can be so damn difficult, sometimes!" Then with great effort, she dismissed Cole from her mind and returned her attention to her guest. Olivia's smile returned. "Why don't we see about that coffee? Shall we?"
END OF PART 10