“THE ENGAGEMENT NEWS”
Phoebe arrived home from work and found the Halliwell household in a state of upheaval. Paige dashed toward staircase, wearing nothing but a bra, a slip and pantyhose. “What’s going on?” the middle Charmed One demanded.
“Getting ready for dinner,” Paige quickly replied. “And I’m late.” She rushed upstairs.
Piper emerged from the kitchen, wearing a calm demeanor. In fact, Phoebe thought she seemed too calm. “You’re a bit late in getting home, aren’t you?” the older sister commented. “It’s almost seven.”
Sighing, Phoebe replied, “I had a lot of work to catch up on. I didn’t even get a chance to have lunch with Jason, today.”
“Hmmm.” Piper glanced away, as if too embarrassed to meet Phoebe’s eyes. The latter sensed a surge of reluctance from her older sister. And pity. This left Phoebe feeling slightly confused.
She asked, “So . . . Paige is going out to dinner with Harry?”
“Yeah. It’s another dinner party at the McNeills,” Piper explained. “Some cousin from Australia is in town.”
“Oh.” More silence fell between the two sisters. Again, Phoebe sensed a wave of pity from the other witch. Unable to deal with the latter’s silence any longer, Phoebe exclaimed, “Piper, what’s wrong? I have this strong feeling that you’re keeping a secret from me.”
Piper sighed. Long and hard. Pity filled her dark eyes. “Pheebs, Paige and I had heard some . . .”
The doorbell rang, interrupting the older sister. Paige’s voice bellowed from upstairs, “Would somebody answer the door? It’s probably Harry!”
Phoebe shot to her feet. “I’ll answer it.” She walked toward the front door. Seconds later, she ushered Harry McNeill inside the manor. “Hey Harry,” she greeted coolly. “Paige should be downstairs in a few minutes.”
The red-haired witch smiled. “Thanks.” Then he greeted Piper. “You know, it’s too bad that you two can’t make it for dinner, tonight. You’d like Cousin Sean. He’s a real character.”
“Leo wasn’t available to baby-sit Wyatt, tonight,” Piper said. “Besides, I’m pretty tired, after all that has happened in the past week or so.”
Nodding, Harry continued, “Yeah, I can imagine. Between that Daley Bakker character, Cecile and Andre’s visit, and everyone getting engaged, the last two weeks have been pretty eventful.”
“Everyone?” Phoebe frowned. “You mean, Cecile and Andre.”
Harry replied, “Yeah. Along with Livy and Cole.”
The redhead’s news struck Phoebe like a bolt of lightning. “What?” For a minute, she thought her heart had stopped. “Did you say that . . . that Cole is . . . engaged? How could he . . . I mean . . .” She sighed. “Never mind.” Cole engaged to another woman? As she processed Harry’s bombshell, Phoebe felt her heart tear in two.
Piper rushed forward to comfort the younger woman. “Oh honey, I’m sorry,” she crooned. “I know this must be a shock to you.” She began to squeeze Phoebe’s shoulder. The latter barely noticed. “Paige and I had heard about the news from Barbara, this after . . .”
“I’m not upset,” Phoebe declared with a detachment that she did not feel. She removed her shoulder from Piper’s reach. “Why do you think I’m upset?”
The older woman’s expression told Phoebe that she was not fooled by the latter’s attitude. “Because right now, you’re doing a piss poor job of holding back your emotions,” Piper sardonically commented. “I know you, Phoebe. Cole is your ex-husband. It’s only natural . . .”
Annoyed by her sister’s superior air, Phoebe retorted, “Piper! Will you please stop it! I’m not . . . I’ll be upstairs. Excuse me!” She heaved a frustrated sigh and started upstairs. And tried to ignore the heartache within her chest.
Paige tried to enjoy the McNeills’ dinner party, tonight. But she felt hard-pressed to do so, while memories of the expression on Phoebe’s face clouded her thoughts. Nearly two hours earlier, she had encountered a tearful Phoebe on the manor’s second floor. It only took one glance for Paige to realize that her older sister had found out about Cole’s engagement to Olivia. She tried to talk to Phoebe – and console her. But the middle Charmed One merely rushed into her bedroom and slammed the door shut.
Since then, Paige found herself unable to enjoy herself – despite the excellent meal or the congenial company. She tried to bask in Olivia and Cole’s apparent happiness, but found herself unable to do so. Not without thinking of her sister’s own unhappiness.
“. . . meal I’ve eaten in quite a while,” Sean McNeill was saying. “Come to think of it, I haven’t had a supper this delicious since the last time I had visited.” Paige glanced at the Australian. He bore a strong resemblance to both Jack and Bruce McNeill. Yet, his features did not seem as sharp as his American cousins’. And he also possessed a bonhomie personality similar to the family’s Scottish cousin, Colin McNeill. “Gwennie,” he added, “that must have been the most tender Chateaubriand I have ever tasted.”
A flattered Gweneth McNeill smiled. “Thank you, darling,” she said. “I’m glad that you had enjoyed it. I recalled that Chateaubriand was one of your favorite dishes.”
“Now that we’re all here,” her husband, Jack McNeill, said to their guest, “what brings you here to San Francisco, Sean?”
The Australian, however, refused to be rushed. He turned to Olivia and Cole. “First, I want to offer my congratulations to the happy couple. In fact,” he then faced both Cecile and Andre, “I believe there are ‘two’ happy couples. Cupid has been busy lately, hasn’t he?”
Olivia smiled. “Seems like it. Cecile and Andre had become engaged last Friday. And Cole had proposed on Sunday night.”
“Cecile and I are getting married in February,” Andre said.
Cole added, “And Olivia and I will be getting married next month.” He paused, as a frown appeared on his face. “I have to say that I am surprised that you’re not . . . taken aback by the news. A witch marrying a daemon?”
With a shrug that surprised Paige, Sean replied, “Why should I? It’s happened before. Why do you think so many daemons can form a human appearance?”
Paige frowned. “What are you saying? That many demons have human blood? I thought demons like Cole were rare.”
“Not really, Paige,” the elder Mrs. McNeill commented. “The majority of daemons that are able to walk on this earth probably have some human ancestry. Although a good number of them – especially from the old Source’s Realm – refuse to accept this.”
Cole commented, “Raynor was one of them. I once asked him why so many daemons, aside from myself, are capable of assuming human form. He used magic as an excuse. And to be honest, I found that hard to believe, considering that a lot of daemons weren’t able to shape shift into anyone. Hell, during my old days as Belthazor, I could only shift into my demonic form or human form. I guess that Raynor or the old Source didn’t want to consider human ancestry as a possible explanation.”
Sean added, “Like I said, Miss Matthews, there have been a lot more daemon-mortal unions than anyone would care to admit.”
Jack’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Does this topic have anything to do with the reason why you’re here?” he demanded.
All of the McNeills and their guests stared at the Australian. “Ah yes,” he finally said. “I guess it does.” He took a deep breath. “About a few years ago, Cousin Keith had asked me to do an extensive research into the McNeills’ family history. Those McNeills who are descended from Donalda MacGugan, whose son happened to be the wizard Niallghas and whose grandson happened to be Duncan McNeill, the first laird of Dunleith. Keith had wanted me to write a book on it . . . in celebration of Castle Dunleith’s upcoming 800th anniversary, next year. Well . . . it turns out that I had learned a lot more about the family line than I had expected.”
Frowning, Bruce asked, “What do you mean . . . more?”
Sean replied, “Let me put it this way – Cole won’t be the first daemon to marry into the McNeill family.”
“Of course not,” Jack said. “Don’t forget the incubus who had conceived the wizard, Niaghall, with Donalda MacGugan.”
“Let me put it another way – Cole won’t be the second daemon to marry into our family.”
Silence filled the drawing room. Paige found herself contemplating the meaning behind the Australian’s words. She turned to Harry, who said, “You mean there have been other daemons in the family, aside from Niaghall’s father?”
Sean nodded. “That’s right, mate.”
Frowning, Olivia demanded, “Exactly how many daemons had married into our family?”
Sean sighed. “Well . . . Cole will be the fourth.”
“WHAT?” The outburst escaped from Paige’s lips before she could stop herself. The others, especially Harry, stared at her. A wan smile appeared on her lips, before she lowered her eyes.
Sean cleared his throat and repeated, “Cole will be the fourth daemon to marry into the McNeill family.” According to him, the incubus Aoidh had conceived Niaghall with the witch, Donalda MacGugan over a millennia ago. “Niaghall then had a son with Brianag McNeill, as you all know. Then around 1382, Roderick McNeill married a woman named Glynis McDougal. Turns out, she was a daemon named Ladira.”
A gasp left Cole’s mouth. Everyone stared at him. “Wait a minute! I’ve heard of her. She’s practically a legend in the Source’s Realm. A top assassin who had disappeared sometime in the late 14th century. It was rumored that she had fallen in love with a mortal. A witch. The Source – the previous Source before the last one – had sent zoltars after Ladrira. Only, they were never able to kill her. In fact, she managed to remain alive for another hundred years before the last Source – the one that Paige and her sisters had killed – managed to set a trap for her . . . and finally kill her. He became the Source about fifteen years later.”
With a nod, Sean continued, “Ladira’s son was named Fergus McNeill, an ancestor of ours. He had lived for almost three centuries. Two warlocks finally killed him in the mid 17th century.”
“Wow!” a stunned Barbara muttered. “You said something about a third daemon?”
A sigh left Sean’s mouth. “Ah, yes. From what I’ve learned, his name is Cardolan. He sometimes uses the mortal name . . .”
“IS?” Gweneth stared at her cousin-in-law. “Are you saying that he’s still alive?”
His blue-gray eyes, wide with innocence, Sean said, “Didn’t I mention that?”
“No, you didn’t.”
According to the Australian witch, Cardolan, otherwise known as Brian Grant, had become Gillian McNeill’s lover sometime after the turn of the 18th century. Their great-great-great granddaughter, Lucia Grant, ended up married to Gordon McNeill, the first McNeill to become a Californian. Lucia and Gordon went on to become Jack and Sean’s great-great grandparents.
“In other words,” Jack commented, “only the Californian and Australian members of the family are descended from this Cardolan?”
Sean added, “Cardolan had a fifteen-year marriage with Gillian McNeill. It’s not known what had ended the marriage, but they did settle somewhere near Edinburgh. They had a son named Ewan Grant. Not long after their fifteeth wedding anniversary, Gillian died of fever. Cardolan took care of Ewan, until the boy was old enough to immigrate to New York State at the age of eighteen. As for Cardolan, he’s still alive.”
“Damn!” Cecile exclaimed. “And I thought my family history was interesting.”
Bruce said, “So, you’re just making your way east, spreading the word to the family.”
“That’s about right,” Sean replied. He smiled at Cole. “I reckon this should make you feel more at home, mate.”
A half-smirk curved Cole’s lips. “You have no idea,” he said.
“Have you spoken to Mike about this?” the elderly Mrs. McNeill asked.
Groans from the other McNeills filled the room. Andre demanded, “What?”
“Mike is not going to like this,” Jack stated, shaking his head. “Hell, he’s not particularly thrilled about being from a family of witches.”
Harry explained, “Uncle Mike – Dad’s younger brother – had given up on Wicca and witchcraft a long time ago. Back in the 70s. It . . . uh, his first wife had left him, when she found out about our family background.”
His father continued, “And when he hears about this . . .” A sigh left his mouth. “Man, he’s not going to like the news.
Paige did not say anything. Nor did she feel inclined to do so. Yet, a small part of her understood exactly how Michael McNeill might feel.
End of Part Four