“Not bad,” Paige declared, as she glanced around the elegant room. She took a sip of her gingerale. “Although, this party could use some decent music.”
Harry smirked. “By decent music, are you referring to Alanis Morissette? Aimee Mann or the Bare Naked Ladies? Don’t forget that Mom and Dad are hosting this engagement party for Cole and Olivia – and they come from a different generation.” He and Paige sat at one of the tables that filled the Colonial Room at the Westin St. Francis Hotel. “Besides, what’s wrong with ‘The Look of Love’? I’ve always liked Burt Bacharach.”
“I’m not into Oldies. I like my music, contemporary.”
With a sigh, Harry shook his head. “Sometimes Paige, I think you have no sense of history.”
The music finally stopped. One of the many couples on the dance floor broke away and approached Paige and Harry’s table. “Why aren’t you two dancing?” Piper asked. She sat in the chair, next to Paige’s.
Harry replied, “It seems Paige isn’t into Oldies.” He glanced up at Piper’s companion. “So Scott, are you enjoying yourself?”
“Great party.” Scott Yi shot a friendly smile at Piper. Who responded with one of her own. Earlier in the evening, Olivia had introduced other members of her squad to the Halliwells. Paige and Piper learned that one of them, Scott Yi, not only knew about the existence of magic, but was also a practitioner. A powerful sorcerer. Scott’s eyes scanned the hotel ballroom. “What happened to sister number three?”
Piper replied, “Phoebe? She’s in Hong Kong. With her boyfriend. And boss.”
“Oh, Jason Dean.” The two sisters stared at him. “I remembered him from the DeWolfe Mann case. He was always calling the station about an update. And Olivia has told me about him.”
Paige added, “Yeah, well Phoebe had decided to stay with Jason for a while.”
“Have you heard from her, yet?” Harry asked.
Piper sighed. “She called about three days ago. Apparently, she and Jason had just returned from some party aboard a . . . taipan’s yacht.”
Both Harry and Scott exchanged amused glances at Piper’s mention of the word, “taipan”. Still smiling, the red-haired witch commented, “Taipan, huh? Boy, she really must be turning native.”
“Turning ‘Chinese’ would be more like it,” Scott added. “I guess that usually happens when someone becomes exposed to a new culture for a period of time.”
Paige rolled her eyes. “Tell me about it! Every time we have a conversation with her, Phoebe starts spouting Eastern philosophy. Really gets on my nerves.” Aware of Scott’s presence, she shot him an embarrassed glance. “Ooops! Sorry, no offense.”
“None taken,” Scott shot back. “Besides, I understand. I knew a guy who became a born-again Christian. I was happy for him, but unfortunately, he wouldn’t stop talking about it.”
Piper nodded. “Knowing Phoebe, I’m sure that she’ll get over her philosophical musings, once she returns home for good.”
A soft, Irish voice said, “Phoebe is out of town?” The three witches and the sorcerer glanced up and found Cole’s mother looming before them. Paige could not help but admire the demoness’ chic, powder-green cocktail dress and stylish haircut. Mrs. Turner regarded the quartet with observant, blue eyes. “I wondered why I didn’t see her, this evening.”
Piper coolly replied, “Phoebe is . . .” She paused and broke off – as if she realized that she had said too much.
“Phoebe is . . . where?” Cole’s mother asked.
Scott added, “Actually, she’s in Hong Kong.” Ignoring the Charmed Ones’ dark glances, he stood up and held out his hand. “How do you do? I’m a friend of the bride-to-be. My name is Scott Yi.”
“Elizabeth Turner,” the demoness replied, shaking the police inspector’s hand. “Cole’s mother.” She turned her gaze upon Harry. “And you must be one of Olivia’s brothers. I see the family resemblance.”
Harry stood up and smiled politely. “Yes, I’m Harry McNeill, Olivia’s younger brother. It’s nice meeting you.” He shook hands with the demoness.
Mrs. Turner continued, “So, Phoebe is in Hong Kong. How charming. She must be with that publisher companion of hers. Jason Dean?”
The two Charmed Ones regarded Cole’s mother with surprise . . . and suspicion. “How did you know about Jason?” Paige demanded.
“Well, after meeting my former daughter-in-law, last summer; I took it upon myself to learn more about her. And you.” Mrs. Turner gave the two sisters a bright smile. “After all, Bel . . . Cole used to be part of your family.” She returned her attention to Scott. “Have you, by any chance, ever heard of a man named Yi Tse Lao? I believe that he once owned a pharmacy on Grant Avenue.”
Scott nodded. “Uh, that would be my great-uncle. My grandfather’s brother.”
“Really? As I recall, Mr. Yi owned a most remarkable shop. His collection of herbs and other . . . medicines was most extensive.”
Piper demanded, “Is there a reason why you’re here?”
With eyes that reflected a lack of emotion, Mrs. Turner glanced at Piper. Paige found the demoness unsettling. Then she turned to Harry. “By the way, Mr. McNeill, I’m looking for your parents. There is . . . something I wish to discuss with them.”
“Discuss what?” Paige asked.
The demoness coolly replied, “Something. It’s for Cole and Olivia’s engagement.” Her eyes pierced Paige’s. “Anything else?”
Feeling slightly embarrassed, Paige murmured, “No.”
Harry added, “They were dancing not long ago. I, uh . . .” He scanned the ballroom. “Oh, there they are. Near the refreshment tables.”
“Thank you, my dear. Ladies, gentlemen.” Mrs. Turner flashed one last smile at the quartet and walked away.
“Whew!” Paige released a gust of breath. “That is one scary woman. I can’t understand why your parents would invite her to this party.”
Harry replied, “Because she happens to be Cole’s mother. And this is a family affair.”
“She’s also dangerous,” Piper added. “In fact, I don’t think even Cole is comfortable about her being here.”
With a shrug of his shoulders, Scott said, “He should have thought about that before he told her about his engagement.”
Harry stared at Paige. “I’m a little surprised that you would be against Mrs. Turner being here, considering that she had helped Olivia regain Cole’s powers from that daemon.”
“Did you really have to bring that up?” Paige retorted, still embarrassed over her part in that incident. “Besides, what Piper was trying to point out is that Cole’s mom is a dangerous and powerful demon.”
“Aren’t we all dangerous? Good, evil, witch, daemon, sorcerer or whatever . . . our powers make us dangerous. In fact, any kind of power can be dangerous if not used properly. Don’t you agree?” Scott shot back.
Paige opened her mouth to retort. But past memories of Cole’s problems with the Source and the incident regarding Darryl and the Valkyries led the Charmed One to hold her tongue.
Piper avoided answering Scott’s question. Instead, she changed the subject, much to Paige’s relief. “I wonder if Cole and Olivia’s engagement is really on Nimue’s mind?” she asked. “Or is there something else she might want to discuss?”
Nimue found her son’s future in-laws standing near a refreshment table, while a uniformed attendant served them food. “Hello!” she greeted the couple. Her eyes briefly glanced at the spread before them. “I must say that this food is quite lovely.”
“Yes, it is,” Gweneth McNeill said with a nod. “Thomas Rimpel is a marvelous chef. He’s one of the few here in San Francisco whom I consider first-rate.”
Jack McNeill smiled politely at the demoness. “Here for a bite to eat?”
“Oh no.” Nimue shook her head. “I’ve just finished eating about ten minutes ago. I’m stuff. Actually . . . I wanted to speak with you, regarding a private matter. I’ll wait for you, at your table.” She smiled once more and headed for an empty table.
A few minutes later, the McNeills joined her, carrying plates of food. Once they had sat down, Jack said, “So, what exactly can we do for you?”
Nimue smiled. “I just wanted to thank you for inviting me to this party.”
“Well, you are Cole’s mother.”
“Of course.” Nimue continued, “And as Olivia’s parents, I would like to invite you to my own engagement party for her and Belthazor. In fact, your entire family is invited.”
Gweneth frowned. “I didn’t realize that you were living in San Francisco.”
“Oh, I’m not. I own a townhouse in Boston. On Beacon Hill.” Nimue hesitated. “However, I don’t plan to hold the party there. I . . . Have you ever heard of the Melora dimension?”
A gasp escaped from Gweneth’s mouth. Her husband and Nimue stared at her. “Gwen?” Jack said. “You’ve heard of this place?”
“I only went there once,” the redheaded witch replied. “When I was nineteen. Bloody gorgeous, it was. Melora is regarded as some kind of sanctuary from any conflicts between all kinds of magical beings – witches, whitelighters, darklighters, warlocks, daemons, wizards, fairies . . . you name it. Everyone put all of their conflicts aside and enjoy themselves at any of the dimension’s resorts.”
Nimue added, “That is about right. I felt that the Melora dimension would be the perfect place to hold the party. Considering the guest list.
Jack’s eyes narrowed warily. “Guest list?”
“Oh . . . there will be a few members from my order. A wizard or two. I plan to hold the party at the Berisa Resort Hotel.” Nimue gave the couple a reassuring smile. “It is quite lovely.”
“You need to hold the party for a few guests . . . at a hotel?”
Bloody hell! Nimue sighed. “To be perfectly honest, there will be more than a few guests.” She noticed the alarmed expression on the couple’s faces. “Oh, but don’t worry. I plan to have a variety of guests. My brother and his family will be there. Along with a few members of the Gimle Order, Belthazor’s friend – Riggerio, and perhaps a witch or two. Like the Charmed Ones, perhaps? And hopefully Olivia’s friend, Miss Green.”
Jack and Gweneth McNeill seemed to relax slightly. “Well, I guess I won’t mind accepting your invitation.” The former turned to his wife. “Gwen?”
“I’m looking forward to seeing the Melora dimension again,” Gweneth added.
Nimue smiled. “Good. I’m sure that you’ll enjoy yourselves.”
Two figures appeared beside the table. “Enjoy what?” Nimue glanced up and met the suspicious eyes of her son. Olivia stood next to him. His eyes still gleaming with suspicion, Belthazor added, “What exactly are you talking about?”
Chris orbed into the middle of the manor’s Solarium. The two sisters glanced up from the television set. “Well, look who’s here,” Piper caustically announced. “Have you finally decided to tell us the truth about yourself? And why you’re here?”
“I told you everything,” the whitelighter protested. “About the fact that Wyatt might be in danger. About me being half-witch and half-whitelighter. About Bianca.” His blue eyes reflected momentary pain at his mention of his former lover. “What more do you want?”
Paige replied, “How about who your parents are, and how you became to be half-witch? Or how we’re supposed to save Wyatt? Or the fact that you didn’t seem that concerned about Cole and Olivia’s engagement?”
“My parents are my own concern,” Chris shot back. “And as for Cole and Olivia – contrary to what Leo believes, their marriage won’t be a future threat. Trust me.”
Piper coolly regarded her whitelighter. “Why should we? You’ve either been lying to us, or trying to manipulate us. Why should we trust anything you say?”
Chris sighed. “Because I can’t tell you everything, right now. This isn’t the right time.”
“When is the right time?” Paige demanded.
The half-whitelighter glanced around. “Where’s Phoebe? Out on a date?”
A caustic Piper replied, “Try Hong Kong. She’s with Jason Dean.”
“What?” Chris looked horrified. “What the hell is she doing in Hong Kong? What about the Power of Three?”
Paige sighed. “We think that Phoebe’s personal life is more important than killing demons, right now. Besides, she needed some time alone with Jason.”
“But in Hong Kong?”
Piper retorted, “Hey! We had managed to do without the Power of Three, when Paige was in Europe, last summer. We can do it, again. And if we do need extra help, Paige can orb Phoebe back here. Or we can get the McNeills or Cole to help.”
But Chris refused to be placated. “Are you serious? What if Phoebe being in Hong Kong and not here, leads to Wyatt . . .” He quickly broke off.
Paige stared at him. “What does Phoebe being in Hong Kong have to do with Wyatt?” Before Chris could answer, the doorbell rang. Paige jumped to her feet. “I’ll get it.”
Chris turned to Piper. “Listen, this idea of you allowing Phoebe to be in Hong Kong is a mistake.”
“Who said that I had . . . allowed Phoebe to be with Jason?” Piper retorted. “She’s a grown woman.”
An anxious-looking Paige returned, escorting their visitor. Piper took one look at the latter and immediately shot to her feet. “Guess who’s joined us for dinner?” the younger woman quipped nervously.
Elizabeth Turner emerged from behind Paige. A polite smile stretched her lips. “Good evening, Miss Halliwell. How are you?”
Piper glared at her sister. “Paige! You let her in?”
“I . . . I mean . . . she . . .” Paige began sheepishly.
Mrs. Turner’s smile became tart. “Oh, there’s no need for concern, my dear. I’m not here for any nefarious reason. If I were, I would not have used the doorbell.”
Keeping her hostility in check, Piper demanded, “Then why are you here?”
Still smiling, the demoness eased herself into one of the wicker chairs. Piper burned inwardly burned at the woman’s boldness. “To issue an invitation, Miss Halliwell. For an engagement party I’m hosting, in honor of Bel . . .” She paused, as her gaze fell upon Chris. “. . . in honor of Cole and Olivia.” Then, “Do I know you, young man?”
“Uh . . . I don’t . . .” Looking insecure, Chris glanced at Piper. “I don’t think so. I’m a friend of the family.”
Blue eyes continued to bore into the young whiteligher’s. “And do you have a name?”
Again, Chris glanced at Piper. “Uh, Chris. Chris Perry.”
“Hmm. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Perry.” Mrs. Turner returned her attention to the sisters. “As I was saying, I’ll be hosting an engagement party for . . . Cole and Olivia. And I’m here to invite you.”
The two sisters stared at each other. Should they accept? Paige shrugged her shoulders, as if conveying the message – “Why not?” Then Piper sighed and replied, “We, uh . . . would love . . . to come.”
“Excellent!” Mrs. Turner responded with a brilliant smile. “They party will be held on Friday. You can pop up at any time you like.”
Paige frowned. “Pop up? To where?”
The demoness hesitated, as her gaze returned to Chris. Piper sighed. “For heaven’s sake! He’s our whitelighter.”
“Oh. I see.” Mrs. Turner nodded. “Well then . . . the party will be held at the Berisa Resort Hotel, in the Melora Dimension. Like I said, you can pop in at any time. I’m sure that Miss Matthews will have no trouble in teleporting you.” She smiled at Chris. “And Mr. Perry can join you, if he likes.”
Looking slightly embarrassed, Chris mumbled, “I don’t know . . . I . . . maybe I’ll come. I think.”
Mrs. Turner stood up. “Well, it’s up to you. And I believe it is time for me to depart. I do look forward to seeing all of you. And say hello to Phoebe and young Wyatt, for me. Good evening.” She flashed one last smile and shimmered out of the room.
The two Charmed Ones heaved a sigh. Chris regarded them with eyes shining with disbelief . . . and yelled, “Are you two out of your damn minds?”
Around the same time, the engaged couple returned to Cole’s penthouse that he now shared with Olivia. After the Thanksgiving holiday, it had become her permanent residence. Although most of her furnishings had been placed in a storeroom, Cole and Olivia managed to move a few of her belongings into his penthouse – allowing the latter to look more hospitable.
“An engagement party in the Melora Dimension.” Cole shook his head. “Why would she hold a party for us, in the first place? I’m not exactly beloved by the demonic community. And I sure as hell don’t look forward to a reunion with the Thorn Brotherhood.”
Olivia dumped her purse on the coffee table, and sat down on the sofa. “Do you think that one of your former colleagues might want revenge for Raynor’s death?”
Cole flopped down on the sofa, next to Olivia, and sighed. “I doubt that any one of them would be able to kill me. At least outright. But any one of them could hurt you. Besides, I’m still wondering why Mother wants to hold a party for us.”
“Let’s see,” Olivia commented sardonically. “You are her only son. And you did tell her about her engagement . . . which she had accepted a lot better than you said she would.”
Cole grumbled, “I remember. I also remember that she has plans for a big bash in the Melora Dimension. And my question is – why?”
Olivia grabbed hold of one of Cole’s hands. “Maybe she’s trying to win back her son. How long have you two been estranged?”
“Since I was fifteen,” Cole replied. “Or maybe sixteen. We had a brief reunion back in the late 30s. But I managed to remember why I distrusted her in the first place.”
A tight smile stretched Olivia’s lips. “Courtesy of Raynor, I’d bet.”
Cole shot her a dark look. “What makes you . . . never mind.”
“You know, Cole, even if your mom does have another reason to hold this party, I don’t think her plans include harming either of us.” Olivia shook her head. “I don’t know. I just have this feeling. Maybe she wants our help, regarding a certain matter. Or information.”
Rolling his eyes in disgust, Cole muttered, “Great! It’s nice to know that Mother’s ‘little’ party will be more than just about her son’s happiness.”
A sigh left Olivia’s mouth, as she stood up and shook her head. “You know, I’m beginning to wonder why you had such difficulty in becoming part of the Halliwell family. You have so much in common with them. I’m going to bed.” She shot a disappointed look at her fiancé and marched toward the master bedroom, leaving him to ponder her last words.
The warlock stood before Prax, feeling calm and collected. At five-feet eleven, he possessed a lithe and wiry body, dark-brown hair and sharp features. The warlock, otherwise known as Eric Logan, regarded the daemon with chilly, gray eyes. “I was told that you wanted to see me.”
Prax indicated an empty chair in front of his desk. “Yes. My boss, Mr. Winslow, has a job for you.”
“Mr. Winslow?” Logan allowed himself an amused smile. “Is he still using that name?”
The daemon glared at his visitor. “Yes. Now . . . he has a job for you. One that promises a very high fee.” Prax tossed a thick, yellow envelope to the other side of the desk. “You will find information on the assignment, inside.”
Logan grabbed the envelope from the desk and opened it. He removed a brown folder from inside. “What’s this?”
“Like I said, information on your next target.”
“Oh?” Logan opened the file. Inside laid a photograph of a beautiful, red-haired woman. The warlock whistled. “Not bad! Who is she?”
Prax leaned back into his chair, and locked his fingers together. “Olivia McNeill. She’s a witch, who lives here in San Francisco.”
A gasp left Logan’s mouth. “Are you . . . You want me to kill . . .”
“To kill her, Mr. Logan,” Prax coolly replied. “Yes.”
Logan stared at the photograph. “But she’s a McNeill witch. They’re not exactly easy to kill, you know. My old mentor, Morella Walters tried to kill a McNeill witch in Boston, some fifteen years ago. Morella was one of the best assassins around. And she ended up dead, because of that last assignment.”
“The McNeills might be difficult to kill, Mr. Logan.” Prax leaned forward. “But they can be killed.”
As he struggled to maintain his calm, Logan read the file, once more. “Wait a minute! It says here that she’s dating Belthazor. Belthazor?”
“Actually Mr. Logan, they’re engaged to be married.”
At that moment, the warlock wondered if his potential employer had lost his mind. “My God! Even if I do succeed in killing the witch, my hide won’t be worth a penny once Belthazor finds out I’m responsible! And he will find out!”
Prax sighed. “I don’t see how. You’re a shapeshifter. That’s why we hired you. If you’re in disguise, no one will find out that you were responsible for Miss McNeill’s death. And you’re one of our best contract assassins. We would never allow you to fall into Belthazor’s hands.”
“Bullshit! You could have given this job to a demonic assassin.” Logan’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Why give it to me? A warlock?”
“Like I said, Mr. Logan, you’re one of the best.”
Another thought entered Logan’s mind. “And you can’t afford to have this hit traced to someone from your order. Am I right?”
“Please, Mr. Logan. Try to keep your paranoia in check.” Prax hesitated. “I agree that a warlock would be more preferable for this assignment than a daemon. After all, you would be more difficult for Belthazor, his mother or any other daemon to detect. And if you’re worried about that traitorous half-daemon getting revenge, we’re in the process of planning something special for him. Now, inside the folder, you’ll also find information we have received from a source.”
Logan snickered. “You mean a spy.”
Again, Prax sighed. “Whatever. Anyway, our source has given us information on Miss McNeill’s whereabouts, this weekend. We have made arrangement for you to meet this . . .” A knowing smile curved Prax’s lips. “. . . spy, who will help you reach Miss McNeill’s destination.” He pressed a button. An attractive female with chestnut hair and a shapely figure entered the office. Prax added, “By the way, Mr. Logan, would you like a drink?”
The warlock smiled at Prax’s assistant. “A cup of coffee with sugar only. Thank you.” The assistant nodded and left the office. Logan turned to Prax. “How much is the witch’s death worth to you?”
One of Prax’s eyebrows quirked upward. “I beg your pardon?”
“What will be my fee?” Logan leaned forward. “Considering whom I’m being hired to kill, along with the fact that my life will be in jeopardy if Belthazor ever finds out about me, I will be expecting a rather substantial fee.”
Prax smiled. “Oh! May I assume that you have accepted the assignment?”
A sigh left Logan’s mouth. “I would like for you to state your fee, first.”
After a brief hesitation, Prax answered, “Ten million . . . Euros.”
The moment Logan heard the amount, he realized that he would not being able to resist the assignment. Or its challenge. Again, he sighed. “Then you may assume that I have accepted this assignment. Shall we go over the particulars?” He returned his attention to the file’s contents, while Prax resumed his instructions.
END OF ACT I