“BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR”
The five people teleported into the middle of the McNeills’ foyer. “Damn, that was a new experience!” The words came out of Claude Dubois’ mouth, after Cole Turner had delivered him, his wife and daughter, and his future son-in-law to the McNeill manor, two thousand miles west of his hometown, New Orleans. Cecile’s father struck Cole as being in pretty good shape for a man of about fifty-nine years. The latter’s five-foot-ten frame displayed very little fat and well toned muscles. He also possessed rich brown skin and wide hazel-brown eyes that peered from a narrow, intense countenance.
Vivian Dubois, who happened to an older image of her petite daughter, smiled at her husband. “What did I tell you, Claude?”
At that moment, Cole spotted Olivia and Gweneth descending the winding staircase. The McNeills’ manservant, Davies, followed from behind. “You’re here!” Gweneth declared breathlessly. “Darlings, it’s so good to see you!” She enveloped Vivian into a bear hug.
“Well, it hasn’t been that long,” Vivian protested. “Just seven months ago.”
After Olivia and her mother had greeted all of the New Orleans visitors, Gweneth ordered Davies to escort them to their rooms. “Except for me,” Andre said. “I’m staying with Cole.”
Everyone faced the half-daemon. “I thought that Livy had moved in with you,” Cecile asked.
Olivia replied, “I did. But with the wedding coming up in a few days, I decided to stay here until the day of the ceremony.”
“Now that we’ve got that out of the way,” Cole said as he glanced at his watch, “I’ll be dropping Andre off at my place. Then we can change and get ready for dinner, tonight. With you two ladies, of course.” He nodded at Olivia and Cecile.
Vivian’s mouth formed a mock pout. “Aren’t we old folks invited?”
“Since I’m the oldest person in this room, the ‘old folks’ will be there.” Cole smiled at Vivian, before he teleported himself, Andre and the latter’s luggage to his penthouse.
The New Orleans man sighed with relief and plopped down on the sofa. “Alone at last!”
“I didn’t realize that my company was that desired,” Cole said. He teleported Andre’s luggage into one of the guest bedrooms.
The other man chuckled mirthlessly. “Man, you have no idea how lucky you are! You won’t have to deal with having Claude Dubois as part of your family for God knows how long. I’m almost tempted to ask Olivia to marry me. That way, I’ll only have to deal with Jack McNeill.”
Cole walked over to the liquor cabinet. “Before you start envying me, may I remind you that I have Olivia’s family to deal with. Mainly her mother’s Welsh family. And I’m not really looking forward to meeting any of them – aside from her grandmother, an uncle and a few cousins. Hell, I’m just thankful that I’ve never met her aunt Rhiannon.”
“The one who had killed Richard Bannen?” Andre quietly asked. “I think I had met her once.” He shuddered. “Cold woman.”
With a nod, Cole continued, “And if the Morgans aren’t bad enough, we have my mother to deal with.”
“What are you talking about?” Andre demanded. “What’s wrong with her?” Cole stared at, as if he had grown a second head. “What? I’ve met her a few times, myself. You know, for a powerful and evil daemon, she’s pretty . . .”
The doorbell rang. Cole turned away from the liquor cabinet and headed for the penthouse’s front door. “If you were about to say ‘cool’, please don’t. It’s bad enough that Olivia likes her.” He peered through the peephole . . . and groaned. “Oh God! Speak of the devil.”
“My mother and my uncle.” Cole opened the door and smiled coolly at his new visitors. “Good afternoon, Mother. Knocking? That’s a bit new for you. Isn’t it?” His smile grew warmer, as he greeted his uncle. “Marbus.”
The elegant, auburn-haired demoness swept into the penthouse. She kissed Cole’s cheek. “Belthazor.”
“And here’s the groom!” Marbus gave his nephew a bear hug. “Look at you, lad. Never seen anyone so happy in my life. Being engaged agrees with you.”
Cole’s smile widened. “I hope I can say the same about marriage. Of course, the last time I was engaged, I was only able to enjoy the moment for less than a day. Before the old Source had interfered.” He gestured toward his third guest. “By the way, I’m sure that you both remember Andre Morrell.”
Marbus glanced at the Vodoun priest and smiled. “Of course! Andre! Good to see, again.” He and Andre shook hands.
“Same here, Marbus,” Andre replied. “How’s your family?”
Smiling, the older replied, “Very well, thank you.”
The Vodoun priest and the demon briefly discussed the latter’s family, until a slight cough from Cole’s mother interrupted. Andre turned his attention to her and politely greeted, “Nimue. It’s good to see you, as well. How long has it been?”
Nimue seemed pleased that Andre remembered her. “Six years, I believe. Something to do with a business deal that had involved both the Thorn and Anasi Orders. It’s a shame that you’re no longer with them.”
Andre smiled at the demoness. “Well, I had decided it was time to make a change in my life. Although I must say that I do miss doing business with you.”
Cole rolled his eyes at his friend’s overt and successful attempt at flattery. “I hate to interrupt all this mutual admiration nonsense, but what are you doing here, Mother?”
Nimue gazed at her son. “Marbus and I have found a priest to conduct your wedding. The daemonic ceremony.”
Surprise lit up Andre’s eyes. “So, you’re really going through with it?”
With a sigh, Cole said, “Olivia did point out that since we’ll be having a mixed marriage, we might as well have a double ceremony.”
“I wouldn’t worry, Andre,” Marbus added. “The priest will be from the Gimle Order.” Nimue wrinkled her nose. “In fact, Risen had conducted my wedding to Mauve.”
Nimue commented, “With members from our two orders at the ceremony, I only hope that we won’t have a repeat of poor Adrianne Evans’ death at the Melora engagement party.”
“Speaking of the party, Mother,” Cole said, “have you or Lohdon ever find out who had killed that warlock?”
A frown appeared on Nimue’s face. “Unfortunately, no. Although, I do have a few suspects.”
“Like Idril?” Cole eyed his mother, closely.
Nimue’s mouth formed a chilly smile. “She is first on my list. But,” her smile disappeared, “no one has been able to connect her with that warlock. More’s the pity.”
Cole returned to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a drink. “As much as I dislike Idril, I don’t see any reason why she would want to kill Olivia. Other than the fact that Olivia is a witch.”
“In Caspiel’s name, Belthazor! Must you be so anal?”
Cole stared at his mother. “Excuse me?”
Her eyes flashing with annoyance, Idril continued, “Idril’s in love with you. She has been for a long time. Ever since that ill-fated romance of yours, back in ’69.”
The half-daemon retorted, “Mother, I had nearly killed Idril, after she had set those assassins upon me.”
“But you did date her for a while, a few years ago,” Andre added. This time, Cole stared at his friend. “Don’t you remember? Bermuda in ’99?”
“That was nothing but a brief fling!” Cole protested. “Nothing else. Idril and I had put Christine Broome, behind us.”
Andre sighed. “But I remember her, Cole. I was there. And she had looked like a woman in love, to me.”
“Oh for God’s . . .” Cole heaved an exasperated sigh. “Are you trying to tell me that moments after meeting Olivia for the first time, Idril had plotted with some warlock to kill her?” When the others had failed to answer, he nodded in triumph. “I thought so.”
Marbus asked, “If Idril didn’t try to kill Olivia, who did? And why?”
Unfortunately, no one had an answer.
Paige and Harry sat inside the British Airways lounge, at the airport. The latter’s maternal grandmother and uncle were expected to arrive on an incoming flight from London. And Harry had been recruited to greet them.
“Harry, is there something wrong?” Paige asked, frowning at her boyfriend. “Your jaw seemed to be frozen in one position. And are you grinding your teeth?”
The red-haired witch sighed. Long and hard. “It’s nothing,” he muttered. “I’ve been thinking about a problem at work.”
“Uh-huh.” The Charmed One continued to stare at her grim-faced boyfriend. “It must be something pretty bad.”
Now it became Harry’s turn to stare. “You’re going to keep bugging me, until I tell you. Aren’t you?”
“Of course not. You can tell me when you’re ready. Or if you want to.”
Another five minutes passed before Harry spoke again. “If you must know, it has nothing to do with work.”
Paige nodded. “Okay.”
Again, Harry sighed. “I’m always like this, whenever we have to deal with the Morgans. Mom’s marriage to Dad isn’t . . . wasn’t popular with them. It still isn’t, after thirty-five years.”
His comment surprised Paige. “Why would they be against your dad, in the first place?”
“I don’t know,” Harry said with a shrug. “I think it has something to do with Cole’s Uncle Marbus. According to Dad, some daemons had framed Marbus for murder. And because of his past reputation as an assassin, some witch coven thought he was guilty and went after him. Dad thought otherwise and set out to exonerate him. That’s how they met.”
Paige murmured, “Sounds like something you or Olivia would do.”
Harry continued, “Yeah, well some of the more conservative covens didn’t approve of Dad’s actions. Including some members of Mom’s family. Like Grandfather Morgan.”
“I don’t understand,” a confused Paige said. “Wasn’t Marbus with the Gimle Order, at the time?”
Harry nodded. “Sure, but he was hiding from zoltars, at the time. Very few witches knew that he had turned his back on the Source.” He paused. “And then there’s the matter regarding Aunt Rhiannon and Olivia’s old fiancé. Richard.”
“You mean, when they had killed each other?” Paige shook her head. “I remember Leo mentioning that Richard had tried to kill Olivia and your mom . . . and that your aunt had saved them. But Olivia claimed that Leo had got it all wrong. Only she never went into details.”
“Leo did get it wrong,” Harry said. “You should ask her or Mom about it. They were there. I do know that Aunt Rhiannon had went a little crazy after one of Richard’s cousins had killed her husband.”
A voice over the terminal’s P.A. system declared, “Attention please. We would like to announce the arrival of British Airways, Flight 531 from London. All passengers will arrive through Gate 7B.”
Harry stood up. “Here they come.” He took a deep breath.
A stream of passengers poured out of an opened doorway. Among them were a silver-haired woman and a tall, middle-aged man. Both headed straight toward the young couple.
“Harry! Darling! It’s so good to see you!” The elderly woman pecked Harry’s cheek, before enveloping him in a bear hug. Paige immediately recognized Harry’s maternal grandmother. The Charmed One had first met the elderly witch at Bruce and Barbara’s wedding, last spring. But since she had not been dating Harry at the time, she barely got to know Bronwyn Llewellyn Morgan. “Look at you,” Mrs. Morgan continued in a soft Welsh accent, reminiscent of Gweneth McNeill. “Just as handsome as ever. In fact, you look like your grandfather.” Although she was in her early eighties, Mrs. Morgan possessed an energy that belied her age. Her dark eyes and lightly swarthy skin tone suggested that she might have been a brunette in her younger years.
A light blush tinged Harry’s cheeks, much to Paige’s amusement. “C’mon Nana! You said this eight months ago.”
“And so what if I had? You are handsome. Right . . .” Mrs. Morgan turned to Paige. A slight frown appeared on her face. “Oh dear! I’m afraid that I’ve for . . . You’re one of the Charmed Ones. Right? Paige, I believe?”
Paige smiled. “That’s right. Paige Matthews. It’s good to see you again, Mrs. Morgan.” She glanced at the middle-aged man, who slightly resembled Harry. Same aquiline features, freckled skin and tall, wiry frame. Only the stranger was a little heavier in pounds. He also lacked Harry’s broad shoulders and possessed strands of gray in his red hair. “Um, you are . . .?” Paige asked him.
“Brion Morgan.” The man held out his hand. “I’m Harry’s uncle. One of Gweneth’s younger brothers.”
Paige shook his hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“It’s a pleasure.” Like Mrs. Morgan, he spoke with a soft Welsh accent. “And an honor to meet one of the Charmed Ones.” He shifted his traveling bag to his other shoulder, while Harry rolled his eyes. “I reckon it’s time we pick up our luggage.” He sighed. “And deal with Customs.”
Harry nodded. “Okay.” After the Morgans had retrieved their luggage, the red-haired witch led Paige and his relatives to the Customs station. There, the two young Californians waited, while Customs agents examined the Morgans’ luggage.
Once the Customs agents completed their search, the Welsh visitors returned to Paige and Harry. “Well, it went off better than I had expected,” Mrs. Morgan commented. “I thought, for sure, they would examine my bum for drugs.”
Paige chuckled. “I think that happens a lot on the East Coast. Of course, I could be wrong about . . .”
“Paige?” A familiar voice caught the Charmed One’s attention. She turned around and felt surprised to find Phoebe and Jason Dean standing behind her. “What are you doing here, at the airport?” her older sister continued.
“What are you doing here, back in the States?” Paige countered. “We never thought that you would be coming home.”
Phoebe shot a meaningful glance at Jason and mumbled, “Neither did I.”
END OF CHAPTER TWO