“BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR”
“Sweetie, could you hold this?” Phoebe placed a foil-covered tray in Jason’s hands. She added, “And be careful. It’s one of the hors d’ oeuvres trays.”
Jason replied, “You know, when I had showed up tonight, I hadn’t expected to end up as a waiter.”
Phoebe stood on her toes and pecked Jason’s cheek. “I know, baby. I’m just glad that you could help. Maybe if we leave both parties early, we can spend some time alone, before tomorrow.”
“I don’t see why you have to go this party, in the first place.” Jason paused to stare at Phoebe. “Wait a minute, you were invited?”
Nodding, Phoebe asked, “Weren’t you?”
“Not really.” To Phoebe’s relief, he did not seem upset or disappointed. “And if I had, I doubt that I would accepted. I mean . . . I’m only here because of Olivia.” Who seemed to have an effect upon the men in Phoebe’s life. Or so she thought.
Suppressing a grimace at Jason’s last words, Phoebe merely replied, “Oh. Yeah. Of course. Um, have you seen the . . .?”
“Let’s go people!” Piper barked at the couple, causing them to nearly jump. The oldest Charmed One wore a blue-gray, long-sleeved cocktail dress that looked attractive, yet modest. “I need that food inside the SUV. It’s almost time for the party to start and we need to get out of here.”
“You know, Paige could always . . .” Phoebe broke off, realizing that she had almost exposed her younger sister – along with the rest of them. “I mean . . .”
Jason stared at her. “Paige could always . . . what?”
“Um . . .” Phoebe turned to Piper for help.
The oldest Charmed One immediately finished, “I guess that Paige can use her car to take you and Pheebs to the parties.” She turned to the younger woman. “Right Pheebs? Since there’s a chance there might not be enough room in my car.”
Phoebe inwardly sighed with relief when Jason said, “Oh. Well, that’s not necessary. I can drop both Phoebe and Paige off at P3.” He glanced at Phoebe. “If you don’t mind.”
“No, that’s great,” Phoebe replied just a little too brightly. “Paige and I will meet you at your car.” Again, she pecked Jason’s cheek.
Once the billionaire had left the kitchen, Piper glared at the younger sister. “Phoebe, I understand your reluctance to tell Jason about us. But if you’re really serious about him, you better tell him the truth. Before he finds out the wrong way.” She sighed. “I’m going to say goodnight to Wyatt.”
Phoebe watched her older sister leave the kitchen. A dismaying thought struck her that Piper might be right. Only . . . she feared the consequences of such a revelation to Jason a lot more than what her family might think.
A swing tune from the 1930s blasted from P3’s sound system. Olivia, who sat next to the nightclub’s bar – along with Cecile, Sheila Morris, Nathalie Gleason and her two grandmothers. Piper stood behind the bar, serving drinks.
“Okay, here’s my present,” Sheila said, handing over a white, flat box marked MACY’S to Olivia. Hope that you’ll like it.”
Olivia opened the box and removed the tissue. Then she gently lifted an apple-green silk robe and displayed it to the others. “Oh my God! This is . . . Sheila, this is gorgeous!”
Sheila smiled happily. “Thanks. I’m glad that you like it.”
“Here’s another present, Livy,” her grandmother, Elise, declared. She handed over a package made from blue tissue to Olivia.
The tall, dark-haired Nathalie spoke up. “It’s from me.”
“Thanks Nat.” Olivia carefully unwrapped the tissue paper. Inside, laid a pair of multi-colored silk scarves. “Uh . . . thanks Nat,” she repeated, feeling slightly perplexed. “I guess I can think of an outfit or two . . .”
“Oh, it’s not for wearing,” Nathalie explained, leaving Olivia feeling more confused. “It’s for . . .” She glanced at those guests who were obviously unaware of Olivia’s magical background – like Carlotta Trujillo and Cole’s co-worker, Veronica Altman. “It’s for your honeymoon.”
Olivia frowned. “Huh? I don’t understand.”
“According to this trader at the Anduin Marketplace named Valindal,” Nathalie continued, “this scarf is magical. They can block anyone’s magical and psychic abilities . . . including teleportation and telekinesis.”
Olivia’s Welsh grandmother asked, “You were at the Anduin Market? Heavens! I haven’t been there in quite a while.”
“Are you kidding? It’s bigger than ever,” Nathalie said. “Although some of the customers are a lot ruder these days. This one woman had popped inside Valindal’s tent without any notice. Didn’t bothered to check if there were other customers. Like I said . . . rude.”
Olivia and Cecile exchanged long-suffering glances. Nathalie had a habit of ranting over the smallest thing. “Nat . . . honey? About these scarves?” the redhead continued.
The dark-haired witch’s face turned pink. “Sorry. Anyway, you can use these scarves on Cole. You know, during the honeymoon.” When Olivia failed to respond, she sighed. “For certain . . . horizontal games?”
“You mean bondage during sex?” Bronwyn Morgan exclaimed bluntly. Olivia stared at her. “What? I am adult, you know. In fact, your grandfather and I . . .”
Olivia held up one hand. “Nana? Please don’t. The image is already too disturbing.” Elise opened her mouth. “Please Gran. Not you too!”
“For Pete’s sake, Livy!” Elise retorted. “How did you think your parents were conceived? With your grandmother and I simply laying on our backs and submitting? We had desires as well.”
Rolling her eyes, Olivia moaned, “Oh God.”
“This Anduin Marketplace,” Piper said with a frown, “you say that it’s some kind of marketplace . . . for demons? I thought that Phoebe and I had destroyed the only one.”
Elise replied airily, “Oh honey, that place was probably nothing more than some minor market that catered to daemons. The Anduin Marketplace is much larger. And it’s for all magical beings and practioners.”
“Of course.” Elise gave Piper a suspicious glance. “You’re not thinking of making an attempt to get rid of the place or something like that, are you?”
Piper’s eyes widened in shock. “No! Of course not. Unless . . . well, if someone there . . .”
Cecile spoke up. “Piper, I don’t think you or your sisters would be able to destroy that particular marketplace. It’s protected by some major mojo. And I doubt very much that the Power of Three could kill an Anduian. Trust me.”
“Wait.” Piper shook her head. “Are you serious?” Aside from Sheila, who looked as confused as the Charmed One, Olivia and the others responded with knowing looks. Shock replaced the confusion on Piper’s face. “Wow,” she murmured.
Nathalie continued, “According to Valindal, the scarves were made right there in the Anduin Dimension. Which means they should be very effective if you decide to use them on Cole.” Her mouth spread into a wicked grin. “If you know what I mean.”
Olivia could hardly wait to find out.
A long-legged, bikini-clad woman with chestnut hair pranced about the Vornado Club’s stage. Most of the bachelor party’s celebrants regarded her with either admiration or avid lust. The groom-to-be did neither. Instead, he regarded her suspicion.
“You know, I think I’ve seen that dancer, before,” Cole commented. Harry McNeill responded with a leer. The half-daemon rolled his eyes. “No, not like that. I think . . .”
Jack McNeill frowned. “Don’t tell me you think she might be Idril.”
“You never know.”
The half-daemon and the two witches shared a table directly in front of the stage. Whistles and cheers mixed with music from the club’s sound system, as the dancer removed her bikini top. Cole turned his attention away from the stage and signaled a waiter, who stood nearby. Enthralled by the half-naked dancer, the waiter failed to respond. “Hey!” Cole cried out. But to no avail.
Then Harry stared at the waiter for one intense moment. The latter snapped out of his trance and approached the trio’s table with an obsequious smile. “Gentlemen, may I help you?”
“Yes,” Cole replied. “Where is Riggerio?”
“In his office, signor.” The waiter paused. “Would you like for me to summon him?”
“If you don’t mind.”
Over a minute later, the nightclub’s handsomely demonic owner appeared at the table. “Belthazor, is there a problem?” he asked.
Cole pointed at the dancer on the stage. “Who is she? She looks familiar.”
“Her?” An amused smile appeared on Riggerio’s lips. “In Sitri’s name, Belthazor! Your memory must be slipping!”
“Meaning?” Cole demanded with a frown.
Riggerio sighed and rolled his eyes. “You mean to say that you do not remember Arda?”
“Who?” Harry asked.
A new voice added, “Arda. She’s one of the top exotic dancers in many dimensions. Think of her as some kind of daemonic version of Sally Rand or Gypsy Rose Lee. Only, she takes it all off.” Andre stepped forward and sat down in the last empty chair. “Cole and I have seen her perform on at least three different occasions.” He shook his head at the half-daemon. “Man, you really must be slipping! Or is this pre-marital stress? I mean, I can understand, considering the wedding tomorrow, and Idril . . .”
“Idril?” Riggerio frowned. “Is she here in San Francisco?”
Andre shrugged his shoulders. “Might be. You remember Cecile Dubois, don’t you?” Riggerio nodded, as the New Orleans hougan continued, “Well, she had a vision of Cole marrying Idril.”
Disbelief shone in Riggerio’s dark eyes. “Why would you marry Idril? She never seemed like your type. In fact, I had the distinct impression that you thought very little of her.”
Cole heaved an annoyed sigh. Jack asked, “You’ve met this Idril?”
“Of course,” the daemon replied. “In London, over thirty-four years ago. Belthazor and Idril were with Tarkin . . . and some English woman. A witch, I believe. I forgot her name.”
“Christine Broom,” Cole murmured, feeling a brief surge of nostalgia.
Riggerio continued, “Speaking of Idril, why would you . . .?”
In a burst of annoyance, Cole exclaimed, “I wouldn’t! Trust me!”
Andre added, “Cecile thinks that Idril might use a spell to get Cole to marry her.”
“Ah yes,” Riggerio said with a nod. “I understand. With Belthazor at her side, Idril would be able to become Queen of the Source’s Realm. That makes sense.”
An inner sigh of relief filled Cole’s mind. So much for Olivia’s theory that Idril might be in love with him.
Riggerio nodded at the dancer on the stage. Aside from a large, transparent scarf that draped over her torso, she was completely nude. “As for Arda, I assure you that is her.”
Cole sighed. “I never said otherwise.”
“If she’s so famous, why would she bother to dance at a private party like this?” Jack asked.
Riggerio replied, “Simple. I had to pay a high price for her services.” A sly grin slid across his face. “And I had told her that the party was in Belthazor’s honor.”
Cole shot a quick glance at the dancer, before his gaze returned to the club’s owner. “Excuse me?”
“Come, mio amico!” Riggerio slapped the half-demon’s back. “Have you forgotten, already? You’re the infamous Belthazor! The former Source, fiancé of the Aingeal Staff Bearer, and son of the Thorn Order’s leader. Naturally, Arda would be thrilled to perform for you. So enjoy.”
Another sigh left Cole’s mouth. “Yeah. Right.” He and the others resumed watching the dancer. She removed the transparent scarf from her torso and tossed it at Cole. It immediately drifted off the stage and right into the half-daemon’s face.
The plan to summon and vanquish Belthazor’s former lover had failed. Not with a bang, but with an embarrassing whimper. Even worse, when Brion’s brother-in-law had learned of his efforts, Jack nearly went ape. Brion’s ears continued to blister from the heat of his brother-in-law’s words.
For a while, Brion wondered if he would end up at a local hotel, here in San Francisco for the rest of his trip. He had the sneaky suspicion that both Jack and Gwen were tempted to kick him out of the house. At this moment, Brion wished they had kicked him out. He realized that he would have a better opportunity to carry out his plans against Idril, beyond the McNeill estate.
The Welshman sat inside one of the smaller drawing rooms. Although his eyes were glued to the television set, Brion barely acknowledged the images on the screen. He continued to brood over Phoebe Halliwell and Cecile Dubois’ visions regarding Bel . . . Cole. Something had to be done.
Once again, his attention returned to the TV screen. He found himself watching an old 1930s movie from a channel of what the Americans called cable television. Brion did consider changing to the BBC America channel, but an old TV series from the late 80s called “BLACKADDER” was being aired. And Brion had never been a fan. The movie featured some puffed-up character in costume, spouting in an exaggerated English accent, “If Mohammed won’t come to the mountain, then the mountain must go to Mohammed.” Brion rolled his eyes at the ridiculous cliché. Of all the utter non . . .
The witch’s mind froze. “The mountain must go to Mohammed.” Of course! Who would have thought that some silly old cliché would give him an idea? Instead of summoning Idril, he could always use a spell to teleport to her location. And use the potion to vanquish her. He would be unable to summon a daemon from here. Nor could he endanger the public at any hotel. And since he did not know his way around San Francisco, a local park seemed out of the question. No. He would simply have to go to her. And all he would need is a spell that would send his body to her present location.
At precisely eighteen minutes past midnight, the lights inside the Vornado Club went dark. Two lamp posts – standing several yards apart – suddenly materialized into bipedal figures.
One of the figures, a chestnut-haired man with a stocky figure, nodded at his companion. “It’s time to make the call.”
The dark-haired daemon named Andros walked over to a telephone situated on the bar’s surface and dialed a number. “Yes?” a female’s voice answered.
This is Andros. Belthazor’s . . . party had just ended some twenty minutes ago. He should be on his way home.”
Idril replied, “Good job. Get in touch with Beren. Have him meet me at my family’s estate in the Kenotês Dimension. You know where. We shall be there, shortly.”
Andros blinked. “We?”
“Yes. Belthazor, the warlock and myself.” Idril paused. Menace crept into her soft voice. “Is there a problem?”
Recognizing the menacing tone in his mistress’ voice, Andros immediately answered, “No problem, Idril. Uh, what about the rest of the clan?”
Idril replied, “Summon them, as well. It shouldn’t take that long. There are only ten of us.”
“Yes, Idril.” Andros hung up and turned to his companion. “Let’s go. We have a priest to find and a wedding to attend.”
The other daemon shook his head in disbelief and the pair beamed out of the nightclub.
END of CHAPTER TEN