"THE POWER OF ONE"
While Cole busied himself with putting the finishing touches to the Lamb Kidneys Madeira that he had prepared, Andre entered the penthouse's kitchen. "Is everything ready?" the latter asked.
"Yeah," Cole replied. He picked up the platter of lamb kidneys and carried it over to the dining table. Andre placed a dish of Artichokes Bernaise on the table, next to the kidneys. "I only hope this doesn't get cold, before the ladies arrive."
Andre shook his head in disbelief. "Man, how in the hell did you find the time to prepare all of this?"
"Left the office, early." Cole's eyes closely examined the table's settings. He spotted one of the knives out of place and corrected the mistake. "Don't worry about Cecile. I had dropped her off at Macy's downtown for some shopping. Olivia should have picked her up, by now."
Andre shot back, "I didn't ask."
"Yet." Cole glanced at his friend. "So, how was your day?"
The houngan's mouth opened momentarily. Then he shut it. "Oh, what the hell!" he finally said. "I've already told Olivia and her grandmother."
Cole frowned. "Told them what?"
A brief pause followed, before Andre declared with a smile, "I plan to ask Cecile to marry me."
After Cecile's revelation of her plans to dump Andre, Cole realized that his friend's news came as a great surprise. The half-daemon stared at his friend with a stunned expression. "Say that . . . Are you serious? You really plan to marry Cecile?"
"Well, if she accepts my proposal." Andre sighed. "I know. You're a bit surprised. To be honest, I've been thinking of marrying her ever since Bruce and Barbara's wedding. But . . . okay, maybe I was a little afraid over how she would react. You know Cecile. She tends to keep her feelings to herself, sometimes."
Cole murmured, "No kidding."
Andre stared at him. "What?"
The other man continued, "Anyway, I wasn't sure if Cecile might be interested in marriage. She always seemed so independent, sometimes. You know - 'me against the world'." Andre frowned. "God, I hope I'm wrong."
Cole replied before he could think otherwise, "Don't worry. You're not."
Once more, Andre stared at the half-daemon. Hard. "Now, what in the hell did you mean by that?"
Realizing that he had nearly broke Cecile's confidence, Cole shook his head. "It's nothing. I was just . . . Never mind."
"No, you were about to say something about Cecile. What?"
Cole muttered a silent oath. For once in his life, he had failed to keep his big mouth shut. Perhaps he was growing soft in his increasing age. He took a deep breath. "Look, I don't know how to tell you this. But . . . Cecile plans to break up with you."
"What?" Disbelief shone in Andre's eyes.
"She plans to break up with you," Cole repeated. "Cecile's tired of being a girlfriend. She told me that she wants . . . more. Something better. She then told me that what she really wanted was . . ." The doorbell rang. Cole turned away. "Huh, looks like they're here." He walked over to the door.
Andre cried out, "Hey! What exactly does she want?"
But Cole barely heard his friend's words. Opening the door, he found Olivia and Cecile standing in the hallway - dressed for dinner. "Ladies," he politely greeted. "Dinner is ready."
Both women nodded mutely and entered the penthouse. Judging from their expressions, neither seemed to be in a positive mood. Cecile wore a sullen expression. And Olivia looked as if someone had stunned her with a cattle prod. Cole shot a quick glance at Andre and noticed that the latter did not look any happier. The half-daemon sighed. It promised to be a long and difficult night.
Daley closed the book on her kitchen table, with an air of satisfaction. Then she held up the amulet that hung around her neck. She had no idea that the object she now possessed, held so much power. The amulet had been created by a dominion spirit named Caspiel. According to the book she had just finished reading, Caspiel's amulet blocked the magical and psychic abilities of all beings - aside from fellow dominion spirits. Caspiel had also created a dagger that could kill any being - magical or otherwise with a mere stab wound. That is . . . any being aside from a dominion spirit or deity. Apparently, Caspiel had lost track of both the amulet and the dagger, a long time ago. Daley wondered if he still existed.
The amulet did present one problem. Olivia McNeill had spotted it. And seemed very curious, when Daley tried her level best to make sure that she did not have a chance to examine. The sorceress realized that she had to do something about that. Killing the witch seemed out of the question. At least for the moment. However, replacing the amulet with another that bore a strong resemblance seems like a possible solution. Not only would Daley be able to fake out the curious witch, she could hide the genuine amulet in a pocket.
A quick glance at the calendar on the kitchen wall told Daley that the half-moon would arrive on the day after tomorrow. She had everything needed to perform the ritual - except for one item. A strand or two of Wyatt Halliwell's hair from his hairbrush should do the trick.
Once she manages to acquire the infant's powers, one last task was needed to complete the ritual. Namely the baby's death. Daley winced inwardly at the idea of killing a nine month-old baby. But it had to be done. With Wyatt still alive, the danger of someone reversing the ritual would remain constant. Especially since the baby's mother happened to be acquainted with a Vodoun priest and priestess. The moment she finally possess the infant's powers, Daley would have to kill Wyatt. The only question remained was . . . how.
Cole woke up the following morning with great reluctance. He would prefer to remain in bed. Especially after last night's near disastrous dinner. But he had a job to deal with. And there was the conversation that he and Andre needed to finish.
Hardly a soul had exchanged a word, last night. Except to praise Cole's cooking. Or comment about some recent incident - like Cecile's business deal with the McNeills or the latest demonic attack upon Wyatt Halliwell. Olivia had brought up the subject of Wyatt's new nanny, but one glare from Cecile had ended the topic. Yet, not once did anyone discuss the cause of the tension that had sprung up between the two couples. With emotions seemingly at the breaking point, no one dared.
Once Olivia and Cecile had left, Cole had intended to finish his conversation with Andre. Only, the houngan decided that he needed a breath of fresh air and left for a walk. By the time he had returned, Cole was fast asleep.
After the half-daemon took his morning shower and dressed for work, he went into one of the guest bedrooms to talk with Andre. Only the houngan was nowhere to be found. Either the latter had failed to return from his walk. Or Andre had left early to avoid another conversation. Cole heaved a frustrated sigh and continued to finish preparing for work. After gathering his trench coat and suitcase, he beamed to the floor below the penthouse and rang the doorbell to Olivia's apartment.
The redhead immediately opened the door. "Hi," she greeted quietly.
"Hi." Cole flashed a brief smile before exchanging a light kiss with Olivia. "Is Cecile ready?"
Olivia's expression became strained. "She will be in a few minutes." Then she stepped aside, and allowed Cole to enter the apartment. Once she closed the door, she added, "Uh . . . I realize that it seemed a bit tense at dinner, yesterday. And the reason is that Cecile had told me some weird ass news. It seems she plans to break . . ."
". . . break up with Andre," Cole grimly finished. Olivia's green eyes widened in surprise. "Yeah, she told me the day before yesterday."
"What? You mean to say that she told you first?"
Cole sighed. "Olivia, I had noticed that she had been acting weird, so I dragged it out of her." He paused. "And I just told Andre, yesterday."
Shaking her head, Olivia commented, "No wonder he seemed subdued, last night. So much for his plans for a wedding."
"Oh, so he also told you about that?" Cole heaved another sigh. "Hmmm. Well, I guess it won't happen, after all. Just as well, I guess."
Olivia stared at him. "What do you mean by that?"
Oh God! "What I mean is . . ." Cole broke off, as Cecile entered the living room.
The New Orleans woman eyed the couple suspiciously. "What's going on with you two?" she demanded.
"Nothing." Cole returned her gaze with an innocent expression. He wondered if the Vodoun priestess knew that he and Olivia had been discussing about her and Andre. "Are you ready?"
Cecile murmured in a morose voice, "Yeah. Let's go." Before she reached the door, she stopped abruptly and glanced around. "By the way," she said with a frown, "where's Andre?"
"He wasn't in his room, when I woke up," Cole answered. "I guess he decided to head for Olivia's shop a little early."
Olivia added, "It's possible. He has a key."
Cecile sniffed. "Hmmm. Well, let's go." She started toward the door. Cole followed. "See you, Livy."
As he followed Cecile into the hallway, Cole overheard Olivia's voice. "I'll call around lunch." But Cecile was already halfway down the corridor.
A quick glance at the radio clock on her night table told Phoebe that it was thirty-seven minutes past eight, this morning. And that she was running late. She bit back a frustrated sigh and continued to dress. Since it seemed obvious that she would not make it to the office on time, she might as well not bother to rush.
Once she finished dressing, the middle Charmed One picked up her purse and briefcase, and left her bedroom. She marched along the hallway, when she heard humming from one of the bedrooms. From Wyatt's nursery. Phoebe decided that a quick good-bye kiss to her nephew would not hurt. She peeked inside the room and found Wyatt fully awake and playing with a red ball inside his crib. The new nanny sat in a nearby chair, fiddling with Wyatt's hairbrush.
"Good morning!" Phoebe cheerfully greeted.
Ms. Thompson - or Donna, as she preferred to be called - glanced up with a gasp on her lips. "Oh! Uh . . . good morning. Um . . . don't you usually leave a little earlier?"
"I'm running a bit late, this morning." Phoebe strode into the nursery. "That's a nice tune you were humming. I've never heard it, before."
Donna's shoulders sagged with relief. Curious. "Oh that," she replied. "It's just an old tune that my mama used to sing to me. I think it goes back to the time of slavery."
"Oh . . . uh, how . . ." Nearly at a loss for words, Phoebe finished lamely, "how historic. Huh. Oh well. I . . . I just wanted to say good-bye to Wyatt." She approached the crib and lifted her nephew from the crib and into her arms. Then she rocked him for a few seconds, before planting a light kiss on his forehead. "I'll see you later, young man," she said in a baby voice. Phoebe returned Wyatt to inside his crib and turned to Donna. "I guess I'll be seeing you later."
The nanny responded with a polite nod. Phoebe headed for the door. For some unexplainable reason, she paused and glanced behind her. And saw Donna remove a strand of hair from Wyatt's brush and place it on . . . something. A handkerchief? A piece of paper? Suspicion welled within the Charmed One. What did Donna want with . . .?
"Phoebe!" Piper's voice cried from downstairs. "Let's go! You're already ten minutes late!"
Donna glanced up. Phoebe shot the nanny a quick smile and disappeared into the hallway. The Charmed One found her older sister in the foyer, donning a suede jacket. "Well, it's about time!" Piper grumbled. "Next time, learn to set your clock before you go to bed. What the hell happened to you, this morning?"
A breathless Phoebe reached for her coat. "It's nothing. I . . ." Memories of Donna's actions continued to tug at her thoughts. "Piper, are you sure that you did the right thing in hiring Donna?"
Piper frowned at the younger woman. "What? Did you have a premonition or something?"
"No, I . . ." Phoebe hesitated, before she proceeded to tell her sister what she had witnessed just a few minutes ago.
A mixture of disbelief and scorn filled Piper's dark eyes. "C'mon Phoebe! You've got to be kidding! You're suspicious of Donna, because she was cleaning Wyatt's hairbrush?"
"I think she was placing his hair in a handkerchief, or a napkin or something," Phoebe indignantly shot back. "Don't you find that strange?" She donned her coat.
"No. But I do thank her for being neat," Piper sarcastically replied. "Phoebe, has it ever occurred to you that she was preventing Wyatt's hair from falling on the floor?"
Phoebe opened her mouth to protest, but could not find an argument to Piper's suggestion. "I guess not."
"Okay honey," Piper said, patting Phoebe's shoulder. "You've had your shot at being Nancy Drew for the day. It's time for you to be 'Dear Phoebe'. Let's get to work."
A sigh left Phoebe's mouth, as she followed her older sister out of the door.
The moment that Phoebe Halliwell's figure disappeared from the doorway, Daley heaved a heartfelt sigh of relief. Talk about close call! For a moment, she feared that the amulet no longer worked on the seer.
She overheard the front door slam shut. The sorceress smiled and resumed her task. After removing the last strand of hair from Wyatt's brush, she placed it on the handkerchief in her lap. Then she folded the piece of cloth and placed it, inside her purse.
Daley's smile stretched wider. Mission accomplished.
END OF PART VII