"THE POWER OF ONE"
The four people materialized in the hallway, outside of Olivia's apartment. "Home sweet home," the redhead murmured, as she inserted her key into the apartment door's lock.
The moment Olivia opened the door, Andre grabbed his girlfriend's arm. "Hey Cecile, could we talk for a minute? Alone?"
Cecile stared at him. "Sure."
"Let's go outside." As the couple headed for the elevator, Andre glanced over his shoulder and saw Cole beamed out of the hallway. It never occurred to him to question why the half-daemon had not followed Olivia inside her apartment.
The moment they entered the elevator, Cecile turned to Andre. "So, what do you want to talk about?"
"What we were discussing, last night," Andre replied. "About . . ." The doors slid open and two people entered the elevator. Unfortunately for Andre, they accompanied the couple all of the way to the ground floor. Once outside the apartment building, Andre led Cecile a few yards down the street.
Cecile said, "Okay, we're alone. What were you going to tell me?"
Taking a deep breath, Andre faced his girlfriend. "Remember what we were talking about, last night? About you wanting more from our relationship?"
A sigh left Cecile's mouth. "Yeah, I remember. Look, can you just forget what I had said? I've been doing a lot of thinking over the past three days, and I realize that I . . . I don't want to lose you." Her dark eyes bored into his. "I love you too much, Andre. And to be honest, I didn't really want to break up with you. But I was afraid that our relationship was going no where."
Andre contemplated Cecile's words for a stuck his hands into his jacket pockets and heaved a mournful sigh. "That's too bad."
"What do you mean?" Cecile frowned.
"Since you're okay with the way things are between us, I guess . . ." Andre paused dramatically.
"You guess what?"
Andre paused dramatically. Then he reached for the small velvet box inside his jacket pocket. "I guess I might as well return this . . ." He pulled out the box. ". . . engagement ring to Olivia's shop."
Cecile's eyes grew wide with shock. "Engage . . . Are you asking . . .?"
Andre held up his hand to silence her. "Before you say anything else, let me finish." He took a deep breath and snapped open the box. Inside sat the silver 17th century ring that he had purchased. "Cecile," he began, inciting a gasp from the priestess' mouth, ". . . uh, will you marry me?"
The priestess continued to stare at the ring. "Oh God! I . . . is this because you had found out that I . . .?"
"This has nothing to do with what you were planning to do," Andre firmly assured her. "I had been planning to propose for practically a month, now. I've just been too busy looking for the right ring. And I found it. Inside Olivia's new shop."
Cecile continued to stare at the ring with awe. "How long have they known about this? Olivia and Cole, I mean?"
"A few days." A slight dread crept into Andre's heart. He realized that Cecile had not answered. "Um, about my proposal . . ."
A wide smile curved Cecile's lips. "The answer is yes," she crowed.
Still smiling, Cecile threw her arms around Andre's neck and gave him a passionate kiss. "Yes, you big dummy! I'll marry you. Are you deaf, or what?"
Of course he had heard. But Andre also thought that his imagination had played a trick on him. He slowly allowed himself a wide smile, before returning Cecile's kiss with one just as passionate. By the time their lips had separated, both were breathing heavily. Then Andre removed the ring from the box and gently slid it upon one of Cecile's finger. "Don't worry," he said in a quiet voice. "I hear just fine." Despite the dim light from a nearby street light, Andre could see the happiness shining in Cecile's eyes. Her expression matched exactly how he felt.
"Is Wyatt asleep?" Leo asked his ex-wife.
Piper coolly replied. "Yeah. It took a while, but he finally fell asleep." She heaved a sigh and sat down in one of the kitchen chairs. "Is there anything else you need?"
"Yes, there is," Leo shot back. "Why didn't you tell me that you had hired a nanny for Wyatt?"
The oldest Charmed One gave her former husband a cold stare. "Why should I? You weren't around, Leo. Remember? You had decided to turn your back on your family, to pursue your . . . destiny. Why should I let you know what was going on? You gave up that right when you had decided to join the Elders Council."
"For God's sake, Piper! Not only am I Wyatt's father, I'm an Elder, too! This . . . what happened to him could have been prevented, if you had informed the Council about this Bakker woman you had hired!"
Rolling her eyes, Piper retorted, "Are you saying that I had to get permission from the Elders before hiring someone to baby sit Wyatt? Whatever happened to free will?"
Leo shouted, "I didn't mean it . . ." He sighed and lowered his voice. "I didn't mean to say that only the Council can approve who will be Wyatt's nanny. But I'm part of the Council, Piper. You could have told me."
"This argument is going nowhere, Leo." Piper stood up and headed toward one of the cabinets. "Unless you have something else to say, I suggest you leave."
"Piper . . ." Leo hesitated. "Look, if you need a babysitter for Wyatt that badly, I'll do it. Maybe this will give me the opportunity to spend more time with him."
Although a retort had formed on her lips, Piper decided not to express it. She realized that she could not argue with Leo's suggestion. Granted, they could no longer share a bed . . . or a life together. At least this situation will not deprive Wyatt of a father. "Okay," she murmured. "Sounds fair. I'll probably need a babysitter for next weekend. That is . . . unless Phoebe and Paige are free." She paused before adding, "You better go."
"Piper . . ."
The whitelighter-turned-Elder gave her a curt nod, before he orbed out of the kitchen. And out of her life for the umpteenth time. Piper sighed, as she struggled to hold back the tears.
Olivia heard the front door close. She walked into the living room and found Cecile grinning happily, while staring at her hand. "You're back." She stared at her friend's uber-happy expression. "What happened to you?"
"Huh?" Cecile glanced up.
"You look as if someone had slipped a happy pill in your drink." Olivia glanced at Cecile's hand and noticed a small, silver object gleaming from one finger. "Oh Goddess! Is that . . .?"
Cecile waved her hand in front of Olivia's face. "An engagement ring! Andre had just asked me to marry him!"
Olivia squealed with delight as she and Cecile enveloped each other into a bear hug. "Ohmigod!" Olivia said. "It's crazy. I've been expecting this ever since Andre first told me that he planned to propose. And yet . . . I don't know. It's still feels so unexpected."
"I can understand," Cecile commented. "Considering what's happened in the past two days. With that Bakker woman. We've all been distracted."
With a sigh, Olivia shook her head. "To be honest, I rather envy you."
"Getting engaged?" Cecile shrugged her shoulders. "Hey, it might happen to you, someday. Come to think of it," she paused, "it has happened. With Richard."
A bitter chuckle escaped from Olivia's mouth. "Yeah, and we all know how that ended. I guess that when it comes to the men in my life, I don't seem to have much luck. One boyfriend dumps me, one gets killed by my crazy aunt and the third is so traumatized by his divorce that he doesn't even want to think about another marriage."
"You don't know that," Cecile protested. "I doubt that Cole's feelings are permanent."
Again, Olivia sighed. "Look, I'm not eager to rush into marriage or anything like that. On the other hand, I wouldn't avoid it, either. I just don't want to go through with . . . that again."
Cecile demanded, "Go through with what?"
"The frustration of waiting for Cole to be willing to take our relationship another step," Olivia continued. "It was bad enough wondering if he ever wanted to be more than just friends. I got impatient and ended up flirting with Paul Margolin. With disastrous results."
"Be patient, cherie. That's all you can ever do."
Olivia rolled her eyes and caustically retorted, "Oh, you mean like you were with Andre?"
Cecile shot her a dark glare. "Well then, let me put it another way. At least try to be patient with Cole. Sooner or later, he'll get over his fears. After all, you did." Olivia glared at her. "Remember your break-up with Adrian Chambers in college? Took you quite a while to get over him."
"Please don't remind me of that bastard."
As she began to fiddle with her engagement ring, Cecile continued, "All I'm saying is . . . give Cole a chance. Don't make the same mistake that I nearly made. Okay?"
Phoebe glanced at the clock on the wall and sighed. It read one-thirty. In other words, it was time to cut her Saturday working day, short. She reluctantly collected her jacket, purse and briefcase and headed toward the door. As she opened it, she found her boyfriend and employer standing beyond the doorway. "Jason!"
The young billionaire gave her a dim smile. "Phoebe. Heading home? I'm surprised that you're even here. You usually don't work on Saturdays."
"Yeah, I uh . . . had some work to finish. So, I thought I might as well come in today and get it over with." She paused, desperately trying to avoid Jason's stare. "So, I haven't heard from you, since Thursday night."
Jason glanced away, as if he was too embarrassed to meet Phoebe's eyes. "Uh, I've been busy." Then he heaved a large sigh and faced the Charmed One. "And I guess I've been a little pissed off, as well."
"Jason, I told you there was a family emergency!"
"Phoebe, there always is a family emergency! Even Elise is beginning to complain about them!"
Oh God! "What do you . . .?" Frustrated, Phoebe broke off, as she tried to gather her senses. "Are you saying that I'm not entitled to family emergencies?"
"Phoebe, you and Paige had disappeared from the party for over two hours," Jason retorted sharply. "Without saying a word to me! I had to find out about your 'little emergency' from Jack McNeill!"
Phoebe protested, "But it was a family emergency! Wyatt . . ."
". . . who has a babysitter. A babysitter who could have dealt with whatever emergency that popped up!" Jason finished. "Or called Piper."
Again, Phoebe glanced at the clock. One thirty-six. "Jason, it was a family emergency. I'm sorry that I forgot to tell you beforehand, but we . . . Paige and I were thinking of Wyatt. What else can I say?"
A brief pause followed before Jason hung his head down low and murmured, "You can say that you'll accompany me to Hong Kong. And stay with me, for a while."
Jason continued, "I'll be returning to Hong Kong, early next month. I should be back after the New Year. I thought . . . well, that this time you would stay with me."
The proposal took Phoebe by surprise. Then again, she should have known better. Jason had asked her this very same question about six months ago. Then, she had rejected his offer and ended up enduring a four-month separation from him. And although she hated the idea of being apart from Jason for so long, she had family obligations to deal with. Namely the Power of Three.
"I . . ." Phoebe glanced into Jason's eyes and realized that she did not have the heart to reject his offer. "I'll think about it," she finally said.
Disappointment flickered in his eyes. "In other words - no. Right?"
Phoebe gently cupped Jason's jaw. "In other words . . . no, for now. But I'm seriously thinking about changing my mind."
A wry smile twisted Jason's mouth. "Okay. I guess that'll have to do. At least for now." He turned away and paused. "At least let me keep that date we had made for tonight."
"Could we change it to tomorrow night?" Phoebe planted a light kiss on his cheek. "I think I might catch up on my sleep, tonight." Jason nodded and walked away.
Then Phoebe took a deep breath, and finally left her office. She headed toward the elevator. When she finally reached the underground parking lot, her eyes scanned the area for any strangers. The only people she saw were two employees from the Sports Department.
Phoebe then proceeded across the parking lot and toward her car. Upon reaching the latter, she unlocked the driver's door, opened it and dumped her belongings inside. Before she could climb into the driver's seat, the Charmed One felt a sharp prick on the side of her neck. Phoebe fervently groped her neck and pulled out a small dart. As everything faded to black, it flashed through her mind that Daley Bakker had actually fallen for Andre's trap.
END OF PART XVII