As Olivia knelt beside Cole and the very dead Adrianne Evans, a crowd had gathered around them. Murmurs and surprised gasps filled the air. Cole said to Olivia, "Looks like she may have been poisoned. I don't recall hearing anything about her suffering from any health problems."
"Then no one can leave the room."
Cole nodded. "Right." He waved his hand in the air for a brief second. When a male voice cried out that he could not leave, Olivia realized that her fiancé had placed a ward or shield around the ballroom to prevent the guests - now murder suspects - from leaving.
Sounds of someone pushing through the crowd followed. Olivia glanced up and saw her grandmother and Lohdon appear before her. Others followed. The daemon took one glance at the corpse beside Cole and cried out, "Adrianne!" He fell to his knees and drew the dead wizard into his arms. Lohdon glanced up, his eyes expressing grief and rage. "What happened?" he growled.
"Looks like she's dead," Cole quietly answered. "Her face had turned pale, before she started having convulsions. And this happened . . ." He broke off, as his eyes grew wide with shock. "Oh God!" he muttered. Then he stood up and stared at Olivia. "All this happened after she had drank your champagne."
The hairs on the back of Olivia's neck bristled. Her grandmother looked as alarmed as she felt. The older woman demanded, "Are you saying that someone had poisoned Olivia's drink?"
For a brief second, Lohdon regarded Olivia with suspicion. Which made her feel even more alarmed. "Wait a minute," she protested. "I hope that you're not going to insinuate that I had deliberately . . ."
Lohdon shook his head and took a deep breath. "No, I'm . . . I'm sorry. I don't understand. Why would someone poison your glass, if he or she was trying to kill Adrianne?" He paused and stared at Olivia again. "Hang on. If Adrianne had died after drinking your champagne, that means that someone . . . is trying to kill you."
Olivia stared at the dead woman and her grieving lover on the floor. The implications of Lohdon's words finally struck. "Oh my God," she murmured. "Someone wants me dead." The new glass of champagne slipped from her fingers and hit the floor with a loud tinkle, just inches away from Lohdon and the very dead Adrianne Evans.
"This has never happened at any of our hotels before," the light-blue skinned creature who was the resort's manager wailed. "Never!"
Nimue rolled her eyes in sheer irritation at the manager's anxiety. "Apparently, Mister Dairon, you have forgotten about Beleriand's death, some two hundred years ago. Death by 'lightning'? Remember?" Another wail left Mr. Dairon's mouth. "Oh for goodness sake, sir! Get a hold of yourself! What do you plan to do about Miss Evans' death?" The demoness, along with her son, his fiancée, Olivia's parents and Lohdon, had joined Mr. Dairon inside his private office, adjacent to the ballroom.
Mister Dairon, helplessly wrung his hands. "What can I do? I've never encountered murder, before. This goes against everything that the Melora dimension is about. Everyone is supposed to be safe, here!"
"Well, you can start by finding out which of your employees had served that glass of champagne to my daughter, instead of carrying on!" Gweneth McNeill snapped. "Would it really be so difficult for you to summon all of your waiters, inside here?"
Dairon stared at the others with a stupefied expression. "Oh. Of course. If you insist." With a wave of his hand, all twelve waiters - with deep-blue skin, tusk-like ears and four arms - materialized inside the office. Dairon turned to Olivia. "Now miss, do you know which waiter had served the champagne to you?"
Olivia stood in front of the waiters and examined each one. Nimue wondered how the witch would be able to tell the difference. She never could - despite the number of times she had visited this dimension.
Minutes passed before her son's fiancée finally said, "He's not here. The waiter who had given me the drink - he's not here."
"How can you tell?" Belthazor demanded.
Olivia replied, "Simple. The waiter who gave me the champagne didn't have any markings around the area where the ears and the forehead meet." Olivia pointed at the waiters. "They all have markings in those areas."
Nimue regarded her future daughter-in-law with a touch of awe. The young redhead seemed to possess a talent for acute observation that she could only envy. Which would explain how Olivia became a law enforcer in the first place.
A groan escaped from Jack McNeill's mouth. "I suppose that means that the killer had managed to get away," he commented.
Belthazor shook his head. "Not exactly. I had cast a ward or magical shield around the ballroom. No one should be able to leave. I hope."
"Then all we have to do is find out which guest is our killer," Olivia declared.
The others - Nimue included - stared at the redhead. Mister Dairon expressed what was obviously on the minds of everyone else. "Are you serious?" the Melorian cried out in disbelief. "There are over a seventy guests, here! Almost a hundred!"
Nimue's son shot her a dark look. "Looks like you should have stuck to your plans for that 'little party', Mother."
Ignoring her son, Nimue turned to Olivia. "How do you propose that we find the killer? I already have one suspect. Idril. I do not recall inviting her to this party. Even if she is representing Melkora."
A frown appeared on Olivia's face. "That would mean that Idril is a shape shifter. How else would she be able to disguise herself as one of the waiters?"
"Idril is not a shape shifter," Cole commented in a tart voice. "She can only morph into her demonic form. Too bad, if you want my opinion. I would have no problems with allowing her to take the rap."
Jack added, "It's possible that she had used a glamouring spell." He sighed. "She's this slinky brunette who looks like something out of a 60s beach movie or something, right?" Both Cole and Olivia nodded. "Yeah, I had noticed her talking to Nathalie Green at the time of Miss Evans' death."
Old Mrs. McNeill finally spoke up. "I have an idea. Perhaps this killer was an assassin hired to kill Olivia. An assassin with the ability to shape shift. He . . . or she could be anyone. A daemon or warlock . . . Who knows?" The room fell silent, as the others stared at the elderly witch. She sighed. "I gather no one had considered this. So . . . how do any of you plan to find this person?" The room remained silent. "Anyone?"
Slowly, Logan eased his way toward the ballroom's nearest exit - hoping that no one would notice his surreptious attempt to escape. When he finally reached a door, he glanced around to see if anyone was watching. Then he turned the knob, opened the door . . . and walked straight into a magical force field. Taken aback by the barrier, Logan quickly gathered his wits and closed the door.
Panic began to overwhelm the warlock. He realized that not only was he trapped without any means of escape, so was his mode of transportation - namely his demonic companion. As if matters could not get any worse, it seemed he had killed the wrong person. A sigh left his mouth. He should have never accepted this assignment.
Logan inhaled several times to steady his nerves. Realizing that he needed a drink, he made his way to one of the refreshment tables. And stumbled across his demonic colleague. "There you are!" he hissed. "Where in the hell have you been? If you hadn't been so damn difficult to find, we could have left this place, a lot sooner!"
"Meaning?" the daemon shot back in an arch voice.
After draining a glass of champagne, the warlock exclaimed in a low voice, "Meaning, I can't get out! Literally! Someone has cast a ward or shield around this place."
His colleague inhaled sharply. "Belthazor! Only he is powerful enough to do this."
"Belthazor?" Logan dumped his champagne glass on the nearby table. "That's just great! How in the fuck are we supposed to get out of here?"
The daemon shot back, "Don't look at me! I'm not the moron who used a fast-acting poison! Nor did I use it on the wrong person!"
"I used poison from a yew berry. It wasn't supposed to work that fast! And how was I supposed to know that the other woman would drink from the witch's glass?"
A derisive snort escaped the daemon's mouth. "That 'other' woman happened to be no other than a wizard named Adrianne Evans. She's Lohdon's whore. I'm sure that you've heard of Lohdon, haven't you? Of the Fornost Order?"
"Oh God!" Logan's stomach began turning somersaults. He had definitely heard of the Fornost Order's ruthless leader.
The daemon heaved a sigh. "Somehow, I don't think that your god will be able to help you. Or me, for that matter."
"What the hell are we supposed to do?" Logan demanded anxiously. "Stand around and wait for Belthazor and the others to discover us?"
The daemon glared at the warlock. "Why don't you try remaining calm, for goodness sake? You're supposed to be a top assassin. Try acting like one. Here," the daemon handed Logan another glass of champagne. "Have a drink. Maybe if you're drunk, you'll pass out and no one will notice you."
"Thanks for the advice," Logan retorted with a sneer. He sighed. What the hell! It seemed a lot better than working into a state of panic. Then he guzzled down the champagne in three swallows.
Cole paused before the doorway, as his eyes scanned the ballroom. Elise McNeill had suggested that she and a few other trustworthy telepaths scan the guests and discover who had poisoned Adrianne Evans. The quietly grieving Lohdon had volunteered one of his minions - also a telepath - to help. At the moment, Cole was in search of Harry.
As he continued to push through the crowd, the half-daemon came across two of his former colleagues and Lohdon's assistant, sitting at one of the tables. "What's going on Belthazor?" Guldur demanded. "No one has been able to leave this room for nearly an hour."
Ascaroth added, "Many have already started complaining."
"And no one will leave until we find out who had killed Adrianne Evans," Cole coolly retorted.
A smirk appeared on Idril's lovely face. "My goodness, Belthazor! You almost sound . . . noble in your little pursuit of justice. I think you've been around too many do-gooders in the past few years. Including your fiancée."
Cole responded with a chilly smile. "This has nothing to do with me being noble, Idril. Someone had tried to kill my fiancée. And when I find out who is responsible, he . . . or she will suffer hell twice over." His smile disappeared. "I promise you." To his satisfaction, all three daemons shivered. He then continued, "Besides, both Lohdon and my mother are also anxious to find the killer."
"I can certainly understand Lohdon's desire," Guldur commented. "He and Adrianne have been close for a long time. And since the killer was after Olivia. . ." He hesitated. ". . . well, I wouldn't mind seeing him burn."
Ascaroth added, "I certainly won't mind." The others stared at him. "Witch or not, I . . . rather like Olivia."
Idril rolled her eyes. "All this over a witch! And as for Adrianne - why should Lohdon carry on over another mortal. He can find another lover."
"Adrianne was also a powerful wizard!" Guldur snapped back.
"Apparently, she wasn't that powerful," Idril airily replied. "At least not enough to avoid being poisoned."
Ascaroth gave the daemon a thoughtful stare. "How did you know that Adrianne had been poisoned?"
It was Guldur who answered, "Everyone knows. She had been guzzling down drinks, for the past several hours. And we all saw her drop dead just after she had drank that last glass of champagne."
Cole regarded him through narrowed eyes. "You saw everything?"
"Well, I . . ." Guldur paused momentarily. He shot the half-daemon a quick, uneasy smile. "I think I should check with Lohdon. See if he needs anything from me." He stood up and walked away.
Ascaroth also stood up. "And I had better see if Nimue needs anything. Excuse me." He shot a nervous glance at Cole before he quickly scurried away.
Idril regarded Cole with seductive dark eyes. "Well . . . it seems we're finally alone."
"Hmmm, not for long." The half-daemon turned away.
The demoness grabbed his arm. "Belthazor! Wait a minute! You're just going to walk away like that? After we haven't laid eyes upon one another for over four years?"
A long-suffering sigh escaped from Cole's mouth. "What do you want, Idril? You want to recapture what we used to have? Because, as I recall, it was nothing more than lust."
"What's wrong with that?" Idril allowed her hand to surreptiously slide up Cole's arm. "After all, we are daemons. And lust or not, what we had together was good." Cole jerked her arm away. She scowled. "I guess that wasn't good enough for you," she added in a sharp voice. "Be careful, Belthazor. You seemed to have forgotten that you are your mother's son. No amount of time spent with witches or any other mortals will ever change that."
Cole shot the demoness a contemptuous glare. "Is that what you think, Idril? That I want to be regarded as a human? That may have been true over a year ago, but I've finally recovered from that nonsense."
Idril jerked Cole close to her, allowing her face to hover inches away from his. The scent of gardenias overwhelmed the half-daemon, making him feel slightly nauseous. "You know what I think, Belthazor?" she murmured huskily. "I think that great darkness still resides within you. That same darkness that made you one of the Source's most ruthless killers will never be erased by hanging around humans or marrying witches. Your former wife found that out and I'm certain that your red-haired witch will wake up to that fact, as well."
Her last words produced a smirk on Cole's lips, catching the demoness by surprise. "You're right, Idril. Great darkness still resides within me. And it will always be within me. But if that's all you know about me, then you don't know me at all. Trust me sweetheart, I'm more than just 'great darkness'. My first wife may or may not have understood that, but Olivia does. She accepts me for what and who I am - and not for just a part of me."
Idril opened her mouth. "Well, I . . ."
"And one more thing," Cole interrupted in a low voice. "Don't ever underestimate Olivia. She can be just as ruthless or merciless as I can. And if you ever wrong her, she can be vindictive. I promise you."
The slender hand automatically released its hold of Cole's arm. Disbelief and anxiety whirled in Idril's hazel eyes. Then she composed herself. "Well," she said in a shaky voice, "love must be blind. And I'm afraid that I'm not exactly interested in those who indulge in their delusions. So, if you will excuse me." She flashed Cole a wan smile and quickly moved away.
A sigh left Paige's mouth, as she watched Chris load his plate with food. "This is a shock," she commented snidely to the young whiteligher. "So, you've finally decided to eat something. May I ask why?"
Chris plucked a red grape from a platter of fruit and popped it into his mouth. "I'm hungry," he finally replied, after swallowing the grape. "And since the rest of you aren't dead or sick from eating this food, I figured that I might as well eat something, myself."
"It's nice to know that we could be your own personal food tasters," Paige retorted. She turned away and her eyes focused upon the guests, inside. The Charmed One noticed that many of them seemed upset, irritated or anxious to leave. The moment Harry had joined her and Chris at the refreshment table, she said, "Have you noticed? Everyone seemed to be getting a bit antsy. I guess the killer hasn't been found, yet?"
Harry shook his head. "Not yet. Everyone wants to leave, but no one can get out." Paige stared at him. "I think that Cole has placed some kind ward or spell around the ballroom, making it impossible for anyone to leave."
"He did this for some wizard he hardly knew?" Chris exclaimed.
A troubled expression appeared on Harry's face. "There's a rumor going around that it was Olivia's champagne that had been poisoned. And that this Adrianne Evans had drank it by mistake."
Paige stared at her boyfriend in shock. "Oh my God! Are you saying that someone is trying to kill Olivia?"
Harry shook his head. "I don't know. Looks like it. If so, I have one suspect."
"Cole's old girlfriend?" Paige suggested.
A doubtful Chris added, "Wouldn't that be a little obvious? I mean, Piper told me that she hadn't even been invited. If she wanted Olivia dead, wouldn't she automatically become the first suspect?" He glanced at the dance floor and frowned. Paige followed his glance. Among the couples dancing were Piper and Scott. "Don't you guys think those two are getting a bit too chummy?"
"They're just dancing," Paige said dismissively. "What's the big deal?"
"What about Leo?"
Harry stared at the whitelighter. "You're concerned about Piper and Leo? You? You can't even stand him."
A sigh left Chris' mouth. "Look, I know how I feel about Leo, but . . ." He shook his head. "Never mind."
"Never mind . . . what?" Paige demanded. "Why do you always do that? Cut off, when you're about to say something?"
"As a time traveler, I have to be careful about what I say," Chris retorted. "And when."
Paige shot back, "Then why don't you tell us why you're really here in the past? And what you know."
"Are you two going to keep us this fight?" Harry asked in a slightly amused voice. "Everyone is . . ." He paused, as a pale-looking man passed by. He frowned at the man. So did Paige, for she felt the hair on the back of her neck rise.
Chris regarded the couple with perplexed eyes. "Hey guys, something wrong?"
"There's something odd about that guy," Paige commented. "The tall one in the dark blue suit. I don't know. I just can't place my finger on it."
Harry's eyes remained fixed upon the stranger. "I know what's wrong," he added grimly. "I think we've just found our killer."
"Huh?" Chris' eyes blinked. "What makes you think that guy was the one . . .?"
"Hel-lo? Telepath here." Harry paused. "I heard his thoughts. He's the killer, all right." He started toward the stranger.
Both Paige and Chris followed. The trio followed the man, until he paused and leaned against a Corinthian column. "You know, he doesn't look that hot," Chris commented.
"Yeah, he does look a bit peaked," Paige added, as she observed the man's drawn expression. "If he's the killer, how do we take him?"
Chris replied, "Just grab him. He doesn't look as if he can fight back." The whitelighter deposited his plate of food on a nearby table.
Paige grabbed hold of Chris' arm. "Hold on, my young padawan! That guy might not seem healthy at the moment, but he still might be able to tap into the Dark Side."
"Then, how do we grab him?"
Harry straightened up. "Leave it to me." He cleared his throat and casually sauntered over to the man in question. Adopting a concerned manner, he placed a hand on the man's shoulder. "Excuse me, sir." The man nearly jumped out of his skin. "Pardon me, but are you okay? You seem unwell. Do you want me to help you to a seat?"
The man stared at Harry, before he shrugged away the witch's hand. "No . . . uh, that's okay. I'm . . ." He broke off with a gasp, as Harry applied quick pressure to his shoulder. He crumpled to the floor. Seconds later, his face transformed into another identity.
"What do you know? This guy is a shape shifter." Harry said in a loud voice. He turned to Chris. "Hey, help me pick him up."
The whitelighter ignored the stares from other guests and rushed forward to help Harry. "I didn't realize you knew anything about the Vulcan nerve pinch," he said. "Good idea."
Cole appeared beside Paige and glanced down at the three men. "My compliments, exactly. What's going on?"
While he and Chris lifted the man from the floor, Harry replied, "I believe we've found the guy who tried to kill Livy and who had killed that wizard. I overheard his thoughts, when he walked by."
The half-daemon bent over to examine the unconscious man's face. "Good God!" he exclaimed. "I haven't laid eyes upon this guy in years."
"Who is he?" Paige asked.
"A warlock named Eric Logan." Cole added, "He's been a top-notch free-lancer in the magical world for over a decade."
Chris frowned. "Free-lancer? As what?"
Cole turned to the whitelighter. "As an assassin. Which means . . ."
Harry finished, "Which means that since it's obvious that we've got our guy, you can now remove the ward or spell you have around this room. Don't look now, but I think the folks here are getting a little antsy."
Low voices buzzed in the back of Logan's mind. He struggled to open his eyes, but his eyelids refused to budge. Just as he was about to give up, he felt a sharp pain against his cheek. "What the . . .?" His eyes snapped open, and he found hostile faces looking down at him. The warlock quickly sat up.
"Logan," Belthazor coolly declared. "I see that you're finally conscious."
The warlock blinked. Why did he feel so strangely numb? "Wha . . . what happened?" he asked in a groggy voice.
"You've finally been caught!" growled a light-brown skinned man, who glared at Logan with murderous eyes. "Not long after you had killed Adrianne."
Oh shit! Logan realized that he was facing Lohdon. "Look, I didn't . . . I didn't realize she would . . ." The warlock immediately clamped his mouth shut. What the hell was wrong with him? It seemed as if his brain had suffered a relapse. And why did his heart feel so tight?
A small, fireball materialized above the brown-skinned man's open palm. "So, you're admitting that you were the one who had killed Adrianne? Why? Why did you do it?"
"I didn't mean to kill . . ." Desperate, Logan turned to the half-daemon. "Belthazor! Please! Are you going to just stand there and let him kill me?" Then Logan spotted a middle-aged couple. When he saw that the woman resembled an older version of Olivia McNeill, he realized that he was facing the witch's parents - Jack and Gweneth McNeill "You're witches, aren't you?" he pleaded. "Please don't let Lohdon ki-kill me!"
Jack McNeill coolly shrugged his shoulders. "Why not?" He then regarded Logan with cold eyes. "You were trying to kill my daughter."
"Look, I . . ." Again, Logan stopped in mid-sentence.
Belthazor leaned forward and regarded the warlock with dangerously narrowed eyes. "You what? Who hired you to kill Olivia, Eric? I promise you that your death will be a lot less painful than what your employers might inflict upon you. Or Lohdon."
"I . . ." Logan began. "It was the Magan Corporation! It . . ." The warlock suddenly found himself unable to talk. Not because he felt obliged to keep his employer's identity a secret. For some odd reason, nearly every nerve in his body had slowly become numb. And this had all started after he had . . . Shit! His throat constricted and his body began to convulse. "Oh God! Oh . . ." The convulsions grew stronger.
"What the hell?" he overheard Olivia McNeill exclaimed. "What's happening to him?"
Son-of-a-bitch! Logan realized that first or second glass of champagne he had swallowed, must have been poisoned. Goddamit! He opened his mouth in a desperate attempt to confess. "Ma . . . magan . . . Cor . . . run by . . ." he stuttered between labored breaths. Then his body violently convulsed one last time before everything went black.
END OF PART IV