Misguided Angel Page 15

She was sixteen years old; already she knew who she was and what she was meant for in this world. After the crisis in Rome, in every consequent lifetime, the Venators had made it their mission to track down the remaining Silver Bloods who were trapped on the other side of the Gate and still walked the Earth. No one else in the Coven knew about the errant surviving Silver Bloods. It was a secret the Venators kept in order to keep peace in the community. The Blue

Bloods had nothing to fear from the Croatan; Andreas had kept their people safe for hundreds of years. Hunting down the Croatan was as routine as a cat chasing field mice. Necessary and efficient.

But now this. Tomi saw the triglyph again, the blood etching on the man's arm, and dropped her knife, making an ugly smear on the bas-relief. The Master would not be pleased.

"You are troubled, my friend," Gio said, picking up the knife and handing it back to her.

"Do not be. We will take care of this."

She nodded. "I only wish Dre was here." Andreas del Pollaiuolo was the youngest adviser to the court of Lorenzo de Medici, working to solidify the family's grasp on power in Florence over the other ruling families of the city. The Medicis' banking interests spanned all of Europe with a network of branches in all the major cities. It was a cover that made it easy for Dre to travel the continent without arousing suspicion.

But Tomi knew there was another reason Dre worked so hard to ensure the Medicis'

influence would reach far beyond their beautiful city. The crisis in Rome was forever utmost in his mind. While he had succeeded in banishing Lucifer from the world, he had been unable to halt the decline of the glorious Republic that the Morningstar, as Caligula, had corrupted. Rome was lost.

Dre was intent on rebuilding its glory. He was determined to finish what he started, pledging to resurrect the glory of Rome and the culture of antiquity, and vaulting it to a new level. Already he had rewritten the Code of the Vampires to shape human history and imbue mankind with Blue Blood sensibility and values--the celebration of art, life, beauty and truth. He would bring about mankind's rebirth, he told her, in their numerous conversations about what they hoped to achieve in this cycle. He had already given it a name: The Renaissance.

But all this work took her beloved away from her, and since the night of the chase, they hardly had a moment together.

He was always like this, her Michael. Andreas. Cassius. Menes. Whatever his name was, he was always hers. Her strength, her love, her reason for being. They would fight this new threat together. She would await his return and then impress upon him the urgency to unmask their hidden enemies and discover the truth behind the Red Blood's mark.

PART THE SECOND

MIMI FORCE, REGENT OF THE COVEN

New York

The Present

FOURTEEN

Vipers' Nest

Self-pity was not a word in Mimi Force's vocabulary. Instead of cursing the loneliness and isolation she felt from losing both her twin and the man she loved--two separate people for the first time in her long and immortal life--she busied herself with Conclave business, burying her grief and rage in her work and finding solace in presiding over the bureaucratic administration of a large and flailing organization.

That old hag Cordelia Van Alen used to describe the current era as "the twilight of the vampires"--as if a heavy velvet curtain were falling across the stage, and it was time for the Blue Bloods to exeunt left. (Mimi always liked those old English words. Exeunt was a vastly more interesting way to shuffle off this mortal coil--as if the vampires were ready to take their bows in front of a standing ovation rather than simply limping away into the sunset.) If this was their end, her end, then it was an intolerable one. Mimi hadn't lived a multitude of lifetimes to end up so alone, without the security blanket of Jack to steady her, without Kingsley's endearing arrogance to keep her on her toes. She wasn't going to give up so easily.

Mimi opened the door to her new office. A week ago, ever since Forsyth Llewellyn had gone missing after the "bonding disaster"--as everyone called the travesty that had been her bonding day--the Conclave had agitated for a new leader. To her surprise, it was her name that had come up in the draw. A week after the disastrous bonding, Ambrose Barlow, a sprightly gentleman of a hundred and one years (cycle extensions had been granted to allow Emeritus members of the Conclave to serve), and Minerva Morgan, the sharp-tongued Conclave Elder who had been one of Cordelia Van Alen's closest friends, had met her after school and pressed their case. Mimi had refused to put up her name for Regis--not while Charles was still alive somewhere--but had agreed to accept the title of Regent, the Coven's titular head in a leaderless time.

She settled into the cushy, ergonomic office chair she'd ordered, and called up the Committee database on her desktop. There was so much to do: identify the strongest Committee members and promote them to the flagging Conclave, oversee the Venator staff, induct new blood into the junior Committee--the list went on and on. Forsyth had left everything a mess--it seemed the man had had no interest in anything other than the Conclave while he had been in power, and many of the subcommittees (Health of Human Services, Transformation Centers) were grossly understaffed.

Speaking of Forsyth: no one knew where Bliss was either. The two had probably absconded together, for all Mimi knew. Good riddance. After Forsyth Llewellyn's disappearance, the Venators had found evidence that Mimi's predecessor had been harboring their deepest enemy and was instrumental in bringing the Croatan to the attack at the cathedral. Forsyth was the traitor in the Conclave, the snake in their midst.

As for Kingsley, Mimi could still see his face before it had been erased by the subvertio.

Looking at her with so much love in his eyes. Where was he now? Was he still alive? Would she ever see him again? Sometimes when she thought about him, she would find she had been staring into space for hours, just staring at the same blinking cursor on a computer screen, while the hurt in her heart throbbed and ached. Nothing made her feel better, absolutely nothing. She had tried throwing a ridiculous amount of money at the problem, over-shopping on her credit cards, and had consulted an array of healers and therapists. But even after a month, nothing had helped. Without the many Conclave meetings and conference calls that allowed her to escape her sadness for a little while, she thought she might go insane with despair.

Of course, even though she was Regent now, she still had to finish out her senior year.

More pressing business had to wait until AP exams were over, according to Trinity, who did not accept any excuses, even the governance of the community, for missing schoolwork. Her mother only allowed her a few hours a day to devote to her new position. It had been enough of a blow that Jack was wanted and missing; Trinity wouldn't let Mimi slack off on her studies as well.

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