Misguided Angel Page 26

Tonight was the opening of an opera at Lincoln Center, and her presence was expected.

Mimi turned off her computer. She had to go home and change. In her old life she would have relished the opportunity to wear a hot new dress and show off her jewelry. But now she only felt the dread of obligation. She wanted to be hunting for Victoria, in the Repository with Oliver, or in the glom with the Venators. Not going to some stupid society gala.

After their visit to the blood house, Mimi had decided to follow Committee rules concerning the care of human familiars. She'd located her first familiar, Scott Caldwell, now a senior at NYU, who remembered their affair like it was yesterday and was more than happy to squire her to the event. Scott was just the way she liked her familiars: handsome and dumb, and she hoped his complete inability to process his feelings would mean he would never end up at a blood house after she was done with him. He certainly seemed amenable enough, and looked dashing in a tuxedo.

They walked in, already a bit late, Mimi clutching the train on her ball gown so Scott wouldn't trip on it. She waved to a few familiar faces: the newly bonded Don Alejandro and Danielle Castaneda, who were in from London; there was Muffie Astor Carter, looking serene in blush silk. Helen Archibald, wife to Conclave Elder Josiah Archibald, and one of the Coven's leading matrons, accosted Mimi on her way down the ramp.

"Madeleine, I saw the Taylors yesterday at the ballet. Gertrude looked like hell. She wouldn't tell me, but I heard that something terrible has happened, something to do with that awful video my son showed me. What on earth is going on?"

The Venators had warned Mimi that even after the Conspiracy had taken care of neutralizing the threat of exposure from the video, rumors were swirling that the Silver Bloods were behind it, which was creating rumblings of fear among the older families.

"It's under control," Mimi soothed. "The Conspiracy's taken care of it. A few youthful high jinks, just some of the younger committee members getting creative."

"Well, after what happened at your bonding, maybe disbanding the Coven is something we should consider. Maybe we would be safer . . . not so much a target . . . as before."

"You would have us go into hiding again?" Mimi snapped. "I don't know about you, but I like living aboveground." Since the bonding disaster, there had been whispers among the Coven that perhaps it was time to disband, to go underground. Mimi dismissed it as fearmongering. She had no desire to relive the Dark Ages and was horrified to think that Conclave members would even consider it.

"Spoken like a true dark angel. You don't care about anything but your own convenience," Helen sneered. "You'll put us all in danger. We won't stand for it."

Mimi was shocked. She was aware that not everyone in the Coven was happy to have Azrael as their Regent, and that many would never forget nor forgive her and Abbadon for their part in the revolt against the Almighty. Most probably still blamed them for their banishment.

But to throw it in her face like this!

"Excuse me," Mimi said, brushing Helen aside. She'd had enough of the society maven's rudeness. Inside the auditorium the gongs were ringing, reminding guests to take their seats. She followed Scott toward the orchestra doors when her cell phone rang. Oliver calling.

"What is it?" she said testily. "They're about to close the doors and you know they don't do late seating at the Met."

"Don't worry. After you hear what I have to tell you, missing the first act will be the least of your concerns."

TWENTY-TWO

Cabbages And Vines

I think we might have a lock on Victoria's location," Oliver said grimly. Since their trip to the blood house, he had received permission from Duchesne to miss class and was back to spending all day and night holed up in the Repository, reviewing the tapes, and had finally found a clue as to where she was being kept hostage.

"Ma'am? Will you be joining us?" the usher asked, looking impatient, with his hand on the double doors while Scott fiddled with his cuff links.

"Hold on," she told Oliver, weighing the possibility of whispering into her cell phone while the tenor began his aria. But Trinity had raised her too well. Mimi waved her date inside.

"Go ahead, I've got to take this. I'll meet you at intermission."

She walked away from the doors, toward the fountain. "We've found her?" she asked, pressing the phone to her ear in hopeful anticipation.

"Not yet. But we're on our way."

Mimi glared at the ushers who were shushing her. "Where?"

"The Carlyle Hotel."

"I'll meet you there."

The sidewalk in front of the Carlyle was swarming with Red Bloods. As Mimi walked through the crowd she heard whispers of "bomb threat" and "evacuation." She flashed her Conclave badge to the security team and entered the newly emptied lobby. Oliver was standing with a group of Venators, who had cleared the area by the elevator.

"Sorry about Parsifal. It's my favorite opera," he said as a greeting.

"Where is she?" Mimi snapped. She didn't have time for Oliver's clever little commentary right now.

"We think in the penthouse. It's been rented for the month to some actor, but it's been empty for weeks, according to the hotel manager."

"How do you know she's here?"

"We don't. We're just guessing." Oliver pressed the elevator button for the top floor. "I know the Venators are concentrating on those subliminal images, but I thought maybe we should take a closer look at the main video itself. I watched it frame by frame and found something in the shadows. I had tech magnify part of the screen."

He showed her the image on his phone.

"What am I looking at here, exactly?" Mimi asked. It looked like a bunch of squiggles and nothing to get excited about. Certainly not enough to clear an entire hotel lobby and disrupt an evening at the prestigious hotel. Wendell Randolph, the Blue Blood tycoon who owned the Carlyle, was surely going to get annoyed. Mimi saw that she had several messages from him already.

"That's from the wallpaper behind her head. The shine from the Venator rope illuminates it a bit. It's called Cabbage and Vine. It's a famous William Morris design, which went out of production in the 1880s. But when this hotel was built in the 1930s, they had the same textile factory produce it for the hotel. After the renovation last year, only a few rooms kept the original wallpaper. We've already checked the other two. This is the last one."

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