Misguided Angel Page 38

"How'd you know those guys?" she asked, affecting a casual air, and trying not to notice the electricity buzzing between them. "Through Gemma?"

"Uh-huh. But Piper invited me. She kind of had to since I was standing next to her at the time. It was a pity invite."

At the mention of Piper's name, Deming refocused her energy. "Piper's nice. . . ." she said, letting him take the lead. She wanted to find out what other people thought about Piper.

Bryce's memory was one piece of the puzzle, but if she was going to pin this on Piper Crandall she'd need a lot more information to build her case.

Paul changed lanes again. "Piper's all right. You guys hang out, huh?"

"Kind of. I heard she was pretty tight with some girl named Victoria Taylor, who left before I got here."

He fiddled with the stereo and the car swerved a little. "Oh great, I missed my exit. Sorry, what were you saying? Piper and Victoria?" he asked, as the Cowboy Junkies played in the background.

"They were best friends?" Deming prompted.

"You mean they were friends, until . . ."

"Until?" Deming leaned closer.

Paul glanced at her. "Look, I don't listen to gossip, especially about those who are basically unaware of my existence; it's too demeaning. But what can I say? I go to this school, I'm not deaf. I heard that Victoria and Bryce were hooking up and Piper found out the night of Jamie Kip's party."

"Really? Victoria and Bryce? They were together?" She hadn't found any indication of that in the reports, and Victoria had not played a prominent role in any of Bryce's memories.

"Yeah. And it really pissed Piper off." It was clear that Paul was lying when he said he did not enjoy gossip. He was bathed in a yellow light, warm and glowing, illuminating his features.

"But why would Piper care?"

"Piper and Bryce used to date." Paul shrugged. "I thought everyone knew that."

So that's what the girls had been arguing about at the party, why Piper had looked so murderous. This was the secret rancor Deming had been searching for, the poison inside the apple. She understood the dark violent emotions that claimed lives and caused people to burn and torture their best friends, to decide that they were no better than a pile of wood chips. As a Venator she had seen the consequences that the bitterness of resentment and jealousy could bring to a seemingly close friendship. Piper and Victoria had loved the same dark angel.

Piper and Bryce had been together, but Victoria had come between them. Jealousy over a boy had turned one friend against the other. Deming didn't think Bryce knew what Piper had done, but he had suspected enough to feel guilty about it. The night of Jamie Kip's party, Piper discovered that her best friend had betrayed her.

Finally, Deming had what she was looking for: a motive.

THIRTY-FOUR

Bond Less

Piper Crandall glared at her from across the interrogation table. The Lennox brothers had picked the suspect up Monday afternoon from school, and had taken her to Venator headquarters for questioning.

"You!" she spat, the minute she saw Deming enter the windowless room. "What do you want? What's this all about? They said I had to come down to answer some questions. You're a freaking Venator? What is this?"

"I want to talk about Victoria Taylor," Deming replied coolly. She had ditched the fashion plate schoolgirl attire and was dressed in regulation Venator black. For the first time since arriving in New York, Deming felt like herself again. It was a relief to stop wearing the disguise. She'd spent the weekend pulling files and putting her case together. She was ready.

"What about Victoria?" Piper asked nervously.

Deming turned to the television screen on the wall, and hit play. "Have you seen this video?" she asked.

"Sure, it's all over the Internet. Some kind of vampire movie from the Conspiracy."

"It's not a movie trailer. It's real. And that's Victoria in the video. Here's another. Look familiar?" Deming played the video of Victoria's burning and tried not to flinch, but it was hard to watch.

The color drained from Piper's face, and she pressed her hands to her eyes. "Oh my God.

Oh my God. Is she--oh my God--is that really . . . no . . . no. No, Victoria, no. She's supposed to be at Le Rosey . . . what happened . . . oh my God . . ."

Deming cut her off. The girl was a good actress, she had to hand it to her, but she wasn't buying one second of it. "The night of Jamie Kip's party, you found out that your best friend was dating your ex-boyfriend."

"What are you talking about?" Piper sobbed, her eyes and nose bright red. "Victoria is dead? Oh my God. What happened? Who did this to her?"

Deming felt a moment of pity, but she had seen this all before--suspects who could not admit to the horror of their crime, who honestly believed in their hearts that they had never harmed their loved ones. She continued her relentless interrogation. "Victoria came between the two of you, and you wanted to punish her. You wanted her dead, and you covered it up with a conspiracy threat to disguise the real reason. To hide your motive."

When she had gone over Piper's file again, Deming noticed that Piper was a junior member of the Conspiracy. As such, she had insider knowledge on the workings of the subcommittee; she knew which buttons to push and how to create the illusion of a real security breach.

"I don't understand," Piper whimpered. "Victoria . . . why . . . oh God, why . . . ?"

"Why is right. Why did you want her dead? Because she came between the most sacred relationship you had in the world. Because you and Bryce Cutting are bondmates."

When it came down to it, everything always went back to the bond. Being bondless herself, Deming could never quite understand what the fuss was about. From what she could see, the bond just made everything more complicated.

This was just like the kidnapping in Shanghai, where instead of exposure, money was used as a smoke screen. The vampire who had taken Liling was convinced he was her bondmate, and wanted to hurt her for falling in love with someone else. He'd meant to take the Code into his own hands. Deming had saved the girl just in time. Good thing too, since in the end, the boy had been mistaken. There was no bond between them and there never had been.

Some vampires thought the bond was all about love stories and romance. Souls calling out to each other through the centuries. But Deming knew nothing was ever that simple. Not in the matters of the heart and the bond. Victoria Taylor wasn't the first to suffer because of a bond, and she would not be the last.

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