Misguided Angel Page 39

After the shattering silence, Piper finally spoke. "Took you long enough to figure that out, huh?" she said bitterly, wiping away her tears. "That Bryce was mine. You sure didn't care about that when you were hooking up with him at Rufus's party."

Deming blushed. "That isn't important."

"No? Well how about this, Venator? I don't know where you got the stupid idea that Victoria 'stole' Bryce from me, and I killed her. You're absolutely wrong on that count. Victoria was my friend. She was the best friend I ever had. She never came between us. Ask anyone in school. Victoria didn't even like Bryce. She couldn't believe he was my vampire twin. 'Not that douche,' were her words. Yeah, it pissed me off. But it pissed me off more that the night of Jamie's party, Bryce wouldn't acknowledge that we had found each other. He wanted more space, he said. He wanted more time, to be sure. I was so angry at him, and Vix was trying to calm me down, so I lashed out at her. But Vix was a real friend. In fact, no one has ever come between Bryce and me but you, you bondless freak. Get me a blood trial. Scan my freaking subconscious.

I'm telling the truth."

THIRTY-FIVE

The Second Victim

Deming was shaking when she left the interrogation room. Ted Lennox looked at her with sympathy. "It's clear as day in the glom."

"I know." She collapsed on the nearest chair. She'd seen it too, more clearly than they, who'd needed to be in the twilight world to see Piper's affectus.

She had been so sure--Victoria going after Bryce explained everything--nothing was more anathema in the Blue Blood community than someone who came between the bond.

Nothing. Just look at the Force twins.

When she'd asked him about Piper, Bryce Cutting had looked guilty and felt guilty and was guilty because he knew he was cheating on his bondmate. Bringing up Piper's name while he was hooking up with Deming had spooked him. Bryce had reacted to Piper's name, sure, but not for the reason Deming had believed.

Deming had been so certain of her talent for reading the affectus, she had immediately jumped to the conclusion that Piper was the murderer, that the threat of losing the bond had driven her to hatch an elaborate plot that entailed the murder of her best friend. She couldn't have been more wrong if she'd tried.

Sam Lennox popped out of the glom and gripped her shoulder. "Sorry. It was a good guess, though."

A good guess but not good enough. Not the truth. She was back to the beginning. Back where she had started. In the dark. Nowhere. The Lennox brothers were being kind, but their disappointment said it all.

"By the way, as soon as you can, the Regent wants to see you in her office," Sam said quietly.

When she arrived at headquarters, Deming was ushered into a small waiting room. She was made to wait for a few hours, with nothing but the drone of FNN on the television screen and old magazines to keep her company. Finally Mimi's secretary arrived. "She's ready for you now, dear," Doris said.

Deming entered the office and took a seat across from the massive desk. The Regent was certainly in a foul mood. The Venator thought she had never seen a person with a blacker affectus, and steeled herself for a tongue-lashing.

But after a heavy silence, Mimi only sighed. "You're very lucky. Piper's so traumatized from learning about Victoria's death that the Crandalls have decided not to file a complaint."

"I assume complete responsibility. If you'd like me to resign . . ." Deming said, looking squarely at her superior with her head held high. What happened that morning was a blow to her ego, but she had no time for self-pity. She felt a huge amount of shame, and promised herself she would make it up to Piper by bringing Victoria's real murderer to justice.

"No. I don't accept. We need you more than ever. While you were breaking down your suspect, this arrived in my in-box." Mimi flipped her screen around so Deming could watch. This time, the video was much shorter. It was just a freeze frame of a bound and shackled vampire.

But the message was the same. On the eve of the crescent moon, watch the vampire burn.

"Who is it?" Deming asked, stoic in the face of this new disaster.

"Stuart Rhodes. Duchesne senior. He's been missing since Rufus King's party in Connecticut. Saturday night. You were there, weren't you?"

"Yes." Deming reviewed her memories from that evening, but she had been so busy with Bryce she hadn't paid attention to anyone else, hadn't noticed anything odd. Stuart Rhodes. Who was Stuart Rhodes? He wasn't part of the in-crowd. But it had been a tasting party, which meant every Blue Blood at Duchesne was usually invited. Deming had a vague memory of a small, quiet boy standing to the side, watching everyone from behind glass-bottom lenses.

"Anyway, it's the same thing. Just like Victoria's video," Mimi said.

"Is there any link between Victoria Taylor and Stuart Rhodes?"

"As far I know, none. Stuart is not . . . Well, let's just say he had his own friends," Mimi said delicately.

"You think this is random, then?"

The Regent shrugged. "Isn't that for you to find out? Anyway, just like before, his location has been masked. We can't find him in the glom."

"This thing's on the Internet?" she asked, motioning to the screen.

Mimi nodded. "Yes, but the Conspiracy's working to add the Suck movie tagline on it.

That should be up within an hour."

"Good, that takes care of exposure."

"But it doesn't help us find our victim," Mimi pointed out. "You heard the video, and this time we only have three days until the next crescent moon. I've managed to keep the Conclave unaware of this new hostage for now. I can't take the wards down again; not that it helped us any last time. So start doing what I brought you here to do. You'd better come up with something, Chen! Find me my killer! Find Stuart! Or I swear to God when the Coven dies, I'll take you down with me." The Regent did not need the help of the glom to look like a wrathful Angel of Death just then.

But Deming remained unperturbed in her seat. "Understood."

"You seem awfully confident," Mimi huffed. "What are you planning?"

"What I should've done the minute I arrived in New York. A DeathWalk."

THIRTY-SIX

Background Checks

The next morning the Lennox brothers listened intently as Deming outlined what they would need to help her prepare for the mission. After yesterday's humiliation she had believed she would never be able to work in New York again, that her fellow Venators would demand she be taken off the case and shipped back directly to China. Instead the brothers were being extraordinarily understanding. It happened all the time, they assured her. Venator work was not infallible. They made mistakes. What was important was that they kept trying.

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