Misguided Angel Page 41

Before sunrise, she crept into Duchesne to pick up her lucky jade turtle from her locker--it was a silly superstition but she didn't want to do a DeathWalk without it. Her twin had bought them the tiny figurines in a Hong Kong market, and Deming had made it a habit to bring the little guy wherever she went. She wanted to slip in and out without anyone noticing or asking any questions. With the early hour, the school was empty save for the janitors, so she was surprised to bump into Paul Rayburn walking out of the third-floor library with a cart of books.

The junior lockers were located right across from the library doors.

"Paul, hey," she said.

"Oh hey," he said, his affectus turning the usual shade of orange in her presence.

"What are you doing here?"

"I'm a library aide. Part of the work study program," Paul said, jangling keys. "I try to get my work done before school. It's better than staying late." He looked sleepy and tired, and Deming was moved by how much effort being a student at Duchesne must have cost him. It couldn't be easy to be poor around such wealth.

She felt the now-familiar stirrings of bloodlust in his presence, but his shy smile invoked a different reaction as well, one that went deeper than the impulse to drink his blood. "It's not even morning yet," she said as she stuffed her files into her book bag. She realized that her heart hurt a little, knowing that after today she would probably never see him again. Once she found Stuart, and she was certain she would, her assignment would be complete and she would leave the country.

It was a pity, since she felt something for Paul, a queasy mixture of desire and affection that she could not figure out. And it scared her because her life until now had been about order and discipline. Her feelings for him were a distraction. They would only cloud her judgment, if they hadn't already. The best Venators were unencumbered by emotion, and Deming strove to be the best.

"Yeah, well." He shrugged. "I'm used to it. What brings you here so early?"

"Honestly, I couldn't sleep," she told him.

"Maybe we can catch up later? When we're both awake?"

She was about to shake her head when it occurred to her that maybe instead of running away from her feelings she should see where this was going so she could completely shut it down. "I'd like that. How about this time tomorrow? A sunrise breakfast?"

Paul gave her a dazzling smile that made Deming momentarily forget she had asked him to meet her only so she could crush any romantic ideas he might harbor about the two of them.

Only when he left did she realize she had forgotten to ask him about what he'd told her about Victoria, Bryce, and Piper. She wanted to know where he had heard that piece of false information.

* * *

The House of Records was located in the midtown headquarters, in a restricted section of the Repository. The clerk stared balefully at the black-clad Venator as he handed over a yellowing stack of paper. "Regent sign the warrant?"

"I have it right here," Deming said, handing over the certificate with Mimi's flowery signature. The Regent had agreed to open the file just for this instance.

"Privileged information, this is. Not just anything everyone should know," the walleyed clerk grumbled.

"I understand that. That's why I have a warrant," Deming said patiently.

"Take the fourth cubicle."

"Thank you."

Deming settled into her desk and began to page through the cycle birth records for Victoria Taylor and Stuart Rhodes. Looking into an immortal's past cycles was verboten in the Coven. The Code of the Vampires decreed that each vampire come into the knowledge of past lifetimes on their own, through the Blood Manifest--not through looking up files and records in a library. Lawrence Van Alen had been instrumental in preaching that identities came from within--that even if you had lived an immortal life, recorded diligently by scribes since the dawn of time, it was still your duty to discover your destiny on your own rather than have your past handed to you on typewritten sheets.

STUARTRHODES

Birth Name: Hollis Stuart Cobden Rhodes

Known Past Lives: Piero d'Argento (Florence)

VICTORIATAYLOR

Birth Name: Victoria Alexandra Forbes Taylor

Known Past Lives: Stefana Granacci (Florence)

That was interesting. Both Victoria Taylor and Stuart Rhodes were last in cycle in the same place and during the same time period. So even if they did not know each other in the present, there was a distinct possibility they had known each other in the past. It couldn't be a coincidence.

In any event, once she was in the glom she would find Stuart, apprehend his abductors, and she would finally have her answers.

Deming left the Repository, her head bowed low. The Lennox boys were meeting her back at Venator headquarters in an hour, and she would have a little time to get herself ready before they arrived. She went through a checklist in her head; she would have to remember to wear something warm. The last time she had woken up from the procedure, she had been shaking with cold.

She would call her twin. She wanted to hear Dehua's voice, and not just in the glom. Just another superstition, like the green turtle she held in her hand. Other than that, there was nothing else; she was ready to walk into the valley of the shadow.

As she waited for the light to change, she recognized a car parked across the street. It was the same one that had taken her home Saturday evening. Paul was at the wheel. She was about to wave to him when she saw he wasn't alone. There was a girl with him.

There was something familiar about the girl getting out of the car.

Then Deming realized.

She was Victoria Taylor.

THIRTY-EIGHT

Confessions

For a moment Deming was too stunned to move, but recovered quickly so that in a flash she was not only in Paul's car, she had a hand on the wheel. "Pull over," she demanded.

Paul jumped. He looked terrified to see her appear out of nowhere. "How did you--?" he asked, barely missing hitting a speeding taxicab. Deming turned the wheel toward the curb, and the car came to a crashing stop.

"That girl you were with. Who was she?" Deming did not have time for any more lies and nonsense. She wanted to get to the bottom of this. Now. She'd had a choice between following the girl and confronting Paul, and she chose to hear the truth from him.

"What girl?"

"The girl who got out of your car back there. Victoria Taylor." It was Victoria, she was sure. Deming had studied her photograph numerous times and had memorized the girl's face. She would know Victoria anywhere.

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