Poison Study Page 78

Rand rubbed his hands over his face. His anger had dissipated. “I’m sorry, Yelena. I was backed into a corner and I couldn’t get out without hurting someone.”

I softened. “Why did Star want me poisoned?”

“General Brazell commissioned her. That shouldn’t be a surprise.”

“No.” I thought for a moment, and then asked, “Rand, is there anyone who can help you get out of this mess? Maybe Valek?”

“Absolutely not! Why do you have such an elevated opinion of him? He’s a murderer. You should hate him just for giving you Butterfly’s Dust. I would.”

“Who told you?” I demanded. “Who else knows? I thought only the Commander and Valek knew.”

“Your predecessor, Oscove, told me why he never tried to run, and no, I haven’t sold that information to anyone. I do have limits.” He tugged at his apron. “Oscove’s hatred of Valek rivaled my own, and I understood that, but your relationship with Valek…” Rand’s furrowed brows spiked up toward his forehead.

“You’re in love with him,” he cried.

“That’s preposterous,” I shouted.

We gaped at each other, too stunned to say anything more.

Then a sweet, nutty aroma reached my nose. Rand, too, sniffed the air. I followed the scent to the oven where I had tossed the mystery beans into the fire. Opening the door, I was greeted by a strong puff of heavenly scent. Criollo.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

“Where did you find those beans?” rand asked. “they’re the missing ingredient to the criollo recipe. i didn’t think of roasting them to change the flavor.”

“A storeroom downstairs,” I lied. I wasn’t about to tell him that Valek and I had intercepted them on the way to Brazell’s new factory. Which, I now realized, was probably not producing feed but manufacturing Criollo.

“Which storeroom?” Rand asked, a hint of desperation in his voice.

“I don’t remember.”

“Try harder. If I can duplicate Ving’s recipe for Criollo, then maybe I won’t be transferred.”

“Transferred? Where?”

“You mean Valek hasn’t gloated over it by now? He’s wanted to get rid of me since the takeover. I’m being sent to Brazell’s manor house, and Ving will come here. He won’t last a week!” Rand spat the words out with bitter force.


“Don’t know. I haven’t gotten my transfer papers yet. So there’s some hope to stop it. If you can find me those beans.”

He thinks we’re still friends, I realized in amazement. Even after admitting to poisoning me and accusing me of loving his enemy, he believes I’ll do it for him. I had no response. I stalled. “I’ll try,” I said, then made a hasty exit.

The first flicker of dawn was cresting the Soul Mountains as I arrived at Valek’s suite unseen. The tall windows in the living area faced east, and in the weak gray light I saw Valek’s profile as he sat on the couch, waiting for me.

“Back so soon?” he asked. “Too bad. I was just about to organize a search for your dead body. What happened when you knocked on the southerner magician’s door to sacrifice yourself? Did they kick you out, thinking you too half-witted to waste their time on?”

I plopped on a chair to wait out Valek’s sarcastic lecture. No excuse I could offer would satisfy him. He was right, going out alone had been a foolish thing to do, but logic and an empty stomach were like oil and water, they didn’t mix.

When he was quiet, I asked, “Are you done?”

“What? No rebuttal?”

I shook my head.

“Then I’m finished.”

“Good,” I said. “Since you’re already in a bad mood, I might as well tell you what happened while I was in the kitchen. Actually two things: one bad, one good. Which would you like to hear first?”

“The bad,” Valek answered. “That allows me the hope that the good will balance things out.”

I braced myself and admitted to revealing his undercover operation. Valek’s face hardened.

“It’s your fault. I was defending you!” I blurted.

He paused. “In protecting my honor, you exposed months of work. I should be flattered?”

“You should,” I said. I wasn’t about to feel guilty. If he hadn’t tested my loyalty with Star and then used me to further his investigation, he wouldn’t be in this situation.

His shoulders drooped as he leaned back on the couch, kneading his temples. “I hadn’t planned on making arrests till later this month. Better implement my cleanup plan before Rand has a chance to alert Star.” Valek rubbed his eyes. “Still, this might be a benefit. I think Star’s becoming suspicious. She hasn’t been conducting any illicit business in her office. If I bring her in now, I might discover who hired her to poison the Sitian’s bottle.”

“Star? How?”

“She has a southern assassin in her employ. He would be the only one with the skill and the opportunity. I’m sure the poisoning wasn’t a result of Star’s personal political views. Her organization would do anything for anybody for the right price. I must find out who would risk so much to compromise the delegation.”

He stood up, energized. “What’s the good news?”

“The mystery beans are an ingredient in making Criollo.”

“Then why did Brazell lie on his permit application? There’s no law against manufacturing a dessert,” Valek said, matching my leap of logic about the true nature of Brazell’s factory.

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