Chapter Fifteen: A Tiny Piece of Truth


As commotion broke out in the corridor, Luca was down at the singer's side, anxiety in his expression. "She's out cold...someone go get Rory! And a doctor...I've never seen her look so pale."

"She's fainted, I think." Clay crouched at her other side, as Marissa headed off through the halls to do Luca's bidding. "Don't move her, Luca - she may have hit her head when she went, she fell pretty hard."

"We knew she was under it at the moment." Luca bit his lip, putting a hand to Madeleine's forehead. "I don't think she's feverish...she feels all right to me. Too much stress, maybe, coupled with the hot lights tonight. Maybe we shouldn't have played. Whatever's bothering her, it's bothering her in a big way."

"Maddy's not the type of person to brood over things like this, though."

Stefana leant up against the wall, eying the scene before her with a mixture of alarm and confusion. "She's always been level about things...she's never been like this. Lately she's been crying and fretting and now she's not sleeping...who is she and what's she done with our Maddy?"

"Mad doesn't like to let her feelings show." Clay sat back on his heels, pursing his lips. "But I have seen her upset before. I mean, really upset. A couple of times, actually. It was before you really knew her, Stef. Before she came back to Hartford all keen on being part of the band."

"After she was rejected from Harvard." Luca nodded his head. "I remember."

"Maddy was going to Harvard?" Stefana's eyes widened. "I knew she was a nerd but I didn't know that."

"Well, she tried, but she didn't get in." Luca shrugged his shoulders. "She worked damn hard through her finals, but she got distracted by some jerk guy who slept with her and ran when he thought she might be pregnant as a result. He was a moron - I was amazed she didn't see through his smooth chat from the start. I thought she had better sense."

"I don't think sense had much to do with it." Clay said astutely. He reached down to brush Maddy's hair out of her face. "But it was a long time ago."

"Did he?"

"Did he what?"

"Knock her up." Stefana chewed absently on her thumbnail. "See, Luca, we all know what Maddy's religious beliefs are like. What if he did knock her up, and she got rid of it? Would she consider that an end of the world type of scandal that she could never face telling us? Mad's always been hot on her faith and on that being the complete taboo. Lord knows I've heard her on the subject a million times. What do you think? Have I nailed it?"

Clay shot Luca a quizzical glance, and Luca spread his hands.

"I guess it could." He acknowledged. "She and I didn't really talk about those things in that much depth - actually, we had a big fight about this guy while she was seeing him, and there was that whole awkward ex-boyfriend-being-proven-right thing going on at the time. Clay, if you didn't know about it, I wouldn't think she'd have told me. She confided in you a lot more in her final year than she ever did me. We didn't properly patch up our friendship till she came back to Hartford, after grad."

"Well, it's a girl thing." Clay pursed his lips. "More likely if she told anyone it would have been that girl she roomed with...what was her name? Assanti?"

"Or not." Luca looked thoughtful. "She said only her aunt and she knew about it. Maddy broke up with Jared about six weeks before finals. Then her aunt's partner got killed in action and Maddy came to Cali to cheer her up. What if it all happened here, while she was away from Connecticut altogether? None of us would ever have known anything about it. Stef, you might even be on to something. We do know how seriously Maddy takes her faith and that she'd consider something like that the worst thing in the world."

"But people make mistakes." Stefana said frankly. "If it is it, she needs to get over herself and deal with it."

"Shh, both of you." Clay held up his hand. "I hear footsteps."

Before either of the others could speak, Marissa re-appeared at the end of the corridor, with an impatient Rory in tow.

"What's she done?" He demanded.

"We think she's just fainted, but she might have hit her head." Clay said. "She hasn't come round yet - Mari, did you call for help?"

"Rory said he'd see the situation first." Marissa said quietly, and the look she gave her boyfriend told him that she had argued the point with her boss to no avail. "He said if she just fainted, then there's no need to involve medical staff."

"I think she's stirring." Luca glanced down at the still figure, as Madeleine let out an incoherent murmur, her eyelids flickering open. She blinked a couple of times, staring up at him, and he cast her a smile.

"You're not meant to be down there." he said playfully. "Hi, Mad. Are you all right? You took quite a fall."

"What happened? Why am I on the floor?" Madeleine was quickly regaining her senses and she struggled to bring herself upright. Gently Luca hauled her into a sitting position, slipping a supportive arm around her shoulders.

"You passed out." Clay told her. "You went down pretty hard, Mad - are you okay?"

"I...think so." Madeleine wetted her lips. "I fainted? I don't remember."

"Do you want to see a doctor, Madeleine?" Rory interjected at that moment, and Madeleine stared up at her boss, seeing him for the first time. She shook her head slowly.

"" She said softly. "I'm all right, Rory. Just I haven't had much sleep this week, worrying about Tante Regine and...everything. The lights were too hot and I overheated. That's all. I need some water and to sit down for a while...but I'll be fine."

Rory nodded his head. He glanced at the assembled band-members.

"Then take her home." He said briefly. "Preferably before the local press rags decide to descend upon us looking for their next story. Madeleine,"

He turned his attention back to the singer.

"I want you to take a few days to rest and recuperate. You have far too much scheduled in the next few weeks - not to mention the fact you will all be in the UK in a month or two's time. I don't want to have to keep postponing things because you are not fully fit."

"Yes, Rory." Madeleine nodded her head. "I'll do my best. I'm sorry for causing a scene - I didn't mean to faint."

"Well, don't let it happen again." Rory said bluntly. "I pay you to be a professional, not sway and swoon all over the place."

He glanced at Luca.

"See she gets home safely. The car is waiting out back." He added. Then he was gone, and Stefana poked out her tongue at his receding back.

"His bedside manner could really be improved." She observed. Madeleine grimaced.

"I'm embarrassed." She admitted. "I've never passed out after being on stage before."

"Do you think you can get up?" Luca asked her. Madeleine nodded.

"If you help me." She agreed. "I'm a touch woozy, but I don't feel like I'm going to pass out again. I guess it was just everything all at once."

"Then lets get you home." Clay reached down to grab her other arm, and between them the two men pulled her to her feet. "There you go. We'll take it slowly, and you tell us if you feel limp again, all right? This floor is carpeted, but outside it's concrete and if you didn't get a concussion this time, we're not going to give you a second shot."

"Stef and I will go get the stuff from the dressing room." Marissa suggested, glancing at Stefana, who nodded.

"We'll meet you out back in a few minutes." She agreed. "Don't go without us!"

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Half past midnight.

Darren glanced at his watch one more time, then up at the Diablo estate, tossing his spent cigarette into the undergrowth with an impatient sigh. He had known they'd been playing a show tonight, but he had expected them back by now. Waiting around was not his style, and yet he knew that he wasn't going anywhere until he had spoken to Stefana.

He settled himself more comfortably on the red brick wall that surrounded the property, lighting up a second cigarette and sliding his lighter back into his pocket. In the dim glow of the nearby streetlight, he caught a glimpse of his precious burden and he pursed his lips thoughtfully.

"Never under-estimate the power of the press." He murmured aloud, drumming his free hand idly on the top of the stonework as he flicked ash from his burning cigarette. "We can find out anything, if we take the time to look."

The sound of an engine made him start and he turned, relief flooding through him as he sighted the big black car that Diablo often used for public appearances. It drew onto the forecourt, and, as he watched from his vantage point, the five musicians got out. Even at this distance, Darren could make out the odd word in their conversation and, as he patched the fragments together, he frowned, focusing his attention on the lead singer.

So the stress had finally broken her. Stefana had been right.

"But I keep my word." He mused to himself, sliding the blue file under his arm. He hopped down from his perch, crossing the front forecourt with his usual nonchalant swagger.

"Hey, Steffi!" He called, making the musicians all jump. "Got a minute?"

"Holy crap, do you know what time it is?" Clay exclaimed. "McMillan, you have a serious nerve stalking our property at all hours!"

"I'm not stalking your property, Mr Wissex." Darren flashed him an infuriating grin. "I'm looking for the little piece of Hell."

"What do you want, Darren?" Marissa cast an anxious glance at Stefana, who's expression had gone from startled to apprehensive. "We've had a long night - this isn't the time."

"I think it is." Darren met Stefana's gaze with one of his own, and Stefana's brows knitted together.

"All right." She said slowly. "You guys go in, I'll see what the jerk-off wants."

"You sure, Stef?" Luca eyed her anxiously, but Stefana nodded.

"I can handle myself around one wimp reporter." She said simply. "Go in. Help Maddy. I'll be fine."

Luca shot her a doubtful glance, but did as he was bidden, following the rest of the group members towards the front entrance of the house.

Once they were alone, Stefana shot the reporter a questioning glance.

"Well?" She snapped. "I didn't expect you to descend on me in front of the others, and even less at this time of night. What am I meant to tell them now, huh?"

"The truth?" Darren shrugged his shoulders. "I've done you a big favour, Steffi."

He took a drag on his cigarette, linking his arm in hers and pulling her across the estate grounds towards the bench at the back. He reached over to switch on the garden light, illuminating them both as he did so, and indicated for her to sit down.

Stefana shot him an odd look.

"I hate to think how you knew that was there." She said at length. Darren laughed.

"I make it my business to know my way around." He said unrepentantly. "And you should keep your gates locked more often, if you don't want people coming to sight-see."

"You said you did me a favour. Does that mean...?"

"Here." Darren nodded, holding out the blue folder. "You can tell Maddy that her blackmailer is far too occupied to bother her for money again, too. He's cooling his heels with the LAPD at the moment, on remand for at least six local burglaries. One of which being Regine Cesare."


Stefana faltered, taking the folder and glancing up at him. "So fast?"

"It's not hard to find a criminal, Stef, if you know where to look." Darren pursed his lips. "See, a lot of my informers, they don't see anything wrong with a little breaking and entering, taking stuff from people who they think can afford to buy more. But blackmailing a lady...well, some of them take exception to that. People talk. They boast and brag, and I talk to the ones they boast and brag too. He won't bother her again, I guarantee it."

"He could still talk, even if he does go to prison." Stefana looked grave. "Couldn't he?"

"I doubt he will." Darren shook his head. "We had words. I made it clear to him that he'd probably do about ten years for the burglaries. But that I had significant evidence of him doing more than the burglaries...and that that could stick him away for another ten or fifteen, if he wasn't careful. He'll keep his mouth shut so long as I keep mine. Obviously I'm bluffing, but thanks to what you told me the other day, he doesn't know that. He won't talk. Guaranteed."

Stefana was silent for a moment, as she digested everything. She ran a finger over the cover of the file, pausing.

"As easy as that." She murmured. "No wonder you dig up dirt on people fast, Darren. It's kinda scary, when you think about it."

She sighed.

"And it's all here? All of Maddy's bits and pieces?"

"Yes. Everything I could find."

"Everything you could...?" Stefana stared at him. "You mean you read it?"

"I'm a reporter, Stef. Of course I read it." Darren said impatiently.

"But you said..."

"I promised you not to print the story. I didn't say I wouldn't find it out." Darren reminded her. "So I was curious. Sue me. It won't appear in the Tribune, and that's what we agreed."

"I guess it was." Stefana grimaced. "Fine. Then I suppose I owe you an exclusive, don't I?"

Darren eyed her keenly. Then he shook her head.

"I changed my mind." He said quietly. "I decided to make this one a freebie."

"Huh?" This took Stefana off guard and she stared at him, not comprehending. "What do you mean, a freebie?"

"Just what I said." Darren responded calmly. "I'm not going to ask you for anything in return. This time. I decided maybe you're not so interesting to read about after all."

Stefana's eyes narrowed to near slits.

"What do you get out of that?" She demanded. "Are you going to pull the card on me in six months time? Or...?"

Darren smiled. He shook his head.

"No." He replied. "I have no interest in being repaid, that's all. It was an easy favour to fulfill."

"I don't get you." Stefana looked genuinely bewildered. "It's all about the paper and scandals...normally you'd be chafing at the bit to get a story into your newsrag. What's happened this time, to make you decide to junk it? You aren't going to print Maddy's secret, are you? You did give me your word..."

"I don't break my word." Darren assured her. "Maddy's story will never be printed. You have all the evidence of it in your hand, and I have no interest in taking it any further."

He paused, then put a hand on her arm.

"I'm not doing this for your sake." He added quietly. "And you can rest assured that I will keep my side of things. But, having seen what exactly it is Maddy's been trying to keep dark, well..."

He shook his head.

"Exposing you in return for protecting a friend no longer seems such an enchanting prospect." He admitted.

"I wish I could believe that." Stefana said darkly. "But I know how you work, Darren. I've been messed over in your story hunting plots more than once in the past. Almost killed on one occasion. Why do you expect me to believe you now?"

"That's up to you." Darren smiled. "It's not my problem if you don't."

He reached over to tap the folder.

"Read it." He suggested. "It might explain a little more."

"It's Maddy's secret."

"And considering what you were willing to give to protect it, I think you have a right to know what it is. Don't you?" Darren asked. Stefana pursed her lips.

"She didn't want us to know. Any of us. It's not my business. It's not my secret."

"No, true." Darren dropped the playful tone in his voice, extinguishing his cigarette and taking Stefana by the arm. "But listen to me, Steffi. Secret or not, someone needs to know about it for her own sake. And it needs to be one of you. You said yourself she was freaking out because of all the pressure...well, let's just say I know a little more about this kind of thing than you might expect from the average hardened tabloid reporter. It's not something she should be alone with. Whatever she thinks about it."

Stefana eyed him doubtfully.

"And when she kills me for reading her private documents?" She asked. "What then?"

"You got them back for her." Darren shrugged. "I think she'll be so glad to know it's over that she won't worry too much about you reading them."

"I think you're wrong." Stefana sighed. "I think she'd mind a whole lot."

"Well, either you read them for yourself or I tell you what they contain." Darren settled himself more comfortably on his seat. "I mean that, Stef. Someone needs to know, and if she won't tell, I will. So make your choice. Read it, or risk anyone overhearing what I might say. Walls do have ears, you know...and though I guarantee that I'm not taping this conversation, I'm not the only tabloid reporter in Los Angeles."

Stefana bit her lip. For a moment she hesitated, then, slowly, she flicked open the file, running her gaze down the top sheet of paper. As she reached the bottom, her eyes widened, and she met Darren's gaze with a stunned one of her own.

"Oh Christ, I shouldn't have seen that." She whispered. "She's going to kill me."

"Not in the long run." Darren shook his head, getting to his feet. "She just needs to know you don't care about it, that's all. That it doesn't make things different with your band. And now I should go, because it's getting late."

"Don't you want anything from me in return for this?" Stefana asked. "I mean, seriously. I don't know why this particular secret suddenly makes you all benevolent - it's a big front page scandal type story, if you wanted to print it. Why bury it yourself and not ask for anything in return? It just doesn't seem like you."

"Ah. Well." Darren looked thoughtful. "Maybe then there's one thing you can do for me, in return."

"Here we go. I knew it."

"Dinner tomorrow night." Darren grinned at her disarmingly. "No strings attached, no groping hands. But if you want to do me a favour, you can buy me dinner, and we'll call it quits."

"Dinner?" Stefana was floored. "Darren, if this is your way of..."

"It's not my way of doing anything." Darren held up his hand. "I don't want anything from you and you offered, so I answered. It's your call. You don't owe me anything."

Stefana was silent for a moment.

"Fine." She said quietly. "Dinner tomorrow night it is. But don't choose anywhere too expensive. I'm never the richest person in the world and I'm still paying for that house in Napoli Luca and I are investing in."

"All right." Darren grinned. "You're on. I'll see you tomorrow. Come by the Tribune at about seven."

"I'll be there." Stefana pursed her lips, glancing down at the file. "But right now I have to go deal with this Pandora's Box you've just given me. I just hope Maddy isn't going to rip holes in me for finding out her secret."

Prologue: Flashback: University of Connecticut, Winter 2009
Chapter One: Starcrossed
Chapter Two: Tante Regine
Chapter Three: Flashback: University of Connecticut: Winter 2011
Chapter Four: The Poem
Chapter Five: A Shock
Chapter Six: Nancy Confesses
Chapter Seven: Flashback: Break Up
Chapter Eight: Blackmail
Chapter Nine: Conflict
Chapter Ten: Flashback: Assanti Meddles
Chapter Eleven: Pay Off 
Chapter Twelve: Stefana Gambles
Chapter Thirteen: University of Connecticut: Finals Week
Chapter Fourteen: Cracks
Chapter Fifteen: A Tiny Piece Of Truth
Chapter Sixteen: Flashback: Forever Changed
Chapter Seventeen: Secrets Will Out

Chapter Eighteen: Fall Out

Chapter Nineteen: Flashback: A New Life

Chapter Twenty: Darren Admits

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