Home > Wild Hunger (Heirs of Chicagoland #1)(13)

Wild Hunger (Heirs of Chicagoland #1)(13)
Author: Chloe Neill

I bit back a smile. My father was very good. Make the fairies an offer they couldn’t decline without losing face—and one the vampires in the room couldn’t complain about without looking foolish and ungracious.

“We will join you,” Claudia said, chin lifted. “And we will see what trouble you seek.”

* * *

• • •

Two chairs were located and placed in the empty gap in the outer ring of chairs, while my father sent vampires to check on the guards the fairies had managed to get past.

The chairs weren’t fancy—armchairs probably borrowed from one of the hotel rooms. But Claudia and Ruadan seated themselves like royalty, her hand over his atop the rolled arm of her seat.

Unfortunately, the fairies’ seating was the only problem solved during the first abbreviated night of talks. While most of the vampires agreed some kind of governing body was necessary, they couldn’t agree on how that body would be formed, or how voting rights would be allocated. The oldest Houses argued they were the wisest, the most experienced, so their votes should carry more weight. Newer Houses with more money argued they had more value to society, so their votes should carry more weight. And everyone in between feared being swallowed by the larger fish.

Blood and food were offered an hour into the meeting. The fairies remained in their chairs—and well guarded—while the vampires partook. But the refreshment didn’t make the second half of the session any more productive.

They’d barely gotten discussions started again when the Houses derailed them by arguing about how they’d contribute to paying the council’s expenses when they were in session, and where they’d meet.

The European vampires faced some of the same questions America’s founders had faced more than two hundred years ago, except that the vampires had centuries more ego and arrogance behind them.

We adjourned with little accomplished beyond identifying the real problem: how to get dozens of vampire Houses to sacrifice in order to come up with a plan that benefitted them all.

The fairies were escorted out first, and the room itself seemed to exhale with relief when they were gone. The shifters also disappeared quickly, and I couldn’t blame them. They hadn’t exactly gotten a warm welcome from the European Houses.

I spoke with Marion, agreed to talk to my parents about the path forward while she returned to the hotel, where the odds of a fairy attack seemed lower. And then I walked into the plush antechamber beside the ballroom to wait for their arrival.

I was checking the news on my screen when the door opened and my parents came in, followed by Theo and a tall, lean man with medium-brown skin, dark hair, and dark, somber eyes.

“Elisa,” my father said, “this is Roger Yuen, the Associate Ombudsman.”

We shook hands. “It is good to meet you, Elisa. Your great-grandfather is a good man.”

“We think so,” I agreed, then looked at my parents. “How are the guards?”

“Magicked,” he said, and ran a hand through his hair. “We hadn’t even considered the possibility magic—other than glamour—would be used as a weapon.”

Glamour was the vampires’ innate magic, the ability to lure humans and lower their inhibitions when it suited our purposes.

“So many hours of work,” my father said, sounding uncharacteristically dejected, “with very little to show for it.”

“It was unlikely the first round would result in a treaty,” Yuen said kindly. “Perhaps now that the bad blood has been aired, so to speak, the real negotiations can begin.”

“And we did avoid an apparent fairy revolution,” my mother said, perching on the arm of my father’s chair. “That’s twice in two days we’ve seen Claudia in her finery.”

“I could have done without the second,” my father said, and looked at Yuen. “Thoughts?”

“She wants to be seen as powerful,” Yuen said. “In control, and an important part of the city’s leadership.”

“Quite a change from their previous attitude,” my father said dryly.

“Why would the fairies believe the talks were some kind of conspiracy?” I wondered.

“Claudia is unstable,” my mother said. “She has been for a very long time.”

“But why the sudden interruption?” Yuen asked.

“There hasn’t been a gathering of vampires this large in many, many years,” my father said. “Perhaps the fairies saw it as a threat.”

My mother frowned. “But why not say something during the planning phase, or attack during the reception, or attempt to prevent the meeting in the first place?”

My father nodded. “The fairies have always been self-centered, but this was unusually specific. Like they’d only figured out our villainous plan tonight.”

“Perhaps the scale of the issue is larger,” Yuen said. “Their magic is fading again.” He glanced at me. “You know about Sorcha? The Egregore?”

The word thrummed through me like a plucked string on a cello.

“I know,” I managed, squeezing the words through tight lungs.

“Two decades have passed since magic was spilled over the city,” Yuen said, “and it has largely dispersed. Chicago is nearly at level again, from a magical standpoint. Concern that they’ll fade away again may have triggered their sudden interest—and the fear they’ll be pushed aside by vampires.”

“What about Ruadan?” I asked.

“We don’t know much about him,” Yuen said. “From what we understand, he’s twenty-two or twenty-three, born after Sorcha’s attack. There were several dozen fairies born in that timeframe, and we believe this was the first time fairies conceived children in the United States.”

“How old is Claudia?” I asked, thinking of Ruadan’s interest in her, romantic or otherwise.

“Older than me,” my father said with a glint in his eye, reminding me that he had been nearly four hundred and my mother twenty-eight when they’d gotten together. I didn’t want to think too closely about that.

“She looked older tonight than I’d seen her before,” I said. “Worn around the edges.”

“I thought so, too,” my mother agreed. “Not by a lot, but noticeably.”

Yuen looked at my father. “What is next, do you think?”

My father rubbed his temples. “I don’t know. They seemed satisfied by what we offered today, and that was little enough. If they believe we’re engaged in some sort of fanged conspiracy, I don’t know what we could really do to appease them.”

“They’ll want seats again tomorrow,” Yuen said, and my father rolled his eyes.

“I’m sure you’re right. I’m inclined to let them in again to maintain the peace, but that’s not helping the negotiations.”

“And tonight?” Yuen asked.

I’d nearly forgotten: Cadogan House was hosting a party for the delegates. It would be fancy, since that was my father’s style. And there would be food and music, since that was my mother’s. Question was, Would there also be violence?

“We could cancel,” my mother said, glancing at my father, but he shook his head.

“We won’t be cowed by violence, threatened or perceived. That wouldn’t serve Chicago or the purpose of these talks. We’ll increase security. And make everyone aware that the fairies aren’t above using magic to get their way.” He looked at Yuen. “I’ll be communicating with Kelley and the rest of my team as soon as we leave here.”

Kelley was the head of Cadogan’s guards.

Yuen nodded. “Very well. Then I’ll leave you to your preparations, and get a report to Dearborn.”

“He’s going to be angry,” my father said, but looked more amused by the possibility than disturbed. “He won’t care that his promotional opportunity has gone south.”

Yuen smiled. “We know who did the actual work in arranging this particular opportunity. But if the result is good, he won’t care much about the details of how that came to be.”

My father smiled, appreciating his dry tone. “You have a solid sense of him.”

“I am well aware that part of my job is managing Dearborn’s expectations,” Yuen said. “And for all our sakes, I hope the result is good.”

SIX

We had three hours until the Cadogan party, and I wasn’t needed until it was time to escort the French delegation to my parents’ House in Hyde Park.

I was trying not to think of the magic that awaited me, so I confirmed Lulu was still where she said she’d be, and took an Auto to Ukrainian Village.

   
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