Home > Wild Hunger (Heirs of Chicagoland #1)(17)

Wild Hunger (Heirs of Chicagoland #1)(17)
Author: Chloe Neill

“What about Ruadan?”

He looked up. “What about him?”

“He seems . . . intense.”

Connor didn’t answer, just met my gaze evenly, waiting for me to say more.

“He approached me at the reception, after the parade.”

“He approached you? A bloodletter?” This time he wasn’t being sarcastic, but seemed genuinely surprised.

“Yeah.”

Connor rose, put the towel on the counter, then looked back at me. “What did he want?”

“He asked me about how I’d managed to be born. I didn’t get into the details.”

“That’s weird.”

“It was.” I shrugged. “Riley stepped in, and Ruadan scurried off. Which was fine by me.”

Connor snorted a laugh. “Riley can play the badass when he wants to. I don’t know anything about Ruadan other than the fact that he’s Claudia’s consort.”

“Is he aiming for the throne?”

He lifted a shoulder. “Honestly don’t know. That must have been some conversation to get you this curious.”

“It’s not him,” I said. “Or not just.” Feeling suddenly impatient, I rose, walked to the counter, picked up a screwdriver, and tapped it against my palm. “It’s the fit they threw today. They decide there’s this deep conspiracy against them, but we give them a meaningless prize and they’re satisfied? As a strategy it doesn’t make much sense.”

“I’ll grant you it’s odd, but Claudia’s crazy.”

“So I’ve heard.” I put the tool down, leaned back against the counter, and crossed my arms.

Maybe Connor was right and there was nothing to this beyond a fading queen’s desire to matter, to have attention. That meant the talks would continue, the French delegation would be fine, and we might get peace in Paris.

“Maybe I’m just on edge,” I murmured.

“Shocking. You’re usually so calm and relaxed.” Connor tilted his head at me. “Why are you asking me these questions? Why not talk to your parents? Or the Ombudsman?”

“The deal with Cadogan House.”

“The deal with . . . Oh,” he said, realization hitting him. “Cadogan House is supposed to stay out of it.”

“That’s the theory. We talked to Yuen after the event, and he had the same thought you did—that maybe the fading magic has them concerned.” I shook my head. “I don’t know. I’ve been out of the loop for four years. Maybe I’m just trying to adjust to the new sup order.”

“You look different,” he said, and I thought I saw appreciation in his eyes. “Still a vampire, of course, but different.”

“Thanks for the evaluation.”

His thoughtful expression didn’t change. “You look happy.”

The comment—so unsnarky—threw me off a little. “I am.”

“Did you find what you were looking for in Paris?”

Another question that sounded legitimate—like he was actually interested in my feelings.

The answer, of course, was both simple and complicated. I lived, ate, slept. I walked cobblestone streets and tried macarons of every color (all of them equally gross), and no one knew who I was. For the first time in my life, I could figure that out—who I was—without an audience.

“I got to be myself,” I said after a moment.

“And who is that?”

“Elisa Sullivan,” I said, meeting his gaze again. “Not the daughter of someone else. Not the first child. In France, they didn’t care who I was.”

His brows lifted. “And here they cared too much?”

“You know how it was.” I didn’t want to get into that with him, so I changed the subject. “The wine, women, and song seem to have agreed with you.”

He grinned. “Wine, women, and song agree with a lot of people.”

I snorted. “That’s why there’s a trail of brokenhearted shifters behind you.”

“Yours may be vampires,” he said with a crooked grin, “but they’re just as brokenhearted. Are you staying in Chicago?” he asked before I could contradict him.

I shook my head. “Heading back after the talks. I have nine months left of service, and then we’ll see.”

“We’re leaving for Alaska in a few days.”

The North American Central Pack was headquartered in Memphis, where the Keene family was originally from. But Aurora, Alaska, was the spiritual home of all the North American shifter Packs.

“The Pack’s going back to Aurora?”

“Not the entire Pack. Just a group. I’m leading it. We’re doing well financially, but we’re feeling a little bruised after being in Chicago for so long. This city doesn’t recharge us. There’s too much steel, too much concrete, and too many people. The magic is diffuse. In Alaska, the magic is everywhere.”

That must have been what Berna was talking about. I lifted a brow. “Is this about running around naked in the woods?”

“That’s don’t ask, don’t tell. And, no. This is about feeling better, about healing. Our magic is worn down, literally. Scraped raw because we’ve been going, doing, fighting for so long. We aren’t as strong. We don’t heal as fast, even when we shift.”

There was concern in his tone, and I realized he actually looked stressed. Connor had always seemed content to play the prince, having the prestige of the throne without actually having to worry about the job. Maybe he was taking that more seriously, too.

“That sounds serious,” I said.

“It is. The trip’s necessary, so the Pack will ride—and be prepared to fight.”

I imagined a convoy of shifters in leather jackets, long hair streaming in the wind. Then I realized what he’d said. “Wait. To fight what? Road rash and sunburn?”

“There are conversations the Pack needs to have with sups outside Chicago’s city limit. Incidents that need to be dealt with in person. Those conversations are necessary, but they aren’t with allies, and some will take place in enemy territory.” He gestured to Thelma. “But there are upsides.”

“Then I’ll let you get back to it. Thanks for the time, and good luck with Thelma.”

“Thanks. Maybe I’ll bring her out tonight. Give your fanged people a thrill.”

I glanced back. “My fanged people?”

“The Cadogan House party. I’m expected to put in an appearance.”

“Ah. Maybe encourage your friends to skip the leather.”

“Shifters will be shifters,” he said with a grin. “And it is a formal occasion.”

As I walked back through the building toward the waiting Auto, I realized it was the probably the longest real conversation I’d ever had with Connor Keene.

* * *

• • •

  Back to the hotel, and it would soon be time to get dressed and prepare for the next round of service to Dumas. For the party, and for Cadogan House.

But before that, I needed a break. Too many supernaturals and too much magic had me on edge, was wearing down the edges of my immunity against the monster. My hand had shaken when I’d pushed the button on the elevator, and I’d clenched my fingers into a fist so the humans I’d shared it with didn’t think I was about to attack.

I checked in with Seri to confirm everyone was on schedule, then changed into leggings and a tank and sat down on the floor to stretch.

It had taken me a few years to find nighttime yoga classes that I liked and that gave me what I didn’t know I’d needed: focus. Vinyasa, which focused on breath and flow from one pose to the next, worked for me. The practice made me stronger, more limber, and it helped me keep myself—and the monster—in check.

Still on the floor, draped so my nose touched my knees, I closed my eyes, waited for my limbs to warm, to loosen.

The drumming came suddenly, a warning played out in throbbing magic, and I fought it, sweat glistening over skin as I pushed against the intrusion. I began to move into poses, some in which my body was stretched, some in which my body was compressed. That required fluidity as I shifted from one pose to another, the movements between as precise as the poses themselves, as that was the hallmark of vinyasa.

An hour later, I was sweaty and exhausted. But my mind was quiet, and the drumming had stopped.

For now.

   
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