Home > Wild Hunger (Heirs of Chicagoland #1)(6)

Wild Hunger (Heirs of Chicagoland #1)(6)
Author: Chloe Neill

“As if the thirty-eight hours of labor didn’t prove it,” my mother said with a smile.

“I recall them well,” my father said flatly. “You were . . . very angry.”

“Was it the cursing that tipped you off?”

“And the throwing of many objects,” he said, counting them off on his hands. “And challenging an Apex shifter to a knife fight. And accusing your sister of being a Russian spy. And promising to stake the doctor if you didn’t get drugs.”

“Nonsense. I was a paragon of patience and gentility.”

My father winked at her. “Of course you were, Duchess. And, to my point, you were also a very careful Sentinel.”

“Why are you smiling?” my mother asked me, eyes narrowed.

“Just . . . it’s good to be home,” I told her. And I hoped it would stay that way.

“Good,” my mother said. “Because we’re glad you’re here, too.” She tapped a silver band on her right ring finger, checked the time. “You should probably get to the hotel. Someone from the Ombudsman’s office will meet you there, give you your badges, and make sure you get into the reception.”

Relations between Chicago’s humans and vampires were managed by the city’s supernatural Ombudsman. My great-grandfather, Chuck Merit, had been the first Ombudsman, and the office had grown since his retirement ten years ago. William Dearborn held the office now.

“Sounds good.”

I glanced over at the slate gray McLaren coupe parked between the Autos, and guessed it was my father’s newest vehicular obsession. He didn’t care to be driven, and much preferred to drive.

“Yours?” I asked him, gesturing to it.

My mother pulled a key fob from her pocket, smiled. “Mine. He’s destroyed too many vehicles.”

“In fairness, you were with me for most of those incidents.”

“That’s why I’m driving,” she said, and pressed a kiss to my cheek. “The Auto will take you to the hotel. We’ll see you at the reception.”

I nodded. “See you there.”

Odette met us at the Auto and offered small bottles of water. Like Seri, Odette had been made a vampire by a powerful and respected Master.

“Your parents are very much in love,” Seri said, when we slid into the vehicle together.

“Yeah, they are.” I looked as my dad reached out, took my mother’s hand. They walked together toward her car. “It’s pretty disgusting,” I said with a smile.

THREE

The drive from the airport to downtown Chicago was like a weird dream from childhood. I’d seen the buildings and landmarks a thousand times before, but my memories had fuzzed around the edges like feathering ink.

The city had changed as I’d grown up, as supernatural tourism and creativity pumped money into the economy. The River nymphs had become fashion designers, and they’d made their eponymous headquarters in a gleaming gold building near Merchandise Mart that was nearly as large. The fairies, whose population had boomed after an evil sorceress spread magic through the city, turned a run-down block in South Loop into an undulating park with their new home, which was more castle than mansion.

The human parts of the city had changed, too. The newest buildings were topped by living roofs of plants and trees, and were dotted with wind-power funnels. Solar panels were mounted on cars, warehouses, and billboards with the city’s “Zero Waste!” motto.

But some things hadn’t changed at all. Even with Autos, traffic was snarled before we reached downtown. We headed east toward Michigan Avenue, passing the spot where that evil sorceress had tried to destroy Chicago. My grandfather, Joshua Merit, had owned the building where she’d made her stand, and it had been torn apart in the battle with her. It hadn’t fared any better in the second round, but the architect probably hadn’t planned for a dragon attack.

Since my grandfather would have given Scrooge McDuck a run for his money, he’d tried to rebuild. But no one wanted to invest money in what had been a lightning rod for magic. So he’d pulled down the building’s shell, sold the scrap, and donated the land to the city. Now there was a pretty plaza where tourists and buskers gathered when the weather was warm.

The Portman Grand was just off State, a column of pale stone, with symmetrical windows and flags flying above the entrance. A crowd of humans had gathered to watch the Autos arrive, the sidewalk crowded with people who waved their screens in the air, waiting for a glimpse of vampires.

There were Cadogan House caps sprinkled in with the usual Cubs, Sox, Hawks, and Bears gear, and a few “Welcome to Chicago” signs that made me feel better after yesterday’s attack. Peace was never guaranteed, but it was good to see allies in the crowd.

They screamed my name when I climbed out of the car. My parents were the closest thing American supernaturals had to royalty. That—and my unusual biology—made the media particularly interested in me. The attention had always made me uncomfortable, not least because I hadn’t done anything to deserve it. But I waved and smiled as I followed Seri toward the door, letting the bellmen handle the luggage so I could get inside faster. And I didn’t fail to notice the men and women in severe black suits positioned near the door. Security personnel keeping an eye on things. I relaxed incrementally.

Inside, the hotel looked European. Cool and quietly luxurious, with gorgeous art, lush fabrics, and soft golden light that left plenty of shadows for the wealthy and famous to lounge and whisper in and remain undisturbed.

“Elisa Sullivan!”

I turned, found a man with brown skin and short, black hair in twisted whorls. He was cute, with hazel eyes and a wide, generous mouth quirked in a crooked smile. Easily four or five inches over six feet, and fit for his height. His fashion sense was also quirky, if the bow tie and Converses he’d paired with the dark gray suit were any indication. A black canvas messenger bag was situated diagonally across his chest.

“That’s me,” I said, and took the hand he offered.

“Theo Martin. I’m one of the Assistant Ombudsmen.”

“There are Assistant Ombudsmen?”

He smiled endearingly. “There are.” His gaze shifted and he smiled at Seri.

“Seraphine of Maison Dumas,” I said when she reached us. “Theo Martin.”

“A pleasure,” she said.

Theo pulled a packet from his bag, offered it to me. “Your badges, itineraries, maps, security information.”

Seri and I took them. “The other delegates from France have arrived?”

“They have,” he said. “They were escorted to their rooms on the secured floors. We’ve stationed security at the elevators and stairs, and throughout the building.”

“Thank you,” I said. “Any trouble?”

“None,” Theo said, and his smile dropped away. “We heard about Paris. But we’ve had no concerns here. Hopefully, it will stay that way. And if not”—he lifted a shoulder—“that’s why we’re here.”

By “we,” he meant the Ombudsman’s office.

My parents had had plenty of adventure before peace came to Chicago; they’d battled monsters, demons, sorcerers, and elves, among others. But while they’d saved the city several times over, those adventures—and the evildoers they’d battled—had damaged city property. Just after I was born, they struck a deal with the mayor: In the future, they’d let the Ombudsman’s office handle the supernatural drama. In exchange, the damages to city property would be forgiven, and the Ombudsman got a bigger office, a bigger budget, and a bigger staff.

Theo’s smile was still easy, so I didn’t think he meant the comment as a rebuke. Just a promise to help.

“Sure,” I said with a noncommittal smile. “And thanks for the packet.”

“Enjoy your room,” he said. “And we’ll see you at the party.”

Unless I fell into the minibar first.

* * *

• • •

I distributed the room keys and badges to Seri and her entourage and saw them to their rooms. We passed a half dozen guards on the way, which made me relax a little more.

They’d given me a suite with an amazing view of Grant Park and Lake Michigan. It was styled much like the lobby, but with Chicago flair. Expensive fabrics in pale gold and deep turquoise were paired with large, stark photographs of Chicago architecture: the nautilus staircase in the Rookery Building, the stair-step silhouette of Willis Tower, the lions in front of the Art Institute.

My suitcase was waiting and already propped on a stand. I stuffed clothes into drawers and toiletries into the bath, then hung up the fancier things I didn’t want to have to iron over the next few nights.

 

   
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