Home > Wild Hunger (Heirs of Chicagoland #1)(8)

Wild Hunger (Heirs of Chicagoland #1)(8)
Author: Chloe Neill

“I wasn’t about to miss this,” he said. “It’s the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with fangs and fur.”

“And there’s your tagline,” my father said with a smile.

Theo frowned and squinted at something in the front of the room. He mumbled something about flags, then offered his excuses and headed through the crowd. I watched until he reached a woman adjusting the flags of the represented nations at the front of the room, then worked with her to adjust their heights so they matched perfectly.

My father glanced at me. “I don’t see Seri or Marion. I presume the French delegation is marching?”

“They are. I suggested they toss croissants from baskets, but Marion declined.”

My father’s brows lifted in amusement. “You suggested the Master of Maison Dumas throw pastries at a crowd of delegates?”

“It was funny in context,” I said, and then wondered if I’d made some sort of international faux pas. But I remembered Marion’s throaty chuckle, and decided I was in the clear.

“She actually thought pain au chocolat would be more festive,” I explained.

“I suppose they won’t be parading,” my mother said, and gestured toward the door.

Gabriel Keene, shifter and alpha, stood just inside the ballroom, casting a wary gaze on the formal surroundings. His leather jacket and slacks were a contrast to the finery in the room, but his outfit was fancy by shifter standards.

At his side was his wife, Tanya. He was as tall and broad-shouldered as Tanya was petite and delicate. He had dark blond hair, tan skin, golden eyes. She was pale with dark hair, her eyes green but sharp in a way that belied her size.

Shifters fell between humans and vampires on the mortality spectrum, getting longer life spans than humans but not the full dose of forever. So Gabriel and Tanya hadn’t aged as much as humans, or as little as vampires. Time had put soft lines at the corners of their eyes, around their smiles.

They looked around, spotted us, and headed our way. And into the space where they’d stood stepped the prince of wolves himself.

The last four years had been good to Connor Keene.

He had his father’s build and his mother’s coloring. His wavy hair was nearly black, and just long enough to frame his spring-blue eyes. He had thick brows, a strong jaw, and a dimple in his square chin. His lips were generous and smiling. His nose was straight, except for a divot on the bridge from a high school fight.

He was undeniably gorgeous, but as cocky as they came. Absolutely sure of his place in the world, because he’d decided he’d take his father’s position as head of the Pack, competitors be damned. And reckless, because he was a shifter. He’d driven me crazy, like an irritating burr. And because our parents were friends, he’d been a burr at Cadogan House entirely too often.

He was taller now, his shoulders broader, and the muscle looked good beneath gray slacks and a gray vest over a white button-down shirt, the sleeves rolled up over strong arms.

He held himself differently. There was no teenage slouch, no lanky muscle. There was confidence, power, and awareness.

This wasn’t the boy who’d stolen my toy sword.

This was a man on the edge of power.

So I prepared for battle.

FOUR

Connor glanced at me, eyes appraising as he looked me over, and took my measure. Then he strode toward us and joined his parents.

“Kitten,” Gabriel said to my mother. “Sullivan,” to my father. And then he looked at me, smiled. “Elisa. Welcome back.”

“Thank you. It’s good to be home.”

“I’m sure you two remember each other,” Tanya said, putting a hand on Connor’s forearm when he reached us.

How could I have forgotten? “Of course,” I said.

“Elisa.” Connor said my name slowly and deliberately, like he’d never let the word cross his lips. Which was entirely possible, since he’d usually called me “brat” because it drove me crazy. I’d usually called him “puppy” for the same reason. Maybe we were playing nice.

“How are you?” I asked.

“I’m good. I didn’t know you were coming back.”

I smiled. “So you didn’t dress up for me?”

His eyes warmed, a corner of his mouth lifting in a smile that had destroyed plenty of hearts. “I’m not wearing a cape. Isn’t that the vampire uniform?”

Or maybe we weren’t playing nice. “Only if it has the high collar,” I said, pointing to my neck. “You aren’t wearing the uniform of your people, either. Leather and motorcycle boots, right?”

This was our script of sarcasm. Older now than the last time we’d played it out, but we still knew our parts.

“I’m so glad to see nothing changes,” Gabriel muttered, giving his son the side-eye.

Unfazed, Connor tucked his hands into his pockets. “I only wear leather for the really formal events.”

“We’ll have to make this fancier for you next time,” I said with a sugary smile.

“How were things in Paris?” Tanya asked, interrupting the byplay. “We heard about the attack near the Eiffel Tower yesterday.”

“It was . . . harrowing,” I said.

“You were involved?” Connor asked, brows lifted.

“The vampires attacked humans, and I was closer than many of the guards.”

“She jumped down from the second level of the Eiffel Tower to join the fight,” Gabriel said with a smile that held a surprising amount of wolfish approval. “I’m surprised you didn’t hear about it.”

“I hadn’t,” Connor said, and I liked the narrowed consideration in his eyes. I didn’t need his approval, but I liked the idea of shaking him up.

“Here comes trouble,” Gabriel said, but he looked amused at the man who walked toward us.

He was a lot of man—nearly seven inches over six feet, and all of it hard-packed muscle. His skin was tan, his hair dark brown and shagging to his shoulders, his eyes hauntingly pale blue, and they crinkled at the corners when he smiled. They were topped with eyebrows that formed almost perfect Vs above his eyes.

“Elisa Sullivan,” he said, “as I live and breathe.”

Riley Sixkiller was a member of the NAC Pack, and he was Lulu’s ex-boyfriend. While I was limited to nighttime tutors, Lulu had gone to high school with a good number of the NAC Pack, who lived in Ukrainian Village, not far from her parents’ home in Wicker Park. She and Riley had dated for nearly a year. She was the weird and artsy girl; he was the athlete. They were from very different worlds, but had been inseparable for a time.

They’d broken up because it had been too hard for her to date a supernatural. Lulu had still been wrestling with her own demons, trying to come to terms with the magic she’d decided not to use but still had to live with. Riley and I had stayed friends afterward.

I let him embrace me, and was swamped by memories from the patchouli and sandalwood that clung to his clothes. He still smelled the same.

“You’ve grown up,” Riley said, winging up his eyebrows. “Paris was good to you.”

“It didn’t suck. How are you? Been keeping the Pack in line?”

Riley snorted. “They don’t need me for that.” He gave Connor a considering look. “He’s the one with his finger on the pulse. Usually of the hottest girl in the room.”

Riley wasn’t wrong. I was half surprised Connor wasn’t here with a date.

A gong sounded, and we looked toward the dais at the end of the ballroom. Jessamine Franklin, the city’s two-term mayor, stepped up to the microphone. She was a tall and athletic woman, with dark skin and straight, dark hair that just reached her shoulders and curved around her face. Her smile was wide and bright, her eyes sharp and canny. She wore a red sheath dress with an angular bodice that zigged across her shoulders, and her signature stiletto pumps.

“Welcome,” she said, casting her gaze across the room. “Welcome. And once again, welcome. Welcome to Chicago. Welcome to this celebration of the diversity of our supernatural brethren, and welcome to this opportunity.

“For the past two decades, Chicago has experienced peace between humans and supernaturals. Vampires, shifters, humans, nymphs, fairies, and more have lived side by side. They have worked side by side. They have lived and loved side by side. That was not by chance, but by design. Because Chicago’s humans and supernaturals saw past their own fears and concerns and looked to the future, to the needs of their children and their children’s children, in order to make a city for all of us.

“The opportunity is here. The time is now. Let us act.”

She stepped back from the podium, and the room lit into applause.

   
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