Home > Wild Hunger (Heirs of Chicagoland #1)(9)

Wild Hunger (Heirs of Chicagoland #1)(9)
Author: Chloe Neill

“God, I love her,” Theo murmured, voice soaked with adoration.

“She is an impressive woman,” my father agreed, and lifted his glass to the mayor.

She left the dais, waving as she was escorted through the crowd At the edge, she shook hands with a pale man with perfectly arranged silver hair, his suit a gray of nearly the same shade, with gleaming silver cufflinks, a knotted tie of pale blue silk, and a pocket square of the same shade that was folded to a nearly deadly-looking point. He put an arm on hers and made a show of guiding her through the ballroom.

This was William Dearborn, the Ombudsman. I didn’t have any particular reason to dislike him or what he’d done with my great-grandfather’s office. But there was something too slick about his look, about his mannerisms, that I didn’t care for. A lot of showmanship, and that made me wonder how much substance lay beneath it.

The gong sounded again and the overhead lights darkened, and colored lights danced across the runway.

The crowd gasped as a sleek black panther trotted down the aisle. It was enormous—five feet of gleaming fur over taut muscle, tail flicking as it moved sinuously toward the dais.

I pulled out my screen and pointed it, recording video as the panther stalked away. Since Seri would be in the parade, she wouldn’t be able to see the other delegates, so I’d promised I’d get video.

The big cat reached the end of the runway, hopped onto the dais, and circled back to face the crowd. The spotlights flashed, the air in the room electrifying as magic began to spin around the animal, creating a funnel of power as thick as fog that sparked like lightning and sent the tingle of power through the room.

Light flared again, then faded, revealing the stunning woman who’d been a predator only moments before. Her skin was pale, her eyes wide and blue, her hair a gleaming golden fall across her shoulders. She was utterly naked, revealing a body that was both toned and curvy in all the right places.

More gasps as the woman stood proudly, aware and unfazed by her nakedness, then inclined her head. The applause was deafening, the guests impressed by the magic, the panther, or the woman it had shifted into.

She walked off the dais, where Connor waited. I hadn’t even seen him slip around to the front. An assistant helped the woman slip into a silk kimono while she gave Connor a feline smile that suggested they were more than just Pack mates.

I guessed he was here with a date after all. It figured. She was exactly his type: drop-dead gorgeous and entirely aware of it. I’d seen at least a dozen of his girlfriends, and they’d all been the gorgeous and hard-partying variety. Not unexpected for shifters, given the culture had a lot in common with a 1990s hair-metal video.

“Wow,” Theo murmured. “That was . . . And she is . . .”

“That’s Tabby,” Gabriel said. “Your first time seeing the shift?”

“Second,” Theo said. “But the first time wasn’t nearly so . . . beautiful.”

Gabriel chuckled knowingly.

“Shifters do know how to make an entrance,” my mother said, and lifted her glass to Gabriel. “Well played.”

“Just a reminder of our existence,” he said. “In case any of these fine, fanged people forget.”

They weren’t likely to forget this.

* * *

• • •

The show had started with a bang, and that was only the beginning.

The international guests came first, groups of vampires who carried the standards of their Houses and nations. Spain, Germany, Ireland, Denmark, and a dozen more, most dressed like businessmen and women in suits and heels. I gave Scotland the prize for best costume, as their male vampires wore full Highland regalia while letting their fangs show. Iceland won my prize for innovation. They all wore hand-knitted sweaters patterned with blood droplets, crescent moons, and katanas.

The French delegation wore white and carried small French flags. There were no croissants, but they wore berets that looked better on the vampires than they probably ever had on humans.

And then it was time for Chicago’s supernaturals. The River troll who’d stowed his pipe brought his enormous friends, and they walked down the aisle with a heavy, loping stride. They were followed by the River nymphs, small and voluptuous women with flowing hair, who used the aisle like a catwalk in their snug and tiny dresses.

Words turned to whispers as the ballroom doors opened again and the fairies made their entrance.

Claudia, their leader, looked very much the part of a fairy queen. Pale skin and wavy, strawberry blond hair; a body that was tall and lush and curvy. She wore a straight, sleeveless gown the color of candlelight and nearly translucent. Over it was a wide neckpiece of hammered bronze and gleaming cabochon jewels. Her dress was jeweled, too, with arcs of sapphire and citron and quartz that glittered in the spotlights. Her hair was knotted in complicated braids that spilled across her shoulders. Her magic was old, the cold vibration of power more like a slow, thick undulation.

I didn’t know her companion—a tall fairy with dark, straight hair that reached his shoulders. His face was slender, his chin square, and his brows thick above dark eyes. There was something young and yet severe about his face. Or maybe it was the hard look in his eyes.

His body was lean and fit. He’d skipped the tuxedo, instead opting for a long, ivory tunic that draped past his hips, in the same candlelight tone as Claudia’s and dotted with the same jewels, if less ornately than hers. So he was here to complement her, not compete. Her consort, not her king. She was to be the queen and the showstopper. He looked perfectly happy about the arrangement.

They murmured as they strode down the runway, heads held high, as if oblivious to everyone else in the room. Behind them strode a dozen of the fairies who’d once guarded Cadogan House, at least until they’d betrayed my father, turning their weapons against us because Claudia had changed her mind. They also wore tunics tonight instead of their usual black fatigues.

There’d once been thousands of fairies in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. At least until humans exterminated some and extradited the rest. The fairies who’d survived the transition had lived together in a magicked tower in Chicago’s Potter Park, which had insulated them from time, as fairies weren’t immortal, and from the distance from their homeland. But the protective magic had diminished with time, so much that Claudia could barely leave her tower.

At least until Sorcha had inadvertently given the fairies a much-needed jolt.

Sorcha was the evil sorceress who destroyed my grandfather’s building. She was a beautiful and wealthy woman who’d hidden her magic and then used it to make a bid to take over the city. Her first defeat at Towerline created a lot of powerful emotions in Chicago. Unwilling to accept her defeat, she figured out how to gather up those emotions, spark that collection with magic, and create a new being.

That creature was the Egregore. Then she’d made the Egregore physically manifest, putting it into the form of a dragon that my parents later defeated. Using a spell created by Lulu’s mother, the Egregore’s magic was bound into my mother’s sword, the power imprisoned in the blade. The spell inadvertently bound me, then only a tiny nub of life, to my mother.

Sorcha’s alchemy had been complicated, and one of its side effects was a wash of magic over the city while she gathered up all those emotions. Sups who were already healthy, like vampires and shifters, noticed the magic but hadn’t been physically affected by it. But it had given fairies an obvious boost. They looked younger and stronger, they’d been able to have children, and they’d become more public because they had the strength to leave the tower. They’d abandoned their narrow tower for a home they’d built along the Chicago River, an enormous stone building modeled after England’s Bodiam Castle.

I’d even seen Claudia naked and strategically positioned on the cover of Vogue. But they looked older now, too, as if the last few years had done damage. Maybe they were beginning to age again, or maybe the cover shot had been airbrushed and we were seeing the fairies tonight in their true and honest skin.

I was watching Claudia when her companion turned his head and met my gaze.

Magic rose, cold and heavy as iron. Magic that pulled and enticed, because that was the nature of fairy power, the reason why fairy tales always mentioned hapless villagers being lured away into the woods or across the moors. Fairies had drawn them near.

But for all that power, I had the distinct impression he wasn’t looking at me, but through me—as if he could see past skin and bone and vampire to the magic that lurked there. I didn’t want anyone, much less an enemy of Cadogan House, seeing that.

There was a sharp burst of magic—a slice of power—and the man’s gaze slid back to the runway in front of him. Claudia, I guessed, hadn’t liked his dawdling, and she’d snapped him back into line. And then they continued down the runway and disappeared into the crowd.

“Do you know them?” I asked Theo when they were gone and the magic had dissipated. “The fairies?”

Theo shook his head. “I’ve seen them at events, but haven’t talked to them. They tend to stick with other fairies. Whatever her hierarchy, and you can bet she has one, humans aren’t even close to the top. They’re fascinating, though, aren’t they? It’s easy to understand how people were lost to the green land.”

   
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