Home > Wicked Hour (Heirs of Chicagoland #2)

Wicked Hour (Heirs of Chicagoland #2)
Author: Chloe Neill

ONE

While humans slept, monsters raved.

Maybe it wasn’t technically a rave. There weren’t any glow sticks or electronic music, or club kids with crazy hair and fluorescent clothes. There were a few dozen shapeshifters and a sprinkling of vampires—and one not-quite witch showing off the mural she’d painted in a literal wolves’ den.

I was one of the vampires, an unaffiliated Rogue in a city of Houses—including the House led by my parents. The artist was my best friend, a woman with sorcerer parents who’d said no to magic and yes to brushes and paints. And tonight, a lot of champagne.

Lulu Bell stood near her artwork—dozens of female bodies of all shapes, sizes, and shades—champagne flute in one hand as she gestured with the other toward the painting and spoke to a rapt audience. She was petite, with a shining bob of dark hair that framed her pale heart-shaped face and green eyes. She’d paired a multicolor tunic with gray leggings, red heels, and enormous dangling earrings, and looked very much the part of the artsy girl.

Music shook the air around her, heavy on guitars and drums. Her audience was in clothes that were heavy on leather. The shifters, members of the North American Central Pack, were mostly wolves, and they were similarly handsome. Strong men and women whose energy seemed palpable, as if their vitality were sturdy enough to actually thicken the air.

“She looks happy.” The man who’d spoken stood behind me, his dark skin and short dark hair contrasting sharply against his brilliantly colored short-sleeved button-down shirt.

He was Theo Martin, one of Chicago’s supernatural Ombuds—liaisons between humans and Sups. In his particular case, a former cop with a good brain and a minor obsession with superheroes and, as I’d learned, the comics they lived in.

I was an OMB staffer, at least temporarily. Roger Yuen, the city’s new Ombudsman, had given me a gig when my plan to continue working for Paris’s Maison Dumas had fallen apart. I’d been helping Theo and Petra, another Ombud, address supernatural problems that cropped up in Chicago; I’d keep helping them until the grant money ran out—or the mountains of OMB paperwork finally disappeared.

“She does look happy,” I agreed. “At least some of that is sheer relief. She’s been worried about finishing it in time. The Pack wouldn’t reschedule the party.”

Pack-brewed beer was being introduced in the Pack’s bar today. They’d wanted the mural completed by the time the party started, and they’d refused to negotiate with Lulu for a different deadline. Shifters weren’t usually picky . . . except when it came to business.

Theo sipped a glass of brown beer that looked more like chocolate than booze. Then coughed. “It’s . . . intense.”

“Good intense or bad intense?”

He swirled the liquid in the glass, dark beer against pale foam. “I feel like I need a knife and fork. You should try it, Elisa. Your tastes are, you know, different from mine.”

“What with the blood and all,” I said dryly.

Theo grinned a crooked smile. “What with.”

Now or never, I told myself, and took the glass he offered, then a hearty sip . . . and was overwhelmed by flavors. It was sour and tangy and complex and smoky.

Theo was right. I wouldn’t say it tasted good, exactly, but its complexity was impressive. Someone had worked very hard to make so many flavors bloom and blossom.

“I don’t know that I ever need to drink it again,” I said, looking at Theo. “But it’s . . . an achievement.”

“I don’t want to drink an achievement,” he said. I couldn’t really argue with that.

He gestured toward Lulu. “Should we go say hello?”

Lulu was still holding court across the room, nodding at a thin man with bowl-cut white hair. I watched her, waited until she finally raised her gaze and looked around, then lifted my glass. She gave me a wink, returned to her conversation.

“Done,” I said. “Actual discussion can wait until she’s made it through her court of admirers.” Which gave us time to look around the room. You couldn’t beat the people-watching at a Sup party. In addition to the shifters, there were a handful of the scantily clad nymphs who ruled the Chicago River—several of them being wooed by Pack members—and a few vamps from Chicago’s other Houses.

“Hey!” Turning the word into a melody, Lulu squeezed between me and Theo, linked her arms with ours. “Is everyone having fun?”

As if on cue, one shifter threw another across the room, the move echoed by tinkling glass. Onlookers cheered and applauded.

“Ain’t no party like a shifter party,” Lulu said. “’Cause a shifter party don’t stop after drinking a reasonable amount of booze.”

“I’m not sure anything else could top this,” Theo said. “This may be the last party I ever need to attend.”

“It’s a great party,” I said to Lulu, kissing her cheek. “And the mural looks amazing. Congratulations.”

“To Lulu!” Theo said, and we lifted our glasses.

“Thank you, thank you. I’m still shocked I got it done.” She lifted her gaze to the crease where the wall met the ceiling. “I’d avoid touching that corner,” she said with a pixie smile, “unless you want to wear paint.”

“I do not,” I said. “And I doubt even shifters would get drunk enough to climb the actual walls.”

“One never knows,” she said, and was beckoned by someone across the room. “I’ll catch you later.”

“Have fun,” I said, and she moved through the crowd again.

A hush fell over the room. I looked around, thinking she was about to make a speech, or I’d been wrong about the effect of booze on shifters and someone actually was inching up the mural. But that’s not why they’d gone silent.

“Well, well,” Theo said, gaze on the corridor at the other end of the space. “Look who’s back in town.”

I scanned the crowd, and my gaze came to a halt just as Theo’s had done.

Connor Keene, the prince of wolves, had come home.

If “swagger” was a mood, he’d perfected it.

Connor was tall and broad shouldered, hard muscle under taut, sun-kissed skin. His hair was dark and wavy, his eyes pale blue under thick brows. His jawline was chiseled and marked by a sexy dimple in the chin.

He was the son of the North American Central Pack’s Apex, and he moved into the room like a prince among royals. I’d have called it arrogance if he wasn’t able to back up his words with action. Even if I didn’t know that beneath that wicked facade there was competence, care for those within his circle, and an unquestionable loyalty to the Pack, I’d have put money on his being Apex one day. His power was strong enough to send eddies of magic swirling in the room.

It had been weeks since I’d seen him, since we’d fought back a group of fairies intent on destroying Chicago by replacing our world with theirs . . . and he and I had shared a shockingly good kiss.

It was strange to have kissed someone—to have wanted to kiss someone—who’d driven me crazy as a kid. But he’d grown up, become a different kind of man.

He’d stayed in Chicago to help us fight despite Pack obligations that would have otherwise sent him across the country. But when our battle was done, duty called again. Not in Alaska, but in the Pack’s Midwestern territory, where he’d been sent to solve problems that arose as the Pack traveled cross-country.

We’d texted while he was gone. He told me about the drama he was dealing with, the internal and external politics of the Pack. I told him about my daily interactions with paperwork and Supernaturals. Having been raised a vampire—the most political of Supernaturals—I was smart enough to understand the subtext: The prince of wolves was making time for me.

It took only a moment for his predatory gaze to track through the partygoers and land on me. When surprise and pleasure flashed in his eyes, I was very, very glad that I’d skipped denim and leather for a body-skimming midcalf dress of deep vampire black. I’d left my sword and scabbard at the loft, but I’d tucked a dagger into a thigh garter, and my red heels were thin and high enough to serve as literal stilettos in an emergency. My hair, long and blond and wavy, was loosely tied at my shoulder with a thin ribbon of deep crimson velvet.

Connor began to cross the room, making his way toward me like a missile locked on its target. Anticipation was like an electric charge across my skin.

When Connor and I had been kids—and hadn’t liked each other very much—I’d seen him with plenty of girlfriends. All shades, all shapes, all sizes. Always gorgeous. I hadn’t been jealous of them, but I’d definitely been curious, wondering what it was like to be the object of his attention, to be the one he was walking toward.

It was a thrill. A song, low and sexy and seductive.

“Brat,” he said to me when he reached us. The nickname was a holdover from our icy childhood, but his tone was plenty warm. “Theo.”

“You never call,” Theo said. “You never write.”

Connor kept his gaze on me, and I could all but feel my blood heating from the power of it. “I wrote the ones that needed writing.”

The words were a thrill, the emotion still a shock. As was the fact that we’d grown from irritating enemies to . . . something very different.

“How was Colorado?” I asked.

“You do some skiing?” Theo wondered.

Connor shook his head. “Shifters in Colorado who don’t acknowledge the Pack’s existence had some objections to our riding through what they call their territory.”

Theo nodded. “I’m assuming the Pack disagrees?”

“The Pack does, but it’s handled. For now.”

I took a guess. “Because the Pack made it through Colorado, but you still have some thoughts?”

“Feelings linger,” he agreed, gaze on me. “I’m leaving again tomorrow.”

Disappointment covered desire like a heavy cloud. But before I could ask for details, another shifter slipped to Connor’s side.

   
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