Home > Wicked Hour (Heirs of Chicagoland #2)(11)

Wicked Hour (Heirs of Chicagoland #2)(11)
Author: Chloe Neill

“Armbands?” Alexei asked, frowning back toward the woodpile. “I didn’t catch that.”

“Only the young ones wore them.” Connor sighed. “We’ll have to dig into this more, but tomorrow, since the sun will be rising soon.” He looked at me. “How long do we have?”

I looked toward the eastern horizon. Dawn was creeping closer, her rosy fingers grasping at the edges of the horizon. “About thirty minutes,” I said.

“Do you feel it in your bones?” Alexei asked.

I looked back at him, smiled. “No, but I can see it with my eyeballs.”

“Hilarious.” He looked at least faintly amused.

“Let us know what you find,” Connor told Alexei. “And be careful.”

“Always,” Alexei said, then pulled a peppermint from his pocket, unwrapped it, popped it into his mouth. And disappeared into the woods.

* * *

* * *

Back at the cabin, I organized my gear in the bedroom. When I came back into the living room, I found Connor had arranged a blanket and pillow on the couch, but I was alone in the cabin. He came in through the front door a moment later.

“I was just closing the shutters,” he said, and locked the door behind him.

“You sure you’ll be okay on the couch?”

“I’ll be fine. I’ve also slept in a tent in the mountains. Rockies, not Pyrenees, but I imagine sleeping on rock in a freezing wind is pretty much the same all over the world.”

“Our tragedies bring us together,” I said.

He snorted, took off his watch, placed it on the kitchen counter, along with the contents of his pockets, then toed off his boots.

“You were good with Beth.”

He looked up, brows lifted.

“You handled her well, I mean. You were thoughtful and polite, and you worked to put her at ease. But you did it with authority.”

“Not bad for a former punk.”

I bit back a smile. “You still have some punk in you.”

“Will I get in trouble if I call you a brat again?”

“Yes. There were two of them—the things that attacked her. She didn’t realize it, but there would’ve had to be at least two. One to hit her, one still moving. Because the one that hit her was behind her.”

“That’s my thinking, yeah.”

Silence fell.

“Does it bother you?” I asked, breaking it.

“Does what bother me?”

“The fact that conversation stops when shifters see you.”

He went still, watched me for a quiet moment. “Yes. It’s part of who I am. Part of who I want to be. But it makes me . . .”

“Separate,” I said, and he nodded.

“I think we’ve switched positions,” I said. “You’ve always been the prince, but when you were a kid, it didn’t really matter. Gabriel was in control, and that was that. But you’re older now. You’ve, I guess, come into your power. People are curious about you. Maybe wary of you. And wondering if you’re the next Apex. The next leader of the Pack.”

“Yeah,” he said. “They see me for what I might be. Some for who I actually am—they’re the good ones. But most for what I might be able to do in the future. The possibility I can make things better or worse for them.”

I nodded, shifted my gaze to the window and the dark trees outlined beyond it. “For me, it’s the opposite. When I was a kid, I was a novelty. The new thing. The first thing. There was a little of that when I came back from Paris, but now the novelty’s somewhat worn off because I’m a vampire with a real job. That’s not nearly as interesting, at least for humans. But I’m still . . . separate. I know how that feels.”

“Yeah, I imagine you do.”

I studied him. “You know, you’ve changed a lot. Grown up a lot. It’s strange to witness. But good.”

“Because you wouldn’t be here if I was still pulling your pigtails?”

“I would not.” I smiled with teeth. “But you can try it if you’d like.”

“Oh, there are things I’d like to try.”

“And that’s a little strange, too.”

“Being flirted with?”

“Being flirted with by you. You usually had an entourage of ladies hoping to bag the next Apex.”

“And you dated vampires.”

I pointed at myself. “Vampire, so.”

“And yet,” he said, gesturing to the room, “here we are.”

Silence fell, and because we were still getting used to each other, it was about halfway between comfortable and awkward, and on the verge of both.

“This is going to be complicated,” I said.

“No,” Connor said, stepping forward. “I don’t think it’s going to be complicated at all.” He put a hand at my waist, pressed our bodies together.

Here we were. On the cusp of something, even without considering whatever the hell was happening at this compound. But when he kissed me, the rest hardly seemed to matter.

Ten minutes later, I fell asleep to the howling of wolves. This time, it seemed they howled not in fear or alarm but in solidarity. Because dawn was coming, the night was nearly done, and it was time for rest again.

SIX

I blinked awake in darkness at dusk, howls issuing across the resort again.

Shifters, I realized, were the roosters of the supernatural world. And I thought it best not to mention that observation to Connor.

I sent Theo a message, gave him a brief update with a promise to call if we learned anything else. And when my stomach growled, I looked at the closed bedroom door and thought longingly of the kitchen that lay beyond it.

I’d managed not to steer Connor into a relationship talk, into defining what we were doing. And I wasn’t so comfortable with him that I’d shuffle out of the bedroom in a T-shirt, hair a bird’s nest. I got up, moved around quietly to shower and condition a few hundred miles of wind out of my hair, dress in jeans and a fluid green V-neck T-shirt.

I found him still asleep on the couch. He was shirtless, one arm thrown behind his head, the other across his abdomen, and a striped camp blanket ruched at his hips. He was much too tall for the battered leather couch, so his bare feet were propped on the opposite armrest.

There was something disarming about seeing him—tall and muscular—squeezed onto the sofa, the sensation amplified by his bare chest and the dark lock that curled almost innocently over his forehead. He was a powerful shifter, a powerful alpha. But he was also a man who’d slept in discomfort, so I’d have a bedroom to myself.

He was honorable. Or at least had become honorable after his puckish teenage years. Either way, that was where he’d ended up. And we’d ended up here together, in a North Woods cabin surrounded by shifters and the beast that seemed to be haunting them.

I tiptoed into the kitchen, found a coffeemaker ready to brew, and turned it on. I sampled green grapes from a pile in a bowl of fruit, then opened the refrigerator and stared. He’d fetched the beers last night, so this was my first view of the fridge’s contents—and the dozens of bottles of blood inside.

“You think that’s enough?”

I glanced back, found Connor sitting up, running a hand through his hair and looking a little concerned that it might not actually be enough.

I arched an eyebrow. “How much blood do you think a vampire drinks?”

“I’m not entirely sure.”

“A couple of bottles a night,” I said, “depending on whether I’m injured or training heavily.” I did a quick guesstimate. “There have to be at least a hundred in here.”

“I figured it was better to err on the side of caution.”

I raised my brows. “To avoid my snacking on shifters?”

He grinned. “Maybe I erred a little far. I don’t want you to starve. And I actually asked Miranda to stock the fridge. She, let’s say, poured herself into the task.”

“That’s truly awful.”

“I just woke up” was his defense.

That Miranda had bought the bottles probably explained why she hadn’t been at the party. She was here instead.

“I’m sure Miranda was thrilled to help,” I said dryly.

“She wasn’t, of course.” He smiled, but moved closer, rested his arm on the door, and peered inside. “Did she get anything good? I didn’t pay much attention last night.”

“She bought the most ridiculous—and probably the most expensive—options. Nothing basic. Nothing simple. Everything with flavors and seltzers and swirls.”

Brows raised, he took out a bottle. “Free-range, shade-grown vegan blood product.” He looked at me. “Why would a vampire want vegan blood?”

“Why would a shifter buy it for a vampire?” I countered.

“Touché. Probably to insult her.” He slid the bottle back into its slot. “Is there something in here you can actually drink?”

“I’ll be fine.” I preferred my blood unadulterated or flavored, but I’d live. Because I was immortal. “I appreciate the gesture. It was thoughtful.”

“It wasn’t meant to be. As you pointed out, I’m trying to keep you from snacking on us. It’s good, practical Apex behavior.”

“Said the man who chases prey on four legs. Why is Miranda even here? Is she close to your family?”

“Coincidence, or so she says. She’s got friends in the clan, and had already arranged the visit.”

“Hmm,” I said vaguely, fairly certain there was nothing coincidental about it, and grabbed the simplest flavor I could find—“Hint o’ Lemon.” I closed the refrigerator, twisted off the cap. “Would you like a drink?”

He looked at the bottle for a very long time, a man facing a tricky dilemma. “If I say no, will you think less of me?”

“Don’t you eat prey on the run?”

“Isn’t that a book title?”

   
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