Home > Wicked Hour (Heirs of Chicagoland #2)(12)

Wicked Hour (Heirs of Chicagoland #2)(12)
Author: Chloe Neill

I just lifted my eyebrows.

“I’m a wolf,” he said, eyes flashing like he’d already made the shift into that form.

The coffeemaker finished its cycle, and he poured a mug, passed it to me, then poured one for himself.

I took a drink of the blood, bit back a grimace at the tang. And swallowed a mouthful of coffee to erase the aftertaste.

“Well, Mr. Wolf, what’s on our agenda tonight?”

“Initiation,” he said. “But first we’ll go pay our respects to the other elders.”

I grinned. “That’s very . . . politic.”

“If you call me a vampire again, I’ll make you drink the vegan blood.”

“I’d like to see you try.”

Connor snorted. “After the initiation, we’ll have dinner with my family. It’s tradition for the initiate’s family to host a meal.”

“What do wolves eat to celebrate a new member of the Pack?”

“An old member of the Pack,” he said, and laughed when my eyes widened. “That was a joke.”

“I know,” I said. Or I mostly had.

He smiled. “It depends on the locale. Since we’re in Minnesota”—he paused to consider—“herring and moose?”

“Yum,” I said with false cheer, uncertain about both choices.

He turned, and I caught a flash of something dark on his flank, just above his right hip. It was ink and what looked like letters. “Since when do you have a tattoo? I saw you with your shirt off, like, two weeks ago.”

“It was dark that night, and we were fighting.”

It hadn’t been that dark, and it would take a particularly uninterested person not to notice his torso in great detail.

“Arms up,” I said. “I want to see it.”

“I don’t need to be inspected.”

“As the inspector, I disagree. Come on,” I said with a grin, and twirled a finger in the air.

“I object to being objectified,” he said, but his cocky smile said exactly the opposite. He raised his hands and turned.

Across the side of his hip, in a thick font that looked medieval, were Latin words drawn with a very skillful hand in a deep crimson.

“‘Non ducor, duco,’” I read. “What does it mean?”

“Roughly: ‘I’m not led; I lead.’”

“Once again, surprisingly politic for a shifter. You sure you aren’t part vampire?”

“Watch it.”

I grinned. “Based on the timing, and because you don’t exactly look happy about it, I’d say you got drunk with a bunch of shifters while you were traveling.”

“I wasn’t drunk, Holmes. But I was outplayed in a game of darts,” he admitted. “Barely. And this was the cost of my loss.”

“It’s a very pretty cost,” I said. The letters were sharp and crisp, the ink dark and immaculately applied. I liked the look and the phrase. “It doesn’t disappear—heal itself—when you shift?”

“The wound heals, closes. But it doesn’t affect the ink.” He sipped coffee, cocked his head. “Can vampires get tattoos?”

“Same issue. Healing closes the wound, but doesn’t affect the ink.”

“It occurs to me that I haven’t seen you naked. Do you have any?”

“No.”

He smiled. “You wanna play darts?”

“I do not,” I said with a laugh. “But I could eat. Human food,” I added. “Do you cook?”

“I make a very good grilled cheese sandwich. You?”

“Only coffee,” I said. “But it’s very good coffee.” And that was something.

“I can probably manage to scramble eggs.”

“Then I can probably manage to eat them.”

He lifted his brows. “Are you asking me to make you breakfast, brat?”

“Room and board,” I reminded him, and sipped the blood. “That was your offer.”

He looked mildly irritated to realize I had a point, but turned back to the refrigerator, shoved aside bottles to reach a carton of eggs, a stick of butter, and a bottle of cream. While I sipped coffee, he cracked eggs into a bowl, added a splash of cream, waited for a small skillet to heat and for the plug of butter he’d put in it to melt.

“You look like you can handle cooking well enough,” I said when he poured the beaten eggs into the pan.

“Better than you can bake. I remember the Cadogan House fire.”

I pursed my lips. “The Cadogan House fire was not my fault. Who lets a kid bake without supervision?”

He grinned. “I think you mean, what eight-year-old vampire wanders into the kitchen alone during a House barbecue because she wants a cupcake and, when she can’t find one, decides to make it herself?”

Me, obviously, but at eight, I hadn’t realized that ingredients had to be carefully measured and that frosting was more than sugar and food coloring.

“It was only a small fire.”

He moved the eggs around with a spatula. “Get two plates, will you? Cabinet above the sink and to the left.”

I drank the rest of the bottle to get it over with, then came around the counter, found plates and forks. And when Connor began to spoon up soft yellow curds of scrambled eggs, I held out a plate for a scoop.

I took my portion to the counter, sat down on a stool.

He served himself, turned off the burner, and moved the pan, then put his plate near mine. But instead of digging in, he put his hands on the counter, arms braced, brows knit. “Before we go to the initiation, I wanted to . . . explain some things.”

“Okay,” I said with a nod, expecting a primer on how to deal with the clan. The rules, the etiquette we hadn’t had time to discuss before the trip.

Instead, he ran a hand through his hair. “I’ve had no shortage of women,” he began, then paused.

I lifted an eyebrow. Not the conversation starter I’d expected. And I realized he seemed more than a little unnerved. For the first time that I could remember, he didn’t seem entirely sure of his steps.

Connor looked at the floor, brow creased. “I’m struggling a little bit. I don’t usually struggle when talking to women.”

He really did seem unsure of himself. “Are you about to tell me you’ve dated everyone in the resort?”

“What? No. I’m talking about us. About the cabin and the bed.”

“Okay,” I said again, still confused, but a lot more intrigued.

“I’m used to being slick,” he said. “Suave. The prince surrounded by potentials. It’s kind of my thing. Or was. After the fight with the fairies—fighting with you—and after two weeks of traveling and thinking, I acknowledged that being that kind of prince wasn’t enough for me. Not anymore.”

My heart pounded, as if it understood something the rest of me hadn’t yet. “What kind of prince do you want to be?”

He looked up at me, blue eyes shining as if they were lit from within. “The kind that’s good enough for you.”

I grasped at words, but they scurried away, totally uninterested in being wrangled to express my dizzying emotions. “I don’t know what to say.”

He smiled. “Of course you don’t. You’re confident, Elisa, maybe a little arrogant. But not smug. Not cruel. You’re a skilled fighter and intelligent and funny, and you have a very charming obsession with rules.”

“So the things that made me bratty as a child make me a very good adult.”

The smile became a wicked grin. “Your words, not mine. You want to be good, to be skilled. But you can still empathize. You care about justice and doing the right thing. And you keep doing the right thing even when you’re afraid of what’s inside you.”

I didn’t flinch at the reference to the monster because the sentiment was so complimentary. It was odd to hear myself described that way by him—a guy I’d spent nearly twenty years mostly wanting to slug.

“I’ve been very privileged,” I said. “And I was taught—just like you—the very clear differences between right and wrong. You’re confident,” I said with a smile. “Maybe a little arrogant. Occasionally smug, but never cruel. You’re a skilled fighter and intelligent and funny, and you have an occasionally charming obsession with breaking rules. You also care a lot about doing the right thing. You care about your people. You travel to help them, risk yourself to help them. You’re good enough for anyone.”

“Even after harassing you for most of your teenage years?”

I couldn’t help but grin. “You were a holy terror, but let’s acknowledge my role in that, too. While I will deny everything if you bring this up again in the future, I could be . . . bratty.”

“Big admission,” he said, his smile as wide as mine. “I don’t believe in fate. But maybe we just needed to be ready for each other.”

We just looked at each other, smiling.

“I love my parents, my family,” Connor said. “But I’m aware I was spoiled because they considered me the prince. The Apex in training. I had attention and love. I was encouraged to take chances, and I was forgiven if I screwed up. I was praised for being cocky because it was a sign of being alpha. Showed I was on the right path.

“That’s the thing about Apex,” he said. “Being Apex is about listening to the Pack, doing what’s best for the Pack. Acting on behalf of the Pack. If you aren’t confident enough to be who you are, to care about those who you care about, you’re not alpha enough to be Apex.” He paused. “It’s Alexei’s fault I grew up.”

“Is it?”

Connor nodded. “He’s always been more serious than me. Not as serious as you,” he added with a grin, “because he’s still a shifter. But he has . . . an old soul.

“We were out on a run,” he continued, “scrambling around in the woods. Chasing rabbits, turkeys, deer, whatever. We heard this really odd sound—some kind of bird, but nothing like what we’d heard before. So we followed it, found a pond in the middle of a field. There was a full moon, and it was shining down on this water, and the water was perfectly still. Except, in the middle, was a bird.”

   
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