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

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

He was male, with pale skin, dark blond hair, a trimmed beard, and angular brows. His eyes were hazel, his mouth a firm line. There was something familiar about his face, his magic. But I couldn’t place him.

The shifter whispered something to Connor, face turned away so we couldn’t read his lips.

After a moment, Connor nodded. “Ten minutes,” he said, and the man walked away without so much as a word to us.

“He’s friendly,” Theo said.

“Who was that?” I asked. “He looks familiar.”

“Alexei Breckenridge,” Connor said.

My grandparents were friends with the patriarch of the Breckenridge family, Michael Sr. But the family was less friendly with my parents. Alexei was our age, but I hadn’t seen him in years, and probably only a handful of times before that.

“I didn’t know Brecks mingled with the rest of the Pack these days,” I said.

“He’s one of the few,” Connor said dryly. “The Brecks prefer to live within the human world. But Alexei’s good Pack. If not entirely sociable.”

“Everything okay?” I asked.

“It will be. Business as usual. And I’d like to talk to you about that.” He looked at Theo. “Mind giving us a minute?”

“No problem,” he said. “I’m going to see a shifter about some meats.” He cut through the crowd, disappeared, leaving Connor and me alone.

Connor looked down at me, a corner of his mouth lifted in a smile that was partly cocky, partly unsure. He knew exactly who he was. But we were both still figuring out who we were. Our beginning had been sandwiched between years of teenage sniping and weeks of separation. Uncomfortable, given I generally preferred clear steps. Rule books. Plans and procedures.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey back. It’s good to see you,” I ventured, and his face lit, his smile widened.

“It’s good to see you, too, Lis.”

“The Pack’s good?” I asked quietly, not wanting to force him to spread internal struggles through the room, and betting he’d tell me more than he’d said in front of Theo.

“Drama,” he said. “Almost as bad as dealing with vampires.”

“Oh, that’s funny.”

“I thought so.”

We stood there for a moment, just looking at each other. Want and trepidation dancing in the air around us.

“I’m going to Minnesota,” he said. “I’d like you to go with me.”

I stared at him. “You want me to go to Minnesota with you.”

“Yes. Grand Bay, on the north shore of Lake Superior. Beautiful place. My cousin—a second cousin, actually—is being initiated into the Pack, and I’m going. Night to drive, night to attend the initiation, night to drive back.”

“Why would you want a vampire at a Pack initiation?” They were notoriously secretive events, just for family and close friends.

“Maybe I’m interested in your company. Does there always have to be an ulterior motive?”

“I’m a vampire. So yes.”

A corner of his mouth lifted. “Colorado wasn’t the last of the Pack’s troubles. The initiation is happening within a clan—a small community—that’s got issues.”

“What kind of issues?”

“That’s the question. The clan is being mum on the details, and I want a firsthand look at it. I need a firsthand look, but I know I’m biased; you won’t be. And in case there’s trouble, I know you can handle yourself.”

“You’re using me for my sword?” I asked.

“Isn’t that the vampire specialty?” His eyes gleamed.

“One of several,” I said.

“So that’s a yes?”

I wanted to say yes. To drive away with him into darkness and woods, to give ourselves a chance to be together without the pressures of Chicago or our families or their expectations. But this wouldn’t be a vacation, and it wouldn’t be without its own pressures.

I looked around at the crowd. The Pack had noticed Connor and I were talking, and several shifters were watching circumspectly. Others were being perfectly obvious about it, and their gazes were cold. To their minds, vampires were arrogant, calculating, high-maintenance, manipulative. They weren’t going to bother hiding their disgust that a contender for the throne was giving attention to a vampire.

I didn’t see Miranda—one of the Pack’s shifters who tended to hang out here at the HQ. She had feelings for Connor—and negative ones for me, and not just because I was a vampire. Considering her attitude when Connor had announced he was staying in Chicago—and the fact she thought he’d breached his duty to the Pack—I also suspected she had designs on the throne, the desire to be Apex and take the crown from the Keene family. She probably wasn’t the only one.

Their derision was more dangerous than they imagined. Not just because I was fully capable of taking care of myself—vampires were arrogant for a reason—but because their interest in turn made it interested.

I was vampire. But I wasn’t just vampire.

There was more to me than fangs and immortality: There was the monster that lived inside, created—as far as I’d guessed—of the same fragmented magic that had allowed me to be born, as the first vampire ever created by birth, not by bite. I had no name for it—hadn’t wanted to give it one—so I referred to it only as the monster, and I worked to keep it hidden. A difficult mission, given it tended to overwhelm me when I was vulnerable—when blood had been spilled, when danger was high, when other monsters threatened. And pushing it down again was a test of my control.

Connor knew the monster existed; he was the only one I’d trusted with that information, and even he didn’t know the full origin story. Lulu and Theo suspected there was something unusual; they’d both seen me in berserker mode. But I hadn’t told them anything. My parents were completely in the dark—about the monster, the effect, my theories about why.

Connor suggested I use the monster and the power it provided instead of pushing it down, which might keep it from overwhelming me. In the last two weeks, I’d been trying to let it stretch, to give it space. Not a partnership, but an acknowledgment.

This, I decided, was one of those times. I let it rise and stretch, shift and undulate beneath my skin, see the world from my eyes—but not quite enough to color my green eyes the monster’s particular shade of crimson. I met the shifters’ gazes, let them see I wasn’t intimidated and was more than willing to fight. That I looked forward to it.

Most of the shifters turned away—whether bored or satisfied or intimidated, I didn’t know. But I suspected this wouldn’t be the only time they looked at me like that, or doubted Connor’s judgment. I wanted to learn more about him, about us. But given those looks, I wasn’t sure an initiation—a private shifter event—was the right vehicle.

“I don’t know,” I said, looking back at him.

There was a flash of surprise in his eyes; Connor wasn’t used to being turned down. And the teenager in me was a little too excited that I’d been the one to deliver it. “What does that mean?”

“It means I appreciate the invitation, and I’d like to see the initiation. But we both know there would be . . . consequences.”

“Consequences.” His voice was flat.

“The Pack doesn’t much care for me and you being in the same room together. And if that room’s being used for a secret Pack ceremony? It’s going to be controversial. You’re going to take heat for it. And your father might, too.”

His flat expression became a cocky smile. He took a step toward me, close enough that I could feel the heat of his body. “There’s something you should know about me, Elisa.”

His voice was barely a whisper. His words a challenge.

“What’s that?”

“I can handle my own heat. And I don’t care much about controversy. Let me know,” he said, mouth hovering near mine. Then he stepped away and smiled, his expression satisfied and cocky, before disappearing into the crowd.

TWO

My heartbeat had finally started to slow, my vampire reserve sliding back into place, when Lulu found me a few minutes later.

“Where’s he off to?” she asked, picking a pastel-colored petit four from her small plate.

“I don’t know. Alexei Breckenridge delivered a message, and he had to handle it.”

“Ah, the mysterious grandson.”

I looked at her. “You know him?”

“Sure. Everyone makes it to HQ eventually. But he doesn’t deign to talk to the likes of me.”

“Because you aren’t Pack?”

“Probably because I’m not old money. Brecks,” she said with a little distaste. She selected another cake, bit in, screwed up her face. “Ugh. Raspberry. You want?”

I held out my palm, and she dropped the half-eaten cube into it.

“It’s good,” I said when I’d eaten the leftover. “I like it.”

“You’re insane. Raspberries are the devil’s balls.”

“I . . . have no response to that.”

“Good. I don’t want to eat or talk about them. Tell me about your business with the prince.”

“Is it worth saying that my business isn’t yours?”

She snorted. “No. All your business belongs to me. It’s part of the rental package.” She inspected the remaining petit fours, settled on a glossy chocolate cube.

I gave in. “He’s leaving for Minnesota tomorrow for a relative’s initiation. Grand Bay, Minnesota. It’s on Lake Superior.”

She frowned. “Damn it. If he doesn’t prioritize being in Chicago over his, you know, family and friends and biology and future position as Apex, your relationship is never going to get off the ground.”

I kept my face blank, drawing out the enjoyment of irritating her as long as I could. Because friendship. “Yeah,” I said dryly. “When you put it that way, he’s being a real jerk.”

   
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