Home > Wicked Hour (Heirs of Chicagoland #2)(7)

Wicked Hour (Heirs of Chicagoland #2)(7)
Author: Chloe Neill

Connor turned off the bike, pulled off his helmet.

“Our second and final rest stop,” Connor said as the porch light came on, illuminating the front door.

“No Alexei?” I asked, pulling off my helmet and rolling my neck.

“He’s going to drive ahead, check the lay of the land.”

“That’s very vampiric of you,” I said with a grin, throwing back his comment.

“We occasionally have strategic thoughts,” Connor said with a smile. “But we try to avoid them as much as possible.”

A woman stepped outside. She looked to be in her late thirties or early forties, with light brown skin, dark wavy hair that just reached her shoulders, and the wiry form of a distance runner. And she wore a tank top over yoga pants and running shoes so brightly pink, they nearly glowed in the dark.

That she was shifter was obvious from her energy. She was also stunning, with wide hazel eyes, a generous mouth, and apple cheekbones.

“Connor,” she said, and held out her arms. She was just a little shorter than me, and nearly dwarfed by Connor when they embraced. He pressed a kiss to her cheek.

“It’s good to see you.”

“And you. It’s been too long.” She put her hands on her trim hips, looked him over. “I think you’ve gotten taller.” She glanced at me, smiled knowingly. “And definitely more interesting.”

Connor smiled, and it was warm and happy. “This is Elisa Sullivan.”

“Of course it is,” she said with a smile, then reached out a hand. I walked up to meet them, and we shook, shifter power tingling in her touch.

“Marian Decker. It’s lovely to meet you.”

“And you,” I said. “Your shoes are amazing.”

“Right?” She looked down at them. “Running is my best friend and my worst enemy. But just seeing these makes me smile.” She opened the door, waved us in. “Come on in. Let’s get acquainted.”

* * *

* * *

The house’s interior was lovely. It had been gutted and remodeled, small rooms replaced with an open living and dining room, carpet replaced by hardwood floors, heavy cabinetry painted white. It was cheery and happy, and that was helped by the two giggling little girls who’d been captured in the arms of the man I guessed was their father.

“I’m Arne,” he said, a tall man with square shoulders, light skin, and short blond hair so pale, it was nearly white. The children squealed beneath his arms. “And these are Maddie and Roxie.”

They laughed as he swung them back and forth.

“Elisa,” I said. “It’s lovely to meet you.”

“You know me,” Connor said, tilting his head to look at the girls. “Hello, ladies.”

They stopped wiggling to look at him. “You’re the prince,” said the older girl, who I guessed was six or seven. She had light brown skin and curly hair pulled back into a bouncy tail.

“Something like that.”

“I’m a wolf!” said the littler one, closer to three or four, and bared her teeth menacingly. She had her sister’s coloring, but her hair was darker and made a halo around her face.

“A terrifying wolf,” Arne said, and put them carefully down. “Now, go play.”

The younger girl put her thumb in her mouth, held out her hand automatically for her sister’s. The older girl took it, and they ran down the hallway and turned in to another room.

“We’ve just finished up some soup,” Marian said. “Creamy chicken and wild rice, because we’re in Minnesota, of course. Would you like some?”

“I’d love some,” Connor said, then glanced at me.

I was starving, so I nodded eagerly. “As long as it’s not any trouble.”

“Zero trouble. Sit down,” she said, gesturing to the table as she moved to the stove, where a blue enamel pot was waiting. She pulled down bowls from an overhead cabinet, plucked a ladle from a crock near the stove, and began to fill the bowls.

“That smells amazing,” I said as the scent of chicken began to slip into the room like smoke.

She brought the bowls to us—stoneware of a deep ocean blue—along with folded linen napkins and silver spoons.

“What would you like to drink?” Marian asked. “Coffee, water, tea? We’ve also got a fridge full of pop for company.”

“Water’s fine,” Connor said. “Riding always makes me thirsty.” He glanced at me.

“Water’s fine for me, too. Thanks.”

“Easy enough. I’m going to make some tea, and you’re going to eat. Arne?”

“I’m fine. You want help?”

“No,” she said, making a shooing motion with her hands toward the table. “Sit and chat. I’ll get this.”

“She uses this fancy tea,” Arne whispered as we tucked into our soup. “Has it shipped in from the UK, and she won’t let me touch it.”

“Shifter,” Marian called out as she filled a red kettle. “I can hear you whispering.”

“Also shifter,” Arne said back to her. “I know you can.”

Marian rolled her eyes, but a smile tugged at the corner of her mouth.

“The soup is wonderful,” I said, blowing on another spoonful. The chicken was tender and moist, the broth almost obscenely buttery, the wild rice the perfect texture between chewy and soft.

“Thank you,” she said, adjusting the gas flame beneath the kettle, stray water droplets hissing in the heat. “It’s Arne’s grandmother’s recipe.”

“Your grandmother is a genius,” Connor said to him.

Arne accepted that with a nod. “How was the drive?”

“Good,” Connor said. “Weather was fine, cops were few, and the vampire only screamed once.”

“There was no screaming,” I said dryly. “He managed not to drop the bike, although there were a few close moments.”

“There were no close moments,” Connor said, giving me a sly smile that put a bloom of heat in my chest.

“How do you know each other?” I asked, looking between Arne and Connor.

“Marian’s one of Georgia’s kids,” Arne said. “Marian’s sister, Cassie, is the one whose kid is being initiated tomorrow. So they’re cousins of some variety.”

“And William is Cassie’s son,” Marian added.

“Big family,” I said, and Arne smiled.

“You’re telling me. It was like marrying into a small college. Probably not unlike Cadogan House.”

“Only different by degrees,” I agreed.

“Will we see you at the initiation?” Connor asked.

“Unfortunately not,” Marian said. “The girls have dance recitals tomorrow, and we promised them we’d both be there before the initiation was scheduled.”

“It looks like the girls are doing well,” Connor said.

“They’re adjusting,” Arne said. He glanced at me. “We used to live at the resort, but we left when the girls were younger. Decided they needed a different upbringing. Less violence, and more honesty.”

“Honesty?” I asked.

Arne looked at me. “The shifters in Grand Bay still pass as human.”

I lifted my brows. Supernaturals had been out of the closet for more than twenty years. “Why?”

“Partly habit, I think,” Marian said as the kettle began to whistle. She turned off the burner, poured water into a mug. “The clan’s been at the resort for decades, and they never had a reckoning, I suppose you’d say, with the community. They’ve been part of it for decades, and it’s a relatively close-knit relationship. They both root for the high school hockey team. Shifter kids go to school with humans—”

“Which screws up everyone’s sleep schedule,” Arne said.

“Totally,” Marian agreed. “They’re integrated, is what I’m saying, even if the humans don’t know it.”

“I don’t get why they’d go to all that trouble,” I said. “Is the community anti-Sup?”

“Not overtly,” Marian said. “There’s a vampire coven in the area, although they keep to themselves.”

“Ronan’s group,” I said.

Marian nodded. “You know him?”

I felt Connor’s curious stare. “Only that he keeps to himself. My father knows him, but not well. I didn’t think the coven was closeted.” Or nothing my father had said had given me that impression.

“They aren’t. But it’s a small group, and they live several miles outside town. In my experience,” Marian said, “humans simply don’t think much about them. More odd neighbors than Sups. Which, frankly, is pretty much how humans saw the resort—an odd community.”

Nodding, I savored the last bite of soup, licked the spoon clean.

“More?” Marian asked, walking over and claiming a spot at the table with her mug.

“No, thank you. That was perfect.” And I didn’t want to slosh on the next part of the ride.

“The shifters don’t admit that’s the reason, of course,” Arne said. “That they want to keep their standing among the humans. They say the issue is privacy. If humans don’t know they’re shifters, humans won’t watch them, obsess over their magic, try to use them for it.”

“It’s probably a little of both,” Connor said, and glanced at me. “About a third of the Pack still passes for humans.”

“So many,” I said quietly. So many unable to be honest. Tied by circumstances, or decisions, to pretending. It bothered me more than I would have thought, probably in part because I’d been able to be an “obvious” vampire. There’d been no need to hide—and it wouldn’t have even been possible, given my parents’ fame.

“They spend a lot of time trying to hide who they are,” Marian said quietly. “We didn’t want our girls growing up like that, having to worry about every little thing they did or said, whether that would spill the secret. So we left, found a new community, and have been completely up-front.”

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