Home > Shadowed Steel (Heirs of Chicagoland #3)(10)

Shadowed Steel (Heirs of Chicagoland #3)(10)
Author: Chloe Neill

“He seems cool,” I said, as we moved away from the van, lest Eli run us down to get the food on the road.

“Dan is good Pack,” Connor said. He leaned toward me, so I caught the scene of his cologne, woodsy and warm. “And he’s an incorrigible flirt.”

“Is that a statement or a warning?”

“Yes.”

I rolled my eyes. “He’s fine. But, seriously, make sure he buys a good coat.”

* * *

* * *

It would take a month, I guessed, before I’d be able to wash the smoke and paprika and molasses out of the jumpsuit.

“Come with me,” Connor said when the van was gone.

“Only if you have a frosty margarita and a hot bath,” I said, rolling my shoulder.

“How is it?” he asked.

“Healing, but slowly. I’m not sure if this extra workout will keep it from stiffening up, or make it worse.”

“Then I’ll make it up to you. I don’t have baths or margaritas. But how about barbecue and a hot shifter?”

“I could probably manage that.”

“Good.” He took my hand, led me through the loading bay and into a quiet hallway lit by the glow of the tea light candles used to warm chafing dishes. Two disposable plates of food flanked the candles, their compartments filled with meats and sides.

I looked up at him, eyes sparkling. “We’re getting our romantic dinner after all.”

“I wasn’t sure how long two dogs would last you, and I didn’t want you to start biting my relatives.”

“Wrong species,” I said. “I don’t bite shifters.”

“Oh, we’ll see about that,” he said with a grin. “Not as nice as I had planned for tonight, and none of the baguettes you were going to make from scratch.” He paused, looked at me. “I forgot to ask—did you make them?”

“Let us never speak of it again. But do let us speak of dinner, because I’m starving.”

* * *

* * *

The barbecue was, of course, delicious. We ate like hungry kids who’d snuck forbidden candy—stuffing in the food as quickly as possible, lest someone come to take it away, and grinning the entire time.

When we were done, we leaned back against the wall, legs stretched in front of us.

“You do know how to show a girl a good time.”

“Just wait until January. You’re going to love grilling burgers outside when it’s twenty degrees below zero.”

I slid him a glance. “Is that a dare?”

“You think you can handle it?”

“Recall that I had to shovel the Cadogan House sidewalk. Until I saved enough money to pay someone to do it.”

“Always strategizing,” he said and climbed to his feet.

“It’s the vampire way.”

He checked his watch. “About two hours until dawn,” he said, then offered me a hand, pulled me up. “Now that we’ve done our penance and refueled, let’s go see the boss.”

“We already talked to Berna,” I pointed out.

“Hilarious. And maybe don’t mention that to the Apex.”

* * *

* * *

We found him in the lounge behind the public bar, where the Pack’s senior members handled shifter business or played cards, or both, depending on the business.

There were four shifters in the room now. Miranda, two men I didn’t recognize, and last but never least, Gabriel Keene, the Apex of the North American Central Pack.

He sat at the head of a well-worn table, booted ankles crossed on the tabletop, arms folded. He seemed to take up more space in the room than he physically occupied. Power given substance. I wondered how much of that was being Apex, and how much was just him.

Gabriel’s gaze was on a screen on the opposite wall. And on that screen, in brilliant color, Connor and I fought side by side against the AAM.

“Well,” Gabriel said, without shifting his gaze. “You two certainly had an evening.”

“Fucking vampires,” Miranda muttered, smiling mirthlessly at me while she said it.

With a sigh, Gabriel dropped his feet to the floor, looked back at me and Connor. “I suppose we need to have a conversation.”

“All right,” Connor said, voice all smooth confidence.

“Give us the room,” Gabriel said. The two men exchanged a glance before slipping out. Miranda strode toward us with a well-practiced sneer. “Jumping into petty vampire squabbles doesn’t help us,” she said, then gave Connor a long look before following the men.

Connor closed the door, walked to the table, and touched a control that had the screen flicking to darkness. “We’ve done our chores,” he said, turning back to his father.

“Chores?” Gabriel asked.

“Berna was waiting in the lobby. Put us to work on the McAlister order.”

“Okay?”

Connor blinked. “She said you were pissed at me for making a scene and ordered us to help in the kitchens.”

Gabriel’s laugh was deep and generous. “I haven’t spoken with her all night, and I didn’t order you punished.”

Connor looked at his father for a moment, then sighed. “Berna’s still angry.”

“And passive-aggressive.”

Connor looked at me, humor and apology mixing in his eyes. “I guess you took my punishment for me.”

At least it let me ignore the vampires for a while. “What did you do to deserve that?”

“I forgot her birthday.”

“Dangerous,” I said.

Gabriel clucked his tongue. “He’s learned his lesson now. As for the incident, I assume it’s about Carlie?”

“It is,” Connor said, and he laid it out, from the late-night visit to the confrontation at the Grove.

“Showed up at your door,” Gabriel said, linking his hands behind his head. “That takes guts or stupidity.”

“Or both,” Connor said. “The arrogance to try and the belief that what you’re doing is necessary.”

Gabriel glanced at me. “Nice sword work.”

“Thanks. Practice.”

“Good. Your parents still gone?”

“For now,” I said. But I had a feeling it wouldn’t be the case for long.

“That explains the AAM’s timing.” He frowned. “What do they want?”

“Testing and my agreement to join a House.”

He looked at me for a very long time. Long enough that I began to wonder if he’d seen the monster lurking behind my eyes.

“I’d have fought back, too,” Gabriel finally said, his voice utterly casual. “Did the vamps think you’d just go along with it?”

“I’m not sure,” I decided. “The leader looked eager for a fight, and more than a little thrilled when I said no.”

“So he could then use you as an example?”

“Maybe,” I said. “I’m going to talk to my parents when I get home. They’ll have contacted the AAM by now, and they might have more information.”

I nodded, and Gabriel shifted his gaze to Connor.

“As for the fighting, while I absolutely encourage a good old-fashioned brawl, it’s best to avoid political nonsense when we can. Vampire problems are not Pack problems. On the other hand,” he added, before Connor could interject, “many vampires and members of the Pack are friends, and they help each other. And sometimes,” he said, that knowing gaze landing on me, “helping results in consequences that seem unfair.”

And what, I wondered, would have been a fair consequence? In its most technical sense, I had broken the AAM’s rules, and the unspoken covenant with humans that we wouldn’t treat them like prey or potentials—unless they asked nicely. Yes, I’d done it for good reason, but the rule had still been broken.

“I’d do the same thing again,” I said.

“That’s because you have honor,” Gabriel said. “I’d have expected nothing less of a Sullivan kid.”

“What about sanctuary?” Connor asked. “The Pack could give her protection until the AAM gives up. We’ve offered it before.”

“And I’d decline if you offered it,” I said.

Gabriel’s brows lifted with interest; Connor’s furrowed with obvious frustration.

“You’d decline it,” he said, voice flat and suddenly angry.

“I can’t refuse to join a vampire House—violently—and then turn around and accept protection from the Pack. It’s hypocritical.”

“It’s practical.”

“It’s impossible.” We both looked back at Gabriel. “We cannot offer sanctuary to non-shifters.”

Connor stalked to the other side of the room, as if to burn off frustration. “That’s ridiculous.”

“That’s Pack.”

“She’s in trouble because of us.”

“And she doesn’t want sanctuary,” Gabriel said.

“She’s also in the room,” I said. “So stop talking about me like I’m not here. I’m in trouble because of something I did. I accept that, and I’ll figure out a way to deal with it.” I turned to Connor. “I appreciate the offer and the concern. But that’s not the way to resolve this.”

He growled, a low rumble of warning. If I’d been in a different place, and in the middle of a different discussion, I might have taken a step back. But I wasn’t in the mood to be handled or growled at.

“Growl at me again,” I said, taking a step closer.

“I’ll growl in my own territory if I feel like growling.”

“Children.”

We both looked at his father.

“Might I suggest you both take a break? You’ve had a long night.”

I couldn’t argue with that, so we said our goodbyes and made for the door—but stopped short at the new chyron that practically screamed from the bottom of the screen: atlanta vamps causing trouble in chicago? Above it, blurry figures moved in grainy footage of the fight.

   
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