Home > Shadowed Steel (Heirs of Chicagoland #3)(11)

Shadowed Steel (Heirs of Chicagoland #3)(11)
Author: Chloe Neill

Really, the chyron was about the best we could hope for. And I’d take it.

* * *

* * *

My relief lasted only until my arrival at the loft.

Lulu was gone, presumably at Mateo’s, and the apartment was dark and secure. Out of habit I turned on the wall screen when we went inside, to check the coverage again, and found the AAM had released its own statement. The précis: Chicago vampire breaks rules, refuses to accept due punishment. The statement was vague on details; they didn’t go so far as to say what rules I’d broken, probably because they didn’t want to kick up sympathy for me, or fear, given the reason for Carlie’s change.

The AAM would be waging this war in the media and on the ground, it seemed.

“Assholes,” Connor murmured.

“Yeah,” I said. “They are.” I was exhausted, and dawn was drawing ever closer. I wanted to sit down with him, sink into his arms, and let his nearness wash away the dregs of the night, of battle, of bloodshed. Of fighting a dozen vamps who’d flown across the country to detest me in person.

But I couldn’t do that yet. Not when I still had a call to make.

“I’ll be back,” I said, screen in hand as I looked toward my bedroom.

“Your parents?”

I nodded.

“You can call them out here.”

I put a hand on his chest, stretched up to kiss him. “Thank you. But I think for this first volley, I’d better handle them myself. But could you stay until I’m done? I might need an emotional support wolf by then.”

“Can I raid the fridge?”

“Only if you promise to eat the rest of the deviled eggs,” I said and made my way down the hall.

SIX

I pulled my hair into a knot, sat cross-legged on the bed, and turned on my screen.

Irony of ironies, I found four messages waiting. Three Houses had offered me membership, effective immediately. Chicago’s Rogues made the same offer, ironically. I sent polite refusals to all of them. And then called the Master and Sentinel of Cadogan House.

They answered immediately. My mother, with pale skin and dark hair, wore a Cadogan T-shirt even while half a world away. My father, whose blond hair I’d inherited, wore a button-down white shirt, as he nearly always did.

“Elisa,” said my mom. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” I said, and I gave them the entire story, from the AAM at my door to the fight at the Grove. And the promise of what was to come.

I left out no details, and would have sworn I could feel their furious magic through the connection. My mother’s anger and concern were clear on her face. My father, who had four hundred years of vampirism on her, didn’t let his emotions show as easily. But his eyes had gone quicksilver.

“You should have told us when they came to your door,” he said sternly.

“If I’d told you, you’d have come here. That puts you both in the middle of it, and it pits you against the AAM. That’s dangerous for you and for Cadogan.”

“You’re our daughter,” he said, eyes blazing. “We’ll get flights out as soon as we can.”

“I can handle this myself.”

“You don’t have to handle it yourself,” my mother said, taking his hand. “Not alone. And you won’t. We know how to protect the House.”

I wanted to argue more, but knew that would be a waste of time. They were my parents, and they were protective. And I’d come by my stubbornness honestly. “Okay.”

“They waited until we were gone,” my father said.

“That’s the operative guess,” I agreed. “What do you know about the Compliance Bureau? Theo says it’s new.” In vampire terms, at least.

“I’m now aware of its existence,” Dad said. “Nicole created the Bureau, authorized it to investigate and deal with rule breaking. Now that we’re in the public eye again, and contrary to the operations of the Greenwich Presidium, she wants to ensure rules are enforced without bias or favoritism.”

I could all but feel part of the cage falling into place, and I didn’t like the sensation.

“There are rules for a reason,” he added after a moment, and with what sounded like regret. “We prohibit non-Masters from creating vampires because of the risks—to humans, because the vampires may not be strong enough to make them without injury. To vampires, because changing humans can attract human attention.”

“I’m not the first person who’s changed a vampire without being a Master. Or a Rogue,” I added.

“No,” Dad said. “You aren’t. But you’re strong, you’re in Chicago . . . and you’re our daughter.”

“And that has benefits . . . and costs,” I finished. My parents were physically strong and well-connected, and head of one of the most popular and powerful Houses in the country. I’d been fortunate enough to grow up in the midst of that privilege. But not all vampires trusted them, or the concentration of power. And then there was me—born without precedent. Another unknown.

“They demanded I join a House,” I said. “Which means they know what we talked about—that I wasn’t Initiated or Commended.”

“You aren’t in our registry,” Dad said. A crease of worry appeared between his brows. “We provide information to the AAM regarding all Novitiates, Initiates. The AAM may have noticed your absence. Obviously you have an open invitation to join Cadogan House. Or you could join Washington House. Malik would offer you a position.”

“I know.”

“That would be an easy solution,” Mom said, pushing her dark hair behind her ears. “All things considered. Fealty isn’t so hard as it seems,” she offered, her tone so gentle, so full of hope. “It wasn’t how I imagined my life would go, but I adjusted.” She slid my father a knowing glance. “Mostly.”

“I can’t swear fealty to someone, to a House, just to ease the minds of the AAM. They don’t want me to join a House for the benefits. They want to know someone is watching me, or that someone can use me.

“It probably doesn’t feel like it,” I said, meeting their gazes, “but it’s not personal. I’m glad I grew up in Cadogan, and I’m proud of what you did for its vampires. I just . . . need something different.”

“Maybe the Pack—” my father said, and I shook my head.

“No fealty to the Pack, either,” I said. “I wouldn’t substitute one for the other. And the Pack can’t offer sanctuary to a vampire.”

My father’s eyes narrowed, probably because I already knew the answer and he’d now begun wondering why.

“Fealty isn’t the only thing they want,” I said, changing the subject. “They also want me to be tested.”

When my parents looked at each other—and something unspoken passed between them—my belly tightened.

“What?” I asked.

“Did they give any specifics?” my father asked.

“No. I assume they meant the usual Testing for would-be Masters. Why?”

My mother was the one to finally speak, and it took her a moment to meet my gaze. “This isn’t the first time they’ve inquired about Testing.”

I stared at her, and even the monster was concerned enough to sink down lower. “They asked you to let them test me? How? When?”

“It started when you were maybe eleven or twelve,” Dad said. “The first time, they visited Cadogan House, asked our permission to test you. They said it was because you were unique. Because we’d been so fortunate to have you, and they wanted to understand how it had happened.”

“But we’d already told them how,” my mother said. “They knew about Mallory and the magic and the—biological component.”

I held up a hand. “Skip the details of the biological component, please.”

My mother didn’t smile like I’d hoped, which made my fear heavier. “Then they changed their story. They said Testing would be for your protection, for ours . . . and for theirs. They wanted to know if you were stronger than other vampires. If you had unique talents.”

I was something new, something not seen in the millennia of vampire history—and immortals didn’t care for that kind of novelty. Or for the possibility, however small, that I would be different. Better.

“If I was a threat,” I said, finishing her thought. “You said they came to the House?”

Now I wondered if I’d seen them. There had been plenty of vampires in and out of Cadogan, and I didn’t know all of them. But I had a distinct memory of seeing my parents meet with a group of unfamiliar vampires, all of them dressed in formal black. There’d been something about this group—or maybe about the magic they’d triggered from my parents—that had stood out. That had made me think they weren’t entirely friends of the House.

I’d been, like Dad had said, maybe twelve, and I’d finished with my classes for the day—the tutoring that served as my school. I’d been hungry, and I’d walked by my father’s office on the way to the Cadogan kitchen. The door had been open, which wasn’t unusual. The vampires were inside, their expressions cold. And when they’d seen me in the doorway, their eyes narrowed.

There’d been footsteps, and Dad had come to the doorway. He’d smiled at me. “We’ll eat as soon as we’re done in here,” he’d said kindly, and closed the door.

I looked at my parents. “You told them no, obviously.”

“We did,” my mother said.

“Vehemently,” Dad added.

“And they accepted that?”

“After the third or fourth time,” Dad said. “Each time they asked, we told them you owed them nothing and they would not question you, examine you, or test you without your consent.”

“He means he scared them,” my mother said with a smile. “And they didn’t ask again.”

   
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