Home > Shadowed Steel (Heirs of Chicagoland #3)(15)

Shadowed Steel (Heirs of Chicagoland #3)(15)
Author: Chloe Neill

Our privacy confirmed, she leaned against the far wall, arms crossed. “It hurts him to interrogate you.”

I hadn’t expected that. “What?”

“He values your partnership and your friendship. He doesn’t want to question you. But he also knows it’s the right thing to do—for Chicago, and for you.”

I considered that in silence. And she let me. “You and he are close?” I asked.

“We’re just friends, if that’s what you’re asking.” She pushed off from the wall, sat at the table again. “I knew him when he was with the CPD, and I was, frankly, disappointed when he moved to the OMB. It’s those damn comic books.”

Theo was a fan of graphic novels and comics, and told me he’d decided to join the Ombuds because he loved stories of superheroes, of supernaturally inclined crusaders who made a difference in the lives of humans. He thought the OMB was the best way to do that.

For the first time in hours, I smiled just a little. “Tell me about it,” I said. “Connor shares the obsession.”

“I know. Theo and I grab a beer every once in a while, and he tells me about the latest release or explains how number sixty-two is amazing or somebody I’ve never heard of is going to be at a comic con or whatever.”

“It’s a language I don’t understand.”

“Girl, same.” She linked her hands on the table, gave me a level stare. “I know what you’ve done for Chicago, and what your parents have done. Your great-grandfather.”

He’d been Chicago’s first supernatural Ombudsman.

“But given what happened last night, there’s a good chance this will get uglier before it gets better. For both of you.”

I didn’t know if she meant me and Theo, or me and Connor. Probably both. And I wasn’t sure how much of this was earnest concern versus the questioning technique of a very skilled investigator. But Theo trusted her. So I decided I would, as well.

“I’m not angry at Theo.” I scrubbed my hands over my face, giving myself a minute to collect, to gather my thoughts. Then pushed my hair back and sat up again, looked at Gwen.

“I don’t know you, but I do know him. I like and respect him. He’s smart, and he’s savvy, and he’s pretty funny, although I’d never admit that to his face. He’s had my back, and I hope he’d say the same thing about me. As to the AAM, I probably wouldn’t have any complaints about them if they hadn’t decided to make an example of me.”

I broke eye contact for a moment, deciding how much I should tell her. And, since she’d given me the space for it, opted for the truth.

“Carlie was dying,” I said, glancing back. “We were in the woods, surrounded by monsters and too far away to get the help that she needed fast enough. I had to make a decision. And, honestly, I was scared shitless. I’d never made anyone before, and not everyone survives the transition. There was a very good chance I’d screw it up. But it was the only way I knew to save her. So I did, and she survived. I think that should be the end of it.”

“She’s in Minnesota?”

I nodded. “There’s a small vampire coven near her home. The leader agreed to help her through the transition. That way, she could stay near her family and friends, the place she’d lived her entire life. I checked on her earlier. She’s safe for now.”

“The coven leader,” Gwen said. “Is he still angry at you?”

“He says no,” I said, and felt that clutch of guilt again.

“And the AAM has targeted you for this.”

“Its Compliance Bureau, at any rate.”

She nodded, shifted a little in her seat as she crossed one leg over the other. “From my discussions with them, I think most Masters would agree the AAM is necessary. Those in Chicago, certainly. And from what I’ve heard, Heart generally stays out of the way of Masters trying to do the best for their people.” She frowned. “Is something else going on?”

Yes, and Testing was at least part of that something. But she hadn’t raised that issue, and I certainly wasn’t going to bring it up—or have the CPD wondering why I was so opposed to it. But there was another part.

“It’s Clive, I think.”

She looked at me. “Yeah?”

I thought back to the moments before the fighting had begun. “He had a lot to say, and a lot of it was personal. I get away with too much, I can’t use my origin differences to break the rules, I’m a risk, et cetera. And it wasn’t just the words. He had a look in his eyes.”

“A look?”

“He was angry, and he was arrogant. But he was also . . . excited? Not like an officer carrying out a duty, but . . .”

“A believer,” she said quietly, and I looked up at her.

“Yeah. That’s it exactly. He had the glow of the righteous.”

She blew out a breath through pursed lips. “That’s going to make him—and all of this—difficult. More difficult than it is already.”

“I don’t want to make trouble for Chicago, for anyone. But I’m not going to give up my autonomy because he’s on some kind of mission.”

She nodded. “The press will be told you were interviewed, released. If the security footage confirms your whereabouts, they’ll be told you were not near the scene when the incident occurred. And I would ask that you contact us, me or Theo, when the AAM makes contact again. I don’t say ‘if,’ because you strike me as a logical person, and you can surmise as well as me that those who have the glow of the righteous, as you put it, won’t stop.”

I nodded. “I’ll give you whatever information I can.”

“Then I think we’re done here.” She rose, moved toward the door, opened it. “Thank you for your time. You’re free to go, but don’t leave the city for now.”

I stepped into the hallway, found Theo waiting. And was unsure what I wanted to say to the man who’d been all but my partner a week ago . . . and felt the fury claw through the hallway like an angry tide.

Connor strode toward me with the bearing of a prince, blue eyes gleaming like a furious angel. His hair was furrowed, like he’d been running his fingers through it, and a lock fell over his eyes. Strong body, beautiful face, and hell in his eyes.

Furious angel indeed.

Then he reached me, and his hands were on my cheeks, strong and protective, as he searched my face with furrowed brows. “You’re all right?”

“I’m fine,” I said and put a hand on his, squeezed, and found tension had turned the muscle beneath to stone.

“A Compliance Bureau member was killed?” he asked.

“One of the guys who came to the loft. The one who did the talking. His name is Blake. Was Blake,” I added grimly.

He nodded, pressed his lips to mine, the kiss as gentle as his anger was fierce. And then he turned that gaze on Theo and Gwen, who’d stepped out behind me.

He aimed that gaze at Theo, a weapon. “You know better. You know she wouldn’t do this—wouldn’t kill an innocent.”

“And they know the AAM already believes we get special treatment,” I said. “We can’t give them an excuse for more violence.”

He bared his teeth at them. “Are you taking their side?”

“No,” I said and squeezed his hands again. “I’m taking my side. They know I didn’t kill him. But they have to ask. That’s the rule.”

His gaze slipped back to mine. “Now we’re following the rules?”

“We follow the rules we can; we break them if it’s necessary to save others.” Put that on a damn pennant, I thought, and fly it above the loft.

Connor looked at me for a long time, then nodded. One last stroke of his thumb across my cheek, and he stepped back.

“She’s right,” Theo said. “If we hadn’t questioned her, the AAM would make this even uglier.”

“Dropping down to the level of manipulators doesn’t impress me,” Connor said. “I take it you’re satisfied she’s innocent?”

Theo’s dark eyes were hard. “There are details to confirm. But—in addition to her being a decent person who wouldn’t kill out of spite—we expect to confirm she couldn’t have been near the scene when the incident occurred.”

“So who did it?” Connor asked.

“We can’t provide details in an ongoing investigation,” Gwen said, and she held up a hand when Connor opened his mouth to protest. “But you should both be careful. Perhaps this was a random killing, but I don’t think it was. Whether this was aimed at the AAM, or the result of some AAM struggle, it’s likely to touch you again.”

“We’re leaning toward AAM involvement,” Theo said.

“Lean harder,” Connor said, and we left them standing there.

EIGHT

I got the message on the way to the SUV he’d borrowed from the Pack. Simple, concise, and heartbreaking: i must suspend you pending investigation of blake’s murder. i’m sorry—roger.

It wasn’t a surprise. But that didn’t make it any less painful. While my great-grandfather had been the first Ombudsman, I was the first one in the family to be fired from the office.

I had more than enough savings to cover rent; I rarely bought anything other than blood and coffee and fine leather pants. But the work kept me sharp, and I liked Roger and Theo and Petra, even if I wasn’t thrilled about the current circumstances.

I stopped when we got to the vehicle, rested my head against the closed door.

Connor stopped, looked back at the dull thump. “That’s not how you get in.”

I grunted.

“Are you practicing a new vampire power, or taking a moment?”

I swiveled my head to look at him. “I got fired.”

Temper flared in his eyes again. “They just said they believed you were innocent.”

“The case is open,” I said. “Having me continue to work for them while they investigate me looks like a cover-up.”

   
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