Home > Shadowed Steel (Heirs of Chicagoland #3)(16)

Shadowed Steel (Heirs of Chicagoland #3)(16)
Author: Chloe Neill

“That’s bullshit,” he said, coming around to me. “And I’m sorry.”

“Yeah.” I lifted my head, looked at him. “I don’t know how to feel.”

“About Theo? Or Blake?”

“Yes.”

“Come here,” he said, and beckoned me forward. I went, and put my head against his chest with another dull thump.

“Your head is, and I’m not exaggerating, hard as a rock, Lis.” He rubbed my arms. “How’s your shoulder?”

“Better.” The ache was slowly receding, a lowering tide.

“So what’s wrong?” he asked.

“I can’t get angry.”

He chuckled. “If you want to be angry, I’m pretty sure I can make that happen.”

“Shouldn’t I be angry?” I lifted my head, looked at him. “Shouldn’t I be pissed at Theo or Gwen, or Clive or whoever did this? Instead, I just feel numb. Someone is dead. Not because I killed him, but dead because the AAM had to come to Chicago and that precipitated it somehow.”

“Lis,” he said, concern furrowing his brow, “they want you unbalanced.”

I frowned. “What?”

“The AAM comes to Chicago to threaten you. They make demands, and when you say no, they accuse you of starting a physical fight. Then a member of the entourage, one of the vampires that confronted you, is violently murdered. Maybe Blake’s death has nothing to do with you. Maybe it was happenstance, or he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But what are the odds? Maybe Blake’s dead because the AAM wants to put more heat on you. Maybe they want you off your game.”

“They have succeeded.”

“Did you eat before they took you in?”

“No.”

“Well, there’s part of your problem.” He scooted me toward the passenger door, opened it. “Get in. We’re going to get you some food. And if you’re a good little vampire, some coffee.”

I wanted to pout—so deep in my feelings—but I couldn’t muster the energy. “Fine,” I said and climbed inside.

* * *

* * *

“It’s ironic,” I said, as Connor drove through the gate that surrounded the OMB compound, “that the AAM thinks I get away with everything. In reality, I’m the first one the CPD looked at.”

He hadn’t been privy to the interview, so I gave him all the details, or at least the ones I was aware of.

“A bad setup by the Bureau?” Connor asked. “Harsh to take out a member of your own unit.”

“Especially with no obvious evidence that implicated me.”

“They’d know you’re smarter than that,” Connor said. “Leaving evidence behind.”

“Yeah,” I said and stared out the window. The city was darker here on the outskirts, with fewer glowing houses and factories closed for the night. “What if it wasn’t the AAM?”

“Who else would it be?”

“I don’t know. But if Clive doesn’t know who the actual perpetrator is, he’s going to blame me. And he’s not going to stop with a tussle at a wedding venue.”

“You’re worried.”

“Concerned,” I said. “And trying to think ahead. I don’t think we should stay at the loft tonight. When Clive learns what happened, if he hasn’t already, he’ll come for me. Even if only to cover what he’s done.”

Connor was quiet for a moment. “I know a place you can stay.”

“I’m not sleeping in the NAC building,” I said. “I’ll smell so much like meat, dogs will howl at me when I pass by.”

He grinned. “Not the NAC building. But it’s safe and secure, and there’s room for both of you.”

“Okay,” I said. We could figure out the sleeping arrangements later. First, to get to Lulu. And as much as I hated to say it, to Eleanor of Aquitaine.

“We’re going to have to bring the cat.”

“That’s fine,” Connor said with a sly smile. “She likes me.”

* * *

* * *

I sent Lulu a message, directing her to an address Connor gave me and offering to pick up things from the apartment. Including, because I was a generous soul, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Lulu didn’t argue about relocating and had some choice words for the AAM. She gave me a list of personal items to grab for her, but declined about the cat, assuring me Eleanor of Aquitaine could take care of herself for a few days—and apparently confident that I’d be able to handle the AAM before this dragged on too long. I hoped she was right, but didn’t share her confidence. Not yet.

Connor stood at the windows, just out of view of the street, watching for any activity below.

I prepped a bag for Lulu, threw clothes into a duffel for me, and dropped them both by the door. Then I filled Eleanor of Aquitaine’s food and water bowls. I found her on the radiator, tail swishing as she watched me.

“You’ll be alone for a few days. I’m sure you’ll be fine with that, but no wild parties, no drugs, and your curfew is midnight.”

She met my gaze with obvious disdain.

“Good talk,” I said. “We’ll be back when we can. Don’t pee in my shoes. Again.”

I gave the mail a quick scan and found a thick envelope addressed to me with no return address. I opened it, pulled out the thick cardstock.

  Elisa:

You deserve more, but this token of affection is all I can offer until we can be together.

—Your friend

Same handwriting, same cardstock, as the note I’d gotten the night of the party. Same anonymous “friend” who’d been creepy enough to send it.

I looked back in the envelope, wondering what “this” was, and my blood turned cold.

I pulled out a pendant on a leather thong. And it took only a moment for realization to strike. This was Blake’s necklace—the one he’d worn at my door and the Grove.

Nausea rose, and I squeezed my eyes closed against the wave of it. Someone had killed for me. I dropped the pendant back into the envelope.

“What is it, Lis?” Connor must have felt my fear and magic from across the room, as he left his post by the windows and came closer.

I held the card out to him, fingers shaking with disgust, with violation, with fear.

Someone had killed for me.

Connor’s expression darkened, and his eyes went dangerously flat. “‘This’?”

“Blake wore a leather pendant,” I said. “It’s in the envelope.”

“Who?”

“I don’t know.” I cursed, put the envelope down, the card on top of it. I didn’t want to touch them more than I already had. “But I don’t think it’s the first time they’ve contacted me,” I said. I pulled a clean kitchen towel from a drawer, used it to pick up the note I’d tossed aside after the party, brought it back to him.

He looked at it, then lifted his gaze to me. Anger percolated now. “You didn’t tell me about this.”

“It’s not my first fan mail,” I said. “I didn’t even think about it. Do you tell me every time someone sends you underwear?”

Connor blinked, narrowed his gaze. “Do people send you underwear?”

“Only once,” I said, then shook my head. “Not the point. The person who killed Blake says they did it for me.”

“Or it has nothing to do with you, and they’re trying again to drag you into it.”

Either way, sickness and anger settled low in my belly. I didn’t know Blake, didn’t like the AAM. But I wouldn’t wish death on any of them.

“He was killed—murdered—in my name.”

“No,” Connor said, voice firm. “He was murdered because someone wanted him dead. You didn’t ask for it, and it wasn’t for you in any possible way. This is about the killer.”

I nodded, because I understood the words and the sentiment. But the killer had made it about me. And I didn’t want that. I didn’t want any of it.

“Whoever it is knows you didn’t go to Paris,” Connor said, looking over the first note. “They’ve been following your career.”

“I was on-screen,” I said. “Especially after Cardona’s Master was killed.”

“I remember. You got a lot of airtime.”

“And he was watching.” That thought put a line of sweat at the small of my back.

“There’s no postmark. There is on the first envelope,” Connor said, comparing them, “but not this one.”

“So it was hand-delivered,” I guessed.

“Yeah.”

Creep factor increasing. “I have to tell Theo.”

“Do you?” Connor’s voice had gone tight again. He was still angry.

“You know I do,” I said, softer than I might have under different circumstances. “Maybe he can use the building video to see who delivered it.”

He growled, but relented. And returned to watch the street while I sent Theo pictures of the notes and Blake’s necklace, then put them all into a plastic zip bag to be picked up by a CPD unit when we’d gotten somewhere safe.

I started when my screen buzzed, and I found Theo’s concerned face. “Have you noticed anyone following you?” he asked.

“No,” I said, squirming a little that someone might have been and I hadn’t even noticed. So much for my training.

“When did you get the first one?”

“The night of the party.”

“The night the AAM came to visit?”

“Yeah,” I said, and didn’t like that coincidence, either. I walked through the apartment, checking that the other windows were locked as discreetly as I could. No point in advertising to whoever might be watching that we were checking our security.

“No unusual calls? Contacts? Other emails? Or for Lulu?”

   
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