Home > Shadowed Steel (Heirs of Chicagoland #3)(2)

Shadowed Steel (Heirs of Chicagoland #3)(2)
Author: Chloe Neill

Literally and figuratively, I thought, still marveling that this boy I’d thought was conceited and obnoxious had grown into . . . well, still conceited. But much less obnoxious. As if he understood the line of my thoughts, he smiled widely. “We were both right on time.”

Maybe a little obnoxious. But in the best possible way.

“Lulu,” Connor said with a smile. “Thanks for having us over.” He offered up the wine. “Hostess gift.”

“Thank you,” she said, taking it.

“A friend of mine has a vineyard near the Wisconsin border. It’s supposed to be pretty good.”

“How does it pair with deviled eggs?”

He blinked. “I have no idea and don’t want one.”

Lulu turned her gaze to Alexei. “I see you brought the tabby.”

She’d made that switch quickly enough. Alexei just looked at her, and the challenge in his eyes was clear. I’ll take you on. In every possible way.

Pink rose on her cheeks. “Go climb a tree.”

“Go suck on a paintbrush.”

“Weak,” Lulu said, then strode off toward Mateo. He smiled as she approached, waved her closer, then added her to the conversation with Petra.

“Suck on a paintbrush?” I asked, looking back at Alexei with obvious pity.

“I haven’t been able to come up with many artist-specific insults.” And he was considerate enough not to use her magic—or decision not to practice it—against her. “Who’s the human?”

“Date,” I said.

Alexei snorted dubiously and wandered off toward the food. With, I belatedly realized, a bottle of vodka in hand. His hostess gift, I assumed.

“Was that disdain for Mateo, or the idea of her dating him?” I wondered.

“I think it was for the concept of her dating, generally. He knows she’s not interested, but I think that’s actually made it worse. The thrill of the chase, and all.”

I gave him a speculative look. “Maybe I should have made you chase me harder. Or further.”

His smile went feral, and I could actually hear girls sighing on the other side of the room. “Try it,” he said, a dare in his brilliantly blue eyes.

“You think you could catch me?”

This time, the kiss was possessive and consuming, and as arrogant as the dare had been.

“Elisa Sullivan,” he said, smiling against my lips. “I’ll always catch you.”

A throat was cleared. We turned our gazes, found Theo smiling at us, raising a crusty loaf of bread in a paper envelope in greeting. “I’m interrupting,” he said with amused and unapologetic eyes.

Theo was a former cop who’d become my partner at the OMB. He had dark brown skin and dark hair in short whirls, and hazel eyes above a generous mouth.

“It’s a party,” Connor said. “Interruption is impossible.”

But I narrowed my gaze at him. “Why did you bring bread?”

Theo blinked. “Because I like bread? And it’s a party? And Lulu said to bring something?”

“But did she specifically say to bring bread?”

Theo looked at Connor for help, but Connor just shrugged.

“I got nothing, man.” He put an arm around my waist, kissed my temple. “Why are you interrogating your partner over bread?”

I grunted. “It’s a long story.” A long, smelly story.

“Is it related to deviled eggs?” Connor asked.

“I feel like I’ve stepped into some kind of alternate universe,” Theo said. “Are ‘bread’ and ‘deviled eggs’ code words for state enemies or secret missions or anything else that would actually make sense?”

“They are not,” Connor said. “I think we’re literally talking about bread and deviled eggs. And it looks like those aren’t the only two options, so I’m going to take the bread”—he plucked it from Theo’s hand—“and put it with the rest of the food, and grab myself something to eat, and you can discuss important Ombudsman things.”

I’d taken the night off yesterday to help Lulu clean and prep the loft, so it was possible I’d missed drama. “Do you have any important Ombudsman things to discuss?”

He frowned, considered. “River nymphs fighting over the Chicago River boardwalk again.”

“Old news,” I said. “Pass.”

He smirked. “Bank robbery by two of Claudia’s fairies?”

Claudia was the queen of Chicago’s band of rather mercenary fairies, including those who’d tried to magically shift Chicago into a facsimile of their green homeland.

“Getting warmer,” I said. “How much did they take?”

“They tried for about two hundred pounds of gold bullion because, you know, they like the shiny. But with the weight, they didn’t make it very far.”

“Arrogant of them,” I said. “What did Claudia have to say?”

“She said it was a ‘noble effort.’”

I snorted. That sounded just like her. Like the other fairies, she had a great love of gems and jewelry.

“Bread has been delivered,” Connor said, returning with three glasses of wine. “Meatballs have been devoured, and wine has been uncorked.”

“He’s handy,” Theo said, taking a sip. “I’m not much of a wine drinker, but this isn’t bad.”

“He is,” I agreed, and sipped. It wasn’t bad. Dry, but bright. A good drink on a late summer day, as we all waited for fall to cool off the city.

“A toast,” Theo said, raising his glass. “To friendships.”

“You’re such a dillhole,” Lulu said to Alexei nearby.

“And to whatever that is,” I said, and drank.

* * *

* * *

We talked and ate until midnight, then—because of a promise I’d made to our grouchy downstairs neighbor—did all that, but quieter. She lived two floors down and couldn’t possibly have heard anything we did in the loft. But that had never stopped her from complaining.

When the calendar turned, the noise dropped, and so did the humans. They left first, with take-out containers of deviled eggs Lulu had managed to shove into their arms on the way out.

When I heard the knock on the door, I sighed in resignation.

“I swear, Mrs. Prohaska,” I called out, as I strode toward it. “We’re done. Everyone’s gone.” Well, most of them. The core group was still here—me and Lulu, Connor and Alexei, Theo and Petra. Mostly supernaturals. All friends and partners.

I opened the door, fully expecting to see the tiny woman and her dark, beady eyes. But it wasn’t Mrs. Prohaska. There were three of them. Taller, stronger, and undoubtedly older.

Vampires, all in black. Two men and one woman, all of them pale skinned. None that I recognized.

I stood a little straighter, wished I was wearing my sword. And adjusted my body to block the doorway, just in case they made a move.

“Yes?” I asked, the word and my expression as mild as I could manage.

“Elisa Sullivan,” said the one in the front.

I just looked at him, waited.

“We’re from the Assembly of American Masters. It’s time for you to answer for your crime.”

TWO

My eyes silvered immediately, fury like a heated poison through my veins. The AAM was the ruling body of American vampires . . . and they weren’t here for a friendly visit.

“I have committed no crime,” I said, and each word was bitter.

But I knew why they were here, the violation they believed I’d committed.

I’d changed a human named Carlie into a vampire without authority or consent—the AAM’s or hers—during that trip to Minnesota. But I’d done it to save her. Carlie was still in Minnesota, now living with the local vampire coven; that was the best place for her, but knowing that didn’t ease the thorn of guilt lodged beneath my heart.

“We’d like to come in to discuss this matter.”

“No,” I said, not even bothering to consider the request. “You are not invited in.”

Magic wouldn’t keep them out; that was one of the vampire myths that wasn’t true. It was a courtesy, and most were fastidious enough about rules to adhere to it. As if a second line of defense, I felt them move in behind me—my army of friends. Lulu and Connor took point.

“Is there a problem?” Connor asked. That the heir apparent of the North American Central Pack stood before them didn’t seem to faze them at all. They’d probably researched me, uncovered the basics. But not everything.

A monster lived inside me. It was, or so I thought, a fragment of the singular magic that had allowed my mother to conceive me, as I was the first and only vampire to be born. My conception had been unexpected, facilitated by bonding magic Lulu’s mother had created to trap a creature ravaging Chicago. I wasn’t just uniquely born, but uniquely fused to a consciousness not my own—and one that only Connor knew about.

“There’s no problem,” I said, with more calm than I actually felt, and pushed down the monster’s sudden perk of interest. “These vampires are going to say their piece and leave.”

The vampire’s eyes flashed silver, a sure sign of his flaring anger. But he could get in line behind me.

“Then I suppose we’ll do this in the hallway,” the vampire said with obvious disdain. “I’m Blake. This is Sloan, and Levi,” he said, introducing the vampires beside him. “We are representatives of the Assembly’s Compliance Bureau.”

By tradition, vampires that weren’t Masters used only their first names. Blake was the one talking. Sloan was the dark-haired female behind him on his right, Levi the blond-haired male behind and on his left. They all wore the same dark and fitted suits, although each with a different flourish. Sloan had a string of pearls; Levi had a rose tucked into his lapel. Blake wore a pendant on a leather thong. They looked official and posh in the way of vampires, who knew how to use fashion to intimidate.

   
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