Home > Shadowed Steel (Heirs of Chicagoland #3)(4)

Shadowed Steel (Heirs of Chicagoland #3)(4)
Author: Chloe Neill

“Appreciate it.”

“I’ll advise the Pack,” Connor said.

I frowned. “I don’t want them in the middle of this.”

He ignored that, typed something into his screen. And when he glanced up at me, his eyes were steady. “We’re already in the middle of this; the Pack helped create this problem.”

“Saving her was a decision I made,” I insisted. “It was a choice, and I’d make the same one again.”

“I know you would,” Connor said, voice softer. “But that doesn’t mean the Pack won’t help as it can. If all else fails, we’ll leave Chicago. Go to Memphis and enjoy blues and barbecue.”

Memphis was the Pack’s ancestral home. While I wouldn’t have minded the blues or barbecue, I hoped it wouldn’t come to that—when running away was my only viable option.

“I’ll tell Yuen,” Theo said and turned his attention to his screen. Roger Yuen was the actual Ombudsman, and our boss. “He’ll want the CPD there in case things go south. But he’ll coordinate with them to give you some room.”

I nodded.

All but Lulu had pulled out screens now, all sending messages to protect, to rally, to defend. A strange assemblage, I thought again. But I was so lucky to have found them. “Thank you.”

They all looked up at me.

“You’re welcome,” Theo said, understanding in his kind smile. “But I’m pretty sure you still owe me twenty for coffee.”

* * *

* * *

We finished cleaning up the party and said goodbye to everyone but Connor.

Lulu gave me a hug. “We’ll figure out a way through this. Maybe you aren’t measuring the flour correctly.”

“Funny.” I pulled back, looked at her. “You have to be careful. I don’t think they’ll approach you, but I didn’t think they’d show up at my door, either.”

“I’ll be careful. And it’s my turn to add to the community collective mural, so I’ll be around people all week.”

Lulu was part of a volunteer group that painted murals in urban areas that needed care and brilliant colors. Even though she didn’t live as a Sup, she kept supernatural hours. That meant even outdoor murals were painted at night, usually under the glow of work lights she’d picked up secondhand. She liked working at night, being awake in the relative quiet of sleeping Chicago. And she especially liked working through to dawn, when the colors began to shift and change as the sunlight rose and spread.

“Okay. If anything weird happens, let me know.”

“You’ll be the first I call.” She went to her room, Eleanor of Aquitaine trotting behind, head and tail high.

When her door closed, Connor pulled me into his arms. I wrapped around him, breathed in sunshine and cologne and Pack. And breathed deeply for the first time in hours.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“I’m fine. This is going to be a mess.”

“It won’t be the first one you’ve handled. But if I find out someone in Minnesota reported you, we’re going to have some words.”

I put a hand on his chest, felt his heart thud beneath my palm. “Don’t take it out on the Pack. It was probably Ronan. He was furious when he discovered what I’d done.” I thought we’d worked through some of that anger before I left Minnesota, when he realized I hadn’t changed a human because I was spoiled and out of control. But it had only been a few weeks ago. Maybe something had festered, or gone wrong? It had been a few days since I’d checked on Carlie. I made a note to send her a message.

“So we assume the AAM didn’t tell your parents what they’re doing. Are you going to tell them?”

“No,” I decided. “Not yet. I don’t want them feeling like they have to fly to my rescue. And their being here would . . . complicate things.”

“Would it?” Connor asked.

“I don’t know exactly what the Compliance Bureau will want,” I said, “but I’m guessing they want me in a House, under the authority of a Master. They’ll want me to swear an oath.”

“And your parents will want it to be Cadogan House,” Connor finished.

I nodded. “They took it hard when I told them I didn’t consider myself a Novitiate and didn’t want to be. And if the AAM is pressuring me, that puts pressure on them, on Cadogan House.” I blew out a breath. “I know they can’t avoid all the blowback, but maybe the heat on them stays lower if they stay where they are.”

“They can’t be used against you,” Connor said, and I felt the immediate relief that came from being understood.

“Yeah,” I said. “Exactly. I understand why the AAM has rules,” I continued. “I understand the need to protect against vampires who’d build their own armies. Humans would annihilate us all if it came to that.”

“But that’s not what this is,” Connor said. “And if the rules can’t be flexible in situations like this, they’re bad rules.” He paused. “And there’s no way you’d consider taking an oath?”

I stepped back, putting space between us.

His eyes flashed. “A question,” he said. “Not an accusation.”

“I don’t want to be owned by a House. This is pretty good evidence that it involves obeying rules I don’t agree with.”

“I’ve always said vampires are trouble.”

“And yet, here you are.”

“And yet,” Connor said, lowering his mouth to mine. His kiss was warm and comforting, a reminder that I didn’t stand alone. But its edges were sharp—desire and anger, both dangerously honed. Both reminders of what could be. What would be.

“I guess this means we’ll be missing dinner tomorrow,” he said.

“Dinner?” I asked, tilting my head at him. “What dinner?”

His expression went flat. “I was going to bring over Italian food. Chianti.”

I winced. “I’m sorry. I totally forgot.”

“That might be the first time a woman has forgotten about a rendezvous with me.”

“You know what I like most about you? Your quiet and humble nature.”

He gave me his cockiest smile—all self-assured confidence. “Also the first time anyone has said that.”

“I bet. And again, I’m sorry. It would have been nice.” And that was putting it mildly. Eating a microwaved burrito in a convenience store parking lot would have been nice with Connor. But meatballs and sauce and excellent wine? Delectable.

He put a hand at the back of my head, leaned in to kiss my forehead. “There will be other times, other meals. And as for my ego?” He leaned in, whispered, “I earned it.”

And left me with a grin—and my pulse humming in my ears.

* * *

* * *

I closed the door, locked it, leaned against it. Flirting was an underrated art. Four years in Paris had taught me plenty, but I had nothing on the prince of wolves.

Now alone, I sat down on the hallway floor, stretched out my legs, closed my eyes. I let the monster stretch, unfurl the dark wings of its anger. It didn’t exactly consider me a friend, but I was at least an ally. And it didn’t care for its vehicle being threatened by outsiders.

When it had burned away some of the rage, I rose again, steadying myself with a hand against the wall. Its retreat was a vacuum, and it left me light-headed. And I’d have sworn I’d felt its pitying humor.

“Hilarious,” I muttered. “You try controlling two consciousnesses in a single body and see how well you do.”

Maybe I imagined it. But I’d have sworn its answer was Let me try.

I wasn’t yet tired—exhausted, but not tired—so I drank a bottle of blood, tidied up the rest of the loft, and flipped through the mail that had arrived earlier that day. And found a square envelope with my name printed on it in tidy block letters. No return address. Wedding invitation, I guessed, because why else would someone send something by hand when screens could transmit messages immediately.

I slipped a thumb under the seal, pulled out the folded paper, and read.

  Elisa:

I was so glad you decided to stay in Chicago instead of returning to Paris; let the European vampires deal with their own problems. You are beautiful and strong and an example of what vampires should be. I know we’ll meet in the future and have so much to talk about.

Until then, I am,

—A friend

That was it. Just those words written in tidy letters in the middle of a sheet of white paper.

It wasn’t the first weird note I’d received and wouldn’t be the last. Humans wrote me because they wanted to become vampires—or date one. Vampires wrote me because they wanted connections to my parents. Or, apparently, they came to my door and demanded my obedience.

We’d see who’d win.

THREE

Sleep. Blood. Yoga. I needed all three before my date with destiny.

I’d accomplished the first, and could thank the sun and resulting unconsciousness for that. Yoga I would manage on a mat I’d squeezed into my bedroom, as it was the only way I’d found to keep Eleanor of Aquitaine from intentionally trying to knock me over.

I’d done yoga for years, not just because I liked the results, but because the practice was the healthiest coping mechanism I’d managed to find for the monster. I hadn’t planned on sharing my body, but I’d accepted the necessity of accepting it.

I’d started katana training again, something I hadn’t done since my Paris graduation, partly to stay in shape for my Ombudsman work, and partly because the monster needed the outlet. But katana training didn’t soothe it, and tequila, while delicious in small doses, wasn’t nearly as effective at slowing my mind, or cooling its temper. Yoga had done wonders. And as long as the monster had an outlet for its energy and rather impressive rage, it let me stay in control.

It didn’t look through me with crimson eyes.

   
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