Home > Shadowed Steel (Heirs of Chicagoland #3)(9)

Shadowed Steel (Heirs of Chicagoland #3)(9)
Author: Chloe Neill

“Sorry,” Alexei said.

“Not your fault. I appreciate your helping tonight.”

“I’m still hungry,” Alexei said.

I pulled out my screen, sent him a message. He glanced at it, raised his brows.

“What?” Connor asked. “What did you send him?” His eyes narrowed. “It better not have been lascivious.”

“It’s money for more dogs,” Alexei said.

“I pay my debts,” I said and tossed my cup into the trash can. “You boys ready to ride?”

“Always,” Connor said and leaned over to press a kiss to my temple. “Good work, brat.”

“Thank you, puppy.”

* * *

* * *

Shifters may have been old-fashioned, but their corporate headquarters were uniquely modern. Lots of steel and glass and, thanks to Lulu, a gorgeous mural featuring an abstracted and diverse array of women. The building included a bar and restaurant, the industrial kitchens where they created their meaty fare, and the offices where, one assumed, business was conducted. The entire building had a faint tingle of magic, as if it had suffused the structure, collected in the pores of concrete.

I followed Connor inside, and we were immediately set upon by the scents of smoke and meat and the magic they made together.

A woman in a motorized scooter met us a few steps inside. “Come,” she said, narrowing the eyes that looked at us from beneath a wave of bleached hair. “There is work.”

“Good to see you, too, Aunt Berna,” Connor said, but we followed her down the hallway and into the kitchen, where shifters worked at long stainless steel tables, scooping food into containers or covering disposable pans with foil. But all movement stopped at our appearance in the doorway.

There were nods of acknowledgment for Connor, mostly curious glances at me. A couple of women in the corner lifted their chins defiantly, and I wasn’t sure if that’s because I was a vampire, or because I’d nabbed the prince they’d wanted.

Berna pulled aprons, gloves, and hairnets from a table, shoved them at us. “Put on,” she said dourly. She wasn’t really the convivial sort, but I usually got more than orders from her. And she adored Connor.

Connor watched her for a moment. “Why?” There was no sarcasm in the comment, just an honest inquiry.

“You fight on screen,” she said, looking from Connor to me, then back again. “Vampires make trouble; you join trouble.” She threw up her hands. “And then entire city in trouble. Father says you work.”

“Alexei was there, too,” Connor said.

Berna made a dismissive sound. “Alexei is not nephew,” she said and puttered away.

“Were you able to translate that?” he asked.

“Your father saw video of you fighting the Bureau, and now you’re being grounded. With what smells like brisket.”

Sighing, he looked around. “Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.”

“Who got the video?” I wondered. “I didn’t see anyone with a screen or a camera. Did you?”

“No. Maybe the Grove’s owners?”

“Maybe,” I said, but that didn’t seem to fit with what Petra had told us.

And if shifters had seen the video, it would almost certainly have made its way to vampires. Including my parents. I pulled out my screen, found two messages waiting—one from Lulu, and one from Mom and Dad. There was a world of distance between them, but they’d all seen the fight.

“Damn it,” I muttered. I assured Lulu I was fine and sent my parents a similar message: i’m safe and handling. will call later. love you.

“Everything okay?” Connor asked.

“Parents,” I said, sliding the screen into my pocket again. “What’s going on here?”

Connor moved to a rack on a stainless wall where clipboards hung from two dozen hooks. He glanced over them, flipped through the papers on one, then looked back at the tables as if to confirm.

“Big order,” he said. “Delivery’s at dawn for a big conference tomorrow in the Loop. They must have gotten behind.” He rolled his neck, slid me a glance. “You can go. I don’t think even Berna, formidable though she is, has the power to punish you.”

“And your father?” I asked.

He frowned. “That depends on some things. But I’m still thinking it through.”

The kitchen door swung open, and a female shifter walked in. Light brown skin scattered with freckles, dark curls that framed her dark eyes, thick brows. Miranda Mitchell was beautiful, but had an enormous chip on her shoulder about vampires and unrequited feelings for Connor. Those were only two of the apparently myriad reasons she didn’t like me. I couldn’t fault her loyalty to the Pack, but I didn’t usually care for the way she tried to protect it.

“Well, well,” she said, striding toward us. “Look who’s slumming it today,” she said, her dark eyes filled with loathing as she took in what remained of my jumpsuit, jewelry. “Manual labor’s quite a change for you, isn’t it?”

“Miranda,” Connor said pleasantly as he pulled on gloves. “How about you help instead of complaining?”

“I have other things to do,” she said. “She’s got you doing her dirty work, too? I saw video of the fight.”

Had they broadcast the damn thing in the bar? I wondered, but knew I needed to deal with this myself.

“Then you’ll know what I’m capable of,” I said. I turned to face her, getting close enough that she took a step back. “Help, or get out of the way.”

There was clapping across the room that silenced quickly when Miranda turned her gaze toward it.

When she looked back at me, mouth open, whatever she saw in Connor’s eyes had her quieting down. “Get to the things you have to do,” he said, the words a warning.

“Okay,” I said when she stomped out of the room; I pulled on my gloves. “Let’s get to work.”

FIVE

We worked for two hours, scooping baked beans into containers, preparing pans of corn bread for transport to the conference hotel, and moving the entire feast into the Pack’s delivery van. Aluminum pans weren’t stable in the best of times, and full of barbecue and beans, they were even harder to deal with. And burning hot.

There was a rack in the back of the van with slots the pans should slide into to keep, one presumed, sauce from splattering the walls of the van during transport. But even with vampiric strength, maneuvering hot, full, and bendable trays wasn’t the easiest endeavor.

“I’m going to end up wearing it,” I muttered, trying again to match the edges of pan to rack.

“Let me help you with that,” said a voice behind me.

I glanced back, found a man with light brown skin and straight, dark hair that fell to his shoulders. His eyes were brown below dark, straight brows, and above sculpted cheekbones. His grin was wide.

“Thanks,” I said, as he gripped the other end of the tray.

“I know you can take the weight,” he said, as we lifted and slid the tray home. “But it’s awkward.”

“It is.”

He locked the tray in place, shifting so the fall of dark hair slid across his face, then pushing it away again.

“I’m Daniel Liu.” He offered a hand.

“Elisa Sullivan,” I said, and we shook. His hand was strong, his nails carefully manicured, and elegant as his dark gray trousers and black shirt.

“You manage a sword very well,” he said.

They’d absolutely shown the video in the bar. “Thank you. I was well trained.”

“So I saw.” He slid his hands into his pockets. “Do you think the AAM will continue to trouble you?”

This man was obviously Pack—the magic was undeniable—but I didn’t know which members, other than Alexei and his relatives, Connor considered trustworthy, or how much information he wanted them to have.

I settled on, “Probably. They didn’t come all this way to be turned down.”

Connor appeared around the vehicle’s corner. “Daniel. You’re just the man I wanted to see.”

Daniel’s smile widened. “Prince. I was just making Elisa’s acquaintance.”

“Good,” Connor said, closing the van door. “Daniel just joined us from Memphis. And you don’t have to call me ‘prince.’”

“Prince,” Daniel agreed pleasantly. Connor just rolled his eyes.

“Welcome to Chicago,” I said. “What brings you north?”

Daniel slid a look at Connor. “He does. Memphis has an interest in the Pack’s future, its leadership. And we support the Keene family. Since much of the Pack is still in Alaska, I was nominated to ride up and . . . help.”

“He means he lost a bet,” Connor translated, leaning back against the van. “So instead of running the Tongass or enjoying some Delta blues, he gets to work security and endure lake effect snow.”

Daniel’s brows lifted. “What’s lake effect snow?”

“Newbies are so adorable,” I said and elbowed Connor. “Make sure he buys a good coat.”

A shifter came out of the building, clipboard in hand. “Get off my van, loafers.” This was Eli, one of Connor’s uncles.

Connor pushed off the van, nodded at him. “Uncle.”

“Whelp.” He looked at me, nodded. “Vampire.”

“Wolf,” I said, and he smirked.

“Everything loaded?”

“And ready,” Connor said. “Strange thing—I didn’t see you packing beans.”

“I’m management,” he said and opened the driver’s side door.

“I believe that’s my cue to find something else to do,” Daniel said and glanced at me. “Good to meet you.”

“And you. Thanks again for the help.”

“You’re welcome. Prince,” Daniel said again and walked back to the building.

   
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