Chicagoland Vampires and Heirs of Chicagoland

Wild Hunger (Heirs of Chicagoland #1) by Chloe Neill

Expected publication: August 14th 2018
In the first thrilling installment of Chloe Neill’s spinoff to the New York Times bestselling Chicagoland Vampires series, a new vampire will find out just how deep blood ties run.

As the only vampire child ever born, some believed Elisa Sullivan had all the luck. But the magic that helped bring her into the world left her with a dark secret. Shifter Connor Keene, the only son of North American Central Pack Apex Gabriel Keene, is the only one she trusts with it. But she’s a vampire and the daughter of a Master and a Sentinel, and he’s prince of the Pack and its future king.

When the assassination of an ambassador brings old feuds to the fore again, Elisa and Connor must choose between love and family, between honor and obligation, before Chicago disappears forever.




Snippets











BLADE BOUND (Chicagoland Vampires #13) by Chloe Neill  

Release date: April 25, 2017

The thrilling final installment of Chloe Neill’s New York Times bestselling urban fantasy series sees a sinister sorcery advancing across Chicago, and it may usher in the fall of Cadogan House… 
 
Since the night of her brutal attack and unwilling transformation to vampire, Merit’s stood as Sentinel and protector of Chicago’s Cadogan House.  She's saved the Windy City from the forces of darkness time and again with her liege and lover, Ethan Sullivan, by her side. 
 
When the House is infiltrated and Merit is attacked by a vampire seemingly under the sway of dark magic, Merit and Ethan realize the danger is closer than they could have ever imagined.  As a malign sorcery spreads throughout the city, Merit must go to war against supernatural powers beyond her comprehension.  It’s her last chance to save everything—and everyone—she loves.



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SNIPPETS


Cadogan House was old, stately, and luxurious, a three-story stone house on a rolling bit of lawn in Chicago’s Hyde Park. It was surrounded by an imposing fence meant to keep our enemies at bay, guarded by men and women who risked their lives to keep the House safe from attack. Tonight, as summer gave way to fall and a cool breeze spilled across the quiet dark, there was peace.
Katana at my side, I finished my patrol of the expansive grounds, nodded at the guard at the gate, and jogged up the stairs to the glowing portico. One final look, one last glance to ensure quiet in the realm, and then I opened the door … and walked back into chaos.
Cadogan House’s pretty foyer—hardwood floors, pedestal table of richly-scented flowers, gleaming chandelier—was crowded with people and noise. A vampire manned the front desk, and three others—Supplicants seeking time with Ethan Sullivan, Master of the House—waited in a bench along one side. Vampires carried boxes toward the basement stairs for the waiting truck, watched with an eagle eye by Helen, the House’s den mother.
A vampire with dark skin and shaved head rounded the corner into the foyer. This was Malik, Ethan’s Second in command. He wore a slim-cut dark suit—the official Cadogan House uniform—his skin contrasting vividly against the crisp white shirt and pale green of his eyes. He tracked the room, found me, and walked my way.
“Busy night,” he said.
“It is.”
A hush fell over the room, all talk and activity coming to a stop as Cadogan House’s Master stepped into the room. Every eye in the place turned to him, including mine.
That we’d known each other for a year didn’t make the sight of him any less thrilling. To the contrary—that he was mine, and I was most assuredly his, made the impact even more forceful.
He was tall and lean, the body of a man who’d once been a soldier. Even now, as a leader of vampires, he’d kept the same chiseled physique. His hair was golden-blond and shoulder length, his eyes the green of new emeralds. His jaw was square, his nose straight, his lips usually either quirked in a wicked grin, or pulled into a serious line—the expression of a Master with weight on his shoulders.
He also wore the Cadogan House uniform—a trim black suit that fitted him like the expensive, bespoke garment it probably was. He wore a white buttondown beneath, the top button unclasped to show the gleaming silver teardrop of the Cadogan medal that hung at his throat. It was a mark of solidarity, of unity, among the vampires of Cadogan House. And he wore it as well as everything else.
Beside him was a small woman with tan skin and dark hair. She was vampire, at least based on the invisible buzz of magic around her. And given the tightness around her eyes, she was a vampire with worries.
“We’ll be in touch,” Ethan promised, and she knotted her fingers together, inclined her head at him.
“Thank you so much.”
“You’re very welcome,” he said, and we all watched her head for the door.
But when I looked back at Ethan, his gaze was fixed on me.
Sentinel, he said through our telepathic connection, taking in the leather and steel of my ensemble. I like the look of you.



Mallory gestured to the green drink on the coffeetable. “And in the meantime, he’s making me drink glass clippings.”
Catcher rolled his eyes. “It’s kale, and it’s good for you.”
“I don’t see how it could be,” she said, and I grimaced on her behalf.

 



"I wouldn’t claim knowledge of every mote of Ethan’s four hundred years, but I knew the truth of him. I knew the dark and light, understood his secret symphony.”



"The spread of food was nearly embarrassing in both breading and quantity."




"I’d barely gotten the words out of my mouth when he pounced, covering my body with his and pressing me back into the bed."



"You’ve found your mate, Ballerina. That is both a tremendous gift—and a responsibility."


"When I looked back at Ethan, his gaze was fixed on me, eyes full of love and pride and wicked promise."



“You’ll be good,” Ethan said, nipping at my ear. “Or I’ll be bad.” I’m pretty sure that was a win-win.





Chapter Two

The Good Word


“Well,” I said, staring at the white stretch limo that sat at the curb. “At least you didn’t get the one with the hot tub.”
“Only ’cause it was booked,” Lindsey said. She’d worked soft waves into her hair and squeezed into a short black bandage dress that looked absolutely phenomenal on her. She glanced at me, gestured with anger in the air. “This was a good call.”
We all wore black dresses—that was the rule Lindsey had set for us—and I’d been decked out in a knee-length number with a square neck and cap sleeves. The fabric was snug and stretchy and left very little to the imagination. Thank god for my forgiving vampire metabolism, since dealing with Helen and my mother, who’d become the united front for a “sophisticated” wedding, had me raiding the kitchen’s chocolate stash a lot more than usual.
We were sharing the limo with Margot, the House chef. Margot had dark hair and plenty of curves, and she’d opted for a fit and flare dress.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” There was clipping down the sidewalk as a petite woman with blue hair ran toward us. “I’m late!”
Mallory’s LBD was knee-length, sleeveless, and flowy, which she had the petite frame to pull off. She’d styled her ombre blue hair so it curled across her shoulders, and wore enormous silver earrings in the shape of flowers.
She reached out and squeezed me, smelling faintly like lavender and herbs. Probably something she’d concocted in her craft-slash-magic room. “Happy Darth Sullivan Eve!”
I couldn’t help but snort. “Is that the official title?”
“It is,” Mallory assured me, and pulled a satin sash out of her tiny clutch purse. It read Future Mrs. Darth Sullivan in glittery letters.
I’d been prepared to say no to any “Future Mrs.” or “Bride-to-Be” sashes, but I decided I couldn’t pass up glitter and snark together, so I let her pull it over my head.
“Oh, that turned out nicely,” Lindsey said, hands on her hips as she surveyed it, then smiling at Mallory. “Is your house just covered in glitter now?”
Mallory stepped back, adjusted my sash carefully. “It’s every-freaking-where. It’s probably the perfect vector for worldwide contagion, should any bad guys figure that out.”
The tall, lean, liveried driver walked around the car, raised two fingers to his strawberry blond hair. “Ladies, I’ll be your chauffer for the evening.”
“Hi, Brody,” said those of us from Cadogan House to the guard who’d also become our occasional transporter. He had solid moves behind the steering wheel.
Lindsey’s gaze narrowed. “You weren’t on the list as driver. Are you playing hall monitor?”
Brody held out his hands, and his expression looked innocent enough. “I’m just here to drive. I’m not a nark.”
Lindsey stepped up to him, gave him her fiercest look. Which was actually pretty fierce. “If word one of what happens tonight gets back to anyone, I will know that word came from you.”
“And that would be bad.”
Lindsey’s eyes gleamed silver. “It would be the most possible badness. Did I mention Merit and I have been practicing with the throwing knives?”
Brody swallowed visibly. “Are you good at it?”
She smiled, showing fang. “Very.”Brody wasn’t the newbie he’d been before, and he didn’t look as fazed by Lindsey’s hazing as he once would have. But she still outranked him, so he nodded.
“You’re the boss.”
“Damn right,” she said with a cheeky grin, and gestured to the door. “Ladies, if you please, we can get this show on the road.”
Since she was the boss, I maneuvered carefully on ice-pick heels from curb to car and climbed into the limo.
Margot slid into the seat next to me. “Thanks for the invite. It’s nice to get out of the kitchen.”
“How’s that going?” Margot refused to allow us to hire a caterer for the wedding, much to my mother’s chagrin. Since my mother’s pick would have resulted in shrimp foam at our wedding, I was fully behind Team Margot.
“It’s going,” she said. “Total Bridezilla situation. ‘I don’t want shrimp foam. Don’t give me shrimp foam.’”
“Can you blame me?”
“I really can’t. And that’s why the mini Italian beef sliders will be a huge hit.” She gave me a good looking over. “How are you feeling? Are you nervous?”
I watched Lindsey through the window as she and Mallory talked very seriously about something. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but Mallory checked her watch. Maybe the entertainment was running late.
“About what Lindsey and Mallory have in store for tonight?” I asked, trying to read their lips.
Turns out, I did not have that skill. I did recognize excitement on Lindsey’s face and worry on Mallory’s, but she hadn’t said anything to me about something bothering her. And now that I was looking, there were dark circles beneath her eyes. I’d have to ask her about that later; I hoped the wedding wasn’t the reason for it.
“About the wedding,” Margot said with a laugh.
I smiled, glanced back at her. “The marriage, no. The wedding, a little,” I admitted.
She winked, patted my knee.
“Where are we going?” I asked, when Lindsey and Mallory settled along the back wall and Mallory began passing out champagne flutes.
“To celebrate your last night of freedom!” Mallory said. “Now, stop asking questions and relax. Everything is in our hands.”
“That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.”
# # #
I’d spent the last month—when not patrolling the House or attending fittings—trying to figure out what Mallory and Lindsey were planning. I’d checked off all the stereotypical ideas—strippers, barhopping, rounds of half-drunk karaoke. None of those were me, and I didn’t think they were particularly us. But that left me stymied. Lindsey was plenty full of flirty bravado, Mallory of wicked creativity, and I was stuck in the middle between them, hoping my evening wouldn’t involve squealing, feather boas, and body shots.
The alcoholic kind, anyway. I wouldn’t say no to a good, sweaty round of sparring.
Brody drove north toward downtown, the lake a shadow to our right, away from Hyde Park and toward downtown Chicago. It figured that we’d head toward the city’s center, which offered pretty much any activity a girl could want—from boat rides to museum tours to really good blues. So it didn’t give me a single clue.
When Brody pulled the limo in front of a small slip of a building, I had to reassess. It was modern in design, with a tall, narrow window and offset door in flaming red. There were no signs, no names on the door, not even an address number.
Intriguing. “What is this place?” I asked.
“My half of the party,” Mallory said as we climbed out of the limo one by one—and then tugged our dresses back into place. “A little something for you and for me.”
She walked to the door, pressed a small buzzer.
After a moment, a thin woman with dark skin smiled out at us. “Merit party?” she asked with a smile.
“Merit party,” Mallory agreed.
“Welcome to Experience,” the woman said, and held the door open so we could walk inside.
The door opened into a long, narrow room with gleaming wood doors and a long, dark table in the middle. The walls glowed pale amber behind crisscrossing pieces of the same wood, like they burned from the inside. Rectangular sconces hung above us at varying heights. Jazz played warmly in the background.
There were women already in the room with champagne flutes in hand—including my sister, Charlotte.
“Hey, baby sister!” Charlotte said, walking forward and em- bracing me. Like me, she had my father’s dark hair and pale blue eyes. She wore a sleeveless black dress with a flared skirt and patent flats with bows on the toes. She smelled like lilacs, the same perfume she’d worn since she was a teenager.
“Hey, Char,” I said, squeezing her back. “How’s my favorite niece?”
“Being quite the two-and-a-half-year-old, Olivia believes she is a debutante and is very disappointed she can’t go to her aunt Merit’s party tonight. But she is very excited about being a flower girl. And she’s been practicing.”
“Oh my god, I bet that’s adorable.”
Charlotte put a hand on her heart. “granted, she’s my kid, but yes. It is quite possibly the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen.”
“I’m sure she’ll toss those petals with aplomb.”
Charlotte nodded. “If she remembers to toss them, yes. So far, it’s been more of a petal-free sashay.”
Sounded entertaining either way.
The woman who’d opened the door, who wore a tunic over dark leggings, walked to the table and pulled out the center chair. I glanced back at Mallory, who nodded.
“Go for it, sister,” she said and, when I was seated, took the chair next to mine.
“We’re having dinner?” I asked her. I’d actually grabbed a bite before leaving the House, to lay the foundation for what I assumed would be ample champagne.
“Not exactly,” Mallory said, and gestured toward the doorway that led to the back of the building. The moment we were all seated, a bevy of waiters in black button-downs and jeans walked through, domed trays in hand. With the perfect timing of practiced dancers, they each walked to a spot at the table and simultaneously placed the trays in front of us, leaving the domes in place.
“The first course,” the hostess said, hands clasped in front of her, and the waiters whisked away the domes, revealing gleaming white plates dotted with a rainbow of fruit around a pretty cube of chocolate cake, a small dish of what looked like chocolate mousse, and some kind of lacey and delicate cookie.
I glanced at Mallory as the women around the table oohed and aahed. “You got me chocolate.” My heart lifted, sang. I should have trusted that these two would do it right.
“It’s a chocolate-tasting table!” Mallory said, hands clasped together at her chest like a kid with a burning secret. “Five full courses!”
I wiped away an imaginary tear. “I love you guys.”
“Damn right you do.” Mallory lifted her glass. “To my immortal sister from another mister, and the future wife of the hottest damn vampire in the United States.”
“To Merit!” Lindsey said, and everyone raised a glass. “Now, for god’s sake,” she said. “Let the girl eat!”
# # #
I had to give the chefs credit—and sent my compliments back. I’d had my own chocolate stash once upon a time, but I still hadn’t realized how diverse chocolate could be in the hands of a talented person. There was chocolate soup, chocolate foam, drinking chocolate, smoked chocolate. Chocolate with pistachio cream, chocolate with Scotch bonnet peppers, chocolate with bacon (a personal favorite), raspberries injected with chocolate, and a dozen more.
Somewhere near the bottom of the fifth inning, I decided even my immortal body couldn’t hold any more chocolate. I spent a few minutes chatting with the guests and watching Mallory. The worry I’d seen earlier hadn’t dissipated. Either they hadn’t managed to work out the kinks in tonight’s plan, or something else was bothering her.
I didn’t like thinking about what might be worrying my oldest friend and talented sorceress—and the woman who’d outmagicked Sorcha Reed. But I also knew that she probably wanted the break and release of a party as much as the rest of us. So I decided I’d bide my time—and interrogate her later.
The hostess returned with a large silver tray of mints, fruit, and cheese.
“Please, sir,” I said, hand over my stomach. “I do not want some more.”
“With you,” Mallory said, waving off the tray when it was offered to her. “That mousse-cake square did me in.”
“It wasn’t the half dozen before it?” Margot asked dryly, chocolate hangover clear on her face.
“I didn’t eat six mousse-cake squares.”
“I think you had eight,” Lindsey said, licking chocolate off her thumb.
Mallory looked a little horrified, and a little nauseous.“It’s all good,” I said, patting Mallory’s hand. “Special occasion.” “Says you. I can actually gain weight, vampire girl. Still, though . . .”
This time, when she looked at the empty plates in front of most of the women at the table, there was pride in her eyes. “We did damn good work here tonight.”
“To us,” Margot said, and lifted her glass. “And to Merit, and Darth Sullivan, the sexiest Master vampire in the history of the world.”
“Hear, hear!” Mallory said. And then she burped. Which seemed appropriate.
# # #
Still a little chocolate drunk, we were whisked back into the limo and shuttled to our next stop, which I hoped was a place of quiet contemplation of my bellyful of seventy-five percent bittersweet.
“My turn!” Lindsey said. “And be warned—I am hopped up on sugar and chocolate.”
“Oh good,” I said. “Because you’re usually so quiet and reserved.” That got the chuckle it deserved.“What’s next?” I asked.“We’re going to do the party a little more Cadogan style,” she said.By Cadogan style, she’d meant at Temple Bar, Cadogan’s official watering hole. It was located in Wrigleyville, a neighborhood north of the gold Coast and also home, as the name hinted, to Wrigley Field.
We pulled up in front, Sean holding open the door and his brother and fellow Irishman, Colin, ringing the brass bell behind the bar.
“Merit is on the premises!” he yelled out, to the applause of a crowd of vampires. There were plenty in the packed bar I didn’t recognize, but all of them were women.
Our table was near the front of a make-do stage at one end of the long, narrow bar. Maybe I was getting a stripper tonight, although I couldn’t imagine wanting to see anyone naked as much as I did Ethan. His long, lean form was pretty much a continuous delight.
The vampires dispersed among the crowd to chat with the others in the room. Lindsey grabbed drinks from the bar, gin and tonics all around, while Mallory sat beside me, checking her phone with a worried expression. Even when Lindsey brought an armful of sparkling gin and tonics for us, she didn’t seem to perk up.
“I’ll be right back,” Lindsey said, kissing the top of my head. “Just need to check on something.” She disappeared into the back of the bar.
“Everything okay?” I asked Mallory when we were alone. “Why wouldn’t it be?”“Well, for starters, you’re in bar full of vampires, which a year ago you’d have been crazily happy about. You’re practically famous after Towerline, and every Comic Con in the country wants you as a guest sorceress, which is apparently a thing now. But you don’t look very happy about it.”
She put a hand over mine. “I am happy.”
“For me,” I said. “And I appreciate that. But there’s more to it. What’s going on?”
Mallory shook her head as if to clear it. “Nothing. This is your bachelorette party, and we are not going to worry about me.”
I used the same look I’d given Helen, stared at her with narrowed eyes. “Mallory Delancey Carmichael Bell.”
“Nothing, Merit.”“Mallory.”She tipped back her head, let out a frustrated sound. “It’s just—I feel weird.”“Weird? What’s wrong? Are you sick? Are you sleeping? You look tired.”“I’m not sick, and I’m not pregnant, since that seems to be the other frequently asked question.” She shook her head. “I have . . . a malaise?”
I frowned. “About the wedding?”
“Oh Lord, no. You and Ethan were made for each other, even if he did have to wait four centuries to find you. Which, if you ask me, is probably good for him.” She winked. “Makes him more grateful.”
“Then what kind of bad feeling?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s just this vague magical feeling. A kind of unease, I guess?”
“From what? From where?”
“I have no idea. There’s nothing specific in it. Not even a spec of what I could call a thing, or a threat, or a looming damn cloud.” Her words picked up speed with the rise of her frustration. “Just unease. Catcher’s being supportive, but I know he doesn’t feel it. And that makes me feel like I’m being paranoid.”
“So, let’s assume you aren’t being paranoid. What could be bothering you? Not You Know Who.” That was as much as I wanted to mention the woman who’d tried to control us.
“No,” she said. “It’s been four months, there’s been no sign of her, and the city’s warded even if she did come back. Other than that, I don’t know.”
Mallory looked at me, and the concern in her eyes was even deeper than I’d thought. Whatever this was, she wasn’t done with it.
“What if I can’t do happy, Merit? I mean, I’m married, and you’re getting married, and with the exception of the world’s most idiotic ghost hunters, no supernatural drama. No River nymph in-fighting. We haven’t been thrown to the wolves by the mayor or anyone else looking to use us for political fodder. I should be freaking thrilled. Instead . . .” She sighed, shrugged.
I took her hand, squeezed it. “Mal, you are the happiest person I know. The brightest person—except when you were evil.”
“Except for that.”
“And even then, you crawled out of it. So if you tell me something’s off, I believe you. Have you talked to the Order about it? I thought you guys were on better terms.”
“They already think I’m crazy.”
“Well, what about Gabriel? Maybe the Pack’s felt something similar.” Although I hoped Chicago’s resident shifter alpha would have come to us if he’d believed something was wrong.
“I don’t even know what I could tell him. ‘Gabe, I know you’re busy being hot and wolfy and all, but all this peace and prosperity is making me antsy’?”
“Then I’m officially out of ideas.”
“So you think I’m crazy, too?” She must have heard the rising panic in her voice, as she held up a hand. “Sorry. I’m sorry. This is just wearing on me.”
I put an arm around her, squeezed. “We’re going to be ne, Mallory. Everything is going to be ne. I’m going to get married, and Ethan and I are going to have a wonderful week in Paris.”
“You’re right. I know you’re right.” She shook out her hands, her shoulders, obviously trying to loosen up. “What’s going to hap- pen is going to happen, and there’s no point in worrying about it now. Let’s just have fun.”
“Let’s just have fun,” I agreed, and clinked my glass against hers.
Because, paranoid or not, the other shoe was bound to drop. It always did.
“All right, ladies!” Lindsey said, standing on a chair in her bare feet, ringing her glass with a spoon. When the crowd quieted, she glanced around the room. “We’ve reached the, ahem, climax of tonight’s Bachelorettetravaganza!”
“How many names does this thing have?” I whispered to Mallory.
“I think seven? We threw out ‘Merit Does Chicago’ and ‘Sullivan Two: The Resullivaning.’”
“Good call.”
“Colin,” Lindsey said, gesturing to the bartender. “If you would?” The overhead lights dimmed, but the spot on the small stage in front of us brightened on a single black chair that sat in front of a microphone. Music began to play, a jazz song with a playful, flirty rhythm.
As Lindsey sat down to join us, a man walked out of the back room, onto the stage.
Tan skin, dark hair, dark beard, his hair in a very well-executed knot at the top of his head. His eyes were green, his lashes as thick and dark as his beard, his mouth a long line that turned up at one corner. He wore jeans, boots, and nothing else. The terrain of his body was all smooth skin and hard, curving muscle, his left arm marked by a complicated monochrome tattoo.
The room went absolutely silent.
“Well,” Margot said quietly. “He is . . . rather attractive.”
“Attractive,” Lindsey said, tilting her head as she stared at his biceps. “And well-defined.”
“A dictionary couldn’t do it better,” Mallory said, eyes glassy as she stared at the man.
I glanced at Lindsey. “I can’t believe you hired a dancer. Ethan is going to kill you. Or me. Or both of us.”
“Oh, honey,” Lindsey said. “He isn’t here to dance.”
Regardless, with the grace of a dancer, the man spun the chair around backward, took a seat, and pulled a thin, worn paper- back from his back pocket. He looked up at me, smiled. “Your party?”
I nodded, suddenly nervous.“Cool. Lord Byron work for you?”I actually felt my face warm. “Sure?”
Beside me, Lindsey snickered, the sound full of satisfaction. He nodded, thumbed through some pages. “Ladies,” he said, meeting our gazes. And then, looking down at the page, he began to recite.
“She walks in beauty, like the night / Of cloudless climes and starry skies; And all that’s best of dark and bright / Meet in her aspect and her eyes.”
Every single woman in the room sighed.
I wasn’t sure if he was a grad student, poet, actor, stripper, or brilliant combination of all those things. But the man knew Lord Byron, and he knew words. He knew the rise and fall of sentences, the way to pause, the moment to look up, catch our gazes, smile. He knew emphasis and speed, pacing and clarity. He was a prince of poetry, and he had us mesmerized.
Champagne was uncorked and dunked into gleaming silver  chalices of ice, then poured into tall, thin glasses while we listened, legs crossed and perched forward in our chairs.
“Is it better if we’re objectifying his body and his brain?” Margot asked, lifting the thin straw in her gin and tonic for a sip.“I don’t much care,” Mallory said. “He gives good word.”
I couldn’t have put it better myself.
 

 

PHANTOM KISS (Chicagoland Vampires #12.5) by Chloe Neill

Release date: January 17, 2017
In this all-new novella from the New York Times bestselling author of Midnight Marked, Merit, Ethan, and the rest of Cadogan House crew discover that not all undead creatures are kindred spirits…

Vampires generally aren’t afraid of things that go bump in the night, but Merit and Ethan are extra jumpy after a recent attack by a dark sorcerer. So when they learn that someone is messing with graves in Chicago’s cemeteries, stealing skulls and snatching souls, they fear that their powerful foe might be back for even more magical vengeance.

But after a specter begins haunting Cadogan House—and targeting vampires—they realize that their being taunted by an altogether different sort of monster. A ghoulish villain straight out of the Windy City’s urban legends is on the prowl—and he won’t stop until he’s killed again... 

 



Chapter One

“There is no torture so sweet, no punishment so sublime, as the couple’s wedding shower.”
The tortured vampire, who was tall and chiseled enough to make Apollo weep with jealousy, stood beside me at the threshold of a mansion in Oak Park, Illinois.
The house belonged to my parents. In two months, the vampire would belong to me.
He wore a perfectly fitted dark suit, a crisp white shirt beneath. The top button was undone to reveal the silver drop that rested in the hollow of his throat. His hair was golden and fell to his shoulders, his eyes the green of flawless emeralds.
“You rule a House of vampires,” I reminded Ethan. “You’ve fought monsters, sorcerers, evil politicians. You can handle presents and party games for a couple of hours.”
The look of horror that widened his eyes was priceless. Not that I was thrilled about entering my parents’ house. No matter the occasion, being here felt like being corseted into a body that wasn’t quite my own. On the upside, at least I wasn’t going to be tortured alone. Ethan was my partner in crime.
His gaze narrowed. “You didn’t mention party games.”
“It was understood,” I said. “That’s the nature of a wedding shower. Just be glad it’s the only one you have to attend.”
We’d have a short engagement—only four months from the first ring to the second—and we were now only two months away from the ceremony. Since Ethan insisted on a dazzling wedding that would show off his bride-to-be—and who was I to argue with that?—the brief engagement meant a lot of planning and lead-in activities were compressed into a short time. That was one reason we’d opted for a single couple’s shower instead of the varied bridal variety.
Ethan arched a golden eyebrow, skimmed his hot gaze over the dark, swingy dress I’d paired with low black boots, the pearls at my neck, the dark hair I’d left loose around my shoulders. “You’ll owe me, Sentinel.” He leaned forward, lips at my ear. “And I mean to collect.”
Just as he’d intended, my blood went hot. “You’ll have plenty of time to collect after the party.” I swept past him, opened the door, and grinned back. “We are immortal, after all.”
My parents’ modernist home, a weird cube of concrete among Frank Lloyd Wright look-alikes, had been outfitted with white and silver streamers and paper lanterns that were unusually usual for a wedding shower. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.
My mother, Meredith Merit, and my sister, Charlotte Corkburger, had organized the party. I’d given them a list of my friends, and they’d handpicked the rest of the invitees based on some complicated calculus they hadn’t fully explained to me but which had required a whiteboard, markers, and enough symbols to populate a spell book.
“Happy shower!” My mother walked toward us, two tall champagne flutes in hand. Charlotte stood in front of a long table covered with silver dishes and tiered trays of food. We both had our father’s dark hair, although hers were green to my blue. She glanced back and waved, and I did the same.
“Thank you, Mom,” I said, and took the flute, noted the crimson liquid it held did not look like champagne.
“Blood4You cocktail!” my mother said brightly.
Ethan took a sip and nodded, as if pleasantly surprised by the taste. “Very nice,” he said. “And the house looks lovely.” He flashed the Masterly smile that made all manner of human and supernatural folk weak in the knees.
“We had so much fun working with the party planner,” my mother said, hand on her chest.
“Planning a good event is a very satisfying process,” Ethan said, then slid me a glance. “In fact, I requested one of our vampires act as a social coordinator for the House.”
“It wasn’t a request,” I murmured. “It was a punishment.”
“Was it?” His expression was all innocence. “I must remember it differently.”
I just shook my head.
“Well, in any event, you’ll have fun tonight.”
That remained to be seen, but I’d give it my best shot. I looked around, scanning the faces I knew,and didn’t see my brother, Robert, or my father. “Robert and Dad aren’t here?”
My mother tried to hide her sudden wince, but not successfully. She traded it for a light smile that wasn’t any more convincing, and gestured offhandedly. “They’re at a real estate closing in New York. You know how they are.”
Maybe there’d been a closing. Or maybe my father was still my father, and my brother was still my brother. The former didn’t know how to deal with me. The latter was still angry because he believed I’d ruined the possibility of Merit Properties’ future business with Sorcha and Adrien Reed. Sorcha was a sorceress whose plan to control supernaturals we’d recently thwarted; Adrien was her entrepreneurial husband, dead by her own hand. Their own actions had led to their downfall—magically and economically. But since I was a supernatural, Robert blamed me.
“They are who they are,” I said, and tried a smile that wasn’t any better than hers. But I fixed it into place, because this night was about Ethan and love and celebration. It wasn’t about my brother’s petty and misguided tantrum.
When Ethan picked that moment to put a hand at my back, to remind me that he was beside me whatever other drama came our way, I felt better. We were who we were.
My mother slipped an arm into Ethan’s. “I have so many people to introduce you to! They’re dying to meet you, if you’ll excuse the pun.”
“It’s one of my favorite puns,” Ethan said with a smile. “I look forward to meeting more of Merit’s family. They always have such interesting stories to tell.”
I could feel the blood drain from my face. Maybe the couple’s shower hadn’t been such a good idea after all. “Let’s stick to recent history, please.” But Ethan just smiled.
“I know all the recent history,” he said. “It’s the rest I’m interested in.”
“We’ll be back!” my mother said lightly, then whisked him into the arms of her chattering friends.
I wasn’t alone for long.
“Merit!”
I looked back, found my blue-haired best friend—classically pretty, pale, and petite—moving through the crowd. Mallory Bell was escorted by her husband, Catcher. He was taller and buff, with pale skin and close-cropped hair that set off intense green eyes.
“Happy wedding shower,” she said, squeezing me in a hug. “The place looks great—for a concrete box.”
“That sums it up pretty well,” I said.
She snagged a flute of pretty pink juice from a waiter with a silver tray. “These are mango and dragon fruit. You should try one.”
I held up my blood cocktail, grinned at her. “I’ll try yours if you try mine.”
“Been there, done that.”
I tilted my head at her. “You have?”
She lifted a shoulder. “You had those bottles of Blood4You at the house.”
I’d shared Mallory’s Wicker Park home before moving into Cadogan House. I’d left partly because of my obligations as Sentinel and partly to avoid her and Catcher’s any-room-goes style of lovemaking. I’d vastly exceeded my personal quota of naked sorcerer sightings.
“I had a sip one night.” She wrinkled her nose. “It was not delightful.”
I was a vampire and I wouldn’t even call blood delightful. But as much as Blood4You’s marketing team tried to pretend otherwise, it wasn’t about the taste. It was about the need, the comfort, the satisfaction. However unsavory the practice might have been to humans, blood filled a vampire’s belly like nothing else did.
“To each her own,” Catcher said, glancing around. “Where’s your fiancé?”
I gestured across the room to where he chatted with my grandfather, Chicago’s supernatural Ombudsman and Catcher’s employer.
The Ombudsman looked decidedly lived-in, with a slender ring of silver hair, a plaid shirt and trousers, and comfortable shoes. I loved my grandfather for many reasons, not the least of which was because the cop-turned-supernatural-investigator looked perfectly at home in his own skin.
My mother stood with them, a contrast in her sheath dress and Chanel pumps, diamonds glittering in her ears.
“Ethan cuts a fine form in those black suits of his,” Mallory said with a wink, earning a slightly narrowed stare from her husband. “But you’re the only control freak for me,” she said, putting a hand on his chest.
To each her own in love, too.
# # #
We chatted with relatives I hadn’t seen in years—and some I was pretty sure I’d never seen. There were pictures and canapés and handshakes with cousins thrice removed. But there were no party games, thank God. My mother and Charlotte had evidently given up trying to think a game that would have been appropriate for humans and a four-centuries-old vampire.
Ethan and I had made the rounds, talking with Mallory and Catcher, with Margot, the House’s vampiric chef (and our wedding caterer), with Lindsey, my closest vampire friend and a House guard, and with Luc, the House’s guard captain and Lindsey’s beau.
Malik, Ethan’s second-in-command, had volunteered to stay at Cadogan and keep things running while we were gone. We had promised to bring him a slice of cake but weren’t entirely sure if the “cake” my mother had ordered would count. It was less pastry than edible sculpture—a tall and wriggling three- dimensional heart made of a dozen layers of beet-stained gelatin. My mother loved edgy, modern cuisine as much as she loved edgy, modern architecture.
We’ll go by Portillo’s on the way home, Ethan said as we looked it over. That should satisfy Malik.
I wasn’t about to argue with that. Portillo’s had the best cake shakes in Chicago.
We’d requested no gifts and had offered suggestions for charitable donations for the guests who were
determined to give something. But we still received beautifully wrapped presents, including two fancy toasters, a set of expensive towels, and a dozen crystal champagne flutes. Very generous of the thrice- removed cousins, if unnecessary.
I’m certain there are several shelters in town that would be thrilled to have these, Ethan said when I opened Toaster Number Three.
Excellent plan, I said, and I smiled at the small, wizened woman who’d given it to us. She was a great-aunt on my father’s side—my paternal grandmother’s sister—and looked to be nearly immortal herself. “Thank you, Aunt Sarah. What a thoughtful gift,” I said as my mother added the toaster to the growing pile.
When the last gift was distributed and we’d thanked two dozen people for their generosity, Great- Aunt Sarah came forward again.
“There are lazy, no-good vampires living down the street from me,” she pronounced.
We stared at her.
My mother, smile firmly in place, took Sarah’s elbow. “Sarah, I’m certain that’s not an appropriate thing to say at a party.”
Or anywhere else, I silently added. But Sarah intended to have her say.
“Up at all hours of the night, sleeping all day. Taking advantage of the system is what that is. Probably taking plenty of government handouts.”
Since Sarah lived on her late husband’s earnings and hadn’t worked a day in her life, I didn’t think she was in much of a position to judge our work ethic.
“Sarah,” my mother said again, more firmly this time, and tried to tug the woman away. “You’re being a bit rude.”
More than a bit, I thought, and slid my gaze to Ethan, watched him work to bite back the bitter words he undoubtedly wanted to say to this ignorant woman. He’d hold his tongue out of consideration for me, for the circumstances. Fortunately, I didn’t feel the same restriction.
“I’m not sure why you’re here,” I said when Sarah refused to move, her chin lifted in defiance. “You clearly don’t respect us, yet you’ve accepted my mother’s invitation and her hospitality. You’ve come into her house with prejudice and hatred, and you’ve spilled your vitriol in her home. That’s fantastically rude.”
Sarah’s mouth opened, forming a perfect O of shock in the silence that followed my statement. She probably wasn’t used to being challenged. Too bad for her, because I wasn’t done.
“As is common knowledge, which you’re apparently choosing to ignore, vampires are allergic to sunlight. They are nocturnal, and their existence isn’t limited to what you do or don’t see of them. To answer the second accusation, vampires aren’t entitled to government assistance because we aren’t human. So it’s literally impossible that your neighbors are receiving ‘handouts.’”
Splotches of color rose on Sarah’s cheeks. She opened her mouth to respond, but I held up a finger. “You’ve said your piece; I’ll say mine. If you want to be prejudiced and hateful, you might as well own it. Don’t make excuses based on incorrect information.”
“Well,” my mother said a moment later, the word echoing across the quiet room, and looked at Sarah. “I believe it’s time for you to go.” Skilled as an entertainer of guests, my mother sounded perfectly pleasant.
“I am here, and I have been generous, and I am appalled by this treatment. Joshua will hear about what’s gone on here today.”
“He’ll certainly hear about it from me,” my mother said.
Sarah shuffled through the crowd, disappearing toward the front of the house.
There were undoubtedly guests who agreed with me, but they hadn’t spoken up. To my mind, that was as good as condoning her behavior. While it was unlikely she’d change her opinion, I’d still fight the good fight.
Sometimes, that was the best thing—and the only thing—you could do.




SNIPPETS
  
"Back then, I preferred my vampires sparkly and my monsters fictional.” -- Mallory Carmichael



"His nimble fingers roamed with slow deliberation, as if he might memorize the shape of my body through touch alone."




Ethan opened his mouth closed it again. "Is that a compliment?"
I'm not entirely sure," I said with a smile, patted his leg. "But I do respect your ability to throw shade on an asshole."




    
"The thing moved closer to her, the fog coalescing..."