Home > Wicked Hour (Heirs of Chicagoland #2)(8)

Wicked Hour (Heirs of Chicagoland #2)(8)
Author: Chloe Neill

Arne nodded. “It seemed to us that if any parents were going to worry about their kids being friends with shifters, it would be easier to be be honest. For the parents to make a conscious decision.”

“Worked for us growing up,” Connor said. I think he’d meant to include me. And while he was partially right—my childhood had been as “normal” as my parents could make it—humans had a very different relationship with vampires than with shifters. Shifters were intriguing; vampires were dangerous.

“It’s worked pretty well here. A few parents opted out, but the girls have a really nice group of friends.” Marian fished the tea bag out of her mug, set it aside. “We’re happy here. And if we need to be with the clan, the Pack, we can go to Grand Bay.”

“And Grand Bay?” Connor asked. “What are you hearing from there?”

Marian’s brows lifted. “You should know, since you’re headed that way, no?”

“We are,” Connor said. “But it always seems wise to check.”

“You heard about Paisley?” Marian asked.

He frowned. “Who’s Paisley?”

“Young female shifter who died.” Marian turned her gaze toward Arne. “What’s it been, a couple of weeks now?”

“Thereabouts,” Arne said.

Marian nodded. “Hit-and-run,” she said, then sipped her tea. “She was walking or running—we aren’t sure—along the old main road, by the resort, when she was struck by a car. The car didn’t stop.”

“How did they find her?” I asked.

Marian sipped, nodded. “One of the clan elders, a man named Loren, had walked to a coffeehouse up the road and found her in the middle of it. It was a Saturday night, and Loren believed one of the locals imbibed too much, kept driving because they’d been drinking and knew there’d be a heavy price to pay.”

“What did the sheriff say?”

“Same conclusion,” Arne said, “as far as we’re aware. No one saw or heard the vehicle, and if any of the locals know anything about it, they aren’t talking.”

Marian nodded. “She was one of the younger shifters—the up-and-comers, you could say. The younger generation has tried to distance themselves from the clan’s elders.”

“In what ways?” Connor asked.

“For one, they’re lobbying to be public about who they are. They want to be honest about their identities, and the elders aren’t interested in it. They’re also angry about the resort; they want to revitalize the grounds, and the elders aren’t interested in that, either.”

“We don’t know that there’s any actual fighting per se,” Arne said, looking at Marian for confirmation. “But there’s definitely tension.”

“The more things change,” Connor said philosophically. “How does Georgia feel about all this? She’s an elder, after all.”

“Mom likes what’s familiar,” Marian said. “She’d deal with changes if she had to, but she’s mostly content.”

There was gentle rapprochement in her voice, as if Marian hadn’t agreed with her mother’s position.

We sat quietly for a moment, sipping our drinks and listening to the girls’ bubbly chatter from the other room.

If I was being honest, this was not at all what I’d expected to find on this trip. A happy family of shifters acting like any other happy family might and letting me—an obvious outsider—sit companionably in their home.

“There are more interesting rumors coming out of Grand Bay, you know,” Arne said.

“What rumors?” Connor asked.

“Some sort of bigfoot,” Arne said. “Supposedly.”

“The Beast of Owatonna,” Marian said. “Or that’s what they’re calling it.”

Connor arched a brow. “What’s the Beast of Owatonna?”

“Minnesota’s answer to Bigfoot,” Marian said with a grin. “A big and hairy creature that supposedly stalks prey in the North Woods.”

“Are we sure humans haven’t just seen shifters in their native forms?” I asked.

“That would be the simplest answer,” Arne said with a smile. “And logical. But the sightings came from clan members, not humans.”

“They find any evidence?” Connor asked. “Footprints, scat?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” Arne said, glancing at Marian for confirmation.

“Nope,” she said.

“God only knows what happens in the North Woods. Probably young guns screwing around, maybe hoping they get caught by the humans. Either way, it’s the kind of thing that might attract attention, and the clan doesn’t want that.”

A squeal echoed from the room at the end of the hall, and little feet quick-stepped toward us. The older girl ran to her father. “I didn’t hit her,” she said quietly, and rested her head on her father’s arm.

“Mommy!” The younger girl stomped into the room, eyes streaming. “She hit me with her doll.”

“No, I didn’t! I didn’t!” The older girl paused. “She hit me first!”

“I did not!”

I had a flashback to similar scenes twenty years ago, when Connor and I were kids of about the same age and fighting over toys, running to our fathers to solve our disputes. I glanced at him, found him smiling knowingly back at me. I guess he’d been thinking the same thing.

“Girls,” Arne said, firmly enough to stop the rising hysteria. There were sniffles, but the yelling stopped. “We don’t hit each other, do we?”

In answer, the little girl burst into tears.

“And I think it’s nap time,” Marian said, pushing back her chair. “Girls, quiet time, now.”

That created another round of screaming as they stomped dramatically toward the back of the house.

“Excuse me,” Marian said, and followed them.

“Poor kids,” Arne said. “Adulting is hard, but you couldn’t pay me to be a kid again. All those hormones, still figuring out the world.” He shook his head. “Crazy thing is, give them fifteen minutes of quiet time, and they’ll be best friends again. Biology is a fickle mistress.”

“We’ll get out of your hair,” Connor said, rising from his chair. “We need to hit the road, anyway. Thank you for the refreshment and the conversation.”

“Please don’t feel like you have to go,” Arne said. “This is a minor skirmish in the War of Daughters.”

“No, we’re on a deadline. Sunrise,” he said, nodding toward me.

“Right, right.” Arne looked at me curiously. “I think you’re the first vampire I’ve ever met.” He grinned. “You seem pretty normal.”

“Please excuse my husband,” Marian said, coming back into the room. “The running has finally scrambled his brain.”

“For a vampire, she is pretty normal.” Connor looked at me, his smile so tender and warm, my heart fluttered like wings in my chest.

“Adorable,” Marian murmured, sliding her arm into Arne’s. “Do you need anything for the road?”

“We’re good,” Connor said. “But thank you for the offer.”

They walked us to the door, and we exchanged hugs.

“I like you,” Marian whispered as she embraced me. “And I like you for him,” she said when she pulled back, meeting my gaze. “Take care of each other.”

* * *

* * *

We hit the road again, interstates and farmland eventually turning into coastal cities marked with ironworks and rocky shores, which turned into divided highways through tall and pointed trees.

It was two hours before dawn when Connor pulled off the main highway, taking a silent and dark road that seemed to run parallel to it—probably the old main road Marian had mentioned—to a spur that led to the former Superior Shore Resort & Lodge, according to the peeling sign at the edge of the drive.

The drive was narrower than the road had been, and rutted with potholes. It wove through the property around cabins of assorted sizes, past overgrown lawns and wild-looking shrubs. Connor brought the bike to a stop in front of a stand-alone cabin near what looked like the edge of the property. He turned off the bike, and we pulled off our helmets and sat for a moment in the quiet that embraced us.

Wordlessly, we climbed off the bike. Connor walked into the grass and turned a quiet circle as he took in the grounds, or what he could see of them in the darkness.

The cabin was a neat rectangle of honed logs with a steeply pitched roof. A couple of steps led to a small wooden porch held up by wooden posts, a white rocking chair moving subtly back and forth in the breeze.

When I looked back at Connor, his brow was furrowed.

“What’s wrong?”

He shook his head, still frowning, and ran a hand through his hair. “It’s been a few years since I’ve been back, but it’s not as well-kept as it was. The potholes, the grass. Maybe the young guns had a point there.”

“I like it,” I said, and he looked back at me. “It looks real. Lived in and homey.”

“Is ‘homey’ what vampires say when they mean ‘shabby’?”

I grinned at him. “Good to know you think I’m tactful, at least. How does the clan support itself? I mean, they had to buy this land, right? Buy food, at least what they don’t hunt or scavenge?”

“They work,” Connor said. “They pooled money to buy the resort, and everyone puts in for the mortgage. They spend some money on their needs, put some money into the communal pot. Elders are retired, so some of that pot supports them directly. And they don’t live extravagantly, as you’ve seen. Shifters aren’t much into material possessions.”

“Because they have the moon and the woods and the cheese curds?”

“Not necessarily in that order, but yeah. For their security, vampires prefer to live high. To have the protections of wealth. Shifters prefer the opposite. To blend. To go unnoticed.”

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