• La Crimson Femme

Excerpt: Devouring Darkness by Chloe Neill

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Excerpt

A human approached us-dark skin and dapper suit, trimly fit around a strong body. He smiled tentatively at me, then Lulu. "Lulu Bell?" "That's me," Lulu said. "Hi." "I'm Clint Howard," the man said, offering her a hand. "Oh my god, sure!" Lulu said brightly, shaking and then gesturing to me. "Elisa, this is Clint. He owns the gallery." "Nice to meet you," I said. "You've got a lovely space here. And . . . an eclectic collection." His grin was wide and a little sly. "We're a space for emerging artists. And speaking of which, I saw your piece on Halsted. I'd love to talk to you about an installation." Lulu's eyes went wide. She was a muralist and specialized in outdoor projects; her brightly colored creations covered at least a dozen brick walls in Chicago. We were here, in part, because she wanted to improve her connection to Chicago's art community. Mission accomplished. "I'd love to. I love the installation you organized at Garfield Park." Clint's smile was wide and bright. "Thank you. That was nearly a year in the planning. Bureaucrats," he added with an eye roll. "Sups have them, too," Lulu said. "Anyway, it's gorgeous." He nodded. "We're looking next at a spot in Hyde Park. Not far from Cadogan House, actually," he said, offering me a smile. Hyde Park, a Chicago neighborhood on the city's South Side, was home to Cadogan House, one of the city's four vampire houses. My dad, Ethan Sullivan, was the House's Master, and my mother, Merit, was its Sentinel. I'd been born and raised there, although I rarely spent time at the House now. Someone across the room called Clint's name. He lifted a hand. "Right there," he said, then smiled at Lulu. "I'll call you," he said, then nodded at me and moved across the room. "Merry Christmas," I said, grinning back at Lulu. "You got your present early." "Oh my freaking god," she said, the words a single roller coaster of sound. "That was Clint freaking Howard." "So I heard. You're amazing, and he recognized it." I gave her a poke. "You're going places, kid." "I'd like to go to that spot in Hyde Park," she said, then narrowed her gaze at me. "You don't think your mom had anything to do with this, do you?" "Arranging murals? No. She loves you like her own kid, but that's not really her style." But my father? Entirely possible. Vampires loved making deals, although I had no idea what an art gallery owner would want from the Master of a House of vampires. And besides, "You have the talent. You don't need anyone making calls for you." "Thank you," she said, and before I could respond, she'd wrapped her arms around me. "Thank you," she repeated. "You're welcome." Two more hours of chatting, of deciphering paintings, of reading artist statements . . . and I was done and ready to be somewhere else. This wasnÕt my scene. But because Lulu deserved my support, I put on a smile when she came toward me, the light in her eyes still as bright as it had been when we'd walked through the door. It was the happiest I'd seen her since I'd returned to Chicago a few months ago. Maybe she'd finally found her place-a place where she belonged. That possibility lifted a weight I hadn't known I'd been carrying. "Hey," she said, and gestured to a group of people behind her. "So Clint asked if I want to go get drinks with him and a few of the others." There was hope in her eyes. "I don't want to bail on you, but . . ." "Go," I said. "Absolutely go." "You're sure you don't mind?" "Not at all. But take an Auto home." "Oh, of course." She leaned in. "He wants us to talk about art and installations and-oh my god, Lis. What if this is my moment?" I squeezed her into a hug. "There will be a million moments, Lulu. But yeah, this could be one of them." I let her go and grinned as she blew out a breath and tried not to look too eager. Then she joined the others, leaving me alone beneath a pinpoint light. My screen beeped, and I pulled the slender and signaling rectangle of glass from my pocket and checked the display. It was a call from Roger Yuen, Chicago's supernatural Ombudsman and my boss. I was an associate Ombud, and new to the team, so I answered it quickly. "Hey, Elisa," he said. "I know it's your night off, and I'm really sorry for the interruption, but we have an emergency." "Just a minute," I told him. "Let me get somewhere quiet." I walked outside as Lulu's group began discussing where to find the city's best craft cocktails. When I reached a small grassy area a dozen feet away, where metal sculptures made from old tractor parts hulked in the grass, I lifted up the screen. "Okay," I said. "What's going on?" "I need you to rescue someone."

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