THE SUCCUBUS – PART 2
Connor was sitting up, hair tousled and eyes sleepy, and he blinked at me, not quite free of her influence, but trying to understand what was happening. A dark lock of hair fell over his forehead.
There was a bang against the closet door.
He blinked. “What’s in there?”
“Succubus, I think.” I dragged the desk chair to the closet door, wedged it under the doorknob.
“You should let me out,” she said, knocking against the door from the inside. “I won’t cause any more trouble.” She didn’t even sound convinced by her own argument.
“I’m not going to do that, obviously,” I said, and looked back at Connor.
He looked from the door to me and back again, some of the haze finally clearing from his face. “She was—attacking me.”
“Yeah. Stealing your psychic energy, apparently hoping to incapacitate you.”
“I haven’t gotten that far yet.”
He reached out, pushed the button on the small box on the wall, remembered it was a receiver from the house’s old intercom system.
“What?” answered a growly voice.
“Intrusion,” Connor said. “Get upstairs.” Then he looked at me. “I need to . . . get dressed.”
He gestured to a pair of jeans draped over an armchair on the other side of the room. “Could you?”
“Sure,” I said, grabbed them and brought them back, looked away as tried to stick a foot into the leg.
“Do you need help?”
He growled, got both feet in, tried to stand up. And nearly hit the floor again.
“Let me help you with that,” I said, and put an arm around him, let him put his weight on me while he pulled the jeans up over his hips, buttoned the fly.
He smiled like sunshine and cologne.
“Did you . . sniff me?”
“No,” I said. “I did not sniff you.”
Of course I’d sniffed him. But I wasn’t going to apologize for it.
“Thanks for the assist,” he said, stepping away from me to test out his legs.
The bedroom door swung open with enough force that it bounced against the opposite wall. Miranda, Gabriel, and Eli stepped inside, and leather-jacketed shifters from the front parlor stood in the doorway.
“And there’s the cavalry,” Connor said.
Miranda took one look at him, then at me, and her eyes narrowed dangerously. “What the hell is she doing in here?”
“She just saved my life,” Connor said.
“From what?” Miranda’s voice was incredulous.
Connor walked slowly to the closet, opened the door, and pointed. “From her.”
Silence fell as they took in the woman sitting on the floor. She looked up, lip curled, and gave them a dirty look.
“Succubus,” Connor said.
“How’d she get in here?” Gabriel asked.
“She can fly, apparently. I was asleep. I guess she came in through the window, got to work.”
Miranda looked at me. “And you?”
“Drainpipe,” Connor and Gabriel said simultaneously. Then Connor’s eyes went big as he looked at his father. “You knew about that?”
Gabriel’s return look was desert-flat.
“Of course you did,” Connor murmured.
Gabriel looked at me with arched brows. “You shimmied up the drainpipe of a house full of shifters?”
I thought of the cold look he’d give me at the House, smiled thinly. “It has good toeholds. And you need better security.”
“So I see.”
“Why the closet?” Eli asked. They could fit a lot of shifters in these bedrooms, which probably shouldn’t be dwelled upon.
Connor looked at me.
“It was secure,” I said. “And he was groggy.”
Gabriel walked forward, looked over the woman who’d been attempting to psychically deflower his son. “And you are?”
“Parlay!” she said. “I want free passage.”
Gabriel rolled his eyes. “I want peace and meat smoker that stays consistently hot. We all have hopes and dreams. Who sent you?”
“No clue.” She actually pressed her lips together.
“Do you know who I am?” Gabriel’s tone was low and a little mean.
“Yeah. The shifter. The alpha.”
“The Apex,” Gabriel said. “I’m head of the Pack. The entire Pack. Several of whom you may have seen in the doorway, waiting for my orders.”
She leaned out, looked at the group. Her lips pursed like she’d smelled something bad.
“What do you think those orders should be?” Gabriel asked.
“To let me go?”
“No. But if you tell me the truth, you might survive the night. Who sent you?”
She grumbled a curse. “The damn king guy. Tall, skinny.” She eyed Connor thoughtfully. “Not nearly as pretty as this one.”
Gabriel’s eyes narrowed. “What kind of king?”
“I don’t freaking know what kind of king. The ones who wear black.”
“The fairies,” I said, and stepped forward, ignoring the dirty look Miranda sent me as I moved closer to Gabriel. “Ruadan?”
“That’s him. He offered me cash, showed me a photo. I said okay.”
“Why did he want you here?”
“Not my business,” she said, and pursed her lips together.
“Try again,” Gabriel said.
She dropped her shoulders, stared at the ceiling in irritation. I wasn’t sure if she didn’t understand the danger she was facing, or just didn’t care. “I don’t know specifics, okay? Just that he had something planned, and wanted the wolf out of the way.”
“He wanted the wolf . . . out of the way.” Gabriel’s words were low, and his tone was dangerous. “By wolf, you mean my son. You meant to kill him.”
“Not completely. Just incapacitate him, keep the Pack busy.” She slid me a glance. “And I would have finished the job if you hadn’t interrupted.”
“It’s always the meddling kids,” Gabriel muttered.
“Was Ruadan alone when he asked you to do this?” I asked, thinking of Claudia’s absence at Grant Park, and wondering if she’d been involved in this particular treachery.
“Yeah. What does it matter?”
“Where was Claudia?”
Her gaze skittered away. “I don’t know who that is.”
“I can smell the lie on you,” Connor said.
I looked back at him, not sure that was the truth, but it worked on the succubi, since she Dropped her head back like a petulant teenager being forced to narc on a friend.
“I know who she is. But I don’t know where she is.”
Connor crossed his arms, which emphasized his biceps.
“Alright, fine, fine. He sent her away, but I don’t know where!” She held up her hands defensively. “Honest to god. He doesn’t think they’re doing enough now that the magic’s fading.”
“Fading?” Connor asked. “What does that mean?”
“You know, all that magic in the air after the dragon. Sorcha pushed a lot of magic into Chicago, and for a while it was really powerful. A lot of Sups got a boost from it.”
And some of us got puppet masters, I thought, and tried to keep emotion off my face.
“The fairies got a big one. They got stronger, could move farther from their tower—the one in Potter Park. But it’s fading.” She dropped her voice, like she was passing along a secret to the room of shifters. “Ruadan thinks Claudia should be doing more to, you know, boost them up again. And since she wasn’t, he’s shoved her aside so he can do what he wants.” She lifted a shoulder.
“He sure gave you a lot of information,” Connor said.
“He wouldn’t shut up about it. Not that I care. I’m just doing a job, and everybody’s gotta make a living.”
“That’s some job,” Gabriel said. “He gave you cash?”
She nodded, and he held out his hand.
“Fuck that. I’m not giving you my money. We already made a deal. You got info and I got to walk.”
“I changed the deal.”
It took ten seconds of heavy silence, then she rolled her eyes, pulled an inch-wide wad out of her pocket, held it up. “Fine,” she said. “But I give you this, and I walk.”
Gabriel plucked the money from her fingers, handed it off to Eli. “For the retirement fund,” he said, and the cash disappeared into the front pocket of Eli’s jeans.
The succubus the bodice of her dress, more nervously now. Probably figuring she’d just handed over her only bargaining chip in the hope they’d be reasonable. “Can I go now?”
“That’s up to him.” Gabriel looked at Connor. “She attacked you. That gives you rights.”
If the weight Gabriel passed him was heavy, Connor didn’t show it.
“She tried,” Connor said after a moment. “She wasn’t successful, and I don’t see any point in punishing failure.”
The woman’s shoulders drooped visibly with relief.
“But her judgment is shit,” Connor added, and her spine snapped straight again.
“Where are you from?” I asked her. “I didn’t know there were any succubi in Chicago?”
“How is that relevant?” Miranda muttered, but Connor held up a hand to shut her up.
“I’m from Gary,” she said, and half the shifters groaned. They apparent weren’t friends of our neighbors from northern Indiana.
“Then maybe you stay there,” Connor said, nodding at me as he correctly guessed my intent. “You leave Chicago’s city limits, and you don’t come back.”
She pouted. “Money’s better in Chicago.”
Connor’s eyes were clear now, but they darkened “You come back, and money’s going to be the least of your concerns. Understand?”
She rolled her eyes, unhappy with the limitation, and sighed. “Fine. I’ll leave Chicago, and I won’t come back.”
She was obviously lying. But I figured it mattered less to Connor whether she stayed gone than whether she stayed out of the Pack’s way—and aware of the consequences of coming back.
“You know vampires can sense succubi, right?”
I glanced at Connor, brows lifted, and about to object until I saw the glint in his eyes.
“Bullshit,” the woman said. And this time she seemed serious.
“No bullshit,” I said quietly, putting a hand on my katana for emphasis. “How do you think I knew to come in here? That I just got lucky?” I shook my head, clucked my tongue. “That’s naïve. I mean, I know you’ve never been in Cadogan House. I can tell.”
Most people hadn’t been in Cadogan House, but she missed the logic, which was fine by me.
“Alright,” she said, and braced her hands on the closet doorjamb. “Can I get up now?”
We stepped aside. She rose, pulled the skirt of her dress down demurely, pushed back her hair. She stepped to Connor, gave him a Marilyn-worthy pout. “I’m sorry our rendezvous didn’t work out.”
His expression was perfectly flat. “I’m not sorry you didn’t suck the literal life out of me.”
“I’ll get her to the state line,” Eli said, then took the girl by the arm and led her out the door.
There was silence for a moment.
“So,” Gabriel said, as Connor pulled a T-shirt from the closet, pulled it on. “Ruadan wants you out of the way.”
“He was interrupted today,” Connor said, glancing at me. “He doesn’t want to be interrupted again. He probably figured the attack would shift focus.”
“Because we worry about you, and we think we could be attacked,” I said. “So we stop paying attention to whatever it is they’re trying to do.”
“He didn’t need the attack for that,” Connor said. “He just needed Yuen.”
“He’s the Ombudsman for a reason,” Gabriel said, then looked us over. “I’m going downstairs, help get the bikes checked.”
Connor nodded, but stiffened at the comment—and the reminder of what was coming.. and why I was here.
I’d come to say goodbye, because he was leaving. Reality was like a douse in icy water.