Home > Biting Bad (Chicagoland Vampires #8)

Biting Bad (Chicagoland Vampires #8)
Author: Chloe Neill

Chapter One


Early February

Chicago, Illinois

I stared at the sleek steel blade, its honed edge only inches from my cheek, and tried not to flinch. I was taut with nerves and anticipation, my fingers slippery around the handle of my own ancient katana, my gaze flicking between the weapon that threatened me and the man who wielded it.

"Nervous, Sentinel?" asked the blond vampire before me, who held not one but two ancient samurai weapons.

I wet my lips and readjusted my grip, trying not to let my prurient interest in my adversary - the sweat-slicked, half-naked physique; the stunning green eyes; the golden hair that just brushed his shoulders - distract me from my mission.

Bringing. Him. Down.

"Not in the least, Sullivan." I winked at him, and in the second his eyes widened in interest, I took my chance. I dropped to my knees and used the handle of my katana to unbalance Ethan's right hand, forcing him to loose his sword.

Well, one of his swords.

My opponent was Ethan Sullivan, a four-hundred-year-old vampire and the Master of Cadogan House, one of three vampire Houses in Chicago. He was the vampire who changed me, rescuing me from a vicious attack one spring night.

Now he was also the vampire who made me whole.

I was the twenty-eight-year-old former graduate student he'd shaped into an immortal warrior . . . and I loved having the opportunity to show him exactly what he'd created.

Tonight, that meant learning to battle with not just one but two gently curved katanas. Vampires loved katanas, preferring swords to guns - primarily because vamps were an ancient and snobby people convinced to believe in katanas' superiority to other weapons by a samurai who'd once roamed Europe.

History aside, wielding two katanas was a tricky venture. The katana was an elegant weapon, and brandishing it was supposed to be an elegant exercise - as much a dance as a show of cleverness and strength. That wasn't easily accomplished with two swords, which required learning how to rebalance my body . . . and not trip over my own weapons.

Fortunately, even Ethan was having trouble. Scowling, he picked up the sword he'd dropped onto the tatami mat on the floor of the House's basement training room.

The vampires on the balcony who watched our practice with eager eyes cheered as their hero, the Master of their House, prepared to fight again.

And they weren't the only ones watching.

My former teacher of swordcraft, Catcher Bell, a mutual friend and sorcerer, was absent from tonight's festivities, busy with other work. We'd found a replacement, albeit one who was less than impressed with our initial efforts.

"That was damned ungainly," said the auburn-haired vampire in front of us.

Grey and Navarre were the city's two other vampire Houses, and our teacher was captain of the Grey House guards. Jonah was tall, handsome, and was my partner in the Red Guard, a clandestine organization created to ensure the Houses and Greenwich Presidium, the ruling body for the North American and Western European vampire Houses, didn't overstep their bounds. We weren't technically a part of the GP anymore, having seceded when the group became too oppressive, but there was little doubt they still had the power to make our lives miserable. Guarding the guardians was never a bad idea, in my opinion.

Ethan had accepted my RG membership, but he was still working on accepting my partnership with Jonah. He preferred my loyalties remain solely with one vampire of the male persuasion - him. They'd reached an accord about me after working out their aggression in a sparring match at the House, even if they weren't exactly the best of friends. Ethan still scowled at Jonah's comment.

"It wasn't ungainly," Ethan said. "It was awkward."

"No," I teased, "it was the result of strategic tactics by yours truly." I put extra emphasis on the hard "c" sounds to underscore the point.

"It was luck," Jonah countered. "And it wasn't especially pretty. You've both got to think of the katanas as extensions of your body. I know it's awkward, but you'll get used to it. Try again."

I rolled my left wrist, which was beginning to ache. Vampires had greater than average strength, but we'd been practicing for an hour, and Jonah hadn't exactly been generous with the water breaks.

"Problem?" Jonah asked.

"Just a little soreness."

"You'll be fine. Reset."

I couldn't help but give him a look. It wasn't that I'd expected my RG partner would be an easygoing instructor. He was responsible for keeping the Grey House guards ready for action, after all. But nor had I expected him to be a total hard-ass.

"Reset," Jonah repeated, a little more firmly.

"Should I remind him I'm a Master?" Ethan quietly asked beside me, rolling the swords in his hands and bouncing on the balls of his feet as he prepared to spar again.

Jonah's hearing must have been acute. "You're Master of Cadogan House," he said, "not dual swords. Reset."

The crowd of vampires hooted, spurring us on just as Jonah did.

"Two katanas are trickier than one," Ethan muttered.

The same applied, I thought, to vampires. Especially vampires of the male persuasion.

An hour and a shower later, we returned to the House's third-floor apartment, the small set of rooms that we called home.

My work night was done, but in a few minutes, I'd be heading into a frosty February evening. And since I was hoping to make a better impression than "sweaty vampire," I found myself in the closet amid Ethan's expensive suits and polished shoes, worrying over what to wear.

"Ankle boots or knee-high?" I asked.

Ethan leaned casually against the wall, one foot canted in front of the other and an amused expression on his face. "Does it really matter what you wear?"

I gave him a flat look.

"Sentinel, you are an intelligent woman, with a solid sense of honor, an excellent pedigree, and a master's degree - "

"Nearly a doctorate."

"Nearly a doctorate," he allowed, "in English literature, and yet you're worried about your choice of footwear. It's not as if you have a date."

And a good thing, since Ethan and I had been living together for nearly two months. I had a key to prove it, although I was still getting used to the idea that the Cadogan penthouse was also mine.

Still, date or not, it wasn't wise to underestimate a Chicagoan's love of good winter footwear. Frostbite was no one's friend.

"I know I don't have a date. This just feels . . . important."

For the fifth or sixth time, I sat down on a padded ottoman and switched out my shoes, exchanging ankle boots - cute, but not warm - for knee-high leather boots, tugging them over the jeans I'd paired with a shirt and sweater. The boots were dark brown leather and fitted perfectly, ideal for long and dark winter nights.

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