Home > Blood Games (Chicagoland Vampires #10)

Blood Games (Chicagoland Vampires #10)
Author: Chloe Neill

Chapter One


Early March

Chicago, Illinois

He stood beside me as cameras flashed, a man with a long and lean body, deeply green eyes, and golden hair. He wore shorts, sneakers, and a long-sleeved shirt that snugged against the tight muscles of his torso. His hair, which normally brushed his shoulders, was pulled back in a queue, and around his neck glinted the silver pendant that marked him as a Cadogan vampire.

But he wasn’t just a vampire. Ethan Sullivan was Master of Cadogan House.

Even in running shoes, hands on his hips as he stood beneath the yellow arch that marked the starting line, a clock counting down to zero a few feet away, his Masterdom was undeniable. He looked nothing less than a leader of his people.

He glanced at me, an eyebrow arched in his usual imperious expression. “Sentinel. You appear to be enjoying this a little too much.”

I pulled my long dark hair into a ponytail using the elastic on my wrist, my long bangs across my forehead. I was also dressed in running attire—a Cadogan House Track shirt, midcalf running tights, and shoes in eye-searing neon orange that made me smile when I looked at them. But the apparel wasn’t just fun; it was functional. It had to be if I was going to achieve my goal: beating Ethan Sullivan to the finish line.

“It’s not every day I get the chance to best you in front of an audience.”

Ethan snorted, a glint of amusement in his eyes. “I don’t plan to let you best me, Sentinel. But I’m prepared to make it interesting.”

There was heat in his eyes that nearly made me blush. But since we had an audience, I held it in. “How interesting?”

“Dinner. Of the winner’s choosing.”

As a lover of food, I didn’t hesitate. “Done.”

“I wasn’t finished,” he said with a sly smile. “Dinner of the winner’s choosing—in the apparel of the winner’s choosing.”

“I do enjoy seeing you in jeans,” I countered. He generally preferred fancy to casual, but even he couldn’t run in a refined French suit and Italian loafers. But if the look in his eyes was any indication, he hadn’t intended denim, leather, or wool.

He only snorted in response.

It was March in Chicago, and the air still carried the chill of winter. But spring had nearly broken winter’s hold, and a thousand people stood on the sidelines to watch the Cadogan Dash, a race we’d organized to raise money for Chicago’s food bank.

I was the House’s social chair, and I’d been reminded recently about the importance of giving back. So I decided a charity event was just the thing, which was why we were standing in Grant Park on a brisk spring night, preparing to run three miles with a few hundred friends. While Malik, the second-in-command of the House, stayed behind (and separate from Ethan for succession purposes), others gathered in their running gear for a little friendly competition. Luc, the Cadogan guard captain, with his dark blond locks. Connor, a young vampire of my class with the easygoing personality of casual wealth. Brody, a new Cadogan guard with mile-long legs that were probably going to come in handy tonight.

But that didn’t mean the race was just fun and games.

Times had been tough for Chicago’s supernaturals, but humans’ attitudes had seemed to improve over the last few weeks. Ethan had been cleared of charges he’d killed a vampire in cold blood; it had been obvious self-defense, since we’d been attacked at Cadogan House. My grandfather, Chuck Merit, was once again the city’s official Supernatural Ombudsman, helping vampires, shifters, River nymphs, and the like with their various problems. And once again, the fickle pendulum of human emotion had swung to love. Sure, there were vampire detractors. Vampire haters. Vampire conspiracy theorists. But there were also members of the Ethan Sullivan fan club.

Most of the human spectators who’d crowded behind the barrier wore T-shirts bearing Ethan’s image and I HEART ETHAN buttons. But much to my surprise, Ethan wasn’t the only Cadogan vamp with fans in the audience. There were a few fans carrying hand-painted I HEART MERIT signs and wearing #1 SENTINEL T-shirts, which was cool, if a little unnerving.

A woman on the other side of the barricade held out a glossy eight-by-ten photograph and a permanent marker. “Ethan! Ethan! Can I have your autograph?” Her face was flushed with excitement, her eyes wide with promise.

“Your fans await,” I said with a smile.

“You’re my favorite fan,” he said, and in full view of the cameras, spectators, and news vans, he kissed me.

By the time he straightened again, my cheeks were pink and Ethan’s admirers were screaming with gusto. Apparently it didn’t matter whom the golden god kissed—the sight of him kissing was enough to send them into a frenzy.

Given the look of intensity in their eyes, I doubted they’d have felt any compunction about kicking me out of the way to get a little closer to him.

“Go ahead,” I told him. “Go see your admirers. Sign some autographs. It’s good PR for the House.”

He slid me a glance, smiled. “Not concerned one of the fans will try to sweep me away with words of love?”

“Oh, they’ll try to sweep,” I said. “But I have no worries you’ll come back to me.”

His smile was meltingly handsome. “Because I love you without measure?”

“Of course,” I said.

Also, I had the car keys.

We needed the good PR while we could get it. I had a sinking suspicion the tide would turn again; humans always looked for scapegoats. Supernaturals made easy targets.

Humans weren’t our only problem. Cadogan House had recently left the Greenwich Presidium, the European council of vampires that ruled European and North American vampires—but we hadn’t left behind the drama. The GP was a hot mess. Some council members hated our House; others hated humans. It was an organization generally out of touch with the modern world.

And Ethan, who’d moved forward to commune with the crowd, was petitioning to take charge of it. He’d filed the paperwork a week ago. Which was awkward, since the GP already had a leader—Darius West, a powerful vampire whose unfortunate involvement with an American serial killer had stunted him emotionally, an impressive feat for an immortal. After ensuring the House and its finances were in order, Ethan announced his candidacy, and we’d heard nothing in the interim.

Darius had options. Vampires loved rules, and the Canon, the volumes of vampire law, laid out three official responses to Ethan’s “Honorable Challenge.” (Vampires also liked capitalizing things.) According to the Canon, Darius could give back snarky words, a response “by Wit,” which I imagined would have been something like “Bring it” or “You just got served.” Darius could challenge Ethan to a duel, presumably by katana, since that was the favored vampire weapon, or by “account of All Houses,” which basically meant that Darius could call out all the other vampire Houses to gang up on ours.

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