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  • Blade Bound(Chicagoland Vampires #13) by Chloe Neill
  • CHAPTER ONE

    FIVE BY FIVE

    Late August

    Chicago, Illinois

    It was midnight in Chicago, and all was well.

    I stood in front of Cadogan House, a stately and luxurious three-story stone house on a rolling bit of lawn in Chicago’s Hyde Park. It was surrounded by an imposing fence meant to keep our enemies at bay, guarded by men and women who risked their lives to keep the House safe from attack.

    Tonight, as summer gave way to fall and a cool breeze spilled across the quiet dark, there was peace.

    Katana at my side, and having finished my patrol of the expansive grounds, I nodded at the guard at the gate and jogged up the stairs to the glowing portico. One final look, one last glance, to ensure quiet in the realm, and then I opened the door . . . and walked back into chaos.

    Cadogan House’s pretty foyer—hardwood floors, pedestal table bearing richly scented flowers, gleaming chandelier—was crowded with people and noise. A vampire manned the front desk, and three others—supplicants seeking time with Ethan Sullivan, Master of the House—waited on a bench along one side. Vampires carried boxes toward the basement stairs for the waiting truck, watched with an eagle eye by Helen, the House’s den mother.

    There was a flurry of movement and activity because the Master of Cadogan House was getting married tomorrow.

    To me.

    A vampire with dark skin and a shaved head rounded the corner into the foyer. This was Malik, Ethan’s second-in-command. He wore a slim-cut dark suit—the official Cadogan House uniform—his skin contrasting vividly with the crisp white shirt and pale green of his eyes. He tracked the room, found me, and walked my way.

    “Busy night,” he said.

    “It is.”

    “Is there a crowd outside the House?”

    I shook my head. “No, but Luc said they’re already filling the sidewalks outside the library. The CPD had to pull in extra staff to monitor.”

    Ethan and I would be married at Harold Washington Library, the city’s main branch in downtown Chicago. The city’s humans were lining up to watch.

    Malik grinned. “‘The wedding of the decade,’ I believe the Tribune said.”

    “I just want a wedding without supernatural drama,” I said. Chicago, and Cadogan House in particular, seemed to attract it.

    “Luc has that in hand,” Malik said of the captain of Cadogan’s guard corps. “And the rest of us are doing what we can.”

    I couldn’t argue with that. The entire House had rallied around us, thrilled to help celebrate the marriage of their beloved Master, the man who’d given them immortality. Cadogan’s vampires had ironed linens, polished silver, slid invitations into envelopes lined with crimson silk.

    “The effort is very much appreciated,” I said. Their help gave Ethan more time to lead the House, and me more time to ensure its safety.

    A hush fell over the room, all talk and activity coming to a stop as Cadogan House’s Master stepped into the room. Every eye in the place turned to him, including mine.

    That we’d known each other for more than a year didn’t make the sight of him any less thrilling. To the contrary—that he was mine, and I was most assuredly his, made the impact even more forceful.

    He was tall and lean, with the body of a man who’d once been a soldier. Even now, as a leader of vampires, he’d kept the same chiseled physique. His hair was golden blond and shoulder length, his eyes the green of new emeralds. His jaw was square, his nose straight, his lips usually either quirked in a wicked grin or pulled into a serious line—the expression of a Master with weight on his shoulders.

    He also wore the Cadogan uniform—a trim black suit that fitted him like the expensive, bespoke garment it probably was. He wore a white button-down beneath, the top button unclasped to show the gleaming silver teardrop of the Cadogan medal that hung at his throat. It was a mark of solidarity, of unity, among the vampires of Cadogan House. And he wore it as well as he did everything else.

    Beside him was a small woman with tan skin and dark hair. She was a vampire, at least based on the invisible buzz of magic around her. And given the tightness around her eyes, she was a vampire with worries.

    “We’ll be in touch,” Ethan promised, and she knotted her fingers together, inclined her head toward him.

    “Thank you so much.”

    “You’re very welcome,” he said, and we watched as she headed toward the door.