Shadowed Steel by Chloe Neill
An ill wind moves through Chicago,” Lulu said, sniffing the air.
“It’s not an ill wind,” I said. But I stared down at the malformed lump of sickly gray dough currently spreading across the sheet pan and admitted to myself I didn’t have much room to argue.
“It worked in Paris,” I muttered, frowning as I mentally retraced my steps. Measure the ingredients. Add the sourdough starter. Knead, rise, shape, proof.
Lulu Bell, the thoroughly anti-magic daughter of two sorcerers and my best friend, moved into the kitchen area of the Near North loft she was letting me share, and looked down at the lump.
“But not in Chicago.” She patted my shoulder. “Maybe you could try something else.”
By “something else,” she meant hobbies—fun, stress-relieving activities meant to give me an outlet other than coffee, katanas, and, since I’d returned to Chicago from my stint in France, supernatural politics. The latter was partly the fault of my temp job at the city’s supernatural Ombudsman’s office, the OMB, and partly because I was a vampire. We were dramatic sorts.
And maybe because of that, the Great Hobby Search had not been a success. Baking bread was only my latest and not-greatest attempt. We had a half dozen succulents on the window ledge that had gone either mushy or crispy, a pyramid of tangled yarn, and an array of glass vials and jars, sellers of which had promised me the best coffee experience of my life. Lulu now used them to store paintbrushes, and I continued to buy cups from Leo’s, which slung the best coffee in Chicago.
“We have an hour before everyone gets here. We can call someone and ask them to pick up bread. Maybe Connor can bring something from NAC.”
Connor Keene was the crown prince of the North American Central Pack of shapeshifters, which had a lucrative restaurant business.
“The only NAC goods Connor will bring is Alexei. And I’m not begging at the Pack’s table.”
Lulu ignored my mentioning Alexei Breckenridge. She found Connor’s Packmate irritating; he had a crush on her, which made for interesting watching. “I’ll bet it’s not the first time you’ve begged a member of the Pack,” she said with a wily grin.
In addition to being my occasional supplier of barbecue, Connor was also my boyfriend. Tall, built, with dark hair and blue eyes that usually carried a wolfish gleam. I’d seen him as a human and as a wolf. Both were impressive.
“Why do you need bread anyway?”
I walked to the trash can, dumped the bowl’s contents inside. “I’m making sourdough crostini with burrata, arugula, and tomato jam. Or I was.”
She just looked at me.
“What?” I put the bowl in the sink. “A potluck was your idea. ‘Let’s have people over,’ you said. ‘Just make your favorite food,’ you said.”
Lulu rolled her eyes. She opened the refrigerator, pointed to the shelves inside the door, where bottles of blood and caffè mocha were chilling. (In separate containers. Because mocha-flavored blood was a crime against vampirity.) “Your favorite food is not crostini or burrata or arugula or tomato jam. It’s coffee and blood, in that order.”
“I like other things,” I protested. “And your favorite food is not deviled eggs, but that doesn’t explain why there are three dozen percolating in the refrigerator.” I wrinkled my nose in disgust. The person who’d decided the best way to eat boiled eggs was to mix the innards with relish and mayo should be drawn and quartered.
She plucked one from the tray before closing the door again. “They’re just an experiment,” she said, then looked at it with narrowed eyes, as if inspecting it.
I didn’t believe her. But I watched her for a full minute, and she didn’t so much as twitch. Fortunately, I only had to wait a little for the truth. “When the party starts, all will be revealed,” I predicted, spreading my hands in a rainbow for dramatic effect.
“And speaking of deviled things,” I murmured, as Eleanor of Aquitaine, Lulu’s cat of sleek black fur and prickly attitude, sauntered toward us. She looked up at Lulu with tolerance, and at me with unconcealed disdain.
“Hello, devil cat.”
“If you call her things like that, she’ll pee in your shoes.”
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