Biting Cold - By Chloe Neill



Late November

Central Iowa

It shone like a beacon. More than a thousand feet of skyscraper, the lights at the top of its antennas blinking through the darkness that blanketed the city. The Willis Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the world, was nestled in downtown Chicago, surrounded by glass and steel and the waters of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. Its bulk was a reminder of where we’d come from…and where we were going.

We’d left Hyde Park, our home turf, and were heading west across the plains toward Nebraska and the Maleficium, an ancient book of magic that my (former?) best friend, Mallory, was evidently intent on stealing.

My nerves on edge, I tightened my grip on the steering wheel of my companion’s sleek Mercedes convertible.

That companion, Ethan Sullivan, smiled at me from the passenger seat. “You needn’t look so morose, Sentinel. Nor should you keep looking at the postcard of the city you’ve taped to the dashboard.”

“I know,” I said, sitting up a little straighter and scanning the freeway before us. We were somewhere in the cornfields of Iowa, about halfway between Chicago and Omaha. It was November and the corn was gone, but the acres of wind turbines arced in the darkness above us.

“It’s just weird to be leaving,” I said. “I haven’t really been out of Chicago since I became a vampire.”

“I think you’ll find life as a vampire is fairly similar regardless of the location. It’s really only the food that’s different.”

“What do you think they have in Nebraska? Corn?”

“And steak, I imagine. And probably most everything else. Although your Mallocakes may be hard to find.”

“That’s why I packed a box in my duffel bag.”

He burst out laughing like I’d told the funniest joke he’d ever heard, but I’d told the absolute truth. Mallocakes were a favorite dessert—chocolate cakes filled with marshmallow cream—and they were exceedingly hard to find. I’d brought some along just in case.

Regardless of my culinary choices, we were on our way, so I smiled and worked on adjusting to the fact that Ethan, the once and future Master of Chicago’s Cadogan House, was sitting in the seat beside me. Less than twenty-four hours ago, he’d been completely and utterly deceased. And now, by a trick of ill-intentioned magic, he was back.

I was still pretty dumbfounded. Thrilled? Sure. Shocked? Absolutely. But mostly dumbfounded.

Ethan chuckled. “And are you aware you keep looking over here like you’re nervous I’m going to disappear?”

“It’s because you’re devastatingly handsome.”

He grinned slyly. “I wasn’t questioning your good taste.”

I rolled my eyes. “Mallory brought you back from ashes,” I reminded him. “If something like that is possible, there’s not much in the world that’s impossible.”

She’d raised Ethan from ashes to make him a magical familiar…and to release an ancient evil that had been locked away in a book by sorcerers who thought they were doing the world a favor. They had been, at least until Mallory decided releasing the evil would fix her weird sensitivity to the locked-away dark magic.

Fortunately, her spell had been interrupted, so she hadn’t actually managed to set the evil free or make Ethan a familiar. We assumed that was why she’d escaped her bonds and was chasing down the Maleficium—she wanted another try.

Familiar or not, Ethan was back again: tall, blond, fanged, and handsome.

“How do you feel?” I asked.

“Fine,” he said. “Unnerved that you keep staring at me, and pissed that Mallory has interrupted what should be a very long and involved reunion between me and my House and my vampires.” He paused and looked over at me, his green eyes fire bright. “All of my vampires.”

My cheeks burned crimson, and I quickly turned my gaze on the road again, although my mind was decidedly elsewhere. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“As well you should.”

“What, exactly, are we going to do if we find Mallory?”

“When we find her,” he corrected. “She wants the Maleficium, and it’s in Nebraska. There’s little doubt our paths will cross. As for the what…I’m not entirely sure. Do you think she’d be amenable to bribery?”

“I’m aware of only one thing she wants,” I said. “And she has a head start, which means she’ll probably get there before we do.”

“Assuming she manages to evade the Order,” Ethan said. “Which seems pretty likely.”

The Order was the union of sorcerers that had been overseeing Mallory in rehab and was responsible for keeping the Maleficium safe. All around, they’d done an embarrassingly bad job of both.

“That’s funny, Sullivan. Especially for someone who’s Copyright 2016 - 2021