Authors: Chloe Neill
“NEILL CREATES A STRONG-MINDED, SHARP-WITTED HEROINE WHO WILL APPEAL TO FANS OF CHARLAINE HARRIS’S SOOKIE STACKHOUSE SERIES AND LAURELL K. HAMILTON’S ANITA BLAKE.” —
Chicagoland Vampires Novels
“One of my all-time-favorite vampire series. . . . It’s witty, it’s adventurous, there’s political intrigue, murder, magic, and
so much more.”
“Despite all that has and continues to be thrown at her, Merit’s courage, guts, and loyalty make her one amazing heroine. Terrific!”
RT Book Reviews
“Everything is perfectly paced and tautly written. . . . Neill weaves an intricate web of events that never once felt convoluted or confusing. . . .
is a fast-paced romp sure to engage any reader!”
“All I can say is
—Bitten by Books
“When you crack open a Neill book, you know you are in for a roller-coaster ride of action punctuated by emotional punches. This long-running series just keeps getting better with age!”
RT Book Reviews
“It never ceases to amaze me how these books can have so much jammed into them but never once feel
overwhelming . . . an absolute treat not to be missed.”
—A Book Obsession
“Fast pacing and highly charged energy keeps the story flowing . . . a dark, humorous mixture of urban fantasy and [paranormal romance] that manages to stay fresh and invigorating in its telling.”
“A REFRESHING TAKE ON URBAN FANTASY.” —
“Neill is a rising star,
and her Chicago is undergoing major upheaval, placing vampire heroine Merit at the epicenter of the trouble. As always, there is heart-pounding danger, high-stakes drama, and excitement.”
RT Book Reviews
“Everything you’ve likely come to expect from a Merit book—action, supernatural politicking, the big evil baddie with a plan, and, of course, plenty of sarcastic Merit one-liners. . .
. Chicagoland Vampires is one of my favorite series, and with each installment, I’m reminded why I keep coming back for more.”
—All Things Urban Fantasy
“Rising star Neill has made the learning curve for her gutsy heroine, Merit, quite steep, which means the journey is all the more spellbinding.”
RT Book Reviews
“Neill’s Chicago is an edgier, urban Bon Temps.”
—Heroes and Heartbreakers
“I look forward to seeing what the future brings for Merit, Ethan, her friends, and Cadogan House.”
“Delivers enough action, plot twists, and fights to satisfy the most jaded urban fantasy reader.”
—Monsters and Critics
“A descriptive, imaginative, and striking world . . . rich with real-world problems
as well as otherworldly creatures . . . roughly fantastic from beginning to end, with one of the best endings in urban fantasy history.”
RT Book Reviews
“The pages turn fast enough to satisfy vampire and romance fans alike.”
“IF YOU LOVED NANCY DREW BUT ALWAYS WISHED SHE WAS AN UNDEAD SWORD-WIELDING BADASS, MERIT IS YOUR KIND OF GIRL.”—
“Neill continues to hit the sweet spot with her blend of high-stakes drama, romantic entanglements, and a touch of humor . . . certain to whet readers’ appetites for more in this entertaining series!”
RT Book Reviews
Friday Night Bites
“Wonderfully entertaining and impossible to set down.”
RT Book Reviews
Some Girls Bite
her wonderfully compelling reluctant vampire heroine and her careful world building, I was drawn into
Some Girls Bite
from page one and kept reading far into the night.”
bestselling author Julie Kenner
“Packed with complex subplots, embittered family members, and politics, this is an excellent first installment to what should be an outstanding series in a crowded field.”
—Monsters and Critics
“There’s a new talent in town, and . . . she’s here to stay. . . . An indomitable and funny heroine . . . truly excellent.”
RT Book Reviews
“Engaging, well-executed, and populated with characters you can’t help but love. It was impossible to set down.”
“I can just about guarantee that readers will want to read more of this series. . . .
Vampire fiction fans should be well served by this vampcentric story, too.”
“GO BUY IT NOW! It’s a great urban fantasy that reads a little like Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire series.”
The Chicagoland Vampires Novels
Some Girls Bite
Friday Night Bites
“High Stakes” novella in
Howling for You
(A Penguin Special)
(A Chicagoland Vampires Novella)
The Dark Elite Novels
New American Library
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 375 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014
USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia | New Zealand |
India | South Africa | China
A Penguin Random House Company
First published by New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Copyright © Chloe Neill, 2015
Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book
and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.
REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGIST
LIBRARY OF CONG
Dark debt: a Chicagoland vampires novel / Chloe Neill.
pages cm.—(Chicagoland vampires; 11)
1. Merit (Fictitious character: Neill)—Fiction. 2. Vampires—Fiction. 3. Chicago (Ill.)—Fiction. I. Title.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Chapter Three: THE VAMPIRE’S GIFT
Chapter Five: YOU MAKE ME FEEL LIKE A NATURAL VAMPIRE
Chapter Six: WHAT A DIFFERENCE A NIGHT MAKES
Chapter Eight: SOMETHING IS ROTTEN IN THE STATE OF ILLINOIS
Chapter Nine: WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW . . . IS A WINEGLASS OF UNUSUAL SIZE
Chapter Eleven: SACRED AND PROFANE
Chapter Twelve: TRUTH AND CONSEQUENCES
Chapter Thirteen: SUIVRE L’ARGENT
Chapter Fifteen: A VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER
Chapter Sixteen: BECAUSE THE NIGHT
Chapter Seventeen: (MALLO)CAKE OR DEATH
Chapter Nineteen: FLIGHT OF FANCY
Chapter Twenty: THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY
Chapter Twenty-one: FRANKLY, SENTINEL
Chapter Twenty-two: THE PRESTIGE
Chapter Twenty-three: WALK LIKE A (WO)MAN
Chapter Twenty-four: LADY IN RED
Thanks to Jocelyn Bourbonniere
for assistance with French phrases.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be. . . .
Early April Chicago, Illinois
here were two seasons in Chicago: winter and construction. If it wasn’t snowing, orange cones narrowed the Dan Ryan, or lower Wacker was closed. Snow and traffic defined our lives as Chicagoans.
Nested within those seasons were the other activities
that defined life for many in Chicago. During baseball season, it was Cubs versus Sox. During tourist season, you served them, you screamed at them, or, if you worked at Billy Goat’s, both. During summer, the beaches were open. And for a few spare weeks, the water of Lake Michigan was even warm enough for a dip.
Not that I’d had much occasion to sunbathe or swim recently. They didn’t make
sunscreen strong enough for vampires.
But when spring rolled around and construction cones popped onto asphalt like neon flowers, even vampires shook off winter.
We exchanged quilted jackets, electric blankets, heavy boots, and balaclavas for tanks, sandals, and nights in the warm spring air.
Tonight, we sat on a blanket on the grass at Milton Lee Olive Park, an expanse of green and fountains
near Navy Pier honoring a soldier who’d given his life to save others, and won a Medal of Honor for his sacrifice. A burst of spring air had warmed the city, and we’d taken advantage, finding a quiet spot for a picnic to celebrate the end of a long, cold winter. At two o’clock in the morning, the park was definitely quiet.
Ethan Sullivan, Master of Cadogan House and now one of twelve members
of the newly established Assembly of American Masters, sat beside me on a piecework quilt, one knee bent, one leg extended, his hand at the small of my back, rubbing small circles as we watched the lights of Chicago blink across the skyline in front of us.
He had a tall and rangy body of hard planes and sculpted muscle, and golden blond hair that just reached his shoulders and surrounded honed
cheekbones, a straight nose, deep-set green eyes, and imperious eyebrows. I was his Novitiate and the Cadogan’s Sentinel, and I was utterly relieved that winter had finally weakened its grip on the city.
“This is not a bad way to spend an evening,” said the girl on the blanket beside ours, her striking blue hair drawn in a complicated braid that lay across her shoulder. Her Cupid’s bow mouth
was drawn into a smile, her hand clasped in the long fingers of her boyfriend’s. He was well built and shaved-headed, with piercing green eyes and a generous mouth. And, like her, he was a sorcerer. He had a thing for snarky T-shirts, and tonight’s gem was black, with
KEEP CALM AND FIREB
in clean white text across the front.
Mallory Carmichael was my oldest friend, and Catcher Bell
her live-in beau. Catcher worked for my grandfather Chuck Merit, the city’s Supernatural Ombudsman.
“No, it’s not,” I agreed. “This was a very good idea.” I sipped from a bottle of Sweet Summer Blood4You, a blend of blood and lemonade that I enjoyed against my own better judgment. The drink was good, and the air was sweet with spring and the scent of white flowers that drifted down from the
trees like snow, forming constellations on the new grass. Ethan’s hand warmed the skin on my back. This was as close to a day at the beach as I was ever likely to get. And it was a pretty good substitute.
“I thought some fresh air could do us good,” Mallory said. “It’s been a long winter.”
That was the understatement of all understatements. There’d been murder, magic, mayhem, and too much
mourning to go around, including episodes that had put Mallory in the hands of a serial killer and nearly cost Ethan his life. He was fine and she was recovering, and the incident had seemed to bring her and Catcher even closer together.
Even the vacation Ethan and I had just taken—a trip to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado that should have been filled with relaxation, elk watching, and plenty
of sex—had been interrupted by a century-old feud between vampires and shape-shifters.
We’d needed a break from our break, so we’d sipped and snacked with Mallory and Catcher on the goodies Margot, the House chef, had packed. Grapes, cheese (both regular and almost preternaturally stinky), thin crackers, and small cookies coated in lemony powdered sugar with just the right balance of sweet
“You’ve been eyeing that last lemon cookie for seven minutes.”
I glanced back at Ethan, gave him a dour look. “I have not.”
“Seven minutes and forty-three seconds,” Catcher said, glancing at his watch. “I’d grab it for you, but I’m afraid I’d lose a finger.”
“Stop torturing her,” Mallory said, carefully picking up the cookie, handing it gingerly to me, then dusting
powdered sugar from her hands. “She can’t help her obsession.”
I started to argue, but by then my mouth was full of cookie. “Not an obsession,” I said when I was done. “Fast metabolism and rigorous training schedule. Luc has us on two-a-days now that Ethan’s been upgraded.”
“Ooh, Ethan two-point-oh,” Mallory said.
“I think technically we’re now at Ethan four-point-oh,” Catcher pointed
out. “Human, vampire, resurrected vampire, AAM member.”
Ethan snorted, but even he didn’t argue with the timeline. “I prefer to think of it as a promotion.”
“You get a raise out of it?” Catcher asked.
“In a manner of speaking. I’ll nearly be able to afford to keep Merit in the culinary style to which she’d like to become accustomed.”
“You’re the one with the expensive taste.” I
gestured to the bottle of wine. “Do I even want to know how much that cost?”
Ethan opened his mouth, closed it again. “Likely not.”
“And there you go.”
“A vampire cannot survive on Italian hot beefs and Mallocakes alone.”
“Speak for yourself, fancy pants.”
“I’m not fancy,” Ethan said imperiously. “I’m particular. Which is actually a compliment to you.”
“He did pick you
after four hundred years of wild-oat sowing,” Catcher said, earning an elbow from Mallory. He grunted, but he
was smiling when he lay back on the blanket, hands crossed behind his head.
“You make it sound like Ethan picked her up at a farmers’ market,” Mallory complained.
“That would require Merit to eat vegetables,” Ethan said, grinning at me. “Could you differentiate between a rutabaga
“Yes, but only because my grandmother made the best strawberry-rhubarb pie I’ve ever tasted.”
“I don’t think that counts.”
“Oh, it counts,” I said with a nod. “That pie was sublime. I’ve got solid culinary chops.”
“My culinarily chopped vampire missed a spot of powdered sugar,” Ethan said, leaning forward, swiping his thumb across my lips just slowly enough to heat
“Get a room,” Catcher groused. He was grouchy but loyal, and had followed Mallory through her stint as a Maleficent wannabe and on to the other side. He was also unfailingly dedicated to my much-beloved grandfather, which gave him points in my book.
But I still gave him the much-deserved stink eye. “Do you know how many times I’ve seen you naked? You and Mallory considered the
entire house your personal love shack.” Mallory and I had been roommates once upon a time, before Catcher had moved into the town house we’d shared, and I’d moved into Cadogan House to escape the nudity.
“Your”—I waved my hand at his body—“rod and tackle touched pretty much everything in the place.”
“My body is a wonderland” was his only response.
“Be that as it may,” Ethan said, “Merit
is not your Alice. I’ll thank you to keep your rod and tackle away from her.”
“Nowhere near my agenda,” Catcher assured him.
Ethan’s phone beeped, and he pulled it out quickly, checked the screen.
“Just a media inquiry,” he said, tucking it away again.
Every phone call put us on high alert, because a ghost—or someone pretending to be one—had staked a claim on our lives. That ghost
was Balthasar, the vampire who, on a battlefield nearly four hundred years ago, had made Ethan immortal and nearly turned him into a monster in his own image. Ethan had escaped his maker, made a new life for himself, and believed Balthasar had died shortly after he had escaped. Ethan hadn’t yet told me the details, but he hadn’t indicated any doubts about Balthasar’s death.
And yet, three
weeks ago, a note had been left in our top-floor apartments in Cadogan House. A note purporting to be from Balthasar, who was alive and excited to see Ethan again.
A note . . . and then nothing.
He’d made no contact since then, and we’d found no evidence he was alive, much less in Chicago and waiting for an opportunity to wreak havoc, to wage war, to exert control over Ethan once again.
So we waited. Every phone call could be
call, the one that would change the life we’d begun to make together. And there were so many more calls these days. The AAM was still working out the operational details, but that hadn’t kept vampires from lining up outside Cadogan House like vassals, seeking protection, requesting Ethan’s intervention in some city dispute, or offering fealty.
And vampires weren’t the only ones interested. Chicago was home to twenty-five percent of the country’s AAM members, and humans’ fascination with Ethan, Scott Grey, and Morgan Greer,
who headed Grey House and Navarre House, had ballooned again.
It was a strange new world.
“So, not to interrupt the mirth making,” Mallory said, “but there’s actually a reason we asked you guys to come out
“Who says ‘mirth making’?” Catcher asked.
“I do, Sarcastasaurus.” She elbowed him, with a grin. “And we’re here for a reason?”
“Okay, okay,” he said. “But I’m going to need that on a T-shirt.”
“I was just thinking that,” I said. “And you’re making me nervous. What’s going on?”
Catcher nodded. “Well, as it turns out—”
As it turned out, Catcher was interrupted by
an explosion of noise, our phones beeping wildly in obvious warning.
I got to mine first, saw Luc’s number, switched it to speaker. “Merit.”
Luc’s nose loomed on the screen. “Sorry to interrupt date night.”
I grimaced at the image. “Step back from the camera. We don’t need to see your sinuses.”
“Sorry,” he said, leaning back so his nose moved back into proper perspective, right
in the middle of his very charming face, which was surrounded by tousled blond-brown curls. “You’re alone?”
“We’re with Catcher and Mallory,” I said, then glanced around to ensure that no curious humans were eavesdropping. “We can talk. What’s going on?”
“Media vans at the House. Four of them. Mess of reporters, all gathered at the gate, ready and waiting.” Luc’s pause, matched
drawn expression, made me nervous. “They’re asking questions about Balthasar.”
We went quiet enough to hear the strains of a lone saxophone being played near the pier, probably a song being sold for tourists’ cash.
“What questions?” Ethan asked.
“They’re asking about a supposed reunion,” Luc said. The answer made T. S. Eliot echo alarmingly in my head.
This is the way the world ends.
Ethan’s reaction was as hot and fast as Luc’s had been cautious.
“Double the guards on the gate,” Ethan said. “We’re on our way.”
I wanted to argue with him, to tell him he’d be safer staying put than running toward whatever reunion this Balthasar had planned. But Ethan was a stubborn and careful man. He wouldn’t leave the House to face danger without him, and certainly not when the
danger was a monster from Ethan’s own past. Ethan still hadn’t forgotten the things he’d done when he was with Balthasar, or forgiven himself for his own complicity. He was still looking for redemption. And he’d meet that opportunity head-on.
We said our good-byes, and I tucked the phone into my pocket again, tried to mentally prepare myself for what we might face—what Ethan might have to
face, and the emotional storm that might rip through both of us.
And then I looked at Mallory and Catcher, remembering they’d been on the verge of making their own announcement.
“Go,” Catcher said, even as Mallory began stuffing food back into the picnic basket. She was playing the trouper, but I could see the frustration in her eyes. “You want us with you?”
Ethan shook his head. “There’s
no point in dragging you into
this debacle. Balthasar is dead; this is someone else’s ploy for attention.”
Catcher nodded. “I’ll tell Chuck, put him on alert just in case.”
“Be careful,” Mallory said, and squeezed me into a hug.
“I will,” I said, searching her gaze for answers, and finding none. “You’re okay?”
“I’m fine. We can talk about this later. Take care of your House first.
,” she said when I hadn’t moved, and turned me toward the street.
We went, jogging back toward Grand and the tall man with blond hair who waited for us in front of a glossy black Range Rover with a license plate that read
. He wore a trim black suit and a sleek black tie, hands clasped in front of him.
“Sire,” he said, bowing his head. Brody was a Cadogan House guard who’d been
appointed Ethan’s official driver. Luc had outfitted Ethan with all the necessary perks, including the car, which was equipped with a complete security system, a small arsenal, and a comm center.