Cloud City (Anna Strong Chronicles #9)


Sophie calls at ten forty-five to ask if I want to walk with her to The Matchless. There's a moment where I have to question why she wants me with her tonight. If I have a part to play in Sophie's scheme, she hasn't made that clear. The only good reason for me to go along is a nagging worry that whatever she has planned, it might backfire. She might be a powerful witch, but she can be stopped by a bullet. Prendergast has tried it before. He might decide if he can't take his vengeance out on a vampire, she'll do just as well. Particularly since he doesn't know what she intends to propose.

The bar is emptying as we approach. There's a lot of grumbling from disgruntled locals being evicted from a favorite drinking spot. Evidently it doesn't happen often.

"How much did you pay to get this place to yourself?" I ask Sophie.

"A lot," she replies. "But it's Jonathan's money so who cares? It may be the last of it I ever spend."

She's much too enthused by the prospect. "Is he with us?"

She shakes her head. "Not yet. But he will be when the time is right."

"Which means?"

"You'll see."

The last of the patrons files by. The bartender has been holding the door and when he sees us, he gestures for us to enter.

"All yours," he says. He holds up a key. "Just lock up when you're finished. The kitchen is off limits, but help yourself to anything in the bar."

Sophie exchanges the key in his hand for a check that she's pulled from a big leather purse. I just get a glimpse, but there are a lot of zeroes scrawled above Sophie's signature. "What shall I do with the key when we're done?" she asks.

"Leave it at the front desk in your hotel. I'll pick it up in the morning."

He is on his way out when Prendergast is on his way in. He blocks the door, looking over his shoulder at Sophie with a questioning quirk of bushy eyebrows. She nods and he waves Prendergast in.

"Best lock up after me and shut off the lights," is his parting shot. "Or folks will be pounding on the door all night."

Sophie crosses the room and turns the deadbolt with a snap. She also reaches over and shuts off the neon "Open" sign and the bank of lights illuminating the front of the bar. The room plunges into semi-darkness, the only light filtering from the dining area behind us.

Prendergast hasn't taken his eyes off me since coming in. He stands as far away from me as he can, too, his back pressed against the end of the bar.

"Why is she here?" he asks. "You didn't tell me she'd be here."

But Sophie is busy pulling things out of a big canvas tote she brought from the hotel. Black candles. Crystals. Herbs tied in bundles. A vial of clear liquid. Chalk.

The skin on the back of my neck begins to prickle. She's preparing to cast a spell.

"Sophie, what are you doing?"

She ignores me the way she did Prendergast. She clears a space in the middle of the room by pushing chairs out of the way. Chalk in hand, she gets down on her knees, begins to draw a pentagram.

"What is she doing?"

Now Prendergast is talking to me, though he still keeps his distance.

I don't know what she's doing exactly but I can guess. I've seen her prepare before. But it's nothing I can share without causing him panic so I turn my back on him to join Sophie on the floor. I stop her hand with my own, forcing her to look up at me.

"What is this?"

She glances toward Prendergast. "I'm going to give Steven what he wants. The answers to all his questions."

"We can tell him what he needs to know," I remind her. "We know the story now."

She turns fierce blue eyes on me. "Oh, but this will be so much better. He's going to hear it from his great-grandmother herself. And then she's going to hear what misery Jonathan has inflicted on me. It should be quite a show."

"How will you bring her here? Is she dead?"

"It doesn't matter. I've perfected a summoning charm. Whether we pull her from the afterlife or next door, she'll appear in corporeal form."

"What about Jonathan? How does he figure in this?"

Her lips curl into a sneer. "Oh, he's the star attraction. He's my special gift to Leticia."


Excitement burns through her eyes. "I'm going to make sure she takes Jonathan with her when she goes. I just hope it's straight to hell."