Cloud City (Anna Strong Chronicles #9)


The ringing of a telephone wakens me from a deep sleep. With a groan, I roll over and look at the clock.

Ten A.M.

Between listening to Jonathan (I've already started thinking of Prendergast as Jonathan) and Leticia's uninhibited cavorting and trying to come to terms with the morality (or immorality) of what we did last night, I didn't get much sleep.

I pick up the receiver and croak, "What?"

"Well, good morning to you, too."

Leticia sounds much too perky, too cheerful. Her voice grates in my ear like nails on a chalkboard.

"You sound well-laid," I grumble.

She laughs. "And you don't. You're next door, aren't you?" As if testing, she knocks on the wall. "Sorry if we disturbed you."

"I'm sure. Is there a reason for this wake-up call?"

"We're meeting Sophie downstairs at eleven. Will you join us?"

I tell her I will and hang up. I've no sooner swung my legs out of bed when I hear Leticia squeal with delight. I huff out a breath. "Jesus. Not again."

And beat it into the shower.

I stand under a stream of scalding water, fighting emotions battling in my mind and body like prizefighters seeking the knock out punch. It's not just aggravation I'm feeling. It's jealousy. The closest I've come to a relationship like theirs was with a vamp I ended up killing. I don't seemed destined for a happily-ever-after.

At eleven, I'm dressed and waiting in the lobby. I'm the first one down. Leticia and Jonathan are probably going another round. But where is Sophie? I got the impression she called this meeting.

I take a seat in the lobby and watch people come and go. Ordinary mortals, some with kids in tow, heading out for a day of sightseeing or hiking or fishing. They all have a plan. A destination.

What do I have?

No doubt about it. I'm in a funk. I need to get home and go back to work. I pull my cell phone out of my pocket and pull up my pilot's number. I'm just about to hit send when the elevator door opens.

Leticia and Jonathan spill out like teenagers on a first date, all smiles and giggles and roving hands. Their skin is glowing, the effect sex has on a vampire's constitution. It heats the blood and floods us with warmth. Leticia is wearing the same clothes as last night. Not surprising since she didn't exactly arrive in Leadville with a suitcase. But Jonathan has washed the slickness from his hair and it falls over his eyes and tickles the collar of his shirt. He looks younger and relaxed and healthy. Far different from the Prendergast of old.

I watch them approach with narrowed eyes.

I'm jealous again.

"What's the matter, Anna?" Leticia asks, plopping herself down on the chair next to me. Jonathan squeezes in beside her.


"You look like you want to bite the head off a chicken."

I puff out a breath and try to wipe the resentment off my face. I go for a smile but I'm doubtful I succeed in anything more than a grimace. "Just tired," I say in an attempt to cover up the unreasonable hostility eating at my gut. "Where's Sophie? I thought she was going to meet us?"

Jonathan looks at the watch on his wrist as if seeing it for the first time. "Hmmm. Patek Philippe. At least Prendergast had good taste. It's only eleven fifteen. She'll be here."

"So what did you two decide? Will you go to New York or…?" I realize I don't know where Leticia was when Sophie conjured here in Leadville. "Where were you last night, Leticia, before Sophie yanked you away."

Leticia laughs. "Good description of what happened. I was at my summer place in the Hamptons. In the middle of a party. I imagine they're still talking about my disappearance. Luckily they know how mercurial I am. Probably thought I decided to jet off to my place in Paris or Lisbon."

"Nice life. I guess you were right when you told Jonathan money would be no object."

"I've invested wisely," she says modestly.

"Anyway, we'll go to New York from here. Check out Prendergast's offices and home. Jonathan did a little snooping on his computer last night. He has some interesting projects in the works. Might be fun to live his life for a little while."

Jonathan grins. "First, though, there's a fiance I have to dump."

"I offered to help with that," Leticia says. "But he think it would be better if he handled it himself. I might be too-forceful."

If I have to spend any more time with these two lovebirds, I'm going to hurl. I start to rise, then remember something from yesterday. "I overheard Prendergast speaking to his assistant yesterday. Her name is Nancy if that's any help."

"Yeah, I got that from office email," Jonathan says. "There were some personnel records, too, so I'm not going in completely blind."

I watch Jonathan slipping into another person's life as easily as he slipped into Prendergast's Gucci loafers. "Don't you feel guilty?" I ask.

He lifts a shoulder in a half-shrug. "Prendergast is gone. He probably would have died soon anyway. His heart was bad. Mine is not. And don't forget, none of this was my doing. Sophie orchestrated all of it. If anyone should feel guilty, I'd say it was Sophie."

And me? I let it happen without interfering.

A little voice sets my spidey sense to tingling. Vampire reminds me: It may not be over yet.

Magic always exacts a price.