Quotes for City of Souls, the Fourth Sign of Zodiac
I’d only taken over my deceased sister’s identity, life, and lifestyle a year ago, but I’d already met Lena and Madeleine. Saying they were self-absorbed and vain was like saying Madonna craved attention. It was a hunger without end.
“I do so admire your confidence, Suzanne,” Lena finally said, eyes arrowing cruelly on the toes of those sparkling shit-kickers. “I’d be afraid a younger, perkier model would come by and snag him right back.”
“Of course you would,” Suzanne clucked sympathetically. Lena didn’t seem to know how to take that.
“How long does the prenup last?” Madeleine asked, in an overly high voice. “Mine was good for ten years.”
“But those first nine were good ones, weren’t they?” Suzanne shot back, unperturbed. “And you guys did throw the best parties.”
“They also have to deal with lessened physical abilities, so they rely more on their minds and feminine skills to get what they want.”
Which reminded me of Cher’s unwritten motto: Flirting—it’s a tool, not a weapon.
Mortality, I knew now, sucked.
“Mama, your southern Baptist roots are showing! Tattoos are not trashy. They’re mainstream now. Just ask Angelina Jolie.”
“I will, next time Arun and I vacation with their clan in St. Moritz.” She made sure to say that loudly enough for Madeleine to hear.
“Arun says they’re magic,” Suzanne replied, edging close, her tone dreamy at the magic of the man. Short courtship or not, she truly appeared to be in love. “They establish a sacred place on the body.”
“Oh, well that’s probably why they washed off,” Cher said, waving the whole issue away. “There are no sacred spaces left on our bodies.”
I snorted before I could help myself.
There was a smattering of applause and a delicious surge of anticipation, an emotion I could now pick out by scent. It was sugary and light, like softened vanilla and whipped cream. I inhaled deeply of the collective emotion…
And a big cake rolled into the room.
I tilted my head, sniffing. Shit, I couldn’t tell the difference between the anticipation and the cake?
“That’s not a birthday cake,” Lena cried next to Madeleine, standing to clap her hands with everyone else. “It’s—”
“Beefcake!” Cher jumped to her feet as the top of the cake burst open, sparkly icing flying, music pounding, women screaming, and a shirtless man suddenly gyrating like his hips could power a vehicle.
“That’s some filling!” Suzanne, the forty-something-year-old blushing bride, squealed in my ear.
Cher clapped madly on my other side.
I took one good look at the man’s face and spewed champagne all down the front of my enhanced bust line.
“What’s your problem, anyway?” I said, careful to keep my voice light. “I mean, this is well within your line of work, right?”
I was referring to that secret work as a male escort, even though I knew it was only a cover in his search for someone, or something, else. Hey, I had to deal with the Jessica Rabbit references in my cover, so why should I let the facts stop me?
“I don’t do that anymore.”
“I know.” He’d sold his Mustang, cancelled his private number, and disappeared from the escort brochures, leaving behind only wistful memories of lonely women. What I didn’t know was why. I couldn’t tell from his demeanor whether he’d found what he was looking for or if he’d given up altogether. And the dead calm of his gaze told me he wasn’t saying.
“So where’s the real stripper?”
He jerked his head. “Still in the cake.”
I snorted, and crossed to the corner to peer inside. Sure enough, there was a hunky stripper inside, sleeping like a well-built baby. “You climbed into a cake with another man?”
“Shut up, Jo.” He crossed the room, and for a moment it looked like he was going to keep on coming, and that was something you didn’t want Hunter Lorenzo to do. I stepped back, but he only yanked his black pants from the center of the cake, checking them for frosting before pulling them on. “How else was I supposed to infiltrate the land of estrogen?”
I should’ve known he wouldn’t have taken off his uniform and climbed into a cake unless the situation was absolutely dire.
We took a moment to acclimate ourselves to what looked like a street scene from some grainy gumshoe film set in the forties.
“I mean to solve this crime, ya see, and you’re not going to like it, ya see.”
I snorted, gratified that Hunter was thinking along the same lines.
“Nate, this is Helen…um, So-and-so.”
Helen surprised me by addressing Felix directly. “I anticipated your arrival, Mister…?”
“Stewart. Nate Stewart. Nice to meet you, Mrs. So-and-so.”
My laugh rang, genuinely. Felix liked getting his digs in too.
“He has suites?” Felix asked, picking up a scone and taking a bite. “Sweet.”
I smirked. “She means his bedroom.”
Felix turned on his heel. “I’ll be with the cookies and tea.”
Clown, I thought, letting my smile show. But what a clever clown.
Hunter’s shoulders slumped and, turning away, he threw the replicate on the steel table. “I’m gonna get you killed.”
“You’re so arrogant,” I said, and he jerked his head up sharply to catch my smile. “Even I haven’t managed that yet.”
“So, you’re saying don’t go in swinging?”
“It’s a bit…obvious,” she said diplomatically.
I tilted my head. “I think I’m offended.”
“Oh my God,” I said, feeling all eyes on me. “All this time…”
I looked up, met Tripp’s questioning gaze.
“I had no idea I was good at math.” I smiled. He scowled, and slumped farther in his seat. Boyd snorted, clay pipe wobbling between his lips.
“What are you doing?” he said, stopping in front of the first bull’s-eye, feeling me behind him.
Keeping my expression pleasant, I inched closer. “Sticking,” I said shortly, slipping my smile into the word.
“No, you’re being obnoxious.” He yanked on the old bull’s-eye, crumpling it in his hands. “Not to mention aggressive.”
“I know.” I rolled my eyes. “It’s so unattractive.”
He loved my strength. He loved my stubbornness. I stepped closer.
Hunter moved away, not looking at me. “We tried this before.”
His resolve was so firm it made me ache to shatter it. I smiled. “And we’re going to do it again.”
He whirled. “No.”
“Yes.” I snorted. He was right. It was obnoxious. “What, hero? Nobody and nothing touches you just because you’re bulletproof?”
He lifted his chin. “That’s right.”
I tilted my shoulder and batted my lashes. “C’mere, Bulletproof.”
His mouth actually twitched at that.
“See. You’re going to start liking this.” I let my glance fall to his mouth. “I promise.”
“Hunter.” I took his face in my palms, so gently you would have never known I’d thrown down only minutes before. “My mother is MIA, my sister’s dead, my ex has no idea who I am, and I can’t even revisit the last week of my life because I never lived it. If any of that is an issue between you and me, then, Hunt? I’m not the one looking back.”
“That’s not fair.” He drew back from my touch, though he didn’t let go. “Look, you’ve had time to think this through—”
I moved in again, eyes on his lips. “Just thought of it, actually.”
“And right now you might be confusing what you think you want—”
“I want you.”
Thank God for the wall, because my back was against it so fast it was like the earth came unhinged from its axis. Hunter’s mouth brought everything swimming into its proper place again, and I thought, Yes. This is right. This is fate. This is mine.
He pulled back long enough to catch his breath. “I still had two seconds left.”
“Three cheers for time management.”
“You make me feel…”
You make me feel like touching myself in the dark. You make me feel like whispering your name for no reason. You make me wish to put need and lack and violence behind me.
He turned to me, determined to face whatever I was going to say.
I offered up a watery smile, my fingers going tentative on his arm. I whispered, “I feel like me.”
Like I could be me—the good and the bad, the fabled and fallible, the Light and the Shadow—and still look in the mirror without shame.
He shrugged as he busied himself with what looked like a brand new iPhone. He hadn’t missed a beat in dropping his hobo cover. For some reason, it made me want to iSmack him.
“I need more power, Joanna. The energy from the name-giving is no longer enough.”
“What? You want a middle one? Fine. Matilda. Take it.” I flicked my hands at her, more of a nervous gesture than a dismissive one. “Be merry.”
That almost earned a smile. “Skamar is sufficient, thanks. But a true live birth in this world is always recorded in written form. Mine still hasn’t been.”
I drew back at that. “Like a birth certificate?”
“Dude. You were born of thought and, like, bubbles.” She’d been practically see-through when we first met. “No offense, but the drones down at County probably won’t certify someone who could have once passed as a bath product.”
“Then protect me. You can move faster than a speeding bullet, right?”
“I can move faster than a speeding softball. I haven’t really tested the bullet theory yet.”
“What do you want?”
“You. On your knees before me. Your skin shredded so finely it looks like angel hair.”
I motioned for Jas to get behind me, get inside, get away, and scanned the perimeter of the house. Everything and nothing moved beneath the roiling, mobile sky. Yet Regan couldn’t openly walk the streets in her condition. “So you want to be twins?”
“That’s right. Except for your sense of humor. I fucking hate that.”
I looked to Bill, whom Jacks had intuitively, and rightly, addressed, and saw the bartender’s lips thin to a narrow line, his rag moving in slow circles on the bar. A smile slipped onto my face before I could stop it.Behold, dear viewers, this world’s male species reacting under threat.
“Pretty from a distance, huh?” he said, jerking his head toward the Vegas window.
“Pretty from up close,” I corrected.
“You think?” He pursed his lips in disagreement. “I’ve always thought it looks like an old lady who went to bed without taking off her makeup. A bit sad, and in need of a good scrubbing.”
“Regan is dead,” he said matter-of-factly.
“Before she was ever birthed,” I said coldly.
“Then she made an awful lot of noise for a corpse.”
I couldn’t argue with that.
“My creator once considered the very same thing. He felt my power growing, and knew too well what thoughts had gone into creating it. Do you want to have a guess at what those elements were?”
“Snakes? Snails? Puppy-dog tails?” I gave him a bitter smile.
“Venom. Vice. And everything nice.”
“And then came Zoe.”
“Yes. Zoe then,” because she’d killed Wyatt Neelson, “and Zoe now.” Because she’d created Skamar. “What a bitch.”
“That’s my mom.” Odd, but under the straining sky, and standing before this demonic creation, I don’t think I’d ever been more proud.
“My gawd, girl.” Cher swooped in on a magic carpet of worry, estrogen, and Chanel No. 5. “Next time you decide to go for a swim…”
Suzanne followed not far behind, tears in her eyes. “It was the necklace, wasn’t it? It weighed you down?”
Cher hopped on the bed, settling close to me without asking. Angie looked a bit taken aback at this invasion, but I nodded that it was okay, and she shut the door softly as she left. I looked up at the two women who remained behind with me.
“Actually,” I told Suzanne, my hesitant smile widening, “I think it was what kept me afloat.”