Vicki Pettersson

City of Souls

The fourth book in the Sign of the Zodiac series, 2009

To Susan Agassi-Hughes-because true

friends are family, too.


Hanging out in the perfumed, puke-inducing dressing room of an overpriced boutique was hardly my idea of a good time, but right now it was the only place I could get a moment to myself. Olivia Archer-debutante, casino heiress, and lingerie expert-had been my much beloved sister, and while I still mourned her passing everyday, being her was more involved than I’d ever expected. There were benefits to attend, bachelors to date…silk negligees to be purchased. And tonight there was a bachelorette party for one of her BFFs. More than two hundred women flitted around at what had mushroomed into one of the social events of the year. That was why I had to escape behind a pink velvet-covered stall door just to send a text message. Though this wasn’t just any text message.

Where the hell are you?

There. Cryptic enough that if intercepted no one would know it was a text sent from one superhero to another. Imploring enough that Vanessa would find me as soon as possible. She knew these uber-feminine social events made me twitchy.

As if on cue, the door to the dressing room was flung open wide, banging against the opposite side to rattle the wall mirrors. “…I mean, she can’t just get married like everyone else, can she?”

“Please. That woman lives for attention.”

I came to attention too, because I knew those voices. Lena Carradine and Madeleine Cross, two of society’s finest.

And they were talking about one of my mortals, I thought, narrowing my eyes to peek through a crack in my dressing stall.

“No, first she has to celebrate for an entire week here,” Lena said, flipping back a lock of her auburn hair. Extensions, I sneered, getting a good glimpse of the false locks and mentally patting my own back. Six months ago I never would’ve spotted the bonding glue. “Spend more money than has ever been spent on a Las Vegas wedding-”

“Well, it’s not her money, is it?”

My phone vibrated in my hand. I looked down.

where R U

I frowned. Vanessa Valen knew exactly where I was. She was supposed to be with me. And what was with the truncated text? Her work as a reporter might just be a cover, but it’d been chosen precisely because she had the grammar bug. She hated sloppy texts.

Just hurry. I wrote back. I can’t do this by myself.

I tucked the phone back in my Dior and smiled wryly. As an agent of Light, I could have just as easily been talking about our enemy Shadow agents, paranormal beings who fed off negative energy, manipulating the mortal population in order to stir up dissension and chaos. Or I could have been referencing a recent training session with the rest of our troop, a matriarchal corps based on the signs of the Zodiac. But no, I meant enduring a whole evening surrounded by society women whose verbal sniping made supernatural battles look like sandbox swipes. As if on cue, Madeleine joined in.

“And then fly off for another weeklong Indian celebration. I mean, where is Hindu, anyway?”

“It’s where the guy in your iPhone lives.”

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.

And now they were devouring one of their own. “And talk about tacky. I mean, are we in her native Texas with all these gourmet barbecue sauce party favors?”

Okay, so she had a point there. The hot sauce didn’t exactly fit with the boudoir theme.

“Or some third world country with their barbaric beauty customs?”

Lena was referring to the henna that had been painstakingly applied to our hands the day before, intricate whorls, dots, and swoops that had turned our bodies into eastern art. Mine had been a beautiful mandala, often depicted in sand paintings by Buddhist monks. I’d chosen it because it symbolized the cosmos that-as a member of Zodiac troop 175, paranormal division, Las Vegas-had recently become a very important part of my life. Yet the drawing had washed off in the shower without leaving the faintest trace of red dye. The woman of the hour, Suzanne, had been devastated.

“Or just Vegas, with that gawdy neon runway and oversized disco ball?”

Wait, wait. Texas and India were one matter. But pick on my hometown? Now I’d had enough. Besides, what normal person didn’t like disco balls?

Kicking open the door of the dressing room stall, I had the satisfaction of seeing them both gasp and whirl, hands to chests and mouths. Sure, it was an entrance more befitting Joanna Archer than her perfect socialite sister, Olivia, but I was trying to make a point…and, again, I was both.

“You’re forgetting something ladies,” I said, slipping in front of the beveled three-way mirror. I patted the back of my long blond hair. “She’s marrying an Indian prince.”

Madeleine could only respond by lifting her chin. Her face had been long frozen into a permanent expression of surprise. Botulism was so unpredictable. “So what’s next? A friggin’ tepee and a sweat lodge?”

Indian, sweetie,” I emphasized, pointing to the middle of my forehead. “Dot, not feather.”

“Yes, and one of the most esteemed businessmen of our generation.” The words flowed more smoothly than the silk pooling at Suzanne’s feet as she glided in from the festivities. The notes of Chopin were muted by the shutting of the door as she shot a conspiratorial wink my way. “How I snagged him, I’ll never know.”

I smiled at the well-timed entrance.

I knew how. I’d sent Suzanne and Cher on a trip to Fiji the month before to remove them from the direct line of fire of supernatural enemies who’d see them dead just to get to me. True to form, Suzanne had returned engaged to a high-profile textiles magnate so wealthy he made every casino tycoon in town look like a pauper. Including Olivia’s father-and the man I’d once thought was mine, too-Xavier Archer.

Of course, the big news on the gossip circuit was the question Suzanne had just voiced. How had a forty- something-year-old widow enticed a younger, infamous bachelor with homes in Bombay and London, a chalet in the south of France, and romantic liaisons on every continent, into suddenly becoming the marrying kind? The announcement of their million-dollar wedding hadn’t only made headlines in Vegas, it’d been blazed across the international press, complete with full accounts of past trysts on each side, and close-up shots of the size of the diamond on her left hand.

The one, I noted, that she lifted now to brush back a tendril of honeyed hair. It was obviously the first time

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