The sequel to THE THOUSANDTH FLOOR by Katharine McGee is about to *dazzle* you with even more drama! ICYMI, The Thousandth Floor is set in Manhattan 2118, where all of NYC now lives in a 1,000-story, high-tech Tower, and the lives of five teens become intertwined by romance, friendship…and murder.
We have an exclusive sneak peek at book 2, THE DAZZLING HEIGHTS—and it looks like a new resident has just moved into the Tower! Her name is Calliope and she’s about to stir up some trouble. Read the excerpt below for the inside scoop on this glamorous new character!
The girl studied her reflection in the floor-length smartmirrors that lined the walls, lifting her mouth in a narrow red smile of approval. She wore a navy romper that was at least three years out of fashion, but deliberately so; she loved watching the other women in the hotel shoot envious glances toward her long, tanned legs. The girl tossed her hair, knowing the warm gold of her earrings brought out her caramel highlights, and fluttered her false lashes—not the implanted kind, but real organic ones; grown from her own eyelids after a long, and painful, genetic repair procedure in Switzerland.
It all exuded a tousled, effortless, glamorous sort of sexiness. Very Calliope Brown, the girl thought, with a frisson of pleasure.
“I’m Elise on this one. You?” her mom asked, as if reading her mind. She had dark blond hair and artificially smooth, creamy skin, making her seem ageless. No one who saw the pair of them was ever quite sure whether she was the mother or the more experienced older sister.
“I was thinking Calliope.” The girl shrugged into the name as if into an old, comfortable sweater. Calliope Brown had always been one of her favorite aliases. And it felt somehow fitting for New York.
Her mom nodded. “I do love that one, even if it’s always impossible to remember. It sounds like it’s got . . . spunk.”
“You could call me Callie,” Calliope offered, and her mom nodded absently, though they both knew she would just call Calliope by endearments. She’d said the wrong alias once, and it ruined everything. She’d been paranoid about making the same mistake ever since.
Calliope glanced around the expensive hotel, taking in its plush couches, lit with gold and blue strands that matched the hue of the sky; clumps of businesspeople muttering verbal commands to their contact lenses; the telltale shimmer in the corner that meant a security cam was watching. She stifled an urge to wink at it.
Without warning, the toe of her shoe caught on something, and Calliope crashed violently to the ground. She landed on one hip, barely catching herself on her wrists, feeling the skin of her palms burn a little with the impact.
“Oh my god!” Elise’s legs folded beneath her as she knelt beside her daughter.
Calliope let out a moan, which wasn’t difficult given how much actual pain she was in. Her head pounded angrily. She wondered if the heels of her stilettos were totally scuffed.
Her mom gave her a shake and she moaned harder, tears welling in her eyes.
“Is she okay?” It was a boy’s voice. Calliope dared tilt her head enough to peer at him through half-lidded eyes. He had to be a front-desk attendant, with his clean-shaven face and the bright blue name-holo on his chest. Calliope had been to enough five-star hotels to know that the important people didn’t advertise their names.
Her pain was already subsiding, but still, Calliope couldn’t resist moaning a little louder and pulling one knee up to her chest, just to show off her legs. She was gratified by the mingled flash of attraction and confusion—almost panic—that darted across the boy’s face.
“Of course she’s not okay! Where’s your manager?” Elise snapped. Calliope stayed quiet. She liked letting her mom do the talking, when they were first laying the groundwork; and anyway, she was supposed to be injured.
“I’m s-sorry, I’ll call him . . .” the boy stammered. Calliope gave a little whimper for good measure, though it wasn’t necessary. She could feel the attention of everyone in the lobby shifting toward them, a crowd beginning to gather. Nervousness clung to the front desk boy like a bad perfume.
“I’m Oscar, the manager. What happened here?” An overweight man in a simple dark suit trotted over. Calliope noted with delight that his shoes looked expensive.
“What’s going on is that my daughter fell in your lobby. Because of that spilled drink!” Elise pointed to a puddle on the floor, complete with a lost-looking lime wedge. “Don’t you invest in a maid service here?”
“My sincerest apologies. I can assure you nothing like this has ever happened before, Mrs. . . . ?”
“Ms. Brown,” Elise sniffed. “My daughter and I had planned on staying here for a week, but I’m no longer sure we want to.” She bent down a little lower. “Can you move, honey?”
That was her cue. “It really hurts.” Calliope gasped, shaking her head. A single tear ran down her cheek, ruining her otherwise perfectly made-up face. She heard the crowd murmur in sympathy.
“Let me take care of everything,” Oscar pleaded, turning bright red with anxiety. “I insist. Your room, of course, is complimentary.”
Fifteen minutes later, Calliope and her mom were firmly ensconced in a corner suite. Calliope stayed in bed—her ankle propped on a tiny triangle of pillows—holding perfectly still as the bellman unloaded their bags. She kept her eyes closed even after she heard the front door shut behind him, waiting till her mom’s footsteps turned back toward her bedroom. “All clear now, sweetie,” Elise called out.
She stood up in a fluid motion, letting the tower of pillows tumble to the ground. “Seriously, Mom? You tripped me without warning?”
“I’m sorry, but you know you’ve always been terrible at a fake fall. Your instincts for self-preservation are simply too strong,” Elise replied from the closet, where she was already sorting her vast array of gowns in their color-coded transport bags. “How can I make it up to you?”
“Cheesecake would be a good start.” Calliope reached past her mom for the fluffy white robe that hung on the door, emblazoned with a blue N and a tiny image of a cloud on the front pocket. She pulled it around her, letting the threads of the tie instantly weave themselves shut.
“How about cheesecake and wine?” Elise made a few brisk motions with her hands to call up holographic images of the room service menu, pointing at various screens to order salmon, cheesecake, a bottle of Sancerre. The wine popped into their room in a matter of seconds, propelled by the hotel’s temperature-controlled airtube system. “I love you, sweetie. Sorry again for flinging you on your face.”
“I know. It’s just the cost of doing business,” Calliope conceded with a shrug.
Her mom poured them two glasses and clinked hers to Calliope’s. “Here’s to this time.”
“Here’s to this time,” Calliope echoed with a smile, as the words sent a familiar shiver of excitement up her spine. It was the same phrase she and her mom always used when they arrived somewhere new. And there was nothing Calliope loved more than starting somewhere new.
She headed into the living room, to the curved flexiglass windows that lined the corner of the building, with dramatic views over Brooklyn and the dark ribbon of the East River. A few shadows that must have been boats still danced across its surface. Evening had settled over the city, softening the edges of it all. Scattered flecks of light blinked like forgotten stars.
“So this is New York,” Calliope mused aloud. After years of traipsing the world with her mom, standing at similar windows in so many luxury hotels and looking out over so many cities—the neon grid of Tokyo; the cheerful and vibrant disorder of Rio; the domed skyscrapers of Mumbai, gleaming like bones in the moonlight—she had come to New York at last.
New York, the first of the great supertowers, the original sky city. Already Calliope felt a burst of tenderness toward it.
“Gorgeous view,” Elise said, coming to join her. “It almost reminds me of the one from London Bridge.”
Calliope stopped rubbing her eyes, which were still a bit itchy from the latest retinal transfer, and glanced sharply at her mom. They rarely spoke of their old life, before. Yet Elise didn’t pursue the subject. She sipped her wine, her eyes fixed somewhere on the horizon.
Elise was so beautiful, Calliope thought. But there was something hard and a little bit plasticky about her beauty now: the result of the various surges she’d had to change her appearance and go unrecognized each time they moved somewhere new. I’m doing this for us, she always told Calliope, and for you, so you don’t have to. At least not yet. She never made Calliope play more than a supporting role in any of her cons.
For the past seven years, ever since they’d left London, Calliope and her mom had moved constantly from place to place. They never stayed anywhere long enough to get caught. The pattern was the same in each city: They would trick their way into the most expensive hotel in the most expensive neighborhood, and scout the scene for a few days. Then Elise would pick her mark—someone with too much money for his or her own good, and just enough foolishness to believe whatever story Elise decided to tell. By the time the mark realized what had happened, Elise and Calliope were always long gone.
Calliope knew that some people would call the pair of them cheats, or con artists, or swindlers. She preferred to think of them as very clever, very charming women who’d figured out how to level the playing field. After all, as Calliope’s mom always said, rich people get free things all the time. Why shouldn’t they, too?
“Before I forget, this is for you. I just uploaded it with the name Calliope Ellerson Brown. That’s what you wanted, right?” Her mom handed her a shining new wrist computer.
Here lies Gemma Newberry, beloved thief, Calliope thought in delight, burying her most recent alias with a silent flourish. She was as shameless as she was beautiful.
She had a terribly morbid habit of composing epitaphs each time she set aside an identity, though she never shared them with her mom. She had a feeling that Elise wouldn’t find them quite so amusing.
Calliope tapped at the new wrist computer, pulling up her list of contacts—empty, as usual—and noticed to her surprise that there wasn’t a school registration listed. “You’re not making me go to high school for this one?”
Elise shrugged. “You’re eighteen. Do you want to keep going to school?”
Calliope hesitated. She’d gone to school so many times, playing whatever role their particular scheme cast her in—a long-lost heiress, or a victim of some conspiracy, or occasionally just as Elise’s daughter, when Elise needed a daughter to seem attractive to some victim. She’d attended a preppy British boarding school and a French convent and a pristine public school in Singapore, and had rolled her eyes in sheer boredom at each one.
Which was how Calliope had ended up running a few cons of her own. They were never as big as Elise’s cons, which netted their real payout; but Calliope liked to do something on the side if she saw an opportunity. Elise was fine with it, as long as Calliope’s projects didn’t impede her ability to help out her mom whenever she was called upon. “It’s good for you to get some practice,” Elise always said, and let Calliope keep everything she earned herself—which supplemented her wardrobe quite nicely.
Usually Calliope tried to gain the interest of a wealthy teenager, then conned him into buying her a necklace, or a new handbag, or the latest Robbie Lim suede boots. On a few rare occasions she’d managed to get bitbanc payments—not gifts—by pretending to be in serious trouble, or by finding out people’s secrets and blackmailing them. Calliope had learned through the years that rich people did a lot of things they would rather keep buried.
She briefly considered going to high school, doing the same thing as usual, but she quickly dismissed the idea. This time, she would go bigger.
Oh, there were so many ways to hook a mark—the “accidental” run-in, the sidelong glance, the nuanced smile, the flirtation, the confrontation, the accident—and Calliope was an expert in all of them. She’d closed out every con she’d ever started.
Except Travis. The one mark who’d ever left Calliope, rather than the other way around. She’d never figured out why, and it still nettled her, just a little.
But he was just one person, and there were millions here. Calliope thought of all the crowds she’d seen earlier, streaming in and out of elevators, rushing home or to work or to school. All of them preoccupied with their own small worries, clutching at their impossible dreams.
None of them even knew she existed, and if they did know, they wouldn’t care. But that was what made this game fun: because Calliope was about to make one of them care, very much. She felt a bright, glorious, reckless rush of anticipation.
She couldn’t wait to find her next mark.
The two women strode through the entrance to Bergdorf Goodman on the 880th floor, their four sharp heels making satisfying clicks on the polished marble. Neither of them paused at the sumptuously decorated lobby, its holiday-themed display holos dancing around the crystal chandeliers and jewel cases; tourists crying out whenever the reindeer swooped down toward their heads. Calliope didn’t even glance in their direction as she followed Elise up the curved staircase. It had been a long time since she was impressed by something as prosaic as a holographic sleigh.
The designer floor upstairs was scattered with clumps of furniture, each of them partitioned by an invisible privacy barrier and equipped with a body-scanner. Real gowns were draped on mannequins in various corners, for nostalgia’s sake. No one actually tried on anything here.
Elise flicked her eyes significantly at Calliope before heading toward the youngest, most junior-looking employee: Kyra Welch. They’d already preselected her online, for the simple reason that she’d worked at the store a grand total of three days.
Just a few meters away from the girl, Elise made a show of sinking onto a pale peach settee. She crossed one leg over the other and began scrolling through cocktail dresses on the screen before her. Calliope stood idly to one side and stifled a yawn. She wished she’d gotten one of those honey coffees from the hotel this morning. Or even a caffeine patch.
The salesgirl predictably hurried over. She had alabaster skin and a perky carrot-red ponytail. “Good afternoon, ladies. Did you have an appointment?”
“Where’s Alamar?” Elise demanded, in her most dismissive tone.
“I’m so sorry—Alamar is off today,” Kyra stammered, which of course Elise and Calliope had already known. The girl’s eyes skimmed quickly over Elise’s outfit, taking in the designer skirt and seven-carat stone on her finger, so high quality it was almost indistinguishable from a real diamond. Evidently she concluded that this was someone important, someone Alamar shouldn’t have upset. “Perhaps one of our senior sales associates can—”
“I’m looking for a new cocktail dress. Something showstopping,” Elise talked over the younger woman, waving at the holographic display to project this season’s designs onto a scan of her body. She flicked her wrist to scroll rapidly through the images, then held out her palm to pause at a plum-colored dress with an uneven hem. “Can I see this one, but shortened?”
Kyra’s eyes unfocused, probably checking her schedule on her contacts. Calliope knew she was debating whether to abandon her restocking duties in favor of this new, most likely lucrative commission.
She also knew that at the end of the shopping spree, after the various dresses had been instantly woven and sewn by the superlooms hidden in the back of the store, Kyra would haltingly ask for an account number to charge it all to. “Alamar knows,” Elise would say, with her sorry but I can’t be bothered shrug. Then she would walk out of the store, her arms laden with bags, without a backward glance.
Technically, they could have paid for the dresses the normal way—they did have money squirreled away in a few different bancs all over the globe. Though at the rate they spent, it never seemed to last very long. And as Elise always said, why pay for something you can get for free? It was the motto they lived by.
Elise and Kyra dissolved into a discussion of silk paneling. Calliope looked up, already bored, and saw three girls her age crossing the store, wearing identical plaid skirts and white button-downs. A slow smile spread across her face. No matter what country they were in, private-school girls invariably made easy targets.
“Mom,” she interrupted. Kyra stepped aside for a moment to give them some privacy, but it didn’t matter; Calliope and her mom had long ago established a code for situations like this. “I just remembered an assignment that I need to go finish. For history class.” History meant a group con. If she’d used biology class, it would have meant a romantic one—a seduction.
Elise’s eyes lit on the trio of girls and flashed in instant understanding. “Of course. I wouldn’t want you to lose your place on the honor roll,” she said wryly.
“Right. I do need to graduate with honors.” Calliope kept a straight face as she turned away.
She muttered “nearby private high schools” under her breath as she moved toward the accessories section, where the girls seemed to be headed. It only took two search results before she found the right one; she could tell since the students on the homepage were wearing the same lame uniform. Bingo.
She stationed herself in the girls’ path and began to studiously loiter: picking up various items, studying them as if actually considering them, then setting them down again. She was keeping an eye on the progress of the group, but still, she couldn’t help relishing the feel of a cool leather belt or a slippery silk scarf in her hands.
When the girls were only a row away, Calliope stumbled forward, knocking a whole table of purses to the ground. They fell across the polished wood floor like pieces of spilled candy.
“Oh my god! I’m so sorry,” Calliope muttered, in the posh British accent she and her mom had been using all week—not the cheap cockney one she’d grown up with, but a refined one she’d mastered after careful practice. She had purposefully tipped the table so that the clutches fell in the girls’ direct path; forcing the trio to either step carefully through them or kneel down to help. Unsurprisingly, they did the latter. Rich girls never left something expensive on the ground, unless they’d been the one to toss it there.
“It’s okay. No harm done,” said one of the girls, a tall blonde who was far and away the most beautiful of the three. She had such an air of sophistication that on her, the ridiculous school uniform was transformed into something almost chic. She stood up at the same time as Calliope, setting the last little beaded clutch on the table.
“You all go to Berkeley?” Calliope asked, in that crucial instant before they started to walk away.
“Yeah. Wait, do you go there too?” asked one of the other girls. She frowned a little, as if wondering whether she’d seen Calliope before.
“Oh no,” Calliope said breezily. “I recognized the uniforms from the admissions tour. We’re in town from London—staying at the Nuage—but we might move here for my mom’s job. If we do, I’ll be transferring schools.” The lines rolled easily off her tongue; she’d spoken them many times before.
“That’s exciting. What does your mom do?” The blonde spoke again; not pushy, but with a quiet, genuine interest. Her clear-eyed gaze was somehow disconcerting.
“She works in sales, for private clients,” Calliope couldn’t resist saying, with a deliberate vagueness. “So what do you think of Berkeley? You like it there?”
“I mean, it’s school. It’s not like it’s fun,” the third girl finally chimed in. She had tawny skin, and her dark hair was pulled into a chic fishtail braid. She quickly looked over Calliope’s outfit, taking in her cream-colored knit dress and brown boots, and her eyes grew warmer in evident approval. “You would like it there, I think,” she concluded.
Calliope hid a familiar flash of disdain at these empty-headed girls. They were so easily persuaded of anything, as long it fit within their narrow worldview. She couldn’t wait to con something from them—shave off a little of the wealth they hadn’t worked for and were clearly not entitled to at all.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Calliope Brown,” she declared, holding out a hand laden with stacked enamel bangles and a fresh dove-gray manicolor. After a moment, the girl took it.
“My name is Risha, and this is Jess, and Avery,” she told Calliope.
“We actually need to get going,” the blond girl—Avery—said, with an apologetic smile. “We have appointments at the facial bar downstairs.”
“No way!” Calliope lied, with a practiced laugh. “I have an appointment there in half an hour. Maybe I’ll see you on your way out.”
“You should just come now, with us. I bet they can take you early,” Risha urged. She glanced quickly at Avery for confirmation, and Calliope didn’t miss the slight nod of approval that Avery gave at the suggestion. So, Avery was the one who called all the shots. Calliope was hardly surprised.
She’d never been quite as good at faking friendship as she was a romantic attachment. Lust was so delightfully uncomplicated and straightforward, while female friendships were inevitably layered with conditions, and history, and unspoken rules of behavior. Still, Calliope was nothing if not a fast learner. She could already see that Risha would be the easiest of the three to win over, but Avery was the crucial one, so she focused her efforts on her.
“I’d love to come, if you don’t mind,” she admitted, smiling at each of them in turn, her eyes lingering the longest on Avery.
As they walked through the doors of Ava Beauty Lounge, Calliope took a deep breath, inhaling the glorious scents of lavender and peppermint and spa. Everything inside was done in shades of peach and cream, from the soft carpet underfoot to the delicate sconces hanging on the walls, casting pools of golden light on the girls’ faces.
“Miss Fuller,” said the store manager, snapping to instant attention. Calliope studied the other girl with markedly more interest. So, she was the type of person who got recognized at places like this. Was it for her beauty, or her money, or both? “I didn’t realize you were a party of four today. I’ll add another facialette station to your cluster.”
He began to usher them all forward just as another girl walked out of the inner lounge and froze at the sight of Avery.
“Hi, Leda.” Avery’s voice was distinctly chilly.
The new arrival—a thin black girl with wide eyes and darting, nervous gestures—pulled herself up to her full height. It wasn’t very tall. “Avery. Jess, Risha.” Her eyes lit on Calliope, but she apparently decided it wasn’t worth introducing herself. “Enjoy your facial,” she said on her way out, managing to turn the innocuous phrase into something almost vindictive.
“Thanks, we will!” Calliope said cheerfully, delighting at the three horrified expressions that whirled toward her. But she didn’t give a damn about these girls’ intra-clique drama. She was here for a free facial, thank you very much.
Soon the four of them were seated at the gleaming white facial bar, clutching glasses of chilled grapefruit water. A bot wheeled over and handed them each a pink-and-white-stitched apron. “To keep the facial products from splattering onto your clothes,” the facial attendant explained, in answer to Calliope’s curious look.
“Oh, right. We wouldn’t want the girls to ruin their fabulous uniforms,” Calliope deadpanned, and was gratified to hear Avery laugh.
A row of lasers on the opposite wall turned on, aiming beams of focused photons toward the girls’ faces. Calliope instinctively shut her eyes, though she knew the lasers were too precise to hurt her. She felt nothing but a slight tickle across her nerves as the laser skimmed over the surface of her skin, collecting data on her oil levels and pH balance and chemical composition.
“So,” she asked Avery, who was sitting to her left, “what’s the deal with that Leda girl?”
Avery seemed startled by the question. “She’s a friend of ours,” she said quickly.
“She didn’t seem that friendly.” The lasers began to flash more quickly, signaling that they were almost finished with their dermatological analysis.
“Well, she was a close friend of mine until recently,” Avery amended.
“What happened? Was it about a boy?” It usually was, with girls like this.
Avery stiffened, though her face remained immobile as the laser traced across her poreless porcelain skin. Calliope wondered what they would even give her; she was so obviously already perfect.
“It’s a long story,” Avery answered, which was proof enough to Calliope that she was right. She felt a momentary stab of sympathy for Leda. That must suck, being the girl who had to compete with Avery.
A holographic menu popped up at Calliope’s eye level, with treatment recommendations. Next to her, she heard the other girls chatting in low voices as they debated which add-ons to select: a soothing cucumber mask, a hydrogen infusion, a crushed-ruby scrub. Calliope checked the boxes for everything.
A steaming cocoon dropped down from the ceiling before each of them, and the girls leaned forward and closed their eyes.
“Avery,” said the brunette girl—Jess, Calliope remembered. “Your parents’ holiday party is still happening this year, right?”
Calliope’s ears perked up a little at the mention of a party. She turned her head just slightly to the left, letting more of the steam hit the right side of her face, so that she could listen.
“Didn’t you get the invitation?” Avery asked.
Jess seemed to quickly back down. “Yes, but I just thought, after everything that happened . . . Never mind.”
Avery sighed, but she didn’t sound angry, only regretful. “There’s no way my dad would cancel. During the party, he’s going to announce the completion of The Mirrors—that’s what he named the Dubai Tower, since it has two sides that are mirror images.”
Dubai Tower? Suddenly Calliope remembered what the sales associate had called Avery when they walked in, and the puzzle pieces clicked into place.
Fuller Investments was the company that had patented all the structural innovations needed to build towers this tall: the ultra-compounded steel supports, the earthquake shock protectors stuffed between every floor, the oxygenated air that was pumped throughout the higher floors to prevent altitude sickness. They had built the New York Tower, the first global supertower, almost twenty years ago.
Which meant that Avery Fuller was very wealthy indeed.
“That sounds like fun,” Calliope chimed in. In her lap, she clenched one hand atop the other, then flipped them over again. She’d been to parties far more exclusive and incredible than this, she tried to remind herself: like the one at that club in Mumbai with the champagne bottle as big as a small car, or the mountainside lodge in Tibet where they’d grown hallucinogenic tea. But all those parties faded in her memory—as they always did—when confronted by the specter of some other future party that Calliope wasn’t invited to.
A puff of steam rose from the top of Avery’s cocoon as she gave the answer Calliope had been hoping for. “If you’re not busy, you should come.”
“I’d love to,” Calliope said, unable to keep the excitement from her voice. She heard Avery mutter under her breath, and an instant later the envelope icon in the top of her vision lit up as her contacts received the message. Calliope bit her lip to keep from smiling as she opened it.
Fuller Investments Annual Holiday Party, read the scrolling gold calligraphy, against a black starry background. 12/12/18. The Thousandth Floor.
It was kind of badass, Calliope admitted to herself, that the only address they needed to write was their floor. Clearly they owned the whole thing.
The girls’ chatter moved on, to something about a school assignment, then a boy that Jess was dating. Calliope let her eyes flutter shut. She did love rich things, she thought with unadulterated pleasure, now that she got them for real—and usually on someone else’s dime.
It hadn’t always been like this. When she was younger, Calliope had known about these sorts of things, but never actually experienced them. She could look, but never touch. It was a particularly excruciating sort of torture.
It felt like a long time ago, now.
She’d grown up in a tiny flat in one of the older, quieter neighborhoods of London, where none of the buildings stretched higher than thirty floors and people still grew real plants out on their balconies. Calliope never asked who her father was, because she honestly didn’t care. It had always been Calliope and her mom, and she was fine with that.
Elise—she’d had a different name back then, her real name—had been the personal assistant to Mrs. Houghton, a stuffy rich woman with a pinched nose and watery eyes. She insisted on being called “Lady Houghton,” claiming that she descended from an obscure branch of the now defunct royal family. Elise managed Mrs. Houghton’s calendar, her correspondence, her closet: all the myriad details of her useless, gilded life.
Elise and Calliope’s life felt so dull in contrast. Not that they could complain: their apartment should have been adequate, with its self-filling refrigerator and cleaning bots and a subscription to all the major holo channels. They even had windows in both bedrooms, and a decent closet. Yet Calliope quickly learned to see their life as something unforgivably drab, illuminated only by the occasional touches of glamour that her mom brought home from the Houghtons’.
“Look what I have,” Elise would proclaim, her voice taut with excitement, each time she walked in the door with something new.
Calliope always hurried over, holding her breath as her mom unwrapped the package, wondering what it contained this time. An embroidered silk ball gown with sequins missing, which Mrs. Houghton had asked Elise to take back for repairs. Or a handpainted china plate that was one of a kind, and could Elise please track down the artist and have her make another? Even jewelry, on occasion: a sapphire ring or a diamond choker that needed to be professionally cleaned.
Reverently, Calliope would reach out to touch the sumptuous fur shrug, or crystal wine decanter, or her absolute favorite, the supple Senreve shoulder bag in a shocking bright pink. She would look up into mother’s eyes and see her own childlike longing reflected there, like a candle.
Always too soon for Calliope’s taste, her mom would pack away the treasure with a sigh of regret, to take it to the repair shop or cleaners or back to the store for return. Calliope knew without being told that Elise wasn’t even supposed to bring these things home at all—that she did so for Calliope’s sake, so that Calliope could get a little glimpse at just how beautiful they were.
At least Calliope got the hand-me-downs. The Houghtons had a daughter named Justine, one year older than Calliope. For years, Elise had brought Justine’s discarded clothing home to their flat, rather than taking it to the donation center as Mrs. Houghton instructed. Together Calliope and her mom would sort through the bags, exclaiming over the gossamer dresses and patterned stockings and coats with embroidered bows, tossed aside like used tissue because they were a season old.
When her mom worked late, Calliope would go to her friend Daera’s apartment down the hall. They spent hours pretending they were princesses at afternoon high tea. They would put on Justine’s old dresses and sip cups of water at Daera’s kitchen table, curling up their pinkies in that funny, fancy way, speaking in a butchered approximation of the upper-crust accent.
“It’s my fault you have such a taste for expensive things,” Elise said once, but Calliope didn’t regret any of it. She would rather see a tiny sliver of that beautiful, charmed world than not know of its existence at all.
Everything came to a head one afternoon when Calliope was eleven. She’d had the day off from school, so Elise was forced to bring her to Mrs. Houghton’s house while she worked. Calliope had firm instructions to stay in the kitchen and read quietly on her tablet—which she did, for almost a full hour. Until she heard the little beep of the house comp that meant Lady Houghton had left.
Calliope couldn’t help it—she darted straight up the stairs into the Houghtons’ bedroom. The door to Mrs. Houghton’s closet was wide open. It was just begging to be explored.
Before Calliope could think twice she’d slipped inside, running her hands longingly over the gowns and sweaters and soft leather pants. She reached for that bright fuchsia Senreve purse and slung it over one shoulder, turning from side to side as she studied her reflection in the mirror, so excited that she didn’t hear the second beep of the house comp. If only Daera were here to see this. “You will address me as ‘Your Highness,’ and bow when I approach,” she said aloud to her reflection, fighting not to giggle.
“What do you think you’re doing?” came a voice from the doorway.
It was Justine Houghton. Calliope started to explain, but Justine had already opened her mouth to let out a shrill, bloodcurdling scream. “Mom!”
Mrs. Houghton materialized an instant later, accompanied by Elise. Calliope winced under her mom’s gaze, hating the way her expression flitted between recrimination and something else, something frighteningly close to guilt.
“I—I’m sorry,” she stammered, though her fingers were still closed tight around the handle of the purse, as if she couldn’t bear to release it. “I didn’t mean any harm—it’s just that your clothes are so beautiful, and I wanted to see them up close—”
“So you could get your grubby little hands all over them?” Mrs. Houghton reached for the Senreve bag, but for some perverse reason Calliope held it even tighter to her chest.
“And, Mom, look—she’s wearing my dress! Though she doesn’t look nearly as good in it as I did,” Justine added, nastily.
Calliope glanced down and bit her lip. This was indeed one of Justine’s old dresses, a white shift with distinctive black Xs and Os along the collar. It was true that it was a little long and shapeless on her, but they couldn’t afford to tailor it. Why do you care? You gave it away, she wanted to say, resentment rising up in her, yet for some reason her throat had closed up.
Lady Houghton turned to Elise. “I thought I instructed you to donate Justine’s used clothing to the poor,” she said, her tone clipped and businesslike. “Are you, in fact, poor?”
Calliope would never forget the way her mom’s shoulders stiffened at that remark. “It won’t happen again. Say you’re sorry, dear,” she added to Calliope, gently prying the purse from her rigid hands and passing it over.
Some deep-rooted instinct of Calliope’s rose up in protest, and she shook her head, mutinous.
That was when Lady Houghton raised her hand and slapped Calliope across the face so hard that her nose bled.
Calliope expected her mom to retaliate, but Elise just dragged her daughter home without another word. Calliope was silent and resentful at the time. She knew she shouldn’t have been in the closet, but she still couldn’t believe Lady Houghton had struck her, and that her mom hadn’t done anything about it.
The next day Elise came home in a flurry of agitation. “Pack your bags. Now,” she said, refusing to explain. When they got to the train station, Elise booked them two one-way tickets to Moscow and handed Calliope an ID chip with a new name. An unfamiliar pouch jangled at Elise’s waist.
“What’s that?” Calliope asked, curiosity getting the better of her.
Elise glanced around to check that no one was watching, then opened the drawstring of the bag. It was full of expensive jewelry that Calliope recognized as Mrs. Houghton’s.
That was when Calliope realized her mom was a thief, and that they were on the run.
“We’re never coming back, are we?” she’d asked, without a shred of regret. A sense of limitless adventure was unfurling in her eleven-year-old chest.
“That woman had it coming. After everything she did to me—after what she did to you—we deserve this,” Elise said simply. She reached for her daughter’s hand to give it a squeeze. “Don’t worry. We’re heading on an adventure, just the two of us.”
And from that day on, it was indeed a glorious, nonstop adventure. The money from the Houghtons’ jewelry eventually ran out, but by then it didn’t matter, because Elise had figured out how to get more: she’d swindled a proposal from a gullible, wealthy older man. She’d realized that Mrs. Houghton had given her something even more valuable than jewelry—the voice, and mannerisms, and overall demeanor of someone entitled. Everywhere she went, people thought Elise was rich. Which meant that they gave her things without expecting her to pay, at least not right away.
The thing about rich people was that once they thought you were one of them, they became much less wary around you—and that made them easy targets.
Thus began the life Calliope and her mom had lived for the past seven years.
“What flavor would you like for your facial cleanser?” a spa attendant asked, and Calliope blinked to awareness. The other girls were sitting up, their skin glowing. A warm, scented towel was curled around Calliope’s neck.
She realized that her treatment included a custom face wash, which had been created during her treatment specifically for her.
“Dragonfruit,” she declared, because its shocking red-pink was her favorite color. The technician deftly twisted open the jar, revealing a scentless white cream, and tossed in a red flavor pod before holding it up to a metallic wand on the wall. Moments later the jar of bright red face wash spun out of a chute, with a list of all the enzymes and organic ingredients that had been uniquely combined for Calliope’s skin. A tiny cranberry sticker completed the package.
When they emerged into the gold-and-peach front room and the other girls started leaning toward the retinal scanner to pay, Calliope pulled the trick she always performed when shopping in groups. She hung back; dilating her pupils, muttering curse words under her breath.
“Is everything okay?” Avery asked, watching her.
“Actually, no. I can’t log into my account.” Calliope gave a few more pretend bitbanc commands, letting a note of agitation creep into her voice. “I don’t know what’s going on.”
She waited until the gentleman from the front desk was pointedly clearing his throat, making it awkward for everyone, before turning to Avery. She knew her cheeks were bright pink with embarrassment—she’d long ago learned to blush on command—and her eyes were gleaming with a silent entreaty. But none of the girls made any offer to help.
A boy would have paid by now; though out of self-interest, not chivalry. This was precisely why Calliope preferred lust to friendship. Fine, she thought in irritation; she would just have to do this the direct way.
“Avery?” she asked, with what she hoped was the right amount of self-consciousness. “Would you mind covering my facial, just till I figure out what’s going on with my account?”
“Oh. Sure.” Avery nodded good-naturedly and leaned forward, blinking a second time into the retinal scanner to cover the exorbitant cost of Calliope’s facial. Just as Calliope expected, she didn’t even seem to register the long list of add-ons. She probably had no idea how much her own facial had cost.
“Thank you,” Calliope began, but Avery waved away the gratitude.
“Don’t worry about it. Besides, the Nuage is one of my favorite places. I know where to find you,” Avery said lightly.
If only you knew. By the time Avery got around to collecting—if she ever even remembered to—Calliope and her mom would be long gone, living on a different continent under new names, no trace left of them in New York at all.
The many boys and girls who’d known Calliope these past few years, whose hearts she’d left carelessly strewn throughout the world, would have recognized her smirk. She felt sorry for Avery and Risha and Jess. They were headed back to their boring, routine lives, while Calliope’s existence was anything but boring.
She followed the other girls out the door, dropping the jar of cleanser into her bag—the special-edition Senreve bag in bold fuchsia, of course—with a satisfying clunk.
About The Dazzling Heights
The sequel to the New York Times bestselling novel The Thousandth Floor
New York, 2118. Manhattan is home to a thousand-story supertower, a breathtaking marvel that touches the sky. But amidst high-tech luxury and futuristic glamour, five teenagers are keeping dangerous secrets…
LEDA is haunted by memories of what happened on the worst night of her life. She’ll do anything to make sure the truth stays hidden—even if it means trusting her enemy.
WATT just wants to put everything behind him…until Leda forces him to start hacking again. Will he do what it takes to be free of her for good?
When RYLIN wins a scholarship to an upper-floor school, her life transforms overnight. But being there means seeing the boy whose heart she broke, and who broke hers in return.
AVERY is tormented by her love for the one person in the world she can never have. She’s desperate to be with him… no matter the cost.
And then there’s CALLIOPE, the mysterious, bohemian beauty who arrives in New York, determined to cause a stir. And she knows exactly where to begin.
But unbeknownst to them all, someone is watching their every move, someone with revenge in mind. And in a world of such dazzling heights, just one wrong step can mean a devastating fall.
The sumptuous second book in the bestselling Thousandth Floor series has all the drama, romance and hidden secrets that landed the first book in this series at #2 on the New York Timesbestseller list.
What do you think of Calliope so far? Tell us in the comments below!