Tempt Me Eternally(3)

By: Gena Showalter


Tonight, ten members of her horde were supposed to utilize one of those wormholes. Their purpose: to smooth the way for her. Which meant, destroying AIR.

“Six.”

Shit. The countdown. Despite the frigid temperatures, sweat beaded on Aleaha’s brow, dripping from the brim of the white cap she wore. Stay calm. You have to stay calm.

“Five.”

Though her résumé claimed she’d worked as a cop for more than two years, this was actually Aleaha’s first mission.

What seemed forever ago but had only been a few months, she’d stumbled upon the body of a woman who’d been raped and killed in a back alley—a woman she’d recognized as Miss New Chicago’s Finest in Uniform calendar girl, Macy Briggs.

She’d almost walked away. The higher the public profile, the more scrutiny she received. But . . .

Already tired of the adult-toy-store clerk identity she’d previously stolen, Aleaha had seized the chance to better herself, hiding the body and shifting so that she was an exact match to Macy’s appearance, thereby claiming the woman’s life as her own.

Only later had she learned that Macy had applied to AIR and been accepted. To back out would have looked suspicious and changing identities yet again hadn’t appealed. So she’d done it. She’d attended that first day, then the next. And the next. They’d watched her suspiciously, as if they knew the truth, but they had never accused her and she’d realized she was probably paranoid. Soon they’d even relaxed, accepting her as one of their own. Now, here she was, done with trials and on mission one.

“—was actually your warm-up,” Mia said, cutting into her thoughts. “Ten. Nine.”

Shit. She’d missed the end of the first countdown? She was practically begging to be killed tonight.

“Seven. Six.”

Oh, God. What if she did, in fact, die out here? What if she lost everything she’d worked so hard to gain? Her gun hand shook. You have to stay calm, damn it.

With bouts of extreme emotion, she shifted from one identity to another without any control.

“Four. Remember, guns set to stun and only stun.”

Her pyre-gun was already dialed to the proper setting, so she curled her index finger around the trigger and swallowed the hard lump in her throat. Breathe in, breathe out. You do know how to fire a weapon, at least. A skill she’d learned from her only true friend, Bride McKells. A vampire, and her champion. They’d been separated more than a decade ago, chased apart by cops who’d caught them breaking into homes for food, and Aleaha hadn’t been able to find her since. She’d never stop looking, though.

“One.”

All the air in Aleaha’s lungs escaped on a sudden rush, hot and blistering, burning her throat and mouth. She tensed, waiting. Waiting. And then it happened. Overhead, the gloomy darkness gave way to sparkling orange-pink flickers. The wind picked up, swirling leaves and beating limbs against each other. Snow danced in every direction.

Then . . . nothing. It was almost disappointing. Almost.

The flickers died, leaving only the haze of stars. The wind quieted, leaving only the rasp of human breathing. Gradually, she relaxed. Maybe the Schön had decided to stay home. Maybe there’d be a party tonight rather than a war, and she wouldn’t have to worry about—

“Commander?” someone asked.

“Hold,” Mia replied. “Hold steady. We’ll stay here all night if we have to.”

Easy for her to say. She was nestled inside that warm van.

Several minutes ticked by in silence. Shudders of cold began rocking through Aleaha, causing her teeth to chatter. This sucked. Much longer, and her gloved fingers would be frozen to her gun. If that happened, growing a penis would be easier than shooting. ’Cause, yeah, she could even become a man. And had, on several occasions. Hadn’t been as fun as she’d assumed. Penises were weird. They were also—

One second the circular clearing was empty, the next it was bursting with hulking, black-clad warriors. And there were far more than the expected ten.

“What the hell?” someone barked.

Aleaha jolted in surprise, sizing the visitors up in one panicked flash: living weapons. They were tall, well-muscled and radiated absolute power and authority. In the traitorous moonlight and snow, she could see that their features were humanoid—if you didn’t count their glowing, golden eyes, like twin suns crashing through daybreak.