Tempt Me Eternally

By: Gena Showalter

ONE


They were coming.

Warriors unlike any other. Monsters of unimaginable power. Otherworlders. Fierce creatures with the ability to look inside your soul, glimpse your greatest fear, and present it to you with an unrepentant smile.

Should’ve stayed home, Aleaha Love thought. ’Cause we’re gonna get spanked. Hard. And not in a good way. Instead, she’d answered her cell and her captain’s call to action, and now found herself crouched in the middle of a gnarled forest, staring into a snow-laden clearing, moonlight shooting bright amber rays in every direction as flakes wafted in the breeze like fairy dust.

Though she wore white from head to toe, had a pyre-gun stretched forward, and was burrowed in a drift as cover, she felt exposed. Vulnerable. And yeah, damn cold.

What in the hell did I get myself into?

“Everyone in position?” a voice whispered from her headset.

A whisper, yeah, but it startled her. She managed to cut off a yelp, but couldn’t stop tremors from sweeping through her. Steady. She’d never hear the end of it if she accidentally fired her weapon before the fight had even begun.

“Premature weapon ejaculation,” they’d say with a chuckle, and she wouldn’t be able to deny it.

One by one, twenty teammates uttered their assent. They had wicked cool nicknames like Hawk Eye and Ghost. Her turn, she said, “Lollipop, in place.”

She rolled her eyes. “Dress her up and watch her play bad alien, delicious cop,” the boys had laughed before giving her the stupid moniker her first day on the job. “Naughty lawbreakers will want to taste her, not outrun her.”

That had been, what? Five weeks ago, she realized with a jolt. Oh, how life had changed since then. From hiding in the shadows, afraid of what she was, to working cases with New Chicago’s elite team of smart-asses, content with her somewhat pampered existence. A pampered existence she didn’t deserve and hadn’t earned, but whatever. No guilt for her. Really.

“Need someone to snuggle against, Lolli?” a quiet, amused male voice asked. Devyn, supposedly a king of some sort and a self-proclaimed collector of women. He wasn’t really a member of Alien Investigation and Removal but was a special contractor, as well as the man who’d once wired her gun to blow bubbles rather than fire at target practice.

Word on the street, he was more powerful than God and deadlier than the devil, though no one would tell her outright what he could do. He was an otherworlder, that much she knew. That, and most of AIR’s flunkies kept their distance from him. They feared him, which only heightened Aleaha’s need to keep her own secrets.

She, too, was different.

She didn’t know whether she was human or alien. Or both. She didn’t know whether there were others like her or not. She didn’t know who her parents were or why they’d abandoned her on the dirty streets of the Southern District—a.k.a Whore’s Corner—of New Chicago, and she didn’t care. Not anymore. All she knew was that she could assume anyone’s identity with only a touch. That person’s face became hers; their height became hers; their body became hers.

For years, she’d lived in fear of being found out, of being hunted and tortured for her unnatural ability, afraid that everyone who looked at her saw the truth and knew she wasn’t who she claimed to be. But she couldn’t drop the mask. As herself, she was wanted for theft, assault against a police officer, and more theft. And then maybe kinda sorta murder. Not that she was culpable. He’d deserved it.

She’d rather lose a limb than spend any more time in jail.

Her fear of discovery was waning, though, and she was settling comfortably into her newest life as Macy Briggs. Maybe one day I’ll even be worthy of it. Again, not that she felt guilty. Really.

But with Christmas only a few weeks away . . . ugh. Worst. Holiday. Ever. Her “friends” would bake Macy’s favorite foods, not Aleaha’s. They would give her gifts meant for Macy, and reminisce fondly about good ole days she knew nothing about, and she would have to smile through every minute of it. And yeah, okay. Fine. Then she would feel guilty.

“What, ignoring me?” Devyn said with another of those snarky laughs. “Wasn’t like I was going to ask to feel you up or anything. I mean, I was just gonna surprise you with my handsiness.”