With only skin-to-skin contact, Aleaha Love can change her appearance, assuming any identity. As an AIR (Alien Investigation and Removal) agent, her newest mission is to capture a group of otherworldly warriors. So imagine her surprise when the hunter becomes the hunted, and she’s taken captive by dangerously seductive Breean, a golden-skinned, iron-willed commander, who threatens everything Aleaha stands for—and makes her want to be only herself, for the first time in her life.
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.”
God, she was on the job, yet she’d lost track of her thoughts. Mortifying. “Can you take nothing
“Hello, have you met me? I take making out very seriously.”
All the men on the line snorted in their attempts to muffle their laughter. They might be wary of him, but they couldn’t help but enjoy his perverted sense of humor.
“Fuck you, Chuckles,” she said, trying not to reveal her amusement. Irreverent bastard.
“Excellent. We’re on the same page, because that’s exactly what I’m trying to do to you.”
Give herself to Devyn? Not in this lifetime, and not because he wasn’t attractive. If anything, he was too attractive. Hell, he was total screw-like-ananimal perfection. Tall, with dark hair, wide amber eyes, and skin that glittered like a jewel; there was no one else like him. There was a recipe for his smile, though: wicked desire dipped in acid, wrapped in steel and sprinkled with candy. The recipe for his laughter? Well, that was wicked desire tossed in the gutter, wrung out in a whorehouse, and slathered with scented body lotion. Women threw themselves at him constantly, and he ate it up like they were his own personal smorgasbord.
They probably were. Thank God she wasn’t in the market for a boyfriend. Or, rather, a lover, since that’s all someone as fickle as Devyn could ever amount to. Macy—the real Macy—had been dating a piece of scum Aleaha was still trying to lose and she didn’t have the time or patience to throw anyone else into the mix.
“Temper, temper,” Jaxon Tremain chided. He was one of two agents who hung out with the sexy otherworlder, and the resident smoother. There was something unnaturally calming about his presence, as if he could slink inside a person’s psyche and wash away her fears. “Would you kiss me with that mouth?”
“Funny,” she said dryly.
She could hear the others chortling and snorting with more surprised amusement. Someone said,
“Soliciting kisses from women, Jaxon? Mishka will kill you for that.”
“If by kill you mean seduce, then yeah,” Jaxon replied. “You’re right.”
Mishka was Jaxon’s wife and a hired killer who possessed a robotic arm. Aleaha had only seen her once, but that had been enough to scare ten years off her life. Never had she seen eyes so cold or heard a voice so uncaring. Of course, the moment Mishka spied Jaxon, her entire demeanor had changed. So had Jaxon’s, for that matter. Usually he was as con- servative as a priest. One glance at Mishka, though, and he’d morphed into gutter man.
Aleaha had marveled at the change in him, a change she was witnessing once again. Empathetic as he was, perhaps he was veering onto the perverted track now to get her mind off the bloody massacre sure to begin. Apparently, though, she didn’t need help today. She couldn’t concentrate worth a damn. What was wrong with her?
“Well,” Devyn said, drawing the spotlight back to him. As always. “Be a good lollipop and answer the man. Will you kiss him or not?”
“I could give you a list of all the things I’ll never do to you with my mouth,” she muttered. “How ’bout that?”
Devyn laughed, and, yep. It was wicked desire. “She reminds me of Mia when she talks like that. Tell us, Lolli, is that list for everyone or just Jaxon?”
“All right, team,” Mia Snow herself interjected before Aleaha could reply. “Save it. You know I only want you to stun these men. Do not burn them. I repeat, do not burn them. An open wound will bleed and that will spread their infection. And believe me, I will kill every single one of you myself if that happens.”
There was a moment of frightening silence. Infection. What a delightful reminder. Not only were the warriors coming here vicious, there was a possibility that they were bringing the plague with them.
“Good,” Mia continued. “I’ve got your attention. Solar flare approaching in ten.” She was inside a van about a mile away, watching the action on a night- vision monitor with a handful of backup agents. “Nine.”
Aleaha tensed. A few months ago, a big case had busted wide open and AIR had learned that otherworlders were traveling to Earth through interworld wormholes that initiated with solar flares. Then, a few weeks after that, another case had come to light. Members of a race of aliens known as the Schön had descended, their bodies carriers of a virus that passed to humans through their blood and ejaculate. This virus turned men and women into cannibals. Their queen—or living host of this sickness—was on her way here, due to arrive in the near future.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sygarius, meanwhile, is outraged that Nimia fled, and he too has realized that she has useful powers. He wants her back. And he is prepared to fight for what’s his.
Terix heaved a put-upon sigh. We’d had this same argument a hundred times over the past month and a half as we fled from Sygarius and toward . . . toward . . . Well, that was the issue. Toward what? The only answer that had any meaning—to me, at least—was to find my lost people, the Phanne. And the only clue I had to finding them was the story that a tattooed man named Maerlin had once met my onetime lover (and only one time, gods rot his betraying heart), the Frankish prince Clovis, on the shore of the channel. Maerlin had told Clovis that he was of the Phanne and going to Britannia, and that Clovis must remember this fact, for someday it would give him what he sought.
An annoyingly mysterious statement, that.
“He’ll want more from you once we’re on his boat. You’ll have to give it to him, too,” Terix tried.
I hoped so.
Hades, what had come over me? This was not the Nimia I was familiar with, for most of her life untouchable and untouched, the consecrated sexual-toy-to-be of Sygarius.
Or maybe I was the same Nimia: I had spent those untouched years lusting for the feel of another’s hand on my skin. Perhaps it should be no surprise to anyone, least of all myself, that once my virginity was gone I would seek to gorge myself on that which I had so long been denied.
Jax was the first attractive opportunity to do so. How convenient for me that we needed his help.
“Better a cock rubber . . .” I said, reviving an old joke between us.
“Than a pot scrubber,” Terix answered, but then made a face. “That was only funny when we were slaves with no choice.”
“There’s never a choice for the likes of us. Not here in Gaul, anyway, with Sygarius hunting us. We have to get beyond his reach.”
Terix threw up his hands. He knew I wasn’t going to be dissuaded. “It’s your cunny.”
“My cunny isn’t part of the deal, you know that.” At least, not yet it wasn’t. One look at my tattoos, and no matter how horny Jax was for me, he’d be a lot hornier for the ten-soldi reward. “It’s the only way, Terix.”
Terix turned his shoulder to me, and made grumbling comments to his cup of mead that I chose not to decipher.
I slid my gaze to Jax, and sent him my answer in a small smile and a nod.
Jax rose at once, leaving his friends to their dice and drink. He wove through the crowd, coming toward me with an easy, natural confidence, his arms relaxed, his narrow hips and sinewy frame moving without hurry, but with purpose. A sudden certainty came to me that a man who moved through a crowd like that, with no sign of either arrogance or caution, was a man who didn’t blink at killing anyone who got in his way.
A shiver ran down my spine and landed in my loins. I was a fool if I thought I was in control of this situation.
My cunny pulsed in response to the thought.
“All is agreed?” Jax asked when he reached me. His Latin had an accent I couldn’t place; I guessed that he’d not grown up amid Romans. How old he might be, I couldn’t say: deep crow’s-feet spread from his eyes, and grooves ran from the edge of his nose to the corners of his mouth, but a life on the water would do that to even a young man. His hair hung thick and dark brown, and his teeth flashed white in his tanned skin.
He took my elbow in a gentle grip and guided me from the tavern into the scorching heat of the day. The sun felt like flames on my skin. My stomach fluttered as I realized this was happening; I was going alone with Jax to the stables. I had agreed to suck his cock in exchange for his agreeing to take us on as paying passengers, and he was not a man who would let me change my mind.