by Margaret L. Carter
No sign of life stirred inside the building below. Maxwell Tremayne soared on silken wings, circling the three-story split-level. He didn't worry about chance observers, since the house sat off the road in the center of a wooded lot. The vacant driveway only confirmed the emptiness his inhuman senses detected. Had the owner left temporarily or permanently? Permanently, if she has any discretion, he reflected. Not that her recent behavior suggested any.
He scanned the trees around the house. The sun had barely set, and its afterglow made his head ache and his eyes sting. He knew he shouldn't have shapeshifted until full dark, but his patience had worn out. From this vantage point he would notice at once if his quarry, or anyone else, showed up. Amid random heat traces that he identified as small animals, a motionless patch of deeper red caught his eye. A human intruder. Max spiraled lower, shrouding himself in a psychic veil that rendered him invisible to human eyes. Through the summer-green leaves, he glimpsed a woman crouching near the edge of the woods. She watched the front of the house with a pair of binoculars.
Not a casual hiker, then, but someone who, like him, took a particular interest in this place. Still veiled, Max glided toward her. He landed a few yards away and let his body melt into wingless, fully human shape.
The female's scent and the crackling of her aura conveyed fear, frustration, and tightly reined anger. Any ephemeral who knew the truth about that house would be wise to fear its owner, but the other emotions puzzled him, as did her intense watchfulness. She swatted a mosquito just below the cuff of her denim shorts without shifting her eyes from the binoculars.
His nostrils flared, savoring the salty tang of her flesh. The humidity made her T-shirt cling to her breasts. Her soft curves implied a wholesome disdain for obsessive dieting. The sweetness of her natural fragrance confirmed that sign of robust health. She had pale golden hair, a color never found in his own species. Cropped to just above her shoulders, it left her neck bare. If he had time for self-indulgence-
But I don't. He shook his head, impatient with his own woolgathering. No matter how appetizing this ephemeral might be in other circumstances, here and now she presented a threat to his mission. He had to get rid of her.