The Temptation Online - Alisa Valdes

Chapter One

The storm came out of nowhere. One minute I was driving along a desolate stretch of Highway 550 in the bright winter sunshine of New Mexico, listening to Vivaldi in preparation for my violin performance in Farmington that evening. The next minute I struggled to keep the car on the road, trapped in a sudden cold and windy blackness that had raced up behind me and rubbed out the sky.

Ice balls the size of frozen peas thundered against the metal roof. Violent gusts flicked the car like a toy along the empty road. There were no other vehicles on the highway. Not one. I was alone, miles from the nearest town. I’d had my driver’s license for less than a year and felt panicked—I’d never driven in a storm like this. My heart hammered in a lopsided, urgent way as I tried to focus on what I was doing. I reminded myself to breathe.

I’d passed the tiny outpost of Lybrook ten minutes earlier, nothing but a couple of sagging houses and dirt roads. The nearest village was probably the puny town of Cuba, New Mexico, which must have been a good seventy miles behind me now. Farmington, a thriving metropolis by comparison but still pretty small as cities go, was more than an hour to the front of me in good weather. An hour felt like an eternity now. Nothing but gaping, vacant desert stood between me and Farmington, punctuated only by a couple of little settlements where you’d be more likely to find a rundown trailer with junk in the yard than, say, a hospital or gas station. I was in major trouble.

I vowed in that moment to always check the weather forecast before setting off on my own to performances with the Albuquerque Youth Symphony. I got into the orchestra two years before, when I was fourteen, and my mom had been ferrying me to my rehearsals and concerts across the Southwest. When I turned sixteen, my dad bought me a BMW and Mom started letting me drive myself to performances. I liked getting around on my own, but usually there wasn’t an icy typhoon from hell bubbling up out of the yawning nothingness. In that moment, I wouldn’t have minded having my mom there, or even my old, stained yellow blankie.

The noise of the hail scared my little dog, Buddy. He cowered on the passenger seat, his giant black bat-like ears flat against the small hard baseball of his skull, his enormous wet eyes bugging out. Then again, Buddy was a Chihuahua. The songs of birds on sunny days sent Buddy into the shakes. I teased him now, as I guided my car through the storm, trying to lighten my own mood with false bravado. “What are you anyway, a dog or a mouse?” I asked.

I should have pulled over to let the weather pass, the way they teach you to in driver’s education classes, but I had to get to the concert. Tonight was my first public performance of the impossibly difficult and beautiful Vivaldi “Winter” solo as first chair of the orchestra. I had been working nearly twelve years for this day, and I wanted to show off.

So, I ignored the storm and kept driving, albeit cautiously, along that lonely, solitary stretch of the highway. The weather grew even fiercer, and began to crackle with electricity, tossing down blue and gold lightning bolts, thick and quick. The sky cracked open in a swirl of fast-moving thunderheads and unleashed an even heavier barrage of ice and blowing snow. I wondered if this was the stirrings of a tornado, the winds were so powerful. Fifteen minutes from Lybrook now, and the road was slicker, the sky was darker, the wind was angrier, and Buddy was a cowering, whimpering mess.

“It’s okay, my little birdbrain,” I cooed. “We’ll be just fine. You’ll see.”

But I wasn’t so sure. I kept feeling that there was something running alongside the car, but every time I looked over I saw nothing.

Buddy’s eyebrows twitched back with anxiety. I called his name in a singsong voice, which usually drew from him at least a halfhearted tail wag. He remained worried, and looked at me with what seemed to be fear. I got the eerie sense that there was something other than the storm bothering him.

I felt the tires slide a bit, like the paws of a cat thrown onto an ice rink. That’s when I saw an unusually large coyote in the middle of the