Freeing Luka: Chapter 10


Alice lay on a warmed wooden patio, chin resting on her overlapping hands. Her eyes traced the path of a small glowing bilom as it swam in circles around a floating blossom while she thought about Luka for the millionth time.

It’d been a week since she and the other women had been rescued and brought here, and she missed Luka deeply. At the facility, he’d been her only company. She missed his large, warm body close to hers and hearing his deep voice repeat her words. The anticipation of really meeting him for the first time was excruciating, like the slow climb to the peak of a roller coaster drop.

Alice didn’t know what to think. They’d never had a conversation, and yet, she felt so connected to him. Was that connection only born out of trauma, or was there more to it? There was only one way to know for sure.

Why hasn’t he come to see me? she thought miserably, reaching down to hover her fingertips over the path of the flowing blue creature.

Whenever she’d asked to see him, she’d been told he was still recovering.

A part of her wanted to believe his recovery was indeed the reason he hadn’t visited, but an evil, nagging part of her mind whispered differently.

He finally woke up and found out what I did to him. He’s disgusted.

Just because Luka had been her rock in that place hadn’t meant she’d been his. It must be a lot of pressure to wake up and find out you have a mate. Did he remember anything? If he saw her again, would he be disappointed, disgusted even, because she was human?

A deep sigh escaped her. Think of something else!

Lifting her right hand, she pressed the pad of her forefinger and thumb together, then huffed in frustration at the black alien symbols that appeared on the back of her hand.

After her meeting with the Queen, all of the new human women had been taken to the medbay to be checked and healed. While waiting for the long cylindrical healing tube to work its magic on Daisy’s ears, Alice had noticed bright red symbols kept appearing on the friendly doctor’s hand.

When she asked about them, he’d explained it was an implanted watch, called a hand clock. He’d been taken aback when Alice had practically fallen to her knees and begged for him to give her one as well. Although he’d eventually given in, Alice still hadn’t managed to memorize enough of the symbols or understand how time was marked in order to read the watch, and no one seemed too interested in teaching her. Apparently, keeping time wasn’t a major concern for most Clecanians.

The doctor, Flen, had explained while some things, like schools and the government, were expected to run on a strict schedule, most things in Tremanta operated with little regard for the time. Implanted watches were only utilized by a few people, and Alice’s insistence that she be one of the few had surprised the doctor.

Luckily, his interactions with the first wave of rescued humans had prepared him for odd requests. At the insistence of some of the other women, he’d begrudgingly offered a variety of birth control methods during their visit.

Meg, a chatty human woman who seemed more excited than anyone else to be there, confided in Alice that she’d been the one to argue with the doctor until he finally relented. Meg had babbled endlessly about how she wanted to make sure she was protected, just in case, because as soon as she could, she was going to travel and see the new world. Something she’d never been able to do on Earth.

It wasn’t only the offer of birth control on a planet nearing extinction that had surprised Alice, but the variety. For one, there were options for both men and women. After she’d learned the thick underwear every woman wore did double duty as a scent blocker and a period panty, Alice had opted for birth control that would allow her to skip her menstrual cycle.

Although the doctor was able to confirm that she had in fact been in stasis for about five months, worry still plagued her. Doctor Flen had explained that she was untouched but had been asleep for much longer than any other woman he’d inspected. Why?

The only way she’d be able to find out for sure would be to ask Helas directly. The fact that acid rose in her gut every time she thought of the man, made it clear she wouldn’t be ready to do that for quite some time.

She activated her hand clock again and tried to focus on something else. “Okay, squiggly line with a T and two dots means…four? No, fourteen? Is that even a number, or is that the time of day?”

The faint sound of a branch snapping made her raise her head. She squinted, trying to see through the overlapping foliage. The hairs on the back of her neck rose, and a tingling sensation crept over her.

Is something watching me?

She held perfectly still, scanning the trees for movement, but couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary.

A sound behind her caused her to yelp and roll to her back. Misjudging the space to her left, she rolled too far and fell off the patio. A gasp of surprise was all she managed before she hit a solid floating platform a few inches below.

Daisy looked down at her and grinned. “Careful. Remember Metli said those glowing things in the water sting.”

Alice let out a relieved breath and slowly raised herself back to a standing position on the platform. Luckily, she’d slept with her token stuck to her arm. “I know you’re used to being really quiet, but now that you have your hearing back, maybe you could make more noise when you come over here.”

Alice grinned and embraced the small woman, accidentally inhaling a mouthful of her curly brown hair. Although still very quiet and shy, since being healed Daisy could always be seen with a smile plastered on her face.

“If I made more noise, I wouldn’t be able to see you do fun things like that, though.” Daisy grinned, gesturing to the water. “I was hanging out at Vanessa’s, and a guard came by.”

“Izzo?” Alice teased, nudging Daisy in the ribs.

Daisy blushed furiously but said, “No, some other guy.” Quietly, she added, “I haven’t seen Izzo since that first day.”

All of the women had noticed Izzo’s infatuation with Daisy, and when Daisy had casually brought up his name in conversation, they’d started to tease her. After recounting everything that had happened since their rescue to Daisy, who’d heard none of it, Daisy’s only question had been in regard to diving for pearls. “So, if they aren’t stung, it’s meant to be?”

She’d promptly quieted after Alice had casually suggested she ask Izzo to retrieve a pearl for her.

“This other guy told me to come get you. I guess there’s a meeting or something going on in a little bit that you’re supposed to go to.”

Alice’s eyes shot to the front door. Finally!

She’d been eagerly awaiting this meeting ever since the Queen had asked her to be a part of it. Each day she’d asked Metli when the meeting would happen, and each day Metli’s annoyance had grown as she’d told her the meeting was postponed until all parties could be in attendance.

Metli hadn’t gone into specifics, but Alice guessed the “party” Metli was referring to was Luka.

Her heart picked up speed, and that empty feeling of excitement and fear washed over her. I’m finally going to see him again.

She glanced down at her casual lounge outfit in distress. “Help me figure out what to wear, okay?” Alice said as she dashed inside to a large wardrobe near her bed.

“Trying to look nice for Luka, are we?” Daisy teased.

Alice poked her head out. “Yeah, maybe you could ask Izzo what style his brother likes,” she countered with raised brows.

Daisy rolled her eyes and slumped on the long, deep maroon couch.

After leaving the doctor’s office, feeling brand new again having received something called the “elixir,” Alice, Rita, Daisy, and Vanessa had been led by Metli to a group of small floating houses. Metli had been confused when the women had decided to all sleep in one house for the first few nights. She’d told them they were safe and no unauthorized person could traverse the lake, but Alice and the others had clung together regardless.

Yesterday, when Alice could take no more of Vanessa’s aversion to cleaning, or of Rita’s morning and evening Tai Chi sessions that seemed to take up half the living roomshe’d wandered over to the house that jutted the farthest into the lake and explored her new home.

She’d found the interior of her small floating house was very similar to the one she’d been living in with the other women. Each of the houses reminded Alice of upscale overwater bungalows. Back on Earth, she could never have dreamed of making enough money to stay in one of the trendy structures.

Silver lining number one, awesome house.

The living room, kitchen, and bedroom all occupied the same space, but the furniture could be programmed to sink into a panel on the floor when not in use. If she pressed the right symbols on the control panel near her door, a large, soft bed would rise to a location of her choosing. In the morning, she could lower the bed back into the floor panel and program her long couch and coffee table to occupy the room instead.

Alice had spent a long time arguing with Rita, Daisy, and Vanessa about how the magic furniture worked. In her opinion, all of it was housed in a basement-like space in the water below the house, but Daisy had claimed the furniture was actually being teleported to a giant warehouse somewhere and waited to be recalled.

After their fourth bottle of mott, a strong alcoholic beverage, they’d decided the most logical way to figure it out would be to draw straws. Whoever drew the short straw would sit on a piece of furniture, be lowered into the floor, and see where they ended up. The morning after, they’d all groggily agreed that asking someone would be the much more logical answer.

The constantly changing furniture had bothered Alice, and after arriving in her home yesterday, she’d programmed all of the furniture to occupy the room at the same time.

The house was a little cramped, but nowhere near as crowded as Vanessa’s house had been. After having lived in one house with three other women for the last week, and sleeping on a lumpy cot in a cell for the two weeks before that, sleeping in a bed of her own, in a house of her own, had felt like heaven.

The only other room in the house was a bathroom that contained a cleansing unit, a toilet, and a large glass tub sunken into the floor. The depths of the lake could be seen through the transparent sides of the tub.

It must be very surreal to take a bath in there.

Alice had stared at the tub for a long time when she’d first seen it, musing that, to the creatures living in the lake, the glass tub would look like a large fish tank containing the body of a very odd-looking naked fish.

“Make sure you pick something that shows off your legs,” Daisy said, frowning at a long black dress Alice had tossed to her.

Her legs were her best feature. Not being able to afford a car and riding a bike everywhere had sculpted and toned her once-skinny legs to perfection.

A soft sky-blue garment caught her eye. It was similar to a romper but was made of fabric that felt like silk and breathed like cotton. Perfect for a hot summer day like today.

Alice didn’t think it was the most appropriate piece of clothing for a top-secret meeting with the Queen, but she found she only cared whether Luka liked it or not.

“Hey there, lady friends!” Vanessa entered without knocking and dove onto the couch, her legs resting across Daisy’s lap. “Fashion show?”

Daisy waggled her brows. “Alice is trying to figure out what to wear to a meeting Luka might be at.” She glanced back toward the front door. “Where’s Rita?”

Vanessa rolled her eyes. “Rearranging the furniture again.”

“Do you think this is too revealing for a meeting?” Alice asked after changing into the romper.

“Maybe on Earth, but it doesn’t seem like they care about that stuff here,” Daisy said.

She was right. Of all the alien women she’d seen, there seemed to be no one style or standard. Some women like Metli wore high-fashioned structured garments while eating breakfast. Others wore baggy, shapeless clothing, and a few confidently strutted in pieces that were little more than modest bikinis.

Alice activated the hidden mirror on the wall and gave herself a once-over, fluffing her shining, chocolate brown hair, which only a few days ago had been brittle and damaged. A short romper might not be entirely appropriate, but it did show off her perfect, unblemished skin and new golden tan. Since learning that this planet had protected its ozone layer much more effectively than Earth, she’d lounged joyously in the sun, allowing her tan to deepen every day.

No more worrying about skin cancer and sun damage!

“How do I look?” Alice asked, spinning toward Daisy and Vanessa.

Daisy’s smile widened. “You look great, but I’d recommend bringing a sweater or something.”

I want to take off clothes with Luka, not put them on! “Why?”

Vanessa spoke. “We all know you want to show Luka your headlights, but maybe whoever else you’re meeting doesn’t want to see them.”

Alice blinked at her for a moment. “Headlights?”

Daisy pointed to her chest, and Alice looked down to see her nipples were jutting slightly through the thin material.

She threw her hands in the air. “Well, what am I supposed to do if they don’t provide bras?”

Alice moved back to her wardrobe, intending to change but finding nothing better. Each woman had been allowed to purchase clothing, but they’d felt guilty about spending money that wasn’t theirs and only picked out a few items each.

“So, Lucy might have a lead for me,” Vanessa called, drawing Alice’s buried head out of the wardrobe.

Ever since Metli had explained to Vanessa that she wasn’t allowed to return to Earth, Vanessa had been determined to do just that.

“That’s awesome! Let me know what she says.” Secretly, Alice had been relieved to learn that going back to Earth wasn’t an option.

“You really should get a move on. That guard is waiting for you,” Vanessa said, walking over and rifling through Alice’s clothing. She pushed a soft sweater into her hands. “Just wear this.”

“But—” Alice started.

Vanessa began herding Alice toward the door. “Luka was obsessed with you when you were smelly, dirty, and living in a cell. I really don’t think he’s going to have a problem with a sweater over a dress. You’re overthinking.” When Alice continued to argue, Vanessa pushed her through the doorway. “Or don’t wear the sweater. If these aliens don’t believe in bras, then they’re probably used to nipples anyway.”

Daisy dashed forward and lingered in the doorway. “Remember to ask about the girls again. I asked a few days ago if they’d been found, but still no luck.”

Alice nodded and felt a small prick of guilt. The day after they’d arrived at the Temple, they’d decided it’d be best to tell someone about the two women who’d run off into the woods. A search party had been formed to find the women, but to their disappointment, the two humans had seemed to vanish without a trace. At this point, Daisy was the only one still holding out hope they’d be found.

Alice lowered her eyes and solemnly agreed. “I will.”

A tall guard appeared next to her, startling her and forcing her to haphazardly shove the sweater over her head.

“Let’s go,” was all he said before walking ahead of her.

Alice waved goodbye to her friends and followed, examining the man. He was tall and handsome and looked eerily familiar. She’d seen him patrolling around The Pearl Temple, along with a handful of other guards. He was quiet but had always acted very professionally in front of them, unlike some of the guards who she’d caught openly staring at her and the other women on several occasions.

She increased her pace, attempting to keep up with him. “What’s your name?”

He glanced at her sidelong. “Auzed.”

“Hi, Auzed. I’m Alice. Um, do you have an update on the two missing humans from where I was rescued? Have they been found? Is there any sign of them?”

His lips thinned and he picked up speed. “There hasn’t been any sign of them, but we’re still looking.”

Poor girls.

His long strides made it difficult for Alice to keep up without running. The soft material of the sweater felt stifling in the sun, and she cursed herself for not choosing a more appropriate outfit to begin with. “Auzed,” she panted, “Would you mind slowing down? I didn’t run on Earth, and I don’t intend to run here.”

He stopped and turned to face her, taking in her sweat-glistened forehead. Suddenly, his eyes darted behind her toward the tree line, and his large shoulders stiffened.

The feeling of being watched settled back over Alice, and she spun, attempting to scan the tree line as well. Silently, Auzed stepped in front of her, eyes still trained ahead, and rested a hand on a thin weapon strapped to his broad chest.

Fear worked its way up Alice’s spine. Had one of Helas’ lackeys come back for her?

His shoulders relaxed, but his eyes remained hard.

“What’s out there?” Alice whispered.

Auzed stepped back, his gaze flashing between her and the trees. “It was likely just an animal.”

“An animal?” She didn’t know enough about this planet, or its wildlife, to know whether that made sense, but Auzed’s clenched jaw and angry eyes told her he didn’t believe what he’d just said.

“Don’t worry,” he said in a falsely reassuring tone. “No one can walk to The Pearl Temple without authorization. They’d fall into the lake and be stung repeatedly.”

Alice pursed her lips. “Don’t you mean, nothing can walk to The Pearl Temple without authorization?”

Auzed gave a sharp nod, avoiding her eyes. “We need to keep going. The Queen is waiting.”

He reached out to touch her shoulder in an attempt to guide her forward, but at the last moment his eyes shot to the trees once more. The hand he was hovering over her shoulder dropped. “Let’s go,” he repeated.

Slowing his pace, he walked ahead of her. Alice followed but kept glancing back to the trees. Something was still watching her, and Auzed knew more about it than he was letting on.

When they drew close to the rounded central building the humans had started calling The Dome, Alice’s suspicion was replaced with anxiety and apprehension. She absently smoothed her hair and clothing while running her gaze around the perimeter of the building, looking for Luka.

Where is he?

Auzed held open a door to the building and motioned for her to enter, remaining outside when she did. Before leaving him, she urged her voice to sound forceful and authoritative as she said, “Thanks, Auzed, but don’t think I didn’t notice how shifty you got back there. After this meeting is over, we’re going to have a discussion about what you saw in the woods.”

Auzed tilted his head, the corner of his mouth lifted in a curious smile. “You can call me Zed.”

The fact that her tone hadn’t had the effect she’d wanted was frustrating, but the friendly gifting of his nickname was flattering. Not knowing which reaction to focus on, she awkwardly said, “Fine. Zed,” and sped inside.

The meeting room looked almost the same as the room she’d been taken to her first night here, except in this room, one large round table dominated the space. Already seated at the table was Lucy, a sociable blonde human Alice had never really spoken to, a handsome blue-green-skinned man, and…a demon?

Alice stood frozen, staring at the terrifying giant. He was larger than any man she’d ever seen before and had razor-sharp purple horns extending from his temples and curling toward the back of his head. His skin was deeply tanned and tinted almost red. Upon first glance, his curling hair was black, but upon closer inspection, she saw it had a deep purple sheen to it.

He turned to glance at her, and Alice was startled to find his light gray eyes were warm when they caught her stare.

She couldn’t bring herself to look away from the horned man even as she inwardly cursed her brain to do so. Her heartbeat began to slow when she saw the demon shift in his seat. Alice must be crazy, but she could swear he looked self-conscious.

A woman’s annoyed, out-of-breath voice sounded from behind her. “I’m fine! Would you relax!”

The pretty redhead, who looked far too pregnant to be walking easily, was waddling into the room. A large, angry man with thick, black tattoos covering all of his exposed skin walked behind her. The open doorway from which they’d emerged revealed the interior of a cruiser. They must have guided the cruiser over the lake and directly here in order to keep her hidden from view.

His focus was firmly on the woman as she walked. Every so often, he’d reach out to grab her hand or arm, trying to help her, but she’d just shoo his hands and continue forward unassisted.

The woman’s eyes lit up when they landed on Alice. “Oh, hey! Alice, right?” As quickly as she could, which wasn’t very quick at all, the woman changed course and began making her way to Alice.

The man anxiously walking behind her glanced to the chairs, and then back to the woman. In a deep, rumbling voice, he said, “Jade, you need to go sit down.”

Jade continued toward Alice but rolled her eyes. “Once you have grown a person in your uterus, you are more than welcome to weigh in on what I need. Until then, I’ll be the judge.”

The man stopped and shot a furious glare at the back of her head. In a low growl, he said, “Jade, you will go and sit now, or I’ll carry you home.”

Jade stopped and inhaled deeply. She turned and batted her lashes at the man, who was now towering over her. If she were Jade, Alice would’ve been terrified. The tattooed man was very handsome but in a severe, dangerous way, and right now, he looked close to murder.

Jade reached up and grabbed his neck, tugging him down to whisper in his ear. Alice had no idea what she said to the guy to get him to relax, but she deserved a goddamned medal. Alice watched as the man’s tension and anger slowly faded until he stood with his cheek against her hair, smiling faintly.

Jade planted a swift kiss on his lips and resumed her trek toward Alice. The man followed, and although he looked annoyed, the ghost of a smile clung to his lips.

Alice quickly walked toward the pair. If she waited for Jade to get to her, it’d take all day.

Jade pulled her in for a firm hug then released her. “So, you’re Luka’s mate! That’s so exciting! This grump behind me is Theo. One of Luka’s brothers.” Jade hiked her thumb toward the man, who was now peering at Alice curiously.

“Izzo is your brother too?” she asked. How many siblings does Luka have?

“Yes,” he said simply.

One brother is a Chatty Cathy, and the other is quiet and broody. She searched the room again. Who would Luka be more similar to?

Theo continued to stare at her, but Alice didn’t know what else to say. She motioned to his arm. “Um…I like your tattoos.”

Jade let out a loud bark of laughter and then beamed at Theo’s surprised face. She grabbed his hand, and a purr resonated in his chest. “Told you so.”

Alice wasn’t sure what they were talking about, but she sighed longingly at their exchange. Theo purred and gazed at Jade like she was the sun itself.

She hoped one day Luka might look at her that way. If he and Theo were brothers, then maybe he wouldn’t find the relationship between humans and Clecanians unappealing.

“Let me introduce you to everyone,” Jade said happily, waddling to the table and tugging a besotted Theo behind her.

As they approached ahead of Alice, the large demon stood and greeted the couple warmly.

Must only look scary. Alice tried to combat her knee-jerk response of fear.

Jade turned to her. “This is Rhaego. He’s a really great guy and one of Theo and Luka’s good friends.

Alice smiled as the demon gave her a low formal bow. “It’s an honor to meet another human female.”

Well, he may look like a demon, but he has the manners of a prince.

He glanced nervously between her and Jade. “I’m sorry if my appearance is startling to you.”

Alice felt a pang of guilt for her earlier reaction. “No, it’s my fault. I’m still not used to seeing aliens who look…alien,” she finished dumbly.

Theo made his way to the vacant seat next to Rhaego. The two men sat and began speaking casually.

Jade awkwardly sank into her chair. “I tried to explain what a demon is on our planet in order to prepare him for other humans’ reactions, but I feel like he got offended,” she whispered, glancing back toward Rhaego. She smiled. “He’s the biggest softy ever, and his dream is to find a mate. I think the fact that most of us are pretty terrified of him when we first see him has dashed his hopes a bit.”

Alice looked back to Rhaego and felt sympathy bloom in her chest. Sure, at first he’d looked like something out of a nightmare, but now that she’d met him, she found he was very handsome in his own way. If she wasn’t so infatuated with Luka, she was sure she could get on board the sexy demon train. Alice decided she’d try and talk him up to Vanessa.

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