Freeing Luka: Chapter 11

Luka watched from the trees as Alice sunned herself on her floating patio. The orange light danced off her shining brown locks, and he could just make out lighter shades of gold streaking the hair around her oval face.

Loose shorts and a sleeveless shirt covered her well enough but did nothing to keep his mind from guessing at the soft curves beneath. She was like something out of a fever dream. In his case, she actually was something out of Luka’s dreams.

The glowing bilom swimming in the lake, reflected on her face, obscuring the true color of her eyes, and he found himself cursing the beautiful creatures. No matter how mesmerizing the bilom were, the deep blue eyes he’d been dreaming about were a hundred times more so.

After he’d awoken in his bed and his brothers had explained what’d happened to him, he’d been a wreck. Helas’ violation of him was a trauma he could overcome in time, but if he’d found a true mate only to lose her because of what Helas had done…well, he didn’t know if he could come back from that.

As far back as he could remember, he’d yearned for a mate and a family. His own mother had died before his mind had been mature enough to properly remember her. In the wake of her death, his father had done the best he could to divide his attention evenly among his five children, but when Luka looked back on his childhood, he couldn’t help but remember feeling neglected.

He’d always wished he could have a female all to himself. Someone whose attention wasn’t divided among many. A female he could shower with affection and who’d hopefully return the sentiment. A permanent mate he could share his life with.

But in a world under strain, where loyalty to saving their species outweighed loyalty to any single person, seeking a wife who’d be willing to stay with one husband was nearly impossible.

To the Clecanian’s knowledge, only three compatible species have existed. The Dyasque, who live on an overly populated planet galaxies away and whose females kill their partners upon successfully mating. The Ryg, who were peaceful and timid, but who’d gone extinct after their planet had been demolished by a rogue asteroid decades ago. The Traxians, from whom Luka and his siblings were descended.

Neither the Traxians or the Dyasque had any interest in migrating to Clecania no matter how many times the government had attempted to persuade them. Female options for a heterosexual Clecanian male were limited to say the least.

As a young male, Luka had understood that finding a female to call his own, who’d lower her guard and openly love him the way his mother had with his father, could only happen if their species was safe from extinction. Either the ratio of males to females had to become more equal, or matehood needed to suddenly return after being lost for so long.

Ever the realist, he’d chosen to enter into the field of research most likely to result in the salvation of his species. He’d decided the science behind procreation, infertility, and animal mating would be his area of expertise.

Many of his colleagues devoted their time and effort to researching matehood, rather than fertility, feeling as though that was the answer to their problems. Luka, however, had always been one to think to the future. Without sufficient evidence to the contrary, he’d concluded their species must’ve evolved past matehood. Mating should be viewed as an immovable thing of the past, so as not to muddle the progressive science of today.

Yet, there she was. His mate, Alice.

Beyond all reason, the universe had given her to him, and what had he done? Based on Izzo’s retelling, he’d captured her, taken her away, and ravished her. His neck heated with shame just thinking about it.

He crept forward through the brush to get a better view. A few days ago, when he could no longer stand the nagging pull that’d been present in him since he’d woken up, and while his brothers had been preoccupied, he’d allowed his mating instinct to direct him to these woods, the closest he could get to her without crossing Pearl Lake.

He’d scarcely blinked when he’d first seen her, laughing with the other women in their shared home, worried if he took his eyes off her for even a second, she’d be gone. The home she’d been living in at first was far away from the shore, and he could only see the patio and part of the kitchen, but yesterday, as if drawn closer to him by an unknown force, she’d moved to the house that jutted closest to where he sat every day. Had it been the bond or dumb luck that’d made her pick that house?

He felt a perverse pleasure watching her like this. Whenever a sense of satisfaction at being near her came over him, guilt immediately followed. Opposing feelings weren’t something new to Luka. From stories his brothers had told him, he knew they felt the same.

His mother, a full Traxian female, had shamed her clan and family by seeking aid from the Clecanians and marrying a Lignas male. Often Luka and his brothers felt their more primal Traxian sides battling to be acknowledged. While their Lignas half guided their reasoning and social skills, their Traxian half burned in them like small fires waiting for fuel.

His sister, Asivva, seemed to be unaffected by her Traxian blood, but he and his brothers had struggled their whole lives to contain and repress that side of themselves. That side called for blood whenever there was a simple argument, or wanted to fuck when they should be making love. The brutality and possessiveness that was a biological trait of his people had always caused his family nothing but trouble in the civilized city of Tremanta.

Now, the Clecanian part of him urged him to leave. He knew watching her while she was unaware was wrong, but the Traxian side of him whispered reassurances that stalking his mate was acceptable because she was his. How else could he ensure her safety?

Even now, the urge to not simply dive into the bilom-infested waters and swim through their painful stinging to get to her was a battle.

Luka squatted down, ripping at the soft moss covering the ground. He’d tried to learn as much as possible about her since waking, but his brothers had been pretty useless. Since Izzo was the only one she’d spoken to, Luka had made him recount his interaction with her a multitude of times.

Observing her had told him more than any of his other research had. He’d seen that she was kind and caring toward the females she’d lived with. The ones she’d rescued that night. Pride swelled in him. His mate was brave. She’d saved them all that night.

Compassion was another virtue he’d witnessed from his dark hiding place. On a few occasions, he’d seen her console a dark-haired female with a tenderness most Clecanians kept hidden.

And she was intelligent, often approaching the unknown with a scientific curiosity that called to his own. As far as he knew, no one had shown them how to use the technology in their home. While it irked him to think of the ineffectual way in which they were settling new humans into their world, he marveled at how easily she was able to figure out things he assumed must be brand new to her.

Watching her discover the food synthesizer, for one, had been a treat. She’d examined the small machine with her eyes and hands before finally testing a few controls. She must’ve tried and failed fifty times before finally working out how to use the machine. But she’d never given up, and the smile that had lit up her face when she’d successfully prepared her first dish had made his breath catch in his throat. He’d kill for her to smile at him like that.

Every day, he wracked his brain, trying to remember their time together, but very little of what he recalled made sense to him. She was the clearest in his dreams, yet he couldn’t accept those as real memories. They were too good to be true.

The one he’d had last night had him groaning awake, taking his shaft in hand, and finding release with only a few swift strokes. In the dream, she’d run her hands all over his arms and chest, massaging him before finally pressing her body to his in an embrace and whispering unrecognizable words into his ear.

He knew the dream had to be a fantasy because no female in that situation would ever touch a crazed, aroused male so tenderly.

He watched as she activated her hand clock and squinted at the numerals. It was odd for a person who didn’t need a clock to have one implanted. The earnestness in which she stared at the time made it clear that it was important to her.

Frustration made his shoulders bunch. It was obvious from her pretty pout and scrunched brows that she couldn’t read the clock. He’d need to remedy that soon. If there was anything he could do to make her happy, whether it be imparting knowledge or commissioning the most beautiful clock she’d ever seen that displayed Earthling symbols, he needed to do it.

Luka pulled at a large clump of moss, snapping an attached twig as he did so. The sound echoed over the water, and he froze, watching to see if she’d heard. Sure enough, her head snapped in his direction, and her eyes scanned the area near where he was hiding. How would she react if she found him here?

A figure lurking in the darkness of her house had Luka’s protective instincts firing, forcing him to rise and dash toward the lake. He was only a few feet from the edge of the tree line, about to reveal himself, when the figure emerged into the light. He skidded to a halt and retreated into the shadows, recognizing the small girl named Daisy whom Izzo would not shut up about.

When the two females retreated into the darkened house, Luka began to pace. In a few minutes, he’d be attending a vital meeting. There were many reasons this gathering would be important, but the one that weighed the most heavily on him was that he’d have the opportunity to speak with Alice for the first time. He’d gone back and forth in his mind endlessly about whether he should request a meeting with her alone or wait. Ultimately, he decided it’d be better if she were around other people. That way, if she didn’t wish to speak to him, she wouldn’t feel cornered.

Outside of the terrible conditions in which they’d met, they hadn’t had any interactions. What would she think of him? Did she hate him? Would she want to be anywhere near him?

Insecurity was a new feeling for Luka. Whenever he set out to do something new, he made sure he was prepared, that he did all of the necessary research to be successful. But now, there were so many unknown variables.

He couldn’t begin to hypothesize about what her feelings would be or how she’d act around him. Even with the information he’d learned, she was still a human. There was a whole lifetime of experiences from a different world that would shape her personality and reactions, and he could only begin to guess at what those might be.

The fact that she didn’t have a mating bond of her own was also problematic. If she did, she’d understand his need to be near her. To make sure she was protected and safe.

The distance that separated them now felt like hundreds of miles. If she was within his reach, he didn’t know if he’d be able to stop himself from simply grabbing her.

Nodding, he decided that taking control of this mating instinct was of paramount importance. If he could do enough research about mates, maybe he could figure out how to suppress his instinct long enough to charm her properly. In his present condition, where most coherent thoughts were interrupted with daydreams of ripping off her clothes and devouring her golden flesh, civilized seduction would be impossible.

Looking down, he found he’d worn a path through the moss with his pacing. Movement near Alice’s house drew his attention again. Auzed, his brother, was striding toward her home. His mind argued Zed was likely escorting her to the meeting, but his instincts urged him to throw his brother in the lake and escort her himself. Clenching and unclenching his fists, he stood simmering.

He watched as Alice emerged from her home and followed Zed. Luka dashed along the tree line, needing to move quickly to keep them in view as they weaved around floating houses. Unable to tear his gaze away, he continued to trip over fallen branches. Slippery moss and pebbles seemed to place themselves underfoot. Luka couldn’t recall the last time he’d tripped. He wasn’t a clumsy person, but her outfit and the fact that she was walking with another male made it impossible to focus.

The clothing she’d picked had her bare legs on full display. Shapely, tanned legs. He could just imagine running his hands up her thighs until they disappeared under the hem. The wind whipped, fluttering the light fabric higher and causing his mind to blank.

A large rock hidden by moss made him slip yet again. His ankle rolled unnaturally, followed by a sickening crack. He cursed, falling to a knee. When he peered up again, both Alice and Zed were staring at the tree line.

The pain in his ankle shot up his shin, but he attempted to freeze.

I have to control this!

He had to figure out a way to dampen his attraction, or he’d make an utter fool of himself when he finally talked to her.

In order to replace the image of a crazed, chained, horny male she’d grown accustomed to, he needed to be charming when they spoke. Delicate. How was he supposed to sweep her off her feet if he was sporting a bum foot and an ever-present erection?

Out of his four brothers, Luka had always been the one to keep a level head. When Theo and Zed would lose their temper and get into bloody fist fights, he’d been the one to have arguments using reason and logic. That wasn’t to say his brothers had responded in kind. He’d had to learn how to defend himself from an early age, and he supposed he should be grateful for that. Protecting his mate would be much more difficult if he didn’t know how to fight.

He rose, favoring his good ankle. From this distance and from the research he’d done on humans, he knew Alice wouldn’t be able to see him, but Zed, with his perfect eyesight and extensive guard training, would.

Luka saw the moment Zed spotted him. His scowl remained in place but became annoyed rather than alert. He turned and almost touched Alice before lowering his hand again.

Luka let out a relieved breath. At least his brother was aware of the effect the mating bond was having on him.

A spark of urgency and embarrassment tugged at him as he hobbled along the shoreline. He couldn’t show up like this. He’d look weak in front of her. She couldn’t see him like that.

Luka waited until Alice had been escorted into the building then made himself visible to Zed, who was glaring in his direction.

Zed began to jog toward him, the clear platforms rising to meet his feet with each long stride. He wished he had the clearance to call those platforms to the surface. Then he could go see Alice in her home whenever he wanted.

No, stop! No more stalking her! he scolded, even as he ached to snatch the small token giving Zed access to the lake.

“What the fuck are you doing, Luka? Is this where you’ve been disappearing to?” Zed barked. Glancing over his shoulder, he lowered his voice. “Do you know what would happen if you were to be caught here? I’m head guard, for Goddess’ sake! I should be—”

Ignoring his brother’s lecturing, he asked, “Do you have a healer on you? I hurt my ankle.”

Zed slammed his mouth shut, a muscle ticking in his jaw. “No,” he said through gritted teeth.

“Where is the closest one?” He glanced around Zed, eyes drawn back to the meeting house, even knowing he wouldn’t be able to see inside.

“You’ll just have to suck it up. You’re late as it is.”

Luka’s eyes flashed to meet his brother’s amused smirk. He knows where a healer is, but he’s not telling me. Punishing me for my behavior.

Zed turned and began walking along the shore, forcing Luka to limp behind him. “I can’t go in there like this.”

Zed shrugged. “You don’t have a choice. They’re going to be submerging as soon as the Queen is ready. That’ll barely give you enough time to get there and get settled.”

“If you escort me across the lake, I’d have time,” Luka argued through clenched teeth.

Zed rounded on him, annoyance splashed across his face. “You need to be escorted by Metli, like all of the other attendees.”

Luka reached out to smack his brother, but even with his mated-enhanced speed, his ankle slowed him down. Zed stepped back until he was standing on a platform in the water, just out of reach. Zed lifted his hand, displaying his hand clock for Luka to see.

Being late to something like this wasn’t an option. The Queen always did things on time, and if he arrived too late, they’d submerge without him, and he’d lose his chance to speak with Alice in a non-threatening group setting. Luka cursed and began hobbling the long way around the lake toward the main entrance.

When he reached a waiting Metli, precious minutes later, he was covered in sweat, and a sharp pain stabbed through his ankle with every step. Already foul, his mood darkened further when he thought about the first impression he’d be making on his new mate.

“What happened to you?” Metli asked, eyeing him up and down with a quirked brow. “And where is your paint? The Queen made it very clear that both you and Theo need to cover your marks when in public.”

I don’t have time for this. “Can you please escort me to the meeting, Metli?” His words were polite, but his tone was biting.

Pursing her lips, Metli shoved a large ball into his hands, then hurried off over the water without a word.

Luka groaned, taking a few quick breaths to prepare himself for the pain, then staggered after her. He’d need to apologize to her later.

Peering at the red ball in his hands, he wondered if he could somehow take it with him. The object was chosen as a guest pass, allowing visitors to cross the water, because it was unlikely to be stolen. Bright red and large, it’d be difficult to smuggle unnoticed.

When he reached the other side of the lake, he found Metli waiting with arms outstretched. Lips pursed in a tight line and eyes aimed upward, she tapped her foot impatiently.

The females of this world were not used to being spoken to so curtly. Metli, respected employee of the Queen, was especially not used to it.

“I’m sorry, Metli. Would you mind if I kept this with me so I can visit the medbay after the meeting?” He lifted the leg of his pants, exposing his swollen ankle. Angry red bruises were already beginning to spread over the engorged skin.

She crinkled her nose, grimacing. “Fine, but only because Flen is already aware of your matehood. Keep your hands in your pockets and talk to no one else.” Eyeing him then the pass with suspicion, she added, “If you keep it for too long, I’ll have it deactivated.” Without another word, she walked into the dim room.

The door to the meeting space was only a few feet in front of him, but it may as well have been a mile. Once inside, he’d be able to sit, but until then, he had to make a good impression. Metli had just reminded him that females didn’t take kindly to weakness.

He needed to stride in and be seen as a strong, attractive male Alice might be proud to call her own, while also keeping his distance. Already, it was difficult to concentrate on anything other than the pain. Carrying on a conversation would be impossible.

It was unfortunate he wouldn’t be able to talk to her, but he decided that going to see the doctor before speaking to her would be the best course of action. Some females even found patience and aloofness attractive, so this may work out in his favor. He took an experimental step and choked. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea.

Just as he was starting to feel that a visit to the doctor was more urgent than the meeting, his enhanced senses picked up her scent. Like a slap across the face.

I have to see her, he thought desperately.

Holding his head high, he limped the few feet to the door and then willed a mask of indifference to overtake his features. Inhaling deeply, he opened the door and stepped through, evenly distributing his weight. Searing pain shot through his ankle with his movements. Nausea roiled within him, but he kept his face stoic and scanned the crowd, eager to spot an open chair but more eager to spot Alice.

When his eyes landed on her, he almost forgot the searing pain. She was so lovely, sitting there, smiling. All of his dreams of her had been accurate. His unconscious mind hadn’t played tricks on him by enhancing the beauty of her eyes or the wicked curves of her body. She was real and perfect. A true, unguarded smile flashed over her face, and she laughed at something the male next to her, Rhaego, said.

Wait. Rhaego? The hazy spell cast by her visage dissolved. She was talking and laughing with Rhaego.

He took a step toward her, his intentions dark, but halted, feeling as if someone had stabbed him in the ankle with a burning metal poker. The pain was worsening, and the cold sweat that broke out over his skin told him he needed to get off his bad leg soon, or he’d make a joke of himself by fainting in front of his mate.

This is a mistake. I have to get out of here. She hasn’t seen me yet.

Without warning, the room began to sink. His gaze whirled toward the control panel and found Metli. She picked at a spot on her floor-length navy vest, unaware of his lethal glare.

He scanned the room again, looking for a chair. All he could do now was wait it out. The free seat that was closest to him was on the opposite side of the table from Alice.

He walked slowly to the seat, trying to look nonchalant and casual but more likely looking insane. A bead of sweat trailed across his temple, and he promptly wiped it away. He clumsily plopped into the soft chair, drawing glances from the attendees nearest him.

She hasn’t even noticed I’ve arrived!

He ground his jaw when he realized his bold attempts to ignore his injury had been in vain. He could’ve crawled to his chair, and she would’ve still been engrossed in conversation with Rhaego and…Verakko!

Verakko, a green-skinned male from Swadaeth ancestry, spoke to her with a small grin pulling at his lips. In return, she smiled brightly back at him, laughing at whatever presumably inane thing he’d said. Luka crossed his arms over his chest and attempted to shoot mental daggers at the male with his eyes.

The Swadaeth Clecanians, from the arid western deserts, were a very solitary culture and had evolved in relative isolation from other Clecanians. They tended to prefer the privacy and simplicity of the desert oasis in which they lived.

Because of their self-imposed seclusion, most Swadaeth were known to be antisocial and uninterested in most personal interactions. There’d be no reason for Verakko to want to speak with Alice unless he found her attractive and was trying to charm her. Luka had spoken with the male a few times before and had never seen even the hint of a smile on his face.

So help the male if he is attempting to sway her. Glancing down to his marked wrists, Luka’s temper relaxed a fraction. Verakko knew she was someone’s mate. Even he would respect that.

Luka rested his crossed arms on the table in front of him, scowling in their direction. He needed to calm down. When she finally did notice his arrival, it would put her off to see him looking so angry.

He allowed his eyes to close briefly, inhaling through his nose to calm himself. Her scent hit him again like a bag of rocks. The sweet, feminine aroma called to him, making him want to rub his head in the crook of her neck.

Jealousy raged through him; he knew the two males near her were able to smell her divine scent as well. His gaze flashed back to where they sat at precisely the wrong moment. From the corner of her eye, she spotted him and did a double-take. The wide smile she’d been sporting only a moment ago faded as she took in his aggressive demeanor.

Way to fucking go, Luka.

As his heart climbed into his throat, another jab of sickening pain sliced through his ankle.


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