Freeing Luka: Chapter 12

There he is. Finally.

Alice was momentarily stunned into silence. The last time she’d seen him, he’d been dirty and wild-looking. Now, his bruises were healed, and his skin had changed from a pale, scratched mess to a healthy bronzed tan. His hair, now clean, hung around his ears in dark brown waves she wanted to run her fingers through. Roaming her gaze down his body, she marveled at the bulging muscles of his crossed arms. It shouldn’t have been possible, but since being rescued, he’d somehow filled out even more.

The vision before her was perfection, except for one small thing. He appeared to be seething. His beautiful pale-blue eyes glared at her, and it looked as though every muscle in his body was on high alert. The tension radiating off him was so palpable that the occupants of the chairs near him subtly leaned away.

Her initial heart-pounding joy at both seeing him and beholding his downright gorgeous face was snuffed out. She inhaled shakily. All of her worst fears were being confirmed. He was angry with her. Probably hated her for what she’d done to him in that cell. She’d been stupid to think they might be able to have a relationship after all that. The fact his mating marks had appeared for her must drive him crazy.

She felt herself shrinking under his hard gaze and looked away. Turning to her left, she attempted to engage Verakko in conversation once again. Anything to distract herself from Luka’s accusatory stare. “What were you saying about the lake platforms?”

In any other circumstance, the muscular man speaking to her now should’ve captivated her. The skin near his forehead was a soothing shade of teal, but as it continued down toward his chin and neck, it faded into a vibrant green. His hair was cut short on either side and left long on top, allowing his pointed, pierced ears to be prominently displayed. Streaks of sea-green, aqua, and gray ran through his thick charcoal hair and matched the color of his heavy brows.

Verakko was gorgeous but deadly looking the way a snake might be. When they’d first started speaking, his dry sarcasm and pessimistic disposition had added to his serpentine aura.

She noted the quiet intelligence that radiated off him as he described the platforms in a deep, silky voice, the tone almost melodic. Alice wouldn’t have been surprised to learn Verakko’s ancestors used their unique timbre to lure prey. Yes, this man in front of her, who looked at her with glowing green eyes, should’ve been more than enough to keep her attention, but she couldn’t keep her gaze and thoughts from straying to the sour-looking man across the table.

“And… You’re not listening to me, are you?”

Oh, crap. He must’ve realized she wasn’t paying one lick of attention to his descriptions of the technology employed by The Pearl Temple.

“I’m so sorry. That was rude,” she said, forcing her gaze to remain locked on Verakko.

He looked between her and Luka and gave her a wry smile, exposing overly sharp canines. “So that’s your mate, huh? I’ve met Luka a few times, but he’s never appeared quite so…angry.”

Great, so it’s just me, then. “Yeah, I think he’s angry I’m his mate.”

Verakko snorted. “Then he’s an idiot.”

Alice shot him a sad smile. What would happen now? Were there any cases of mates becoming unmated? From everything she’d learned, it seemed like mating was for life, but that didn’t mean he had to like her.

“He’s right to hate me. I forced the marks to appear. I didn’t want to do what Helas said, but I didn’t have a choice, and now I’m Luka’s mate forever, and he hates me and…” Alice’s voice grew tight as she rambled on.

“Hey, uh, no need to be upset,” he said without conviction. Verakko’s gaze shifted around the room; he was clearly uncomfortable with her show of emotion. He leaned in, continuing in a lower tone. “Look, I don’t know what happened to you in that place, and I don’t know what Helas told you, but you can’t force mating marks to appear. They appear or they don’t, no matter the circumstances. They may show themselves at different times for different people, but there isn’t anything anybody can do to draw them out.”

Alice glanced at Luka again, her eyes stinging with unshed tears. Being consoled had always made her cry more, rather than less. Luka still looked furious, but now his hard stare was turned on Verakko. He began to stand but then sat back down quickly, his face paling.

“Look at me, Alice,” Verakko commanded. His tone was velvety, and she could feel his words ringing through her mind.

She shook her head to clear it and noticed Verakko’s eyes had darted away. Could he actually use his voice to entrance? She peered at him with raised brows.

He cleared his throat and mumbled a quick “sorry” before returning his gaze to hers. He continued without any further explanation. “You’re his mate. He isn’t yours. If he doesn’t have enough sense to see how lucky he is to have found you, that’s not your problem. He needs you. You don’t need him.” He shot a glare toward Luka, then leaned in to whisper, “You tell me if he acts like a pishot, and I’ll make sure to hack into his home’s programming and make his life a living hell.”

“Thanks.” Alice chuckled, wiping at her eyes with the sleeve of her sweater. “What’s a pishot?”

“No translation for that, huh? It’s what you call someone who’s acting like an idiot or is a very unlikeable person. How to describe the actual meaning…” He narrowed his eyes, squinting toward the ceiling, and ran the tip of his pointed tongue over his sharp canine. “I believe it originated in the mountains where the Pesque live. I think it means ‘One who spits into the wind.’”

She laughed again, drawing out a small smile from Verakko.

He has a point. If Luka wanted to be mad at her, then that was his right, but she needed to remember she didn’t really know him. Sure, they’d spent many weeks together, but that hadn’t been the real him.

In that place where she had nothing and no one, she’d at least had him. A strong male who’d tried to protect her as best he could. Alice realized she’d been clinging to that version of him, the protector, while forgetting he was also a real man. Scratch that. She’d kept forgetting he was an alien. One she didn’t know and might not want to know.

Verakko was also right about Luka needing her. It would hurt to cut ties with him, seeing as she’d grown so attached, but she’d be able to move on if she had to. She was infatuated and attracted, but she wasn’t in love, and even if she was, people got over heartbreak all the time. If he was truly interested in being with her, he’d have to work for it too.

She stared up into his tumultuous blue eyes once more. She’d give him a chance, but she needed to hold on to her newfound strength. If he blew it, that would be the end. No second chances. No seeing the good in someone that just didn’t exist. No attempting to fix him. Alien or not, he could either win her over or live his life as a mated man without his mate.

One thing was clear—she and Luka needed to sit down and talk it out. She rose, taking a moment to prepare herself for the backlash she might get.

When she approached him, he stood, his eyes trained on her. Whenever she’d entered his cell in the facility, his body would relax, like he’d been waiting all day just to have a glimpse of her. Now, tension rolled off him in waves, and he clenched the back of his chair as though he might crush it at any second.

“Hello, Luka,” she said quietly.

He inclined his head a fraction. “Alice.”

Over their weeks together, her attraction to him had wormed its way deep into her very marrow. He’d only spoken one word, but his familiar, deep rumbling voice made a bolt of electricity shoot up her spine.

They stared at each other for long moments. This was the first time they’d really spoken since…ever. When she glanced around, she saw everyone’s attention had turned to them.

She felt heat rising on her cheeks. “After the meeting, could we talk outside?”

“No,” he said swiftly. The knuckles of the hand still gripping his chair were white.

She nibbled her lip, unsure how to reply to the blatant refusal. He opened his mouth, but then closed it again. Was it just her, or did he look pale?

“We should really talk. I want to apologize for what happened down there,” she urged, wondering if she was causing his sickly reaction. “I know you may not remember me or what happened, but I—”

“I don’t wish to talk to you right now, Alice,” he said through gritted teeth, then sat back down, not meeting her eyes.

Alice bit the inside of her cheek and continued to stare at the side of his face. Shame and embarrassment washed over her. She could feel everyone’s eyes on her. Taking in the uncomfortable exchange.

As she shuffled back to her seat and plopped down, she could just imagine the vivid shade of red her face had turned. A small part of her relaxed when she noticed most of the eyes in the room remained angrily fixed on Luka.

A deep scowl was clear on Verakko’s face, the most emotion she’d seen from him yet, and even Rhaego, who’d been nothing but kind and sweet to everyone he’d spoken to, sneered in Luka’s direction.

It’s not his fault. He has every right to be upset with me. If I were in his shoes, I wouldn’t want to see me, either.

Luka kept his gaze trained on his interlaced fingers in front of him, ignoring the silent berating directed toward him.

He could’ve handled it better, though. That was very rude. Alice’s chest puffed a little, indignation mixing with her embarrassment and sympathy. A part of her reasoned she didn’t know enough about the alien culture to assume Luka’s actions were rude, but the reaction of everyone else, paired with the kind, respectful treatment she’d been given from all of the other men, told her differently.

The Queen emerged from a door to the right along with a tall, elegant woman. The new woman’s eyes met Alice’s, and she gave a courteous nod before moving to sit next to Jade and Theo.

The Queen now stood near an empty seat at the table. She turned to Metli. “Is everyone accounted for?”

Metli nodded.

Alice told herself she needed to concentrate on this meeting. Make sure the Queen didn’t regret inviting her. But no matter how hard she tried to keep her mind focused, her thoughts and eyes strayed back to Luka.

She couldn’t decide if she should be heartened or wary of the fact that he kept glancing at her too. Whenever her gaze wandered to him, she’d catch him watching her before quickly looking away. His bitchy attitude with her must’ve made him feel better at least, because he no longer looked like he wanted to throttle her.

Great! Yet another person who feels better after taking it out on me. Just what I need.

Willing her mind to forget about Luka for a few minutes, she looked around the room, eyes landing briefly on each of the attendees. They all sat at a large round table with a hollow center. Verakko and Rhaego sat on either side of her. Next to Rhaego sat Theo, then Jade, then the graceful woman who’d been speaking with the Queen. Next to her, and directly across from Alice, sat the brooding Luka.

A pale woman with a platinum-blonde pixie cut and sour expression sat on his other side, her lips pursed. She didn’t look too different from a human, but the barely visible white markings running along her neck and bare shoulders were enough to tell Alice she was a Clecanian. Next to her sat Lucy, the only person in attendance who looked excited to be here. The Queen sat on Lucy’s other side, then Metli, and finally Verakko. Eleven in all.

Alice focused her attention back on the Queen and waited.

“Thank you all for attending this meeting. I am grateful to each and every one of you for your discretion,” the Queen said, sweeping her eyes around the room. “We are here today to discuss three things. One: the immediate threat of the Insurgents. Two: the revelation that humans are a compatible species and are able to not only bear Clecanian children but also to call forth our long-dormant mating instinct. And finally, three: to decide the best way to move forward with the rescued human females and how to proceed, now knowing what we know.”

The Queen stayed silent a moment longer, allowing for her words to sink in. “I’d like Luka to begin by recounting everything he has learned about the Insurgents from his investigation before being taken and anything he can remember after. Any piece of information might be enough for us to learn where their other locations are.”

Luka nodded, eyes flashing to Alice before settling on his tightly clasped hands once more. “Well, to start, they don’t have an official name. They have a code, sort of like a motto they use to identify each other. Before my…detainment, Helas taught me the code. They clasp forearms and say, ‘Purity. Reform. Integrity. Clecania.’ And I learned Helas was in contact with many other facilities. Outposts, he called them.”

Lucy began to snicker, and quickly covered her mouth. Everyone’s eyes focused on her, and she held up a hand. “Sorry. Sorry. It’s just…” She gave another small chuckle. “They call themselves PRIC?”

Jade and Alice began to laugh, but the aliens remained silent, seeming confused.

“On Earth, ‘prick’ is a slang insult. It means small penis,” Jade said, her shoulders shaking with repressed laughter.

Rhaego quickly stifled his deep laugh in a cough, and even the Queen’s mouth twitched in amusement. Luka’s lips stayed thinned, his jaw still clenched.

“How fitting,” the Queen began. “Metli, could you please make a note about the change of nomenclature? Moving forward, it seems only right that we use the name they’ve chosen. They’ll be referred to as PRICs or Insurgents.” She gave another brief nod toward Luka and said, “Please continue.”

“I wasn’t able to learn much before he figured out what I was doing, but he did show me five to six monitors with live feeds of incarcerated beings, held in other outposts. Mostly human females, but some Clecanian males and females as well.” Luka cleared his throat before continuing, “He inferred they’d emptied their cells of all non-human species since they felt they’d found what they were looking for in the humans.” His voice grew distant, and he shifted in his seat. “I don’t know what was done with the others.”

Pricks, indeed.

Alice studied Luka. His emotions were mostly hidden, but she thought she saw guilt lurking in his eyes. Even after his harsh treatment of her a moment ago, she felt her heart go out to him. He must know he couldn’t have saved them.

Verakko chimed in from next to her. “The ability to display other facilities’ vids means the outposts were connected. I tried to hack into the system after Jade was rescued and then again when Alice escaped, but in both cases the connection had been severed. They must have had a failsafe in place.”

Luka’s deep voice rang through the room, making goosebumps erupt over her skin. “From what I saw, their technology is outdated. I’m not sure how long they’ve been active, but it looked like the vast majority of their tech hasn’t been state-of-the-art for fifty years, at least. Early on, they were even using plain metal chains to tie me down rather than magnetic until…” His jaw clenched again, and he kept his stare trained on his hands. “Until they broke.”

“When they took me, they told me their organization had been active for a hundred years at least,” Jade confirmed.

“I’d like for you to continue looking for any trace of a signal. Just in case we missed something,” the Queen said, addressing Verakko.

“I’ll keep working on it, but even if I were to somehow gain access,” Verakko began, “I still wouldn’t be able to pinpoint their locations. It’s likely they’re frequency hopping multiple times per second. Without time, copious amounts of money, and unlimited resources, there’ll be no way for me to trace the signal to a physical source. Unless they were dumb enough to label each station link with its geographic location, we’ll have access but won’t be able to lead a team to rescue the captives.”

Another moment of silence passed, in which Alice caught Luka’s gaze. There was an answer staring them in the face, so why hadn’t anyone mentioned it yet? “Helas probably knows where the other outposts are.” Her stomach turned sour at the mention of his name.

Luka flinched almost imperceptibly as well.

The Queen let out a long sigh. “As of this morning, he has been less than forthcoming with that information.”

“I could make him talk,” Theo said gruffly, gripping Jade’s hand.

If Theo’s admission had affected the Queen, she didn’t show it. “We don’t know the extent of Helas’ reach. It’s clear the Insurgents have many powerful people working with them to have remained undetected this long. Helas is currently being detained at an undisclosed location, but there could be Insurgent moles lurking anywhere. For all we know, they could decide to destroy the outposts and start from scratch if they think we are getting too close. Keeping things quiet is our best chance to find the outposts and free the prisoners without any fatalities. All mention of the PRICs, humans, mating, and outposts needs to be contained to this room.” She turned her attention to Jade. “Does anyone else know about your pregnancy?”

The woman to Jade’s right answered before Jade could. “Wasde, from The Intergalactic Alliance, and Reana, from The Galaxy Supervision Federation, were both present for the announcement of the sex. They are trusted friends of mine and have sworn to keep what they know to themselves until we’ve decided what to do. In the meantime, they are thinking through actions plans of their own to bring to their superiors, when the time is right.”

The woman turned her attention to Alice and Lucy. “My name is Asivva, by the way. I’m a member of The Intergalactic Alliance, and I wanted to make sure we were prepared for the frenzy that will ensue once it’s revealed that Jade is not only pregnant but mated.”

Alice smiled, grateful the woman was making it a point to explain things to them.

“That brings us to our next topic of discussion,” the Queen said, interlacing her fingers in front of her. “Originally, when Jade was found, I had decided she should follow our rules and participate in the ceremony. Now, the situation is more complex. Since Jade’s rescue, the twelve human females found have been kept here, at the Temple. Humans are able to become pregnant with Clecania children, and they are also able to call mating marks forward. No male humans have been rescued, but it’s likely they will have the same effect as the females.”

The Queen eyed Luka’s wrists momentarily before continuing. “Because mating marks seem to only affect the Clecanians, it would be immoral to follow our currently outdated laws of matehood. Humans don’t feel the pull of matehood, and as such, I can’t force them to remain with their mates. Once we have control of the Insurgent situation, humans will be allowed to choose who they want to be with, where they would like to live, and how often, if ever, they will participate in the ceremony, whether or not they have called forth mating marks.”

Luka’s eyes flashed to Alice then to the Queen. “No!” he barked.

The Queen’s eyebrows rose. “Would you prefer I force Alice to stay with you against her will?”

He glanced to Alice again, and she felt as though he were actually trying to judge how to answer the clearly rhetorical question. Another shiver ran through her. Just because he doesn’t want to be with me doesn’t mean he’s impervious to the mating bond.

Rather than answering, he allowed composure to wash over his pinched features, answering her as a researcher interested in the topic would, void of emotion but curious and logical. “The answer to that question seems obvious, but I cannot in good conscious say one way or another. We don’t know the effect that unrequited matehood could have on our people. It’s been too long since a Clecanian mated pair walked our streets, and in those days, there was no question about whether the feelings would be reciprocated or not. We don’t have enough evidence to know what’ll happen to a mated Clecanian if they’re not permitted to be with their mate. For all we know, it could cause severe illness or death.” Luka fixed his gaze on his hands once again and winced. “Personally, I’ve already begun to experience some side effects.”

What side effects? Alice pondered how she should feel about that. What if it turned out he hated her but still needed to be close to her to relieve the negative side effects of the mating bond? Even through the hurt and embarrassment of their first meeting, she found herself wanting to be close to him.

Would she be able to be intimate with Luka without her emotions getting in the way?

Not likely.

“I’d like permission to begin research in the archives so I can see if there are any ways to calm the side effects and also to understand what mated Clecanians might need to know before we decide for sure that our laws need to be changed.”

The Queen nodded. “I see your point, Luka, and you will have the access you need.”

“I’ll also need access here,” he said coolly. “I’ll need to be able to visit Alice from time to time.”

Luka was holding her gaze with deadly calm. The hair rose on Alice’s arms. She’d learned she was safe with Luka, that even crazed he wouldn’t hurt her, but looking at his dark, unreadable expression now, she wondered if it was a good idea for him to have access to her home. She didn’t know this man. Didn’t know how he thought. Alice had been ready to jump in with both feet if he’d shown the smallest amount of interest, but now, fear tempered her excitement.

The Queen spoke, rousing Luka from his unwavering stare. “I understand your reasoning, but the decision of when and how often you visit will be left up to Alice. If she permits you to visit, you’ll be escorted. I cannot give you unfettered access to the Temple.”

Alice let out a relieved breath. Luka said nothing, but she could see the whites of his knuckles, clenched on the table again.

When Luka remained silent, the Queen continued, “What will happen to the human females and the laws concerning matehood will likely change worldwide when news of their existence becomes public knowledge. I can make the laws here, but it is likely other cities will have different ways of dealing with the issue. Rhaego, forgive me if I’m wrong, but your people may not give as much choice to human females as we will.”

Alice could have sworn Rhaego’s purple horns darkened a shadeHe nodded solemnly. “Matehood is revered in Tuva. Once word spreads, the chase will likely continue with renewed vigor, and I can only assume our citizens will become vicious and possessive of the human females if it is found they can be mated. In the minds of my fellow Tuvasta, mating is not something that can be controlled by laws. I fail to imagine King Yaskan putting any law into place that would keep a mated male from his female, and even if he did, none of our citizens would pay any attention to that law.”

“Thank you for your honesty. I assumed as much.” The Queen glanced around the room. “Many cities across Clecania will feel the same. The only way for human females to be protected is if there are laws put into place worldwide by The Galaxy Supervision Federation. Once we have revealed their existence and importance, we will need to have at least the beginnings of laws worked out with your contacts, Asivva. I’m afraid if we don’t, and we keep the females hidden here, the other cities will rebel. They will want the chance to visit and mate the females, and some of the more aggressive cities might try and take them by force.”

Rising, the Queen began to pace back and forth near her chair. “This brings me to our final issue. When the world learns of the humans’ existence and what they are capable of, there will be a call for action. Most leaders will want more females brought here.”

Alice was startled when the platinum-blonde sitting next to Luka finally spoke. In a cool voice, she intoned, “And why would we not bring more humans here?”

Alice eyed the pale woman. She was pretty, the way most of the Clecanians tended to be, but her dour expression lessened the effect. So far, she’d been watching the conversation with disinterest. Why had she been invited?

“For many reasons, Vila,” the Queen began. “Their planet is a Class 4 planet and is therefore off limits to us. They are a sentient species and not merely a herd of cethid. We cannot land on their planet and abduct hundreds, if not thousands, of Earthlings. We would need permission to reveal ourselves to the leaders of the planet, and then, we would need to find a way to transport only willing humans. I don’t know much about Earth,” she said, looking at Jade, Alice, and Lucy for support, “but I can assume they wouldn’t take kindly to aliens taking their citizens.”

Alice couldn’t even imagine the worldwide panic that would ensue if not only one group of aliens but galaxies of different alien species were revealed to exist. She inwardly snorted; maybe the leaders of Earth would finally come together for once.

“The fact that humans are Clecanian descendants and can be mated may hold the key to a cure for the people of this planet. Many believe our early interference with natural evolution may be, in part, why we are no longer fertile. Humans have not altered themselves in the same way. Studying their unique genetics could save us all. They may not take kindly to us in the beginning, but they’ll adapt, just as these females have,” Vila said, gesturing to Alice, Jade, and Lucy.

“I agree, but communication and peaceful exchanges are our only answer. We cannot simply take what we want because we can,” the Queen said sternly.

“It’ll happen regardless. You know that,” Vila said quietly, holding eye contact with the Queen.

Alice decided she didn’t care for that woman. She could see where she was coming from, but the way she spoke suggested she’d already made her mind up about how they should handle the humans. Would this woman, Vila, keep the information from this meeting quiet?

“Which is why I appreciate your silence,” the Queen said, reading Alice’s mind. “We need to come up with a plan before individuals start taking matters into their own hands.”

Vila leaned back in her chair and lifted her chin. “I vow you have my silence, for now, but you need to come up with a plan quickly. Mating marks are not something you’re going to be able to keep quiet for long even if the males paint their hands. And if you’re able to rescue females from all of the outposts, word will spread even more quickly.”

The Queen held Vila’s stare. “Do any of the humans present have anything to add?”

Lucy stood, smoothing her long dress. “Hi, I’m Lucy,” she said brightly, smiling around the room. “Personally, I don’t mind being here, but I can say with absolute certainty that no matter how awesome this place is, people are going to freak out when they learn about aliens for the first time. You need to make sure that when you do reveal yourselves, you work on maintaining a certain image. I don’t know if your goal is to bring men here too, but if you just want heterosexual females, then you need to show off the Clecanian men. Also show any happy alien-human couples a lot too. If you bring some hot, charming aliens to Earth for your first meet-and-greet and put them on social media, you’re going to have ladies lining up around the block to hop on a spaceship back here.” She tucked a strand of honey-blonde hair behind her ear.

Alice tilted her head and smiled at Lucy, who’d relaxed back into her seat. She had a way of making even the most daunting task seem reasonable and achievable. Her chipper attitude would cause many to believe she was shallow, but she spoke with a sort of optimistic intelligence that made it difficult to not both respect and like her. Alice wondered if she’d worked in media back on Earth. She’d have made a great reporter.

“I agree,” Jade said, still sitting. “It was hard to remember why I shouldn’t want to live here when I watched my hunky husband dote on me. There are plenty of Earth women who’ll come voluntarily, but there are also plenty who are in loving relationships, and others who’d object to a lot of the customs here. It’s going to be difficult at first, but I think if you offer up some of your knowledge of technology and space travel, without asking for anything in return, that’d help grease the wheels.”

“Thank you all for your valuable insight. I’m going to think on what you have said. I am hopeful that the next time we meet, we will have a plan that is clearer.” The Queen waved a hand toward Metli, who’d been silent throughout the meeting, diligently typing into a small screen in front of her. As Metli moved to bring the room back to the surface, people began rising and talking to one another.

Luka stayed seated, his hard stare back on her. Alice was readying to retreat when the Queen approached her. Now that she was close, Alice could make out faint dark circles under her eyes and the strained note in her voice as she said, “Have you recalled the questions you would like to ask me?”

Not wanting to keep the busy woman longer, she asked about something she’d pondered while sitting alone in her quiet house yesterday. “On Earth, I was studying to be a veterinarian, a doctor for animals. I started late, so I haven’t gotten that far into the program, but I was wondering if I’d be able to continue that training here.”

The Queen gave her a small smile. “That is a marvelous idea. It’s wonderful that you feel you could stay here and make a career for yourself.”

Alice looked over to find Luka watching them with narrowed eyes.

The Queen continued. “Yes, of course you can continue your studies here, although you may need to start from the beginning, seeing as our animals are different.” She frowned then. “I’d ask that you hold off on this endeavor until we have revealed the presence of humans to our world. For now I can arrange for someone to teach you our language at The Pearl Temple, if you’d like?”

“That’d be wonderful,” Alice exclaimed. She may be able to communicate with everyone thanks to her translator, but she couldn’t yet read Clecanian writing, as evidenced by her hand clock.

“I’ll teach her,” Luka said loudly, startling both women.

Alice frowned. A minute ago, he’d implied he wanted unrestricted access to her, and a few minutes before that, he’d wanted nothing to do with her. Why would he want to teach her? Make up your mind!

“I don’t want you distracted from your research, Luka. No, I’ll find someone else to help Alice,” the Queen said.

“No males,” Luka said simply, still not bothering to rise from his seat.

Alice’s annoyance and frustration finally began to outweigh her embarrassment and hurt at his earlier rejection. Before the Queen could respond, she stomped over to Luka. “You have no right to tell me who I can or cannot take lessons from. You’ve made it abundantly clear you have no interest in me, so I don’t understand why you even care. I’m not going to keep apologizing for what happened at the outpost. I had no choice, okay?” She felt heat spread over her cheeks. Alice turned and walked away, muttering, “Why don’t you just run to the archives and get to work on your research so you can figure out how to get us unmated already.” When she reached the Queen, she noted her amused expression. “If you don’t need me for anything else, I’d like to leave.”

The Queen smirked at her and gestured to the exit.

On her way out, she heard a scuffle behind her; turning to look, she found Jade and Theo approaching a pained-looking Luka. He had risen and was now looming over the table, watching her with brows drawn, the way he used to look after Helas had hurt him.

Alice forced herself to turn her head. Don’t feel bad. Don’t feel bad. Just because he was mated didn’t give him the right to be proprietary with her.

On her short walk back to her home, her thoughts were in turmoil. She wavered between anger and empathy for Luka. On the one hand, he had no right to treat her like property. Being cold to her one moment then controlling the next. On the other hand, she had no idea how the mating marks were affecting him. She knew mates felt a strong pull toward one another, but she didn’t how strong that pull was.

If he was feeling this connection to her but also anger toward her, then obviously he was bound to have conflicting emotional outbursts. It’d make sense he didn’t want to talk to her but also didn’t want her to talk to any other man.

She didn’t know how to feel. Should she be mad, or should she give him a break? Old Alice would’ve given him a break, no question about it. The terrible situation in which Luka found himself would’ve called to her. Tugged at her heartstrings. She would’ve tried again and again to make him like her. Convinced herself he just needed time.

Even if she accepted that his actions were normal in this culture, and even if this was what men acted like on this planet, could she live with that?

She slammed the door as she entered her house. Not this time, she thought, angrier with herself than Luka. If he wants to apologize, I’ll hear him out, but I’m not going to let myself be walked on all over again. He’s been nothing but rude to me since we escaped, and I don’t deserve that. I was abducted and locked up too! No more thinking about Luka, that’s it.

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