Freeing Luka: Chapter 13


Fuck, this hurts. Luka tried to stand. To chase her. To tell her he wasn’t thinking clearly right now. But a searing pain shot up his leg, forcing him to fall back into his chair.

He turned to see Theo and his new mate, Jade, approaching. Today was the first day he’d seen Jade, but even with his attention divided he’d noticed Theo didn’t seem uncomfortable or self-conscious when he was with her. The change in his brother was glorious and made him wonder how Alice might improve his own life. If he was able to undo the damage he’d just done, that is.

“What’s wrong with you?” she said angrily, without any introduction.

“I—” he began, but she cut him off.

“Theo told me what happened to you in that outpost. That poor girl rescued you, and you treat her like that?” Luka tried to speak again, but Jade held up her hand for silence. “You couldn’t have just let her down easy. If you don’t like her, that’s one thing, but to embarrass her like that in front of everyone? Cold. Stone cold,” she finished, shaking her head disapprovingly.

Luka eyed his brother, a silent plea for help. The corner of Theo’s mouth lifted in a smirk, and he stood back, allowing Luka to be scolded by his small pregnant wife.

Before she could resume her yelling, Luka spoke. “I didn’t mean to treat her poorly, but I’m in a great deal of pain. Do either of you happen to have a healer on you?” he asked as politely as he could through clenched teeth.

He’d found that while sitting, he could manage the pain, but any time he stood, blackness threatened to overtake him. He hadn’t meant to be so short with Alice, but he’d made the mistake of standing, as males were supposed to do when talking with a female, and at the time, pushing her away had seemed preferable to fainting on top of her.

Theo’s grin faded, replaced by concern. “You’re hurt?” he said, scanning Luka’s body.

“I tripped on the way here. I think I may have broken my ankle. I was already running late and had no time to heal it before the meeting started, so I decided to bear it instead.”

“You tripped on the way here?” he repeated with narrowed eyes. Jade settled herself into a seat next to him, and while she was preoccupied, Luka sent Theo a warning glare. A muscle ticked in Theo’s jaw, but he said, “Let me find a healer for you. Stay here with Jade for a moment.”

When Theo had left the room, Jade scowled at him once again. “Why didn’t you just tell her you were injured and in a lot of pain instead of acting like an ass?”

Luka’s eyes widened in surprise. Jade wasn’t altogether wrong, but he wasn’t used to a female being so unguarded with her words.

was an ass.

“Limping in injured and weak wouldn’t have been attractive,” he muttered, feeling as though his plan had only worked to hurt his chances with Alice.

“So, you thought it’d be more attractive to look uncaring and possessive than weak?”

“Yes!” His shoulders slumped, and he added, “At least for a Clecanian female.”

Luka didn’t know what else to say. A Clecanian female wouldn’t have approached a male. She would’ve waited for him to approach her. It hadn’t factored into Luka’s decision that Alice may try and initiate a conversation with him. He also knew he’d vastly underestimated both his injury and the affect seeing her with another male would have on him. He flinched. Telling her she couldn’t be taught by a male had been over the line. It wasn’t his place to say that to any female. At least, not in that way.

“A Clecanian female—” he began to argue before being interrupted yet again.

“Ugh, this again. Sometimes I feel like Izzo is the only one of you with any brains. At least he had the good sense to come and ask for my advice about a human girl he likes. What makes you think you know how to act around a human?” She spoke her next words slowly, making Luka wonder if he liked Jade after all. “Alice is not Clecanian. She’s human, and I’m guessing by her reaction, she’s utterly offended right now. As well she should be. Most human women appreciate honesty. If you wanted to appear strong, congratulations, you did it. She now thinks of you as the strongest jerk around.”

The female was rude and condescending and…right. He didn’t know how human females behaved or what they’d want out of a male. So far, he’d spent his time researching medical information pertaining to humans and watching her from afar, but he’d never thought to use one of the best resources he had at his disposal. A human female. His sister-in-law, no less. Luka was a proud male, but he was also a scientist. His logic had failed him, and he could admit when he was wrong.

“You’re right. I thought she’d act like a Clecanian female, and now I worry I’ve ruined any chance I had. Can you help me?”

Jade, who’d been shifting uncomfortably on the chair, looked at him with brows drawn. Slowly a smile curved over her face. “Wow. I’m glad you aren’t as stubborn as your brother. Or me, for that matter. I thought that would’ve been a hell of a lot harder fight. Ego being what it is.” She shot him a sheepish grin. “Sorry for going off on you. Between being cooped up in the house and close to full term, my temper’s out of control.”

“That’s an understatement.” Theo entered then, carrying a healer. Jade rolled her eyes but said nothing.

Luka could sing with relief. He needed to go and see Alice. Make things right. Explain why he’d behaved so badly. But first he had to learn more about humans from Jade.

Grabbing the device out of Theo’s hand, he ran it over his swollen ankle.

“You know that’ll only help with the pain temporarily,” Theo said. “You need to go and see a doctor right after this to fix any breaks.”

Thankful the small device could give him any relief at all, he let out a sigh then looked to Jade. “What do I need to know to win a human female?”

Theo snorted from behind Jade.

Jade swatted at him then turned her attention back to Luka. “First, tell me, do you really like her, or do you just want to charm her because she’s your mate?”

Luka had wondered this himself, but the more time passed and the more he watched her, small memories from the cell came back to him. “I can’t lie and say the bond isn’t causing me to have…intense feelings for her, but those feelings are more of a sexual and protective nature. I want her for those reasons, but they aren’t all. She saved me in more ways than one at the outpost. I was drugged, nearly out of my mind, but present enough to dimly understand what they were doing to me. If my foggy memories are correct, she was kind when she didn’t have to be. And brave. There aren’t many people who can boast that kindness and strength. My mating instinct may have drawn me to her initially, but she’s the only reason I was able to survive in that place. She tied me to my sanity. Gave me a reason to keep fighting. If she never wants to see me again, I’ll understand, but I’ll never stop wanting her.”

Jade stared at Luka, a wide grin on her face. “Just tell her that. Easy-peasy.”

“What?”

“That was a great little speech.” She counted off on her fingers. “You like her for who she is. You’re insanely attracted to her. You’ll work hard to win her over, but you won’t try to force her to be with you if she doesn’t want to.”

“She’ll be satisfied with that?” Luka asked curiously. “She won’t want gifts or a demonstration of my abilities or my grades?”

Jade glanced toward Theo pleadingly. He took a seat near her, sighing. “We’re going to be here all day, aren’t we?”

***

As Luka left the medbay Theo had escorted him to, he reflected on what Jade had told him. If she was right, Alice wouldn’t need the showmanship that normally accompanied a courtship.

Her descriptions of a human relationship were too good for Luka to believe. Constant affection? Shared bed for sleeping? Luka had never in his wildest dreams thought those things were possible, even if he found a cure for Clecanian infertility.

In order to have all that Jade had told him, though, he’d need to redeem himself to Alice.

He’d learned that his ankle, now fully healed, hadn’t been broken. The slender bone directly above his ankle, however, had been. When the doctor had examined him, he’d been surprised to learn Luka had not only been dealing with the pain for over two hours, but had tried to walk on the injured limb.

Holding his guest pass ball tightly in his hands, he stared across the water at Alice’s small floating house. Anxiety made his heartbeat quicken and heat crept up his collar. Luka frowned.

In his world, he excelled at almost anything he tried. If he set his mind to something, more often than not, he succeeded. Feeling anxiety wasn’t something he was used to.

Whenever he’d interacted with females before, he’d been either charming, as his studies had taught him, or uninterested. He’d made it to the testing phase of the ceremony twice now, but had always refused to participate to avoid being chosen. He knew himself, and he knew what he wanted. A temporary wife was not that. Anytime he used what he’d been taught in school to charm a female, it’d always been with the direct and outspoken goal of having sex.

As Luka felt his palms grow damp with sweat, he realized it was different with Alice. He cared if she liked him. He wanted her to like him. To seek him out for conversations. He wanted to be a person worthy of her attention, and right now, he didn’t feel that way.

He set off, relieved when he found the platforms appear under his feet as he walked to her home. How soon before Metli deactivates the pass? Being stung by bilom would only send him back to the medbay and away from Alice once again.

When he reached her door, he took a moment to compose himself, then knocked.

A small voice sounded from behind the door, “Hello? Who is it?”

“Luka.”

He scowled when his reply was followed by silence. Just as he was ready to speak to her through the wood rather than in person as he’d hoped, Alice opened the door.

His breath was temporarily stolen at the sight of her and the exposed skin of her arms and shoulders. She was no longer wearing the sweater from earlier.

After holding his gaze for a moment, she stepped to the side of the doorway. “Would you like to come in?” she asked, her lips thinned.

This must be an Earth custom.

He decided it’d be rude to turn her down, even as he cringed to think of other males she may have innocently invited into her home. An invitation into the house of a Clecanian female was usually a signal that she was interested in sex. The way Alice’s eyes kept straying around the room nervously told him she, unfortunately, didn’t intend the same.

Now within the bright, cool confines of her home, he set the ball near the door and studied her again. Silently, he thanked the unseasonably warm weather for the glimpse of her exposed shoulders and the low dip of her neckline.

She cleared her throat, and his eyes snapped back to hers. He clenched his fists in frustration. At his first opportunity to make a better impression, he’d been unable to keep himself from ogling her.

A pale pink spread over her cheeks, drawing his attention away from his aims yet again. Would her cheeks flush like that after a vigorous bout of fucking, or would her skin pinken everywhere?

“Can I help you?” she said without meeting his eyes.

Get ahold of yourself! Luka cleared his throat. “I’d like to apologize for embarrassing you before.”

Alice raised a delicate brow. “You’re apologizing for embarrassing me?” she said slowly.

“Yes, I—” The burning look in her eyes gave him pause. “I didn’t mean to speak to you like that in front of everyone.”

“Oh!” she laughed. “Did you mean to speak to me like a dick in private?”

“No…” he began but struggled to clarify.

Alice held up a hand. “Luka, I really don’t know what you want from me. I’m sorry we’re in this mess and that you feel like I’m your mate now, but I don’t think we should be together.”

His heart leap into his throat, cutting off his rapidly dissolving reasonable argument to the contrary. He tracked her abrupt pacing around the room, her words coming quickly, as though she’d rehearsed her argument.

“When we first met, I didn’t really know you. You helped me stay sane in that place, and for that, I’ll be forever grateful, but I need to stop putting other people’s happiness before my own.” She glanced at him beseechingly before resuming. “I was willing to give us a try, but that was stupid of me. Again, I don’t know you, and the way you’ve treated me so far has been very similar to other people in my life who’ve proven to be toxic.”

Indignation roared through him. She’s comparing me to people who have hurt her in the past? She can’t think of me that way!

“I can explain my actions,” he barked, more harshly than intended.

She flinched, and he cursed his erratic temper. The only way to win her over would be to go back to being the calm, reserved person he normally was, but his feelings for her and her rejection were making that impossible.

“I’m sure there’s an explanation,” she said, throwing her hands in the air. “There’s always an explanation, but I need to stop letting people treat me badly and then explain it away.” She spoke in a low voice, miming someone. “‘I didn’t mean to yell, I just had a bad day at work.’ Or ‘I’m sorry, I forgot about your birthday again. It’s just so close to Christmas.’”

Luka couldn’t follow everything she was talking about, but it seemed like she’d been treated very poorly by someone or possibly many someones, and now she thought he might do the same. “You’re right. I should’ve never treated you that way. There is no excuse for my behavior.”

She blinked at him, searching his face. “Well, uh, thank you for that.” She ran a hand through her hair.

They stared at each other for long moments. Luka didn’t know what to say to help the situation. How could he prove himself to be a suitable male? All of the lessons from husbandry school hadn’t prepared him for this. Something Jade had said stuck out in his mind, but he hadn’t gotten enough information to know if it’d work. She’d said it was very romantic and although he’d never tried it, he figured it couldn’t hurt.

“Can I make it up to you?” he asked, stepping toward her. He took it as a good sign that although she looked at him wearily, she didn’t back away. When she remained silent, he continued, “I’d like to kiss you.”

Alice’s eyes widened in surprise. In the next moment, many emotions played across her features. Her gaze flew to his mouth and grew temporarily heated, making Luka growl quietly under his breath.

She shook her head as though trying to dislodge a thought. “No!” Walking up to him until only a few feet separated them, she prodded him in the chest with an accusatory finger. “Didn’t you hear anything I just said?”

Before he could stop himself, he snatched her hand, circling her wrist and resting his thumb in her palm. A loud purr erupted from his chest at the contact.

She stared at their connected hands but didn’t move. Slowly she raised her gaze to his. “What makes you think I’d want to kiss you?” she muttered breathlessly, belying her question.

Luka didn’t know why she might want to, but Jade had made it seem like it was a very important thing done among courting humans, and Alice’s reaction told him something he hadn’t known before. She may not like him. She may even hate him. But she was attracted to him.

He ran the pad of his thumb down her palm, squeezing the pulse point at her wrist with his other fingers. A quick inhalation of breath showed him that even this small touch was affecting her as much as it was him. When the scent of her arousal wafted between them, it took all of his willpower not to crush her to him.

“Well,” he began, his voice scarcely more than a growl, “for starters, your pulse has sped up substantially. Also—” he ran his gaze down her body, not bothering to hide his perusal of her figure “—I can scent your arousal.”

Alice let out a small whimper and shifted her stance so her legs were more firmly squeezed together. Not a denial, then. He smiled.

He stepped nearer to her, and her brows drew together in concentration. Because his words seemed to drive her anger away, he continued, “I’ve never kissed in the way Jade described, but if it elicits this reaction from you, then I’d be happy to do it every minute of every day.”

“You’ve never kissed?” she whispered, eyeing his lips and licking her own.

He stepped closer to her still, making sure not to touch her for fear of her shying away. “I’m a fast learner. Top marks in all subjects.”

Crooking a finger under her chin, he angled her head up toward his. He inhaled deeply, his eyelids drifting closed. Her natural, sweet scent mixed with her arousal called to something deep within him. His already rising shaft shot hard in an instant. He’d smelled this before. He recognized it somewhere in the back of his mind.

The fact that he’d scented her arousal previously, and now recognized the scent, made his spirits soar. It meant she’d responded to him like this before. Had been attracted to him and couldn’t suppress it.

A devious thought entered his mind. He may not be the best with reading her emotions, but he could make her desire him in other ways. If he spent enough time pleasing her, she might slowly come to want him around. If he was around enough, he could learn how to win her over.

This wasn’t how he’d wanted their relationship to be—based on sex, just like every other Clecanian’s was—but he’d take what he could get. He’d vow to work his way under her skin.

“Top marks?” she questioned absently, her hand rising to fist his shirt. At her touch, his purring intensified.

She’d let him kiss her. He knew she would. But he didn’t know exactly what he was supposed to do. Did he kiss one lip at a time the same way he’d kiss the column of her neck, or should he lick and suck the way he’d kiss her nipples? Hoping she’d take the lead once he started, he lowered his mouth. Pressed his lips to hers and held them in place motionlessly.

His eyes still open, he saw hers crinkle in humor. A heartbeat passed, and Luka began to feel like an idiot. This was obviously not right. Before he could pull away, she moved. She pressed her mouth firmly to his, rounding her lips. When he matched her movements, she parted her mouth slightly, letting her breath mingle with his. The sensation was new but not unpleasant. He found this connection to be surprisingly intimate and erotic. He had to focus all of his energy to not push to take charge of the kiss and explore it the way he wanted.

All his self-control shattered, however, when she swiped her tongue across his. Surprise made him rear his head back. Alice peered up at him with a languid smile before her eyes widened in horror. “Oh, you didn’t like that. I’m so sorry. I—”

With a growl, he covered her mouth with his and deepened the kiss in the way he wanted, hoping it was correct. Before she could decide to move away, he pulled her body to his, one hand fisting in her hair to hold her in place while the other ran down the small of her back. To his shock and relief, she wrapped her arms around his neck, meeting his fevered kiss with a passion of her own.

A low groan escaped him when he felt her body soften, her curves pressing against his now-aching shaft.

Need to find a bed. Now! he thought, his mind only half present.

The scent of her arousal had strengthened, driving his sense away. Both of his hands reached down to squeeze her round ass. He wanted to roar with pleasure when she moaned into his mouth. He lifted her easily, intending to carry her to the nearest horizontal surface. Her legs wrapped around his waist, putting her pussy in line with his cock.

She rocked against him lightly. How was it possible for anyone to inspire such maddening lust? Luka felt as if he’d die if he weren’t inside her in the next instant, but first, he had to make sure she wanted him. He’d please her for as long as it took for her to be ready.

Tucked into a private corner of the large open room, he spotted her bed. Walking them to the edge, he sank onto it. She continued to grind underneath him. If she didn’t stop soon, he’d come right there. Forcing himself to pull away from the kiss, he gazed down at his mate.

His chest tightened at the image before him. Her lips were swollen from their kiss, her cheeks flushed. More beautiful yet, she beamed up at him. In between pants, she whispered, “I tried to kiss you before. You pulled away.”

He grinned. “I wouldn’t have if I’d known what I was in for.”

He sat back, running his gaze over her. Pride swelled in him when she laid still, allowing him to look. He scrubbed a palm over his face at the sight of her hardened nipples poking through her thin top. Her thighs were still spread around his hips, giving him the merest glimpse of her underwear just visible under her dress.

Was he ever going to be able to leave this bed? If she’d allow it, he’d happily stay here forever.

Licking his lips and eyeing the hem of her skirt, he knew exactly where he wanted to start this veritable feast. “If I go lock your door, will you move?” he questioned, not wanting to break the daze they were in but needing to ensure their privacy.

A shy smile played at her lips. “I’ll be here.”

Before she could change her mind, he dashed to the door, engaging the lock with a shaking hand. “I plan to have you in that bed as long as you’ll let me, and I don’t want those girls to interrupt,” he called over his shoulder. After the bolts sounded, he turned and walked back toward her, taking in the sight of her beautiful form reclined on the bed.

She giggled. “What girls?”

He reached the edge of the bed and knelt, eyeing the vee of her thighs. Mind too gone with lust, he answered, “The ones who come in without knocking.”

Rising to her elbows and tilting her head at him, she slowly asked, “How do you know they do that?”

Shit!

Luka wracked his brain for a reasonable excuse as to why he’d know that, but none came. He stared at her silently, with dread. Her smile faded, and her eyes strayed to the patio then back to him.

Jumping off the bed, she screeched, “Have you been watching me, Luka?”

Jade had said honesty was best. He slowly rose from the floor. “Yes.”

She mouthed wordlessly at him for a moment. He took the opportunity to quickly explain, “After the drugs wore off, the mating bond pulled me here. I had to see you and make sure you were safe, and I didn’t think you’d want to see me.”

“This is too much,” she said, covering her hand with her mouth. “You need to leave.”

He stepped toward her, but she backed away. What else could he say? He’d watched her for many days and nights, and what was worse was after being with her today, kissing her, he didn’t feel badly about it. She was his mate. Being near her felt so right that he only now understood how wrong being away from her felt. His whole life had been lived with a piece of a puzzle missing that he’d never known existed in the first place.

After experiencing what it was like to have her in his arms, to see her face smiling up at him, he knew he’d watch her every day for the rest of his life. So, what should he tell her? Lie and say he was sorry and wouldn’t do it again, or tell her the truth?

Before he had a chance to decide, she crossed to her door. Forgetting the lock he’d just engaged, she pulled on the handle fruitlessly.

He hovered behind her, reaching over her shoulder to unlock it. She stood frozen with him at her back, the door still shut.

“Why couldn’t you just have been a normal guy?” she murmured. Swinging the door open, she stood aside. With her eyes trained downward, she said, “Get out.”

“I’ll leave,” he said, waiting for her to meet his hard stare. “But you should know something. You are my mate. And even though your human body has learned to forget how to recognize me, I am yours. Deep down, you don’t want a normal guy, and I’ll prove it. I’ll give you your space, but I won’t give up. That’s a promise, Alice.”

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