Freeing Luka: Chapter 14


Alice paced, fuming. She’d been so stupid. Again. Why couldn’t she ever just listen to her brain? Why did she always have to trust her consistently inaccurate feelings?

When he’d first arrived, she’d tried to stay strong and stick to her guns, even as she’d felt herself softening toward him. Then he’d asked to kiss her. It had come out of nowhere, was completely inappropriate, and should’ve resulted in a hard slap across the face, but Alice couldn’t help her body’s reaction. She’d wanted to kiss him since she’d first met him. Had fantasized about it.

Her steps slowed, and she ran a hand over her lips absently. But damn it all if he wasn’t the best kisser she’d ever had. Fast learner, indeed. She groaned, glancing toward the bed. Part of her wished he hadn’t told her about the stalking until after she’d gotten a little more action. Her body burned with unrelieved lust.

She moved to the bed, intending to take care of her wet, throbbing need herself, but then stopped. Glaring at the windows to the patio, fury washed over her anew. He might be watching her even now.

Alice tried to hold on to her anger, but the strangest urge to drop her hand into the waistline of her underwear and torture him a little came over her.

She slumped to the bed, trying to work out how she actually felt. Was she upset because she thought she should be upset? Or was she truly offended? She needed to get insight.

Stomping outside, she headed toward Vanessa, Daisy, and Rita’s shared home. When she arrived, she found them sunbathing on the patio, reclined in a wide but shallow kiddie pool, florescent drinks in their hands. Squeals erupted from all three upon her arrival, giving any Woo Girl a run for their money.

Alice couldn’t help but smile, her anger fading away at the sight of her three very tipsy friends.

“Hey, girl!” Vanessa laughed as she tried and failed to roll onto her stomach without spilling her drink.

“That’s a party foul. You have to drink the pool water now.” Daisy giggled while grappling to find her own drink’s straw with her tongue.

Alice chuckled and took a seat near the three women sitting waist-deep in the small pool. “I see you guys are having a fun day.”

“Well,” Rita slurred, shielding her words from the other two, “Vanessa was feeling a little down, so we decided to cheer her up.”

Alice focused on Vanessa, who was attempting to drink the dregs of her glass while lying on her stomach. She’d been so wrapped up in her own drama with Luka that she hadn’t taken the time to be there for her friend.

Since their arrival, Vanessa had put on a brave face, but she knew how much the woman wanted to return home. She often talked about her sister, whom she’d gotten in a fight with shortly before she’d been taken. Earlier, Vanessa had said Lucy had a lead for her. Alice nibbled her nails.

It must’ve not panned out. Alice tried to stifle the selfish wave of relief that came over her. Of course she didn’t want her friend to be in pain, but if Vanessa somehow found a way to leave, it’d be a difficult loss for her to cope with.

Alice readied to ask what had happened, but from the corner of her eye, she saw both Daisy and Rita clumsily shake their heads. Daisy put a finger to her lips, almost poking herself in the eye. Alice would make sure to come by and see what was going on later, but for now, she’d try and lift Vanessa’s spirits as well.

“How did you guys get all of this stuff?” she asked, studying the hard, plastic material of the pool and the bright-pink liquid in a pitcher close to her foot.

A wide grin spread over Vanessa’s face. “Izzo got everything for us. He works here, you know. And for some strange reason,” she said, raising her voice unnecessarily, “he keeps hanging around this section of the Temple.”

Daisy blushed and grinned, biting her lip. “I saw them using one of these tubs to check on some of those glowing fish and asked if we could have it when they were done with it. He was just being nice,” she argued quietly.

Rita chuckled. “That boy almost tripped over his own feet when you gave him our supply list, and I can tell you, it wasn’t because I asked.”

Daisy smiled wider. “Anyway, how did your meeting go? Did you talk to Luka?”

Alice’s smile faltered. “Yeah.”

Even inebriated, Vanessa noticed the change in her demeanor. Her brows knit in concern. “Oh no, what happened?”

She didn’t want to spoil their good mood, but she was bursting to talk to someone about this. She took her time retelling everything that’d happened between her and Luka. The women gasped and scowled in all the right places, and when she finally described how they’d left it, they sat in silence.

“So, wait,” Vanessa said, looking around. “He’s been watching you? Like, all the time? Is he watching us now?”

Alice stared out into the tree line, feeling a rush of…excitement? “Maybe, I don’t know.”

“Kinky.” Daisy giggled, sinking into the pool of water until she was half submerged.

Rita threw a hand over her heart in mock surprise. “Daisy, my word. Has that shy little exterior really been hiding an undercover freak this whole time?”

Vanessa rose to her knees. She cupped her hands around her mouth, yelling into the tree line, “Luuukkkaaa! Are you out there, you big perv?”

“Vanessa!” Alice shushed the woman with a laugh.

She turned back to Alice, refilling her drink. “So, what’s the problem? If you really thought he was a dick, you wouldn’t be talking to us about him. You like him, but you think you shouldn’t. Is that it?”

That’s exactly it, Alice thought, surprised by the woman’s candor and intuition.

It wasn’t that she didn’t like Luka. She liked him a lot, but she knew, from experience, what she’d be getting into with a personality like that. She’d told them about Luka so they’d persuade her away from him. Talk her off the ledge, not make her question herself more. “Is it wrong that I do? He’s controlling and possessive and…”

“And makes your lady parts rejoice,” Rita chimed in.

Was that it? Was she just insanely attracted to Luka and only thinking it was more because she couldn’t separate her emotions from sex?

“There have been so many red flags, though. Back on Earth, this guy Randy did creepy stuff like this. He didn’t stand outside my house, I don’t think, but he’d randomly show up at my work, or he’d take a class I was taking, even though he was working towards a communications degree. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but later on, when he got really controlling, I started to put it together.” Vanessa quirked a brow, looking unconvinced, and leaned over the edge of the pool to refill her drink. Alice continued, “And another guy, Jorge, he was always so sweet to me in private, but whenever we went out, he’d treat me like crap. Like he was embarrassed to be seen with me.”

“Jesus, you have really bad taste in men,” Rita said, wincing.

Alice threw her hands in the air. “That’s what I’m saying! My instincts are never right.”

“Do you really want my advice, or do you want me to tell you what you want to hear?” Vanessa asked, reclining on the hard edge of the pool.

She bit her lip, unsure if she did want her advice. Alice had learned that, although Vanessa didn’t always soften her words, she was actually really good at reading people and giving advice, even if it was hard to hear. Vanessa had admitted that, in another life, she’d have liked to have been a psychologist.

Alice tensed. “I want your real opinion.”

“It’s true, you’ve picked a lot of duds in the past, but this isn’t Earth, and you can’t base your decisions on what you know about Earth men. You’re comparing apples and oranges. He’s an alien. A mated alien. From what we’ve learned, that means they have some seriously crazy shit going on in their brains, and despite being trained for everything else in husbandry school, they weren’t trained on how to deal with and manage the mating bond, because no one thought it existed anymore.” Vanessa gave a small hiccup then resumed. “For all you know, stalking is normal. It’s not like he can come knock on your door like a regular person. You’ve only talked to him a handful of times and, yes, he hasn’t been the best, but you still like him for some reason. If it’s just attraction, then get to know him more. If he’s really an ass, your attraction will wear off in time, but maybe he’ll end up surprising you.” She smiled. “There’s something endearing about a guy who makes you the center of his world. As long as he’s not trying to control you, I don’t see a problem in how you feel about him.”

“So, you’re saying I should just ignore how he acted at the meeting and him watching me?”

Vanessa sighed. “No. I’m saying you have to put that stuff into context. Take it from someone who says stupid shit without thinking all the time.” Suddenly, her eyes turned glassy, and she downed her drink in one gulp.

Alice slid to the ground, sympathetic tears springing to her eyes at the glimpse of pain she saw on her friend’s face. She reached out to her, but Vanessa shooed her away.

“I’m fine. Really. And if I thought you were in danger of ending up with an asshole, I’d tell you, okay? Keep your guard up, but give him a chance. That’s all I’m saying.”

“You go get that ass.” Daisy smiled dreamily, sweeping her arms and legs through the water as though making a snow angel.

The women all dissolved into laughter at the outrageous comment coming from the painfully shy girl. “I think you guys broke Daisy,” Alice wheezed.

The rest of the afternoon passed happily. After migrating indoors, the women joked and drank long into the night. After Daisy and Rita drifted to sleep in a mountain of pillows and blankets, Alice took the opportunity to talk to Vanessa.

“What happened today? Do you want to talk about it?” Alice whispered.

Vanessa let out a sigh and turned toward her more fully, tucking her legs under her on the couch. “I just… I need to get back to her, Alice.” Her smile faded. “I’ve been talking to anybody who’ll listen, trying to get them to tell me how I can find a ship to take me home, but no one will do it. Today, I thought I had a good lead. Lucy said one of the guards knew someone, but it turned out the ship he had in mind had already left. It’s just not fair. Most of the non-human women that Jade helped rescue got to go home months ago! Just because some of our planets are Class 4 that means we can’t? It’s not right.”

“Are you and your sister really close?” The pain she saw in Vanessa’s eyes was heartbreaking.

She chuckled sadly. “No. We can’t stand each other. She’s so uptight, and she’s always complaining about how I can’t just settle and find a good job. We don’t even see each other that much, but…she’s my sister. She’s a part of me.” Her eyes grew watery. Alice reached out to squeeze her hand in silent support. “I said some really terrible things to her before we were taken. I can’t stop thinking about it. I know her—she’ll ruin her life trying to find out what happened to me, and I won’t be able to live with myself if I stopped trying to get back to her.”

“We’ll figure it out,” Alice said softly, not knowing how but knowing she’d do everything in her power to make it so.

“Anyway.” Vanessa sniffed. “After the guard told me the ship was gone, I lost it.” She smiled over at the two quietly snoring women. “I don’t know what I would’ve done without them.” She looked back at Alice. “Without all of you.”

Alice leaned forward, wrapping her in a tight hug. Eventually Vanessa relaxed, and before long, she drifted to sleep as well.

Trying her best not to wake the women, she placed glasses of water on the table in front of them, then tiptoed to the door and left. How could she help Vanessa? Every Clecanian she’d met so far had been adamant they weren’t allowed to return home. If they waited long enough, Alice reasoned, the Clecanians might decide to reveal themselves to Earth. Alice shook her head absently. Vanessa hadn’t gone into detail about what’d happened, but there seemed to be an unspoken urgency in her need to return home.

She meandered along the wooden platforms that connected the five houses in this section of the lake, lost in thought. As she turned onto the walkway that led to her house, she stopped short. Luka was sitting in front of her door, silently watching her.

It’d had been a long day full of emotional ups and downs, alcohol, and the sun. Alice was exhausted, and didn’t have the mental strength to deal with him right now. Not until she worked through her feelings some more.

She groaned. “What are you still doing here?”

Standing, he let his gaze roam over her before answering, “I left my pass inside.”

Ignoring the heat spreading through her at his hungry stare, she moved to open her door. “Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

He shrugged. “I wanted to give you space.” Rather than stepping out of the way to give her clear access, he hovered, crowding her with his large frame. Heat radiated off him, as did his intoxicating scent. Pine? No. Definitely earthy, though.

Well, he has been hiding out in the woods, Alice!

She kept her gaze trained on the door while unlocking it. Her skin tingled as if it could feel his eyes on her. The door finally swung open, and she reached in to retrieve the ball.

“Here,” she said, dropping it into his upturned hands unceremoniously.

Never taking his eyes off her, he murmured, “It’s been deactivated.”

“Of course it has,” she grumbled. Uncomfortable with how much she liked his warm gaze, Alice activated her hand clock, then scowled at the symbols.

“It’s twenty-four before humista,” he said, eyeing her with his hands behind his back. “May I come in and wait for a guard to come by? They should be making their rounds in about a half hour.”

No! Say no! her mind screamed.

“Fine.” Idiot.

He gave her a small smile and waited for her to enter before following. “I’d like to ask you for a favor,” he said, tucking the ball under his arm.

Making her way to the food synthesizer, she remained silent. What would he ask for now?

Weariness pulled at her. What won’t I give him?

A thump behind her made her jump. She wheeled around and saw the red pass he’d been holding was now on her small dining table, his hand resting atop it. She’d forgotten how fast he could move.

“What?”

He wet his full bottom lip with his tongue, then ran a hand through his messy hair.

Alice subdued the sigh that bubbled up in her. God, she wanted to kiss that lip again. “What favor?” Her words lacked the venom she was so desperately trying to inject them with.

As it turned out, not being a pushover was hard work, and Alice was tired. Tired of fighting against her instincts. Her mother had always told her she couldn’t stand people who “buried the hatchet.” Alice was one of those people. She didn’t like dwelling on arguments or holding grudges.

On the one hand, this had resulted in people treating her badly, knowing she’d forgive and forget by the next day. On the other, she found she was able to get back to “happy” much more quickly than other people.

Dwelling on something that was done and gone didn’t make sense. Why couldn’t she just find someone who wouldn’t take advantage of that?

“Can you tell me what happened…in the cell?” His fists clenched at his sides. “I can’t remember much, and the little I do remember…well…I’m not sure I’m recalling everything accurately.”

Alice let out a slow breath. He wanted to do this now? Programming the synthesizer to produce a hot beverage similar to tea, she thought about what to say. Over her shoulder she asked, “Do you want a drink?”

He jerked, crossing to her in an instant. “I can get this for you. Please sit down.”

She tilted her head at him, trying to figure out his angle. Slowly she retreated to the table, too exhausted to scrutinize his actions for long. “What do you remember?”

He leaned back against the counter, clearing his throat. “I remember being chained and alone for a long time. Then, I remember you. Talking to me…touching me.”

Heat crept up her cheeks. “Sorry,” she muttered.

“Sorry?”

Glancing up at him and noticing he wore a confused expression, she explained, “It wasn’t right for me to touch you when you were in that state. I’m sorry. Helas threatened to electrocute you if I didn’t, so I hope you understand.” It was a lie. She knew it. Eventually, even without threats from Helas, she would’ve touched him.

He began walking toward her then stopped, rushing to the counter to fetch her drink. Setting it on the table, he sat catty-corner to her. “You should never apologize for that.”

She clutched her glass, raising her eyes to meet his.

A wolfish grin spread over his face. “Never.”

Heartbeat picking up speed, she hid her smile with her cup, taking a long sip. A weight had been lifted, knowing he didn’t despise her for what she’d done. “I thought you were mad about it.”

He laughed, displaying perfect white teeth. “You thought I’d be mad about a beautiful female, my mate no less, running her hands over me to keep me from being tortured?”

Charming. What a dangerous quality. She focused on her tea.

“I have a proposition for you concerning your work with animals.”

She eyed him. “If you tell me again that I can’t have a man teach me to read your language, then—”

“No. No,” he said, shaking his head. “As part of my research, I have access to a wildlife reserve open only to me and a few others in my field. If you’d like, I could take you there. You could see some of the animals for yourself.”

“I…” She was lost for words. On the surface, his suggestion seemed very thoughtful. What was the catch? “And in return?”

“I’d like to have dinner with you.”

“Dinner. That’s all?” she said with narrowed eyes.

He licked his lips again, his gaze flashing to her mouth for an instant. “I can’t promise I won’t attempt more, but dinner is all that’s required.”

She felt a pang of pleasure shoot to her sex at his admission. Would she be able to resist his attempts? His nostrils flared, and a low purr sounded in his chest. A predatory grin spread across his face. “Just dinner,” she said shakily.

This was too much. The effect he had on her was too visceral. She needed to bring up his stalking. Because it had to stop, but also because she needed a reminder of why she should be cautious around him. “Are you planning on being a peeping tom again?” At his confused expression, she amended, “Watching me. Are you planning on hiding in the woods and watching me again?”

Leaning back, he regarded her for a moment before finally answering. “I could say no. You wouldn’t know one way or another if I did. But I don’t want to lie to you. I can’t promise the mating bond won’t force me back.”

Alice scowled. Why hadn’t his answer dampened her attraction? “It’s obsessive. You don’t even know me.”

“My very DNA has been altered by you. I’m stronger now. Faster.” Like lightning, his hand shot out and gently gripped hers. Immediately, her heart rate sped up, and a purr rumbled through him. “Do you feel that? It’s physical. Biological. I may not know much about you, but my soul recognizes yours.” She tugged at her hand. After a moment’s hesitation, he released it. “When I’m not near you, I feel…wrong. I walk around all day, unable to concentrate. Like I’ve forgotten something but can’t recall what it is. It’s maddening.”

Warning! Warning! Keep your guard up! Hadn’t she always felt an oddly intense connection to him? Did what he say make sense, or was he just really good at forming an argument in favor of his bad behavior?

His eyes bore into hers as they silently stared at each other, her breaths coming quickly. “What if I end up hating you?” she whispered.

Leaning toward her until only a few inches separated them, he rumbled, “Do you hate me, Alice?”

A loud pounding on the door made her jump.

Luka let out a low growl, holding her gaze for a moment longer before rising and walking to the door.

While his back was turned, Alice took a few calming breaths. Well, that didn’t go my way.

In the open doorway stood Zed. He glanced between them. “Metli sent me to find you. Figured you’d be here.”

“Hello, Zed,” Alice said, walking to the door.

“Zed?” Luka said, clenching and unclenching his fists.

“Yes, I told Alice she may call me Zed.”

Alice watched as the two men seemed to have a silent argument. “Do you guys know each other?”

Luka’s eyes softened when he looked at her, making warmth spread through her. “Yes, he’s my brother.”

“Your brother?” That’s why Auzed looked so familiar to her. “I thought this planet had an infertility issue. How many siblings do you have?”

Both men relaxed, shoulders dropping. Luka answered, “Our mother wasn’t Clecanian. She didn’t have as much trouble reproducing.”

Zed stepped backward out of the doorway, indicating it was time for Luka to leave.

“I’ll have Au-zed,” he began, emphasizing Zed’s full name, “collect you and bring you to me in a few days so I can take you to the reserve.”

Around his brother, Alice noticed Luka’s demeanor was much more formal. It seemed he kept his emotion on a tighter leash around others.

Does he only show a soft side with me? She inwardly cringed at the juvenile thought.

She nodded her agreement. With one final longing glance at her, Luka left.

***

“You couldn’t have waited a little longer to get me?” Luka grunted once they were out of earshot of Alice’s home.

They’d been making great progress. She may not like him very much, but she was at least willing to give him a chance to redeem himself during dinner. How much of her decision to see him again was based on his bribe to take her to the research reserve? He didn’t know, and he didn’t care. Winning her over would take time, and he’d use any tools at his disposal to acquire that time with her.

When he’d had the idea to let her visit the reserve, he’d been both overjoyed and frustrated he hadn’t thought of it sooner. A visit would make her happy and help her career. He wanted to punch the air in triumph, knowing he had something to offer that almost no other male could.

On top of the fact that it’d be of interest to her, the Huil Research Reserve was also quite romantic. He could get her away from prying eyes, and knowing that no one else would be able to access the reserve while he was there, he’d be able to relax.

“You should’ve never let the time on your pass run out. Metli was furious,” Zed replied without looking at him.

Finding that he was having trouble hanging onto his anger, he shrugged. “Still, you interrupted at precisely the wrong time.”

Reaching the long stretch of water between the main building and the exit, Zed escorted him across. “She’s agreed to see you?”

A wide grin spread over his face again. “Yes, I’ll send you the details on timing later. You can escort her, correct? I don’t trust anyone else to do it.”

“You know I will.” Zed leaned in, his expression serious. “You know, Metli asked me to retrieve you yesterday afternoon.” A small smile pulled at the corner of his mouth, and he winked before retreating back across the lake.

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