Freeing Luka: Chapter 18


Luka’s chest felt permanently expanded. She’s allowing me to hold her! Leaning into his hold, even.

Earlier when she’d told him her rules, he’d been bewildered. His plan was to entice her to be with him through the pleasure he could give her. That plan wouldn’t work if she didn’t allow him to touch her.

She’d said she wanted to base her decision off his personality. Luka wasn’t known for his personality. He liked to be by himself. Working alone in his home was second only to being out in the reserve. He knew how to charm a female with compliments and how to please her, but few females cared to get to know a male as a companion. It would make it harder for them to move on and procreate with others, so he’d never held the fact against them.

The idea that Alice might not like who he was at his core frightened him more than he could say. But, if that was what his mate needed, that was what he’d provide. He’d decided, after his disastrous attempt to court her favor by pleasuring her, to try and be himself. He’d shown her the animals he loved and had talked endlessly about the reserve. Never once had she acted uninterested or bored. He’d even teased her with dead insects.

Making her come had brought him pure masculine satisfaction, but knowing that she liked who he was made him feel…so much more.

They sat there together, watching the swaying manta in silence. Emotion swelled in his throat when he felt her breaths grow slow and even. She trusted him enough to fall asleep wrapped in his arms. If it were up to him, he’d gladly stay just like this, holding her until the sun came up, but the cold creeping over her bare legs forced his hand.

For a moment, Luka sat frozen, not knowing what to do. He wanted her to trust him, and she’d made him agree not to touch her anywhere except the areas she’d mentioned, but waking her rather than lifting her and carrying her back to the cruiser seemed wrong.

A loud baeder croak sounded, causing her to bolt awake. He watched her take in her surroundings, wondering if she’d be upset that he’d held her for so long.

She peered back at him. “Did I fall asleep?”

“You did, love.”

His tension faded when she blushed and quietly said, “Oh, sorry. I guess that walk wore me out.”

“Let me take you home.” Luka shot a glance to his pack, picturing the feast he’d prepared for them.

“What about dinner?” She attempted to stifle a yawn.

He helped her to her feet, loving the feel of her hand in his but hating that the touches were so brief. “I’ll come by tomorrow instead. Is that alright?”

After she gave a small smile and nod, he began directing them back toward the cruiser. To his surprise, she reached for him, entwining her fingers with his. It took every ounce of willpower he possessed not to shout with joy and kiss her until her toes curled.

As they approached the vehicle and she released him to climb inside, he worried the return to the real world after basking in the romantic haze of the reserve would cause her to pull away again. To his delight, she didn’t complain or argue when he lifted her hand into his lap once more.

Earlier in the day, on the way to the reserve, he’d stroked her hand, learning the type of touch that aroused her. Now, he simply relaxed, contented from feeling her small soft palm in his.

“Thank you for bringing me here today. I see why you love it so much,” she said, pulling him from his musings. “I’m sorry I’m so tired. I was nervous and didn’t sleep very well last night. Out of curiosity, what did you have planned for dinner, anyway?”

She’d been nervous? “I made us a picnic.” He nudged the black bag on the ground with his foot.

When Jade had first given him the idea, he’d thought it ridiculous. Tremantian females wouldn’t enjoy eating on the ground in the woods. But after some time, he’d realized this wasn’t any female, this was his mate. It made sense that if he enjoyed the reserve she would too.

Still, a lifetime of experience had him holding his breath, waiting for the derision to show on her face at the idea. His breath had caught in much the same way earlier when he’d decided to share a personal fact about his relationship with his father. She’d surprised and delighted him with her tender response then, and he hoped the same happened now.

Alice stared at the large bag with wide eyes.

Dread knotted in his stomach. He’d been wrong. He only hoped the mistake didn’t set them back too far.

“You packed me a picnic?” She looked at him with an odd expression.

“Yes. I’m sorry. I thought you might enjoy eating outside and I believed the manta would do a good job of keeping the insects away from us, but I see now—”

“Whoa, wait,” Alice interrupted. Surprise lit her face, and he was gifted with a glorious unguarded smile that stole his breath. “Don’t apologize. I love it! I’m so upset you didn’t tell me about it earlier. I would’ve rallied if I’d known you’d gone to so much trouble. I thought we were just going to get takeout from a restaurant or something.”

Her intoxicating scent washed over him. The happiness radiating from her made him feel drunk from pleasure and had his cock stiffening.

“I didn’t know you could cook.”

It took him a moment to find his voice again. “Yes. I’m not the best. I only received a score of seven in my cooking exam, but I have a few meals I make well.”

Turning toward him and tucking her leg under her, she asked, “Cooking exam? Did you go to culinary school or something?”

Attempting not to eye the seductive jiggle of her breasts as she repositioned herself, he replied, “No, husbandry school.”

Her eyes rose to the ceiling, and she squinted in concentration. “Oh, yeah. Metli told us a little about that. I didn’t realize you had to learn cooking. What else did you learn?”

How will she feel about my schooling? Jade had recounted her introduction to the concept, explaining she hadn’t taken to some of their studies favorably.

“We learn about different things a wife might need or desire from her husband. Cooking, childcare, anatomy, sexual proficiency—” Luka tried to speed through the last, hoping she wouldn’t question it, but she interrupted all the same.

“Excuse me? Sexual proficiency?”

He attempted to recall Jade’s issue with the practice before speaking, hoping to assuage some of Alice’s dislike. “Yes. It’s an optional class that teaches males close to graduation how to properly please their partners.”

He held his breath, waiting to see if she’d be understanding or disgusted. Jade’s response to the class had surprised him, and he’d tried to imagine how a male’s schooling might look to an outsider.

While in school, he’d never thought of the practice as disagreeable—quite the opposite. All of the males he knew, including himself, had been a bundle of nerves and embarrassment entering the class, and by the time they’d left, they’d had confidence.

They taught young males how to seduce a female and what to look for in her responses to know whether she was enjoying herself. The males had also learned the importance of consent and how to harness your sexual energy and control it when no willing females were available.

She blinked at him a moment, her beautiful blue eyes searching his face. Unexpectedly, she reached out, cupping his cheek in one hand while gripping his fingers with the other. “And you were okay with that?”

He let out the breath he’d been holding in a whoosh, a purr exploding in him. She’s concerned for me. Warmth spread through his chest at the thought that his mate was worried about him.

“Yes, love. I was more than okay. Without those classes, I wouldn’t be able to arouse my mate with just a touch to the wrist and hand,” he murmured, recalling her intense reaction to his ministrations in the cruiser ride earlier.

A pretty pink blush spread over her cheeks, but she didn’t deny it. With a smirk, she muttered, “Cocky male.”

“Is it cocky if it’s true?” he teased.

Suddenly her eyes grew unfocused and her brows knit. She searched his face. “Have…” She nibbled her thumb nail briefly before continuing. “Have you ever been married?”

Could that be jealousy etched on her face? Luka had to subdue the satisfied grin that threatened to spread over his face. “No, love. I’ve been picked a few times, but never ultimately chosen. I made sure not to be.” He snatched her hand away from her mouth and kissed the tip of her thumb. “Would you be upset if I had?”

She pursed her lips and looked away from him. Her voice was falsely casual when she said, “No.”

“Liar.” He said, allowing his purr to rumble through his and show her his true feelings.

She narrowed her eyes at him, but he saw the corner of her mouth lift in a smile. “Can I see what you made? We could eat together now if you’re hungry.”

He allowed the subject to shift, but continued to bask in the idea that his mate was covetous of him. “That’d be wonderful.” Was this how it would be with her? Easy and happy and intimate in a way he’d never experienced.

Rifling through his bag, he extracted the food and drink he’d carefully packed this afternoon and set it on the table. He programmed the warming lids to heat their food and then handed Alice a glass of tury. “Jade told me she calls this prosecco 2.0 and you would understand what that meant.”

Alice licked her lips, drawing his eyes to her mouth yet again. You’ve gone your whole life without kissing. You can wait a little longer.

She took a small sip, and her features lit up. “Mmm. That’s really good. I was worried it was going to be too sweet, but it has a tartness I like.” Crossing her legs, she took another sip and relaxed against the soft cruiser wall. “When do you have to go back to work?”

He shrugged. Thinking about work would be all but impossible right now. There used to be a rule that allowed for extended absences from work if you became mated, but he wasn’t allowed to reveal his marks. “I’m not sure.”

“If it’s not too distracting, I’d like to go with you to the reserve again. Watch you while you work.”

Luka couldn’t contain his wide grin. “You’re making my life quite difficult, you know.”

Her hopeful expression faded. “Oh?”

With any other female, he’d be treading dangerous waters with his teasing, but he sensed Alice enjoyed seeing that side of him. “If you aren’t there, I won’t be able to get any work done because I’ll be thinking about you, and if you are there, I won’t be able to get any work done because I’ll be thinking about you and looking at you.”

Alice blushed. “Thank you.”

Luka uncovered the food, making sure to hand her the plate containing the ingredients her taste preference scan had revealed she’d like.

“This is wonderful. Thank you,” she said in between small bites of food. “Will you tell me more about your family?”

Luka described his brothers and sisters for the rest of the ride to the Temple. He didn’t know if there was anyone else he enjoyed talking to quite as much as Alice. She was funny and sincere and talked about everyone she knew with a genuine, open kindness he’d never experienced before.

A dark part of his being twisted when she talked about the males she’d met so far. At her mention of Rhaego and how he’d be returning to teach more of the Tremantian language, Luka had to focus on not shattering the thick glass in his hand. This wasn’t good.

His mind started to spin. They were headed back to the Temple now, where unmated males patrolled freely. A savage part of him screamed for him to redirect the car back to his home with so much force that his hand actually shot out before he quickly pulled it back.

It was unnatural to even think about leaving her alone. I could watch her again, his mind hissed. She’s my mate; I need to make sure she’s protected.

The cruiser stopped, and the door hissed as it slid open. Luka worked to pull himself together, but he feared the slightest movement on her part to leave him would make him drag her back into the cab.

Alice set her plate down and looked at him expectantly. “Luka, are you alright?”

He set his plate down as well and ground his teeth.

She rested a hand on his knee and caught his hard stare. “You can tell me. What’s wrong?”

Could he tell her? He swallowed. “I’m struggling with this, Alice. It feels wrong to let you leave.” A guard walking in the distance caught his eye, and his hands fisted.

Her brows drew together, but Luka was relieved to see sympathy in her eyes rather than anger. “I’m sorry this is hard for you. You need to let me go, though. How will we be together if we can’t ever be apart? It’s not healthy.”

He sliced his hands through his hair and tried to calm himself. She was right. If she was going to work as a veterinarian and he was going to continue his research, he needed to be able to be apart from her. He suspected his Traxian half was exacerbating the effects of the mating instinct, and he had to find a way to control it.

He nodded and lifted his head, forcing a smile. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She got up and knelt in front of him, taking his hands in hers. “I can see how hard this is for you, and I appreciate the effort.” With a shy smile, she added, “On Earth, it’s customary for a couple to kiss after a date. I could lift the ban on face touching for a moment if that would help.”

Like lightning, his hand shot out and gripped the back of her neck. He slanted his mouth over hers and kissed her until they were both gasping for breath. Alice’s blue eyes were heavy-lidded and focused on him when he pulled away, and some of his stress melted. He leaned forward and kissed her more slowly, languorously, taking his time to learn what made her breath hitch and fingers clench. When he moved away again, he was pleased to see the disappointment in her eyes. He might not be able to have her now, but he felt certain she wouldn’t want anyone else.

 

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