Freeing Luka: Chapter 19


Luka had tossed and turned all night and was in an odd mood. His mind and body were fatigued, his aggression high, yet he was also excited and nervous about seeing Alice for dinner.

To top it all off, unwelcomed, simmering arousal coursed through him. When he’d returned home the night before, Alice’s scent had still lingered, driving him mad. He’d stared at the area where she’d lain naked by the fire and recalled the way her body had shuddered when she’d come.

He’d paced, unable to relax. She should’ve been there with him, not alone in her home. Unable to sleep, he’d decided to distract himself by working through his best course of action. He needed to have a clear plan to make sure Alice eventually decided to stay with him. He’d contacted Theo to get some insight, but it had only led to more frustration.

Humans are impossible! With any other female, he could give gifts to show his sincerity or he could display his skills to prove he’d make a fit husband and father, but when it came to Alice, none of that mattered. Theo had explained that after many conversations with Jade, he believed a human’s capacity for love and loyalty were unparalleled, but it had to be won—earned, even. They listened to their hearts rather than cold logic. There was nothing he could do or give to ensure her affections, and the lack of certainty was terrifying.

He clutched the bag of food he’d prepared a little tighter when Izzo began jogging toward him, wide grin in place.

“Hello, brother,” he said cheerfully as he neared.

Luka only grunted in answer and snatched the pass out of Izzo’s hands. He walked ahead, anxious to get to Alice and experience the soothing relief he felt whenever he saw her.

“I heard all about your date,” Izzo said from behind him.

Luka tried to ignore his brother, but he couldn’t quell his curiosity. “And?” he growled.

“You did well. She was very happy.”

His spirits soared for a moment before darkening again. “How do you know? Did you visit her?”

Luka pictured Alice kindly inviting Izzo into her home, unaware of what that meant to Clecanian males. He’d need to explain the significance to her.

“She wanted my help in surprising you with something. She’s been working at it all day, so make sure you put on a damn happy face, because right now you’re acting like a sour baeder, and she doesn’t deserve that.”

Luka’s steps faltered and he spun toward his brother, head tilted. Izzo was young and had always been the most lighthearted of the group. He never let his Traxian side dictate his mood, and he always worked to lighten the spirits of his dour brothers, but now his substantial frame and light-blue eyes were radiating authority and aggression.

Pride swelled in Luka for a moment. Izzo was becoming a formidable male. Strong, proud, and honorable. It lessened some of Luka’s anxiety to know not only Zed but Izzo was watching out for his mate’s best interests, even if that meant standing up to Luka himself if needed.

“I’ll be better when I see her. It’s difficult being away.”

Izzo crossed his arms and huffed, glancing across the water near Alice’s home. “Tell me about it.”

Alice had been right yesterday in the forest. He needed to start seeing his family for what they were, blessings. Most Clecanians nowadays had few, if any siblings. He shouldn’t take their affection for granted.

“How are things with…” Luka tried to recall the name of the small girl with curly brown hair Izzo was infatuated with.

“Daisy,” Izzo provided. He hiked his shoulders, and the corner of his mouth turned down. “I haven’t technically recognized her, and I don’t know why. From the first moment I saw her, I could’ve sworn she was meant to be mine.”

Luka gripped his shoulder. “I’ve spent a lot of time researching mating the past few days, and I’ve read many accounts of matings. What I’ve come to find is it’s not nearly as consistent as most people think. I’ve read about mating marks appearing as soon as an individual scents their mate, before ever even seeing them. Others appear after years of friendship. Asivva believes it took Theo so long because he’d subconsciously built a mental barrier to it. It varies from race to race and individual to individual. Don’t lose hope. If your instincts are telling you she’s yours, they’re likely right.”

Izzo slowly nodded in agreement, pushing his shoulders back. “Thank you. I needed that.” He smirked at Luka. “Look at you, giving pep talks and going out in public. Alice is rubbing off on you.”

Heart picking up speed at the mention of her name, Luka resumed his trek toward her house and grinned. “I sure hope so.”

When he finally reached her door, Izzo departed, telling him his pass would expire in four hours. If he needed more time, Alice had to alert a guard and request it.

He softly knocked and straightened, his skin itching with excitement.

She opened the door, and his stomach did a somersault. Her hair was loose and a bit wild, and her skin was flushed pink. A beige smock was tied around her waist. She beamed at him, and he had to control his impulse to wrap her in his arms.

A low purr punctuated with a growl escaped him when she stood on her toes and quickly kissed him on the cheek.

Her smile dimmed as she scanned his face. “Are you alright? You look tired. Did you sleep okay?”

“Yes, love. May I enter?” Luka loved the way her pupils dilated and her body seemed to vibrate with pleasure every time he used the pet name.

Distracted from her worry as he’d intended, she blushed and stepped aside to let him in.

Once inside, she grasped his hand and tugged him toward the kitchen, unaware of the effect the small contact had on him.

“I wanted to repay you for dinner last night, so I tried to make you dinner myself. Izzo helped me pick foods you liked and showed me how to cook them on that weird stove-counter thing. I have to go freshen up. Go sit down, I’ll be right back.” She waved her hand at the table, then scurried away into the bathing room.

He glanced toward the dining table and his jaw slackened.

Glass orbs had been programmed to hang over the table in a long delicate pattern, and the lights in the rest of the house were turned down, creating an intimate, warm glow. The softly lit table was covered with a large cloth and decorated with the plants he’d given her. On either end sat their covered plates and a soft napkin folded into an intricate pattern. He glanced to the kitchen and saw piles of used dishes and bits of chopped food. She must’ve been working on this for quite a while.

She’d done all this for him? The door opened again, and she emerged from the bathing room. He felt himself growing hard as he took in her stunning appearance. Instead of the smock, she wore a vermillion dress that was tight around her chest, accentuating her breasts, and flared delicately around her waist, ending mid-thigh. Stuck in the hair by her ear were a few small flowers plucked from the ruhi bush he’d sent to her today.

His eyes couldn’t take in enough of her, and after a prolonged silence, she began shifting on her feet. When she raised her small nails to her mouth, a gesture he’d began attributing with stress, he was startled out of his hypnosis.

Dropping the food on the ground, he crossed over to her and ran his palms down her arms. “You look…beautiful.” The compliment was not enough, not by a long shot, but she preened all the same.

“I hope you like the food.” She dashed to the kitchen and bent to retrieve something from a refrigerated compartment. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you and you brought food too, but I was worried I might mess it all up and if we didn’t have a backup, we’d go hungry.”

She removed two glasses filled with amber liquid. Setting one by the plate on one side of the table, she moved to take a seat at the other.

He stayed in place, gazing at the scene before him, and tried to temper all the different emotions roaring in him. Nobody had ever done anything like this for him, and he was completely puzzled as to what he’d done to earn it.

“You don’t like it?” A look of concern crossed her face, and her gaze darted around the table.

“I’m not used to it,” he said, walking to the plate she’d set out for him. He peered over at her. “I can’t express how much I appreciate it.”

Alice shifted in her seat and nibbled her lip. “It’s not that big a deal. The food probably isn’t even that good.”

Luka snorted. He’d have happily eaten tar if she’d gone to the trouble of putting it on a plate. “There’s only one problem.”

She scanned the table again, seeking the offending “problem,” and frowned. “What is it?”

“You’ve put me much too far away.” He hefted his chair and placed it catty-corner to hers, moving his plate and drink next. He sank into his chair and grinned at her. “How am I supposed to admire all the parts of you I can’t touch from over there?”

She blushed. “Sorry. Old habits die hard.”

He quirked his brow and thought about the interesting saying.

“I made you a cocktail,” she said, eyeing the glass. “I hope you like it. It was really difficult to find the right flavors in liquid form, but based on what your brother said you enjoy, I thought you might like this. It’s my closest approximation to what we call an old-fashioned.”

He took an experimental sip and savored the velvety concoction as it slid down his throat.

Alice leaned toward him, brows raised.

“That’s incredible,” Luka said honestly.

She leaned back, smiling, and her shoulders relaxed. “Good. I thought I’d start with a classic before trying to make something more complicated. You have no idea how many different fruits I tried before finally finding a vegetable that worked in place of orange.”

A magenta light pulsed in time with a low ding on the house’s programming pad.

“I’ve never seen it do that before.” Alice turned an inquisitive eye toward him. “What does it mean?”

For a moment, Luka had the devious urge not to tell her that some impertinent person was interrupting their dinner, but it might be an emergency. Covering her hand with his, he explained, “My communicator connects to your house when I walk in. That color means I’m getting a call.”

“Oh,” she said. “You should answer, then.”

“Let me just tell them now isn’t a good time.” He snatched the sleek gray communication device from the bag he’d dropped near the kitchen. His brows knit together upon seeing the caller. Verakko?

“Hello.”

“Are you with Alice?” Verakko asked without greeting.

Luka’s hackles rose. The male who’d been making his mate laugh a few days ago was now inquiring after her. “Why?” he bit out.

“We have news and need to see her immediately. Can you bring her to the Queen’s estate now?”

“If she goes, I go.” Jealousy flared in Luka at the male’s question. Logically he knew Verakko wouldn’t have called and requested this meeting unless it was urgent, but a less understanding side of him rebelled against delivering his mate into the hands of another.

The sound of an annoyed exhalation rang out before he said, “Fine, but only if she agrees. Put her on.”

He held the communicator out to Alice.

Slowly she took it, one brow raised at his stiff posture and clenched jaw. “Hello?” she said softly.

Even with his superior hearing, he couldn’t quite make out what the male was saying.

Whatever Verakko’s response was caused Alice to break out into a grin and, subsequently, caused Luka to grimace. “Oh, hi, Verakko! How are you?”

He clenched his fists when she chuckled lightly at something the male said.

“Uh-huh.” She glanced at him, taking in his stiff posture, and listened. “Right now? Can it wait?”

Alice leaned toward him and ran a soft palm up and down his tense forearm. A rapid purr rang through him at a higher pitch than normal, indicating his internal mix of satisfaction and agitation.

“Yeah, I’m okay with him coming too,” she said, smiling at Luka.

His shoulders dropped an inch. At least she’d allow him to go with her.

“Okay, sure. See you soon.” She handed the communicator back to Luka, tsking when he issued a curt goodbye and hung up.

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