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Freeing Luka: Chapter 20

Six well-armed men with stony expressions stood before them, staring hard at her and Luka, and, for the first time, she was appreciative of Luka’s overprotective personality.

Not able to drive the cruiser directly to the Queen, they’d stopped at the border of her property and now waited to be allowed in on foot. Luka stepped in front of Alice, partially blocking the guards’ unwavering stares.

She smiled into the dark-green fabric of his shirt and, knowing he enjoyed her touch, laid her hands against his lower back to show her gratitude. A low purr rippled through him before he quickly coughed, pushing the purr away. Grinning, she assumed he didn’t want to show a weak side of himself in front of the lethal males.

After their day in the woods yesterday, Alice had realized something. Luka may be able to turn her on whenever he wanted, using the scent of her arousal as confirmation, but she had a superpower of her own. She was confident she could make that delicious purr run through him whenever she wanted, just by touching him in the right way. It felt good. Like she had a small measure of control over his reactions as well.

Feeling more playful with Luka by the minute, she experimentally ran her hands up from his tapered waist to the large muscles of his upper back. His body stiffened, goosebumps breaking out over his exposed biceps. Hands shooting behind his back to snatch her wrists and hold them together accompanied a quickly stifled purr.

Eyes still trained on the men in front of them, he growled, “Alice” in a warning tone over his shoulder.

Stifling the impulse to rest her head against his back, knowing she’d receive another unwelcome purr, she giggled silently.

Instead, she studied the towering metal structure in front of them, wondering how long they’d need to stand here. The surface was solid and looked more like a wall than a gate, as she’d been informed. Without the guards standing in front of it, she may not have identified it as a potential entrance at all. No breaks in the smooth charcoal gray could be seen.

A slow rumble from beneath her feet had her leaning into Luka, her restrained hands blocking her from pressing herself to him fully. He squeezed on her wrists gently and then guided her to stand in front of him.

The vibration in the ground grew, making small pebbles and bits of dirt hop. Before her eyes, a slice of the tall, impenetrable wall slowly began sinking into the ground, leaving a small rectangular opening at the base, just wide enough for one person to walk through.

With an encouraging push from Luka, she dashed through the opening, not wanting to be guillotined in reverse. Turning, she saw Luka stroll through, a barely contained smirk on his face.

She waved a hand at him dismissively and began to walk down the clear dirt path leading away from the gate.

Catching up with her easily, Luka ran a knuckle down her spine, making her shiver. “I’m going to get you back for that, you know.”

“Hmm, I can only imagine how annoying it must be to not be in control of your body’s responses,” she needled.

“I love not being in control, but only with you and not in front of others.” The playful gleam in his eyes became soft and sincere.

Alice swallowed a sigh, feeling a flush creep over her cheeks. She returned her focus in front of her and simply replied, “Mmm.”

The path leading to the Queen’s home was tidy but rustic. Alice supposed they wouldn’t pave roads normally since their vehicles float, but it was still odd to be traveling toward a literal queen using a dirt path.

The surroundings were different than she expected, as well. Although not as dense as the forests of the reserve, the trees here were still numerous and wild. Ages ago, she’d gone to France on a school trip, and she recalled the land near the castles and chateaus being highly manicured.

Trying to imagine what an alien queen’s home might look like, she began to get excited. Would the Queen’s palace rise out of the forest like a castle in a fairytale book? Would it have turrets and spires?

As they rounded a corner and the pathway dead-ended near a small cottage, Alice’s steps faltered. Was this housing for staff?

Rather than angling his steps away from the small structure, Luka walked further toward it. The cottage was small and tan; two large windows and a door dotted the front. A curved roof made of shimmering green tile topped the building. Just in front of the small house was a smaller pathway, lined on either side by large beds of wildflowers.

From the green front door emerged Verakko. Not bothering to walk over and greet them, he waved them forward, disappearing again into the small house.

“Is this where she lives?” Alice whispered.

Luka glanced toward the charming cottage and then back toward her. “Yes. Why?”

She shrugged. “It just doesn’t look like a place a queen would live. Little Red Riding Hood or a hobbit maybe, but not a Queen.”

“What’s a hobbit?” Luka inquired seriously, pulling a laugh from her.

“Nothing. Nothing. Let’s go.”

Following him inside, she saw that the interior was as small as the exterior, though no less charming.

“Over here,” Verakko called from their left.

Through an archway, she could see Verakko and the Queen sat at a small wooden table. Alice and Luka settled themselves at the table, as well.

“Hello, ma’am,” Alice said, stumbling over “ma’am,” not sure if it was appropriate.

The Queen gave a quick nod in acknowledgment.

Luka bowed, only taking his eyes off Verakko for a second to peer into the Queen’s face as he said, “Madam.”

“Hello, Alice. Luka. Thank you for joining us. I don’t want to waste your time, so I’ll dive right in. After spending some more time at the facility, Verakko has made a few discoveries.” Nodding toward him, she continued, “I’ll let him explain.”

He smiled. “Nice to see you again, Alice.” Toward Luka, he frowned. “And you.”

Luka grunted in response.

“As you know, both outposts were rigged with some kind of failsafe. I continued searching the facilities, looking for any clues but they were both dead-ends,” Verakko began.

Alice’s heart sank. What would happen to all the people still being held in those places?

“We do have another lead, however,” the Queen added. “We’ve been trying to get information out of Helas, but he’s proved to be very loyal to the Insurgent cause. We suspect he was a higher-up within the ranks of the organization.”

At the mention of Helas’ name, she saw Luka stiffen. For the most part, Alice had put the awful days at the outpost behind her, but despite Luka’s argument to the contrary, she wasn’t sure he had.

She found his tightly balled fist under the table, and ran her fingertips over his skin until he loosened enough for her to place her hand in his. Body still radiating tension, she was relieved to see his clenched jaw loosen a fraction.

The Queen continued, “Sal, on the other hand, has decided to provide assistance.”

“Why? And how does this concern Alice?” Luka rasped.

How does it concern me? Alice had become used to the Queen asking for her assistance in regard to humans and what could be done for the human women, but Luka was right, this felt different. This wasn’t a large meeting at the Temple to discuss strategy, this was an intimate meeting at the Queen’s house. A creeping sensation worked its way up her spine as she took in the briefest flash of concern on Verakko’s face.

Verakko held Alice’s stare. “Sal has revealed Helas has a secret work area in the woods near the outpost. He said he knows how to find it, and that it contains an operating system of its own that the other members are unaware of. Apparently, Helas was rather paranoid and decided he wanted to be able to oversee the other outposts without anyone else knowing.”

“That’s great!” But why were they telling her?

Verakko dipped his head from side to side, a grimace in place. “It’s almost great. The system is protected by a three-factor identification. In order to log into his feed, we need Helas’ security token, fingerprint, and facial recognition scan.

“And I’m assuming these body parts need to be attached to him at the time?” Luka muttered darkly.

“Yup.” Verakko glanced back toward Alice. “We can transport Helas to the house and force him to sit in place, but we can’t force him to tell us where the token is. That’s why we need you.”

“Me?” Alice squeaked, eyes widening. “I don’t know where it is.”

Luka had gone perfectly still, his face unreadable.

“No, but Sal does, and he says he’ll go with us and show us where it is, if you visit him first. He claims he wants to make amends.” Verakko leaned toward her, and his eyes seemed to glow more brightly. “If we can get access to their video feeds, their locks, and their speaker system, I can lock in all the guards, unlock all the cells, and explain to the prisoners what is happening and how they can escape.”

Helas’ henchman? The last she remembered of Sal was when she and Vanessa had dropped the large man on the ground before escaping. In order to free the women being held in cages throughout the world, all Alice had to do was listen to some asshole’s apology?

Weighing the pros and cons, she reasoned it might be a good opportunity for her to find closure. She still had so many questions about her missing time. If she and Jade had been transported on the same ship, why couldn’t she remember months of her life? On the other hand, this could be a ruse.

“You’d need to accompany us to the prison and stay until we have everything we needed from Sal, and then you never have to see him again.” As Verakko pushed, Alice noticed his voice became deep and resonant as though it changed with emotion, and some of his words were punctuated with a slight hiss.

Crap. She knew what she needed to do, and nobody at this table would be happy about it, including her. Her eyes strayed to Luka, and she grimaced. His muscles were bunched, and his eyes were glued ahead of him, but his hand was gentle around hers. If what he’d told her about the difficulty he felt being away from her was true, then he wouldn’t like her idea one bit.

“I won’t go to the prison to see Sal.” She felt Luka’s frame relax for a moment before she added, “I want to go with Sal, Helas, and whoever else to the cabin.”

“Absolutely not.” Luka’s head snapped toward her, and she held his furious glare for long moments. “Alice, I’ll not have you around those vile…disgusting….” His wild gaze wandered.

Verakko crossed his arms over his chest, his teal skin darkening slightly. “I agree. It’s too dangerous.”

The Queen stayed silent, but her intelligent eyes were focused on Alice.

“The women in there need to trust whoever is talking to them. I’m sorry, Verakko, but you just sound too…alien. Everyone here does. It’s the way you speak and the words you use—they’ll know you’re not human. And what happens when you try and talk to the humans who don’t have a translator? Do they just get left behind? We can’t assume they all have one.” She could feel Luka’s erratic pulse through the firm grip of his hand. She turned to him. “Luka, we’re our own people, right? We have our own goals and ambitions?” she probed, repeating his words from days ago.

He threw his head back angrily, and his knee began bouncing. His breaths were coming quickly while his eyes darted across the room, likely looking for an argument.

Alice, Verakko, and the Queen all sat in silence, waiting for Luka’s response. Alice would go regardless. She didn’t need his permission, and if he truly thought to fight her on this, he’d lose. But she wanted to see what he’d do. For the last few days, Alice had been holding back from Luka. She could sense she was falling for him, hard, but she couldn’t let herself fully trust him yet.

Being abducted by aliens had taught her a few things about herself. Despite her insecurities, she was passionate and resilient and brave. She needed a man who pushed her and allowed her to continue to flourish, not one who decided what was best for her without her having a say.

She didn’t mind if he got mad about her decisions. They could scream and fight like cats and dogs, but at the end of the day, she needed to know he wouldn’t try to keep her from doing what she wanted.

When he faced her, his eyes and brow were crinkled with worry. “I need to go with you.”

Alice felt warmth spread through her, shooting all the way to her fingertips. They could do this. She could make things work with Luka. “Of course you can come.” She turned back to the Queen and Verakko. “Sal owes a bigger apology to Luka than to me, anyway.”

“Wonderful,” said the Queen, her strained smile not reaching her eyes. “I’ll need a few days to arrange for the two men to be quietly transported to the cabin. If the other Insurgents don’t know of this secondary system, I don’t want to alert them.”

Verakko picked up a black communicator from the table and held it out to Alice. “We’ll contact you on this.” He gave Luka a once-over before adding, “Show her how to use it.”

They all rose and began exchanging farewells when the Queen addressed Luka. “You received my message about your marks?”

Luka’s lips thinned, and he nodded.

“It wasn’t a request, Luka, it was a command.”

“Understood, madam.”

Verakko stayed behind, explaining he needed to assist the Queen in working out logistics. Luka guided her to the door without another word. What message about his marks?

Once they were on their way to the gate, she asked, “What did the Queen say about your marks?”

Letting out an annoyed huff, he grumbled, “She reminded me that I need to paint my hands whenever we leave our homes. She wants to keep the marks hidden as long as possible.” Flexing a hand in front of him, he frowned. “I’d intended to paint them before I left home today, but…it felt wrong not to be able to look at them.”

Her heart pitter-pattered. Like a wedding ring he doesn’t want to take off.

Alice kept his hand clasped in hers, grinning as they walked back to the gate. The proverbial gears were turning in Luka’s head. Brow furrowed and face taut, he looked like he was trying to think through the universe’s most complex issues. Alice’s worry about the outing to come was buried beneath an overwhelming feeling of joy and affection.

This wasn’t right; she couldn’t be in this good a mood while Luka looked so stressed. She stopped walking. It took Luka a moment to realize, only turning to peer at her when their connected hands prevented him from walking forward.

“Are you okay?” she asked, standing in front of him.

“I’m…” he took a deep breath, searching her face, “concerned.”

Rising to her toes, she reached up and snaked her arms around his neck. “I appreciate your support, anyway.” A look of surprise lit his features, and his hands flew to grip her hips before he jerked them back.

Aww, he’s still keeping his word. Her chest felt too full at the moment. Finally, she could relax and let the wall she’d been keeping between them crumble. She beamed at him, pulling his face down to hers. Against his lips, she breathed, “No more red zones.”

It took him a heartbeat to catch up, but when he did, he threw his arms around her back, crushing his mouth to hers. She felt her feet leave the ground as he lifted her, a strong purr bursting from his chest to tickle her nipples through the thin material of her shirt.

The familiar heat of arousal pooled in her core, and she broke away. “Let’s get out of here,” she said in an unfamiliar, throaty voice.

A seductive grin spread over his face, and he gave her another slow, hot kiss before setting her on her feet. Mind gone hazy, she wobbled.

Oh, I am sooo ready for this.


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