Freeing Luka: Chapter 22


Alice woke the next morning feeling sore in all the right places. Luka had taken her in different positions all through the night. Sometimes he’d initiate, but more often, she had. Each time it’d taken a little convincing to prove she was good to go. Apparently Clecanian women could only have full penetrative sex once per day.

Sucks for them, she thought as she stretched like a cat.

Noise from the other room told her where Luka was. Need to find something to wear, she thought, glancing at her torn underwear. She snooped around his room, a spark of joy lighting inside her whenever she spotted a personal item within the bare space. Finding a soft black shirt in his closet that had retained his forest scent, she donned it. Then she used the small restroom connected to his bedroom and ventured out to find her man.

She spotted him looking at a stack of papers on a newly revealed dining table. He wore soft, loose-fitting pants and no shirt. She sighed. Would she ever get tired of admiring his body?

When he spotted her, he grinned, and she felt the skin on her chest flush. Hurtling over the table and landing gracefully in front of her, he wrapped her in a hug. Large palms roamed over her back then curved around her ass before he angled her chin up and gave her a long kiss.

Swaying in his arms, she pointed to the table. “What’s all this about?”

“Ah!” he said brightly and crossed to his kitchen. “I made us breakfast and realized there was no place to sit and eat.”

Luka carried a few plates of food over to the table, then glanced up at her expectantly, his dark hair mussed. Alice didn’t think she could remove the smile from her face if she wanted to.

She joined him and studied the food. Some of the items on her plate were familiar. Foods she’d discovered from fiddling with the food synthesizer in her house. Others were new but smelled delicious. A red, flaky bread caught her eye, and she decided to start there.

Luka proceeded to scarf down his food as though it were going to be stolen. Alice noted that while her plate was full, his was mountainous.

“Hungry?” she teased.

He finished chewing his mouthful, then wheezed, “You worked me hard last night, and we didn’t eat dinner.”

Taking a small bite of food, she grinned. Hell yeah, I did.

“I need to make sure I can keep up with you today.”

Donning an innocent expression, she said, “I can always lay off if you’re not up to the challenge.” Taking another small bite of food to hide her smirk, she added, “I wouldn’t want you overexerting yourself.”

After chewing threw another massive mouthful, he pointed his fork at her. “You’d better watch your words, female.”

They sat in easy silence while they ate, exchanging happy glances every so often.

When they were done, Luka spoke first. “What would you like to do today? I can bring you back to the Temple if you’d like.”

She glanced at him sidelong. Jaw clenched and eyes blank, he stared at her. Alice thought he might be making this suggestion in order to make her happy, even though he clearly did not relish the idea.

She smirked. “Or?”

His face broke into a wide grin, and her heart pitter-pattered in her chest. “No one requested work at the reserve. I could show you more animals.” Gaze turning hungry, he added, “We could go back to the bedroom for the next year or so.”

“All fueled up now, are we, tiger?” she joked. “The reserve sounds wonderful, but could we make a detour at the Temple first? I need some clothes.”

Her skin heated when he ran his gaze over her body. “I think you look wonderful.”

Standing, she began to gather their empty plates.

Brows drawn, he stopped her with a hand on her wrist. “What are you doing?”

Looking from the plates to him, she shrugged. “Cleaning up.”

He tugged her forward, dragging her across his lap. “I can do that. Why don’t you go take a bath?”

Alice wanted to argue, she really did. He was being so sweet to her and she should help, since he’d cooked, but the lure of hot water on her sore body sounded like heaven. She’d make him dinner tonight, she decided.

“Thank you.” Pressing a swift kiss to his lips, she tried to rise.

A small yelp escaped her when he suddenly lifted her, one hand under her knees, the other under her shoulders. “Allow me.”

***

The last few days had been some of the best Alice could remember. Luka was revealing himself to be the perfect guy, and with every passing hour she grew more and more sure she’d fallen in love with him.

Every day they’d come to the reserve; sometimes they’d stay for hours and sometimes they’d only stay for as long as it took to feed and medicate the guarsil. The small red creature was becoming stronger each day, and soon they’d have to venture further into the woods and reunite it with its brothers and sisters. Although Alice wanted to make sure they didn’t move him before he was ready, she was becoming more and more leery of its ever-elongating teeth and increasingly aggressive swipes of its claws at her mate.

Yesterday, they’d roamed around the reserve for hours. Alice had taken notes on every animal she’d seen, and Luka had patiently described what he knew about the creatures in great detail, then surprised her with a picnic near the still-entwined manta she’d seen her first time there.

To thank him, she’d asked to give him a blow job. A chuckle still ran through her when she recalled his dumbstruck expression. Learning that the women of this planet didn’t often go down on their men made Alice even more excited to provide him with that pleasure.

She’d done her best to work his large shaft into her mouth, feeling herself grow wet from his muttered curses and the shudders that had run through his powerful body. After she was done, he’d returned the favor, using that vibrating tongue on her repeatedly until she’d had to beg him to stop.

The rest of the day had passed in a daze. They’d reclined in the dappled sunlight of the forest, eating sweet fruits and talking. She’d told him more about her life on Earth and the troubles that’d come with it. When she’d told him about her past relationships, he’d had trouble calming.

In turn, he’d told her the heartbreaking story of his mother and his brother Theo. Apparently, what she’d assumed were tattoos running all over Theo’s body were actually scars. As he’d spoken, she’d offered comfort where she could.

The once-pale markings that ran along Luka’s wrists and forearms were still black. It turned out they’d been permanently scarred like his brother’s were after Gishen had electrocuted him so violently through his shackles. Tracing the dark markings near his wrists, she now saw them in a new light. She wondered if others found them ugly the way they did Theo’s. Running her tongue along one dark marking and smiling at his answering curse, she’d decided to work hard to make sure he knew she loved them.

Whenever they went outside, Luka had angrily painted his hands, curling his lip as he hid the blue marks under a layer of rubbery, flesh-colored liquid. Anytime they were alone, ridding his hands of the covering was the first thing he did. When his marks were visible, he always let out a sigh, and she wondered if seeing them calmed him in some way.

The idea that Luka loved his marks that much made her wonder if he loved her too. Sure, he called her “love,” but that was just a pet name. She knew how she felt about him now, and was sure she wanted to be with him, but she didn’t want to be the one to say the words out loud first. She’d be mortified if he didn’t say them back. She didn’t even know if Clecanians said “I love you” to one another.

The happiness she felt with Luka was only interrupted by her building anxiety over seeing Helas and Sal again and the worry she harbored for Vanessa.

She’d seen her friend both yesterday and today. Vanessa’s once-bright smile and sarcastic attitude had dulled, and Alice was starting to worry about what she might do if she became desperate enough.

Ignoring Luka’s scowl at the idea, she’d decided to spend a few hours alone with Vanessa today. He’d dropped her off at the edge of the lake, and despite her urging for him to leave and pick her up later, he’d grumbled and muttered so much that she’d finally just left him sitting on the grass, looking sullen. She’d arrived at Vanessa’s house to find her alone and worn down.

At present, she was mixing two alien gin and tonics for her and Vanessa to sip while they talked.

“So where are Daisy and Rita?” Alice asked as she handed Vanessa a tall glass.

The dark bags under her eyes sagged as she peered at the front door. “I’m not sure. The dome maybe? They like to go socialize.” Vanessa sighed and took a long sip of her drink, squinting at Alice’s heavy-handed pour. “I think Daisy is hoping if she spends enough time with Izzo, he’ll ask her out.”

“I don’t think it works like that here.” Luka had mentioned that the idea of dating before being married was a bit strange and outdated. Normally, women would wait to interact with the men they wanted to marry until the ceremony. He’d told her that occasionally Tremantians would have casual sex, but usually only while waiting for the next ceremony or while they were taking a break due to childbirth or to see to their mental health.

“Do you have your eye on anyone?” Alice asked hopefully. Maybe having a handsome, attentive mate would help Vanessa the same way it’d helped Alice.

She shrugged, her bare shoulder looking thinner than Alice remembered. “They’re all handsome, but I’m just not interested in that.”

Alice studied her friend. There had to be more to the story than a fight to make Vanessa’s fire dwindle to such an alarming degree. Everyone Vanessa had talked to had patiently explained why she couldn’t return to Earth. When Luka had clarified it was a galaxy-wide law not to interfere with or contact Class 4 planets like Earth, Alice had lost a little hope as well. “Are you ready to tell me what happened with your sister? I know you got into a fight, and it’ll be really hard for her to not know what happened to you, but eventually she’ll move on. You said she had a husband, right? Are they happy together?”

Vanessa stared at her glass, nibbling on her lip, then downed the remaining liquid and plastered on a smile. “I’ll get over it. You don’t have to worry about me, Alice. I’m a big girl.”

Alice gave her a hard look, but she knew Vanessa wouldn’t budge on this. The girl liked to keep her feelings locked away and buried. She wondered if Vanessa had ever truly let anyone in.

“So tell me about you and Luka,” she said brightly.

Alice pinned her with a stern glare. “You’re changing the subject.”

Vanessa’s smile faded, and Alice could see the weariness in her eyes. She was letting Alice see it.

Vanessa sighed. “I need to change it, okay? Make me think about something else.”

“Fine. But you’ll have to let me in one day.” After Vanessa gave her a half-hearted nod, Alice told her about Luka and how she’d fallen for him.

“Well, why don’t you tell him?” Vanessa questioned with a little more pep. Maybe she did need a change of subject.

Alice’s mouth turned up in an embarrassed smile. “I don’t want to be the one to say it first.”

Vanessa started laughing. A genuine, hearty guffaw, bolstering Alice’s hope that her friend would eventually get through this.

“Where do you think we are, girlie?” she said with a raised brow. “In this city, the women pick their men out of a lineup and rule the roost. It’s a matriarchy! He probably doesn’t think he can say it first.”

Alice pondered this. “He’s made all the other first moves, though.”

“Yeah, to get you to like him and want to stay with him, but he was probably taught not to say stuff like that. I know the women are.” Vanessa propped her head in her hand. “We learned all about what the men have to do in school, but do you know what the women’s schooling is like? Malie told me, and it blew my mind.”

“No, what?” Alice asked, wracking her brain to recall what she’d learned about the women’s school. How come she’d never asked about it before?

“A lot of it is about shutting down feelings. They teach the women how to hide their emotions and not lead the men on by being too affectionate in marriages. Crap like that.”

“You must fit right in, then. I don’t know anyone who pushes their emotions down more than you,” Alice said sarcastically.

Vanessa rolled her eyes. “Hardy har. Anyway, do you know Malie?”

Alice tried to picture the Clecanian woman. “Uh, is she the one who has a pink buzzcut?”

“Yeah, exactly! Well, she said all the women are so excited about the humans coming here. She complained about how she’s tired of always acting like she doesn’t care. I think most of these girls try not to feel anything because they’re taught it’s their duty to have many partners, not one, but they’d kill to say I love you to someone.” Vanessa tilted her head at Alice and lifted the corner of her mouth. “I’m just saying, it seems kind of taboo for people to say that here. Maybe Luka thinks it’ll scare you off.”

Alice stared at the ceiling in thought. Maybe Vanessa was right. What if he never expected her to say it to him? He needs to know how I feel. Suddenly, the urge to see Luka suffocated her.

She stared at Vanessa, jaw slackened. “I—”

“Yeah, yeah. Get out of here. Thanks for the G and T.”

Alice dove on her friend, giving her a bear hug. “We’ll figure this out, I promise.” She grasped Vanessa’s face in her hands and forced her to look into her eyes. “Okay?”

“Okay.” Vanessa gave a tight nod, her eyes watery. She chuckled. “Now get out of here.”

Alice dashed to the door and walked purposefully toward the Temple exit. She needed to do two things. One: she had to ask Luka if he knew a way to help Vanessa, and two: she needed to tell him she loved him. It had to be done in that order, because she was sure that after she told him her feelings, she’d want to sequester them in a private room for many hours. Work first, play later.

Rounding the central building, she spotted Luka then bit her lip and grinned. He looked so cute, pacing around the entrance, hands clasped behind his back.

Now that she’d become comfortable with the platforms, she crossed the water quickly, her footsteps sure. He turned at her approach and crossed to the lake edge, teeth flashing in a grin. He stepped forward eagerly, balancing on the shoreline.

She stopped a few feet away, just out of his reach and took a moment to admire his handsome features now cast in a soft orange glow by the setting sun.

“Alice,” he warned, pacing back and forth along the shore like a predator tracking prey. “Don’t think I won’t come in there. I can handle a few stings.”

The dark hunger in his eyes gave her pause. He might actually do that.

Not wanting to see him hurt, she hurried forward. Before she’d set foot on land, he’d reached out and snatched her, kissing her like he hadn’t seen her in months.

He started walking toward a cruiser waiting beyond the entry gate and she trailed behind, her hand clasped in his. It took her a moment to catch her breath.

Once inside, he pulled her under him, pressing sizzling kisses to her neck.

“Luka…” she said in a whisper, lids gone heavy.

Circling the cuff of her ear with his tongue, he murmured, “Hmm.”

“I need to talk to you.”

Letting his head rise a few inches above her, he pressed a soft kiss on the corner of her mouth. “Then talk, love.”

She shook her head to clear it and pushed on his shoulders, managing only to force herself deeper into the padding of the cruiser bench.

He chuckled, kissing the other side of her mouth before rising and helping her to sit upright.

Knowing she needed to be away from him to think clearly, she moved to the seat across from them. His brows lowered and his jaw clenched. Resting his elbows on his knees, he clasped his hands.

“You’re worrying me, little mate.”

She brushed her hair away from her flushed face, then took a deep breath. “Do you know of any way to transport someone back to Earth?” When his head reared back, hurt flashing in his eyes, she added, “Not me! Vanessa. Do you remember her? One of the women from the outpost?”

His eyes grew distant as he thought. “Vaguely.”

“Well, she really needs to go back to Earth, and I’m trying to figure out a way to help.”

She could see the wheels turning in his mind, but she couldn’t wait and nervously babbled, “She left her sister, and she really needs to get back to her. I’m worried if I don’t figure out a way to get her there safely, she’ll do something crazy. I couldn’t live with myself if she tried to hop on some lowlife’s ship and ended up hurt or worse. I know it’s illegal—”

“I could find a way if it’d make you happy,” he interrupted, his expression revealing nothing.

Alice blinked at him. “No, I can’t do that. It’s my friend, my risk. I didn’t want you involved at all, but I don’t even know where to start, and you’re the only person I trust here.”

“I won’t allow you to be taken away from me, Alice, and I won’t let myself be taken from you, either.” He sat back, and his gaze grew unfocused again. “Transporting a Class 4 species to their planet is illegal, but keeping an eye out for a good opportunity and teaching her what she needs to know to take advantage of that opportunity is not.” Leaning forward, he clasped her hands in his. “We don’t have to do anything illegal to help her. Please trust me with this.”

Her heart swelled. His magnificent mind was working through a plan even as she watched. Dashing across the cab, she threw her arms around his neck and stared down into his pale-blue eyes. “I love you,” she breathed.

A hesitant purr stuttered through his chest. He rested his palms on either side of her head and his wide gaze searched her face. “Truly?”

Hot tears dampened her cheeks. Why do I always have to cry at the wrong time?

Emotion welled in her throat, so she just nodded.

His purr revved to life, full force. He didn’t grin or frown, but stared at her seriously, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallowed. “Over the last few days, I’ve grown to like you more than I thought possible, but my soul knew it loved you even when I was drowning in the void of my mind. I’m humbled you feel I’m worthy of your love.”

The kiss he gave her made her toes curl and mind blank. She had a wonderful, honest, sexy, affectionate mate, and he loved her.

Suddenly, he broke their kiss and stared deeply into her eyes, expression serious. “Are those words taken lightly on your planet? Because, they aren’t here. I love you, Alice. I’ve never said that to anyone else and never will. Are you sure about me? About us? There won’t be any going back after this.”

Alice couldn’t contain the happy tears that streaked down her face. “I’m all yours, forever.”

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