Freeing Luka: Chapter 7


“Brother?” Alice glanced between the two men, not sure whether to scream or relax. He was large like Luka, and some of their features were similar. The man standing before her could be related to Luka, but that didn’t mean she should trust him.

Izzo began hefting his brother’s limp body onto his shoulders with impressive ease.

“Wait!” she yelled, not knowing what to do but not sure she should be allowing this stranger to take Luka away.

Izzo froze, brows raised in question.

She took a few involuntary steps forward. The sight of Luka lying there motionless made her thoughts tangle together and her heart pound furiously. “How did you find us?” If this was his brother, why hadn’t he come to rescue him earlier?

“He implanted a tracker on himself somewhere, but I guess it didn’t work underground. When you guys escaped, it lit up, so we came to find him.”

It was a reasonable explanation, but she still couldn’t decide whether to believe him. Her gut told her he was telling the truth, but she’d learned the hard way that her gut was a lying bitch who couldn’t be believed. “How did you get here so fast?”

“They must have had some kind of scrambler or jammer set up in the cruiser when they brought him here because his signal cut out about 20 miles away. We’ve been searching around that area in shifts for weeks. When the tracker started pinging again, we were already close.”

Alice narrowed her eyes. “How do I know I can trust you?”

Izzo shifted the dead weight on his shoulders and scrunched his face in thought.

His eyes lit up. “Pizz-za!”

“Pizz-za? You mean pizza?” Alice repeated dumbly, trying to understand how this alien knew what pizza was and why the mention of it would make him trustworthy.

Izzo nodded happily, displaying perfect white teeth. “I know another Earth female, and she told me one of the things she misses the most from Earth is pizza. She also said pickles and ice cream, and…most of the things she’s mentioned are food, come to think of it.”

Alice focused her gaze on Luka and nibbled on her thumbnail. His back rose and fell with his breathing.

He looks fine, and no bad guy would stand around waiting for me to give the all-clear, right?

It was very unlikely that any woman being held against their will would’ve mentioned something as inane as pizza to an alien unless they really were comfortable with them.

“Okay, let’s go.” She nodded, relaxing slightly when he began to walk away, his focus no longer on her.

He moved down the winding path, and as she followed him, she thought about the woman who’d told Izzo about Earth food. “Izzo, the woman you mentioned,” Alice panted, trying to keep up with his long strides. “Is she pregnant?”

Izzo spun toward her, Luka’s dangling arm flying wide and almost hitting her in the face. “How did… No… Uh…what makes you think that?”

Alice shrugged, wondering what the fuss was about. “Those aren’t really normal foods to miss, but some pregnant women crave things like that. Except for pizza, I guess. You can always crave pizza,” she amended.

Izzo ground his jaw and grimaced. “Oh, I didn’t know that.” He lifted the corner of his mouth in an uncomfortable smile. “Mind not telling anyone about that? She’s keeping it quiet for now.”

Given the events of the last few weeks, hearing about a secret pregnancy of an Earth woman made Alice uncomfortable. She nodded in agreement anyway and resumed biting her nails.

They rounded the corner, and Alice saw the group of women waiting near the now-closed hatch. One man stood still and watched the uneasy women, while another carried a struggling Helas to a pair of silver floating ovals a few feet away.

Her steps faltered, and she studied the objects with wide eyes. A panel slid open on one, revealing seating. Must be their version of a car.

How were things so large and seemingly heavy floating like that? She clicked her tongue. Why am I surprised? They can literally fly through space, or float in space, or whatever you do in space. Hovercars are probably nothing to write home about.

A trill of excitement rang through her. For the last few weeks, her life had been so bleak. The fact that she was on an alien planet had been lamentable because of the circumstances, but now, hopefully, she was going to see another side of this world. The wondrous side. The side that had flying cars. Her enthusiasm faded when her eyes focused on Luka being loaded into the second floating vehicle.

Many people would kill for the chance to explore an alien planet, yet all she really wanted to see was the light blue of Luka’s eyes, clear and aware.

Movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention. Vanessa urgently motioned for her to join the other women. Alice hurried over, keeping one eye on Luka.

She slowed as she neared the group, noticing a few women were gone. Only three of the five remained. “Where did the other two go?” she whispered.

Vanessa glanced around, making sure they weren’t being overheard. “They left before these dudes got here. When that guy carried you off, they got freaked out and decided to take their chances in the woods instead.”

Alice glanced at the tree line of the dense forest.

Who in their right mind would choose a black alien forest? Are they trying to be eaten by the Predator? She stifled the judgmental thought and reminded herself that she had no idea where they were coming from. For all she knew, those women had suffered much worse than she had.

“Should we tell the men?” Alice glanced at the remaining women, trying to recall who was missing. The ill-tempered woman and the small one who’d snapped into a fighter’s stance at the first sign of danger were both gone. Alice found it odd they’d decided to go off together, considering their short-tempered exchange earlier.

The older woman with long, flowing white hair spoke in a slow, smooth voice. “They’ve had so many choices taken away from them. If they want to leave, they should be allowed. It’s their choice.”

Alice found that she agreed with the woman. Personally, she thought it was stupid to run out into the dark forest of an alien planet, but it wasn’t her choice. It was theirs. Still, she couldn’t stand the thought of them alone out there. “What if we learn more about this place and the people before deciding anything? If we all agree those girls would be safer with us than in the woods, we tell someone.”

Vanessa and the silky-voiced woman nodded, but the small woman Alice had watched cry in her room only darted glances between the three. Alice recalled Vanessa saying she hadn’t thought the woman spoke English. She only knew a little Spanish and French. Maybe the girl would know one of those languages.

“¿Hablas español? Parlez-vous français?” she said, doing her best with her accent.

The small woman knitted her brows and stepped toward Alice. She pointed over to Izzo, standing near the floating vehicle that was apparently being used to transport Sal, Gishen, and Helas. In perfect English, she said, “What’s going on? Can we trust them?” Her voice was loud, as if she was unable to monitor her volume.

Alice quickly raised and lowered her hands and mouthed, “Too loud.”

The small woman clapped a hand over her mouth, tears making her amber eyes glassy, and shot a fearful glance toward Izzo. He stood watching her with his head tilted. When a tear slid down her cheek, his brows drew together.

Vanessa scooted next to her and began to run her hands up and down the terrified woman’s bare arms. Her forehead crinkled in concern as she looked between Alice and the silver-haired woman. “She must not be able to hear us.”

Alice caught the girl’s attention and, making sure to exaggerate her mouth movements, she slowly said, “What’s your name?”

“Daisy,” she whispered, almost too quietly for Alice to hear. “The things that took me hurt my ears. I haven’t been able to hear anything for a few days now.”

Alice nodded and patted Daisy on the hand, then turned her attention to the last unnamed member of the group. It was clear this woman was older than the rest of the group, but she’d aged so gracefully. Her tanned face and laugh lines told stories of being happy and being in the sun.

“Rita,” she intoned with a warm smile.

They all straightened when they saw Izzo walking over to them.

“We’re ready to head out now.” He addressed the group, but his eyes kept flashing toward Daisy.

“Where are we going?” Vanessa asked, stepping in front of Daisy, who was clearly uncomfortable with his lingering gaze.

Izzo frowned. “Gishen, Sal, and Helas will be taken to prison, and you’ll be escorted to The Pearl Temple.”

“What about Luka?” Alice asked a little too urgently.

Vanessa smirked at her then turned back to Izzo, waiting for an answer.

He looked confused by her question but said, “He’ll ride with us, and then I’ll bring him back home. We need to get the drug out of his system and figure out what happened.” He pointed to the second floating vehicle. “We’ll take that cruiser with him, but don’t worry, he won’t wake up.”

“But—” she started, intending to explain that she wasn’t afraid of Luka, but Izzo was already heading away.

The women in the group didn’t move but instead looked to her. She flushed.

Are they waiting to see what I do?

Alice had never been a leader before, but it seemed as though her show of bravery earlier had earned her the respect of these women.

Chin lifted, she walked over to the floating machine and found Izzo already seated inside, Luka slumped in a corner to his left. Alice frowned as she sat across from Luka rather than next to him.

Daisy sat next to her, keeping her head down and her gaze averted from Izzo, who continued to stare at her. The man was so enthralled with the quiet girl that he hadn’t even seemed to notice Luka’s mating marks. Or maybe he had noticed and didn’t care. It was possible Helas had lied about how rare they were.

When all of the women were loaded into the vehicle, the door slid closed. Everyone except Izzo tensed.

He glanced around with a nervous smile. Attempting to lighten the mood, he held out his hand to Alice, palm up. “I was told this is a polite greeting for Earthlings.”

Alice glanced at his upturned palm and tried to figure out what he meant. With a chuckle, she realized what the human woman he’d mentioned before must’ve told him. Tentatively, she took his large palm and turned it to the side, then grasped it with her own and shook his hand.

Izzo’s cheeks reddened. “Oops.”

Both Vanessa and Rita shook his outstretched hand when he offered it. When he held it out to Daisy, Alice could see him hold his breath.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Izzo murmured.

Daisy’s eyes were still trained in her lap, and when she made no move to shake his hand, he looked to Alice in confusion.

When did I become the human-alien mediator?

“Her hearing’s been damaged. I’m not sure how,” Alice explained while softly nudging Daisy. “She can’t hear you.”

Daisy looked up to her then toward Izzo’s outstretched hand.

Alice reached over and squeezed her arm with an encouraging nod. She couldn’t imagine how much more difficult and terrifying this whole situation would be if she couldn’t hear. At least she’d been able to speak to Helas and understand that she was on an alien planet. How much did Daisy understand about what had happened to her?

The fear shone on her face, but Daisy lifted her hand to Izzo’s anyway. Their eyes locked as he clasped her hand in his much-larger one and shook slowly.

Everyone’s eyes widened as a low purr sounded from Izzo.

Vanessa and Rita began to giggle. Daisy glanced at the laughing women and then quickly snatched her hand back, blushing profusely.

“You can freakin’ purr?” Vanessa blurted between restrained laughter.

Izzo let his hand fall to his side but looked unashamed while he dreamily muttered, “Sorry.”

Listening to Rita and Vanessa laugh made warmth spread through her and her eyes glaze with tears. The cab of the cruiser was filled with a lightness she never thought she’d experience again. Vanessa let out a small snort, which only made her and Rita laugh harder. Even Daisy was now looking around the cab with a smile, though she continued to avoid Izzo’s avid stare.

During the rest of the ride, Izzo spoke endlessly of their city and the place they were going to now, called The Pearl Temple, but she’d only been half listening. Her eyes and thoughts kept straying to Luka, still unconscious in the corner. Would he be as chatty as his brother was when the drugs finally wore off?

Her gaze traveled down to the bloody, burned skin around his wrists, and her fingers twitched. Having been able to touch and console him at her leisure for the past few weeks, she wasn’t surprised to feel the ache to hold his hand and whisper comforting words in his ear.

Was it wrong for her not to want to bring up his marks to Izzo yet? If she brought them up, she’d have to describe the events leading to his marks appearing, and she wanted to hang on to the happiness she felt just a little while longer before reliving that nightmare. Keeping it to herself also made her feel more connected to Luka. As if they shared something special and private.

She felt subtle anxiety start to creep around the periphery of her thoughts. Although she’d done her best not to become too attached to Luka, she knew she was. Even now, the idea of being separated from him made her skin tingle with panic.

A knot tightened in her stomach, then another, and another as thought after thought ran through her mind.

What if he wakes up and is angry with me for making his marks appear? What if he never wants to see me again? Worse yet, what if he doesn’t turn out to be the person I think he is?

Alice had been in a lot of bad relationships in the past. Not just romantic ones, either. People seemed to think that because she was a nice person, they could walk all over her. And the sad truth was, she let them. Last year, after her piece-of-shit boyfriend, Jeff, cheated on her for the third time, she’d yelled and cried, but his response had reduced her to ash. The words replayed in her mind now: “Why don’t you leave me, then?”

Why hadn’t she left him after the first time she’d caught him cheating? Because she had a bleeding heart, that’s why. His tearful apologies, excuses, and promises had pulled at her heartstrings.

It was ridiculous, but she already felt closer to Luka than she ever had to Jeff. What if Luka turned out to be just as bad or worse? She couldn’t imagine he was, but what did she really know? They’d never even had a real conversation.

Stop it! You’re spiraling. She blinked away her unshed tears and tried to focus on something positive. These were all what-ifs, and there was no point being upset about them now.

A thought popped into her mind. “Izzo. Do you know what time it is?”

He glanced away from Vanessa, who’d been grilling him endlessly for the past five minutes. “Uh, yeah.” Reaching over, he touched an innocuous part of the cruiser wall. A display full of alien symbols popped up. “It’s six before prime.”

Alice sighed a pent-up breath and slumped in her seat. She crossed one arm over her stomach and began biting her nails again. Of course it is.

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