Resisting Maxu: Chapter 23


Maxu had spent the silent time before dawn lying as still as a statue, forcing down the constant threat of a purr as he watched Meg sleep. Lush curves and soft skin nestled under his body had greeted him when he’d opened his eyes. He’d gaped, mind still fuzzy with dreams of his mate, and wondered whether she was really there resting peacefully in his arms.

Over hours, he’d watched as dew had collected in glistening droplets on her skin. He’d jealously followed their progress as they’d broken and slipped down the graceful curve of her back.

The sun rose on the horizon, painting the world in pink and gold, yet the view didn’t come close to making his heart ache as much as it did when Meg winced at the light and curled into the darkness of his chest.

The muscles in his right arm were screaming, but he refused to lower his hand. It was blocking a small portion of the sun, and he’d sooner face the Goddess’s wrath than allow the offending rays of the morning to wake his female before she was ready.

A flashing light from the glowing orbs on the ceiling indicating a visitor made Meg’s brows draw together. He ground his teeth, glaring toward the door as if he could injure whoever it was just by staring hard enough.

The flashing lit up the room again, this time accompanied by a gentle tinkling sound, and Meg’s lids eased open. What would her reaction to waking up with him be?

From her spot on his chest, she tilted her head up to look at him. Her gaze then traveled to his lifted hand. Back to his face. A weight lifted from his shoulders when she grinned, rolled onto her side, and draped an arm over his waist, pulling herself flush against his chest and yawning.

There was no helping it anymore. His purr roared to life in his chest. Maxu felt her lips curl against his skin. He dropped his hand, cupping the back of her head, and lowered his chin to her scalp.

The lights on the ceiling flashed again and a loud ping echoed around the room. His purr morphed into a growl.

“What time is it? You should get that. It’s probably Daunet.” Meg’s voice cracked, and another yawn broke through.

His fingertips tightened around her head for a moment before he extricated himself, swiped a blade from his bag, and stomped to the door, fully nude. Annoyance was plain from Daunet’s harsh brows and pursed lips as his door slid open. She scanned him up and down, eyes landing on his knife.

“We need to leave. The Stigalthi Marin begins soon, and Meg needs to get ready.”

“I’ll escort her,” Maxu snapped.

Daunet shook her head. “That’s not how this works.”

Maxu opened his mouth to argue, but Meg’s palm landed on his elbow.

“It’s okay,” she said with a sleepy smile. “I’ll go get ready and see you down there, yeah? Oh, can I borrow this?” She spread her arms, showing off one of his cloth shirts. Before he could command that she remain exactly where she was, she’d lifted to her toes, hooked a hand around his neck, and tugged him down for a kiss. His mind blanked. He still hadn’t recovered when she pulled back, brushed a bit of unruly hair off his forehead, and all but skipped away from him.

The door slid closed in front of his dumbfounded, stark-naked frame. After he’d recovered, he raced to get ready. Washing in the foam shower, fumbling to clip the hidden stays of his water-repellant clothing, and dashing down the spiraling stairs.

Impatiently, he waited for Meg and Daunet to emerge from the tower entry. His skin itched, and fresh floral scents rising from the surrounding blooms were putrid to his nose. They didn’t smell like her. His limbs stiffened. He didn’t smell like her anymore either. Like an idiot, he’d washed her away.

Finally, she appeared, a ball of light from the darkness of the covered entryway. His heart picked up speed. Her clothing with simple today. A flowing purple dress made of the same gossamer fabric as her skirt last night. The hem of the garment brushed against her upper thighs as she walked, smiling and laughing with Daunet.

Her skin held a fresh glow this morning, and he marveled to think he might have helped put it there. He would not fuck this up. His fingers fidgeted. I won’t, he repeated to himself as he stalked toward her. The warmth that lit her rich blue eyes when she spotted him almost halted him in place.

“Glad to see you clothed yourself.”

The glare he directed at Daunet’s comment melted into a witless grin when Meg whispered, “I’m not.”

Meg slipped her hand into his, sending a bolt of electricity up his arm, then tugged him along. They strolled toward a wide series of platforms raised at the base of the largest cascade. The area was crowded with Alacerans. Their excited, grinning faces and jittery wings built the tension in the air. The first stage of the Stigalthi Marin was about to begin. Sweat slicked Maxu’s palms. He should speak to Meg before the festivities began. Say something memorable and important. Something to impress upon her how meaningful last night had been to him.

Jumbles of words clamored in his throat, but before he could decide how best to order them, Meg gave his hand a squeeze and went to greet her friends.

After pressing a kiss to Meg’s cheek, Rita walked up to him with a grin.

“You two are getting along, I see.” Rita’s lips spread wider.

Getting along? Did that really embody what he felt? He could only grunt in agreement.

“Is there anything that you need from me before the event starts? Human questions? Relationship advice? Better ask now.”

Maxu had never enjoyed relying on others, but this past week he’d relied on Rita heavily. Without her intervening and pushing them together, he wouldn’t have the most incredible female he’d ever met grinning over her shoulder at him right now. “You’ve done enough,” he rasped.

The tone of his words hit his ears, and he rushed to soften it. “I mean, you’ve done more than enough. I don’t expect we would have gotten here without you. I’m forever grateful.”

Rita smiled, gazing up through the light mist at a rainbow. “It’s been a fun project, to say the least.” With a dreamy sigh, she patted him on the shoulder and floated away, lifting her hands into the damp air and swaying.

As more Alacerans piled onto the platforms, the space between bodies lessened until Meg was being gently jostled from all sides. Enough.

He stomped forward, pleased to see startled Alacerans jump out of his path. It took all his effort to nudge and not shove a tall male away when his wing accidentally scratched Meg’s shoulder. Maxu moved in behind her quietly, not wanting to interrupt but needing to keep a protective few feet of space clear around her.

“There you are.” Her upside-down grin pulled a small smile from him when she tipped her head all the way back and gazed up at him. “Try to have fun today, okay?”

His insides bubbled when she lifted to her toes, tipping her face farther back. Did she want him to kiss her? In front of all these people? Tremantians didn’t often show affection in public like this, but the idea that he could essentially stake his claim for all to see was too tempting to pass up. He obliged, kissing her from the odd upside-down angle, keeping her chin propped up with a gentle hand at her jaw. It took a moment for her lids to open after he was done.

From the corner of his eye, he saw Alacerans—male and female—giving them a disgusted look. He ensured Meg was facing forward again and couldn’t see him before snapping his teeth at the pair. They scuttled back a few feet.

Queen Rhal parted the crowd with her contingent of casican protectors and stepped onto the dais raised above the rest of the platforms. She explained the ceremony, he assumed for the benefit of the humans.

Maxu’s immediate response to the feverish murmurs spreading through the crowd was an eye roll, but then he caught sight of Meg’s rapt gaze. She was so excited. He knew in that moment that he’d participate in earnest to make her happy.

A countdown began, the crowd cheering as the seconds dwindled down. Engineers braced themselves on either side of two massive levers and waited for the go-ahead.

Meg’s pulse thrummed wildly in her neck. He hesitated for a moment before placing his hands on her upper arms. Her smile twitched wider, though she still counted down with the crowd. She scooted back until her back rested on his chest, and his purr started up.

The countdown ended, and the engineers pulled on the levers. The world seemed to hold its breath for a moment, all eyes turning up toward the towering beginnings of the Alaceran falls. Distant roars of rushing water echoed through the silent space, and then it appeared, spewing over the sides of the mountains and crashing into the lake surrounding their viewing area.

The dams had opened and now a year’s worth of collected water pounded down from above, soaking the crowd with sharp pinpricks and throwing the world into a deafening misty dreamworld.

For a moment all other noise was drowned out, but then one by one the Alacerans began to wail. They shrieked and cried and roared, tendons straining and wings expanding with the effort. Meg raised her hands to the spray of falling water, lifted her face to the sky, and screamed. Her knees bent as though she were squeezing every bit of oxygen she had out of her body.

Closing his eyes, Maxu roared to the sky as well. When he glanced back at Meg as he sucked in a breath, her face had changed. Her eyes were squinted shut, her mouth no longer holding the hint of a smile. Skin red and blotchy, she shrieked with all her might, releasing something he couldn’t see.

Clecanians, casicans, and humans bellowed as one until their voices were cracked and raw. All the while, the water pouring in from all sides filled the aqueducts above them and spilled over, drenching them. It tumbled over archways and cascaded down the turrets of the castle, obscuring the sky in a thick, humid fog that cocooned the participants and helped them to release whatever they’d been holding inside. Maxu allowed himself to do the same.

Defensiveness, anger, resentment, hurt, loneliness, worthlessness. The feelings retreated from his body, riding on the waves of his bellows.

At long last, the water slowed and the cacophony of the crowd died with it until the engineers locked the dams into place and all the noise that remained was a ringing in his ears. The waterfalls became no more than a trickle.

He glanced down at Meg, who was grinning serenely, eyes closed as she basked in the quiet. Even the sounds of the crowd’s harsh panting faded until silence reigned, almost painful after the earsplitting cacophony from a moment ago.

They were frozen. Standing motionlessly together and bathing their souls in the sacred hush of the forest. Maxu closed his eyes. The gentle sounds seemed to echo through his mind: slow, steady breaths; the light whistle of the breeze and rustle of leaves; droplets of water hitting stone; his own beating heart.

He suddenly noticed the softness of the warm air as it brushed over his skin. The heavy smell of wet earth and damp stone. And the loveliest scent of all, Meg. Warm and sweet. At some point, her hand had come to rest in his. He squeezed her palm. She squeezed back.

Everything else faded away, and in that moment, he felt a bond he never had before, not just to Meg but to everyone standing close by just as astounded and in awe as he was.

His gaze found Meg, and his chest expanded. She was soaked, her dark hair plastered to her cheeks. He brushed it away from her face. She leaned into his palm, causing his heart to crawl into his throat. No one spoke—and they wouldn’t, not for the next five days, until Stigalthi Marin was over.

Meg shifted on her feet, removing pressure from his hand which she’d been gripping. He distantly realized she’d been using him to stabilize herself. Hanging on to him to keep herself upright as she let all her own buried heartaches go.

Maxu thought of the flower he’d picked as a child again, and something in him shifted. He’d assumed that by keeping her with him, he’d be no more than that greedy boy who’d ripped something perfect from the earth—the very thing that had made it grow—but what if he could be what fed her? What if he could provide the support and nourishment she needed to thrive?

Maxu was a male who could acquire anything, yet that ability had never once made him truly happy. But now? He’d be what she rooted to, and he’d devote his life to providing her with everything she needed to bloom.

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