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Saving Verakko: Chapter 13

Lily’s shoulders stiffened as he approached. His fingers itched to reach out and pull her in close, but he held them back. Maybe she was right and it’d be better if he kept his distance. There was no way out of his contract that he could see. He needed to either let her go or explain everything and ask if she’d be willing to wait for him.

Suddenly she faced him. He couldn’t be sure if the streaks on her face had been caused by raindrops or tears, but her swollen lids gave him a heart-wrenching clue.

“So, we should follow this one, right?” She sniffed, pointing at the smaller branch of the river nearest them. It led downhill toward jagged black mountains.

He stepped closer. “Lily—”

“I know, this sucks,” she said with a raised hand. “Maybe we can talk more and see if we can figure it out, but right now, I just want to pick a direction and get out of this storm.”

Verakko finally took a moment to register her appearance. She was soaked to the bone, stained with mud, and shivering. The normally tan color of her skin was pallid, and the tops of her feet were dotted with angry red bites.

Verakko’s heart sank even further. She was miserable, and he hadn’t even noticed. Too wrapped up in his own thoughts and fears. “If we head this way, I can take us through a shortcut in the mountains. We could make it to my city in a few days and get help.”

Lily nodded resolutely and tromped forward. Her pitiful shoes flopped off her heels with every step, sticking in the mud.

“Please, Lily, let me carry you,” Verakko said, accidentally infusing the words with sway.

She gave her head a little shake, then huffed out a breath and eyed him sidelong. She opened her mouth once, then closed it. When she spoke again, a bright bolt of lightning, followed by booming thunder, drowned out her words. She glared at the sky, then back to him. “Verakko, just for right now, I need you to not be so nice to me. It’s making me crazy.”

Frustration flared white hot in him. He flung his arms to the side. “What would you have me do, Lily? I can’t stand seeing you this way.”

Her shoulders slumped, and she stared at him a moment longer before mumbling, “Fine.”

He didn’t wait for her to change her mind; instead, he scooped her up so quickly her weathered shoes remained stuck in the mud. He bent at the knees, waiting until she plucked them from the muck, then sprinted down the hill, sliding and jumping along the shoreline expertly.

A small, vain, desperate part of him hoped she’d be impressed. When he peered at her face, though, he only saw resigned misery.


Lily clutched Verakko’s neck, trying to breathe through her mouth so as not to become confused by his increasingly smoky scent. After a few remarkable leaps and bounds, he landed near the base of the mountain, skidding smoothly to a stop. He set her on the soft ground.

“I don’t remember exactly where the entrance is. Can you wait here while I look for it?”

“Could I use the knife to leave Alex a message?” She avoided eye contact, but after he failed to reply, she glanced up at him, gritting her teeth against the sight of rainwater streaming down his bare chest. “In case she comes back this way for some reason.”

His vivid eyes stayed glued to hers, then after a long, silent moment, he held out the knife. With a final inscrutable look, he stomped off toward the mountain, glowing eyes running over the vine-encrusted rocky base. The rain had calmed a fraction, but Lily’s head was in more turmoil than ever.

She made her way to a smooth log a few feet away from the river and began to carve a note to Alex.

Back and forth, back and forth her brain went on. There must be a way. There is no way. But surely there could be a way. It was no use! How could she even consider being a side chick? Was this half-minded simpering woman chasing after a man, truly who she wanted to be? She’d never felt so out of control or reliant on another person. Not even her parents.

They’d always made sure she’d pulled her weight. Looking back at the last few days, Lily realized she’d become dependent on Verakko. She’d boil the water, he’d start the fire and gather the wood. Rough terrain? No problem, he’d carry her. A little cold? She’d expect him to give her his warmth. Before, if she’d been cold on a hike, she’d have erected a trash mound of leaves and branches and burrowed into the insulated mess until morning.

Was this how it’d be with a true partner? With him? Would she always feel this sense of fat, lazy, safety and stability? God, she wanted that. She wanted it more than she’d ever dreamed she could. That damned balloon of emotion expanded in her chest again, pushing against her ribs angrily.

Tears welled in her eyes as she gazed down at the weird note she’d scraped into the smooth bark. “Getting help. Stay put. P.S. Boyfriend trouble.” She chuckled humorlessly and wondered how insensitive the note might seem to a starving, cold Alex if she happened to come across it. Jabbing a thin stick into a leaf, she erected a flag and stood back.

“I think I’m close,” Verakko yelled over the sound of the rain.

She waved him on, not sure her voice was strong enough at the moment. Instead, she slipped the knife into her sagging pocket, peered down at her bare toes, and flexed them in and out of the soft, wet sand. A fleck of pink polish on her pinky toe caught her eye.

Less than a month ago, she’d been seated in her coworker Maisy’s chair. When Maisy had asked what color she’d wanted, Lily had said she’d felt girly and adventurous that day.

“Hot pink, please,” she whispered sadly, recalling the conversation. It felt like it’d happened a lifetime ago. She thought back to that week, running through the days in her mind. She remembered she’d begun to get the itch she always got after being in one place for too long.

Lily glanced over her shoulder, chin down and shoulders slumped like a child pouting in the rain, and watched Verakko knock on the stone, pointed ear angled close by. All this work. All this heartache. Maybe it was better to stay away from him. If Verakko somehow was able to convince his mother to let them be together, how long would it be before she felt that itch again?

She inhaled shakily and bent to rinse her muddy shoes in the river. She squinted up to the sky, thankful the lightning seemed to be lessening at least.

A faint shout of triumph echoed from far away. She saw Verakko grinning near an ominous black opening in the rock face. Spiders seemed to crawl up her spine. She hadn’t been lying before when she’d admitted to being nervous in small spaces.

“How far is it?” Lily called while grimacing toward the dark tunnel. He shrugged, looking a little annoyed and more than a little exasperated. Lily shuffled her feet uncomfortably, then tried again. “How—”

Verakko’s gaze shot to the sky, and a deafening, pulsating roar tore from his throat. He sprinted toward her just as a gust of wind hit her back. A scream built in her throat, but two strong arms slammed around her chest and knocked the air from her lungs.

Massive wings flapped on either side of her, lifting her into the air. Verakko roared again while bolting across the sandy shores of the river.

The ground raced by under her, and she screamed. Her mind finally latched on to the reality of the situation. She was being carried into the sky.

Fuck no. She would not be abducted by another asshole alien.

Lily swung out a leg and wrapped it around the man’s thigh, hooking her foot behind his knee to keep herself stable. She lined up her other leg between his legs and swung her heel up as hard as she could.

With a howl of pain, he doubled over, diving toward the ground. She kicked again and again, landing a few more shots with her heel. He gripped her wrist and let go of the rest of her, holding her in the air by one arm and clutching himself between his legs with the other hand.

Her shoulder screamed in protest. The Strigi circled lower into the trees and dropped her a few feet from the ground.

“Get over here, you feguid female,” he cursed through gritted teeth.

Lily scrambled away on her stomach, but a strong hand clutched the hem of Verakko’s shirt and dragged her back. She rolled until she was facing the sky and shot her legs out, kicking any appendage she could reach while fumbling in her pocket for the knife.

A deadly sharp talon-tipped wing rested on her neck. “Stop, or I slash your throat,” the winged male wheezed, still clutching his crotch with one hand.

She froze, cold metal meeting the tips of her fingers.

He leaned forward and bared his teeth. “You’re gonna come with me nice and easy, or I’m going to use this wing to slice off a finger.” He sent her a crooked grin. “I don’t need you whole, after all.”

Lily tried to keep the fear off her face. A familiar bellow sounded, making the birds in the trees take flight. Her heart leapt.

“Stay down while I take care of the Swadaeth scum.” The pressure on her neck increased, the sharp talon cutting into her flesh. She remained still but peered up and saw Verakko burst into the clearing, then freeze.

Verakko’s eyes shot from her to her throat to the winged male. Inky black spread from the corners of his eyes, enveloping the whites and irises. He’d said blackening eyes revealed something about his health, hadn’t he? She frantically scanned his body but couldn’t see any injuries.

The winged man chuckled and spat, straightening. “Oh, no. Don’t tell me you think she’s yours. This’ll be fun.”

Lily studied the man. Sickly green slashes marred his left arm, and he held it awkwardly. Dark circles stood out under his eyes, and there was a yellow cast to his skin. He wasn’t at full strength yet. Still stronger than me, though.

She stretched her fingers in her pocket and gripped the hilt of the knife. The asshole above her smirked at Verakko, ignoring the threat under his wing entirely. “No marks yet, I see.”

“You want to release her,” Lily heard Verakko sway.

The sharp point of the talon at her neck dug in, and she let out a cry. “Try it again and she’s dead.” The Strigi barked out a laugh. “That won’t work on me anyway. All my thoughts revolve around causing pain. The type of pain I’ve been in for the past three days.”

“Lily, you’ll be okay,” Verakko called.

“You killed two of my kin!” the winged alien snarled. “I should rip her to shreds in front of you just to see your face.” His mouth contorted into a disgusted sneer. “But I won’t. My orders were only to bring you in.” He tossed something toward Verakko. “Spray yourself, and I vow I won’t hurt her.”

Lily angled her head so she could see Verakko. He held a small silver cylinder in his hand. His eyes were furious and wild, flashing between her and the Strigi, but they’d returned to their normal shade of green.

He lifted the cylinder a few inches, and recognition hit. A silver object like that had been the last thing she’d seen before passing out on Earth. The purple alien who’d barged into her backyard without warning had sprayed her with one of those. 

His brows drew together. “You vow you’ll leave her behind?”

He’s going to sacrifice himself? For me? Terror and worry and anger hit her all at once. What the fuck is he doing? She tried to call out, to tell him to drop the bottle, but the pressure on her throat was too great. There was no way she’d let him be taken. Not if there was any way for her to stop it.


A trickle of blood slid down Lily’s pale neck and onto the dirt. A savage rattle tore through his chest. This male might not die today, but he’d die soon. And painfully. If only Verakko could focus his mind enough to sway. His gaze flew to Lily, sprawled on the ground under the male’s deadly wing. Fear shot through his veins like ice, muddling his thoughts.

The Strigi placed more pressure on Lily’s neck and shouted, “Choose!”

All of the air seemed to fly from Verakko’s lungs at Lily’s first gasp. He raised the spray to his face.

A flash of silver near Lily streaked through the air and disappeared into the Strigi’s wing. He stumbled back, roaring in pain as she crawled away, coughing and inhaling deep, ragged breaths. Verakko clutched the bottle and grinned evilly. He leapt, clearing the few feet between him and the sputtering male.

The Strigi’s eyes grew wide. He attempted to shoot into the sky. But Verakko leapt again, catching his legs and wrenching him down so hard the male’s face smashed into the leaf-strewn ground. Settling his weight on the Strigi’s back, Verakko wrapped his arms around the base of the male’s wings, binding them together, then savagely wrenched downward.

The Strigi screamed and flailed under him.

“You think you can hurt my female? Make her bleed?” He rotated his arms, twisting the shattered bones of the once-powerful wings. “The pain is unbearable. You want to pass out, but you can’t,” Verakko swayed, a vicious bloodlust pulsing through him. The male shrieked again, releasing a throaty sob.

He could hear his name in the distance. Someone was yelling. Asking him to stop. He twisted again. My Lily. My mivassi. My mate. No mercy.

Then she was kneeling in front of them.

“Get back!” he roared as the Strigi reached for her wildly.

“Please!” the male screamed.

Bitter fear hit his nostrils, and his grip tightened.

Her hands shot forward and clutched both sides of his face. A loud ringing sounded in his ears, but he focused on her. Her eyes streamed with tears and she mouthed, Stop.

Confusion hit first, but gradually, his sense returned. “Look away,” he snarled.

Her eyes widened before she spun and stumbled away. Away from me.

Without a second thought, he released the male’s wings. With a quick jerk of his hands, he snapped the Strigi’s neck and sprinted after Lily.

She slipped and fell, her bare feet sliding on wet leaves. He came to a halt in front of her and reached out to pull her close, his eyes running over every inch of her he could see for evidence of injuries.

She rolled to face him, her eyes flashing to his as she hastily scooted away. The pungent scent of fear spiked.

Is she afraid of me? Verakko’s breathing hitched. He reached a hand toward her, then stilled, noticing the knife still clutched in her fingers.

Her hand was shaking where she gripped the hilt, her eyes wide, pupils dilated. She must be in shock.

In one swift movement, he snatched her wrist, making her cry out. He squeezed until she dropped her weapon, then pulled her into his arms. Her body remained stiff for a moment before she finally shuddered and threw her arms around his neck.

“Lily, it’s okay. It’s me. You’re safe,” he swayed.

She nodded into his shoulder, digging her nails into his back.

His heart was still racing, matching the beat of her heart thumping against his chest. For the first time in his life, he didn’t regret the pain he’d caused.

He leaned down and whispered into her hair. “I’m going to take you somewhere safe. Alright?”

Without waiting for her reply, he stashed the fallen knife in his pocket, cradled her against his chest, and sprinted for the tunnel. His eyes kept darting to the sky as he ran even though, logically, he understood no other Strigi would know where they were. He stooped to collect her wet shoes and the discarded bag from the shore, barely slowing his pace.

He scanned the sky again and tried to convince himself that the threat had passed.

Even so, the dark confines of the tunnel route to Mithrandir was the most secure place Verakko knew of in the unlikely event another Strigi lurked close by. No individual from any of the winged races would choose a black tunnel over the open sky.

Lily shook in his arms, clutching at him desperately. When he found the hidden entry pad again, he dripped a bit of venom onto his thumb and pressed it onto the concealed scanner. The door swung open with a soft whoosh, and he slid inside.


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