Saving Verakko: Chapter 21


Lily pulled a fluffy pillow into her chest and squeezed. The cool fabric felt heavenly against her warm chest, and she snuggled farther into her covers. Covers?

Her eyes flew open, and she bolted upright. As her vision cleared and she saw the large bed, shining stone floor, and blue-gray walls, she recalled where she was. She flopped back down onto the mattress and took a few deep breaths to relax her racing heart.

The scent of flowers hung heavy. Lily scanned the room but couldn’t find any discernible source. Did it get vented in or something?

When she was sure Verakko was in fact gone, she pulled his shirt, which she was still wearing, over her nose and inhaled deeply. It was more faint than normal, but the smoky scent she loved so much clung to the fabric and soothed her.

She laid there gazing up at the ceiling with her shirt over her nose and mentally scanned her body. No soreness in her back, no lingering aches or pains from the forest. On the whole, she was deliciously comfortable and relaxed. Verakko’s sway was better than her ambient noise machine. Or Ambien, for that matter.

If I stay with him, I bet I could get him to do it every night.

Lily thought about everything that’d happened yesterday. All of their fighting, his revelations, and the unexpected moment of intimacy they’d shared last night. Although they’d argued for most of the day, the heated conversations between her and Verakko almost felt right. Like they were working toward something by fighting rather than tearing each other down with their words. Discontent trickled into her thoughts. Why did it feel so natural to forgive him and move on? Do I feel the bond like he said?

She and Verakko had something special; she wasn’t blind to it. Could that be enough to be happy forever? If this were a familiar type of Earth relationship, she’d probably have decided to let him suffer for a few more days before ultimately forgiving him, but the stakes were higher here. If she opened herself up to him again, there would be no going back. No breaking up. No divorce. Not if she cared at all about his well-being.

Am I ready for that?

Lily almost didn’t notice the room growing brighter and brighter. When it finally was bright enough to make her squint, she looked toward the source in confusion and saw a glorious sight. What she’d thought was a solid wall had transitioned into one large, transparent window.

Lily slid off the bed and took in the view. It was so unearthly. She’d seen black sand beaches before, but she’d never seen anything like the utterly bare, rolling black sand desert before her. The sky was cloudless and bright blue, yet it still didn’t quite look like a sunny day. Something about the bleakness of the glittering sand, stretching as far as the eye could see, made the day appear menacing.

Another whiff of a mishmash of floral scents hit her nose, and she grimaced. It must be coming from somewhere.

Lily padded down to the first floor and found Verakko huddled over a pile of what she guessed were some kind of electronics parts. He glanced over his shoulder when he heard her come in, and she couldn’t stop the grin that spread over her face.

He wore a very odd set of glasses that doubled as small screens. Every time he shifted his focus, the lens would zoom toward his face then away, trying to magnify whatever he was looking at. Small symbols could be seen flying across one of the small lenses, while the other remained blank. The combination of the eccentric glasses and his heavily muscled, shirtless torso was a gorgeous sight.

Verakko flipped off the glasses and leapt over the back of the couch. His hands reached out as though to grab her, but then he pulled them back and awkwardly placed them on his hips before dropping them to his sides. He beamed at her without speaking until she felt her cheeks grow hot and had to look away.

“What are you doing?” she asked, waving to the small fragments, one of which was now smoking slightly.

“I, uh…” Verakko glanced to his work area, then did a double take and rushed over to smother the burning piece with a small cloth nearby. “It’s a surprise. For you.”

“Oh, you don’t have to do that.” As soon as the words came out, a chorus of little voices in her head berated her. She loved presents, no matter the size or cost. Growing up, her parents had rarely exchanged gifts. Especially not ones that had no use.

Verakko chuckled and backed toward the small table they’d dined at the night before, now sharing the space with one large couch. “Well, I still might not. Those parts are very outdated. I went to rummage through my old storage cube, and that’s all I had, so…” He shrugged and motioned to a plate on the table.

Lily’s stomach gave a rumble in answer. She sat at the table and tried to keep her emotions on an even keel, though all she wanted to do was be happy, give in.

This is how all relationships start. I can’t decide anything during the honeymoon phase. What happens when that wears off or I get antsy or he does something unforgivable?

Lily glanced down and confirmed that her plate was empty.

Verakko handed her a tall, thin glass of pink liquid and gave her a lopsided smile. “It’s wanget.” When she raised a brow in question, he explained, “The pink fruit from the forest.”

Despite herself, Lily frowned, and her stomach gave an angry gurgle. “I’m sorry,” she apologized, not wanting to seem ungrateful. “I don’t know if I can eat another one of those so long as I live.”

Instead of being disappointed or offended, Verakko laughed and circled behind her chair. He leaned down, and she thought she felt him smell her hair before speaking into her ear. “I know, I know. Just trust me. There’s a beverage made from the fruit. This is the type without alcohol.”

Lily took a long breath to settle her stomach, then took a small sip. The fruit she’d eaten for weeks on end had always been just a little too bitter to be deemed enjoyable. The sparkling juice she drank now was what that fruit had always been meant to be. Sweet and light with a hint of tartness.

Verakko rumbled a chuckle and stood, running his hands down her arms as she greedily took a longer gulp. “You can try the alcoholic version when you’re out today.”

Lily craned her head up to look at him. “When I’m out?”

Without warning, he wrapped his hands under her chin, holding her head securely in place, and kissed her. It only took her a half second of deliberation before she returned his upside-down kiss.

Lily was relieved when he moved away. Her willpower dwindled each time he did something like that.

 “I’m having someone else show you around for a while, and then I’ll meet you later,” he said, disappearing into the enclosed kitchen then reappearing with a stemmed bowl. He set it down in front of her, and she noted the frost building on the outside of the glass. Not exactly a nice, warm cup of tea.

Lily angled her head this way and that, trying to understand what type of food she might be about to eat. A solid layer of pale blue…something rose halfway up the bowl, and a variety of fruits and nuts topped it.

Noticing her reticence, Verakko sat across from her and scooped a bit of the concoction onto his flat spoon. To Lily’s surprise, the solid blue layer cracked. “Mishun bowl. It’s a common first meal for Mithrandirians. The cool temperature of the mishun is supposed to help wake you up.” He ate the blue food and held it in his mouth for a moment before swallowing. “The nuts the mishun is made from also help boost energy.”

Lily took a small bite and grinned. “It’s like ice cream, only…harder, maybe?” She scooped out a larger spoonful and savored the burst of flavor and texture created by the mix of sweet and salty toppings accompanying the minty mishun.

“Do you like it?”

“What’s not to like? You guys eat ice cream for breakfast.” Lily eyed him as he watched her eat. “You weren’t lying about being a good cook, then.”

His mouth twitched downward briefly. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

The glass orbs hovering near the ceiling flickered just before a small chime sounded.

Lily glanced at Verakko questioningly, her mouth too full of the delicious breakfast to use words.

“Your escort for the day,” he explained, rising.

Lily realized he was heading toward the door, and she hastily tugged her shirt farther down over her thighs. Choking on her mouthful, she wheezed, “Hold on!”

Verakko paused, turning to her with raised brows.

“Who is it? I thought no one was supposed to know about me. Shouldn’t I change first or something?”

“She brought something for you to wear, seeing as I broke part of your outfit yesterday.”

Lily flushed, thinking about his strong hands undressing her. Then with a start, his words registered. “She?”

Verakko was already opening the door by the time she stood. “Thank you for coming, Ziri,” he said, blocking Lily’s view of the woman.

Ziri? Lily searched her mind. She knew she’d heard the name before. The cold mishun curdled in her stomach, and her whole body crackled with electricity.

Lily shot mental daggers toward the back of Verakko’s head. How could he do this without warning her? Shame and guilt tore at her. She was the homewrecker, and now she’d have to come face to face with the woman whose life she’d screwed with.

In a fleeting moment of cowardice, Lily bolted toward the stairs. When her foot was on the top step, she halted. You need to face her. You slept with her fiancé. She deserves a little more respect than this.

“Lily?” she heard Verakko call from the doorway.

She kept her eyes trained on the ground and took a deep breath. In. Out. In— Dammit! She realized she was still wearing nothing but underwear and Verakko’s shirt.

She smoothed her wrinkled top and forced herself to look toward the person Verakko would marry if she didn’t accept him.

Her heart stuttered. The woman before her was stunning. Half of her mass of tight, icy-silver curls was pulled back, while the rest fell down her back and over her shoulder. Her light-blue skin and gauzy white dress made her look like a goddess who might spend her time sculpting the clouds.

Ziritha regarded her with sparkling blue eyes, and Lily felt like crawling into a hole and dying. She glanced between the two of them, their eyes watching her warily. How could Verakko really want her instead of the creature standing next to him? They looked so perfect together.

“Hello.” Ziri held out a white dress identical to her own and smiled gently. “I brought you a change of clothes. It’s a spa gown and mokti.”

Lily’s body thrummed with apprehension as well as annoyance directed toward Verakko. Although the word spa registered in her consciousness, she was still too taken aback to comment on it. She crossed to them both and took the dress and small bag Ziri held out for her, while berating Verakko with her lack of eye contact. “Thank you. You shouldn’t have… I mean, I should’ve…”

“Yes, I know it’s quite odd.” Ziri eyed Verakko disapprovingly. “He really should’ve fetched these things for you himself, but seeing as these circumstances are quite unusual, I offered to do it so he could be here when you awoke.”

She needed to get away to mentally prepare for what would be an unquestionably awkward day. Wiggling the dress in front of her, she sputtered, “I’m gonna go put this on. Be back in two shakes.” Only just preventing her eyes from rolling, she wanted to shrivel in mortification. Two shakes? She’d never used that phrase once in her life.

Both aliens peered at her with a look of concern. Lily spun and fled up the stairs, desperate to be out of sight before they saw her cheeks turn bright red.

***

Verakko watched as Lily practically cleared the steps in her attempt to get away. Maybe he’d made a mistake asking Ziritha to come.

“She’s a little skittish, isn’t she?” Ziri said from next to him.

“Not for many things, but when it comes to me, I suppose so.” He frowned at her. “You’re too early. I didn’t have the chance to tell her you were coming.”

Ziri tsked. “It’s a wonder your mother was able to negotiate a contract with any female if this is how you speak to them.”

Verakko bit his tongue. He’d forgotten how proper he was expected to be when it came to Clecanian females. He’d relaxed with Lily. Spoken to her honestly and without the restrained politeness he’d learned in school. “My apologies. Humans are different. My way of speaking changed while we were in the Sauven Forest.”

She nodded, concealing a smirk.

“I’m going to go make sure she’s alright,” he said while continuing to back away. “I’ll meet you back here at twenty-eight b.h.”

Ziri waved him away, gaze already scanning the room, assessing his choices.

When Verakko reached Lily’s room, he heard a barrage of angry whispering. He slid the door open, and she spun. Before he had a chance to tell her how beautiful she looked in her spa gown, she was hissing at him. “How could you not tell me she was coming!”

“I—”

“Why is she even here?”

“Last—”

“Oh my God, she saw me in your shirt, and I feel so bad and—”

“Lily!”

“What?” she yelled, advancing on him.

“I was going to tell you this morning, but she got here earlier than expected.”

Lily huffed, crossing her arms over her chest and turning away from him.

He stepped closer to her, but she refused to meet his eyes. “I knew I’d never be able to convince you she feels nothing for me. I also thought you might doubt whatever I tell you because I’m biased. The only person you’d trust is her.”

Lily’s lips pursed, a sign she was coming around. He gripped her chin and angled her head to face him.

“Ziri’s the only person in this city, besides my mother, who knows about you and knows that we’re closer than is allowed.”

“I thought I wasn’t supposed to be wandering around. Isn’t that why we snuck up here in the first place?”

Verakko didn’t want to explain, knowing it would once again remind her he wasn’t technically single in the eyes of the law, but he did anyway. “We shouldn’t be seen together. You and I alone, entering my home. But if you’re with Ziri, no one will think twice. We get many visitors from different cities. And no one knows about humans. They’ll assume you’re an off-worlder being shown around by our future queen.”

Lily yanked her head out of his grasp and stepped back. Her eyes remained fiery. “How much can I ask her? What does she know?”

“I assume she suspects we’ve been intimate, but she doesn’t know for sure. And she doesn’t know about my marks. Ask her anything you wish, but be careful not to reveal that we’re mated. I don’t know her well enough to say how she’d react to that news.”

“Fine,” Lily grumbled. “I don’t know how to put the—” she motioned to her neck with aggravated swipes of her hand, “—on.”

“The mokti?” Verakko made quick work of attaching the mokti to her hair again. “This dress is a traditional spa gown.” He caught her eye and saw a glimmer of interest spark to life. Tentatively, he ran his hands down her tense shoulders. “I’ve arranged a full trip to my favorite spa and basin.”

Her gaze flicked to him again, and she bit the inside of her cheek.

Verakko recalled the similar spark of joy in her expression when he’d revealed he had a gift for her. Mentally, he filed away the information. His mate enjoyed gifts. “Remember when we were in the woods and I promised you a trip, on me?” She met his eyes, and he grinned down at her. “Maybe after, I could take you to a bed as you requested.”

Her mouth contorted as she tried to smother her smile. Verakko stepped toward her and pressed a kiss to her unresponsive lips.

“But what if someone calls about Alex? Maybe I should stay.”

“Ziri has a communicator. If I hear anything, I’ll contact you immediately.”

When he looked back down at her, she sighed. “Alright. Let’s get this over with.”

She’d already begun heading to the door when Verakko stopped her with a hand on her arm. “Oh, and Lily, when you’re at the spa, make sure to not book a full-body massage.”

Her brows drew together. “Why?”

Verakko smothered a growl. “Do you have full-body massages on Earth?”

She shrugged. “Yeah.”

He raised a brow and looked pointedly down her body, letting his gaze linger in certain areas. “Full body?”

“Wha—” she sputtered, her eyes growing wide.

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