Saving Verakko: Chapter 24


“Twenty-eight b.h. That was clearly what I said.” Verakko examined the clock near his door again and frowned. Twenty-seven. An hour late.

Verakko had spent the day building what he hoped would be a meaningful gift for Lily. If it had been any other female, he would’ve thought the gesture too personal, but he gathered from his time in Tremanta and his knowledge of the other Earthling named Alice that humans were generally eager to feel close to their partners. If he could just remind Lily of their time together before doubts had settled in, maybe she’d decide to accept his marks.

If Lily continued to be torn, would he really have the strength to keep his marks a secret and allow her to venture off on her own? He let out a shaky breath. I have to be willing to.

It wasn’t as if either of them would be getting married tomorrow. Verakko was confident Lily wouldn’t be interested in being courted by any other males. Even if she went to live on her own, he’d still have time before his marriage began to try to win her over. The deadline his mother had given him was merely a chance to avoid competition. Still, the idea of her being so far away from him, even if it was just a few floors, was literally sickening. Verakko absently ran a hand over his stomach. Must be a symptom of the mating bond.

He squared his shoulders and continued pacing near the front door, pausing at every small sound. This was ridiculous, he decided after quelling the instinct to begin a search of the hallway. Retrieving a mott, he leaned back against the cool wall and tried to calm himself. When the doors finally swooshed open, he turned away and painfully swallowed the overlarge gulp he’d taken.

“Sorry we’re late.”

Verakko shot his head around, trying to bite his tongue to keep from scolding Ziritha, but his words died in his throat.

Lily was there, looking more beautiful than ever. The pale-gold dress she wore was simple yet somehow more impactful than the intricate designs of normal Mithrandir attire. The unadorned fabric shined faintly and flowed over her curves like water. A delicate collection of chains weaved through her glittering hair, once again highlighted with gold the way it had been when he’d met her.

She’d chosen not to wear a mokti. Instead, shimmering, deep golden paint coated her neck, bright near her chin, then fading until it blended in with her natural skin near her delicate collar bones. He stepped toward her, every bit of him feeling undeserving of the vision before him. His throat remained tight, so he just stared at her.

“I advised against the dress, thinking it too simple,” Ziri chimed in, reminding him she was still there. “But I’m glad to say I was wrong.”

Lily smiled at him with painted lips.

Ziri cleared her throat. “I need to be getting back to the Queen.” She turned to Lily, who smiled warmly at her. “It was wonderful to spend the day with you. I hope we’ll see each other again very soon.”

Lily wrapped her arms around a perplexed Ziritha. “Thank you so much for everything.”

Ziri furrowed her brows at Verakko, not used to receiving hugs from near strangers. He shrugged in response. She smiled and patted Lily awkwardly on the back.

After Ziri left, Verakko had to shake himself out of his daze. “You look… I don’t know if there’s a word strong enough to do you justice.”

Lily lowered her chin and grinned, a pretty pink tinting her cheeks.

“Did you have a good time?”

She gave an unsure smile. “It was…enlightening.”

He studied her face, trying to see whether “enlightening” was a bad thing or a good thing and decided from the lack of worry in her gaze that Ziritha must’ve helped him. He released a low breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. “Are you ready for your present?”

Lily tried to contain a wide grin and failed. “Yes.” She peered around him, clearly thinking it was here.

“I actually have two gifts for you.”

Her brows lifted in surprise. “Two?”

Verakko’s chest expanded in anticipation. “My mother called. Alex has been found.”

Her relaxed grin faded for a moment, and she searched his eyes, seeming dazed. “Really?” she said on a breath.

“Yes. She’s safe.”

Lily’s face broke into a glorious smile, and then she let out a soft sob, all of her anxiety seeming to go with it. Her eyes turned glassy. “She’s okay. Can we go see her? I need to talk to her.”

“She’s waiting for your call.” Verakko lifted his communicator.

Lily soundlessly held out her hands. Verakko connected the call and spoke to the male on the other end, then handed the communicator over to Lily when the male left to retrieve Alex.

Lily clutched the communicator and silently ran an apologetic hand down Verakko’s arm before dashing upstairs.

He gazed after her for long moments, his skin tingling from where she’d touched him and his heart full.

***

Lily vaulted onto the bed and held her breath, straining to listen. Come on, Alex.

“Hey there, Lilypad!” came Alex’s smooth voice.

“Al—” Lily began crying from happiness, her words strangled and incomprehensible.

“Oh, hey, don’t cry. I’m good.”

“What happened to you?” Lily choked out.

Alex let out a whistle. “Oh, dude, so much. You really need to get over here, or I need to get over there. I’m in Sauven right now, but I’m supposed to go to some other city pretty soon. Trema…Tremeada…I can’t remember what it’s called. I don’t even know where to start. I woke up on the shore of that river with a major headache. Pretty sure I had a concussion, and I spent I don’t know how many days just vomiting and sleeping. But that’s not the craziest thing that’s happened.”

“Tell me about it.” Lily chuckled, reminded of her current predicament with Verakko. “What else happened?”

“Lilypad…” Alex paused dramatically. “I’m freaking getting married!”

“What? When?” Lily was shocked, both at the news as well as the stab of envy she felt. But then a simmering anger set in. “Wait, are you being forced into a marriage?”

“Well…”

“Tell. Me. Everything.”

***

“Where are we going?” Lily asked for the third time.

He grinned down at her. The exuberant smile on her face had been immovable ever since she’d come downstairs. And it was contagious. “You’ll see.”

They walked down the hall to the restricted service elevator, and Verakko called it up, circumventing the alarm this time. It’d taken careful planning to make sure he’d be the only person able to access the one-hundredth floor, but a simple rescheduling of personnel in the buildings system would be enough to grant him a few hours without anyone being the wiser.

They stood waiting. Verakko felt a mixture of trepidation and hope at the furtive glances Lily kept leveling on him. His chest expanded at the thought that she may be coming around. A darker part of his mind reeled to think she may even let him touch her again today.

Her nostrils flared, and she turned toward him. “I missed that smell.”

“Am I doing it again?”

Lily only smiled. She moved in closer and lifted on her toes, then buried her face in the crook of his neck and inhaled. Verakko’s heart thundered, stomach growing tight and hands fisting at his sides to keep from pulling her to him. He should push her away until they were out of sight and in the elevator, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

She sighed on an exhale. “That house smells like super-strong flowers all the time. I don’t like it.”

He began to explain that it’d been Ziritha’s scent preference, when the faint sound of footsteps hit his ears. Lily gasped as he quickly pushed her away and urged her to walk down the hall, but it may have been too late.

A short female with long braided hair and a formal gown paused in the middle of the hallway, staring at them.

Lily stiffened, her intelligent eyes taking in the scene, and wisely put more space between them as they walked. The female began walking down the hall again. Maybe she’d wanted to make sure she didn’t intrude on a private moment. As they passed one another, the female cocked her head and craned her neck to follow their progress. Perhaps she’d just been surprised to see them waiting at a service elevator.

Verakko exhaled a relieved breath when she passed, but said nothing. It wasn’t as if he knew the female.

He guided Lily to another service elevator on the opposite side of the building and called it. Luckily this one was closer, only taking a few moments to arrive. They stepped in, and when the doors slid closed before them, Lily spoke.

“Do you know her?”

“No,” Verakko breathed.

She placed a soft palm on his forearm, erasing all thought from his mind. “She didn’t see us doing anything wrong. Only walking together. I mean, Ziri and I were literally in a hot tub with Fejo today. That must’ve been worse than us standing a little too close together.”

Verakko’s head snapped back as though he’d been slapped. He replayed her words in his mind, making sure he’d heard her right. “Fejo?” he growled.

Lily arched a brow at him, letting him know he needed to tread carefully. “Yes. We saw him at the spa, and he knew what I was. Ziri explained that you two were old friends, and I decided I wanted to ask him more questions in private, so he joined us. Is that a problem?”

Verakko faced forward and cracked his neck before rolling his shoulder and taking a calming breath. “No,” he grated.

Lily pursed her lips.

He peered at her sidelong as they approached their floor. “What did he tell you?”

Her annoyed expression shifted and was replaced with a sly smile. “He told me where the name mivassi came from.”

Verakko grunted and checked the feed to make sure the floor was clear, then opened the doors. Fejo would have known about his aunts, but he still didn’t like the idea of the charming male speaking with his mate. Not when they were still in such a precarious position and he was still so uncertain whether she’d decide to stay with him or not.

Lily gasped as the doors opened, and Verakko’s chest puffed out a little. Fejo could’ve never brought her here.

Although this floor always made him uncomfortable, as it was the highest accessible floor of the building, he could admit it was beautiful. The water that was constantly recirculated from the lower floor’s gardens was pumped up here and then cascaded down through the center of the building. Lily gazed at the torrential falling water in awe.

But the impressive sight of the water wasn’t the reason he’d brought her here. He rolled his shoulders again, shaking off the flare of jealousy and anger at the idea of her spending time with Fejo, and placed a hand on the small of her back. “Do you remember the story I told you about Daera?”

Lily nodded, allowing herself to be guided to the far side of the room while her eyes remained riveted on the funnel of falling water.

His skin tingled in protest as they drew nearer to a large window. He gripped her hips, instinctively not wanting to take his hands off her at this height, and nodded out the window into the distance. “Those are the mountains I told you about.”

Lily smiled up to him with brows drawn, rather than looking out the window. She ran her eyes over his face as if trying to work something out. Then, slowly, she covered the backs of his hands with her own and gazed out the window.

A purr started in Verakko’s chest at the contact. Far off in the distance, the towering blue crystals that dotted the dark mountains glowed in the moonlight.

“They’re beautiful.” She ran a thumb over his hand. The paint covering his marks didn’t deaden sensation, yet something in him ached for the paint to be removed, to feel her soft fingers caress his marks without any barriers.

He guided her away from the window and pulled his controller out of a pocket. “Do you remember what we were doing when I told you about them?”

Lily grinned. “Yeah, I remember I was kicking your ass at checkers.”

Kicking ass? Verakko chuckled inwardly at the odd saying.

“Yes, well…” He typed in a few commands, and twenty-four flying objects rose from their hiding spot.

Lily stared wide-eyed and open-mouthed as the pieces settled into their programmed locations. “What is this?”

A larger object than the rest floated high above and projected an enormous checker board onto the floor. The gold and teal pieces, each as wide as dinner plates, remained hovering above their designated spaces.

“Did I get this dressed up to play checkers, Verakko?” she asked, tilting her head at him.

Doubt roared to life, exaggerating the hollow dread in his belly. With a clenched jaw, he uncertainly said, “Yes?”

Muscles primed to wince, he waited for her response.

The corner of her mouth lifted, and she pressed a soft kiss to his cheek. “I love it.”

Verakko’s breath whooshed out of him.

“I’m teal,” she said, walking to the other side of the board.

He held in a frown as she moved away. Well, obviously she couldn’t stand next to him and play, but her distance still made him anxious.

“Do I tell you which piece I want to move?” Lily stared down at the pieces hovering inches off the projected board.

He nodded.

***

Lily couldn’t remember ever receiving a gift even halfway as thoughtful as this one. She stared at her pieces, trying to think of what move to make first, but her mind couldn’t seem to focus. Had he built all of this today? While she’d been at the spa? He must’ve. Checkers didn’t exist on this planet, which meant he couldn’t have had the pieces already. What an incredibly impressive man.

She gazed at him across the room and nibbled on her lip to hide the goofy grin threatening to spread. If someone walking by could see into her brain at that moment, all they’d see was scribbled hearts with the initials V and L. It was becoming harder and harder to listen to her own reason. How long have I known him? Less than a month. Hell, a week. It’s only been a week. Do I know his last name? No. Do I know his favorite type of music? No.

Lily and Verakko both took a few preliminary turns while she attempted to argue with her own eyes to remain focused on the board and not on the way his streaked blue hair curled gorgeously over one eyebrow. An intimate image of them together on a sun-streaked patio, him sitting in a chair and her standing in front of him trimming his hair, sprang to her mind and expanded her chest with warmth. When the image shifted into a much-naughtier scene, wherein her shears had been abandoned and the chair toppled, the heat traveled from her chest and pooled in her core.

“How is Alex?” he called from across the room.

Her cheeks heated, as if she’d been caught doing something rather than just daydreaming. “She’s…not great but not bad either, I guess. I told her we’d come visit as soon as we could. Would that be alright?” She raised a brow.

Verakko paused for a moment before answering. “I’ll make sure you get to see her. Yes.”

Lily’s chest deflated. He’d phrased it that way because the person taking her to Sauven would depend on her decision about him, she realized. If she chose not to stay with him, whomever her guardian turned out to be would take her. She pushed those worries from her mind and focused on him again.

Verakko made his move, and Lily noticed the piece he was floating across the board was colored a different shade of gold than the rest. It looked older, more rudimentary, if it was possible to say such a thing about a flying object that had seemingly no wings or propellers.

She spotted an opening and jumped one of his pieces, then clapped her hands together.

Verakko grimaced, eyes roving over the board in frustration. “You enjoyed the spa?”

“Very much. Thank you again for setting it up.” She chuckled. “No massages for me, though. I was too nervous about it.”

A flash of fang accompanied his grin. “I can’t say I’m upset. If you need to be massaged anywhere, I’d be happy to oblige.”

Lily shivered, feeling her nipples harden under the silky material of her dress. Before she could stop herself, throaty words were spilling out of her. “I suppose I do have a few kinks you could work out.”

Verakko’s gaze darkened, and he licked a fang.

His lost piece that she’d just jumped drifted toward her, and she stepped away, thinking it was heading behind her to land somewhere. Instead, it hovered in front of her hands as though expecting something.

“I forgot to mention. These pieces are special. For each one you win—” Verakko grinned and tapped a finger against his controller, “—you get a prize.”

Lily squealed in delight as a compartment on the top of the round object emerged, revealing what was unmistakably a piece of candy. “Candy?” she asked, wanting to make sure, even though it was already halfway to her lips.

Verakko’s shoulders shot back triumphantly, and he nodded.

Over the next few minutes, they joked and flirted and played checkers, each earning themselves delicious sweets. Lily made her final move with an exaggerated frown directed toward a joyous-looking Verakko.

He jumped her remaining pieces, then punched the air, reveling in his victory.

Lily giggled and chewed on the last of the unfamiliar fruit-flavored candy that was somehow both chewy and juicy. While Verakko did the same, she peered down at the pile of checkers and studied the odd-looking one. 

Along the top of the round object were sloppy vertical symbols.

“The Super Bandit version two,” Verakko intoned from the other side of the room. “I found it in the storage cube my father had packed my things into.”

Her chest grew tight.

He pocketed his controller and crossed to her. Smile fading, eyes growing serious. Looking at her with drawn brows that urged her to believe him, he said, “I wanted to show you that the things we shared…what I shared with you…they were real.”

Lily swallowed and gazed up at him, knowing in her heart what he said was true.

A half laugh, half sob escaped her, and she nodded, throat too tight for words. She twined her arms around his neck and kissed him. Strong arms wrapped around her waist. He lifted her, drawing her chest flush with his, and slanted his mouth against hers to deepen the kiss. The sudden purr that erupted from his chest vibrated through him, tickling her tongue and lips as she clung to him.

One week, her mind hissed in the background. Do I know what side of the bed he sleeps on? No. Do I know the name of his first pet? No.

Her grip around his neck tightenedWith an answering groan, his hand rose to fist her hair.

I know what he’s like in a bad mood. I know he’ll sacrifice himself to protect me. I know he loves tinkering and hates heights. I know he can be shortsighted and pompous and rude.

Do I know he’s mine? Yes. Lily sighed, melting against his warm, rumbling chest.

Do I know that I love him? Yes. Deep down, she felt it. Somehow, someway, the bond was real, and despite everything she’d been through, she could feel it pulling them together inextricably.

This man was hers. It’d come as a shock earlier to have someone else point out the feelings she’d so viciously denied, but there was no doubt left. She’d been falling in love with his infuriating personality and hidden gooey center since they’d first met.

“Let’s go back to the house,” she panted after breaking off the kiss.

He gifted her a glorious, fanged smile and made a deep groan of approval. Dropping her to her feet, he programmed his floating checkerboard to clean itself up and led her to the door.

She needed to figure out a good way to tell him. He’d done so many romantic things for her, and now it was her turn to do the same. She’d plan something for tomorrow. She inwardly grinned, thinking of a few things she’d like to do with him in bed, but decided that telling him she loved him and agreeing to be his mate in full required a little more romance and a little less lust.

They climbed into the lift, and she continued to brainstorm. Maybe she could build him a fire in the apartment? No, stupid. Get a private natural pool at the spa like they had in the tunnel? Maybe.

Her thoughts were interrupted when he pushed her into the wall of the lift. His mouth descended onto hers, his tongue gliding against hers in slow, languid strokes. Lily whimpered into his mouth, and her sex clenched.

Verakko ran his hands down to grip her ass and let out an approving hiss. They stayed locked together, breathing hard for long moments after the lift stopped moving.

When he finally tore away, he gazed down at her, his eyes a beautiful glowing emerald in the dim space.

“How about you take me to that bed now?”

The most gorgeous, heat-inducing, wolfish grin spread over his face. In a voice gone deep with lust, he rasped, “Yes, mivassi.”

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