Saving Verakko: Chapter 26


Lily grinned and let out a deep sigh after the door closed behind Verakko. She spun in place, then scanned the room. “Hopefully he’ll be back soon,” she said to no one in particular.

Running her hands over her hips, she luxuriated in the incredible softness of the odd fabric. She wandered to the kitchen and examined the tips of her hair. The glitter coat was so fine it almost looked like shine from a distance.

Once in the kitchen, she stood in the center and peered around, not sure what to do with herself until Verakko returned. Deciding she had an opportunity to examine an alien house that most scientists would kill for, she began looking in every nook and cranny of the two-story home.

The two bedrooms seemed typical enough. Lily frowned at the cream and silver bedroom on the first floor, obviously meant for Ziritha, then a grin tugged at her lips. That meant Verakko had wanted to squirrel her away in his room.

A separate room with only a small pool of hot water made her stop. Did she have time for a quick dip before Verakko returned? With a last longing look at the steaming tub, she pulled herself away.

Lily searched every unlocked cabinet, squinted under every piece of furniture, and rifled through every drawer she could find. Most of the objects she came across were recognizable. Or at least she believed she could deduce what they were for. Some of the others items she found confounded her.

Currently she was standing in front of the gleaming control panel for the furniture, wondering if she felt brave enough to press a few alien symbols and see what would happen.

The front door whooshed open, and Lily whirled around, her heart ramping up to a frantic beat at Verakko’s return. How could she have ever doubted she loved him?

When she found Ziritha panting in the doorway, her smile faded. Her hair was no longer immaculate, frizz haloing her scalp, and she was winded. Quite unlike the graceful, poised pre-queen she’d been with all day.

“Are you alright?” she asked, wishing she knew how to get Ziri a glass of water.

Between pants, Ziri breathed, “He’s been reported…” Deep breath. “They’re at the palace now… The council will vote…”

Lily rushed forward, her heart thundering in her chest for an entirely different reason. “What? Who?”

Ziri shook her head and tugged on Lily’s arm. “They can’t make a decision about anything until all members of the council are there. They’ll wait for me. I wanted to get here as fast as I could to explain. Let’s go.”

“But—” Lily began, insides growing cold.

The woman pulled her roughly through the doorway and leveled a serious stare on her. “We need to go,” she swayed.

Lily grunted and brushed the sway away. “That doesn’t work on me.”

Ziri let out a huff of frustration and eyed her for a moment longer before heading down the hallway, Lily in tow. “He’s going to be sent away. You need to plead in favor of his character, and hopefully the sentence will be reduced. Tell them you initiated the pairing and make sure to play up the differences in your culture, and if you care for him at all, do not tell them he lied about being under contract.”

This was all moving too fast. One minute she was smitten and awaiting her mate’s return, and now she was getting pointers about how to get him a reduced sentence. Unlawful pointers, if Ziri’s hushed tone and nervous glances around them were any indication. “What’ll happen to him?” Lily tried to recall what he’d told her. “He said he’ll be sent away? To where? Tremanta?”

“Tremanta?” Ziri halted and turned on her. Her eyes were fiery and full of emotion, but Lily sensed it wasn’t anger directed specifically at her. “Off-world, Lily. He’ll be sent to serve on a barge in space, far, far away from here. You’ll go years without seeing him, and you’ll have to marry other males in the meantime.” She shot an angry glare behind her. “When he finally returns, he’ll no longer be eligible for marriage, but you still will be. Do you understand me?”

“He’ll be sent where?” Lily breathed, an iron band tightening around her chest. Sent away for years? Because I was too scared to realize what he means to me in time?

They stepped onto a lift, and Ziri tried to smooth her hair and clothes.

Lily pressed a hand to her belly as it roiled in protest, her mind racing but unable to follow any one train of thought. She slid her eyes shut. In. Out. In. Out.

Before she’d realized it, they were exiting the lift and walking toward a cruiser.

They climbed in and sat in silence, both working through their own thoughts. A mirror appeared on the wall with a touch of Ziri’s hand, and she examined her appearance, dabbing here and there to perfect her makeup.

“Why are you helping me?” Lily thought back to what Verakko had told her about his mother, the Queen. What he’d mentioned about the women of this planet overall. It seemed as though the people would lose respect for Ziritha as a ruler if she didn’t punish a breached contract. It would serve her better to push for a severe sentence. It’d make it clear to everyone that she wasn’t the type to be fucked with or disrespected.

“I know what it’s like to not be able to be with the male you want.”

“Fejo’s friend.” Lily recalled their brief and personal conversation at the spa.

Ziri smiled sadly. “If there’s even the slightest chance that Verakko’s marks could appear for you, I want to see that through. It’s selfish, really.” She swallowed. “If humans are found to consistently call forth marks, then maybe the pressure to marry and procreate will be taken off the females of this world.” Ziri shrugged, and the hope in her eyes just about broke Lily’s heart. “Maybe no one would care if he and I were together.”

Lily swallowed hard. His marks had already appeared, but she’d asked him to hide them. It was clear that this world was suffering, that people were placing their species’ needs above their own, yet she’d only been concerned with the ways in which this society might be unfair to her.

“The Queen has commanded the council to update their translators so they’ll all be able to understand you,” Ziri said, her serious expression back in place.

The door slid open again, and Lily saw they were stopped on the top of a massive entryway. She stepped out and turned in place. The buildings of the old city could be seen to the right, the towering skyscrapers of the new city behind them.

With a deep breath, she followed Ziri into the cool interior of the entryway. Guards on either side tilted their heads toward Ziri and tapped their thumbs to their shoulder as she walked while studying Lily curiously. The hall they traveled through was gorgeous, lined with shining stone and thick columns, but she couldn’t seem to pay attention to any of it.

Over and over in her head, she rehearsed what she should say. Trying to decide what approach would work best with a group of reigning aliens. Emotional outcry for the man she loved? Lily glanced sidelong at Ziri’s stern expression and thought not. The only foolproof way to ensure Verakko’s freedom was clear.

It was decision time. A small part of her remained fearful of the world knowing about Verakko’s marks, but it was an irrational fear, cemented by decades of lackluster experiences. She loved Verakko, so why did it still terrify her to agree to be bound to him forever?

Ziritha rounded a corner, and Lily’s steps faltered as she followed the woman into a severe, vaulted room. The floors were tiled with black stone, imitating the glittering black sand of the desert. Or maybe it was the sand from the desert, treated in some way to make it hard. The dark blue of the walls did nothing to relieve Lily’s growing dread. The soft lighting provided by extra-large glowing orbs near the ceiling worked to make the space feel foreboding rather than romantic. At the foot of the room, a group of silent, dour individuals stood.

On a raised platform stood the Queen. Lily snapped her jaw shut, her immediate response to seeing the intimidating woman; awe. She wore a deep blue robe almost the same color as her navy skin. It covered her from neck to floor, yet her arms peeked out through slits in the fabric and rested, clasped in front of her.

The Queen’s critical eyes bore into hers before running down her body. Lily forced herself not to hunch her shoulders.

Ziri halted Lily with a hand and whispered, “Wait until you’re asked to speak,” then continued forward alone to take her place at the foot of the Queen’s platform, along with four other individuals.

One stern woman wore a pale blue robe. Another wore a purple, two-piece formfitting outfit and openly frowned, showing her mood more readily than the two remaining men, whose expressions were impassive.

Movement from the corner caught Lily’s eye, and she saw the same woman who’d passed them in the hall before she and Verakko had gone on their date. Standing next to the woman was the attendant from the spa, the one who’d flirted with her, his head hung low as though he were embarrassed to be here. He refused to meet Lily’s eyes. Had they reported them? Based on what?

She tried to calm her initial reaction of fury, reminding herself that in their minds, they’d witnessed the husband to their future queen carousing with an unknown woman. She couldn’t blame them for reporting the infraction, especially if it was as much of a slap in the face as Verakko had made it out to be.

 The sound of heavy footsteps behind her made her turn. Her breath hitched at the sight of Verakko and a guard. Although he wasn’t restrained, he walked alongside the guard without complaint. His eyes stayed glued to Lily as he passed and headed for the platform in front of her. He gave her what was meant to be a comforting smile and nod, but the smile didn’t reach his eyes, and the stiffness of his body made the nod more of a jerk of his head. Her eyes flashed to his hands, but they were still covered.

When he reached the front, the Queen spoke into the cavernous space, her voice bouncing forcefully off the cold stone walls. “Verakko Ye’vet has been found to be in breach of his marriage contract. Baeo saw him with Lily of Earth. She witnessed them pulling away from an embrace in the hallway outside of his home.”

Lily stepped forward, ready to explain that Baeo hadn’t seen what she thought she’d seen, even knowing it was a lie, but Ziritha shook her head in warning, and Lily slammed her mouth shut. She locked eyes with Verakko and saw a muscle twitch in his jaw.

He didn’t look particularly perturbed by the proceedings. He stared at her intensely, as though attempting to take a mental picture of her. Tears welled behind her eyes.

The Queen continued, “The accused was questioned, as is customary after a report of a breach is made. Verakko has admitted guilt. Therefore, I’ll decide his punishment, and the council will decide the severity.”

Lily’s stomach flipped. He’d told them he was guilty? Why not tell them the truth about the marks? Claim her as his mivassi? Something?

The Queen addressed Lily directly. “Since you’re not familiar with our laws, I will tell you the typical punishments for breach of contract are the loss of all future marriage eligibility as well as an off-world work assignment, allowing a post in the city for a hardworking male more appreciative of the gift of having a wife. My council will decide on the length of the assignment after hearing statements from the accused and from the abettor.”

Lily tried to calm her racing heart. They’d both get to speak. He wasn’t going to be sent away if she had any say in it.

The Queen looked at her son with thinned lips. “Do you have any claims to make for this female? And if not, would you like to say anything for the council to take into consideration while deciding on the severity of my ruling?”

Lily shot her panicked eyes to meet his. Tell them! Show them your marks!

Verakko remained silent for a moment, his brows drawn. He gazed down at the floor and licked a fang. Then he looked back up at her and smiled weakly.

Verakko raised his head to his mother and squared his shoulders. “I do not.”

Lily stared at him, and a surge of love heated her insides. He was trying to keep his word to not force her into anything. He was allowing himself to be sent away for who knew how long, even knowing she’d be forced to marry other men. All because he thought she needed more time. The balloon of emotion always expanding in her chest finally burst, and she released a throaty sob.

She quickly tried to school her features, but their audience had noticed. Verakko took a step toward her, his hands flexing, but stopped when the guard behind him cleared his throat, reminding him he wasn’t really free.

“Do you not wish to claim her as your mivassi?” asked Ziritha suddenly.

All eyes turned toward her. Lily saw the briefest flash of surprise pass over the Queen’s face as she looked at her protégé. She then turned to a scowling Verakko with brows raised.

Verakko lifted his chin, the resolution to do what he thought Lily wanted clearer than it had been before. “I do not wish to make such a claim.”

The Queen’s apathetic mask faded, and she looked between Lily, Verakko, and Ziritha with narrowed eyes. Her gaze finally settled on Lily. “Do you have anything you’d like to say to the council on behalf of Verakko?”

Another strangled sob broke free, and she nodded.

“Lily, it’ll be alright. It won’t feel like long,” Verakko rasped from his place near the council.

Another tear slid free, and she grinned. She raised her head to the Queen and in a strong, sure voice, declared, “Verakko is my mate. He’ll be staying here with me.”

A frenzied murmuring broke out in the room, echoing off the walls. Excited and disbelieving glances shot from Lily to Verakko. A few of the guards frowned down at his covered wrists and shook their heads in disapproval.

All Lily could do was watch Verakko’s wide-eyed face. He held her gaze with such a defeated, worried look that she knew he must be thinking she’d revealed their bond out of guilt or pity.

“He covered his marks,” she continued, “because I asked him to. I was uncomfortable with the idea of matehood. If you take the paint off, you’ll see.”

“Hute, fetch remover, now!” Ziri shouted excitedly to a guard, who scurried away. Lily could see the restrained joy in the woman’s masked expression.

“When did the marks appear?” the Queen asked.

Lily peered at Verakko, his head hung low. Her skin tingled, needing to get to him and explain that this was what she wanted. That she’d been an idiot for thinking differently and she was so sorry for putting him in this position. “Just before we arrived in the city.” Lily paused, unsure what to call the woman. “Majesty,” she tried.

“And you’ve made him hide the bond since then? Why are you suddenly revealing it now?” She saw a flare of anger in the Queen’s eyes and could’ve sworn it was outrage on Verakko’s behalf.

Verakko’s head raised as well, his worried eyes begging for an explanation.

“I didn’t fully understand what it meant or what was at stake. We don’t have matehood on Earth, and I was scared. I started having feelings for him after only a few days, and when he told me he was under contract with another woman, I didn’t know how to handle it. But none of that matters anymore.” Lily had to stop, her throat clogging with emotion. Another tear slipped free. She held Verakko’s gaze, hoping he took the words she said to heart. “I love him. I love how impatient and snarky and intelligent he is. And how he softens when he’s around me. I’ve been traveling the world since I was young, and I’ve never felt like I fit anywhere.” Verakko’s brows relaxed, and his chest expanded. Lily sniffed. “But I fit with him. And I don’t want to be anywhere he isn’t.”

Verakko shuddered out a breath and beamed at her. His loud, rattling purr reverberated around the room as the guard who’d left to find remover rushed over to Verakko’s extended hands with a cloth. They held each other’s grinning gazes as if no one else existed.

Small gasps broke out around the room again when Verakko’s marks were finally revealed. Everyone’s eyes fell on the Queen. Lily held her breath.

With a small, almost undetectable smile, she said, “The contract is void.”

Lily’s stomach somersaulted as Verakko dashed toward her at a preternatural speed. Vaulting into his arms, she twined her hands through his hair and kissed him. Tearing away, she whispered, “I’m so sorry it took me this long to see it.”

“That you love me?” Verakko said, grinning.

“Yes.” Lily chuckled, keeping her voice low.

Verakko blew a breath out through his nose and shook his head in wonderment. “Mivassi, I would’ve waited my whole life for you.”

Lily kissed him again, the tidal wave of happiness suffusing her being more intense than she could’ve ever imagined.

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