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Saving Verakko: Chapter 7

“Confusing female. Grabbing my face,” Verakko griped under his breath as he hauled the last load of firewood to the small camp they’d set up.

Lily sat under a beautiful sprawling tree heavily laden with delicate yellow flowers. The small blossoms floated down around her as she focused on cracking nuts open against a smooth rock. She looked like some kind of forest goddess come to life. Verakko scowled. And he couldn’t have her. Couldn’t even try.

He dropped the wood pile, and she started at the loud cracks of dry wood hitting dry wood. For a moment, she stared up at him quizzically then returned to her task.

Verakko settled himself with another long stick and began carving a new spear tip. The one he’d started on yesterday hadn’t made it through Lily’s first dead-of-night moan. He’d be prepared for the sound tonight, though.

“Do you know what these flowers are?” She asked, examining one of the small yellow blossoms.

He scraped a large flake of wood from his spear and ground his teeth in frustration. “No.”

“Hmm. Too bad. It’d be nice if it could be made into a medicine or tea.” She returned to shucking the nuts.

The need to explain why his knowledge was so lacking bubbled in him. “They don’t grow in the desert where I’m from.”

“Tell me about your hometown,” she said, never taking her eyes from her work.

“Mithrandir? What do you want to know?”


“Well,” he began, leaning back against the soft bark of a tree, “it’s a desert city. Fairly large. Surrounded by black sand as far as the eye can see. The old city is situated in the Well, an enormous pit formed by my ancestors centuries ago. But most people have moved into the new city, and now the old city is used primarily for recreation. There are shops and restaurants and spas.”

“Spas?” Lily interrupted, her head snapping up.

Why was she so excited? “What are spas where you’re from?”

“People go there for beauty treatments. Hair, massages, facials. Things like that. Are those the kind of spas you have?”

He gave a tight nod. “I didn’t take you for the type to frequent such establishments.”

“Just because I don’t complain about being dirty and gross doesn’t mean I like looking this way.” Her chest puffed a little, and her eyes returned to the ever-shrinking pile of un-shucked nuts. “I’ll have you know, I was a hairstylist back home. I worked at a spa, and I loved it.”

“You could work at one again now.”

Lily paused and grew thoughtful. “I’d like to. I wonder how long it’d take to work through beauty school again. I can’t imagine the products are the same. Or the hair, for that matter.” She studied Verakko’s hair, and he quelled the urge to smooth it. “What steps did they take to put those streaks in your hair?”

“I haven’t colored my hair. I only get it cut on occasion.” His comment seemed to irk her, and she returned to shucking the last few nuts.

“Do hairstylists get paid well in your city?”

Was Mithrandir his city anymore? He loved his town, and his people, but he loved them as an outsider would. He fit in much better in Tremanta, where technology and innovation were revered, rather than luxury and tradition. Verakko supposed he’d have to give up those things now. If he managed to have a child with Ziritha, he’d need to remain in Mithrandir indefinitely. “Yes. A trip to the spas and the basins is a regular occurrence and held dear among my people.”

Lily cracked her last guren with a dreamy smile.

“What is it?”

Her eyes focused on his. “Oh, nothing. I was just thinking about some treatments I’d like right about now. A massage, a hot-oil scalp treatment, a manicure.” She frowned at her small, somewhat dirty nails.

“I received high scores in my massage classes.” Verakko’s voice came out a little huskier than he’d intended, a small, rattling hiss punctuating his words.

Verakko couldn’t believe it, but for a moment, Lily appeared to be considering his offer. His fingers twitched in anticipation.

She shook her head. “No, that’s okay. I’ll wait.”

Verakko had to stop himself from breaking his newly sharpened spear in half.


“Are you ready to learn how to make a fire?”

To Lily’s surprise, Verakko didn’t argue or hesitate. Instead, he sat quietly and listened as she showed him how to use the bow drill and explained what to do after he managed to get an ember in the soft bundle of tinder.

“Got it?”

“I think so,” he replied, brows drawn in concentration.

At least he didn’t mind being taught by a woman, she thought, her estimation of him rising a fraction. Lily stood. “Good. Then I’m going to refill our canteens so we can purify the water before it gets too dark.” She neglected to mention that she was also going to bathe. Better he didn’t know.

He stood suddenly, and she had to take a step back. He peered around the clearing, then up to the sky just visible through the large leaves, worry evident in his eyes. “Maybe I should go with you.”

Placing a hand on his arm, she tried to not sound too eager when she said, “No, it’s fine. Someone needs to start a fire, and I want you to learn how to do it.”

The muscle beneath her palm tensed, and his eyes traveled to where she touched him. His skin was warm and smooth. Awareness of his large, solid frame washed over her. How much better would she sleep curled against his warm chest after he’d used his strong hands to massage her stress away? Lily had been a breath away from agreeing to the massage before his dark tone had registered.

She jerked her hand back and awkwardly continued. “Okay, so…uh…you just stay right here and start a fire, and I’ll be back before you know it.” Lily gathered her water container and bowl, avoiding his intense stare that had darkened at her touch. “See you soon,” she called, scurrying toward the river.

When she’d ventured far enough away and the frustratingly pleasant scent of cedar no longer hung in the air, she allowed herself a moment to breathe. It was funny how she’d been so lonely for so long, and now all she wanted was to be alone so she could gather her thoughts in peace.

Peering up at the sky, she estimated she had an hour or so before she’d need to head back. She picked up her pace and gave herself permission to finally think through what she’d learned. So much.

This planet wasn’t at all what she’d thought. Her heart sank. If Verakko was to be believed, she’d have to get used to it, though. She’d never be allowed to return to Earth. Lily shook her head and dismissed the idea. Laws could be changed, and laws could be broken. Figuring out how to get back to Earth was a winnable fight, she was convinced of it, but it was a fight for another day. Besides, what was the rush? It wasn’t like she’d have anybody waiting for her on Earth.

Lily’s upbringing had instilled an unrest in her that she’d never been able to shake. As far back as she could remember, her family had constantly traveled. Even as an adult, she tended not to live anywhere for more than a few years.

A couple of friends she didn’t stay in contact with and her globe-trekking parents were the only people who’d even notice she was gone. They’d probably assume she’d moved again.

Her parents would be okay; she didn’t have any doubts. Her chest swelled. That thought hurt more than anything else. Sure, they’d miss her and wonder what had happened, but over time, she’d learned her mother and father didn’t feel or express emotion in the same way most people did. They thought of themselves more as guides and teachers than parents. At sixteen, when she’d asked to emancipate herself from their care, they’d been thrilled. Overjoyed that she’d felt confident enough in what they’d taught her to venture out on her own. Although she’d never mentioned it, she’d been crushed at how easily they’d agreed.

The river came into view, and Lily let out a low breath. She had to hand it to them. Without their endless camping and survival training, she might not have made it out here. She supposed she owed them a thank you.

The river was curved here, creating a wide, sandy beach with shallow, calm water on one side and a sharp cliff on the far side, where the water rushed past. When she reached the sandy bank, she paused and took a second to admire the tranquil scene.

The sun was just setting behind the towering trees in the distance, turning the surface of the water gold. A cool breeze blew, carrying the crisp scent of the forest. Lily slid her eyes shut and inhaled. She bent, unbuckling her ankle straps, and toed off her flats. The wet sand between her curling toes was still gritty, yet a bit more velvety than most sand on Earth.

Lily waded into the water without thinking. Halfway in, she froze and glanced down at her wet shirt. Every other time she’d bathed, she’d made sure to clean her clothing as well as her body. She’d dive into the water then take off her clothes, scrubbing them as best she could. She’d lay them out to dry while cleaning the rest of herself.

Putting on wet clothes wasn’t the most comfortable, but the warm air of most nights and the thin fabric ensured they dried quickly. Now, thanks to her distracted state of mind, all brought on by that confusing male, she’d forgotten to take her new travel companion into account.

Was it really wise to walk back into camp with a wet, white T-shirt? If his heated looks at her touch were any indication, no. She tore off her clothing and scrubbed away the blood and grime. 

Her thorough laundering a few days ago made it so the clothes rinsed clean, or what could be considered clean these days, without too much effort. Peering around, she found a few dry boulders near a shallow area of river and moved toward them, squatting awkwardly to keep her shoulders below the surface of the water.

After her clothes were laid out and drying, she ducked back into the river and began to relax. It would take him ages to start a fire, anyway, her clothes should be partially dry by then. The water here was warm and soft and slightly aerated from the rapids upstream. As the sun dipped below the tree line, she enjoyed the last of the sunset. One of the moons was already visible in the cornflower-blue sky.

She thought about Verakko and grinned while paddling closer to shore to retrieve some sand. Learning how to use a bow drill was hard work. It took years of practice to master. Verakko would likely be fireless and livid upon her return, just as she’d been the first time she’d tried to use one on her own.

Lily ran the sand over her body as an exfoliant, trying to get as clean as possible without soap. She hadn’t yet gotten lucky enough to catch an animal, but if she ever did, one of the first things she’d do would be to render the fat and make soap. She frowned, knowing that dream was just that—a dream. Even if she managed to get her hands on some fat, it’d take ages to convert into soap. Time she didn’t have.

Noise behind her had her ducking into the water and spinning in place.

How? Is that…? There on the bank, looking pleased as punch, stood Verakko. And to make everything even more bothersome, he was holding a torch.

He’d made fire.

“You said you were only retrieving water,” he called, crossing to her drying clothing and hooking a finger under her black panties. A wide grin spread over his face as he held them high in the air.

“Put them down,” she grated.

He rocked back on his heels, dropping her underwear and lifting her matching black mesh bra. “I’ve never seen undergarments quite like this.”

Her cheeks heated. “Well, now you have. Please leave and let me finish bathing in peace.”

Verakko stuck the torch deep in the sand and stood. “You aren’t the only one who deserves to get clean.”

Pins and needles broke out over her skin as Verakko swung his shirt over his head, then stooped to remove his boots. Lily had to stop herself from squinting. Instead, she turned and walked deeper into the water. It’s okay. It’s a big river. We both need to get clean, after all. I’m being selfish. He still has a wound in his side.

She silently berated herself for not checking on the injury again sooner. If she had to nurse an infection…she’d never find Alex. Not to mention it’d be life threatening to him, and that made her insides twist for more reasons than just common human decency. Even through their bickering, she was beginning to like Verakko more and more.

The sound of a splash made her whirl around. Ripples near the shore showed her where he’d entered, but he was nowhere in sight. Confused, she scanned the area for a moment before cursing and covering her breasts and sex with her hands. Glaring, she searched the surface of the water. Where was that bastard? And how good was his eyesight under water?

“What are you looking for?”

The voice behind her made her shriek and almost skip across the surface. Her heart was still pounding in her ears when she spun to find Verakko standing halfway out of the water and laughing a full-bellied laugh.

The sound was infectious. She bit her lip to stifle the grin threatening to undermine her anger. “That wasn’t funny.”

He let out that odd sound again. Almost like a purr but sharper. “It was funny for me.”

Suddenly, Verakko’s naked torso caught her eye. Rivulets of water trailed over his large pecs and chiseled stomach and collected in the fabric of the bandage circling his hips. His skin was smooth and darker than it’d been when she’d left. “You can change color. Can you do it on purpose?”

“If needed.” He ducked into the water, wetting his hair. Raising his hands to his pointed ears, he began to massage his scalp; the muscles of his large biceps bulging.

Lily bit the inside of her cheek and tried to keep her eyes focused on his face. His small smirk showed her he’d noticed her fascination with his body.

Her cheeks heated again, so she distracted herself by lifting her arms and raking her nails across her own scalp. As his gaze roamed over her shoulders and arms in the same way hers had, she was thankful she’d volunteered to be a guinea pig for a coworker looking to practice her laser hair removal. It was vain, but on her yearly trips into the wild with her family, the lack of body hair had always made her feel a little more human and a little less yeti. An unforeseen bonus of her months of hair removal procedures…she now felt more confident bathing next to the seemingly perfect specimen that was Verakko.

“I can’t change to any color. Only the ones you’ve already seen. But if I needed to blend into a darker background on a bright night or during the day, I could make my skin change. Otherwise, it happens naturally throughout the course of the day.”

Lily attempted to tilt her head back into the water without lifting her chest too close to the surface. Her awkward attempt made Verakko chuckle again.

“I can help you if you’d like.”

Scrunching her mouth to the side, she shot him a look that said “Not a chance.”

He shrugged and began rubbing his skin. The muscles of his torso jumped as he ran his hands over them. To combat her sudden and unwelcome desire to offer to wash his back, Lily ducked her whole body under the water and shook out her hair. After a moment’s hesitation, she opened her eyes and attempted to sneak a peek. Fair’s fair.

To her disappointment, the water was too dark to make out much of anything. When she resurfaced, she met Verakko’s eyes, only inches from her own. He was bent at the hip, rubbing clean his lower half.

Her breath stuttered as she stared into their glowing green depths.

“Did you get a good look?” he asked.


This female was going to drive him mad. After she’d run away from him, he’d been frantic, trying to recall her instructions and build a fire so he could go after her and make sure she was alright. It’d been obvious she didn’t think he’d be able to build a fire quickly. A fair assumption. The bow drill was difficult to operate, and he’d had a renewed sense of appreciation for the ease with which she handled it.

When he’d finally succeeded in using the strange but effective tool, he’d sprinted to the river to boast untruthfully about how simple the task had been and force that pretty pink flush to spread over her cheeks, only to find a vision bathing in the river.

He’d nearly tripped over his own feet at the sight of her naked, glistening back and dripping wet hair. She’d left her clothes lying so far away, as if taunting him. For the first time in a very long time, he’d felt giddy, playful even. He couldn’t remember ever feeling like that with a female.

But now, the heated looks she was giving him were enough to crumble any resolve he had. He’d refrained from looking at her naked form under the water, although his second lid would’ve made it easy. The way she blushed at his accusation told him she hadn’t been as courteous.

“I didn’t look!” she argued, sweeping the dark mass of hair over her shoulder and baring her neck.

His fangs gave a throb in time with his cock. He’d never felt the urge to mark so profoundly before. To bite a female was as intimate an act as any and was traditionally reserved for mates—and now for wives.

“Let me see your wound,” she said, nodding toward his side.

He grinned and unfastened the tight knot on his hip.

When his side was revealed, she gasped and rushed forward. Her hand reached for him, and he readied himself, a cascade of anticipation stealing his breath. Don’t grab her if she touches you. You’re set to be wed.

Her fingers stopped an inch away from his smooth, unmarred side, and he hissed out a low curse.

“Sorry.” She backed away, mistaking his disappointment for anger. “How is that possible? Whatever got you tore a hole in your side. It went through and through and looked pretty clean, but it can’t possibly be healed already.”

“My people heal quickly.”

“What do you mean by ‘your people’? Is it one of those genetically engineered traits you told me about?” she asked with of a tilt of her head. The act elongated the bare side of her neck even more. He stifled a groan.

“I’ll tell you on our way back to camp.”

Our?” she questioned. “You go first, and I’ll follow you later.”

He let out a growl and, without meaning to, infused his words with sway. “I won’t look, Lily. You can trust me.”

Immediately, she clapped her hands over her ears. The action made the swell of her breasts, peeking out of the water, jiggle. Verakko ground his jaw and turned to retreat.

“Stop doing that!” she called from behind him.

“I can’t always help it!” he barked. When he reached his clothes, he dragged his pants on. The damp, cool fabric chafed against his shaft, but it helped to cool his lust. He turned and frowned. Lily’s back was to him. “I’m clothed,” he called.

“Go on. I’ll follow after you’re gone.”

Verakko threw his hands up. “Do you really think I couldn’t hide in the trees and watch if I wanted to? I’ll stand here with my back turned.”

“If you turn around, I swear you’ll regret it.”

Verakko showed her his back and muttered, “I’ll regret it either way, mivassi.”

Muscles shooting tight in an instant, he froze. Mivassi? Where in this world or the last had that come from? He’d never even thought to use the endearment before. With anyone.

“Let’s go.” Her soft voice invaded his senses. How long had he been rooted in place?

With the slowly dying torch in hand, she headed off toward their camp. Her clothing was still as damp as his, and he thanked the Goddess he hadn’t seen her from the front. The white material of her shirt was almost transparent. After shoving his boots back on, he trudged after her.

When they arrived back at camp, Lily gazed at the small fire he’d built. “Good job. Really, I’m impressed. It took me days to make a fire with a bow drill the first time I tried.”

The compliment was meager, but he flushed with pride all the same. “You made it seem like it was going to be so…”

She turned with raised brows, ready to attack him for his insolent remark, but his words caught in his throat. The odd black scrap of material he’d seen by the river was clearly visible through her damp top. He scrubbed a hand over his jaw.

She sighed. “Yeah, I know. It’s just my luck I was abducted wearing this shirt. There isn’t anything I can do about it, though, so you’re gonna have to deal with it. I’m not going to stay dirty and dry just because it’s awkward for you to see me in a bra. Let’s be adults about this.”

Verakko met her eyes. “I’m going to go hunt,” he blurted.

“What? Now? It’ll be dark soon.”

He gave her a forced smile then backed away. “That’s when I do my best hunting.” He gestured to his chest, now fully indigo. “Camouflage, remember?” And without waiting for her to utter another word, he took off.


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