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Saving Verakko: Chapter 9

Verakko had to keep his mouth from hanging open. The object of his every waking thought for the past two days was kneeling in front of him, asking him to sway her. Goddess, did he want to take advantage of the situation.

“What do you want me to do?” His voice sounded shaky to his ears. It didn’t surprise him. He felt shaky. And weak. He didn’t trust himself with this task but wasn’t strong enough to deny her.

Lily shrugged, eyes bright and trusting. So trusting. “Uh, just say anything, and I’ll see if I can shake it off.”

Verakko swallowed. Anything? He internally cuffed himself. She’ll be able ignore whatever the sway is anyway. “Okay.” Verakko sat up straighter. “It’s quite chilly out here tonight. You feel cold,” he lightly swayed.

Lily frowned and slapped him playfully on the knee. “Come on, that wasn’t even a real try!”

Verakko grunted and scooted closer, mimicking her stance and sitting back on his ankles. “Fine, I’ll give it my best shot, but I don’t want to hear any complaining about it tomorrow. You asked for this. Agreed?”

A spark of fear and something that looked incredibly similar to excitement flashed in her eyes. Would he ever understand this female? “Deal.” She reached her hand toward him and held it in place as though expecting something. After a moment, she dropped it. “Never mind. Okay, go. Are you going to try to make me feel cold again? I didn’t even feel a little cold.”

Verakko stiffened at the challenge in her voice and repressed a grin. “Oh, I’ll make you cold. Just wait.” He rolled his shoulders and gave his neck a satisfying crack, then focused on Lily’s warm brown eyes.

Her lush lips pulled into a smile. “Bring it on.”

Verakko felt himself growing hard, his instincts screaming to make her feel things other than just cold.

He rocked slowly from side to side, not much at first, just enough to make her eyes flick back and forth. He didn’t always have the time for it, but the added motion often boosted the effect of his sway. “Lily.” He grinned when her pupils reacted. She wasn’t immune to his gift after all. “It’s been warm all day. The night is oddly cold.” Her eyelids drooped, and her smile faltered. He imagined all the things he wanted to do to her, letting his scent grow stronger to boost the effect of the sway. “The fire isn’t nearly warm enough tonight. The wind is too chilled.” He leaned in closer and wanted to hiss in triumph when her nostrils flared. Her smile relaxed, and she crossed her arms around her waist.

“It’s cold tonight,” she whispered, her eyes trailing his small movements side to side.

Verakko let out a low chuckle. He’d done it. “Yes, it is. Your whole body feels cold.”

On cue, she shivered. Verakko’s gaze traveled down her body, and his face fell. Shelved on top of her crossed arms were her breasts, her puckered nipples visible beneath her thin top.

“My whole body is cold,” she repeated, shivering again.

His hands itched to touch her. He needed to stop this. He was engaged, and she was under his full sway. He wanted her, Goddess knew, but not like this.

“Verakko,” she said softly while scooting toward him.

His muscles shot tight, blood rushing to his shaft. Now that he thought back, he couldn’t recall her ever having said his name aloud before. The sound of it uttered on her lips did things to him. Things he needed to ignore.

Before he could find his voice or dash away, she huddled against his chest. He kept his arms locked at his sides and gazed up in bewilderment at the sky. Why did I do this?

“Lily, wake up.” The words escaped him, but he failed to inject them with sway, the uncaring baser side of him roaring to let this scene play out.

She rose to her knees and wrapped her arms around his neck, pressing her body into his.

“You’re warm now,” he choked out. “Mivassi—”

Her head raised, her brown eyes bore into his, pleading. “Verakko, please, I’m cold.”

All of his resistance shattered. In an instant, he had his arms wrapped around her, pulling her more firmly against his body. He forced sway into his voice. “You’re warm now. Lily.”

She sighed in relief, and her body melted against his. He buried his head in the crook of her neck and inhaled deeply before begrudgingly muttering, “Wake up.”

She stiffened in his grip, but he held on for a moment longer, memorizing the feel of her body against his. He lifted his head, keeping his arms wrapped around her waist, and peered into what would surely be angry eyes. What he saw instead made his heart pick up speed.

Lily smiled up at him. “Wow, that was crazy. I felt like I could’ve shaken it off if I wanted to, but it made me a little nauseated to try.”

She wasn’t mad? He remained in place with bated breath, waiting for the realization that she was being held to sink in. Her hands, still resting on his shoulders, twitched, then her palms slid down his arms.

“You’re really warm, you know.” Lily leaned into his touch a little more, and her eyes strayed to his mouth. And then he smelled it, her arousal.

Lust flared, making his already rigid shaft swollen. She wanted him. Lily wasn’t mad about him touching her or using his sway. If her heated looks at his mouth were any indication, she wanted to kiss him.

Verakko needed to play this right. He needed time to think. If he had a taste of her, he’d want more, and he couldn’t have more. He was under contract, for Goddess’s sake. And Lily didn’t know about it.

Moving his hands to grasp her hips, he pushed her away. Every inch away she moved was like a rib cracking inside. There was something more with Lily. If he hadn’t been sure of it before, he was now. She was his, recognition or not, marks or not, and he had to figure out a way to keep her.

Her pretty cheeks tinged with pink, and confusion creased the corners of her eyes.

“Told you I could do it,” Verakko said, feigning a triumphant smugness.

The hurt that shone in her eyes felt like a punch to the gut and stung more than the flashes of disappointment and anger that followed.

She didn’t rail at him or pepper him with questions about the sway. In a tight voice, she said, “Yep. You win,” and moved back to her side of the fire.

Verakko sat back, ensuring his bent knee concealed his unrelenting erection. “Would you like to sleep in my shirt? It’ll be cold tonight, and I don’t need it.”

“No, I’ll be fine. Thank you, though.” She turned her back to him and stretched out on her side near the fire. “Get some sleep tonight, okay? Goodnight.”


I’m such an idiot. Lily continued to chant this to herself long into the night until she finally drifted off to sleep. As soon as her lids creaked open the following morning, the chant resurged. She’d never been so blatantly rejected by a man before, and it stung. To make the situation a hundred times more uncomfortable, she now had to spend all of her time with Verakko. Unlike on Earth, she didn’t even have the option of retreating to her house to lick her wounds in private.

She lay curled on her side with her back to lukewarm remnants of their fire and listened to the sound of Verakko moving about, cleaning and gathering their supplies. How awkward is this gonna be?

Closing her eyes, she inhaled deeply and sat up. The sounds of movement behind her paused, then resumed. Steeling her features, she turned. “Good morning.”

“Good morning.”

Lily chanced the briefest of glances at Verakko and wanted to die of mortification. The look on his face told her he was worried about the mood she’d be in. She mumbled a sorry excuse about using the bathroom and scurried into the forest, face flaming.

While heading away from their camp, her nerves started to sing, and she could feel annoyance at random, innocuous things creeping in. Everything about this morning was beginning to aggravate, from the cheerful chirping of birds to the glistening early morning mist hovering around the forest floor. A rock underfoot made her stumble, and she glared at her own feet. It was the kind of bad mood that would permeate her day and affect those around her, innocent or not. It’d be better if she didn’t hang too close to Verakko during their hike. A gust of wind tousling his hair to perfection might be enough to make her snap at him, and he didn’t deserve her ire.

Lily finished her morning ablutions and headed back to camp, intent on acting like an adult while also allowing herself to be in a sour mood.

When she entered the cleared area, she forced herself to look at Verakko. He was standing, looking as gorgeous as always, and extending a leaf to her. A mound of the charcoal toothpaste she’d been creating every morning sat in a small pile on the leaf. The thoughtfulness of the gesture made her want to petulantly slap the leaf out of his hand, but instead she thanked him as politely as she could and took it, along with the canteen.

Lily washed her hands, then used her finger to mix the powder into a paste and scrubbed it onto her teeth, ignoring the flare of annoyance that surfaced when she recalled why she had to use her finger and not her toothbrush.

Verakko continued to stare at her with curiosity. He didn’t even have the decency to pretend like everything was normal. The air seemed to be too thick, weighed down with awkward unsaid thoughts and embarrassment.

Time to put on your big-girl panties. Lily rinsed out her mouth and forced her gaze to remain on Verakko’s. “Why don’t we say what’s on our minds, okay?”

Verakko lifted a dark brow. “I’m sorry about—”

Lily cut him off with an upheld hand and an awkward smile. “No, don’t apologize. You did nothing wrong. I was comfortable and full for the first time in weeks, and we were having a nice time, and I misread the situation. That’s all.” She crossed her arms around her waist, then uncrossed them. Why was she so embarrassed about this? “I made a move, you weren’t interested. It’s done.” Her face must be turning crimson at this point. “I hope you don’t take offense, but I’m going to want to walk alone today. I need to stew by myself.”

Verakko stood in silence, a tendon in his jaw working furiously. It seemed like he wanted to say something but couldn’t decide if he should.

Please say I was wrong. Say you pushed me away for some other reason.

He remained quiet. Lily began walking toward the river, but a firm hand on her arm stopped her. “Lily, I…” He let out a low breath. “Last night…”

Her breath seemed trapped in her throat. What?

Verakko’s shoulders slumped, and in a resigned tone, he said, “You didn’t misread anything. I just…can’t.”

“You can’t?” Lily’s embarrassment ebbed, replaced with curiosity. He hadn’t said he didn’t want to or that he wouldn’t; he’d said can’t.

He took a step back and ran his tongue over a fang, gaze darting. “You aren’t an option for me. You remember how relationships work with my people? How marriages work?”

Of course! Lily felt like an idiot for not thinking of it sooner. His culture was so different. Although he wasn’t married now, that didn’t mean he could start anything with her. He’d told her his mother had to arrange a contract for marriage. Did his people not engage in casual relationships? No dating?

“Your mom probably has other ladies in mind, huh?”

Verakko’s lips thinned, and he shrugged in agreement.

“I don’t want to get married or anything.” She thought this assurance would help to ease his mind, but he only seemed more uneasy. “I just meant, once we find Alex and all…this could be casual. What happens out here doesn’t have to mean anything in the real world.”

Why was she saying this? Was she so infatuated with Verakko that she felt she could have a meaningless relationship with him? Not likely.

A small, sad smile curled the corner of his mouth. He lifted his hand as if to reach out to her, then curled his fingers into a fist and dropped it back to his side. “It would mean something to me.”

Lily’s heart thumped in her chest, and heat spread in her belly. She tried to work through the little he’d told her and came to a rotten conclusion. His mother would arrange his marriage. Verakko had said she was powerful. She’d pick a woman she respected and who she believed was worthy of her son. Why in the universe would she pick Lily? An alien who didn’t own a clean pair of clothes. Was she even eligible for a contract as a human?

“I see,” she whispered. Lily absently smoothed her stained, thin shirt. She wanted to argue, to explain how awful it was that he couldn’t choose who he wanted to be with, but if she’d learned anything from her travels with her parents, it was that a person’s culture and traditions should be respected, even if she didn’t agree with them.

She burned to ask more questions, but what was the point? She wasn’t interested in marriage anyway, and if that was all Verakko was looking for, they’d be doomed from the start.

This was probably for the best. Her life had become difficult enough as it was. Throwing a complicated forbidden love into the mix seemed like a bad idea.

Moving on, she told herself dully, an ache already seeping into her heart. It was dumb—she had only just met Verakko—but something about him, about them, made her think they could’ve had something spectacular. Knowing nothing could ever happen made her feel like she’d lost someone she’d never had in the first place.

She looked to Verakko and saw a pained expression that must have mirrored her own.

Her heart pinched. This is ridiculous! Two days. I’ve known him for two days! Get a hold of yourself.

“Ready to go?” she asked in a tone riddled with phony alacrity.

He nodded, then cleared his throat. “We need to travel through the woods today.”

“No, we can’t! Why?” she blurted. Guilt swamped her when she realized she was spending all of her mental energy grieving the death of a nonexistent relationship with a man she’d done nothing but argue with and not on finding Alex.

“The Strigi who dropped me…I managed to incapacitate him, but he could be recovered by now. If so, we need to stay undercover.”

“We can’t do that, Verakko.” Lily shook her head firmly. “I understand the risks, but we can’t see the river from here. I refuse to stop looking.”

“I refuse to allow you to be in danger.” Verakko crossed his arms over his chest and scowled.

Lily almost smiled at the familiar stance, a sense of normalcy returning to their relationship. She mirrored his stance. “I’m going to follow that river until I either find my friend or find a city. You can’t stop me.”

He raised a brow. “I could stop you.”

Lily narrowed her eyes. “I wouldn’t recommend trying.”

Verakko stared at her silently for a moment, tension radiating from every muscle.

He had every advantage. They both knew it. She might be able to do some damage to him if he tried to carry her off, but when push came to shove, she would tire long before he did, to say nothing of his sway. There was no chance of her winning a physical fight, so she played the only card she had left, hoping the lingering longing she’d seen in his eyes had been authentic.

“I’d never forgive you.”


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