Tempting Auzed: Chapter 11


This was going to be harder than he’d thought. Why couldn’t this female just do as he asked and behave the way a Clecanian would? Why did she have to push him until his sense fled? Auzed ushered her through the crowded market tree and glared at anyone who gawked.

He’d never been to the market in Sauven before, but he would bet his bhadsit suit—which hadn’t been returned to him yet—that the market had never been this crowded before. Shoppers stood together under the glowing storefront signs or on platforms transporting them to one shop façade or another, whispering as Alejandra passed. The more polite of the bunch at least feigned interest in the plethora of products being hocked, while the brave stared openly.

“This place is incredible,” she whispered, gazing up at a window snack bar with customers a couple floors above. The Sauven market consisted of thousands of establishments all stacked on one another against the side of the great market tree. The layers and layers of stores formed a vertical wall of options for market goers. The snack bar she was still studying had diners seated on cushioned stools that were floating over nothing as they faced into the small restaurant.

The shops on the floor level were the oldest and most valuable pieces of real estate, as they were the most easily accessible. Above each building on the first level were floors of ramshackle boutiques, showrooms, and stands, each growing newer and newer as they climbed their way up the side of the tree. The same way one could read the age and prosperity of a tree by its rings, one could tell the age and prosperity of Sauven by studying the layers of the market wall.

Out of sight far above, the signage for the higher-level stores—and thus the newest stores—were more ostentatious and eye catching, while the floor-level shops were regal and relaxed, if not a bit squashed.

The scents of roasting meats, syrupy-sweet pastries, and tart citrus fruit hung in the air below the many snack bar restaurants and mixed with the earthy smell of the damp wood walkways beneath their feet. The day was a bit cooler than it had been yet no less humid. Though he felt ridiculous in his tight clothing, he enjoyed the relief the thin material provided from the heat.

“Would you like something to eat?” He motioned toward the snack shop she’d been eyeing, then to the platform station to the left.

She watched the market goers zooming about above her head on the platforms and bit her lip. “Uh, maybe in a few. I think I need to get more used to the idea first.”

He nodded, and they continued on, stopping every so often so she could press her nose up to the amber, cured-sap windows of the floor-level stores and marvel at the items for sale. They’d both decided to work their way through the ground level once as the regents had suggested, but at this pace, they’d be here all day.

He pressed closer to Alejandra when he noticed her bunched shoulders and fidgety hands. She was twirling that ring around her finger again the way she did when she was truly uncomfortable. When she gave him a small but grateful smile, his heart pinched. He cursed inwardly.

This was exactly why he’d wanted there to be no touching between them. No personal conversations. And certainly none of whatever had happened on their way here. He could still smell her on his clothing, and it was ratcheting his baser instincts to a new height.

And now, after smelling her arousal—her arousal for him, no less—he was supposed to just let other interested Clecanians speak with her? The Traxian in him was raging that he hadn’t pushed for more on that platform. She’d wanted him, he knew it, and if he’d worked her up, used his mouth on her neck, he felt she would’ve let him take her right there.

An older Sauvenian male—handsome and well off, by the look of his clothing—stepped up to Alex and greeted her with a graceful swipe of his tail. His pointed ears were larger than most, and Auzed wondered if he’d had them altered—large, pointed tips being particularly attractive to the Sauvenians. “Hello, beautiful. You are the human Alejandra?” He framed it as a question, though it hadn’t sounded like one.

“Yes.” Her voice was tight, and she looked away as though only half listening.

Good.

“I would love to visit with you sometime.” The male stepped closer to her, and his nostrils flared. Auzed held back a growl.

The male was being more relaxed about it than Noito had been, but he was attempting the same thing. It was common knowledge that smell was often the catalyst to recognition. Clearly he was trying to urge his marks forth by smelling her.

Auzed wanted to bellow with satisfaction when she stepped back toward him, seeking his comfort and showing everyone watching whom she wanted near her.

For the first time, the male acknowledged Zed. He gave a quick tip of his chin and backed away.

As they continued on their way, it happened more and more. Clecanians of all genders waited to speak with Alejandra. She acted exactly as he’d asked her to. Remaining aloof yet polite and waiting for each person to linger for a moment before moving on.

It cut at his insides to see the weary tightness around her eyes when she thought no one was looking. None of the people attempting to speak with her actually cared to hear what she had to say; they only wanted to get close enough to induce recognition. They were treating her as she’d said they would. Like an object.

“Alejandra!” a female voice called from behind them.

She turned, and a smile lit her features as she watched Relli push her way through the crowd. “I’m so happy to see you!” she cried.

A few passersby shot dirty looks toward Relli, but they vanished into the crowd with a single deadly glare from Auzed.

Relli peered around her and grimaced. “This is…a bit much.”

Alex exchanged a wide-eyed glance with Auzed, then muttered, “Ya think?”

“Come with me.” She guided Zed and Alex to a small storefront a short distance away and motioned for them to wait outside. As they did, three more males approached Alejandra. At this point, Auzed’s teeth must be no more than dust.

Relli popped her head out and waved them through, then closed and locked the door behind her.

Inside, they found a small clothing café. Bright gold-and-navy fabrics draped the walls and ceiling, making the room cozy and muffled against the outside bustle.

“I told Fenut here that if he closed his shop for us, Alejandra would meet with him and his sons.”

An older male stood behind a rack of sample fabrics and grinned over to them. He raised his tail and nodded toward Alejandra first but then, to Auzed’s surprise, did the same to both him and Relli. At least this gawker was respectful.

“What do you think, Auzz—Auzed?” She’d just stopped herself from calling him Auzzy and made him wish he hadn’t discouraged her from using it. Although uncommon, the use of the nickname would show anyone within earshot whom this female preferred and whom she would be leaving with.

“I’m enjoying the silence, and if you’re comfortable meeting this male and his sons, I’d be happy to stay.”

She let out a long, pent-up breath. “Oh, good! I need a break.”

Realizing he was about to get an opportunity very few ever would, the male bustled over. “Hello, incredible human! I’m Fenut. It’s so wonderous to meet you—please have a seat. I’ll retrieve a viewer for you at once if you’ll provide me with your measurements.”

“My measurements?” Alex looked to Auzed in confusion, and he cursed himself for not realizing he’d need her sizing if he were to buy her clothing. He was so out of practice with husbandry etiquette, it was laughable.

“To make you clothing. They need to know your size.”

Understanding lit her eyes.

Relli chimed in, “I can help if you have a scanner and a privacy room.”

Fenut nodded, clearly relieved, and returned in an instant with a small measurement scanner. “Through the black curtain in the back.” He motioned toward a narrow hallway and, with a fleeting glanced toward Auzed, she followed Relli.

The café owner watched her retreat with rapt curiosity, his tail twitching while curling and uncurling around his leg. When she was finally out of sight, he seemed to remember Auzed existed. “Oh! And will you be ordering any clothing?”

He hated the clothing he’d been provided. It was too tight and didn’t cover nearly enough skin, but Alejandra’s compliment echoed in his mind and kept him stalled, unable to decide between comfort and vanity. Finally, he grumbled, “Yes.”

Fenut rushed away after writing down his measurements, happy to be away from Zed. When he returned with the viewer and a food menu for the table, Auzed scrolled through the clothing choices, only half paying attention, as his gaze kept drifting to the curtain Alejandra had disappeared through.

Maybe he could purchase a few traditional vests…to honor the culture, of course.

***

“You have no idea how happy I am to see you!” Alex breathed when she and Relli were alone.

Relli’s brows lifted in surprise, and a tremulous smile crept over her mouth. “Really?”

“Yes, really.” Alex laughed; her brows scrunched. Why was Relli so surprised by that? Alex now knew that as a demskiv, Relli’s life was hard. Harder than it should’ve been, but surely she didn’t think everyone disliked her…did she?

A true smile transformed Relli’s appearance, and she let out a breath. “It’s very nice to see you again as well, Alejandra.”

“You can call me Alex if you want,” she said as she turned and examined the room. It looked like a typical fitting room, although the large floating bench was new.

“The news that you’d be staying for a few days spread so fast. Everyone has been talking about it,” Relli whispered. With a glance toward the curtained door, she added, “Fierad is still upset. He’s working day and night to prove Auzed’s lying.”

“That Auzed’s lying? What about me?”

Relli shrugged. “Well, he now believes you’ve been coerced into this whole situation…” She shot Alex a sudden concerned look, her light-teal brows creased, and she leaned forward, dropping her voice even more. “You haven’t, right? Is that male forcing you to claim him?”

Alex muffled a bout of laughter with her palm before whispering, “If it were up to him, I’m sure he’d love nothing more than to drop me into a room with the other humans and never speak of this again.”

“Oh.” She let out a relieved breath but then raised her brows in question. “Good?”

Alex sighed. Was it good that Auzed wanted to be rid of her? “I guess. He’s starting to grow on me, but I’m not sure how well we’d work, you know? He’s so uptight, and I’m…not. And also, marriage here is weird, and if things worked out, I’d probably end up doing what you do and become a demskiv, and I’m not certain I could handle being treated the way people treat you—which is just terrible, by the way. I’m so sorry you have to deal with all these chismosas. It’s your business, not theirs.”

“I appreciate that,” Relli breathed, and Alex could see in her shining eyes that that was an understatement. “I did the right thing my whole life, you know. I was married”—she looked to the ceiling in thought—“seven times before I met Jut, and I was never able to bless any of my husbands with a child. But with him, it was different. He didn’t care about that. He just wanted to be around me, and he…saw me. When it was time to leave him, I couldn’t. It’s hard, the way we’re treated, but it’s worth it to us.”

“I’d love to meet him sometime. Could we all have dinner together, maybe?”

The dreamy grin that had spread over Relli’s face as she talked about her husband grew even wider. “Yes! That would be wonderful! I have so many questions about humans. Is it true you ride massive insects around your home planet instead of transport boards?”

Alex chuckled. “No, and I can’t even begin to guess how that rumor was started.”

“Oh.” Relli’s mouth curled in disappointment. She lifted the scanner she was carrying and directed Alex to strip down so she could take her measurements.

After a long, thoughtful pause, while Alex got undressed, Relli said, “My husband’s sister told him her friend met a human from Tremanta, and they told her the earthling children can kill with their cry like a sefa.” She raised her brows curiously.

“False again.” Alex laughed while spinning in place for the scanner. “Either your husband’s sister’s friend has never met a human, or the human they met was playing a joke on them.”

Tilting her head, Relli peered at the floor. “So, it must not be true that you press mouths together with those you find attractive.”

“Press mouths…you mean kiss? Yeah, we kiss. You guys don’t do that here?”

“That’s true? How odd. But it would be so wet!” She chuckled and wiggled her shoulders as if she’d just touched something particularly slimy. She lowered the scanner and said, “You can get dressed again.”

Alejandra froze and recalled the odd look Auzed had given her when she’d kissed him. She groaned in embarrassment while she got dressed. Had she done something considered to be incredibly odd and maybe even kinky before even learning his name? No wonder he thought she was so weird.

Relli chatted happily to Alex as they walked back to the table. When she spotted Auzed looking devastating and powerful while sipping from a large wooden mug, heat rose on her cheeks.

Was that why he always stared at her mouth with that unreadable expression?

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