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Tempting Auzed: Chapter 12

As Relli guided her through making purchases using the incredibly cool shopping hologram, Alex’s gaze continued to drift toward Auzed. Half of her concentration began straying to why he kept sneaking odd glances toward Relli.

Jealousy lit a fire in her stomach before she studied the glances more carefully. They didn’t appear to be looks of interest, yet what did she know? Maybe subtlety was the preferred way to flirt.

“Are you sure you don’t want anything else?” Relli asked again as she stowed the small cube that had projected an image of Alex’s body clad in different clothing.

“No,” Alex replied with pursed lips. Immediately she checked herself. This wasn’t Earth, and the odd glances Auzed was shooting toward Relli didn’t necessarily mean anything. And even if they did, she had no right to be sour. “This is a nice place.” She pushed out a smile and took a sip of the sweet warm liquid Fenut had served her. “Do you come here often?”

Relli settled into a more comfortable position on the backless bench and grinned. “Yes, we do. Fenut’s wife, when she was alive, was also a demskiv, so he and his two boys have always been very kind to us.”

Across from Relli, Auzed covertly shot his gaze downward and took another sip of his drink. Regretfully, Relli noticed. Her tail, draped over the edge of the bench, flicked back and forth, and her shoulders slumped ever so slightly. Fenut, who was on his way over to their table, seemed to be focused on Auzed’s reaction as well.

Alex wanted to smack Auzed in the back of the head. Why was he being like this? It wasn’t attraction, she now knew. He had a bias toward demskivs. She could see it written plainly now that the brief cloud of jealousy had dissipated. 

Well, fake fiancé or not, they would be having a long talk about it as soon as she was sure Relli was out of earshot.

“I’ve left messages for my sons. I hope they get them in time to come meet you before you leave,” Fenut said, joining them at the table with fresh drinks.

Alex didn’t know how to respond appropriately so she just gave a short nod of agreement. Though Auzed had told her smiling wasn’t done often, she couldn’t help but notice both Relli and Fenut smiled. Was it because they were in a more relaxed and intimate setting?

Fenut’s features softened, indicating her nonverbal answer was enough. But then he shot a veiled grimace at Auzed. “Have you ever met a demskiv, Auzed?”

Both Auzed and Relli stiffened. Or maybe the talk would happen now. Would an open dialogue help or hurt?

He took a longer-than-necessary gulp of his beverage while holding Fenut’s stare. Finally, he answered, “A few.”

“And what are your thoughts on the matter?”

Alex tried to feign mild curiosity so as not to appear judgmental even though her mind pleaded for him not to reveal himself to be an ass. She glanced to Relli and saw her friend was just as uncomfortable as Auzed, if not more.

“I have mixed feelings,” Auzed answered slowly as he aimed a stony stare at Fenut, who returned it.

Auzed’s frame was still and imposing, his firm mouth turned down into a frown, but she got the impression he wasn’t as upset by the idea of demskivs themselves as the forward manner in which he was being urged to voice his opinions.

It didn’t surprise her at all to find that Auzed was a private person. Thinking back, he hadn’t revealed anything about himself to her at all, even though he’d spoken a fair amount.

Fenut interlaced his fingers and raised a brow to Auzed, waiting for him to elaborate. The tension in the air surrounding the table grew.

Lowering her hands to her lap, Alex began twirling her gold band around her finger. Auzed’s gaze shifted to her movements, and a small line appeared between his brows.

He released a forfeiting breath. Choosing his words carefully, he spoke. “With the state of our planet being what it is, I have to agree with some that refusing to give other males the opportunity to have a family is…unfortunate.”

Alex, Relli, and Fenut shifted in their seats as one at his statement.

“But,” he continued, “my mother herself was a demskiv. An off-worlder, but still…she chose to remain with one male. I saw how they acted with one another. And I saw how much happiness could come from such a union.”

Alex stared at Auzed as he spoke, refusing to meet her gaze. Greed had her body going still. That little nugget of information drew her to him like Indiana Jones to a precious artifact. She wanted to know more about him. What his life had been like with not only a demskiv mother but an alien mother. He kept telling her she didn’t act like a Clecanian and that he wanted her to. Was that because he’d worked his whole life to be more like a Clecanian? To remove his ties to all that was unacceptable in this society?

“So, you must understand, then? How could you look down on either of us for wanting the same?” Fenut all but pleaded, leaning toward Auzed with confusion wrinkling his brow.

Auzed thought for a moment before answering. “Because of the males I oversee and the many males I’ve fought alongside. They work so hard to be chosen, and they’re honorable males.” He shook his head, and she saw a true glint of sad turmoil in his eyes. “My father loved my mother so much, but there was always guilt. They had six children between them. Six. When most will never have one. If she had conformed and married other males, she could’ve given a measure of happiness to so many. Not as much as she and my father had together, but some. Yet then I look to my sister, and I can see the ache she carries inside. She let herself become too close to her first husband, and it hurt her deeply to leave him. I often wonder whether we’re depriving females of happiness as well.”

Fenut stared at the wall above Auzed in thought.

“I see both sides, and I believe I’ll always be torn on the issue,” Auzed finished. He caught Relli’s attention and, in a soft tone, said, “I understand it’s a difficult choice either way. I’m sure you didn’t plan for it. I don’t look down on you.”

Fenut and Relli must’ve both seen the sincerity in his eyes as much as Alex did because they each gave small nods.

Auzed resumed sipping his drink. Though he’d only revealed a small tidbit of his personal life, his body remained stiff and a muscle ticked in his jaw. To look at him, one would think he’d just laid himself bare. Although she loved that he’d explained his opinions and had at least tried to make Relli feel better, she wondered why he’d answered at all. It’d obviously made him uncomfortable, and nothing would’ve happened if he hadn’t spoken.

Yet another curiosity in the tightly locked safe that was Auzed.

After many uncomfortable moments, Fenut brightened. “But that’s why the discovery of humans is so amazing!” He gestured to Alex and studied her as if she were a rare object behind glass.

“Yes, it is.” There was an air of authority in Auzed’s voice as he spoke. “But please keep in mind, Alejandra is only one human, and though she’s been gracious in accepting us, I doubt the whole of the human race will be the same way. Some of the humans back in Tremanta have had trouble adjusting, and that’s putting it mildly.”

Alex would have to question that comment more when they were alone. How was it for the women in Tremanta? Images of the women she’d escaped the bunker with flashed through her mind. He’d explained they’d been doing well, but he’d also explained they were relatively isolated, living in a place called the Pearl Temple, which he oversaw.

Everyone who’d approached her today, with the exception of Relli, had acted the same way Fenut did. She understood why. Like Auzed had explained, it made sense they were all curious about her. Not because she was particularly special on her own but because she was human, and humans equaled a kind of salvation.

Exploring this astonishing place with its impressive vertical mall, numerous alien races, and odd but incredibly interesting customs was one of the most amazing experiences she’d ever had. But she was tired. This must’ve been what celebrities felt like whenever they left their fortresses. No wonder they rarely did. The realization that she was still waiting to meet Fenut’s two sons drained her even more.

They chatted for a while longer, Fenut and Relli asking her questions about Earth while Auzed remained quiet and thoughtful. It was interesting how harshly they judged certain aspects of Western culture. When she’d explained social media and how odd she felt not having her phone with her or easy access to Google, they’d balked, calling the practice old-fashioned and comparing “earthlings” to Runcula—a species who very rarely, if ever, saw one another outside of their high-tech homes in the sky. Alex smothered the odd instinct to defend her planet and instead decided that if she were a Runcula living in a floating home above a turbulent, monster-infested sea, she’d stay home too.

Fenut’s smile faltered a bit in disappointment as he glanced to a communicator for the umpteenth time. “Well, I suppose they will have to meet you another time. I can’t keep you here all day.”

Relief and guilt warred in Alex. He’d closed down his shop to give them some privacy and space from the crowds for a few hours all for his sons, and though she was ready to get back to the nest for some quiet time, she felt bad leaving without holding up her half of the bargain.

“You could join us for dinner?” Relli spoke to Fenut but peered at Alex with raised brows, silently making sure she was onboard.

“Yes!” Alex exclaimed in relief. “A nice, quiet dinner would be great. Tomorrow? Or the next day?”

Warmth flooded Fenut’s face. “Wonderful! The night after tomorrow would be fine. The games start the next day. It’ll be a good way to celebrate.”

“The games?” Alex lifted a brow toward Auzed.

Relli clapped her hands together. “The marriage games! Aren’t you going?”

Again, she peered at Auzed.

He nodded without a lick of enthusiasm. “Yes, the regents requested we make an appearance.”

“What happens in the games?” Alex asked, propping her chin in her palm. “Is this like a Spock battles Kirk in the kal-if-fee situation? Like, two men fight over lady?” she said, using her best Tarzan want woman voice.

Relli giggled. “I don’t think so.”

“It’s easier to explain as you watch than to try now.” Auzed smirked and rose. “We should be getting back to the nest. Fenut, will the clothing be ready soon?”

Fenut stood and pressed his tail to his forehead. “Most assuredly. I’ll deliver it myself no later than tomorrow.”

As they said their goodbyes, Alex rifled through all the new information she’d learned and held in a sigh of frustration. The briefest glimpse into Auzed’s life had only made her hungry for more.

They silently made their way back through the market, which had gotten surprisingly less crowded in the few hours they’d been gone. No longer able to keep it in, she whispered, “Why do you hate talking about yourself so much?”

His shoulders stiffened, and he ground out, “I don’t.”

“Could’ve fooled me,” she grumbled. A group of men passed, holding large leaf cones filled with bright-blue bubbles the size of golf balls. One of the men, who was much shorter and burlier than the rest, reminded her of Gimli from Lord of the Rings. He shoved a bubble into his mouth, his cheeks bowing out cartoonishly, then popped it.

“Just because I don’t enjoy telling strangers the intimate details of my childhood doesn’t mean I don’t talk about myself. Do you want one of those?” He pointed toward the man, who’d seemed to realize he was under scrutiny and was shuffling away.

“One of what? The muscly ginger dude, or his food?” She held in a laugh at the frustrated exhale behind her before turning to nudge him in the ribs. “Just joking, Auzzy. No, I’m good.”

They made it toward the loading section of the market tree, where transport platforms waited, and stopped. Both staring at a floating board, something unspoken sizzled between them. Maybe she should learn to ride her own because at the moment, she was liking the idea of having him close a little too much.

He peered at her warily as she stepped onto the board, and she raised her hands in surrender.

“No touching, promise.”

They’d almost made it back to their nest home without incident when Fierad intercepted them. “Hello, Alejandra.” The smoothness that had vanished from his voice upon her declaration that she was engaged to Auzed yesterday was back. And so was the interest in his stare.

She recalled what Relli had told her about his new theory that Auzed was forcing her into her current position and just stopped herself from curling into Auzed’s chest. She nodded her hello.

“I just came from your nest. I dropped off the belongings we found at the scene yesterday.” He shifted his inscrutable gaze toward Auzed. “Odd amount of food to still have on you after encountering a starving female. The first aid items seem to have been unused as well.”

“Was there a question in there?” Auzed all but growled.

A faint smirk lit Fierad’s features. “No.”

Small dings from Auzed’s pocket interrupted the tense exchange. Behind her, she felt him retrieve the communicator and waited an awkward silent moment for him to check it. “It’s Lily, I believe.”

Alex forgot herself and spun on the board before snatching the object from Auzed, then looked up at him pleadingly because she had no idea how to use it.

He paused his glaring at Fierad for a second and answered it for her, but Fierad didn’t leave. The man stayed in place with a hand up, indicating they shouldn’t move. He watched Alex intently. Waiting for her to say something she shouldn’t, no doubt.

God, she was tired of this cabron. “Hey there, Lilypad!” she said brightly, holding eye contact with Fierad in challenge. Her focus shifted all at once as she heard Lily begin to sob. “Oh, hey, don’t cry. I’m good.”

“What happened to you?” Lily squeaked.

She was acutely aware of Fierad and Auzed’s eyes on her. Whatever she said in this moment would be important, and she only hoped they could get away soon so she could actually talk to Lily. She whistled low and tried to organize her thoughts. “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.”

Auzed shifted behind her and whispered a harsh “We’ll be returning home now” to Fierad.

“Lilypad…” Alex paused dramatically, needing Fierad to hear her tell her lie to someone else. “I’m freaking getting married!”

There was a long pause on the line before Lily finally asked, “Wait, are you being forced into a marriage?”

“Well…” They were pulling away from a scowling Fierad now. Just a bit farther, and she could spill the beans.

“Tell. Me. Everything.”


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