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Tempting Auzed: Chapter 13

Auzed paced around the nest. For the last hour, he’d been straightening furniture and wiping down the already spotless surfaces as Alex chatted happily to Lily on the porch. Wilson, who’d dashed to her side when they’d arrived, was hanging from the ceiling watching him again.

“What?” he snapped at the creature and its penetrating stare.

For a moment, he felt silly. Why was he snapping at an animal? But then Wilson narrowed her eyes and scrambled over to the long bench near the window. Before exiting, she jostled the bench, leaving it crooked. They exchanged a final glare as Wilson disappeared through the window.

Stomping over, he straightened the bench. “Damn tuey. Doesn’t have any reason to dislike me, but why should that matter? I only saved her bonded human—”

“Are you talking to yourself?”

Auzed shot up and spun. Alex stood in the doorway, grinning from ear to ear. An odd flush crept over his neck. That smile turned her features from distracting to downright unfair. Two small freckles dotted the right side of her mouth tantalizingly close to her lips. The more he looked at her, the more details he noticed…and liked. So, he looked away.

“Judging by the ceiling light, it must be…almost evening?”

Auzed stared at the wall he was now facing and felt his skin heat. This was ridiculous; he had to look at her. He nodded. “About. Unless you have a preference, I’m going to retrieve dinner for us tonight. My cooking isn’t what it should be.”

She shrugged and grinned at him again while walking a ring around the room. “I’m not picky.” Opening a couple of cabinets, she stopped. “You said you have five siblings?”

Auzed grunted. This was exactly what he didn’t want. Revealing personal information to Relli and Fenut had seemed harmless enough in the moment and had helped to illustrate his point. But as soon as he’d opened up a little and seen the flash of interest light Alex’s expression, he’d somehow known she’d ask for more.

“Four brothers and one sister.” Maybe if he kept his answers short, she’d take the hint. In no way did he enjoy that she was so interested in him. Not even a bit. Because with any luck, in a few days he’d find her a mate, and then she’d be out of his life.

“Wow, big house. And your parents are still together?” Alex asked as though the conversation were only mildly interesting, but he could tell it was an act. Her gaze flicked to him in that assessing way, and it seemed as though she truly wanted to know more about him.

“Did you enjoy the market?” he asked instead.

Her lips pursed. “How many toothpicks do you think a tree this size could produce?”

“What?” he asked in confusion.

She shrugged and widened her eyes. “Oh, I thought we were ignoring each other’s questions. No?”

His lips quirked, but he managed to hold his smile back. “They’re no longer together. My mother died when I was young, and my father died about five years ago.”

The sarcastic glint in her eyes faded at once. “I’m sorry.” She walked closer and draped her arm around the large trunk that acted as a beam in the nest. “My parents both died too. In a car wreck two years ago.”

This isn’t good, Auzed thought as he kept his feet from taking a step toward her. The vulnerability on her face pulled at him. “It’s the order of things,” he said, his voice tight.

Her lips twitched downward. “Doesn’t make it any easier,” she grumbled in a flat tone that clearly conveyed her disappointment in his response.

He wanted to say something better. Somehow win and keep her respect without lowering his guard. The task seemed impossible, though. “Car is translating as transport.”

She sighed, and her lips thinned as though she were trying to keep a frown at bay. “Yeah. It’s this big metal piece of transportation with a motor and wheels. Humans drive them on roads to get around. There was this dangerous stretch of road by my house called Blood Alley. It’s very curvy, and a lot of accidents happen there for some reason. My parents had this tradition on their anniversary of going to this fruit stand along the 126 by our house and then having a picnic at Castaic Lake, but…well, Blood Alley did what it does, I guess. They were hit head on by another car.”

Her voice had become softer and softer as she spoke, and a faraway look made her face appear haunted. Her eyes were dry, but Auzed expected it wasn’t due to a lack of sadness. If anything, it felt like she’d already cried all the tears she had and her body simply couldn’t find any way to express the heart-wrenching ache that resided in her. He knew that look. His brother, Theo, had worn it for years after he’d witnessed their mother’s death.

“Do you have any other family?” he croaked, not knowing what else to say. No kind words had ever helped his brother anyway.

Eyes still glued to him, she sauntered over to a long couch and sank into it. “Yeah, lots, but…apart from my tía Vero and my brother, I haven’t spoken to them in a while.”

Why not? Auzed groaned inwardly. He had no choice. Gingerly settling himself into a chair that was both a safe distance away from her and uncomfortable as hell, he readied to speak to her. The curiosity was just too strong. “Why not?”

“It’s painful.” She shrugged, glancing away and fidgeting with that ring. “My parents and I always went to family gatherings together.” A grin tugged at her lips, and her gaze grew distant as if she were thinking of them even now. “My mom always made such a big deal of me saying hello to everyone. And I mean everyone. People I couldn’t remember ever meeting before.” Her grin softened. “I went to my nephew’s birthday a few months after they died, and it just wasn’t the same. You’re supposed to find comfort with your family after something like that, you know? But everyone was laughing and having a good time, and all I could think was, How? How could they be laughing and celebrating, knowing my parents would never come to another party? I couldn’t bear being around everyone without them, so I just kind of cut myself off for a while.” She let out a sad chuckle. “Rather, I cut myself off as much as someone from a family that doesn’t recognize personal space can.”

Auzed’s heart clenched. He knew how she felt. He’d been lost after his mother had died as well. Always trying to figure out how he fit into his family.

She sniffed and gave a small smile, brushing away the emotion rising again. “I figured I just needed time to heal and then we’d go back to normal. I regret it now, believe me. All that time I wasted feeling sorry for myself in my dark apartment. Making excuses why I couldn’t visit with everyone.” She shook her head. “And now…”

Now she’ll never see them again, Auzed finished for her.

“My brother was being such a dick about it recently. Easter—” at his blank look she clarified, “a holiday on my planet. It’s coming up, and he was nagging me to go.” She suddenly laughed, but the sound rang with miserable disbelief. Her chest rose and fell rapidly. Panic tightened her features.

“I suppose you have an excuse not to go now,” he murmured, attempting to lift her mood.

She shook her head. “I was dreading going and being around everyone. Now…” Her gaze grew wide and wild, skipping around the room as tears glistened on her lashes. “Now I don’t know if there’s anything I wouldn’t give to be sitting in our stuffy church on Sunday. To see Mateo’s new baby. Oh my God!”

Zed rushed over to her as tears started to stream down her face. She sucked in a large gulp of air and covered her mouth with her hand, staring in horror at the floor.

“My brother,” she said, looking up at him. “He has a baby on the way. I’m never going to meet her, am I? My niece.”

It only took one more shaky inhale, and Zed was on his knees in front of her. His hands clenched at his side. The need to reach out and pull her into his arms pulsed through him, but he wasn’t altogether sure how humans liked to be consoled. Should he leave? Let her try to compose her emotions by herself, as a Clecanian female would want? “What can I do?” he rasped, feeling each of her tears like a punch to the gut.

“It’s hitting me all of a sudden. I mean, I knew logically before and I was upset, but…I’m never going to see my family again.” With that, her head dropped into her hands and she cried. All the pent-up emotion she’d been holding back filled her sobs and deepened them until Zed’s chest was tight and throbbing as if he could feel her pain too. His body was stiff with the effort to restrain himself.

One of her hands reached toward him, and he snapped. Pulling her off the couch and into his arms, he gripped her body. She curled into him almost instantly, causing an out-of-place surge of warmth to ripple through his chest. He should’ve felt guilty for enjoying this so much, even as he ached for her. But he felt like this was helping somehow. Inexplicably. His mind grew drunk with satisfaction as her cries softened until she only sniffed and gripped him. Did all humans get this much fulfillment from comforting their partners?

With a jolt, he realized his eyes had slid closed and his cheek rested on her head. She’s not my partner, though. The thought sobered him and made his gut bubble. Although it felt wrong, he gently pushed her away. At first, she gripped him tighter, but then she allowed herself to be moved.

They stared at each other, both in a tangle of limbs on the floor, and unsaid understanding passed between them. “Thank you for the hug. I know it must’ve been weird for you, but I needed it.”

A screeching Wilson barreled through the window at full speed. She saw Alex and rolled around Auzed in an angry blur, clearly believing he’d done something to upset her. Alex gave the tuey a sad smile and pulled her into her lap, then shifted back onto her seat.

“I’ll go get us something to eat,” Auzed said, ignoring the electric glares shooting from Wilson. “Are you going to be okay on your own?”

Alex gave him a watery smile and nodded. “It’s just going to take some getting used to.”

He stood and hovered for a moment longer, not wanting to leave her despite how hard his logical mind argued that it was for the best. At length, he did leave.

The blessed silence and solitude that greeted him when he boarded a transport platform didn’t bring him as much joy as it usually did. Rather, a bitter hollowness niggled at his senses. For the first time since he’d been a child, he felt lonely.

Only away from her for less than five minutes, and I feel lonely? Shit.

Food would make her smile again. She loved to eat, so he’d get her some of his favorites to try and hope that sampling it all would at least distract her from her grief for a time.

When he returned to the nest, hauling a larger-than-necessary meal complete with the kinyberry jellies she’d eyed earlier in the day, he found her sound asleep in her bed. He left the food by her bedside in case she woke up. Retreating to his room, he ignored the disappointed part of him that had greedily anticipated more time with her before he was forced to be alone again.


The next few days passed slowly. Alex and Auzed exchanged morning pleasantries, but neither mentioned her mini breakdown a few nights before. She wasn’t embarrassed about it. Realistically, she should’ve been a messy puddle of tears for the past two weeks, so she felt the couple hours of crying were actually impressive, considering. But she didn’t know whether it had made Auzed uncomfortable or not.

He’d been acting like a skittish animal around her. Or as skittish as an enormous, elite guard alien could act. Meaning he spent most of his time giving her stiff nods, straightening the home, and randomly breaking into workouts on the porch.

That night, after she’d crawled into her bed and cried herself to sleep, she’d awoken to a tower of food piled on a low table like an offering. As she’d attempted and failed to eat one of the odd gushing blue balls, she couldn’t keep the smile from her face. She’d never needed a man to take care of her that way, but she sure as hell liked when Auzed did it.

Yesterday and today, they’d traveled to the market again, meeting and greeting people from all over Clecania who’d come to Sauven to watch the marriage games. During these exchanges, Auzed remained as inscrutable as ever.

Though he urged her to speak to the interested males who approached and even some of the females, he always looked upset about it. One minute introducing her to a flirtatious suitor and the next using some lame excuse to guide her away. Was he trying to weed them out? Logically that made sense.

Now back at the nest, Alex sat on the couch and went through the large container of clothing Fenut had delivered. She inspected each piece, examining the interesting stitching and fabric. It was the only thing to do at the moment. Although she would’ve thought it impossible on an alien planet, she was bored.

Back on Earth, her DIY padded, dark living room acted as her home theater. She’d never been bored there.

She glanced over and saw Auzed was feeling the effects of their forced vacation as well. It was almost impossible for him to sit still. Even now, when he’d cleaned, exercised, cooked, and offered to put away her clothing for her, he still paced, looking for something to do.

Alex frowned. The answer was right there in front of him, though he refused to cooperate. They could have fun together, talking, playing a game, doing other things. But every time she tried to start a conversation with him, he made an excuse and left or answered her with single words.

She held in a chuckle as he sank into a chair and glared out the window. Maybe he was finally antsy enough to give up looking for something to do. With a huff, he rose and moved to the kitchen.

“Do you know how to relax?” she chided as he emptied the cabinets, organized the contents, then refilled them.

He gave a comically confused glance toward the cabinets as if he was doing something relaxing.

“It’s odd to me that there’s no kind of entertainment here. No TV, movies, music, plays? What do people do for fun?”

“What are movies, and why do you talk about them so much?” he asked, handing her a glass of juice made from the sap of the massive trees.

Her mood brightened at once. She leaned forward, and he tensed, still standing. “Oh, they’re awesome! They’re like stories, but you watch them.”

He tilted his chin up and studied her.

“Huh. Hard to explain to someone who doesn’t have them. Do you have plays here?”


“Well, they’re like if you recorded a play and watched it later.”

Auzed lowered himself into a chair in that controlled way and thought. “How do you experience it if it isn’t live?”

“I…” Alex came up short. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“How do you feel the play while watching it at home? Do you have playhouse hookups in your recorded theaters? How can you tell how good the actor is if you experience a recorded performance?”

Alex blinked at him. “I’m really lost, Auzzy. Hookups? Feel the play?”

He sat back, looking just as perplexed as she felt. “Maybe the easiest solution would be to take you to a playhouse.”

Her brain quickly latched on to the idea of going to a play with Auzed, but she forced herself to remember it would be platonic and not a date. “I’d like that.”

“I believe the playhouses are closed in Sauven now because of the marriage games, but I’ll arrange for you to attend one once we return to Tremanta.”

She deflated. Working very hard to keep her face from showing her annoyance, she tried for a grateful smile. “Thanks.”

Auzed inclined his head, then silence hung in the air. He looked from side to side, then back to her and drummed his fingers on the arms of the chair. Did he hate talking—or just hate talking to her?

“My whole job back home was movies, you know,” she blurted as he made to rise.

Squatting in a hover over the chair, he stilled, then sat back down. “Oh?”

“Yeah, I was a movie reviewer for the Santa Paula Chronicle. It’s a small newspaper.”

“You must’ve enjoyed your job, if the amount of time you reference them is any indication.”

“Yeah, I did. Mind you, I don’t know how much longer I could’ve kept it for. I’m surprised our tiny paper has clung on for as long as it has. They’d already cut my review column from the physical paper and relegated me to online content only, but still, I got to talk all day about what I love. Back on Earth, I was thinking about starting my own social media series reviewing films, but I don’t think I could do it.”

Auzed lifted a sardonic brow. “I find it difficult to believe there are many things you can’t do.”

She preened at the compliment. “Thank you. I guess I meant I wouldn’t like doing it as much, not that I couldn’t do it.”

Ridiculous excitement swept through her when Auzed fully relaxed into his seat, resigned to have a conversation with her. “Why wouldn’t you like it?”

“Well, I love movies. Like, even the bad ones are worth watching to me, but I’ve noticed that famous reviewers of things are often famous for their ability to seriously critique work, which often means tearing it apart. I prefer to gush over everything. I’ve tried and tried to change in order to make myself and my work more marketable, but my critical pieces always lacked something. I was never happy with them. Then my hometown paper offered me the position after my predecessor retired, knowing I’d work for peanuts. And they didn’t care how fluffy my reviews were. Win-win.”

For the first time, Auzed actually looked calm and content. He watched her as she spoke, the ghost of a grin playing at his mouth. “I assume ‘work for peanuts’ is an expression and you weren’t really working for food.”

“Ha. Yup. What about you, Auzzy? Have you always been a Temple guard?”

He hooked an ankle over his knee. “I was a soldier for a very long time before I became a guard. The Queen promoted me to the position three years ago.”

So that was why he always looked so stiff and controlled. He’d actually been a soldier. For an alien army, no less. “Why did you choose to become a soldier? No offense,” she added quickly. “It’s an honorable profession, but from what you’ve told me so far, it seems like Clecania is pretty peaceful.”

“Our forces mostly defend against interplanetary hostility. Races from non-alliance planets are known to attack regularly, and we often send aid to planets within the alliance that request it.”

“Huh. That’s so interesting. I’m straight-up terrestrial because I didn’t even think about other races on different planets being an issue. It really is War of the Worlds.” She giggled and gave him and exaggerated wink, even knowing he didn’t understand the joke.

“It is,” he replied seriously. “My father was a soldier and my father’s mother was a soldier, so when I had to decide what my path would be during husbandry school, it made sense to me.”

His jaw tightened, and he stared at her as though deciding whether or not to say something. She attempted her best impression of a sloth, not moving or breathing in the hope he wouldn’t get scared away from speaking. Don’t move! He can’t see us if we don’t move, Sam Neill’s voice echoed through her mind.

His gaze grew distant, and a crease appeared in his brow. “My mother was a casualty of a war on her home planet. My brother was with her at the time and was severely injured. I always wished I could’ve helped them somehow. I was too young to go with them by mere years. If I’d been there, maybe…” Coming out of his trance, he shrugged. “There was nothing I could’ve done, obviously.”

All Alex wanted at the moment was to hug him. She imagined him scared at home after receiving the news his mother had died and his brother had been hurt. No wonder he’d dedicated his life to protecting others and forgetting about his own happiness. The man she saw before her suddenly made so much sense.

“I’m so sorry. That’s terrible. Did your brother recover?”

“He lived”—he sighed—“but he was horribly scarred. Made fun of all the time, and I don’t think he ever recovered from the ordeal mentally.” A corner of Auzed’s mouth lifted in a smile. “Before the accident, he was so happy. A young handsome male who loved to interact with everyone. He was always playing jokes on people. Then everything happened and…well, it was like I lost two family members that day.”

The poor thing! Alex’s heart cracked more and more the longer he went on. “You must’ve been close with your dad.”

He gifted her with a real smile, and her heart just about dropped into her stomach. He was devastating when he smiled. “I was. Once we were old enough to be on our own, he resumed his post. He was in my unit until the day he died. Loved being a soldier. He always said how lucky he felt to be the one to personally protect his children.”

“I’m sure he’d be proud that you’re now head guard.” She grinned but immediately realized her mistake.

His smile transformed into a thoughtful frown. “Maybe before, but now? I’m not so sure. I may not be head guard for much longer.”

“You mean if we get caught?” Guilt wormed its way deep into the marrow of her bones, and she actively tried to keep the cringe from showing on her face.

A hint of anger lit his eyes again, though he didn’t direct it at her. “Even if we make it back to Tremanta without incident, Sauven may still call for my resignation as a sort of punishment.” He locked eyes with her. “You see, the head guard isn’t allowed to be considered for marriage. They could claim that if we were planning on getting married, I would’ve already begun my search for a replacement. They know the Queen chose me for the post as well, and they may seek to punish her by punishing me.”

Oh shit. Alex let out a long groan. “So that’s what you meant about what you might lose.” She couldn’t stand to look at him anymore. Not after hearing about how his whole life had been building to this prestigious position, only to be destroyed by her effort to help. She felt tears building behind her lowered lids, but she pushed them back. If he saw them, he’d probably comfort her, and that wouldn’t be fair. “I am so sorry, Auzed.”

“It’s not your fault. Like you said, I would’ve been in trouble either way. The real mistake was crossing their territory in the first place.”

Alex jerked as the sting of that statement settled over her. If he hadn’t, she’d be dead right now.

In a low rumble, he added, “I don’t regret it, though. Whatever happens now, I don’t blame you for any of it.”

His sincerity soothed her injured feelings, and she nodded. The thought that had wormed its way into her mind on their first day together came back to her. Maybe the way she could truly make things up to him would be to marry him. She could make sure she was a good consolation prize if he lost his job. It didn’t hurt at all that she actually liked him. She wouldn’t be trying to have children, of course. He probably wouldn’t want her to marry him if he knew that.

Changing the subject, she held up a sleek sunset-orange dress. “How’s this for tonight?”

His jaw clenched as he ran his gaze over the dress. “Any Clecanian attracted to females will have a difficult time thinking if you wear that.”

Auzed’s heated stare made a shiver run down her spine. Did that mean he’d have a difficult time thinking too? “I can find something else,” she ventured.

“No.” Auzed frowned, his good mood disappearing. “You should wear it.”

Alex could only stare at him as his words settled over her. Her initial response was a shuddering Yes, sir! but his unhappy stare didn’t match the sexy comment. Knowing Auzed was a complicated creature she may never fully understand, she shrugged it off and floated to her room to get dressed, Wilson hot on her heels. Once her new clothing and accessories were neatly stowed, she studied them. Finally, Auzed was coming around.

He’d revealed such personal information to her today, and it had only made her like him more. Concerns about the future, what her life might look like in Tremanta, and his own reticence to even speak with her hung around the edge of her thoughts like a dark, foggy border, but she petulantly ignored them.

Glancing at Wilson now perched on her shoulder, she whispered, “How good do you think I should look tonight? I can go casual good or make-him-forget-his-own-name good. Thoughts, my little Wilson Phillips?” she scratched Wilson’s large floppy ears, then set her down on the bed and got to work.


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