Tempting Auzed: Chapter 14


Zed stood with his feet spread, looking out into the distance of Sauven, and contemplated the call he was about to make. He didn’t know exactly what type of advice he was after, but he needed something. Staying in this house with Alex, not knowing what would happen and being helpless to alter his situation, was going to drive him mad.

Not to mention the impossible task of introducing her to the interested Clecanians who all so plainly aimed to steal her away. Well…they weren’t actually going to get married, though, so it wasn’t actually stealing. But they didn’t know that, dammit!

Whenever she directed a smile toward someone else, his veins sparked with electricity. And when other gazes lingered too long on her body, it took a considerable amount of his control to not physically shield her from view.

It must’ve been their extended proximity making him feel this way. Every other female he’d been with had ensured their encounters were brief and goal oriented. He’d never before had to smell the scent of a female clinging to the furniture or hear the comforting sounds of her off-key humming as she floated around their shared home.

Even her brief touches, clearly innocent and normal from her point of view, were like kindling to the flame burning in him. But it was because they were always together, wasn’t it? He’d feel this way about any female if he were around her this often and in such an intimate place.

Yes, all he needed to clear his mind was space and routine. Neither of which he’d have for another few days at least. Never in his life had he had so little to do. Alex’s quips at his restlessness had been sarcastic, but she was right. He now realized he didn’t know how to relax. Aside from the activities he did every day as part of his job, he had no hobbies. No close friends. No interests. And for the first time, he wondered if that was a problem.

Even his father had enjoyed various things in his off-hours. He’d made time to bond with his children and had liked going to plays and exploring the Histanuth Mountains to the east of Tremanta. He’d also loved to drink and laugh with his friends back home. It had Zed questioning how satisfying his life really was if it could be destabilized this much by a week away.

Unsettled, he’d thought through every possible way he could to get out of here sooner and return to normal life, but when he came up empty, Maxu’s name popped into his mind. Out of sheer desperation, he decided Maxu might be able to brainstorm some less-than-legal approaches that he wouldn’t have considered on his own. He wanted to speak to someone who skirted the line of the law, after all. Out of his siblings, Maxu fit that bill.

Not only was his younger brother a successful ex-mercenary but he despised the temporary marriages forced upon their people and would no doubt sympathize with Auzed’s current predicament.

Each and every time Maxu had become eligible for participation in the ceremony, he’d carefully broken the law. Only enough to be deemed unfit for marriage, but still, Maxu had a way of working around a problem that Auzed found both distasteful and impressive. Resigned to the idea that his brother might actually have some good advice for him, Zed lifted the communicator and waited for the call to connect.

“Brother?” Maxu’s deep voice questioned. He sounded surprised—and for good reason too. They hadn’t spoken much recently.

“Are you busy?” Auzed asked without preamble.

A loud shout of pain echoed from the line and then was suddenly gone, as if whoever had made it was now unconscious…that’s what Zed chose to believe anyway.

“I’m free for…let’s say ten to fifteen minutes,” Maxu rumbled.

Zed let out a deep breath, not sure whether to be relieved or more worried. Deciding not to question Maxu about whatever he was up to, he quickly explained all that had happened in the past few days.

As reserved as always, Maxu grunted in response.

“I’ve never found myself in a position like this before, and I wondered if you had any thoughts on what I might be able to do to get out of it.”

“None that are legal.”

Auzed scrubbed a hand over his chin and frowned into the empty room. “If I needed advice on what legal options I had, I would’ve called Asivva.”

“Oh my. Zed, are you finally giving me the appreciation I deserve?” He could hear the grin in Maxu’s voice.

“Do you have any ideas or not?” he snapped.

“Say that you recognized her. Your eyes changed but your marks haven’t appeared,” Maxu said, in a bored tone.

Zed sucked in a breath. “That’s reprehensible. Who would lie about something like that?”

“You wanted ideas; I’m giving you ideas.”

“I haven’t sunk so far as to lie about feeling a mating bond,” Zed growled. Lying about recognition was equivalent to lying about a fatal disease or the death of a loved one. It wasn’t inherently illegal, but it was so abhorrent, he almost lost a bit of respect for Maxu for even suggesting it.

“Fine. Let me think.” After a long pause, Maxu probed, “What are your thoughts on threats and/or violence?”

“This was a mistake.” Zed shook his head. “Never mind.”

It always stunned him to see how different Maxu was than the rest of his siblings. Since they’d been young, Zed and his brothers, along with Asivva, had battled their Traxian sides, always considering them to be the temperamental barbaric parts of their personalities that needed to be tamed in order to fit into the world around them. Maxu, on the other hand, had embraced that half of himself. Never wanting to fit in, he often allowed his temper to flare wild and free.

Now as an adult, Maxu might on occasion do things that would be unthinkable to most Clecanians, but he was also more in control than any of them. It was as though letting his Traxian side guide him had helped him to become one with it. His brother knew himself. Accepted every facet of his personality and railed against the rules that directly opposed it.

“I’ll keep thinking on it, but it seems all you can do at this point is ride it out,” Maxu said, uncaring that Zed had scoffed at his completely unrealistic suggestions. “Why don’t you just enjoy the time off? The female must be interested in you to lie like that. Is she attractive?”

Stunning. Glorious. Wipes every thought from my mind with a smile. “Attractive enough.”

“Perfect. You two can enjoy each other until you get out of there. Learning the ins and outs of a human female’s form should keep you busy and out of trouble.”

Zed growled out a sound of frustration. “I thought of all people you would understand. I don’t want to marry her. I have a duty to the Temple. I can’t just give up my post for a few months of marriage. I’d have to accept an inferior position somewhere else, possibly off-planet once it was over.”

“Whoa. I wasn’t suggesting you throw your life away. I just meant while you two are locked up together, might as well have some fun. For once in your life,” Maxu added in a grumble.

His body tensed, not because of Maxu’s crass words but because his mind hissed the same thing in his ear every time he looked at Alex. Hell, every time he even smelled her.

“Oh, let me guess. It would be reprehensible, right?” Maxu taunted.

Zed grunted in agreement, even as his gaze was drawn to the ceiling where Alex’s room was. “I’m attempting to find her a mate. I can’t do that while also bedding her.”

“Why not? She doesn’t have a mate yet. If her mate is in Sauven, they’ll recognize her whether or not she fucks you in the meantime.”

“Goodbye,” Zed snarled and disconnected the communicator.

He stalked around the perimeter of the nest. Why had he thought calling Maxu would be a good idea? His brother cared about societal conventions and traditions about as much as a sefa did. Not at all.

He rounded the house, returning to the entrance, and stilled.

“I’m ready,” Alex said in a low, sultry voice. She stood on the porch clad in the soft orange dress he’d insisted she wear. Inexplicably, it somehow looked better on her than he’d imagined, which was saying something, since he’d seen it on a holographic replica with her exact measurements in the clothing café.

Her beautiful brown skin set off the subtle fiery-orange of the dress, like the colors of a sunset. Vibrant, yet soothing at the same time. She’d piled her curling hair on top of her head. The result was all at once messy and deliberate. Small locks clung to her long neck and brushed her shoulders.

She spread her arms out and raised a knowing brow. “How do I look?”

Auzed gulped. She’d also used the makeup they’d purchased to enhance her features. Muted burgundy highlighted the rich brown of her eyes. A similar color on her mouth directed his attention to how lovely the delicate bow of her lips was.

He didn’t think she was any more beautiful than before. It was still her. But she was certainly more dangerous this way. She wasn’t the type to focus on how she looked at any given moment. Her willingness to wear ill-fitting clothing to the market told him so. But now…now she knew exactly how delicious she looked, and that kind of confidence on a female like Alejandra could bring a male to his knees.

“Hard to think? Good. Mission accomplished.” She gave him a tight smile, but fire danced in her casual gaze.

Maxu’s words played through his mind. Why not keep her to myself for a time? He pushed the thought away and guided her to a transport platform before the urge to ask her to change her outfit overcame him.

Zed placed so much distance between them on the board that his heels hung off the edge as he guided them to the nest Relli had indicated.

“How can I act with these new people?” she questioned.

“What do you mean?” The dark tone in his voice that so matched his thoughts did not go unnoticed.

She glanced over her shoulder at him, and in doing so, her pinky brushed against his hand, tightly gripping the handle. “Well, I noticed that when we were at Fenut’s store, Relli smiled at both of you and Fenut did too. It felt more relaxed than what you told me is common for Clecanians. Is it because we were alone? Or because Fenut isn’t looking for a wife, or something? I’d love it if I could just be myself and not have to worry about not smiling or not being nice or anything, but I don’t want to offend anyone or act incorrectly and lead Fenut’s sons on.”

“Those guidelines are in place when interacting with strangers, especially male strangers, since they’re often searching for opportunities to interact with available females. Remain distant toward Fenut’s sons for a while during dinner and make it clear that you intend to marry me. Relli and I will let you know when it’s appropriate to relax your mannerisms.”

Zed ground his teeth together. It was like a blow to the gut to think she might act toward Fenut’s sons the same way she acted with him. He had no idea why, but he’d felt as if he was special to her in some way. The idea she might look at all males the way she looked at him had never occurred to him. True, she’d been instructed by him to act a certain way in public. Did that mean when he gave her the cue to relax her guard, she would smile at Fenut’s sons and reveal intimate details about her life and let them touch her?

Had he been fooling himself to think she treated him differently? That she’d been vulnerable with him alone? And why should he let himself care this much? The goal was still to find her a mate, wasn’t it?

He tried to ignore the dread and bitter jealousy that had suddenly worked its way into his stomach. Idiot. This was exactly why he’d worked so hard to keep her at a distance. Despite his best efforts, he now felt a bond with her that, in all likelihood, was something he’d completely manufactured.

On the trip over, Zed weighed the pros and cons of pushing her to remain distant the whole evening, though it would end up being very odd for her to do so, especially when everyone around her wouldn’t be. They arrived at the nest to an overeager welcoming party. Zed’s glare immediately landed on the two unfamiliar handsome males and their wide-eyed gazes as they scanned Alex up and down.

Alex averted her gaze from the eager males as she boarded the porch of the home and instead made her way over to greet Relli. Her lips appeared pinched, and Auzed was sure she was forcing herself not to smile.

“Alejandra,” Relli greeted warmly with a grin the way any close friends might. She gestured to a male next to her who had overlarge ears and an open, curious expression. “This is Jut.”

“It’s so nice to meet you. Relli has so many nice things about you.” Alex nodded at the male, her face unnaturally blank, and reached out a hand.

Jut glanced at her outstretched hand, and his brows knit.

Alex gasped and snatched her hand back. “I’m so sorry. We shake hands on Earth when we meet new people, and I just offered it out of instinct.” She peered at Relli, her eyes worried. “I didn’t mean to touch him or anything. Damn, I was trying to be so careful.”

Relli chuckled.

Zed walked up behind Alex and placed a palm on her shoulder. He wanted the gesture to be reassuring, but part of him itched for any excuse to touch her.

“We understand.” Relli smiled toward Jut.

He returned her warm grin and nodded. “If you’re comfortable, we’d love to learn an Earth greeting. It’d be helpful in case we ever meet any other humans.”

“As would we.” One of Fenut’s sons inched closer.

Zed’s hand on Alex shoulder tightened. He didn’t like how eager the good-looking male appeared.

Alex glanced toward them and stood silent for a moment as if she were working through something. “Okay. I’ll show you first with my future husband.” She stared directly at Fenut’s sons and emphasized her words just enough so they heard her unspoken message loud and clear. Zed was impressed. She’d made it known that she had no interest while remaining polite.

She turned to face him and held out her right hand the way she’d done with Jut. He felt like an idiot not knowing what this greeting was, but he mimicked her, holding out his left hand in the same way. She gave him a small grin and gently lowered his hand to his side, then directed him to lift his right hand so it mirrored hers. A flush stole up his neck.

Would these males assume they’d never touched since he didn’t know this human greeting?

She clasped his hand with hers, squeezing, and raised it up and down before releasing it. The gesture was odd yet formal and brief enough that his bunched shoulders relaxed a fraction.

“There you have it,” she said, then turned to Relli and extended her hand.

Zed had to force himself to remain relaxed as she taught everyone how to shake hands in greeting. Though the two unattached males only gripped her hand for a respectful amount of time, Zed still found himself wanting to rip off their male fingers.

Walking a few steps away, he breathed in and out, gathering his temper. No matter how hard he’d fought against it, he’d bonded to Alex, and now his possessive side would not shut the fuck up. 

***

“Wow, I love your nest.” Alex stared at the ceiling, where a soft melding of oranges and pinks could be seen. Just like a real sunset. “It’s so cool that it looks like the sky.”

“Thanks. I installed it, oh…” Jut glanced to Relli for confirmation, “three years ago.”

“Yes. I’m half Swadaeth. I need more sun than a typical Sauvenian.”

Relli gestured for everyone to sit at a large table set up in the middle of the main floor. This nest was set up the same way her and Auzed’s was except the vining plants, cluttered corners, and savory scent of cooking food gave the place a warm, lived-in feel. Her heart pinched. Relli and Jut had built a life here and filled their home with what could only be described as love. Despite the disconcerting feeling of being watched by everyone in the room, Alex relaxed.

She peered at Auzed as they approached the table, and he directed her to a seat beside him—one of the only two with a back, she noticed. She was sure Relli would sit on her other side, but then one of Fenut’s sons—Calep, she recalled—plopped down instead. Unable to stop herself, she shot a confused glance toward Relli and Jut, who were standing by the table as if waiting.

“In a Sauven house, the guests choose their seats first,” Auzed whispered, giving Calep an annoyed grimace.

The man appeared unfazed by Auzed’s glare. Both of Fenut’s sons were large with green skin, thick black hair, and gorgeous purple eyes. Calep, the man next to her, grinned at Alex in such an infectious way that she had to bite her cheek to keep from grinning back. It was unfair that she, as a woman, was supposed to appear so emotionless, but she shrugged off the feeling. She wasn’t in California anymore, and continuing to be sour about the customs here would only turn her into an unhappy person.

“Do you come from a forest on Earth?” he asked, leaning his elbows on the table and giving her a full view of his large biceps. Was he flexing?

 “Contain yourself.” Gosten, his brother, whacked Calep on the arm and forced him to lean back in his seat. “You aren’t even eligible for marriage.”

“Neither are you,” Fenut all but scolded, relaxing into a chair across from her.

As soon as Fenut was seated, Relli and Jut joined them at the table in the last two unoccupied seats next to each other.

“That’s right!” Relli grinned toward Gosten, and Alex found herself once again confused. Then she recalled that Relli knew Gosten, probably had for quite a while.

“Gosten is competing for a bride this year,” Jut explained, grabbing a pitcher from behind him.

Calep, Fenut, and Relli turned over the wooden cup placed facedown in front of them.

“If you’d like a drink, flip your cup over,” Auzed instructed, turning his own over, to Alex’s surprise. The tight lines of his features told her he wasn’t completely thrilled to be here.

She flipped her cup, and Jut filled it with thick golden liquid.

“No yubskani for Gosten!” Fenut said, slapping his son on the back with a proud grin. “He needs to be prepared for opening day tomorrow.”

Gosten accepted a glass of water from Relli with a clenched jaw. He peered down at the table with a far-away expression and gulped.

Alex melted a little at the slight worry she saw in his eyes. “Are you excited?”

He turned toward her and lifted his chin, hardening his expression. “I am.”

“I competed about five years ago now,” Calep added with another broad grin, this time directed toward his brother. “I’m sure you’ll do better than I did.”

Gosten gave Calep a small smile of thanks and let out a long breath, allowing some tension to leave his body.

The unexpected sting of tears started behind her eyes, and Alex took a drink from her cup while trying to get them under control. It hurt more than she’d thought it would to see Calep and Gosten together. Her own brother, Mateo, had always been supportive of her too.

She caught Relli’s concerned gaze, and the damn goddess of a woman seemed to understand exactly what she needed. She spoke, distracting the curious gazes being sent Alex’s way. “And Calep is ineligible because he has just finished with a marriage. A successful one, from what I hear.”

Calep’s smile grew even brighter, consuming any lingering sadness in Alex. “Yes! Mageba is with child. She chose to finish her pregnancy at the Moisa Tree with other females, but she has kept me informed.”

“Congratulations,” Auzed said.

“Thank you. I wish she would’ve let me care for her at my home, but…” He shrugged, his grin dimming a bit.

“Most females in Tremanta prefer to finish off their pregnancies around other females as well.” Auzed nodded. “I’ve seen a few at the Temple over the years.”

Alex drank again, realizing that if she ever chose to get pregnant someday, her choices would be to either let her temporary husband help her while pregnant or go and live with her friends. Neither of those options included her family back home. The recognition that any child she may have would be raised without them made her doubt she’d ever choose to have children.

“Would you tell us more about Earth, Alejandra?” Jut asked, refilling her cup. She distantly wondered whether he’d continue to refill it as long as it was turned over.

“Sure, and thanks,” she said, lifting the cup. What should she tell them about Earth? She didn’t want to talk about her family as she was a bit too raw at the moment, so she shoved those feelings down and described what she knew about Earth as a planet. Seven continents, five oceans, billions of people. The information was boring in her opinion, but they all seemed interested just the same.

After a while, Relli and Jut rose to retrieve dinner.

“Could I help?” Alex asked, hoping to get a break from being the human representative teacher for a little while.

Jut gave her a funny look. “Guests don’t help.”

Leaning back in her chair, she took in Calep and Gosten’s eager expressions. It was clear they wanted to know more.

“What did you enjoy doing on Earth?” Gosten asked.

What did she like doing? Now there was something she could talk about.

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