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Tempting Auzed: Chapter 27

Auzed couldn’t recall ever feeling worse. He couldn’t eat. Couldn’t sleep. All he did was lie around and argue with himself about whether or not to throw out caution and beg Alex for a finite relationship. They’d been together temporarily in Sauven, and it was the happiest he’d ever been.

His fantasies of ways in which they could be together were growing more and more outlandish. Maybe he could pilot a ship and abduct the rest of her family. Then she wouldn’t have to worry about them going on without her. What if he found the most powerful Swadaeth and forced them to sway her into forgetting about her family?

Every solution that popped into his head was cruel and selfish and impossible. He fiddled with the gold ring on a leather string around his neck. It’d been a week since he’d broken down and gone to see her. He’d only planned on giving her the tickets, but he should’ve known he wasn’t strong enough to stop at just a delivery. It was a good thing his access to the Temple had been deactivated since, or he knew he’d have gone back.

“You look like a dying guarsil.” Maxu poked, handing him a cold mott.

Since he’d returned to Tremanta, Maxu was the only member of his family he could bear to see. Luka and Theo made his insides burn. Even seeing the blue mating marks covering their hands was enough to make him want to pummel them. His sister, Asivva, was married and busy. And his youngest brother, Izor, was almost as mopey as he was. The relationship between him and the human female he’d been following around like a pup had hit trouble, though Auzed hadn’t delved into precisely what the problem was.

He shrugged at Maxu’s jab, knowing perfectly well how wretched he looked.

Maxu pushed. “You look as if a young male just out of husbandry school beat you in a fight.”

He frowned.

“Like you just crawled out of Pearl Lake after being stung by a thousand bilom.” Maxu raised his glass and cheered.

“I get it!” Auzed barked, not at all amused. “Terrible. I look terrible.” He took a swig of his mott and pointed at Maxu. “Don’t you have somewhere to be? There’s a ceremony tonight, isn’t there?”

Maxu grinned a wide, evil grin. “Yes, but I still have three more ceremonies left before they force me to participate—or rather until I decide which law to break to render me unsuitable.”

Auzed rolled his eyes but found he didn’t care about his brother’s rule-breaking quite as much as he had before. Why should he have to wed a female? He’d do everything he could to make her happy, only to have her leave him. Auzed took another swig of his drink, feeling that thought hitting too close to home.

As soon as Maxu’s ass touched the chair, a chiming sounded from above. His brother let out a lazy snarl and rose again to see who was requesting entry at the gate. “Did you ask someone to come here to see you?”

Auzed frowned in answer. There was only one person he wanted to see.

Since losing his job at the Temple meant he’d also had to vacate his onsite house, he’d moved in with his younger brother. Maxu, an ex-mercenary and all-around loner, had built the house with isolation in mind. Warnings and booby traps, along with a thick fence and invisible shield that bubbled the house, lined his property high on a hill outside of town.

At least everyone had finally started to leave Zed alone now that he’d taken up residence here. Most people knew that venturing to Maxu’s house—and actually getting let in—was too much of a hassle.

Maxu shuffled back into the large room, his lips curled in irritation. “It’s the Queen.”

Auzed sat up straighter, surprise breaking through his haze of self-pity. “Why?” he said stupidly, knowing Maxu would never have invited her here himself.

“I doubt it’s to see me,” Maxu growled, leaving again to get the door.

He hadn’t spoken to the Queen since handing in his credentials the day after visiting Alex. The loss of his job, his life’s work had been surprisingly easy to stomach. In fact, he rarely thought about it at all. Hadn’t even tried to look for another job yet. It stunned him how insignificant something he’d thought he valued above all other things would end up being after experiencing true happiness.

Auzed patted down his rumpled clothing and tried to smooth his hair. He stood, picked up some stray trash lying on the table near him, and swore when he knocked the bottle of mott onto the ground.

“Auzed,” came the Queen’s regal voice.

“Majesty.” He rose from his crouched position over the bottle, only to bow low and then stand back up again. Up, down, up, down, Like a damn child’s toy.

The Queen eyed Maxu as he shuffled by her and collapsed into a chair. They knew each other well enough, seeing as Maxu was always getting into some type of trouble. Neither liked the other.

“I wanted to come by and formally deliver my message,” she said, still standing along with her guards rather than sitting in the chair Auzed had cleared for her. Her maroon dress was plain and covered her from chin to toes. Her white hair was neatly twisted into a design at the back of her neck. And her lavender eyes were clear and calm.

No crisis, then. So why had she felt the need to see him in person?

“I am reinstating you as head guard of the Pearl Temple.” She smiled with tight lips.

Auzed couldn’t stop his jaw from going slack. He studied her face, his confusion warring with…indifference. “My Queen?” Where had this come from all of a sudden? Had she made a deal with Sauven? What had she traded in return?

Ice slid down his spine, and his stomach clenched. He stepped toward her in his worry, something that was not done. She lifted a delicate brow, and he stopped.

“Alejandra? Did you… Where is she?”

The Queens lips twitched. “She’s here in Tremanta. I didn’t swap her for your job if that’s what you’re worried about.”

All the air rushed from Auzed’s lungs as he released the breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. The flood of relief was interrupted by curiosity. “So how, then?”

“Well, Alejandra came to see me a few days ago.”

And just like that, the tension shot back into his body.

“She wanted to make a deal to get your job back for you. Very persistent, that one.”

Auzed let out a humorless bark of laughter.

“We came to an arrangement. I spoke to the regents of Sauven and explained that the strain of your time together in Sauven had soured you toward each other. They conceded that your forcible detention may have been excessive and agreed to let you resume your duties. I also promised to send a few willing humans to visit Sauven when the time came.”

Just like that?

“Since Alejandra will, in fact, be marrying another Tremantian instead of you, they agreed you’ve suffered enough.”

Buzzing sounded in his ears, and he blinked, unseeing. What had she said? When her words finally registered, he roared, “What?”

The guards, who’d been positioned behind the Queen, sprang in front of her. With a wave of her hand, they backed away.

“I explained to Alejandra when she came to see me that giving you your job back and allowing her to remain unmarried would be like a slap in the face to Sauven. I told her if she agreed to participate in the ceremony and choose a husband, I’d reinstate you. She wasn’t thrilled, but anyone could tell how guilty she felt that you’d lost your career helping her. So, she agreed.”

“The ceremony!” he boomed, gaze frantic. “The ceremony happening tonight?”

The Queen lifted her brows in surprise. “Yes.” She peered at her hand clock. “In a few hours.”

Auzed became a whirlwind of movement. Gathering his communicator and searching for his identification pad containing all his scores and his eligibility. It’d be tight, but if he got there in time and registered himself quickly, he might make the cut.

“Whatever are you doing?” the Queen asked with furrowed brows.

“I’m going to the ceremony. I refuse your offer.” With a wince, he turned and gave a quick bow. “Ma’am.”

She shook her head, perplexed. “If that’s what you wish.”

He dashed past the guards stiff and ready to aim an attack at him, then bolted in the direction of the ceremony building.


Maxu studied the Queen’s face for long moments after his brother fled. She caught him assessing her and stared back, unflinching.

“Sauven would’ve never agreed to that deal. Queen Dasa hates you,” he remarked coolly, draping his arm over his chair and taking another sip of mott. He’d always loathed authority and politics. The society they resided in could burn to the ground for all he cared. But the twitch of the Queen’s mouth had him curious.

She tipped her head at him as though he were a child. “No, they wouldn’t.”

A slow smile spread across his face. “Mm. Not bad, Majesty.” He nodded approvingly. “Do either of them know that?”

“They do not.” She turned to him, clasping her hands in front of her and tilting her chin up.

“Why didn’t you tell him days ago when Alex agreed to it?”

She pursed her lips and thought for a moment before answering. “Do you think your brother would’ve done well with more time to agonize over his decision?”

Maxu shook his head. His brother had always been a rule follower. Always working a problem based on what the right thing to do was. “No, he would not.” He stood and rolled out his shoulders. “Still, a bit risky, don’t you think?” He lifted his brows and gave her his most charming grin, the one that either made females run or melt.

She blew out a sigh and cupped his chin. “So young. Someday you’ll understand.”

He jerked away, irritated by the patronizing tone.

The Queen tipped her chin to him and turned to leave, her ever-present guards shifting to protect her back. “I’ll be interested to see how you get out of the ceremony this year, Maxu. You don’t have long.”

Maxu grinned at the door as it closed behind her. He’d already formulated his plan.


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